Touring Joburg’s landmarks and icons

17 May 2011

Johannesburg’s outgoing mayor, Amos Masondo, led a tour to many of the city’s more striking landmarks over the weekend, stopping at places of historic, cultural and political significance.

Travelling in busses belonging to Reya Vaya, the city’s Bus Rapid Transit System, Masondo was accompanied by several mayoral committee members, councillors and city officials.

“We have organised this tour to re-visit of some of major developments in the city and also to commemorate our history,” said Masondo. “I am glad that working together, we have been able to built a city that works, with a booming economy not only in South Africa but in the whole Africa.”

The tour had set off from the Joburg Theatre Complex in Braamfontein; the first stop was Constitution Hill.

A walk around this historic establishment brought back memories for those who were once inmates. The mayor and his team went on an orientation, which included visiting the holding cells, where Nelson Mandela was once detained, among many political prisoners.

They also visited the Constitutional Court, where people involved in the struggle shared their stories and experiences. For Mali Mokwena, a proportional representation councillor, the memories were as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

“This was never a pleasant place for anyone to live. I spent my Christmas Day here in 1976. It is one of the days that I will never forget in my entire life.”

With everyone listening attentively, Mokwena urged the officials and members of the media to respect democracy: “It never came cheap, and blood was shed.”

“We were subjected to inhumane and unhygienic living conditions, just because of the colour of our skin,” said an emotional Mokwena, wiping away tears.

From Constitutional Hill, the group went on a drive through the city’s dynamic and vibrant cultural hub, the Newton precinct. The convoy of Rea Vaya buses drove through the Kazerne Marshalling Yards, into Dolly Rathebe and Ntemi Piliso streets.

It also drove past some of the area’s iconic buildings, such as the Market Theatre, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Museum Africa and Chancellor House, where Mandela and Oliver Tambo once had their law offices.

Masondo said Newton was one of the vibrant business hub in the City: “It’s where business deals are negotiated and signed,” he said.

Out of the city, the convoy went southwest, past Golf Reef City, FNB Stadium, the Pennyville Housing Project in New Canada, Orlando Stadium, Dorothy Nyembe Park and Thokoza Park.

Orlando West Park

The convoy stopped at Orlando West Park, just behind the Orlando Stadium. The park opened in 2009. Officials strolled around stretching their legs after the bus drive and admiring the state-of-the-art facilities. They also inspected the giant screen mounted at the facility.

The park is fitted with a big screen TV, netball and basketball court, professional football pitch and one-kilometre jogging track. There is a walking ramp, a wheelchair friendly maze, flowerbeds, a braai area and a sprawling green lawn. It also has a permanent irrigation system and is fully fenced, with 24-hour security.

Next stop was the Hector Pieterson Memorial, in Orlando. Here, Masondo laid a wreath in memory of the youth of 1976 who lost their lives during the Soweto Uprising.

“It is only right to remember and honour those who selflessly gave their lives to the betterment of others,” he said, encouraging young people to value the role that the youth of 1976 had played in changing South Africa’s political landscape.

The square, which is visited by tourists and locals alike, is a booming business hub for local hawkers.

Mounted at the heart of the memorial is the iconic photograph of the slain 13-year old Hector, being carried by a friend while his grieving sister runs alongside.

Soweto Theatre

The Soweto Theatre, which is taking shape, impressed Masondo and his officials: “This shows that we mean every word when we talk about building a world-class Africa city,” he said at the construction site.

He said the theatre would play a huge role in developing young talent in Soweto and neighbouring areas. “It is indeed fulfilling to witness developments of this nature. Our children will no longer have to travel long distances to develop their talents.”

The theatre is expected to be completed in October. Giving details about the venue, Alan Dinnie, the manager of property development in the City, said once finished, it would have three auditoriums – one with 420 seats, one 120 and the other with 80 seats.

Its design would make it one of the striking, iconic buildings of Soweto.

Elaborating on other projects, he said 3 000 houses would be built on a piece of vacant land next to the theatre as soon as the venue was completed. A shopping centre, 20 000m2 in size, would also be built.

He added that talks were ongoing with City Parks about the development of a new park in the area.

Commenting the work in progress, Masondo said the city’s commitment to building better communities was a reality. “These projects show that we are not just preaching developments but we are living them.”

Walter Sisulu Square

From there it was off to Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, where Masondo spoke about the importance of the Freedom Charter. He also emphasised the local government elections, taking place on 18 May.

“It does not matter what party you are voting for, just go out and exercise your right, because it is stated in the Freedom Charter that the people shall govern.”

Another development visited by the group was the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex, in central-western Jabavu. With 17 tennis courts, the venue hosted a successful 2011 Soweto Open.

It also provides training for aspiring tennis players with resident coaches employed by Tennis South Africa. City officials enthusiastically went from one tennis court to another, pleased with the quality of equipment they saw.

Liliesleaf Farm

It was then up north, where the tour ended at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia.

Liliesleaf Farm, owned by the South African Communist Party, was a refuge for leaders of the liberation struggle in the early 1960s. It was a place of debate and dialogue on political and military policy and strategy.

The farmhouse and the outbuildings, where Nelson Mandela lived for a time and the Rivonia trialists were arrested in 1963, have been restored, and opened as a museum in June 2008.

The group walked around the historic site, reading plaques about the Rivonia Trial and the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the former military wing of the ANC.

Source: City of Johannesburg