Kathy Munro

I recently added a new title to my library, an old book with the quaint title of "A Winter Tour of South Africa". This is a first edition, published in London in 1890. It is an account of travels through South Africa by the distinguished writer and traveller, Fredrick Young.

Celebrating Bosman is one of those perennial favourites. Published in 2004, it is still in print and available at Wits Press. Patrick Mynhardt who brought the Bosman character, Oom Schalk Lourens, to life in his one man show that became a South African institution, selected and introduced his favourite Bosman stories in this easy to handle single volume. Mynhardt passed away some ten years ago but he has not been forgotten.

This book is part of the well established series “Wake Up, This is Joburg”. It is slender, slight and instantly collectable with the look and feel of a quality art book. The book is a combination of photographic essay and a journalist’s essay on Johannesburg as shopping mecca. It is all about the people. The author, Tanya Zack and the photographer, Mark Lewis walk the city’s streets to interview and pin down fleeting images of the shoppers of the city.

With the change in the office of the President from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa, the subject of what the state can and cannot do is topical. This book is a serious academic study written by scholars and activists of note who have thought hard, debated among themselves through many seminars and conferences and connected to the international agendas about global development. It is all part of a wider debate about where the world is going in the 21st century and how best for South Africa to arrive at a developed status destination.

The Second Anglo Boer War (1899 to 1902) was a disaster for both victor and vanquished. For the British it was an excessively costly colonial adventure and a complete miscalculation of likely duration. Both Afrikaners and African people lost more than they gained in defeat, occupation, starvation, destruction of farms, exile and imprisonment. The two Boer republics were lost and with it Afrikaner independence. The British taxpayer footed a very expensive escapade where generals still thought about fighting set piece battles on the veld.

Have you ever wondered about the distinction between an immigrant and a citizen? Many of us are immigrants to South Africa or if it was your parents or grandparents who came to South Africa from abroad, you could describe yourself as a first, second or even third generation South African. Depending on when and how your family came to South Africa, and the colour of your skin, it could have been a fairly painless process to transition from immigrant to citizenship status.

Here is my pick for the ideal late Christmas or new year present for the South African heritage enthusiast. Paul Duncan (writer and publisher) and Alain Proust (photographer) have done it again. Top marks to this well-known duo in heritage for producing another handsome book.

This week I thought I would write about a Durban book as I am about to spend a couple of days there shortly. I have always had a liking for Durban. For me it was an exciting and welcoming holiday town and as a teenager how I looked forward to a fortnight’s holiday at one of the beachfront hotels enjoying sunshine, sea, sand, sunburn and a South African Christmas.

In June, Dr Dean Allen author and lecturer, delivered a wonderful lecture to members of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. The venue was Northwards and the setting perfect for a lecture that matched the period of the room so perfectly. The theme was the subject of this book and the lecture immediately made me want to reach for the book and read more about Matjiesfontein and the man who made the village. Better still a trip to Matjiesfontein to capture the town that has been restored to its pristine condition and enjoy the Victorian era ambience.

This is a fascinating first person autobiographical account of one woman’s experiences and life in Southern Africa between the early 1880s and her final years in Johannesburg in the  1960s. Bertha Goudvis enjoyed a long and arduous life (1876 – 1966) during years of turbulent change and several wars. She was a first hand observer of the colonial world and lives on to comment on city life in modern Johannesburg.    

Last week it was my pleasure and good fortune to attend the launch of this project, or perhaps I should say the mid-stage of this survey, endeavour and adventure. This is a book in the making. At this moment it is a report, perhaps somewhat dry and very much a presentation of data, but already it transcends the report phase and is on it its way to a landmark book. As a physical book there are only 50 numbered collectors’ hard copies (and each one will become instantly collectable).

I must start this review by declaring an interest... I am a committed, enthusiastic book collector. At times it is a disease but books are like bread and butter in my life. A book is an essential possession. When it comes to books I am a maximalist not a minimalist. At times they take over and one has to introduce discipline and order.  

It was Herman Kallenbach’s good fortune and misfortune to have met and formed a rare, deep and enduring friendship with Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa in the years 1903 to 1914. The good fortune came because to have been a close friend and associate of the man who became Mahatma Gandhi earns Kallenbach a place in Indian and South African struggle history. The misfortune followed because Kallenbach became a tortured soul as an ascetic acolyte and struggled during his entire life to find an identity and meaning in life.

I have always been interested in polar exploration and history. I think the best book on early 20th century polar exploration is by Apsley Cherry Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, which is where Angie Butler starts her book. Butler’s book also fits into a library on polar exploration. Published in 2011, it is a book about her seven year dogged quest to find Frank Wild, the polar explorer and Shackleton’s right hand man. Butler made it her mission to discover what happened to Wild in the last third of his life. 

‘Then and Now’ books of photographs are becoming popular. I recently reviewed Vincent Van Graan’s Cape Town: Then and Now (click here to view). There is an appeal in matching old photographs that open a window on the past and then to return to the exact same spot to see the same place as it is today. What has changed and what has remained? It is a form of heritage treasure hunting.

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the Urania Village Community recently organized a walking tour of the Johannesburg Observatory and the surrounding streets of old Observatory. Observatory is a Johannesburg suburb dating back to the early 1900s, when part of the Bezuidenhoudt Farm was in part sold and in part given for the establishment of this scientific institution under the director R T A Innes. The Observatory is located at the highest point on the hill overlooking the suburb.

This is a novel and not a work of history but it draws on the styles and writings of other distinguished writers of and about Johannesburg who provided the inspiration and perhaps some foundation stones. One realizes that there is a community of people out there who love Johannesburg and write about the place. Many of us who live here are passionate about Johannesburg and feel that unique pulse of the city.

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