In August last year, Flo Bird, SJ de Klerk and I started planning a memorial to the victims of the 1922 Strike / Rand Revolt. As far as we know, there is no other memorial still standing in South Africa, and we wanted to mark the centenary of this tragic event. We first approached the Minerals Council (originally Chamber of Mines) for financial support but they refused on account of it being a racially sensitive subject – their words. In the end, we were able to fund this memorial with generous donations from the City of Johannesburg, Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, SJ de Klerk and some of our Friends. It was to be a joint venture with the Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries.
There were initially several ideas for an inscription and for the stone we would erect. Many ideas fell by the wayside but one thing we did know was that it should be erected in Braamfontein cemetery where it was less likely to be defaced and vandalized.
Braamfontein Cemetery (The Heritage Portal)
There are far more 1922 Strike graves in Brixton but conditions are so bad there that no-one would visit a memorial there. Towards the end of last year, we had decided that the stone should be a rough block of granite, preferably with the drill holes on it to represent mining activity. SAMCRO gave us the names of several quarries in the Brits area where we could go and look at the type of granite block that was available. Jacques and Adele Fourie of Tshukudu Granite offered us one of the end blocks (waste blocks) for free and so, on a bright and clear day in November, when the rain had stopped for a while, we went up to the quarry and spent some time there, looking at what was available. We settled on a piece which we were told weighed 800 kgs but turned out to be two and a half tons.
Granite at the quarry outside Brits (Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries)
The massive piece of stone (Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries)
The next step was to work out how to get this block to SAMCRO’s factory in Boksburg. The rain just kept coming and the ground in the quarry was too boggy for a big truck with a crane to drive in and collect it. December came and with it the closure of SAMCRO’s factory for the Christmas break. By now, we were starting to get seriously worried!
In the meantime, we were finalizing the inscription and decided to keep it very simple and all-inclusive. The other decision we had to make was the location of the memorial. Initially, we had planned to put it on the old nursery section where there is a large expanse of open ground with a good view from Smit Street. However, it turned out that we couldn’t be sure that there were any graves of Strike miners in that section, as had originally been thought. We then considered the open area west of the coffin rest where there is a large open space. This made sense because along the main drive through the cemetery, we have first the dynamite disaster memorial, then the coffin rest. If we had put it beyond the coffin rest, it would have been near a row of graves of those reinterred in 1924 from the Milner Park temporary cemetery.
Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion Memorial (Kathy Munro)
At the suggestion of Eric Itzkin, a month before the unveiling, we chose its current site outside the crematorium where the memorial would be seen by many more people. Visitors would feel more comfortable visiting it on that site. City Parks was happy for us to erect it there too.
Flo Bird speaking at the 1922 Rand Revolt Memorial unveiling ceremony. The Braamfontein Crematorium is in the background. (Kathy Munro)
Throughout this planning period, we were in regular contact with SAMCRO, the Monumental Masons who were assigned to erect the memorial. Their offices opened again on January 10, and we hoped to hear that the stone had been collected from the quarry. There were some sleepless nights as we anticipated no stone in place for the unveiling but the weekend before the unveiling, Flo and I were told the stone had been delivered to the SAMCRO factory. We went out there on the Saturday morning to have another look at it and decide where the inscription should be on the stone. Raymond Cronje was very accommodating throughout this agonizing period of waiting for the stone and kept reassuring us that all would be well! So, it was a huge relief to see the stone there and know that in fact, all was well. We slept easy after that.
During that week, Flo also decided that we should put grave markers on the graves in Braamfontein where miners were buried. For whatever reason, probably financial, when they had died during the Strike, the family had not erected headstones. We asked SAMCRO to make 8 grave markers and put them in place before the unveiling. I was called one afternoon to come through and show them the positions of the graves. And then horrors – the day before the unveiling, one of our tour guides showed me that in fact, they had spelt one of the miner’s surnames wrong! Frantic phone call to SAMCRO and they pulled out all stops and on the Saturday morning, the day before the unveiling, they replaced it. Meanwhile, the stone was also erected two days before the unveiling, so all was in place for the Saturday. We had concerns about a large truck with a crane on the back being able to navigate through the main gate of the cemetery, past the large trees and down to the crematorium but the lads are very experienced at this, and they managed it well.
The Memorial (Kathy Munro)
A month before the unveiling, we started contacting the Regiments that had been involved with the Strike, and with the exception of a few, they were all able to send a representative to the unveiling. It seems that there are only a few centenary commemorations happening on the Witwatersrand so they were pleased to be able to attend ours and show their respect for their fallen members. Finding a representative from the police proved difficult as no-one seems to answer phones, but we eventually found the Acting Provincial Commissioner, Major General Patricia Rampota, who agreed to be the police representative. We invited Councillor Harris from the Johannesburg Mayoral Committee to unveil the stone, together with Clem Berry, a long-time member of the Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries and a descendant of one of the innocent civilians who was killed during the Strike.
The rest as they say, is history. Our memorial stone has been erected!
Main image: Kathy Munro and Sarah Welham at the unveiling of the 1922 Rand Revolt Memorial
Sarah Welham is the founder of the Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries
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