I generally don’t go further north than Illovo. I get annoyed when someone gives me a Sandton City voucher, because then I have to go there. Call me judgemental if you please, but I just don’t like the feel of Sandton. It’s flashy and materialistic and too much for me. I go to Montecasino only for book launches at the fabulous Skoobs, or occasionally for a show at the theatre. Otherwise I try to avoid the north of Johannesburg like the plague. But last night, Gerald Garner, Johannesburg expert, ambassador and author of Johannesburg Spaces and Places (amongst other books), gave me a little hope that maybe Sandton has more to it than meets the eye.
People came from far and wide to Angelo’s Deli in Linden, where Gerald gave a thoroughly interesting, if abridged, history of our city by way of introducing us to his newest baby, Sandton Places. He guided us through the ancient settlements here, evidence of which can be found in places like the Melville Koppies. He reminded us of the boer (farmer) settlements after they had escaped from the British colonies (although I think that’s one part of our history that was drummed into most of us when we were at school). And then, of course, that foreigner Harrison discovered gold in Langlaagte. Word spread quickly, more foreigners flocked to the Witwatersrand, and almost overnight a shanty town was established, which developed into the city that we know and love.
That was just 12 decades ago. Gerald then explained some of the political wranglings and struggles for power that have shaped our city, in terms of its architecture as well as its sociological make up. He gave us some astounding information, like the fact that Paul Kruger, in his capacity as President of the ZAR, banned the use of motor cars in the young Johannesburg and encouraged the boers to start farming horses. I guess nepotism and corruption has been around longer than we remember. He also reminded us that the National Party didn’t actually receive the most votes in the notorious 1948 election, but that the electoral system then used gave more seats to rural (white) voters, ensuring the Nats had a stronghold in parliament which ushered in the Apartheid system.
Of course, we know how disastrous that was for our country in general, but it also had a major impact on the city of Johannesburg, eventually leading to a complete downward spiral starting in the late ’80s when everyone had hoped PW Botha would introduce positive political reform with his Rubicon speech, but instead he wagged that dreadful finger and made race relations disastrous. Investors disinvested from the country and the city, and major companies sought new premises outside the city. Sandton was born.
By the end of 2014, Sandton will have more commercial space than the inner city. This, from a place that just 30 years ago didn’t really exist! Sandton Places is a fantastic guide to the areas in and around Sandton, including a huge section on Alexandra, and it’s certainly opened up my eyes to parts of Sandton I would otherwise not have noticed because of my own prejudice. I can’t wait to start exploring another part of my city. Thanks Gerald!