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While a number of dates could compete for the honour, the one generally accepted as the day to celebrate Johannesburg's birthday is the 4th October. This was the date set out in President Kruger's famous Proclamation of the 8th September 1886 (repeated on the 15th September) which reads as follows (translated with our emphasis addded):
Proclamation by His Honour the State President
WHEREAS it has become apparent to the Government of the South African Republic that is desirable to proclaim the farms named DRIEFONTEIN, ELANDSFONTEIN, Southern portion of DOORNFONTEIN, TURFFONTEIN, Government farm RANTJESLAAGTE, LANGLAAGTE, PAARDEKRAAL, VOGELSTRUISFONTEIN and ROODEPOORT, all situated in Witwatersrand, district Heidelberg, as public diggings.
Therefore I, STEPHANUS JOHANNES PAULUS KRUGER, State President of the South African Republic, on the advice and with the consent of the Executive Council, in terms of section 5 of Law No. 8 of 1885, as amended, proclaim the above-named areas as a PUBLIC DIGGING in the following sequence and as from the following dates, respectively, to wit: -
The farms DRIEFONTEIN and ELANDSFONTEIN, on Monday the 20th September, 1886;
The southern portion of the farm DOORNFONTEIN and the farm TURFFONTEIN, on Monday the 27th September, 1886;
The piece of Government ground named RANTJESLAAGTE and the farm named LANGLAAGTE, on Monday the 4th October 1886;
The farms named PAARDEKRAAL, VOGELSTRUISFONTEIN and ROODEPOORT, on Monday the 11th October 1886;
Insofar as they have not been beaconed off by owners or lessees for Mijnpachtbrieven, or, under Law No. 8 of 1885, as amended, reserved for cultivated areas, gardens, arable land and water furrows in the vicinity thereof.
GOD SAVE LAND AND PEOPLE.
Given under my hand at the Government Offices at Pretoria, this 8th day of the month, September, A.D. 1886.
S.J.P. Kruger State President
W. Eduard Bok State Secretary
The choice of site was made by members of the Executive Council after they studied a detailed report compiled by Johann Rissik, acting as Surveyor General, and Christiaan Joubert, Head of the Mines Department, emphasising that Randjeslaagte would be suitable for a small town. Randjeslaagte was a triangular piece of 'uitvalgrond', the land left over after surveys of surrounding farms had been completed. Today, the base of the triangle is along Commissioner Street between End and Ntemi Poliso Streets while the apex is on Boundary Road to the north on the border of Parktown / Upper Houghton (marked by one of the City's famous blue plaques).
Randjeslaagte Beacon (The Heritage Portal)
According to Shorten the decision was not popular as various camps had already been established along the Main Reef including Ferreira's Camp where building activity was the most advanced at the time. The Government stood firm as it was preferable for the proceeds from the sale of stands to go to the treasury rather than to private individuals and companies.
On 5 October Josias Eduard de Villiers' tender bid for surveying the land was accepted. He completed his work by early November and, after a short delay due to protests over lease periods, the stands were sold on public auction on the 8 Dec. The day before, the Government had defined the area of Johannesburg as the entire site previously known as Randjeslaagte. (The fascinating story of how Johannesburg got its name falls beyond the scope of this brief piece).
Johannesburg has certainly packed a lot of history (good, bad, ugly and inspirational) into its 127 years. Over the decades many commemorative events and celebrations have marked the day but today awareness levels are very low. As the remarkable story of the rebirth of central Johannesburg continues there may be an opportunity for entrepreneurs, officials and ordinary citizens to take ownership of the 4th October once more.
Statue of Von Brandis reading the proclamation (The Heritage Portal)