Book Review Type: 
Battle of the Books

I recently acquired two hard to come by Johannesburg history books, both published by the City of Johannesburg in the early 1990s. I thought I would write up two short reviews to raise awareness about these titles.

Debbie Fiansky: Johannesburg Fire and Emergency Services Department 100 Years of Service/Jaar van Diens. (1990). This book celebrates the centenary of Johannesburg's Fire Brigade . 8 chapters written in English , 3 in Afrikaans . We see the history of Johannesburg through the prism of essential fire and emergency services in operation for a century. People, systems, structures, buildings, fire fighting equipment show that fire fighting in Johannesburg was a professional almost semi military service from the earliest days of the mining town, despite a chronic lack of water. Many heroic proud men served the city across a spread of the city's fire stations. A good selection of unusual photographs and copies of early documents highlight changes in approaches , systems , fire engines and technology . No wonder almost every small boy dreams of becoming a fireman .

2015 Price Guide: R300.




George Grant & Taffy Flinn: Watershed Town The History of the Johannesburg City Engineer's Department (1992). This book , written in English, was also published by the Johannesburg City Council as a centenary effort. This substantial volume tells the story of the work of the city's municipal engineers, who over a century addressed and solved the formidable challenges of building a city on a watershed and ridges of the Witwatersrand . We often forget how much a city owes to its professional engineers and planners. Essential municipal services of water supplies and reservoirs, roads and motorways, bridges and storm water drains, street lighting, sewerage and refuse disposal, and much more were provided by a department of well qualified engineers and planners . The City Engineers Department was led by a succession of capable town and city engineers . Did you know that four successive City Engineers were educated at Parktown Boys High School? The book is illustrated with some superb maps and usual photographs of early construction sites . This is an essential work of reference for anyone studying the history of Johannesburg.  

2015 price guide: R300-R600



Both books are interesting in that they were published before 1994 and the radical changes in the structure and staffing of the city that came with the new century. These books show that behind the modern city stood a century of effort, organization and expertise in the provision of essential services that made Johannesburg the successful metropolis of today and enabled the city to grow in every direction. The challenges of the new 21st century was to address issues of inequality, poverty in the township areas and to extend services to new suburbs and townships. Anyone involved in the running of the city today, with the genuine ambition of being "a world class African city " will benefit from reading these books and learning from the past.

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories.  She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials. Kathy is a member of the online book community the Library thing and recommends this cataloging website and worldwide network as a book lover's haven.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - 19:52
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