Newsletter – June 2022

This is a grand year for anniversaries. Not only the 1922 Rand Revolt, which we have been commemorating by installing grave-markers and a Memorial at Braamfontein Cemetery, but also the 120th anniversary of the end of the Anglo Boer War, the 120th anniversary of Herbert Baker’s coming to Johannesburg, the 90th Birthday of Orlando East and the 10th anniversary of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation.

120th Anniversary of end of Anglo Boer South African War

Sarah and the Friends of the Johannesburg Cemeteries cleaned the graves of soldiers in the Braamfontein Cemetery on Sunday morning 12th June. They were celebrating PEACE with soft brushes and water. The ones in the semi-circle, as shown on KYKNET, were mainly Canadian and New Zealanders. Graves of Indian and Australian soldiers are in another section and local Joburgers are scattered according to religion. We have only two graves of Boer soldiers in Braamfontein.  

Parktown has numerous blue plaques commemorating the influx of new residents which the Anglo Boer war brought, including a number of civil servants and also professional people who were brought in to work on the mines and administration of the rapidly growing town of Johannesburg under the Union Jack. Street names – Seymour, Doveton, Gale and Campbell – honour the mining men who lost their lives in the war, all employees of Rand Mines. Thanks to a generous donation from Angela Dick for blue plaques, we learned in researching the history that Seymour Avenue was mostly occupied by men working for the Central South African Railways.  The only Boer we encountered was Deneys Reitz, author of the best known book on that war “Commando.”

120th Anniversary of Herbert Baker’s arrival in Johannesburg

This is one I like to remember because while Milner had invited him to introduce a new and better order of architecture, some would say a Colonial Order of architecture, he revolutionised local architecture bringing the spirit of the Arts and Crafts to bear. This led to local artisans becoming craftsmen and promoted the use of local materials, especially the beautiful quartzites of the Witwatersrand.

When we think of Baker buildings we think of stone buildings – houses, churches, even schools.  Even the humblest houses sit on stone foundations, quarried on the site itself. This is fundamental to the Arts and Crafts philosophy and for all the newcomers to the goldfields it ties their homes and their churches to the rocks on which they stand. You can’t get closer to home than that.

Working in the Fleming Room at Northwards, Mary Boyeasse, Brian McKechnie and I have found great delight in going through the collection of drawings which Michael Fleming left to the JHF. Most of them are being scanned so we don’t have to take out the originals too often. Nearly all the corners show the pinpricks of drawing pins. These are not the beautiful drawings done for clients, but the working drawings used in the office. Yet they include many fine examples of draughtsmanship, particularly of the Union Club.  

The South African Institute of Medical Research, H. Baker and Fleming 1911

90th anniversary of Orlando East

Another important anniversary and we applied for a grant-in-aid to enable the researchers to spread their net widely across the community and to enable them to enlarge and reproduce high quality photographs. We were turned down by the City because no one had written Johannesburg Heritage Foundation on the attendance register. Tshenolo Mokhele, who is one of our trustees, had attended for the newly formed Orlando Heritage Trust seeking funding for the exhibition.  At the meeting the smaller and new organisations were advised to piggy back on organisations with long standing financial records. Naturally he approached the JHF. Now if only he had written JHF on that attendance register there would have been no excuse to reject the application. Somehow they expected him to KNOW in advance of their advice. BUREAUCRATS love wielding power and find the flimsiest excuse to display it.  

10th Anniversary of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation

Some of the highlights have been:

Kathy Munro producing blue plaques at an amazing pace and with Shelley Loock to help this will probably speed up. Last week eight new plaques were installed starting with Beyers Naude in Greenside, Divine Bakery in Fordsburg, a replacement for the damaged plaque at the Market Theatre, and ones recognising people of great significance in Soweto. David Pooe, a businessman who introduced Boy Scouts , a brass band and also drum majorettes at a time when there were very few opportunities for children in Orlando East. Lindiwe Myezi an amazing teacher turned negotiator, director of Wilgerspruit and fierce promoter of women’s interests; the YWCA in Dube which has a history of strong women in the chair ranging from Ellen Kuzwayo and Joyce Seroke to Brigalia Bam. Then a plaque for the home of Kaiser Chiefs where Kaiser Motaung first practised his skills, eventually founding his own football club. He has purchased the land across the road, levelled it and surfaced it for the local youngsters to while away their afternoons and holidays practising the beautiful game.  And finally, after trying for a number of years we got permission to mark the home of Robert Sobukwe, founder of the PAC and a leader so challenging the Nats passed an act to detain him, isolated from all other prisoners on Robben Island.

Our school tours are flourishing under the leadership of Brenda Adam. The Constitution Hill guides who were trained to take our tours of Museum Africa before Covid started, have at last been able to exercise their talent at Museum Africa and have taken learners from schools in Mayfair, Crown Mines and parts of Soweto on these fully subsidised tours. This project is funded by the Jim Joel Trust so a descendant of a Randlord is helping children from seriously disadvantaged schools to enjoy out of classroom learning.

After ten years we can look back on our achievements in spreading our wings beyond Parktown and Westcliff.

The Friends of the Cemeteries led by Sarah Welham have made great strides with turning stones that had fallen and repairing others. We are delighted to have unearthed Stafford Parker who was proudly, but briefly, President of a very small and short-lived Digger’s Republic.  Such a beautiful Art Nouveau stone – the pride of Brixton.

We have handed over, catalogued and accessioned almost two thousand original drawings to Museum Africa which come from the City’s own archives. So we are building up a different kind of picture of the City in earliest times.

We have achieved high standing amongst other authorities through the work of our Joint Plans Committees. I was recently invited to pre- presentations for the World Heritage status for both Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown and Constitution Hill.

Nine of our tour leaders have been working very hard training for registration as guides, funded by the JHF to ensure that we are covered by insurance when they take tours. This initiative steered by David Forrest has required additional time and effort by already dedicated tour leaders.

David Fleminger assisted by Brett McDougall has taken on IT and we have a new website, which is receiving many hits, as well as a new system for booking tours through Quicket.  David Gurney has introduced a number of new tours which have been welcomed. I am sad to admit a number of glitches which have meant members haven’t received notice in time for some.

But undoubtedly our finest achievement of the decade is the digitisation of our records. Diana Steele who has managed this almost singlehandedly, can now respond to enquiries within minutes. Sometimes there are whole heritage reports of information. We are especially grateful that 180 000 documents amounting to 297 gigabytes are safely in the cloud.

Just to let members know that when they give us old albums, letters, photographs or special material from the past we scan, digitise and store. If the original is precious we can return it to the owners and if they prefer we hand originals over to the Johannesburg Public Library or to Museum Africa. PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR SUITCASES OF OLD MEMORIES IN PAPER WASTE.

A special mention must be made of our donors and sponsors. Those of you who add donations to your membership fee are superior heritage supporters. I want to mention the late Sonia Claase who started 9 years ago sending us a donation every month and her son has very generously continued that. Our sponsors have been quite varied and we do appreciate the ABSA Joburg 10km run on Heritage Day 24th September. If you have the energy please don your running shoes for 24th September and support the JHF. The Mackenzie Trust was for many years our mainstay, supporting restoration.  Recently Strilli and Nicky Oppenheimer have, through the BRO Trust, been most generous especially of the research centre, providing solar power and the digitisation project. They have also provided the wherewithal for restoring St Alban’s.

The Northwards Trust which has accommodated our office, hosted many meetings as well as the Fleming Room is our longest standing sponsor. Next in line comes Holy Family College where we have our Research Centre, hold our Now and Then school tours and Heritage Weekends with their highly successful book sale. We are at home in both places.

Saying goodbye to Eira who retired after 14 years has been a wrench for me and for our members. We had a very happy luncheon party to express our thanks for her devotion to the JHF and, before that, to the PWHT.   Barbara Cron who takes her place as our secretary is proving her worth, chivvying me up and coping with all the work of the JHF.

I won’t be here for the AGM as I hope after three years to be spending time with my son and his family in England and Italy.  I may even get to Portugal where my eldest son, Stephen, the inspiration and creator of the technical side of the Virtual tours, is emigrating.

My message for the AGM is PLEASE HELP.

We do need fresh workers on the Board of Management for fundraising , publicity and a new Treasurer as our magnificent Brett McDougall has deserted Joburg for Muizenberg. In fact he did this last year and has nobly continued his role mainly on-line.  Huge thanks go to him to him first as an outstanding tour leader, then a very fine Chairman and finally as Honorary Treasurer.  

Flo Bird – Chairman, JHF

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