February 11, 2012

0122 SOUTH AFRICA (Gauteng) - The great, wealthy and choleric Johannesburg

A dusty, harsh and disorganized settlement located to the end of the world, populated by white miners from all continents, black tribesmen who perform unskilled work, African women who cook for and sell beer to the black workers, European or South African prostitutes, gangsters from New York and London, impoverished Afrikaners, insidious tradesmen, and AmaWasha (Zulu men who dominate laundry work), all in search of better opportunities, so it was Johannesburg to the end of the 19th century, after that in 1886 had been discovered gold in the range of hills named Witwatersrand, the source of 40% of the gold ever mined from the earth. 

In 1900, during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the British forces occupied the city after a series of battles. Eventually the Boers lost (not before cause heavy losses to the enemy), and the control of theirs independent Orange Free State and Transvaal Republic was ceded to the British. The two provinces were added, in 1909, to the Cape and Natal colonies in newly created british dominion Union of South Africa. In 1913 things hadn’t changed much in Johannesburg, and a journalist wrote about it: "Ancient Ninevah and Babylon have been revived."

From 1961, when South Africa became a republic and left the Commonwealth, the National Party, which gained power in 1948, strengthened the racial segregation (apertheid) began under Dutch and British colonial rule. Until 1980’s several hundred thousand blacks were forced from Johannesburg to remote ethnic "homelands", even that black discontent as racial injustices were openly committed. After that the African National Congress won first multi-racial elections in 1994, thousands of poor people, mostly black, returned to the city from townships like Soweto, and crime levels rose. By the late 1990s, Johannesburg was rated as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Johannesburg is in nowadays the largest and most populous city in South Africa, one of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the world, and the world's largest city not situated on a river, lake, or coastline. The urban portion of Gauteng – comprising the cities of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane – will be a polycentric urban region, one of the largest urban areas in the world, with a projected population of some 14.6 million people by 2015.

Johannesburg is also a city of contrasts, of glass and steel high-rise buildings next to shantytowns, of world-class universities among widespread illiteracy, of extreme wealth and poverty. If in 1904 almost 56% of inhabitants were white, now the percentage dropped to 16%. Only 0.7% of city residents work in mining, and 37% are unemployed, of which 91% are black. So although it’s ranked as a top worldwide center of commerce, daunting problems remain.

In the postcard we doesn't see these things. As is written in explanation of the back, "sunset on the Highveld transforms the city’s skyline into illuminated silhouettes as the towers of Strijdom (right) and the S.A.B.C. Tower (left) rise between the heights of Ponte apartments (centre)". Probably the postcard was issued with more than 6 years ago, because Strijdom Tower, so called after the name of South African Prime Minister from 1954 to 1958 (an uncompromising Afrikaner nationalist, and a proponent of segregation), was renamed in 2005 Telkom Jo'burg Tower. Named also Hillbrow Tower, because it’s located in the suburb of Hillbrow, it was completed in 1971, and has been the tallest structure in Africa for 40 years (269m). 

The S.A.B.C. Tower (Sentech Tower), originally called the Brixton or Albert Hertzog Tower, is a 237m-high TV tower in the Brixton suburb, completed in 1962. Ponte City is a skyscraper in the Hillbrow, designed by Manfred Hermer (the same architect responsible for the Johannesburg Civic Theatre and the Alexander Theatre in Hillbrow), and built in 1975 to a height of 173m, the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa. The 54-story building is cylindrical, with an open center (the core) allowing additional light into the apartments. 

Since its early days, Ponte City has been used as a transit base for foreigners new to the city, and after the 1994 elections it became home to thousands of immigrants from all over Africa. Like the rest of Hillbrow, it attracted its share of crime, and developed a reputation as a dangerous and feared place. For German writer Norman Ohler, who used the Ponte as the seetting for his book Stadt des Goldes, "Ponte sums up all the hope, all the wrong ideas of modernism, all the decay, all the craziness of the city. It is a symbolic building, a sort of white whale, it is concrete fear, the tower of Babel, and yet it is strangely beautiful".

The stamp belongs to the Big 5 set, designed by Dennis Murphy, issued on 2010 and containing 5 stamps (with no value printed):
● White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) – it’s on the postcard
● African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
● Lion (Panthera leo)
● Elefant (Loxodonta africana)
● Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The five animals are called the big 5 not because they are the largest (hippo for example is greater than leopard) but because these animals were most coveted by hunters.

sender: Domsy (direct swap)
sent from Johannesburg (South Africa), on 25.01.2012
foto: John Hone

1 comment:

  1. Yay! My hometown! My single biggest goal is to capture a photo like this one day. What a beautiful shot. As a local, we knew the towers as the Brixton and Hillbrow towers and I once lived within a stone's throw of the Hillbrow tower.