Kathy Munro

Everyone is interested in the human race and the age old question of human origins. Who was Adam and is there a biblical Eve? Human evolution has placed scientists, philosophers and religious thinkers at loggerheads for two hundred years. Here is a book to read closely; it is rich in detail, data and the scientific evidence as to why we all came from Africa.

This is a very early survey of Johannesburg circa 1893 by Henry Longland whose 1890s directories are an excellent source of early information about Johannesburg Streets. This slender book, just 60 pages, has been reproduced from the British Museum rare document collection and is available online from Amazon and Abe books.

 

A pleasure and delight of combing a bookshop in a random way (this is what browsing means) is that you are guaranteed to make a 'find'. A serendipitous happy find you never knew about but it instantly becomes a prized possession. A recent visit to Bookdealers of Melville yielded just such a small delight. It is a thinning small book on Arthur Elliott, the photographer of the architecture of the Cape and the master of black and white, light and shadow images of Cape scenes. Arthur Elliott (b. 1870, d.

Newspapers are the grist to daily living, you have a subscription, buy one at the local cafe or fall for the sales patter of the newspaper man or woman on the street corner. I can't live without a newspaper. My expectation is that a good daily newspaper will report on daily happenings in politics, international affairs, business and sport. There may be some editorial analysis and a favourite columnist worth reading. I look for balance, accuracy, sobriety and interesting stories in a newspaper.

This is a history of chieftaincies, tribes, rivalries, land congestion, conflict over land and a repeated pattern of rural violence placed in historical context but also with an eye on the intractability of current politics. The background is set with a quick documenting of early history on the Tambookie frontier of the Eastern Cape of South Africa (take a look at the map of the Tambookie or nort-eastern frontier in circa 1845. The focus switches to the colonial attempts to organize and order the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Province, an area of South Africa much

If you have ever visited Pilgrim’s Rest it is one of those places that stays with you and haunts your memory. It compares to Bendigo in Australia and Julian in California. It is still a tourist attraction of note in Mpumalanga and a village of romance and imagination. It is described in the online tourist blurb as a “a small town with a very colourful and exciting history”. The main street of this early mining settlement lives on its heritage and here you expect to find at least six bars to quench the thirst of the gold panner.

Constance Stuart Larrabee was a 20th century photographer of distinction but is not well known in the 21st century. This book sets out to change perceptions. Constance was born in Cornwall in 1914 and following her parents' emigration to Grootfontein in the then Northern Transvaal, grew up in South Africa. She always wanted to be a photographer and for her this was “the one road to take“, but in fact her life took her down quite a few roads. Photography mattered.

I always welcome books about books and book people. If people are interested in the making of a book they are extending their grasp and reach of all things bookish and book collectable. I was delighted to acquire this new book on a recent visit to Cape Town and found myself reading it from cover to cover in a couple of hours (it is just over 100 pages).

Heather Mason is an American who lives in Johannesburg, has embraced the city and blogs about her experiences on a website called 2Summers. She came to South Africa in 2010 and embraced a life as a migrant bohemian freelancer. She called her blog 2Summers as she experienced two summers in a row.

I fell upon this memoir by chance. It is old, out of date and a book passing into history as it was published over half a century ago (published by Howard Timmins in 1965). Jack Stodel does not feature in the standard encyclopedias or biographical dictionaries. Why bother with such a book? Memoirs give us a flavour and taste of the lives of a bygone generation and recall amusing experiences and anecdotes. We learn about the lives of others, how they lived and what the issues of the day were. Memoirs become building blocks in  the writing of history.

This book is a superb scholarly study of a little known aspect of the Mohandas Gandhi story in South Africa. It tackles the subject of running a printing press and spreading the message of Satyagraha or passive resistance through the medium of the printed word. This was the acorn that yielded a giant oak and bore fruit albeit with tragic costs and consequences with the achievement of Indian independence in 1947.

Johannesburg was always a much photographed place from its earliest days. It was a city that grew up with photographers and their cameras. As a town of migrants and immigrants, people wanted to send postcards and photographic souvenirs back home.

Review of Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail - Geosites and Viewpoints. First question – what is a geotrail? Let this book introduce you to the concept and the place. A geotrail is a route that takes us on a journey through remote time and space to geologically important sites and viewpoints (in this case in the Makhonjwa mountains). This is time travel at its best. Geology becomes the tool and the source of organized knowledge to find evidence of the earliest life forms on earth - a band of single cell organisms visible to the naked eye.

Phansi Art Museum is a Durban ubuntuArt Museum which collects to celebrate African art and beauty, as they describe on their website. Phansi holds a fine collection of art, crafts and artefacts (beadwork, traditional medicine containers, dolls, traditional domestic utensils etc.). They also have a publications department and are bringing out books and catalogues that immediately proclaim collectability.

Eric Rosenthal (1905-1983) was a prolific writer. The bibliography of his books in his Wikipedia entry runs to 50 books. I have collected most of them. He wrote non-fiction history about South Africa. His style was light and entertaining. He was a raconteur. He captured yarns and stories about the past and he loved drawing out the characters of early Johannesburg. Rosenthal was trained as a lawyer but chose journalism and writing for a living. His books were popular in their day with large print runs and are therefore readily available today.

Secret Johannesburg is a small book with a big punch. The intriguing title lures the city enthusiast to acquire it, pop it in a pocket or a handbag and take it on a journey to discover Joburg's little known treasures. Complete with nifty maps, this guidebook with a difference unearths Johannesburg’s amazing hidden objects, spaces, places, artworks, geology, water features, trees and museums.

 

1889 must have been a good year for visiting South Africa. I recently found and wrote about Frederick Young’s Winter Tour of South Africa in that year (click here to read). Stanley Leighton was another English visitor to South Africa in 1889 and here is another invaluable source of impressions and vignettes of places visited by a traveller of a certain class. He did not have a political agenda nor was he pushing a particular viewpoint.

Some people are determined and fortunate enough to live two lives in one lifetime. Laurence Chait is one of this special breed. He has lived a life in medicine and a life in art. He is a well-known Johannesburg medical specialist with a distinguished and long medical career as practitioner and professor of Wits University. His specialization is plastic and reconstructive surgery. His particular expertise has been the treatment of children born with cleft lip and palate deformities; he has changed the lives of thousands of children.

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