Walking east to west along the beautifully restored Main Street in central Joburg takes the visitor back in time.
Johannesburg - The first architectural landmark is 44 Main St, the South African headquarters of the Anglo American Corporation, one of the world’s biggest mining multinationals.
Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, a Kimberley veteran, founded this business in 1917 when he extended his East Rand coal holdings into several very rich gold mines. In the 1930s, in a share buy-out, Oppenheimer expanded the company by gaining control of the De Beers Diamond Company. On the walkway between 44 and 45 Main St is the sculpture, Impala Stampede.
This relocated Joburg landmark, originally a gift from Harry Oppenheimer to his father, Sir Ernest, once stood in the Ernest Oppenheimer Park behind the Rissik St Post Office, where it was vandalised in the 1990s. Heads were hacked off and taken to scrap-metal dealers where they were eventually found and reclaimed, fortunately before they could be melted down.
When you get to Sauer St, you’re entering what was the town’s first red light district. Today’s city centre looks very different to 19th century Joburg, when many people lived in this area. In the 1890s, boarding houses catered for the mainly male population, families lived in corrugated-iron bungalows and pubs and eating-houses abounded.
Both experienced and novice whores were imported from Europe. Many German and more French women, staffed the 133 recorded brothels, giving that part of western Joburg between Anderson and Bree streets the name “Frenchfontein”. The whole of central Joburg was full of “shameless” women, in various stages of undress, making blatant suggestions to passing men.
Hollard Street, all two blocks of it, used to be known throughout the world as South Africa’s financial heartland where the city’s fourth stock exchange operated for many years. Surface gold was initially mined very close to here, on the bare rocky outcrops.
Gaze up at the 30-storey Standard Bank Centre, one of the world’s few hanging buildings, designed by the German Hermann Hentrich, which opened in 1970. It’s called a hanging building because three sets of 10 storeys are suspended from pre-stressed concrete hangers, anchored to a central steel column.
As you keep walking east in front of the hanging building, watch out – on the high wall to your left – for the large reproduction of Mapungubwe’s ancient Golden Rhinoceros.
If you visit no other site during your visit, The Standard Bank Gold Mine Museum, more than any other, will convey the spirit of early Joburg: the scramble for the yellow metal and the resourcefulness of the early miners who pursued it into the bowels of the earth. From Main Street turn right and walk three blocks south.
At any time, over weekends and holidays, without permission, visitors can enter the foyer at 5 Simmonds Street and descend to the dimly lit mine shaft entrance 30m below. The dimness is not accidental; it reproduces the early underground illumination level created by candles standing in sardine tins. The tunnel entrance, entrancing photographs, rock samples and pieces of equipment wrap you in the atmosphere of early gold mining.
The Ferreira Mine commemorates Philip Ignatius Ferreira, the Joburg pioneer instrumental in persuading the president to proclaim a public gold field. His own prospecting was finally rewarded when he staked a claim in October 1886.
Ferreira started the mine in partnership with Carl Hanau and the Barber brothers (after whom the town of Barberton is named). The mine passed into the hands of H Eckstein and Co. After the Anglo-Boer War, Ferreira sold up and settled on his farm near Louis Trichardt in what is now Limpopo, where he died a relatively poor man.
It seems fitting that Standard Bank, which shipped Ferreira Mine’s first gold in 1887, has provided such a public-spirited memorial to the early days. - Saturday Star