Documenting Johannesburg's Early and ZAR Settlements from 1880

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DOCUMENTING JOHANNESBURG EARLY & ZAR SETTELMENTS

In this reflective essay we will focus on the city of Johannesburg under the rule of the governing Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) and the initial establishment of settlements from 1880.

DIAGRAM 1

  • TITLE OF MAP - JOHANNESBURG AND ITS FARM BOUNDARIES IN RELATION TO PRETORIA
  • PERIOD COVERED – 1880 to 1890
  • APPROX. POPULATION OF THE WITWATERSRAND IN 1890: 15000 PEOPLE

WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN THAT PERIOD OF HISTORY?

Before Johannesburg was founded, the first buildings in the area were the farmsteads of farmers who lived on the Witwatersrand. There were 21 farms in the area in 1880. These included Klipfontein, Waterval, Braamfontein, Cyferfontein, Bergvlei, Rietfontein, Paardekraal, Middelfontein, Langlaagte, Doornfontien, Modderfontein, Diepkloof, Vierfontein, Turffontein, Klipriviersberg, Misgund, Olifantsfontein, and Rietvlei (Van der Waal, 1987). What can deducted from the farm names is that most of the farms were situated close to water sources (springs and wetlands). It was customary for these pioneer settlers to first lay out these in respect of the source of water, and it was in fact this element which determined the overall site plan. Packed stone walls protected the ploughlands, and later, at a distance from the homestead, the graveyard. Labourers would be housed some distance away in a “stat” or “kraal”. At that stage the farmers in the area would most likely travel to Pretoria or Heidelberg to trade at the market squares and to attend "Nagmaal" (Stals, 1978). 0ther than two wagon tracks on the veld that led to Pretoria and another that led south via Heidelberg to Harrismith and Natal, the landscape could be described as ‘grassland rising up in a series of ridges’, and ‘full of perennial springs’ (Chipkin, 1993).

DIAGRAM 2

  • TITLE OF MAP - PLAN OF JOHANNESBURG AND ITS SUBURBS
  • PERIOD COVERED – 1886 - 1890
  • APPROX. POPULATION OF THE WITWATERSRAND IN 1890: 15000 PEOPLE

WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL PATTERNS MADE IN THAT PERIOD THAT WERE IMPORTANT THEN, AND NOW?

In this period in history (1886) there was an enormous influx of diggers to the Witwatersrand. This led to the emergence of unofficial mining camps and called for urgent action by the government. The Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek appointed two men, namely Johann Rissik, Acting Surveyor-General, and Christiaan Joubert who were to find a suitable location for an official camp. They were both members of the ‘Volkraad’ (Van der Waal, 1987). On 12 August 1886, the commission reported that Randjeslaagte would be the most suitable site for such a camp. Randjeslaagte was a triangular piece of 'uitvalgrond' (unused land) wedged between the farms of Braamfontein, Doornfontein and Turffontein. It was located between the two largest camps, Natal and Ferreira's, and, more importantly, on its own land the government would be better able to supervise and control what the pastoral ZAR considered to be an alien component of the population. This would become the position of Johannesburg.

WHO WERE THE MAIN AGENTS CONSTRUCTING THAT BUILT ENVIRONMENT?

What is important to understand is that the ZAR government regarded all mining towns as temporary settlements. The purpose of the town from the ZAR’s point of view was to create as much capital as possible out of the expected demand for stands through selling by public auction 'preferential rights' to the stands. Such an auction demanded a type of lay-out, which was duly prepared for that purpose. The authorities had no control over the establishment of private suburbs such as Doornfontein, Fordsburg and Jeppestown. This typified the future role played in the affairs of Johannesburg by the ZAR government, which asserted its authority only in extraordinary circumstances (Van der Waal, 1987). Therefore the main agent constructing the built environment was the ZAR but they limited its prescriptive role to the minimum. For the most part, the ZAR left the community to its own devices, and this meant that the community themselves were part of constructing the built environment in this period of Johannesburg’s history.

WHAT METHODS/BUILDINGS/INFRASTRUCTURES DID THEY USE TO MAKE IT?

With the transience of some Eastern Transvaal mining camps still freshly etched in their memory, the government seemed reluctant to provide community services and a municipal infrastructure in the new mining camp. Such provisions were virtually unknown in other Transvaal towns (Van der Waal, 1987). Because of the incomparable growth of the camp, the first step in providing for the welfare of the community was to appoint both the 'Gezondheids Comitee’ (Sanitary or health committee) and a hospital committee. The government responded to this request by promulgating health regulations which would be applied only in Randjeslaagte and Marshallstown, while the other suburbs were left to their own devices. Almost exclusively related to sanitary matters, these regulations were not designed to any effect on the physical development of the mining camp. In January 1887, the government purchased a portion of the southern extremity of the farm Braamfontein to supply sorely needed water for the mining camps. However, it was once again left to private initiative to get a proper water supply system off the ground. Naturally, the complete lack of community services prior to 1888 affected the visual aspect of the mining camp (Meiring, 1985).

Beyond the division of the land into blocks of more or less equal size and the subdivision of those blocks in stands of two sizes, no guidelines were laid down for the structures to be erected in the mining camp. Giving free rein to their unconstrained independence, the diggers and first traders erected their structures how and where they pleased (Chipkin, 1993). At that time, there were no kerbstones or sidewalks, and the only Illumination was a lamp at the entrance to each of the many bars. Unexpected barbed wire fences and open wells on some stands made the streets even more dangerous at night.

WHAT REMAINS OF THIS PERIOD?

The physical patterns and development of Johannesburg would, many decades later, still be partly determined by the first ground-plan which the ZAR prepared for the mining camp in 1886. In applying a grid plan for Johannesburg, the ZAR government merely perpetuated an old South African tradition. The grid plan was used for the very first settlement at the Cape, and later also for Stellenbosch (1685) and Graaff-Reinet (1786). The tradition was continued by the Boers of the Transvaal when they started to lay out their towns: Potchefstroom in 1842, Pretoria in 1855, Middelburg in 1866 and Pietersburg in 1886. The grid plan used in South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries was related to the plans bequeathed by the European metropolitan powers to settlements in their colonies, where it was applied not only because it was convenient for the military engineers to implement or because it made administration easy, but more particularly because it served as a symbol of rational order within an untamed environment. In fact, it was seen as an expression of centralised power (Van der Waal, 1987). There are only a few buildings remaining of this period as many were destroyed or altered with the growth of Johannesburg.

Bibliography

Chipkin, C., 1993. Johannesburg Style: Architecture and Society,1880s-1960s. Cape Town: David Philip.

Meiring, H., 1985. Early Johannesburg; Its Buildings and its People. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau.

Stals, E., 1978. Die Afrikaners in die Goudstad. Pretoria: HAUM.

Van der Waal, G., 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis: The Buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Johannesburg: Chris van Rensburg Publications.

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