Downtown, Johannesburg

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  • Downtown
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Downtown
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Downtown
    by CatherineReichardt
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    Gauteng Provincial Legislature

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 30, 2012

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    South Africa comprises nine provinces, the smallest and most economically significant of which is Gauteng ('place of gold' in Sesotho).

    The Gauteng Provincial Legislature is housed in the former Johannesburg City Hall on the corner of Loveday and President Streets, overlooking Library Gardens to the west and the Rissik Street Post Office (which was sadly gutted by fire a few years ago and is still awaiting restoration) to the east.

    It's an imposing colonial sandstone building that was built surprisingly late, being completed in 1915 at a cost of just over half a million pounds (which must have been serious money back then).

    It was declared a national monument in 1979, and withstood a bomb blast in 1988. It fell into disrepair in the early 1990s, but received a new lease of life when it was decided to move the Provincial Legislature to Johannesburg from its previous location in Pretoria, but is still awaiting renovation.

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    Linger in Library Gardens

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 30, 2012

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    Library Gardens is located in the heart of the Jo'burg CBD, and is a welcome green zone amid the concrete high rise.

    The gardens - more of a grassed oblong in reality - are bounded on the western end by the Johannesburg Library, and to the east by the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. It's a bustling space that gets particularly busy over lunch times, and is an interesting place to people watch provided that you're not flaunting valuables.

    Like most of the CBD, this area was neglected during the 1990s and became rather rundown, but there has been a concerted effort to gentrify this space in recent years, maybe because it's right under the noses of the politicians in the Legislature. This upliftment has included the construction of several tables and chairs with chessboards inlaid into the table tops, but you'll have to bring your own pieces.

    The Jo'burg Library has undergone a major revamp in recent years, and reopened in the first quarter of 2012. To my immense shame (particularly given that I am a voracious reader), I have never yet darkened its doors, but judging by the newspaper coverage, it's amazing - time to redress this oversight!

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    The instantly recognisable diamond at 11 Diagonal

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 11, 2012

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    Coincidentally, this is another building in which I used to work in the early 2000s when it housed Anglogold (which has since relocated to purpose-built headquarters in the very different but equally interesting Turbine Square building).

    11 Diagonal is perhaps Johannesburg's most instantly recognisable building, designed by architect Helmut Jahn to echo the shape of a diamond crystal, with distinctive stripey mirrored surfaces. It is located on the western margin of the CBD and faces onto Diagonal Street, which was the home of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, until it relocated to Sandton around the turn of the millenium.

    Beautiful though this building may be from the outside, like many buildings celebrated by architects, it has a very impractical design. Much hated by window cleaning crews, the unconventional angles of the building also make the effective sealing of joints between the planes very difficult, and I remember being able to put my finger between a gap in the windows in my husband's office!

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    45 Main's intimidating monumental architecture

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 6, 2012

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    Confession time (again) ... I'm a recovering Angloid, and for four years, 45 Main Street was my place of work. Note that I worked in 45 - and not 44 Main - as I was then merely a minion in the Anglo Technical Department and not one of the favoured few who cracked an office along the august corridors of the Head Office over the road!

    Anglo American Corporation as it was then - now Anglo American plc - was one of those oddest of organisations - a South African mining house (company) - and at that point, still had a culture of 'cradle to grave' employment, which has since largely fallen away. Take my husband for example, who was recruited as a new graduate to join one of the last years of the prestigious management trainee scheme, and whose relationship to the organisation I often liken to my own with the Catholic church within which I was raised. Both organisations moulded and directed us, and although we harbour simultaneous feelings of intense love and hate towards the institutions, we can never quite shrug off their influence or leave them behind us! Years and decades after their departure, Angloids possess an uncanny ability to seek out and recognise each other and launch into fond reminiscences about The Good Old Days when the avuncular and revered Harry Oppenheimer was at the helm and all was well in the Anglo universe!

    Anyway, thanks for indulging me in that fond digression, and if you're still reading this, let's revert to a more objective discussion on the distinctive architecture of the Anglo precinct of buildings at the western end of Main Street. To describe it as being 'monumental' would not be an overstatement, for these were buildings designed to reinforce the importance of the organisation housed within and to intimidate their rivals. In hindsight, I am struck by the resemblance between these buildings and some of Albert Spier's grand designs for the Kongresshalle precinct in Nuernberg, which were indeed conceived over the same period in the late 1930s. Whilst I have no intention of comparing Anglo to the Nazi Party, when you look at the architecture of the entrance to 45 Main - flanked with eagles - you must concede that it wouldn't look out of place topped with a swastika.

    Although Main Street was a functioning thoroughfare when I worked there, this section has now been pedestrianised and beautifully landscaped to create a haven of tranquility on the bustling fringe of the CBD. And if the prospect of impressive architecture and Angloid-spotting isn't enough to tempt you to visit, then perhaps the lure of the exquisite 'Stampede' fountain comprising a graceful arc of leaping impala will be!

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    Admire the lovely modern lines of Anglo Platinum

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 6, 2012

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    The Anglo American mining company (more commonly known as 'mining houses' in South Africa) is a huge multinational organisation, and, unsurprisingly, has long since outgrown its original corporate accommodation at 44 and 45 Main Street.

    About a decade ago, its subsidiary Anglo Platinum, erected a head office close by at 55 Marshall Street, with a 'skybridge' to Anglo's head office at 44 Main Street. The challenge here was to mesh the imposing monumental architecture of the old Anglo buildings with something more contemporary, and I think that the result was a triumph.

    I must say that I'm also pretty proud of this photo, which makes it look particularly attractive!

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    John Vorster Square: Jo'burg's most feared place

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 6, 2012

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    Not a very good photo, I'll happily concede, but during the apartheid era, this is closer than most sane people would have been comfortable getting to John Vorster Square.

    John Vorster Square was the police headquarters in Johannesburg, and was notorious for the numerous atrocities that were committed there during the apartheid era. It functioned as a detention centre mostly for political activists, who were not allowed to have any contact with family members, lawyers or any outside assistance, and could remain in detention for anything between a few hours and a few months.

    The 10th floor of Jan Vorster Square was the terrifying domain of the Security Branch, and it was here that political internees were routinely tortured. Many met improbable deaths due to accidental falls out of windows (despite them being barred) or freak injuries resulting from them slipping on the soap in showers ... or so the death certificates attest ... in all, over 70 political activists met their deaths here.

    This infamous building is named after Balthazar Johannes (John) Vorster, former Prime Minister and State President of South Africa in the late 60s and 70s. To take a charitable view on things, Vorster was perhaps less hardline than his predecessors and went some way towards dismantling some of the more extreme legislation of grand apartheid. He was even described as "flesh and blood" by the formidable Progressive Front MP Helen Suzman (who served as the only opposition MP in parliament for over a decade) in contrast to the "diabolical" and "frightening" H.F Verwoerd - faint praise indeed!

    These days, this facility is officially known as Johannesburg Central Prison.

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    The fabulous Firewalker statue

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 6, 2012

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    One of Johannesburg's most successful initiatives of the last few years has been the sponsorship of municipal art as part of the regeneration of the CBD.

    Perhaps the most visible of these artworks is the amazing 'Firewalker' statue, which is located at the southern edge of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, just by the recently revamped taxi rank on the northern edge of the CBD.

    This is the result of a collaboration between by William Kentridge (probably Johannesburg's most celebrated living artist) and Gerhard Marx. It depicts an African lady carrying her brazier on her head, with which she will set up a fast food stall on the pavement. These sell everything from grilled mealies (corn on the cob) to 'smileys' (sheeps heads), and are a characteristic feature of the Jo'burg CBD.

    She's a big lass - 10m high - and is constructed of three offset layers of steel sheeting. The full image is only visible when the three layers align, so she only 'comes together' if you look at her straight on, which can be bamboozling at first glance (and probably mind altering if you're hung over).

    Just a word of warning: she is only visible if you are travelling south over the Queen Elizabeth bridge, and there is nowhere along this section to stop (unless you're in a traffic jam). I tried to work my way back around through the adjacent side streets to find somewhere to park so that I could walk back and take my photo, but inadvertently found myself in one of the newly established Rea Vaya bus lanes. I was promptly hauled over by the Metro police and narrowly avoided a very steep R1000 fine which would have made this by far and away the most expensive photo I'd ever taken!

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    Look up to the little man in Gandhi Square

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 6, 2012

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    This seems to be my year for inadvertently discovering Gandhi's footprint on South African history, as it's the third time in as many months that I've stumbled across him on my travels - first in Pietermaritzburg, then in Durban and now in Johannesburg.

    It comes as a surprise to many visitors that South Africa has any link to Gandhi at all, as the first two decades of his working life which he spent here as an immigrant lawyer are largely overshadowed by the more high profile legacy of his latter years in India. Yet South Africa was the setting for his first act of civil disobedience (when he refused to relocate from a first class train carriage when a fellow passenger objected to sharing with a 'coolie'), which ultimately evolved into his revolutionary principle of 'Satyagraha', which is celebrated in an interesting but sadly dogeared exhibit at the top of the Carlton Centre.

    This unusual and rather excellent statue is a relatively recent addition to the CBD landscape and was erected in 2003 following the revamp and renaming of the Gandhi Square bus terminus in his honour.

    Ghandhi practiced law from offices on the nearby corner of Anderson and Rissik Streets for seven years between 1903 and 1910, and defended Indian and Chinese clients who were accused of non-violent resistance to racially discriminatory legislation. Gandhi himself was tried and found guilty for such offences in 1908, leading to the first of several spells in prison. It is not hard to imagine him dashing from his offices to the law courts that were originally located on this square (then known as Government Square), his lawyer's robes billowing around him.

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    Dutch/Flemish paintings in Johannesburg

    by Moirads Written Jan 15, 2012
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    The Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) is exhibiting some of its historical Dutch collection in three of the gallery rooms between 13 November 2011 and 25 March 2012. This exhibition is being curated by Sheree Lissoos, the Historical Curator. There is an 1985 catalogue written by Jillian Carman which is still good, no, make that excellent, for this exhibition, as well as a new book on the subject of Dutch/Flemish art in South Africa.

    The collection of “Golden Age” is representative of a time when the Dutch Republic was the most prosperous country in Europe. This small Dutch collection of paintings was acquired from 1947 onwards, beginning with a bequest of seventeen paintings from Eduard Houthakker. Our Dutch/Flemish collection is not grandiose by any standards, particularly not European ones, and I don't think that there is a need to feel intimidated by this. South Africa is one of the many countries which felt the impact of Dutch colonialism and it is certainly part of the South African heritage. However, the Cape of Good Hope was a minor vegetable station blip on the radar until the Dutch left and diamonds and gold were discovered up north.

    Apart from the etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn and Albrecht Durer the names of the artists tend not to be very well known – Esias Boursse, Pieter Claesz, Gerrit van Deurs, Jacob Duck Lambert Jacobsz, Ludoph de Jongh, Frans de Momper and Anthonie Palamedesz don't jump out at me.

    The Dutch works have not been seen for a while as JAG has been concentrating on more contemporary aspects of South African history and culture, so it is good to be able to see it in new light and with the specialist comment about the differents between Holland (secular, Protestant) and Flanders (Catholic) as well as the different genres of paintings which are represented.

    These paintings can be narrative (historical, biblical, mythological, allegorical) in nature, or they can be portraits (well represented in this collection), still life with a moralistic message or a vanitas theme concerning the brevity of life or landscape. One of the ones I remember best is a riverscape entitled “Scene in a Dutch Town” by Jacobus Storck. The curator has got all these categories on display.

    There are six of the many original Rembrandt van Rijn which JAG owns on display, and if anyone missed the exhibition of the full collection of these a few years back, this is an opportunity to see a few of them. There is a warning associated here. They are small etchings, not grandiose works. Be mentally prepared for this. I remember being a little disappointed when I saw the full exhibition.

    The rest of the gallery is still filled with items from its permanent displays such as the Foundation Room, the Jackson Hlungwani Room and with a large exhibition by Mbongeni Buthelezi and the photographic exhibition by Pierre Crocquet. Also to be seen is an exhibition by Vasco Futscher in the Project Room.

    The Johannesburg Art Gallery is situated in King George Street, between Wolmarans and Noord Streets, Joubert Park. Entrance is free. The gallery is open from 10h00 to 17h00 Tuesdays to Sundays. Secure parking is available. There is always an exhibition of some kind available, usually different ones upstairs and downstairs, as well as permanent exhibitions. There is a research library and appointments can be made to view specific works held in the JAG's collection of over 10 000 pieces. The Gallery conducts regular free art classes for local children. There is a small restaurant upstairs. For more information contact 011 725 3130.

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    Encouraging signs of urban renewal in Newtown

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 19, 2011

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    Apartments form part of Newtown

    When I first came to South Africa in 1987, I worked in Anderson Street on the southern fringe of the CBD, which at the time was a slightly grimy but vibrant place. However, even at that time, there were increasing signs that downtown Johannesburg was succumbing to inner city decay and as apartheid began to crumble, so did the CBD. In the years that followed, many companies - including the Johannesburg Securities Exchange - decamped to the leafy northern suburbs of Rosebank and Sandton amid fears about security and difficulty in attracting staff to work in the CBD, and the centre of town spiralled rapidly downwards to become a litterstrewn morasse of lawlessness and squatter-occupied buildings.

    To their immense credit, a number of big companies refused to join the exodus and stayed put in the CBD: notably, mining companies such as Anglo American, Anglogold Ashanti and BHP Billiton and Standard Bank. Perhaps the first tangible evidence that things were beginning to turn was that public/private partnerships between government and private companies invested heavily in improving security and service provision. By the turn of the millenium, there was increasing acceptance that the CBD could not just be abandoned and was worthy of urban renewal, and slowly government started to invest in the maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure that had been left to decay over the previous couple of decades.

    One of the most visible examples of urban renewal is the interesting Newtown precinct on the western edge of the CBD, which includes MuseumAfrica, the Workers Museum, World of Beer, SciBono science centre and Mary Fitzgerald Square. Next door to World of Beer, Bobby Godsell of AngloGold Ashanti took the brave decision not to flee with his peers to the northern suburbs, and instead, committed to redeveloping an old power station into the new corporate headquarters, the award winning Turbine Square development.

    On the eastern fringe of Newtown, a couple of affordable and attractive cost housing developments have sprung up (see photo) which provide desperately needed accommodation in close proximity to people's places of work. This is a rare phenomenon in Johannesburg, where most of the low cost housing is in the sprawling townships on the outskirts of the city, a considerable journey away by minibus taxi or train (transport to and from work is one of the major costs to lowly paid workers, both in terms of time and money).

    On the other end of the scale, a number of entrepreneurs - notably Batsetsane (Bassie) Khumalo, one of the first Black Miss South Africas, and now a phenomenally successful selfmade businesswoman - are starting to acquire some of the historic buildings in the CBD and redeveloping them into luxury apartment complexes aimed at the BUPPY (upwardly mobile black urban) demographic with considerable success.

    I applaud their entrepreneurial spirit and hope that they reap full benefit from their willingness to take risks and invest in an area from which others have simply walked away. Ultimately, this urban renewal benefits all us Johannesburgers, as, after all, who wants to live in a city with a dead heart?

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    Ghostly byways

    by Moirads Written Nov 23, 2011

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    The Mystery Ghost Bus is a fabulous, fun event, especially for large crowds of people. I have attended the Johannesburg one three times now. Conducted by a registered tour guide, Deanna Kirby, the crowd is sussed out and the tour tailored to suit the majority, giving it as much “whooooooooo” as the crowd allows.

    The first time I attended there was lively discussion at the pub, Pound and Penny at the Sunnyside Hotel even before the tour started and the atmosphere was truly good. Ms Kirby gave plenty of information about Johannesburg generally as we drove past various places. The second time the crowd were just a bunch of drunk employees getting increasingly drunker at the expense of their boss. Not nearly as much fun. I felt sorry for the guide and for the four or six sober people on the tour. Well, at least the drunk people did not have to drive. The tour bus is luxurious. The girl I did the tour with the second time is English and she had previously done a London Ghost Bus Tour and despite my disappointment after the first time she thought the Joburg Ghost Bus Tour was infinitely better than the London one. She did point out that London has better quality ghosts, though. The third time I did the tour it was back to the pleasant atmosphere of the first time, but with a less lively crowd, so there was somewhat less interaction with Ms Kirby than the first time, but more than the second time. Once again we really enjoyed ourselves.

    After an introductory talk we head to the bus. There we listen to a recording of some spine-tingling South African Ghost tales read to us by Jamie Barlett, award winning actor. One of these stories is about South Africa's most famous ghost, the Uniondale Hitchhiker. Between the stories we are taken past various interesting places where paranormal activity has been recorded. The hair on my arms rises at Jeppe Boys where I know there is a ghost (in one of the hostels), the Kensington Sanitorium, some of the houses along Roberts Avenue, but my body hair is remarkably unperturbed by the Kensington Castle (built in 1911) which is also reputed to be haunted. Maybe it is because we don't go in - but we didn't go in to any of the other places.

    There are four points at which we get off the bus. The first is at Mike's Kitchen in Parktown. The official name of this building is “Eikelaan”. Here we get drinks and talk about the different types of presences. Our guide assures us that the ghost here is benign. I know the venue well because our Toastmasters Club used to meet there. I never liked to venture upstairs alone. As one goes up and down the stairs there is a point at which there is a chill which cannot be explained by the architecture of the building.

    We pass by the War Memorial, the Old Women's Goal and Johannesburg Fort, hearing stories of Daisy De Melcker, South Africa's famous female serial poisoner, en route. We pass by the old Johannesburg General Hospital, the new Johannesburg Hospital, the City Morgue and Arcadia.

    The second point at which we get off the bus is at Zoo Lake where we do dowsing. We learn to use dowsing sticks as lie detectors. They are remarkably accurate. Yes, this is inexplicable, but valid nevertheless. The stop is at Moyo's at Zoo Lake and it is not intended as a drinks stop. The drunks didn't mind that and drank while we dowsed.

    The third point at which we get off the bus is at the Troyeville Hotel. This is a no-frills, very reasonably priced place to get superb Portuguese cuisine. It is pre-ordered so that it is ready for us when we get there. Locals can always go back and enjoy a greater variety of this food at another time.

    Our fourth and final disembarking takes place at the Braamfontein Cemetery where we get to do a little cross country walk down to the various points at which get told interesting snippets of history.

    One of them relates to the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of 1906 which said that Indians and Chinese were to register their presence and carry passes. Protestors got together and were addressed by Gandhi on the theme “violence begets violence', which was the speech that gave birth to passive resistance. One young Chinese man, Chow Kwai For, went and registered under the new law, unaware of the protest. When he realised what he had done he felt honour-bound to commit suicide. He was only 24 years old. We visit at his grave where his letter of apology is engraved, in Mandarin on the headstone.

    We hear about the grave of Enoch Sontonga but don't go past it. We end with another activity before walking back to the bus where we return to the starting point.

    This is a fun-filled evening and is largely what the party, not the guide, makes of it. If everyone enters into the, pardon the pun, “spirit” of things, then it will be a marvellous success. If one has crass and drunken local tourists then, unfortunately, the event will be somewhat less inspiring.

    It is NOT suitable for children and only those over 18 should attend. At R295.00 per person plus drinks, plus meal it is not a cheap evening, but it is a worthwhile one and it makes a fabulous team-building or year-end social activity. If one dresses up for the event, so much the better. Wear sensible shoes though.

    Visit the website www.mysteryghostbus.co.za or book on Computicket 0861 915 8000. Private group tours will be arranged for groups larger than 30. Public tours are on the last weekend of the month in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg. Rain just adds to the chilling atmosphere of the event. Meet at 19:00, have drinks, depart at 20:00 return shortly after midnight.

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  • See the City

    by Cjolley Written Jul 8, 2011

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    I am at the end of a week visiting Joburg for an event in Sandton. I came early to see the city. Joburg is a big city with poverty and wealth. I live in London, so I know how to be careful. Camera in an old plastic bag, money in an inside pocket and not too much, sensible stuff good for any city. In Sandton no one wants you to go downtown and no one wants you to get in shared taxi. Rich South Africa benefits from the 'danger' label. Ignore it, just take normal reasonable precautions. Go to the shared taxi stand down the ramp from the back of Sandton Library. The taxi nearest to being full is probably going downtown, but check anyway. It will leave when full. Pass your 10 rand up the taxi and any change will come back to you. Some of the taxis are a bit old, but some brand new and they were never over filled. Get off at the end of the ride outside Joubert park. It's a very lively Market area, so take it in and take care. Walk round the city side of the park and go into the art gallery. There's a Dali lobster telephone inside, plus excellent SA artist's work. The cafe upstairs is just great. Walk over to the new constitutional court area. This is a beautiful new precinct, weaving the new top court of SA with the apartheid regimes separate prisons for women and White and black men. The combination of old and new is superb. Then down through Braamfontien across the Nelson Mandela bridge, into the beautiful Newtown area, which other have detailed. Like any city, make your way back before dusk, just go and enjoy.

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    Downtown Jo'burg - CBD, Hillbrow, Berea

    by catherineneill Written May 1, 2011
    Downtown from a distance

    If you're feeling adventurous (or brave) or if you're like me and are going stir crazy walking around in secure malls then there's always a city center tour to do.

    Whilst that seems the normal thing to do in any city bear in mind the center of Johannesburg has seen a flight of businesses from the CBD to the northern suburbs of Sandton which has led to the deterioration of the city centre to a no go area.

    Recent govenment initiatives to redevelop and re-attract business to the area are having some successes, but the area is commonly cited as one of the most dangerous on the planet! If you are going, go with a reputable tour guide or a local you trust. It's actually not that bad and I was glad to have seen it eventually

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    Carlton Panarama

    by cokes Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Picture from the Top of the Carlton Centre

    You can get a view of the city of JNB. Its 50 stories high , not tall enough for some but it is the tallest building in Africa.

    You can see the newly built Nelson Mandela Bridge , The Brixton Tower "TV and Radio" , The Hillbrow Tower and you can see all the Gold Mines which surrounds the City.

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  • Mary Fitzgerald Square

    by cybernation Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    MuseuMAfricA in Newtown is located in Mary Fitzger

    Mary "Pickhandle" Fitzgerald made her name in Johannesburg for her trade union activities and a number of firsts - first woman trade unionist, first woman printer and first woman city councillor.

    She was born in Ireland in 1885 and after immigrating with her father to Cape Town in 1900, she got a job at The Castle as a typist.

    She moved to Johannesburg in 1902 with her husband, John Fitzgerald, with whom she was to have five children. She soon found a job as a shorthand-typist with the Mine Workers' Union, where she became involved in collecting money for burials of phthisis victims.

    Many miners were dying from phthisis - a disease in which the fine underground sand coated the lungs and made them as hard as a rock and thereby considerably shortened a miner's life - with no compensation for their dependants. The workers were disorganised and working under appalling conditions, with mine accidents accumulating.

    Before long she was making rousing speeches to union members and became the country's first woman trade union organiser. She became more and more vocal and was involved in the miners' strikes of 1913 and 1914.

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