Social media was flooded with memes after Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe said there was a shebeen two streets away from the Guptas' Saxonwold compound. Picture: Twitter
Johannesburg - The streets of the famous Saxonwold suburb, north of Joburg, are laid out so as not to obstruct the view of the Anglo-Boer War Memorial at the heart of the enclave.

The suburb’s Anglo-Saxon-themed and tree-lined avenues - Saxonwold Drive, Erlswold Way, Methwold Road, Englewold Drive, Abbotswold Road, Griswold Road, Northwold Drive, Ashwold Road, Restanwold Drive and Westwold Way - are the defining lines around it. “If it (the street name) doesn’t end with a ‘wold’, then it’s not in Saxonwold,” says Tessa Turvey, chairperson of the Saxonwold and Parkwood Residents Association (Sapra).

Unlike most suburbs that are built on gridlines, Saxonwold roads stem from a central point at the Ditsong Military Museum and branch out in all directions, leaving visitors trying to get around the area with a headache.

“If you look at the map you will see from the museum the primary avenues have to clear sight of the memorial and that is why people often get lost driving around Saxonwold,” explained Turvey.

In the fast-changing landscape of a developing city, the posh neighbourhood remarkably retains the oldest man-made forest of trees planted more than 100 years ago.

The suburb recently exploded into prominence on the national scene following the storm surrounding one of its resident families - the politically connected and highly influential Gupta family, friends of President Jacob Zuma.

For the greater part of this year, Saxonwold has been the centre of political debate because of allegations of state capture made by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor on their last visits to the Gupta compound.

Last month, outgoing Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe brought the spectre of Saxonwold back in the public eye when he claimed he could have been visiting a shebeen in the area.

Molefe was responding to former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report, which located his cellphone in the neighbourhood on several occasions.

Molefe, who has admitted to being friends with one of the Gupta brothers, Ajay, emerged as a central figure in Madonsela’s report on allegations of the Guptas’ undue influence on state-owned entities.

His cellphone records placed him in the Saxonwold area - where the Guptas live - 19 times between August and November 17, 2015. He resigned from Eskom after the report’s release.

The Guptas’ Sahara estate in the suburb is made up of about five properties, with the main house on Saxonwold Drive, a source of irritation for some of the neighbours who have for years protested against the “illegal property extensions” and presidential and ministerial motorcades frequenting their suburb.

There are about 560 properties in Saxonwold, each covering about 2000m2, according to Turvey.

The suburb is situated in what was once the Sachsenwald Forest in the 20th century and its borderline runs along Oxford Road and Bristol in Parkwood near Rosebank, extending over Jan Smuts Avenue, separated from Forest Town, where Zuma once lived, by Walthan Road.

“Saxonwold is one of the most beautiful suburbs from a living point of view, largely because of the trees. You don’t feel like you’re in a city,” said Turvey. “We are truly privileged to live here.”

Residents of the suburb, according to Turvey, are a mixed bag of business, banking and other professionals.

Properties in the area, which also includes some townhouses, will fetch anything from R3m to R16m for a top-seller such as one of the Gupta mansions. “We are by no means the most expensive suburb in terms of property prices,” Turvey said. “I would consider Saxonwold to be more middle-class.

“There is large contingent of Saxonwold residents who are retired and also a lot of young families who have moved in here.”

Apart from the Guptas’ compound, which stands out like a sore thumb, much remains unchanged from the historic area inhabited by Germans.

It’s still a suburb away from the noise and discord of the city.

Saxonwold was originally part of the Braamfontein farm. It was an area mostly occupied by mine managers when it was turned into a township in the 1920s.

“We try to retain as much heritage value of the suburb as possible, and being so close to Rosebank, with the developments, there it is a challenge because the city wants to develop both the area and increase coverage from occupancy rate,” said Turvey.

“We have talked to council pro-actively to develop and design a plan on managing development and not to infringe too much on the heritage value of the area.

“People buy here because of the size of properties but also because of the tree-lined suburb appeal.”

A trip to Zoo Lake, the zoo and the military museum is about as much entertainment as you’ll get around Saxonwold. But there is hardly anything much of interest to keep adults awake at night since the closure of the Zoo Lake Bowling Club a year or so ago. There is not even a shebeen.

“There isn’t really a place for socialising, that’s why that comment (by Molefe) was so laughable,” added Turvey. “There is Moyo’s Restaurant that people go to.

“A lot of young families go to the Zoo Lake Sports Club, where they have a restaurant called Panettone, and that’s where a lot residents with young children go because they cater for kids.”

Turvey said the constant references to Saxonwold in the media because of the Gupta family controversies were becoming an irritation to some residents, even though the reporting has placed the suburb on the map.

Nobody seems to know why the Guptas chose to live in this historical suburb as it’s only a stone’s throw from Zuma’s house in Forest Town, which is nestled between Parktown and Saxonwold.

The Sunday Independent