Birth of Our Traffic Jams

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ST oxwagon01 Dumisani Dube GROOT TREK TO JOZI: This replica of Colonel Ignatius Ferreiras wagon will grace Main Street. Picture: Dumisani Dube

ANNA COX

IF YOU think traffic jams in the Joburg CBD are bad, count yourself lucky that you are not the owner of an ox wagon in 1886.

In that, the year of the discovery of gold, Joburg experienced the first of the thousands of traffic jams that came to haunt the city as it grew around the mining camp in the Ferreirasdorp area.

Wagon owners would find themselves parked in, sometimes five wagons deep, and had to dismantle their wagons, piece by piece, if they wanted to move them.

Colonel Ignatius Ferreira was there first, parking his wagon and setting up camp close to where he was mining for gold. He was soon joined by others who parked their wagons and set up camp around him. That was the start of Joburg as the thriving metropolis it is today.

To celebrate this, property owners in the Main Street Mall, mainly mining companies, are bringing in a replica of Ferreira’s ox wagon, which was parked in what is now known as Ferreirastown, to the CBD within the next few days.

st bcoxwagon The outspan: Hunters pose next to an ox wagon. Picture: Barnett Collection / Independent Newspapers Archives Barnett Collection / Independent

It is to be placed in Main Street as a permanent fixture alongside other mining memorabilia that now form part of an outdoor mining museum.

John Dewar of the Johannesburg Land Company, which owns several properties in and around Main Street, says that although not the original, a similar wagon was found at the James Hall Transport Museum and carefully and lovingly restored by Balthi du Plessis, a Pretoria museumologist and professional ox wagon restorer.

Dewar says that on September 8, 1886, Landrost Carl von Brandis, standing on a whisky box, read President Paul Kruger’s proclamation confirming the gold fields of the Rand as public diggings.

On the same afternoon, Ferreira repeated the proclamation, standing on his wagon in what became known as Ferreira’s Camp.

“That was the beginning of Joburg. Within a very short time, a large number of wagons and carts had been parked around his wagon.

“He started his own gold mine within 100m of his wagon. Around him started the wealth for the Reef, the establishment of mining companies, the creation of jobs, an influx of people from all over the world, as well as the creation and loss of fortunes.”

Du Plessis says the restoration was a work of love.

“We decided to reconstruct rather than make a new one. The replica we found was original, but in bad condition.”

The restoration took time because everything had to be made exactly according to the original.

The only thing he had to work from was an old photograph of the wagon, taken from the back.

“We had problems finding someone to replicate the leather thongs (osrieme) and whips and the ropes used to tie up the oxen. These are no longer made the way they used to be, but we found two people – HJ Greyling of Victoria East who hand-made the whip, and S du Toit of Cornelia who made the ropes.”

Original wood had to be sourced and carved.

“It was quite difficult because we couldn’t take the wagon apart.

“We had to replace some of the wood and iron that was unusable and had to source the exact materials used. The wheels were the most difficult to restore because they are made of iron,” he says.

The restoration work is now complete and the wagon will be transported to the CBD on a lowbed truck.

It will be installed in the Main Street Mall, started by the Johannesburg Land Company together with property owners who got together to uplift the area and to start an outdoor mining museum.

A section of the road was leased from the Joburg council, upgraded, lined with trees, flower beds and historical artefacts.

A historic stamp mill is on display, as well as mining headgear, storyboards outlining the history of the areas and the famous gold Mapungubwe rhino.

“We realised that very little has been done to depict the history and explain how Joburg started and by whom.

“We have worked with the Chamber of Mines and various Anglo companies.

“The mining industry is committed to giving recognition to the complete cross-section of miners, for example by including replicas of gold artefacts of the Mapungubwe tribe, believed to be the first SA gold miners,” says Dewar.