The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation is the most amazing activist/educational/heritage/tourism organization which, amongst other activities, runs bus and walking tours of Joburg’s historical spaces and places. Once such was the Cathedrals of Industry tour on 4th Sept where Kathy Munro (Jozi historian) and David Gurney (urban planner) led a bus tour taking us to various industrial heritage buildings.
The 60 seater bus was packed (and for once I didn’t bring the average age down by 20 years!). We met at the Sunnyside Hotel and off we set to New Doornfontein to see early 20th Century factory buildings which, as Chipkin says, were constructed as ‘random collections of corrugated-iron clad workshops with afdakkies and left-over space in an industrial wasteland’.
Nearby at 24 Alan Ross St is a small extant 1924 building which housed the African Congregational Church. In the 1920s and 30s there were 8 rooms at the back of the property occupied by married couples (unlike other ‘yards’ where single workers lived in often very overcrowded conditions). The original wood and iron church was built in 1910 with Rev M.S. Dube as the pastor. In 1917 Rev Gardiner Mvuyana took over and in 1924 the church was rebuilt as a brick structure. It continued to function as a church until the 1960s. There is apparently a foundation stone ( I didn’t find it) in memory of the founding of the church in 1917, which says : ‘to the Glory of God, the African Congregational Church (I BANDHLA LAMA AFRIKA).
Back on the bus we drove through the north-eastern part of the Maboneng District where I finally got to see Ricky Lee Gordon’s huge 40 meter black and white mural representing Nelson Mandela boxing (cnr Staib St and Beacon Rd). I’d seen images of it but always wondered where it was.
We made a brief stop at the little known small museum (another of Joburg’s little jewels) in the Simmonds St Standard Bank Building. While excavating for the new HQ in 1986, an access tunnel or stope to Ferreira’s, one of Johannesburg’s first sub-surface digging mines, was discovered. The original look of the hand dug tunnel has been kept, and the display includes old photographs, newspaper articles and old implements.
Leaving joburg CBD we drove along the major east-west artery of Main Reef Road until we came to Industria. This was where a new industrial township was laid out in the late 1920s and the Lion Match Company built their prestigious factory described by Chipkin in his book as ‘a planned and orderly Palace of Industry .. with palm trees and flower beds axially positioned on green lawns to emphasize the symmetry of lay out and to project Garden City harmony’. (126) It was taken over by Ullman’s who are no longer in operation. It’s a long low double storied building with a centralized entrance marked by two streamlined buttresses and topped with a modernist clock.
Best of all was that Clive Chipkin was on the tour with us and so spoke directly about this building pointing out many of the features which he mentions in his book. He spoke about the references to classical architecture with vestiges of capitals on columns and when somebody pointed out the capitals were in fact stylized matches he was completely delighted as he had never made this connection before. So even Clive can learn something from a Johannesburg Heritage tour!! He spoke about how this building was one of Joburg’s principle sights when it was built in 1936 – Johannesburg’s jubilee year. And that sightseers would come to see the factory lit up at night. It was a strange distorted echo having a metro train of commuters looking from the train carriages speeding by, at a busload of local Jozi-ites peering through the palisade at the now deserted Ullman Warehouse.
Our last destination was that serious Cathedral of Industry – the Gas Works in Cottesloe. And again we were so privileged to have Monika Läuferts-Le Roux on the tour with us. She and Judith Mavunganidze are the authors of a book on the Gas Works based on their research for a heritage impact assessment on this site. Unfortunately we could not go into this extraordinary building (which still has intact equipment on site) despite having closed as a working site in 1992. The dream is to revive the site as an industrial museum – what a building, what a site, what a vision.
Saturday 24th is Heritage Day plus this year marks the 130th Anniversary of Johannesburg. To celebrate this Johannesburg Heritage Foundation has lots of tours planned for this weekend. Check their website to see what is on offer on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th. http://www.joburgheritage.org.za/ The most exciting is the screening of the 1949 historic film Jim Comes to Joburg billed as the first film to express the black experience in the City of Gold. So take your blankets and a picnic and enjoy the outdoor screening on the lawns at Northwards on the Parktown Ridge.