Category: Johannesburg

Retrospective: Newtown Municipal Compound

In 2011 I  did a number of photowalks in and around Newtown in Johannesburg and blogged about them, and as a result I started using the blog more and more as I found even more uses for it. The end result in 2019 is quite large but I never really utilised it as much back then, and during one of my periodic searches for images I rediscovered the images from the Newtown Municipal Compound and decided to do a retrospective of them. Once again I am not an expert in this field, and I really want to show what I saw back then because it is quite important to acknowledge our heritage (as horrible as it may be) if we want to understand more about the present and why we are where we are. I am afraid that things were very different back then and our sense of right and wrong really changed over the years as people began to recognise that even the lowliest needed consideration.

I recall walking though this complex and was horrified, however, had I been walking through here in 1950 what would my attitude have been? Sadly the African labourer employed in the mines and in industry where labouring was done on a large scale probably faced these sort of conditions as a matter of course, it was the norm rather than the exception.  Remember that back then pass laws were enforced too. No pass could result in arrest and a stay in Number 4 Jail.

The complex forms part of the area around Newtown that encompasses Sci-Bono, Museum Africa, the Market theatre and the former old market in Johannesburg. This area has been extensively redeveloped since 2011 and I did not recognise it when I passed through in 2016. 

Stitched image of rear of compound (1500x 393)

The image below was stitched from 2 separate images and shows the layout of the compound.  This image and subsequent key were on an information board at the compound. 

Compound layout (1500×527)

Key:

1. Domestic quarters

2. Compound manager’s house: the manager had to be available at all hours and was housed directly behind the compound. 

3. Sleeping quarters: the compound was designed to accommodate 330 workers. No mattresses or lockers were provided. Rooms would be strung from side to side by clothing, washing, and other possessions. Each room had a small coal stove for heating

4. White staff houses

5. Lock-up room: Used to lock up workers who broke the rules, they were often chained to the wall and the only toilet was a bucket.

6. Ablutions: the toilet room had 16 squat holes. No partitions or doors separated the toilets

7. Induna’s room: the Induna was the compound manager’s right hand man.

8. Showers: there was 1 cold shower for every 165 workers, and one latrine for every 55. Hot water was only available in buckets.

9. The courtyard: space provided where social interaction could happen

10. Gantry

11. The Tree: if the lock-up room was unavailable unruly workers could be chained to the tree.

12. Compound manager’s office: the compound manager kept control administration and law enforcement from this small office. He was assisted by the Induna, an admin clerk, and the municipal police.  

13, Veranda: There were no cooking or eating facilities in the compound. Workers could go eat at eateries catering for black workers or use the counters for food preparation. Sinks were provided for washing clothes and dishes. 

14. Stables and Kennels: over 750 draught horses were stabled here. The horses pulled the wagons used for refuse and sanitary waste removal. Cart drivers and animal keepers were also housed at the compound. The stables were demolished in the 1930’s. 

The interior is grim, and was probably much worse when it was occupied by men who came from all around the country, sleeping in dormitories, sharing communal ablution facilities and exposed to diseases such as TB. The record states that at one point there was 1 shower for every 165 workers and 1 latrine for 55. 

Communal showers (8 on layout image)

Urinal (6 on layout image)

I do not know what era the building represents, but it is probably quite close to what it may have looked like to those luckless migrant workers who ended up here.

A reproduction of a pamphlet issued in 1946 paints the following picture:

Extract from a pamphlet published by the Communist Party in 1946

The paragraph above is an extract of a speech presented by Hilda Watts at a meeting of the Johannesburg City Council in November 1946, reproduced in a  pamphlet published by the Communist Party.

Sleeping area

One of the sleeping area upper levels has a display of “luggage and possessions” which I thought spoke volumes about the men who lived here.

Naturally fights would break out and there was even a handy “lock up room” (marked 5 on the layout image above). How much abuse of power happened in that small room is unknown.

Just image a place like this after a long days work with primitive facilities and a lack of privacy. From what I read this particular compound was much better than some that were in use by the council.

We are fortunate that places like this still exist so as to give us a glimpse into a different era and an almost invisible group of workers who swept streets, emptied dustbins, collected night-soil and performed other menial but important work for a pittance, often supporting wives and children far away. They were the faceless and nameless that helped make Johannesburg what it is today. Inside the compound is a statue of an orange clad worker launching his spade up high with arms outstretched, almost reaching for the sky. It is quite a fitting tribute to those workers who eked out a  living in such a deplorable place.  I am glad I saw it, but am ashamed at what I saw.

DRW © 2011 – 2019. Created retrospectively 13/05/2019. Some information from the information board and displays at the compound. 

Updated: 15/05/2019 — 17:25

A brief burst of pink

Last week I posted about Spring and one of the images was of an ornamental cherry tree (aka “Sakura“) that was flowering. I had never seen any of these until I came to the UK, and this seemingly normal tree shows its true colours when Spring finally comes around. 

The clusters of pink blossoms are very beautiful, and I really look forward to seeing them probably because the sakura is a very common theme in anime. It pops up in many of the series I watch and I am currently reading a fanfiction about Clannad, where one of the characters is intent on becoming the student council president so that she can save the sakura that are due to be cut down. It does sound corny but the Japanese do hold the sakura in esteem. 

Today when I came home the tree was loosing its blossoms and the area underneath it was becoming a pink carpet as the blossoms fell.

The wind was clustering the many petals into hollows in the road and the drizzle ensured that they stayed there, it was really something to see. By next week the sakura will be back to its normal summer foliage and the cycle of rebirth will start again. Such are the ways of nature.

Of course it is not only the Sakura blossoming, but every other tree that is capable of producing blossoms has done so. This beauty was close to where I work.

In South Africa we have a similar situation with Jacaranda trees. These were planted in the pavements of Johannesburg and Pretoria probably during the 40’s or 50’s and every year they undergo a similar burst of colour as they bloom and then loose their blossoms, coating the area underneath them in a carpet of purple. 

You can really see the effect in the image I took on Northcliffe Ridge a few years back.

Jacarandas in the Northcliffe/Fairlands area (1500 x 811)

Trees really can surprise one, we live with them all around us, and generally do not pay too much notice of them except when they undergo change; loosing leaves, blossoming or falling down are all part of the life cycle of a tree. Their advanced age is interesting because many of them outlive us, and some survive for centuries. The world would be a boring place without them, so hug a tree today. 

DRW © 2019. Created 25/04/2019

Updated: 27/04/2019 — 07:09

Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.

** Updated 27/05/2019**

Last month, when I was in South Africa, I bought a small plastic tugboat at the local el-cheapo shoppe. It was a simple bathtub type boat with waterjet style propulsion, and stickers stuck on it and with the propensity to listing and sinking. It does not have enough of a draught to stay upright without batteries in and it leaks like crazy. It is not a very successful tugboat, it’s more of a typical cheap and nasty toy designed for a few days enjoyment and then a swift final voyage to the dustbin or under the bed.

Now you may ask what this has to do with the price of eggs? People who know me are aware that I am a ship enthusiast, and once upon a time I used to have a large fleet of ships, of which two were radio controlled. 

My first RC boat was a “Damen Stantug” made by Veron and she had a 29″ fibreglass hull and was quite a large vessel with lots of space in the hull for a small model engine of the glowplug design. Naturally these were not available on my budget so a large electric motor was substituted instead. I also purchased a 2 channel radio and a set of motorbike batteries to run the motor off. Unfortunately a reliable speed control was very difficult to find and I ended up with a large wire wound potentiometer affair that used to run very hot and tended to be somewhat unreliable. 

Once the motor, prop shaft and bulkheads were installed I was ready for a test run and a friend and I headed off to the Blue Dam in Mayfair late one evening with the hull ready to launch. I had installed simple navigation lights and a search light on it so we could see it in the dark and we launched the hull with much trepidation. If something failed I would literally be up the creek without a paddle because retrieving the boat would have been very difficult. Lo and behold everything worked and the hull tore across the water at maximum revs. It was working remarkably well and so far no leaks had shown up although the speed control was running very hot. 

Wind forward many moths later and my tug was finished as per the plans. And, by some strange miracle I have pics of her. She carried the moniker “Dildo” and I am not even going to try explain it. She also flew a small red flag with “Enjoy your pizza” on it, just another quirk that I added. 

Unfortunately the speed control was a major bugbear and charging arrangements for the motorbike batteries were less than ideal. The big motor drew a lot of current and the bike battery worked well enough. The hull was buoyant enough that I ended up adding extra lead ballast in it to bring down the draught. I also managed to score 10 model truck tyres that I wired as fenders along the rubbing strake, and later on I added a small crane, zodiac, electric searchlights, internal lights and navigation lights. I was proud of my tug, she was awesome. 

I also bought a small centre island container ship that could be converted into a superstructure aft configuration made by Graupner under the unlikely name of Neptun. She too was radio controlled and was very fast on the water, too fast in fact and she really had to be reigned in or she would try to imitate a speedboat. Her motor was much smaller and more efficient and I had better battery life with her, although the limitation of both boats was the life of the penlights that were used in the radio receiver (4) and transmitter (8); back then rechargeable batteries were not as readily available as they are now.  

Superstructure midships configuration

Superstructure aft configuration

Of course back then I was living close to a large body of water, albeit a very polluted body of water, so could put a boat under my arm and head out for a quick sail. When I moved from Homestead Park in 1985 I no longer had anywhere to sail my boats and of course not having a car meant that their days of sailing had come to an end, I used the tug once or twice when I was involved with the disastrous attempt at restoring the models ships at Santarama, Alas the person in charge was more of a hindrance than anything else so that all came to nought. Interestingly enough Santarama had a number of radio controlled ships that were probably in operation when the place opened, but they had been laid up and became scrap.  

At some point I had managed to pick up a very nice trawler by Veron too, and sort of completed her but the wood was very dry and the superstructure cracked badly. It was a nice model though and it would have made a nice conversion into a short seas trader. She too was sold in a semi rebuilt state. I recall using her as a demonstration model on navigation lights at a meeting the Titanic Society of South Africa under the name SS Lamptest. 

I sold my large ships in 1999 and I like to think that my tug is still out there somewhere and that she occasionally hits the water and has a blast. I always regretted selling her as she was an awesome boat, but at the time it was more or less a sound idea. I still collect ships though and have a large collection of 1/1250 and 1/1200 waterline vessels, although none can float. And, I have just gotten this poor imitation of a toy boat that I am tempted to refit, although fittings appear to cost more than the boat did. Much to my dismay there is not much of a selection of toy boats suitable for the bath out there, and that is quite sad because occasionally you really need to mess about with boats. 

**Update**

Yesterday while browsing the local overpriced antique emporium I chanced upon a model I have been after for quite some time. Produced by Triang I have seen these on ebay, usually at a horrible price and a poor condition.

The one I picked up is reasonably intact but is in need of attention (and a hair dryer to sort out the warped hull). It has a clockwork motor in it and the key comes out the funnel.

As far as I can see there were 2 in the ocean liner series: Pretoria Castle and Orcades although the only difference between the two was the paint job and Orcades may have been battery powered. I wanted the UC ship because of my interest in Union-Castle. Sizewise it is 50cm long, and surprisingly heavy. The warped superstructure seems to have been common problem with them though and many Triang products from that era suffered from the same problem. Triang also produced a tanker, police launch, tug boat and a drifter but I have not seen them on ebay as yet.  I may have to fabricate masts and booms for her and unfortunately the 1 set of lifeboats is missing, however the motor works and that huge prop spins like mad. As a curiosity this ship is really great, and I believe you could get them in South Africa too and they have outlived the real ship by many years. Nowadays they are really relics of a bygone age of toys. 

DRW 2019. © Created 14/03/2019, updated 27/05/2019

Updated: 28/05/2019 — 10:29
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