Get a glimpse into the opulent lives of mining magnates

Johannesburg Heritage Foundation's weekend walks allow you to explore some of the city's architectural gems including historic mansions

13 September 2017 - 12:03 By Ufrieda Ho
Dolobran is one of Joburg's most striking historic mansions.
Dolobran is one of Joburg's most striking historic mansions.
Image: Wikipedia

At 131 years, Joburg is old enough to have a heritage worth preserving and young enough to embrace reinvention. It makes the theme of this year's Johannesburg Heritage Foundation's weekend walks under the theme "Then and Now" just right.

The foundation's chairman, Brett McDougall, says putting a more contemporary lens on history aims to make the past relevant in a modern-day context.

"There's so much about our city to discover and rediscover because Joburg is about shifting landscapes - the good, the bad and the ugly," says McDougall.

The View in Parktown.
The View in Parktown.
Image: Pinterest

On the programme (taking place on September 30 and October 1) is a glimpse into the opulent lives of the mining magnates.

Join the walkabout of grand mansions The View, Villa Arcadia, Emoyeni and Northwards. One can order a drink at the "longest bar counter on the continent" at the inner city's Rand Club or step into an Edwardian-era attic classroom.

Alternatively, choose the inner-city tour of revitalised buildings such as the grand Somerset House on Gandhi Square, which came into being when Joburg was a dust bowl in the early 1900s. These architectural relics tell the story of changing politics, economics and society's fickle whims and whimsicalities.

There's a hurrah for the inclusion of The Wilds, a park established in 1925. Admire the bronze plaques commemorating General Jan Smuts and Percy Fitzpatrick (of Jock of the Bushveld fame) as well as James Delaney's 67 stainless steel owl artworks.

"We also have a collaborative exhibition on display at Holy Family College in Parktown, where all the tours start. Kathy Munro has selected five old photos of five iconic sites in Johannesburg and the Joburg Photowalkers have given their present-day interpretation of these sites through their photographs," says McDougall.

There will also be illustrated talks and film screenings, including the 1949 African Jim, considered "the first film to express the black experience in the City of Gold".

The walks are about understanding how histories and perceptions have built the city, divided it, and distilled it into the unique place Joburgers call home.

• This article was originally published in The Times.