Ma Sisulu's name to be on 18 Joburg streets

By Anna Cox Time of article published Sep 10, 2008

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Two of Joburg's most historic roads - Market Street and Main Reef Road - are likely to be renamed after Albertina Sisulu.

The council recently took a decision to rename the two roads - as well as 16 others - after the struggle icon.

It follows a Gauteng government decision also to rename a portion of the R24 the Albertina Sisulu freeway. The R24 becomes a municipal road from Bruma through Joburg's inner city to Roodepoort.

In a report, the council says that despite its street-renaming policy stating that "names of living people should be avoided, other than in exceptional circumstances", the council feels that renaming the 18 streets is a fitting honour to bestow on Sisulu in her lifetime, given her contribution to the struggle.

"The renaming will also ensure continuity, with the process already started by the province."

The city's department of community development said the proposed name changes would lead to a big loss of heritage, especially in the case of Market Street and Main Reef Road.

Neil Fraser, an urban consultant dedicated to the revitalisation of Joburg's inner city, agrees.

"It will mean renaming two streets which are among our most historic and, arguably, provide part of the historic distinctiveness of the city," he said.

Fraser quoted The Star of September 20 1926, saying: "Lest we forget where the market originally was, the busy street on the southern side of the Town Hall will remind us".

Market Street ran along the southern boundary of the city's market square, where fresh produce was sold until 1913 when the Newtown Market came into operation. It is the only remaining reference to where this great trading place was once located.

"All reference to the historic market will be completely obliterated," Fraser said, "while Main Reef Road strikes right to the raison d'etre of the city of Joburg itself - gold mining.

Anna Smith, in her book on Joburg street names, devotes two pages to the naming of Main Reef Road.

She writes: "'The origin of this artery, which runs from one end of the Witwatersrand to the other, can be traced to the wheel tracks of the pioneers, cut by their ox wagons, mail-coaches and other conveyances.

"In 1886, the incredible truth had been published that the gold-beds were more or less continuous over many miles across the Golden City and Pretoria."

In June 1896, representatives of mining companies discussed building a main road from Boksburg to Krugersdorp. The Chamber of Mines, according to its eighth annual report, contributed £200 of the £250 required for the survey.

It was called Witwatersrand Main Road, and it was emphasised that the road would follow the Reef, as it was intended for the transportation of supplies to the mines.

On July 21 1897, The Standard and Diggers' News followed up earlier references to the road, in a leader article under the headline "Main Reef Road", and expressed the hope that "the Volksraad would agree to the construction of a road along the Main Reef from Roodepoort to Boksburg".

The Standard and Diggers' News on March 29 1898 reported that construction of the road was under way, but was interrupted when war broke out in 1899. In 1904, the road was vested in the relevant municipalities.

The Star of June 16 1928 reported that "32 years ago, the mining companies themselves formed a private trust to construct the hard thoroughfare, which was officially christened Main Reef Road or Witwatersrand Road."

Fraser pointed out that the roads did not relate to the country's "ghastly" past, but to its real history.

"This is a difficult and sensitive issue. Albertina Sisulu is an icon of the struggle - enduring persecution at great cost to her family and herself. Her husband was imprisoned for a quarter-of-a-century and her two sons and daughter were also detained.

"Ma Sisulu was held in solitary confinement for seven weeks in 1963, before receiving a five-year banning order prohibiting her attendance at gatherings of more than two people.

"There is a great dichotomy in this particular renaming. We will lose forever two other significant and historic names relevant to the city's heritage," Fraser said.

Other streets to be renamed after Albertina Sisulu are: Alum Extension; Broadway Extension; Kitchener Avenue; Bezuidenhout Avenue; Main Road; Central Road; Paarlshoop Road; Maraisburg Road; Delville Street; Newclare Road; Maude Street; Kathleen Street; Hamberg Road; Hoofd Street; 10th Road; and Lola Street.

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