I walk the streets camera in hand, to discover my city, suburb by suburb.
I’m going to try and give this a bash, have been nagged on many occasions to start a blog. (You know who you are).
I’ve set myself a goal for 2018 and that is to try and find special places, interesting facts, special people who live in each and every suburb of the greater Johannesburg. Have you any idea how many suburbs there are? About 80 plus and that’s not including the townships which I hope to do as well.
If you live in a suburb of Joburg and have something interesting to share please drop me a line.
My journey with The Long March to Freedom started way back in 2015 when on a visit to One Eloff in downtown Johannesburg, I visited the studio of Nkhensani Rihlampfu. He was working on a statue of Basil D’Olivera, the first non white South African to play English County cricket. I was in awe of the detail on D’Olivera’s jersey and the size of the statue. At this stage I did not anticipate the magnitude of this exhibition.
On my first visit to this amazing collection of statues that make up “The Long March to Freedom” exhibition (which was first located at Fountain Valley Park just outside Pretoria), we were greeted by a very friendly guide named Tumo, who took us through the park explaining each statue in detail, whilst also protecting me from the harsh sun under an umbrella while I took photographs.
The collection starts off with the first chiefs and ends with the last activists, showcasing South Africa’s struggle for liberation over a period of 350 years.
The brain child of Dali Tambo (also Director of the National Heritage Project), the exhibition came about after he visited his father Oliver Tambo’s grave and assured him that he would make a statue of him to honour his part in the struggle. He heard his father’s reply from beyond the grave saying “Don’t do it just for me – do it for all of them.”
The exhibition now has close to 100 statues and has involved 40 professional sculptors, 8 South African Foundries and 5 less experienced artists who have been trained and mentored in the art of bronze sculpture. It is also the largest collection of bronze statues in one exhibition in the world.
Earlier this year the statues were moved to Maropeng, located in the Cradle of Humankind. This site, I feel, is far better suited to the exhibition and I love the natural surroundings adding to the statues lifelike appearances as they march across the veld (the astro turf and close proximity of the fence that was at Fountain Valley have been left behind – thank heavens) .
I was fortunate enough to be invited to brunch at the Maropeng Hotel and the unveiling of the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela statue on Valentines day where Dali Tambo gave a wonderful talk on the role of the women in the struggle, reminding us as well that “Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them, let’s keep them alive by remembering them.”
Another highlight of my journey was to be invited by 2Summers to visit Nkhensani’s studio again and one of the foundries used in the casting of these statues, The Workhorse Bronze Foundry, in downtown Joburg not too far from One Eloff. I never realised the amount of work involved in this process and now have a new found appreciation for all bronzes.
I highly recommend a visit to “The Long March to Freedom” and while you are there explore the Maropeng Visitors Centre, maybe even book an overnight stay at the hotel.
This is definitely not the end of my journey with this exhibition, but more like the beginning, as I share these statues, the knowledge behind their making and their role in our history with family and friends.
Troyeville – how do I explain this ‘melting pot of everything’ suburb which has been home to so many of our exceptionally creative talents, filled with history of the early beginnings of Jozi and which has more churches than any other suburb located in it (I still need to find out the reason for this)? I find Troyeville interesting, stimulating, inspiring, gritty, down-to-earth and very real.
The place that has me coming back to Troyeville time and time again has to be Spaza ArtGallery, a semi-detached house in Wilhelmina Street owned by Andrew Lindsay who himself is a well know creative in the city, with a tower in the garden called the *I’Themba tower. It’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY month for Spaza Art Gallery and as very little is known about the beginnings of Spaza Art Gallery I posed a few questions to Andrew, affectionately know as Drew, to get the full story on its eighteen years.
How did you land up in Troyeville?
It was by default really. I was looking to buy a bakkie scouring the classifieds in the newspaper, when I spotted a Troyeville semi-detached going for R60 000 with no deposit required. Together with a friend, I put in an offer not expecting to get it as neither of us had full-time employment, but we got it.
How did Spaza Art Gallery come about?
It began when I was doing mural paintings with the Social Development arm of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). They were setting up training centres all over South Africa to give retrenched mineworkers skills to start their own small businesses and I was asked to create murals and artworks at the centres. My approach was to go into these towns and villages where the centres where located and recruit local artists to assist me. I was also hoping that it would serve as some training and lead to opportunities for them.
In my travels I met some really talented self taught artists. Back in Joburg whilst working on a large mural on the Market Lab Building, I met up with one of these artists which I had met near Bushbuckridge. He had recently won a local award and thought he could ‘hit’ Joburg, taking a taxi from gallery to gallery. I guess he was in for a surprise and left Joburg poorer for the experience.
However, this got me to thinking that I could create a space to show people, like him ,who really wanted to come to Joburg, that there was a huge gap between rural and small town artists. So in late 2000, when the tenants in the semi on one side gave notice, I started turning this space into a gallery which had its opening on the 3rd March 2001. One of the successes of the gallery was showing the works of an artist I had met in Welkom, a graduate from the Bloemfontein Technikon, and having his entire body of work bought by an investment company.
The other aspect was that I knew a lot of local artist who had works lying around in their studios, so we were never short of works to display and sell. So began this journey….exhibitions, poetry and music sessions, making of huge sculptures in the garden… some of which can be seen around town like the mine worker on Sauer Street (now Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street), all the Angels on Beit Street alongside the Alhambra Theatre and some even being sent off to Mauritius.
(The ‘gallery semi’ has now been turned into an Air B&B but tucked away in the garden is a tiny replacement gallery that recently held a ‘Matchbox’ exhibition).
I know you have done a lot of work that is visible in the city, would you like to mention a few that you are extremely proud of?
I not only worked for NUM but have done a tremendous amount of public art projects – mainly murals – around the country. My first major mosaic project was the Troyeville Park in 1995. Again it was skills based and I proposed to work with the homeless in the park. It was a part of a deeper understanding that I had developed from when I first started working on a mural in 1991. You include the local community where possible and it protects what you are creating. This is true for this mosaic which has not been vandalised in all these years.
Perhaps the most prestigious achievement was winning the competition for the Constitutional Court doors with Myra Fassler-Kamstra…and we actually made the doors on the property in the back yard. Another favourite is the 1922 strike mural on Bertram Road, working with 22 local women which really touched my heart as it was so transformational for those working on the project. I still enjoy the busyness of a white on white mosaic such as the pillars on Joe Slovo bridge.
What does the future hold for Andrew Lindsay and the Spaza Gallery?
There is a local initiative – The Maker’s Valley – which we will see how we can fit into but there are no plans yet. It’s hard to run any space, never mind over such a long period of time, as it requires continual renewal especially in the light of the boom of new places and galleries, but I think the future is more digital so we will probably move in that direction. At the same time I still think we have something unique to offer the people of Joburg and, of course, overseas visitors.
We have hope and the *I’Themba tower in our garden, so join our Facebook page and come and visit.
Besides Spaza Art Gallery what’s your favourite place in Troyeville?
It has to be the Troyeville Hotel.
I would agree with Drew on that – they serve wonderful Portuguese inspired food and its well worth a visit.
Chatting to Drew over the years that I have known him, I have come to realise that he really needs to jot down all the wonderful stories he has to tell about Troyeville and it’s inhabitants of then and now. Maybe a few more blogs are required on this old suburb of Johannesburg.
*I’Themba tower which stands in the garden of Spaza Art Gallery was a community project pieced together, on a 20 metre high redundant communications tower, using over 7000 recycled plastic bottles that each hold a message of hope inside. The project was initiated by r1 (local street artist) and involved local schools and waste collectors in collecting the bottles and putting the messages of hope inside each one. i’Themba means trust and hope, rather fitting for such an amazing space – don’t you think?
February is “Black History Month” and originally started in the USA, but I’d like to think that we acknowledge this as well in the month that Nelson Mandela was released from prison, which was on the 11th February 1990. Accordingly, when I saw that the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was doing a tour of Dube in Soweto to honour six establishments with Blue Plaques, I thought this would be a good way to acknowledge our ‘Black History Month’.
The sky was thick with grey clouds as I headed to the Sunnyside to catch the bus – I had wished really hard that the rain would stay away, as everytime I have been to Dube with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation it has poured down – hence my feature photo. It did not rain and turned out to be the perfect day for this event, and I am glad to know that the heavens occasionally ‘listen’ to me.
Our first stop was at the house of the Sexwale family, where a blue plaque honouring Makhura Frank Sexwale who lived there with his wife Godlieve and their six children. Godlieve Sexwale still stays in the house and came out to watch the unveiling.
“Frank Sexwale 1918 – 2015. Makhura Frank Sexwale was the first Chairperson of the Soweto Legion (1982-1990). He volunteered for active service during World War II and was one of 200 ex-servicemen to receive a very small house where he and his wife Godlieve raised six children. Their son Lesetja was killed in the liberation struggle and Tokyo – sentenced to 18 years on Robben Island – was the first democratic Premier of Gauteng……”
The second Plaque was at the house Andrew Mlangeni – “In 1962 Andrew Mokete Mlangeni was one of the first six members of Umkhonto We Sizwe to be trained in Communist China. A keen golfer he had to now concentrate on politics. In 1964 he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Treason Trial and incarcerated in the cell next to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. He returned – with a degree and post graduate qualification in Political Science – to this home that he had occupied since 1954 with his wife June and their children…….”
The third Plaque was at the house of Potlako Kitchener Leballo (PK) – “While training as a teacher, Potlako Leballo was only sixteen when he volunteered for active service at the start of World War II. Twice taken prisoner in North Africa he was court-martialled for objecting to discrimination against black South African soldiers. Initially a member of the ANC Youth League, he broke away with Robert Sobukwe to form the PAC becoming Second in Command and Chief of its military wing, APLA-POQO. He was living in this house while planning the pass law protest at Sharpville for which he was jailed for two years. PK was banished to Vryburg, but chose to return to Lesotho, the land of his birth.
The fourth Plaque was unveiled at the house of two Activist Doctors – “This house was built for Dr. AB Xuma in 1959, after he was evicted from Sophiatown (His house still stands in Sophiatown as a museum, forming part of the Trevor Huddleston Centre.) A highly qualified medical practitioner, Xuma was president of the ANC from 1940-1949. After his death in 1962, his widow Madie Hall sold the house to Dr. Nthato Motlana. A community leader, his medical practice became a haven for the injured during the anti-apartheid uprisings of the 1970’s and 1980’s. His wife Sally is life president of the SA Council of Churches and Black Housewives League.
After a stroll up the road looking at the beautiful gardens and hearing about all the well known people who stayed in these houses, we arrived at the fifth house to be greeted by many family members of Sipho Mchunu who lived here. “Mchunu Home and the Maseru Massacre – Faced with a new wave of popular resistance in the turbulent 1980’s, the PW Botha regime embarked on cross-border attacks. Following the attack on Matola, Mozambique in 1981 the SADF inflicted a massacre on the ANC mission in Maseru, Lesotho on 9th December 1982. Most of the comrades were unarmed and unable to defend themselves. Forty two people died including five Basothu women and children. One of the fatalities was a member of the ANC mission in Lesotho, Sipho Mchunu, who lived in this house……..”
We then walked around the block, bringing us to the final house where the people of Dube were in full song and dance. It was so moving that the hairs stood up on my arms and I didn’t really want it to end. This is the house of Sebina Letlalo – “A founder member of the ANC, he lived under banning orders through the 1960’s with the last one expiring in 1972. Thousands attended his funeral in January 1981. The raising of the banned ANC flag amid reports of the apartheid flag being burned, forced government to pass the new Republic of South Africa Constitution Act 101 of 1981 making it a crime to damage the national flag……”
We ended the tour at this establishment with a wonderful spread of food and drinks and the outstanding hospitality of the people of Dube. However, I am in awe of the historical knowledge of Cheche Selepe, a writer who, along with Flo Bird and David Gurney, led us around the neighbourhood sharing endless stories of the people of Dube.
We met so many interesting people that I wish that I could have included all of them and the many photographs I took. The area Dube is filled with interesting people some who live there still and some who have left. Hopefully I will return to discover them all.
I have driven, and been driven, up and down Glenhove Road many, many times and always admired the large chemist bottles (otherwise known as ‘carboy’ which was purely a symbol used by chemists) in two little windows on the front of a building which has a plaque that reads “Glenhove Events Hub”. I found out last year that the building houses the National Pharmacy Museum of the Southern Gauteng Branch.
After making an appointment with Ray Pogir a retired pharmacist and now the curator of the museum, I headed to 52 Glenhove Road – on meeting Ray you immediately sense his passion for his profession, which he qualified in as a pharmacist, in the 1940’s. Ray gives me a little background on the building which was built in 1995 and the conference and events facilities it houses and then we head into the museum for a very informative tour of all the hundreds of items housed in it. It is a rather impressive collection of all things pharmaceutical.
The first chemist in Johannesburg – known in those times as an Apotheker – was established in 1886 by Ike Sonnenberg on Commissioner Street and was housed in a tent. Ray takes us through the skills required in which medication powders, pills and mixtures where made in the past. I’m fascinated by how minute the material quantities needed are and by the apparatus used in this manufacturing process – everything was so hands on.
There are prescription registers here dating back many years where Ray points out a prescription for President Paul Kruger who had contracted Malaria and one for his wife for what was the original pain plasters.
We look at all the different ingredients from poisons stored in green bottles, to light sensitive ingredients stored in blue bottles and the many natural plants used in medication. I even learn that “Spanish Fly”, an old aphrodisiac, is actually derived from a certain flying beetle, and that cannabis oil, arsenic and cocaine were all used many years ago in treating people. There is also a large collection of traditional medicines on display here.
There is so much more that I could add to this blog as I could have spent the whole day there listening to all of Ray’s stories and explanations – this has to be one of the best museums I have ever visited.
The National Pharmacy Museum is situated at 52 Glenhove Road, Melrose Estate. Contact Ray Pogir to make arrangements to visit 011 442 3615 or email him at email@example.com. A great reason to revisit Melrose Estate.
I’m not a great fan of Museum Africa as it fails to give me that welcoming feeling as I enter, there is no indication as to what exhibitions are on or where to find them. It almost looks like nothing happens there – too many blank walls and under-utilised spaces. My friend Kathy and I went to the museum after rekindling an interest in the ‘Joburg Firsts’ manuscript compiled by Anna Smith in 1976, specifically to see the exhibition “Joburg Firsts”, which, incidentally, has been on display since about 2012.
If you are in any way interested in the history of Johannesburg then this is an exhibition you should make the effort to see. Tucked away up the ramp to the left as you enter the museum is the area that houses this exhibition. The exhibition is mainly made up of display boards with photographs and text, with a few objects dotted around. The boards are beautifully set out in categories such as In the beginning, Sport, Education, Churches, Mining etc.. One cannot help but think how this exhibition could be transformed into a beautiful coffee table book that any Joburg enthusiast would love to own.
Some of the interesting facts you can discover about Joburg’s firsts –
Did you know there was a female mayor of Johannesburg in the 1940’s? I found this refreshing as women did not have many rights then.
Who was the first female mayor of Soweto? – Sophia Masite in 1995
When did the township of Orlando get it’s public swimming pool? – 1954
Which public space in Joburg never had any segregation laws under apartheid imposed on it and was open to all the people of the city? – The Zoo and Zoo Lake areas.
The first major disaster in Jo’burg was the Great Dynamite Explosion of 1896 when a freight train hauling 8 rail trucks of dynamite (about 60 tonnes) exploded at the Braamfontein siding. This left a crater measuring 50 meters wide by 60 meters long and 8 meters deep, as well as destroying 3000 homes.
The first Mosque was built in Kerk Street in 1906.
The Globe Theatre was Joburg’s first permanent theatre, opening in 1889.
Lottie Davis was the city’s first female motorcyclist in 1911 (I’m all for girl power.)
The first suburban library was in Jeppestown in 1896.
Soweto was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg in 2002.
There are so many more interesting firsts but I’m not going to list them all here as you need to take a visit to Museum Africa and discover them for yourself.
Museum Africa is situated at 121 Lilian Ngoyi Street, Newtown. They are open Tuesday to Sunday from 09h00 to 17h00. There is no entrance fee.
2018 has been somewhat of an emotional roller coaster ride for me with many happy times, great achievements, involvement in some awesome projects, lots of Jozi related aggravations and disappointments. We were blessed with the arrival of a brand new little granddaughter, Lea, but two of our children left for Australia – Mandy and family to Sydney and Jason to Perth (and we wish them all the very best in their new adventures).
After walking the streets of Joburg for the past seven years, and now having a huge collection of photographs, I decided that it was time to do something with my photography so I started this blog, my aim was to focus on the suburbs of Johannesburg and what would make me want to go back to those suburbs. I’ve managed to post up 25 blogs this year, not all are of suburbs but all Joburg related. I was also fortunate to get some of my photographs published in ArchSA and Johannesburg in your Pocket. A couple of articles in the Heritage Portal carried my photographs as well and the City of Johannesburg used my photo’s in their brochure and poster for their Remembrance Day event at the Cenotaph.
We did two Land Art events this year, one at the Johannesburg Botanical gardens in Emmarentia and one at The Wilds. Both were very successful and attracted a good amount of people. I would love to do more of these events in different parks in the city… if it was not for all the red tape in applying for permission from City Parks. There could be a possibility of starting up a “Land Artist Group” that meet up throughout the year at random places to do some land art.
Victoria Yards opened officially and has become a firm favourite of mine on First Sundays as it is great to chat to the resident artists and see what they are up to. The Joburg Photowalkers along with the Joburg Sketchers held an exhibition there in September and I got some good feedback on my seven entries. It is also a great place to meet up with friends, plus it’s close to home.
Besides helping with the archiving at the Children’s Memorial Institute (CMI), I have also got involved with two cemetery projects – “Friends of the Cemeteries”, which falls under the auspices of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and basically maintains the burial areas and gets people to visit historical cemeteries such as Braamfontein and Brixton cemeteries, and the “South East Witwatersrand Family History Society” where we take photographs of the graves for the Genealogy Society of South Africa.
With Johannesburg Heritage Foundation I got involved in assisting with a few historical walks at the zoo during its birthday month. I really enjoyed these and hopefully we can repeat them this coming year. I went to the amazing Kedar Lodge and Meerhof Lodge with Kathy and even though these were just one night stays away from home, both trips were well deserved breaks from the norm.
Besides all the political issues that we have here in Jozi and the rest of the country, we still live well with so much to be thankful for. I promised myself that I would get rid of stuff in 2018 – well that did not happen, maybe I should try harder in 2019.
I wish for a greater understanding of, and empathy with, the people of this country, a cleaner, safer inner city, less moaning, more action, more positivity and less negativity in 2019. I do favour odd numbered years, so may 2019 be good for all of us.
I’m often asked the question what it is that makes me love this city called Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi, Egoli etc. so very much? The answer comes rather easily – it makes me feel alive. Going through many emotions such as happiness, sadness, joy, anger, surprise, fear, anticipation, regret, contempt, love, et al. makes me feel alive. It gives me direction, an aim, a mission, a plan. enthusiasm to find a solution even if it’s just for me. Joburg stirs up all these emotions in me. I see that skyline as I head back into town after a trip and my heart melts – the iconic Ponte City and Hillbrow tower give me that “I’m at home” feeling.
I need a certain amount of chaos in my life and Joburg gives this to me, with it’s diversity of different cultures. You can go to Fordsburg and feel as though you are in India or Pakistan, Mayfair to feel as if you are in Somalia. Go to Cyrildene and feel as though you are in China or Taiwan and when you visit Yeoville you could be anywhere in Northern Africa. In central Joburg, visit Jeppe street to experience a bit of Ethiopia or Diagonal street to experience muti shops if you are not to keen on visiting the Mai Mai market. There is just so much to see and experience in this city which is also forever changing, it makes me wonder how anyone can say there is nothing to do here.
Green Spaces and public swimming pools, nature parks with really good hiking trails right here in the city, jacarandas in October all over my suburb and the rest of Joburg, cosmos flowers at Delta Park in April – so who needs a mountain and the sea.
Graffiti festivals attracting international graffiti artists, art hubs such as the Bag Factory, Victoria Yards and August house, the architecture both old and new, the history of the city. My list could go on and on.
Most of all it’s the people who make up this wonderful city; besides all the negative stuff you read and hear about, they are friendly, helpful and a whole lot of fun. Speak to any tourist and they will agree with this.
Jozi has a way of creeping under your skin, for she can at times not be the nicest city to live in but charms you into forgiving her. Someone once summed her up to be rough, parties hard but is someone you want to hang out with because she is so exciting. Besides all this it is where my home is.
Every year from late September to November, Jacaranda trees go into bloom in Johannesburg and Pretoria. This starts a photo frenzy among the photography fraternity with everyone trying to find where the best spot is to photograph these beautiful trees. Facebook, Instagram and other sites become inundated with purple photos. Today I found my best spot but before I get to share this place let me tell you a bit about these trees.
Jacaranda Mimosifolia is it’s botanical name, first seeds were imported by James Clarke and the first two trees were planted in Pretoria by JD Cilliers in what is now the Sunnyside Primary School. There is a plaque there that reads as follows – “These two trees were planted by the late J D Cilliers in the year 1888 and were the first Jacaranda’s to be planted in Pretoria. They were imported from Brazil”. In 2001 they were declared a “Category three Invader” which means they can’t be planted, propagated, sold or transplanted. However the existing Jacarandas will continue to keep us in awe when they bloom.
The first Jacarandas planted in Johannesburg were at Charlton Terrace in Doornfontein. It is also believed that a William Nelson owner of Nelsonia Nurseries in Turffontein grew 30 million trees, shrubs and plants by 1896. He undertook to line the streets of Kensington with Jacarandas, this took 6 months to complete. It is believed to be the first time in South Africa that trees were planted on such a large scale. (Info required from the Joburg City Parks site)
There are a few myths attached to these blooms – one is that if a student has not started tostudy by the time the blooms fall they will fail. Another is that if a bloom should fall directly on you it is lucky and therefore you will pass your exams. It would be interesting to know if this has been put to the test.
I discovered these beautiful Jacarandas in West Park Cemetery this morning whilst helping with the documentation of graves. Where are your best spots this year?
Enjoy them while they are here.
A few suggestions of great viewing places in the Johannesburg area, Saxonwold, Houghton, Westcliff and of course Kensington.
Bertrams, centrally situated, lies to the east of the city surrounded by Doornfontein, Lorentzville and Troyeville. It’s right next door to the Ellis Park precinct, on a Rea Vaya route and was proclaimed a suburb on the 16th August 1889 when Robertson Fuller Bertram, an estate developer, acquired a portion of the farm Doornfontein.
Bertrams is not the place that you should go wandering the streets of on your own, however there are a few places that are quite safe to go to and are my favourite places to visit in the area.
A must visit is the Bertrams Inner City Farm for great organic vegetables in the heart of Jozi. It’s advisable to make time to visit here as you walk around with either Amon, Refilwe or one of the other ‘farmers’ as they harvest your order.
Refilwe and her crew can also be found at Victoria Yards on their first Sundays; do try their freshly squeezed juices, mine been the beetroot, apple and ginger. They have a facebook page – Bertrams Inner City Farm and are situated at 46 Bertrams Road (the entrance is opposite the Rea Vaya station).
Right next door to the Bertrams Inner City Farm is the Joburg Cricket Club which caters for the children in the area and has had some amazing success stories, such as a trip to Greece in 2015 with the youth, only to return with the Hellenic Cricket Federation trophy as winners. Visit http://www.joburgcricket.club for more information.
Another of my favourite places is Twilsharp Studios which has working artist studios with an exhibition space. It is run by husband and wife team Garfield and Rebecca, who stay in the most intriguing accomodation on top of one of the many workshop roofs.
It’s not generally open to the public but do keep an eye on the Twilsharp Studios Facebook page (@twilsharpstudios) for upcoming exhibitions. It’s one of those places that makes you feel right at home. It is situated at 40/42 Gordon Road, Bertrams.
Unfortunately most of the area has falling into disrepair but with developments like Victoria Yards and Nando’s Head Office in the neighbouring suburb of Lorentzville things will hopefully start to improve.