Page 27. " Claremont, the garbage-heap of the proud city "

By the early 1900s, Fietas, an area just west of central Johannesburg, had become home to many of the city’s working class coloured, Indian, black and Chinese inhabitants.  The Johannesburg municipality decided that Fietas was too culturally mixed, and should be exclusively for Indians.  In 1937, coloured residents were removed to the new locations of Coronationville and Albertville.  Over time, surrounding suburbs such as Newclare, Bosmont and Claremont developed, with predominantly coloured populations.

Page 27. " That is the building of the Bantu Press, our newspaper "

Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto - Credit: Ina96
The World, originally named The Bantu World, was a daily newspaper, founded in April 1932 by Bertram Paver, a white farmer. It was modelled on the British tabloid, and targeted the black middle-class, with a national distribution.  Each issue consisted of about 20 pages, of which 13 were written in English, and the rest in a variety of local languages.  The paper was popular among its intended audience, and by the end of 1932, half of the 38 shareholders were black. 

In June 1933 it was bought by the Argus Printing Company. 

In June 1976, The World published Sam Nzima’s iconic photograph of Hector Pieterson, dying in his classmate’s arms after being shot by police during the Soweto uprising.  The World was banned by South Africa’s Minister of Justice in 1977, and its editorial staff detained. Six of the newspapers' reporters disappeared in the late 1970s after being arrested by the police.

Page 34. " this beautiful Parktown with its beautiful houses "
The View
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe View - Credit: Shannon

The elite suburb of Parktown was established in 1893, on a ridge overlooking the burgeoning city of Johannesburg.  Streets were laid out along the natural contours of the ridge, to retain the ‘country feel.’  The suburb was administered as a private, company-owned estate, outside the city limits, until 1904.

Lionel Phillips was the owner of Parktown’s first residence – a 40 room mansion called Hohenheim, on a 20 acre site, which became the venue for some of Johannesburg finest social gatherings.  The building was demolished in the 1970s.

Hazeldene Hall, Parktown
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHazeldene Hall, Parktown - Credit: Steamhunter

Other notable Parktown mansions, which have survived the century largely intact, include:


The View, built in 1896 for Thomas Major Cullinan, of Cullinan Diamond fame,

Emoyeni, built in 1905 for The Honourable Henry Hull, in a style inspired by Sir Christopher Wren,

Hazeldene Hall, completed for coal magnate Charles Jerome in 1907, and

Northwards, built by Sir Herbert Baker for mining magnate John Dale Lace.  Zebras were stabled on the property, to pull Mrs Dale Lace’s coach.       

Northwards, Johannesburg
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNorthwards, Johannesburg - Credit: Dan David Golding

Page 34. " This wonderful hospital for Europeans, the biggest hospital south of the Equator "
Rod of Asclepius above an entrance to the old Johannesburg Hospital
Public DomainRod of Asclepius above an entrance to the old Johannesburg Hospital - Credit: Kerri

The mining camp that subsequently became Johannesburg was proclaimed in September 1886.  The need for basic health facilities was quickly apparent.  The government donated an area of land immediately to the north of the mining camp, on what subsequently became known as Hospital Hill. The foundation stone for the Johannesburg General Hospital was laid on 29 March 1889, and the first permanent hospital buildings were opened a year later. 

The Ronald Mackenzie Block, Hillbrow Hospital
Public DomainThe Ronald Mackenzie Block, Hillbrow Hospital - Credit: Kerri

The facility started out with 130 beds.  Several new wings were added over the next few decades, including staff quarters, operating theatres, an outpatients building and a dispensary block.  In 1939, a large central structure, the Ronald Mackenzie Block, was erected, bringing the total beds in the complex to 1,666. At the time, the hospital was unmatched in the region for its luxury accommodation and medical expertise.

In 1983, a new Johannesburg General Hospital was erected on Parktown Ridge. The original hospital, by then known as Hillbrow hospital, went into decline. Hillbrow Hospital is currently being extensively renovated and restored, as part of a new Hillbrow Health Precinct development. 

Page 34. " and from Bechuanaland "

An 1885 map showing the Bechuanaland Protectorate
Public DomainAn 1885 map showing the Bechuanaland Protectorate - Credit: The Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1885
The area of Bechuanaland was divided into two political entities. The northern part was administered by Britain as the Bechuanaland Protectorate (established in 1885).  The southern part was administered as the crown colony of British Bechuanaland. 

British Bechuanaland was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1895 and now forms part of South Africa's North West province. 

Bechuanaland Protectorate became the Republic of Botswana in September 1966.


Page 36. " they had a room in Alexandra "

Alexandra shacks in the foreground, and the business and tourism hub of Sandton behind
Public DomainAlexandra shacks in the foreground, and the business and tourism hub of Sandton behind
Alexandra (known as Alex) was established in 1904, along the banks of the Jukskei River.  It was too far from Johannesburg to be attractive to white buyers, and in 1912 the area was proclaimed a Native Township.  Established before the passing of the 1913 Land Act, it was one of the few areas (along with Sophiatown) that allowed black people to own urban land.  The area was however characterised by high levels of poverty, and there was little in the way of municipal infrastructure.  The population nonetheless grew rapidly, from about 10 000 people in 1932, to 50 000 in 1940, and almost 100 000 by 1950. 

Today, Alex is home to as many as 400 000 people.  Brick houses and tarred streets along the East bank contrast with the shacks, dirt roads and dire poverty of the West Bank.    

Upmarket Sandton, South Africa's financial centre, is just 4kms away. 

Page 37. " Doornfontein Textiles Company "
Windybrow, built in 1896 as a family home, is Doornfontein's only remaining Randlord mansion. It currently houses a community theatre and arts centre
Public DomainWindybrow, built in 1896 as a family home, is Doornfontein's only remaining Randlord mansion. It currently houses a community theatre and arts centre - Credit: Shannon

The suburb of Doornfontein was established in the 1890s, as a country retreat where Johannesburg’s wealthy Randlords built their offices and homes.  However, within 10 years, Parktown was emerging as a more desirable suburb, and Doornfontein’s wealthier residents began to leave. 

By the 1920s, Doornfontein had become a place of slum yards and factory compounds, with workers housed on site.  Over-crowding was rife, exacerbated by sub-letting.  By the 1930s, 143 of the 271 properties in the area were identified as slums that required demolition.  Property owners, facing severe financial loss, agreed with the Johannesburg Council to convert their properties to commercial and industrial usage.

Page 40. " We have determined not to use these buses until the fare is brought back again to fourpence "
Alexandra in the 1940s, when the first bus boycotts took place
Public DomainAlexandra in the 1940s, when the first bus boycotts took place - Credit: Johannesburg One Hundred - a pictorial history by Ellen Palestrant

Most of Johannesburg’s black population lived in townships, situated on the edges of the city and far from their places of work.  They relied on public buses, which were often over-crowded, ran late, and were prone to changing routes with little warning.  Travellers would have to wait in long queues, and would often spend up to four hours each day commuting. Buses often stopped at a single point, from where commuters had to walk long distances.  Despite these discomforts, transport was often the second biggest expense in the family budget, after food.

The first Alexandra Bus Boycott took place in 1940.  When the bus company tried to raise fares by a penny, commuters exercised their power in the only way they could – by refusing to use the buses.  By 1945, three more bus boycotts had taken place.    

The 1957 Bus Boycott
Public DomainThe 1957 Bus Boycott - Credit: The Star, 7 January 1957
Alexandra’s biggest bus boycott took place in 1957, ten years after Paton’s novel was published.  The three-month boycott saw thousands of people walking about 30 kilometres each day to and from work.  As many as 60 000 commuters joined the boycott – people from Sophiatown and Pretoria joined in solidarity. As they walked, commuters sang and chanted slogans.  The boycott committee held frequent public meetings, where people were informed of the negotiations between the bus company and the municipality, and were able to put forward their views and vote on proposals. 

Page 46. " he was gone to Orlando, and lives there amongst the squatters in Shanty Town "

Orlando power station's cooling tower
Public DomainOrlando power station's cooling tower - Credit: Chris
In 1930, the Johannesburg City Council developed a new township, called Orlando.  The new development was marketed as a posh new suburb for black South Africans.  It comprised identical, tiny, two bedroom houses, built close alongside one another, with no indoor plumbing or electricity.  Each tiny house accommodated on average 6 people.

By the mid-1940s, the waiting list for houses in Orlando numbered 16 000 people.  New arrivals to the city lived as sub-tenants in houses and backyard shacks.

In March 1944 Community leader James ‘Sofasonke’ Mpanza led a group of squatters who built basic shelters made of bits of scrap metal and canvas, on municipal land in what is now Orlando West.  Within a month the settlement had a population of 20 000.  The municipality responded by putting up 4 000 breeze-block shelters, communal water taps and pit latrines.  Residents dubbed the area Shantytown. 

Today, Orlando is a suburb of Soweto.

Page 49. " from Zululand and Sekukuniland "
baPedi King Sekukuni
Public DomainbaPedi King Sekukuni

Sekukuni was King of the baPedi.  He came to power in 1861 at the age of 47.  His territory stretched between the Vaal and Limpopo rivers, in the eastern Transvaal (today’s Limpopo province) – an area that became known as Sekukuniland. 

Sekukuni considered Sekukuniland to be independent and not subject to the Transvaal Republic.  He refused to allow miners from the Pilgrims Rest goldfields to prospect on his land.  He collected a store of muskets and ammunition over the years, and was well equipped to repel attacks against his territory.  He was involved in three major military campaigns – a war against the Boers in 1876, and two campaigns in 1878 and 1879 against the British.

After Sekhukhune's death, the Transvaal government divided Sekhukhuneland into small ‘tribal’ units that owed allegiance not to a King or Chief, but to ‘Native Commissioners’.