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Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 06:16

[Intro originally published 30 July 2015] Last week we visited the Modderfontein Historic Village to hear about plans that development firm Zendai has for the area but more specifically to hear what will happen to the historic buildings on site. We were told that it is too early to go into specific details but the buildings will be retained and used as a major selling point for whatever use is decided. One of the ideas mentioned in passing was that the buildings could form part of a new University. The Zendai website currently states that the buildings are being and will be used for business, cultural and recreational purposes (offices, galleries, museums etc.). 

The public meeting took place at Frans Hoenig Haus, the spectacular residence built in 1896 for the first manager of the dynamite factory. The article below takes a deeper look at the 'House that Dynamite Built'. It was written by Ian Reid (well known reporter at the Rand Daily Mail) and appeared in the April 1973 edition of Bulletin, the early journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa).


Entrance to Frans Hoenig Haus (The Heritage Portal)


Frans Hoenig Haus (The Heritage Portal)


Until recently I had been firmly under the impression that dynamite people blew things up... spent their lives going round destroying things. So when I received an invitation from AE & CI to have lunch with them at their dynamite factory at Modderfontein recently, I patted my wife and kissed the dogs goodbye. But I need not have worried. They wanted to show the Press what they had saved. A little bit of South African history they are keeping for posterity. 

It was a house they wanted to show us. A big, rambling house of mainly German design which they have brought back to all its splendour.


Early photo of Frans Hoenig Haus (Commemorative Photo Album of Modderfontein)


Frans Hoenig was the first manager of the Dynamite Factory. The house was one of the first things he tackled when he was appointed manager. He wanted a house befitting his position. He certainly got it. In his day it was sumptuously furnished with mainly hand-carved furniture and fittings.

Right up till 1946 the house served as the home of the factory manager. After that it was sub-divided into flats. Long before that, however, it had lost much of its original charm and almost all if its furniture.

The British saw to that. In June 1900, the Third Calvary Brigade captured Modderfontein. After Pretoria surrendered, a semi-military force called the South African Constabulary was established to assist district commissioners. Major-General Baden-Powell was in command of the Constabulary and Modderfontein became its first depot.

Baden-Powell lived in the Manager's House, but his men had little respect for what they considered enemy property. They "borrowed" anything they wanted and very little was ever returned.

Now the house, called Frans Hoenig Haus, is back to something like its original splendour.


Frans Hoenig Haus (The Heritage Portal)


There was only one dining room chair left, so the company had others made - exact copies. Two settees were made from photographs of the originals. Slowly the house is getting back to its "lived-in" look. And from now on it is going to be lived in again. Not by the factory manager - he has another house - but by directors of the company and VIP visitors.

One thing they should do when they live there is to meet the man who counts. I couldn't get hold of him, but I heard all about him. His job comes into operation during thunderstorms. When there is a flash of lightning he starts counting until he hears the thunder. This tells him how far the storm is away. And when it gets to 5km they evacuate the factories. Nobody at Modderfontein takes a chance.


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