Month: June 2012

Newtown and Johannesburg revisited

During my previous visit to Newtown in September of 2011, I was severely hampered by really crappy weather. This time around, even though it was winter,  the weather had warmed up considerably from the previous week. The occasion was the “Creative Jozi” Public Art walking tour with Past Experiences. The intention was to pass through Newtown and then into the city itself, heading towards Hollard Street and stopping at a number of sites before returning back to our vehicles. I also wanted to revisit the Concourt area to photograph two artworks I had missed before. 

The former station

There had been a few changes at the Market Theatre parking area. The structure known as “The Potato Patches”  was now a big hole, and the wonderful old pedestrian footbridge was gone. However, the equally beautiful (and derelict)  toilet building could now be seen much better.
It was still possible to hang out with “Kiepie” or Brenda Fassie
And this beauty is still impressive.
Heading out, we passed Sci-Bono towards the old Chinatown area where the “Paper Pigeons” roosts on the traffic island that we used to pass on our way to and from Mayfair with the bus when I was young. 
From this spot one can see the former John Vorster Square, which was a place where many Apartheid Activists lost their lives to the violence of the security branch.  I had been wanting to get down here because the Sunday Times, as part of their centenary, had commissioned an artwork  to commemorate the eight people who lost their lives in this notorious police station. 
It is a powerful piece, stark in its simplicity, but sombre at the same time.  The artwork, entitled “Simakade” (the Zulu for “forever standing”), is by Kagiso Pat Mautloa.
From here, we walked up towards Main Street, pausing at Chancellor House, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo practiced law. 
Before passing the Magistrates Court,
and up into Main Street where many of the mining houses had their headquarters. The Anglo American buildings are magnificent, and their decorative friezes are really worth looking out for. The most famous piece here has to be the Oppenheimer Fountains which was relocated from its original site behind the Rissik Street Post Office, to this spot in Main Street. And, as usual the fountain was not working! (or had been turned off). 
The most impressive piece of art had to be the statue above the door of the Anglo American offices. I had missed seeing it before, but this time around was lucky  The Cheetah statue is by Dylan Lewis.
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Even the fountain is beautiful. 
The cornerstone of this building was laid by Sir Harry Oppenheimer on 15 June 1938, and it must really be magnificent on the inside. They do not build buildings like this anymore.
The BHP Billiton Building, which is close by, has an equally magnificent entrance.
The area where this building is has quite a few reminders of Johannesburg’s mining history, including the “Langlaagte Stamp Battery” dating from 1886.
As well as the lintel from the former Cullinan Building
This space is now occupied by the former Standard Bank Building, which was constructed from the top downwards.  Also in this area is a Hunslet mine locomotive, 
old mining machinery,
And, one of my personal favourites, a rhino statue which is based on the gold rhino that was discovered at Mapungubwe. 
And, staying on the theme of rhino, a particularly striking wall which I originally thought was using a rhino as the motif, it turns out that the theme of this work is “bull and bear”, in reference to the Stock Exchange.
The whole of Main Street from the Magistrates Court up through to Ghandi Square is well worth the visit, it is traffic free and well looked after and secure. And, if your shoes pack up, pop into your local cobbler.
Having reached the halfway point at Hollard Street, we now turned around and headed towards Market Street, and as usual it was crazy. I remember Market Street from when I was young, and it was always a hubbub of traffic and pedestrians. Not much has changed except it has become even more congested because of the Rea-Vaya stops that have effectively reduced the traffic here to a crawl.
Unfortunately we did not go past the refurbished Library, and I eventually did make a trip to see it and was not disappointed.  
Another place from my past is Kohinoor World of Music, which I do remember from the days going to the Library by bus. It seems as if they have decided to remain where they are instead of fleeing to the nether regions of the northern suburbs.   
Fortunately, many gems still exist in this area, and the first time I had been here on a tour in 2011 it had been a public holiday so was very quiet. This was not true today.  
The Rosenberg Building is one of the many oldies in Johannesburg, its foundation being laid in 1905.  There are also newer monoliths, like the former African Eagle building which is an easily recognisable landmark in the city.  
Although when I was young it did not sport a giant coke bottle on its flank.  
We paused at the small park where the statue of Walter and Albertina Sisulu is. This is easily one of my favourite pieces of street art, and one which seems to charm everybody that finds it.  
The end destination was close, and we took a route that I did not know existed before, coming out at Sci-Bono and the end of the tour.  
I was bushed, but still wanted to make a trip to Museum Africa, and the Fort and Constitutional Hill. But that is another story, for another day. There are more images of Johannesburg on the relevant gallery pages
DRW © 2012-2020. Images recreated and posts merged 25/03/2016. Dead link removed 05/02/2020

Detour in Pretoria

Following my initial trip to Pretoria on the Gautrain I was determined to start exploring a bit further. There is a lot of history in the city, and it is not really a place I know well. My weekly trips to the archives are very busy, but occasionally I may need to break these off to explore something along the way.  One of two possible places that I needed to see were Melrose House, and to find a memorial in Burgers Park. Both of these are next to each other, so it was just a matter of actually doing it. 
We parked at Melrose House, which is between Jacob Mare and Scheiding Streets.  The house is quite famous, as it was here that the peace documents that ended the Boer War were signed on 321 March 1902. The house was originally built for George Heys, and was completed in 1886. It was named after Melrose Abbey in Scotland. 
The back of Melrose House

The back of Melrose House

It was designed by WT Vale of London, and has stables and a tennis court in the grounds. The house has seen many famous personages living in it, including Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener and has always been somewhat of an iconic structure in Pretoria. It was declared a national monument on 17 May 1971.

Just across the street from Melrose House is Burgers Park.  The site for the park was set aside in 1874 at the recommendation of President TF Burgers, and development was started in 1889. It is a very pretty space and of special interest is the statue of President Burgers, as well as the South African Scottish Memorial which was what I was really looking for.  The park was declared a national monument in 1979.

The ornate gates originate from the house “Parkzicht” but these have since been vandalised, as has the Victorian bandstand. Fortunately the SA Scottish Memorial is in an excellent condition. 

South African Scottish Memorial



There is also a Florarium on the site, and a tree that was planted by Queen Wilhelmina in 1898,  although the original tree is long gone. Finally, a quick visit to President Burgers and then it was time to dash off home. 

FT Burgers (State President 1872-1877)

The one thing that struck me the most about this park was what a nice green space it was in Pretoria. Unfortunately, like everything else in South Africa, metal thieves are going to reduce it to rubble.

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016

Baby it’s cold outside.

Last weekend (23 and 24 June), Johannesburg had its first spell of really cold weather. The past few years our winters have been reasonably mild, so really cold is quite a rare event (worthy of a blog post at any rate). My benchmarks for cold date back to 1980, 1981 and 1984 when I spent time in Lohathla as a national serviceman. The military always seems to choose the worst conceivable places to use for training. The first place we were at during “2nd phase” was at a dump called “Duncan” which is close to Jan Kemp Dorp. We were there in mid winter and totally inadequately prepared for the extreme cold. I recall being at the shooting range where our water Bedford froze, and our water bottles were really ice packs that only started thawing in the afternoons.  
Lohathla was in a league of its own though. We did a battlegroup there in June 1981, and  having just spent 5 months on the border were really shocked by the cold. Fortunately the powers that be were reasonable lax about our uniforms so we were allowed civvy jackets to keep out the cold. It is however one of the coldest 3 weeks I have spent in years. In 1984, as part of “Ops Thunder Chariot” we froze once again. August and Lohathla are freezing, and trying to muster the courage to get out of the sleeping bag was very difficult. .
Oddly enough though, snow always evaded me until 2000 when I was in the USA on an extended trip. And that was when I wrote this piece: 
My First Snow.
“In Johannesburg snow is the exception rather than the rule, as long as I have known it has only snowed twice… in the early 60’s (I was only about 2 or 3 years old) and again in 1981 and I was in South West Africa at the time. My trip to the USA would occur in Fall and chances are snow would happen at least once when I got there. The day I landed it was supposed to snow but nothing happened. In fact, we had many snow warnings between October and the day I started this page and they never produced. The closest we got were light flurries which never left any sort of coating at all.
However, if you want to know what the weather is going to be like in Ohio, the locals advise you to wait 5 minutes. A complex weather system developed this week and on the 13th of December it finally snowed. 
I Usually I stick my nose through the blinds to see what shade of grey it is outside, and on this particular morning it was rapidly turning white outside. Small flakes were falling steadily, blanketing everything in a carpet of cotton wool. The pure whiteness was undisturbed by footprints or tyre treads. The grass was buried and everything achieved a kind of uniform smoothness. The silence was awesome, there was no pitter-patter which you get with rain, and when I looked upwards all I could see were small puffs of white fluttering haphazardly downwards. A few fell on my coat and I examined them in fascination, tiny fragile crystalline shapes which quickly turned to small specks of water as I watched. The cars gained new shapes, slowly disappearing into vague white car like shapes. It was not really cold, in fact I remembered those debates back home in winter about whether it was too cold for snow or did snow need warmth. It was irrelevant to me because I was awestruck
I scooped some up in my hand, disturbing the pristine carpet of snow on the sidewalk. It was chilly but compressed into a small ball of ice, very similar to the compressed hail I often collected and stuck in the fridge back home. I was aching to build some sort of snowperson, but I guess it is not quite the sort of thing somebody my age does without having a  small child helping. I took tentative steps into the snow, curious as to how it feels to walk on. It crunched under my boots but was not really slippery, flakes stuck to them but these shook off easily. I went indoors shortly after, my footprints marring the pristine surfaces.
Every now and then I was looking through the window, watching to see if my disturbances had disappeared, they were slowly being buried even as I watched. 
It was expected that rain would create havoc later that night but it only drizzled so not much happened and when I woke up the next day the snow was over. However, the remnants remained behind. A coating of ice lay over everything, the soft covering had frozen into sheets of ice. Cars were still buried, but instead of being able to brush the ice off, it would have to be chipped, melted, and broken off. Every edge had icicles hanging from them and our car doors were difficult to open because of the ice. I expected that the roads would be easy to walk on, but I was wrong, they were treacherous, slippery with ice and slush. The safest place seemed to be to walk along the grass which was covered in frozen snow which broke under my weight. I gingerly walked along, testing to see if I was likely to slip and land in an undignified tangle of legs and arms. As I grew in confidence so I was able to venture further away, crunching along as I went. Every now and then a suspicious patch of ice would hide a hole or puddle of slush. I needed to be very careful out here, just now I would end up on my rear end. When I got home later that evening, the trees glistened in the twinkling lights which dotted the homes when I live. It was stunning, my first snow had come and gone and no matter how bad the after effects were I still enjoyed what I had seen. Now, if only it will stay away till Christmas… because I am also dreaming of a white Christmas.”

I seems to recall it did not snow on Christmas, but the snow that we had didn’t melt either, so I did have some modicum of a “White Christmas”. 


A few weeks later I was in New York and again that is another of my benchmarks for cold. I recall a large puddle of water that was outside the place where we were, it was roughly 8 inches deep and did not thaw in all the time that I spent there. It was also frozen enough so that it could support the weight of a U-Haul truck!  On my last jaunt to Milwaukee I was in time to see the snow starting to melt, but there were still piles of it all over the place, and the river was still frozen solid. 

My verdict? Snow is really nice to see or experience, but heaven help us if it snows in Johannesburg. 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016