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PAIA, 2000 (Act 2 of 2000) 

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Johannesburg books Print E-mail
02 March 2007
Reviewed by Lucille Davie

JOHANNESBURG came about because of gold. Many histories of the city have been written, from a range of different perspectives – its architecture, its famous personalities, its art collections, its townships, its photographers, and its pioneering spirit. Here are short reviews of some of the books that capture what this vibrant city is all about. 

Byleveld – Dossier of a Serial Sleuth – Hanlie Retief (Umuzi, 2011)
Retief manages to get under the skin of Piet Byleveld, national and international sleuth extraordinaire. She reveals him to be a man of deep commitment and passion to his profession, and a man who got criminals to confess to him with his unique style of compassion and honesty. Now retired, he was a workaholic, never resting until he had a serial killer behind bars. Written in easy style, at 270 pages it describes his most famous cases, including the Leigh Matthews case, which the police had given up on solving. A must read.

Diepsloot – Anton Harber (Jonathan Ball, 2011)


Zoo City – Lauren Beukes (Jacana, 2011)
Lauren Beukes' second novel, Zoo City, is a journey through an alternate Johannesburg, where those who have committed crimes are "animalled" - joined to an animal companion whose life becomes entwined with theirs. Protagonist Zinzi December, animalled to a sloth after killing her brother years earlier, finds lost items and writes 419 scams to pay off her nefarious debts but must now attempt to find redemption by trawling the fetid alleyways of her city in search of a missing teenage pop star. Beukes' world-building is expansive and detailed, and Joburg readers will particularly be drawn to her descriptions of their own city, twisted as though seen through a cracked mirror. She won the Arthur C Clarke 2011 award for the book.

Johannesburg Ten Ahead – a decade of inner-city regeneration – Gerald Garner (Double G Media, 2011)
This is a well-rounded book, setting out what has been achieved in the inner city across the spectrum, from public art and residential conversions, to new hotels and public transport. Although commissioned by the Johannesburg Development Agency for its 10th anniversary, Garner spends most of its 187 pages examining what the private sector has done to regenerate the city. Its numerous photographs create the right balance between text and graphics, finished off with worthwhile challenges to the city administrators. A small point - some captions don’t locate the where and what of the photographs.

Diepsloot – Anton Harber (Jonathan Ball, 2011)


Fire Walker – edited by Oliver Barstow & Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Fourthwall Books, 2011)
This is a most worthy book, telling the story of a sculpture that itself tells of a neglected aspect of Joburg’s history – of women street entrepreneurs - as well as giving the background to a spectacular artwork that beckons Joburgers into the CBD. Recording the process of creation of the Fire Walker, in photos and essays, the book contains conversations with the engineer and steel worker involved in the work, and others involved in the prolific production of public art around the city, culminating in a brilliant essay by Mark Gevisser.

Diepsloot – Anton Harber (Jonathan Ball, 2011)
Harber has captured the "seething settlement" that is Diepsloot in a very readable and accessible 231 pages. He gets under the skin of the sprawling township of some 200 000 people, by talking to people on the street, drinking with them in their taverns, attending their meetings, and joining a night time patrol with Community Policing Forum members and the police. He learns that Diepslooters are working out solutions to their problems, irrespective of the politicians' efforts. Harber says that since writing the book his outlook has changed – he appreciates better the challenges facing the country regarding informal settlements. Read the book - your outlook is bound to change too.

Diepsloot – Anton Harber (Jonathan Ball, 2011)

Spaces & Places Johannesburg

Spaces & Places Johannesburg Gerald Garner (Double G Media, 2010)
This comprehensive guide is one resident’s personal take on the city and its hidden gems, told with great affection and pride. Written in a leisurely style, there’s just enough information to get a good feel for the city and what it has to offer. Its 300 pages are jam-packed with the author’s photographs – colourful slices of Joburg’s places and people, demonstrating the city’s diversity and attractiveness. This soft-cover is a worthwhile buy – and ideal for keeping in the car for quick reference.

TJ / Double Negative by David Goldblatt and Ivan Vladislavic (Umuzi, 2010)
These two master craftsmen have collaborated to produce a majestic catalogue of photographs, and an intriguing novel. The 270 photographs represent a terrific historical record of Johannesburg, from the 1950s to 2010. Goldblatt’s images capture the city and its people in every mood, providing invaluable insight into its evolution over the past 60 years. One reservation – the six images of reformed criminals seem out of place. Vladislavic’s novel, Double Negative, is about a photographer, told in a style – as always with him – that feels like it was effortless to write, and certainly it is effortless to read. This is a must-have double act for any serious Joburger.

Writing the City into Being

8115 A Prisoner's Home

Gold in Graphite – Jozi Sketchbook by Zafrica Cabral and Somayya a.e (Kufica, 2010)
This book is a creative mix of poetic descriptions and black and white sketches of Joburg buildings in and around the CBD. Metaphors abound in each description, and some sketches are not quite current, while population projections are wild. But the book captures the eclectic architectural styles that make Joburg the fascinating city it is.

One hundred years of collecting: the Johannesburg Art Gallery – edited by Jillian Carman (Design>Magazine, 2010)
If the aim of this centenary catalogue is to whet your appetite for art and the wonderful collection that resides in the Johannesburg Art Gallery, then it succeeds admirably. The collection contains work dating from the 16th century to the present, and the catalogue amply represents this rich range of work. The essays that accompany the images are thought-provoking and aim to ground the gallery's place in the city's and the continent's history. The book is a must-own for art lovers – it demonstrates that the gallery is indeed the most outstanding in Africa.

Writing the City into Being

8115 A Prisoner's Home

8115 A Prisoner's Home
Alf Kumalo and Zukiswa Wanner (Penguin, 2010)

News photographer Alf Kumalo is also the Mandelas' personal photographer, and he has been on hand over the past 50 years to record precious moments in the lives of Nelson and Winnie. His photographs capture Winnie wonderfully in all her roles – mother, wife, grandmother, banned person – and re-united with Nelson after his release from prison. The pictures of Nelson after his release are equally illuminating. This is a rare collection of beautiful photographs of two people living through and surviving the evils of apartheid. Wanner gives a succinct summary of their lives.

Writing the City into Being – Essays on Johannesburg 1998-2008 Lindsay Bremner (Fourthwall Books, 2010)
This scholarly work is a collection of essays on Johannesburg written by Bremner, once the head of architecture at Wits University but now a visiting professor of architecture at Temple University, Philadelphia, in the US. With the essays written over a 10-year period, the book consists of three parts: her 2008 doctoral proposal, a photographic essay and a collection of essays written between 1998 and 2008. She examines the emerging post-apartheid city, listening to it and "engaging with it and writing it, as a way of thinking architecturally". This paperback is an academic book, not a casual read.

Writing the City into Being

The Inner City

The Inner City Photographs by Graeme Williams (Ravan, 2000)
The 52 black and white photographs in this collection capture a rather seedy side of the city and the lives of its inhabitants. Taken between 1996 and 1998, Williams says the photographs represent a time in his life rather than document the city. It appears to have been a gloomy time for him, or perhaps it's just the effect of black and white pictures. There's none of the inner city's skyscrapers or pavement hawkers or taxi depots. Rather, the photographs show Joburgers doing ordinary things – lying and reading in a park; hanging out in Hillbrow; chatting to neighbours over the fence; begging on a street corner – but mostly looking unhappy about these activities.

Joburg through my lens - Brian Koping (Brian Koping, 2006)
Koping's aim has been to document the changing city. He has captured the city in glorious style, with Joburgers in all guises - on motorbikes, walking, sailing, cycling and running, but mainly, enjoying their city. He has been photographing the city since the 1960s, and has included several historic black and white pictures of old Sophiatown and old Hillbrow. The city centre is well represented, as are the northern suburbs, but aside from several forays into the south, you won't find images of the suburbs on the periphery of the city, like Soweto.

Joburg through a lens


Soweto – Jodi Bieber (Jacana 2010)
Bieber's Soweto is mostly a happy place, where its residents celebrate life, despite the faces in her photographs being mostly unsmiling. She spent three months and travelled 7 000 kilometres in the township, documenting Sowetans, and came away with enjoyable impressions of her time spent there, she says. Her photographs capture Sowetans in everyday situations – at a wedding, in church, at a festival, at home . . . all enjoying the township. A map at the back of the book indicates where she took the 154 photographs for the book.

Inside Joburg – 101 things to see and do - Nechama Brodie (Sharp Sharp Media & Pan Macmillan, 2010)
This accessible, easy-to-flip-through book strikes the right balance of giving sufficient information but not too much detail to become cumbersome. It contains everything to get a good feel of the city and what it offers, starting off with "Ancient beginnings" and ending with "What to do if you've got only 24/48 hours in Joburg". With colour pictures on every page, a handy map and 130 pages in soft cover, it's perfect for the visitor and resident alike to carry around while visiting Joburg's many interesting things to see and do.



Woman, Trashed – Joanne Brodie (Penguin, 2009)
This is a brutally truthful account of one woman's slide into self-destruction, where Brodie, a Joburger, becomes addicted to any narcotic she can lay her hands on, in her efforts to deal with her demons. She goes from businesswoman to prostitute to S&M parlour owner before she pulls her lumbering life straight. Her intelligence shines through in her riveting writing and equally riveting tale. At 189 pages it's a one-sitting, hard-to-put-down read.

Eggs to lay, chickens to hatch – Chris van Wyk (Picador, 2010)
This is Chris van Wyk's second childhood memoir, and it's obvious he enjoyed writing this one just as much as he did the first one. Once again his humour and easy style sparkle in his tales of growing up in a world where apartheid means that only white is right, as we follow him into adulthood. He forms a special bond with his parents' housekeeper, Agnes, with both looking out for one another. The memoir is also a tribute to Agnes, who gave him the title of the book. 


The Joburg Transition

Johannesburg Transition: architecture & society from 1950 - Clive M Chipkin (STE Publishers, 2009)
This scholarly work is the sequel to Chipkin's 1993 book, but almost 200 pages longer. It's been worth the wait – it's absorbing, loaded with fascinating insights, and brimming with great photographs and illustrations. Chipkin's pen takes in the vast world that is Johannesburg, with its melting pot of people, wealth, poverty, extravagance, madness, and of course, architecture.

Joburg! Towards 2010 (Affinity, 2008)
The second in a series, with a mix of editorial and advertorial, this book tells of Joburg's progress towards 2010, particularly the construction of the Gautrain and the Bus Rapid Transit system. But it also highlights the multi-faceted nature of the city – from veld churches on Melville Koppies, new inner city housing, to children and dogs enjoying the city's green lungs. As in the first book, the photographs give a good overview of the city and its people.

Towards 2010

The Joburg Book

The Joburg Book – a guide to the city's history, people & places (Pan Macmillan, 2008)
This 320-page book will give you a good feel for what Joburg and its people are all about. It's written in an accessible style, and loaded with great archival photographs, with recommendations for further reading. Info boxes point the reader to places to visit or see, and things to do, bringing the city alive for visitors and residents. The book is a valuable addition to reference books on the city.

Alexandra: A History - Philip Bonner and Noor Nieftagodien (Wits University Press, 2008)
Six years in the making, this book is the first comprehensive account of the history of Alexandra, based on extensive interviews of residents. The book is sprinkled with quotes from the residents, bringing alive a readable but rather text-heavy account. But there's no doubt – if you want to know what makes Alex tick, this the book you need to read.

Alexandra: A History

  Art and Justice

Art and Justice – the art of the Constitutional Court of South Africa (David Krut Publishing, 2008)
Justice Albie Sachs said he wanted this book to be "the best art book in the world". I don't know if it is or not but it certainly is beautiful. Photographer Ben Law-Viljoen has done a magnificent job of capturing the diverse collection of the court. Sachs takes a personal pride in the collection, with just reason – he has played a big role in assembling the collection which complements perfectly the stylish building that is the court.

In the footsteps of Gandhi – an illustrated history of Johannesburg's Linksfield Ridge and environs - Alkis Doucakis (Colors, 2007)
This is a well-researched look at the interesting area of Linksfield Ridge and its surrounding suburbs, where Mahatma Gandhi and his architect friend Hermann Kallenbach used to live. Although somewhat dry, the book picks up on intriguing facts and personalities of the area. The author has assembled some great historical pictures of the area which give a good sense of the growth of the suburbs. (Phone 011 402 7141 to buy the book)

  In the footsteps of Gandhi

aThe Small Matter of a Horse

The Small Matter of a Horse - the Life of 'Nongoloza' Mathebula, 1867-1948 - Charles van Onselen (Ravan, 1984)
This 54-page intriguing tale, meticulously researched by historian Van Onselen, gives another view of the history of the early years of Joburg. Nongoloza established his crime kingdom in the town several years after the town was born, in blatant rejection of the repressive regime that was being put in place. It's a fascinating story of a man who was reformed but who never fully shook off his criminal past. His legacy still thrives in South Africa's jails.

Postcards from Soweto - Mokone Molete (Jacana, 2007)
This is a down-to-earth collection of 25 short recollections of growing up in Soweto, told with affection and humour. Molete writes about his father, his friends, his teachers, the village idiot, jailbirds, pub crawlers, and endearing characters like Abuti Beef and Pick Six. It's an often violent upbringing, with beatings by parents and teachers commonplace. Molete says that 60 percent of the events are true. The remaining 40 percent make the stories very enjoyable.

Postcards from Soweto
Tales from Jozi - photographs by Jurgen Schadeberg

Tales from Jozi - photographs by Jurgen Schadeberg (Protea, 2007)
Sharing a room with two others, playing chess in Joubert Park, playing golf in Kensington, children "playing" on a dirty stairway, elegant book launches at the Constitutional Court, strip clubs, crumpled beds, glitzy night clubs, flashy cars at an auto show . . . just some of the images Schadeberg captures in this city of extremes. The book is the result of an approach to Schadeberg by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, asking him to record the living conditions of inner city dwellers as evidence to defend the tenants against eviction. The photographs are interspersed with well-written, insightful articles. The many unsmiling faces looking out from the photographs attest to the hard lives of many Joburgers.

Portrait with Keys, Joburg & what-what - Ivan Vladislavic' (Umuzi, 2006)
This book consists of one man's leisurely and idle train of thought through living life in Joburg. Written in an easy, non-judgemental style, Vladislavic' clearly enjoys the city and its people and writes with affection of things distinctly Joburg: Max the gorilla, Hillbrow, the snow of 1981, the Marymount Nursing Home, the Gandhi house, David Webster's house in Eleanor Street, Lionel Abrahams, the security strike in Beyers Naude Square, Roberts Avenue in Kensington, and many other fleeting impressions, in 138 separate thoughts. An enjoyable, intriguing read.

Portrait with Keys, Joburg & what-what



Now listen here




Now listen here - the life and times of Bill Jardine - Chris van Wyk (STE Publishers, 2003)
In lively style Van Wyk recounts the story of Bill Jardine, rugby enthusiast, anti-apartheid activist, sports administrator, and passionate family man. Along the way the biography tells the story of Vrededorp and Pageview; Jardine's Portuguese origins on a farm in Craighall; and his significant role in helping to unite sporting bodies beyond 1994. The story is told with humour and affection, qualities that Jardine obviously had in abundance.

Uplifting the Colonial Philistine - Jillian Carman (Wits University Press, 2006)

Carman's very thorough and scholarly book on the genesis of the Johannesburg Art Gallery stands in a category of its own. Based on her doctoral thesis, Carman has unravelled in meticulous detail the creation of the gallery, focused around Randlord wife Florence Phillips and curator Hugh Lane. It contains over 100 reproductions of the original art collection (about half in colour), and reveals previously unknown and unexpected details about the characters involved in the story.







Uplifting the Colonial Philistine

Light on the Hill, building the Constitutional Court of South Africa

Light on the Hill, building the Constitutional Court of South Africa
A selection of the architects' evolving sketches reproduced in the book make for an intriguing look into the heads of the architects and how the process developed.

Light on the Hill, building the Constitutional Court of South Africa - Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (David Krut Publishing, 2006)

This is quite simply a beautiful book. Its 171 pages are filled with truly stunning photographs of the court from every possible angle, showing off what must be one of the world's most spectacular buildings. The photographs capture the many diverse spaces and complementary, warm materials used, as well as the lush textures in the garden. Sprinkled with comments from judges of the court, architects, builders and artisans involved in its construction, the book leaves you feeling almost a part of the planning and construction process.

Emerging Johannesburg - Richard Tomlinson et al (Routledge, 2003)

This book, by a range of academics and researchers, examines a new Johannesburg from several perspectives: race, democracy, citizenship, urban demographics, space and identity. These were themes that emerged from an international conference entitled Urban Futures, held in the city in mid-2000, and from which the book came about. The overriding impression one comes away with on reading the book is the huge dichotomy, post-1994, that still exists between rich and poor, indicating that the city still has a long way to go before all its residents feel the benefits of living in one of the continent's wealthiest cities.

Emerging Johannesburg - Richard Tomlinson et al

Emerging Johannesburg - Richard Tomlinson et al
Joburg! The passion behind a city

Joburg! The passion behind a city

Joburg! The passion behind a city (Affinity, 2006)

At 408 pages, with some 700 wonderful pictures and 100 articles, this coffee table book reflects the renewal – from infrastructure to social investment – that is happening in Joburg. It showcases the positive changes that people, either through their individual initiative or through the organisations in which they work, have brought about in this vibrant city. The pages are filled with stories of optimism, and creative and energetic people who make this city work.

Soweto '76, Reflections on the Liberation Struggle (Skotaville books, 2006)

This book, released to mark the 30th anniversary of 16 June 1976, captures the same sense as a visit to the Apartheid Museum: of being there on the day, dodging bullets and teargas, and carrying away dead classmates. It takes the reader through the range of emotions experienced in Soweto on the day, by means of poetry, oral testimonies, freedom songs, autobiographies, police files, a death toll list and a map. Replete with moving stories, it's not a book to be read in one sitting. You'll need to absorb the detail, think about the courage of those involved and reflect on how far the country has come since 1976.

Soweto '76, Reflections on the Liberation Struggle

Soweto '76, Reflections on the Liberation Struggle
Number Four – The Making of Constitution Hill

Number Four – The Making of Constitution Hill

Number Four – The Making of Constitution Hill (Penguin, 2006)

It is significant that a book recording the brutal history of the prison complex on Constitution Hill consists of dozens of different voices – it's a place that affected thousands of lives. The text is made up of the voices of ex-prisoners, architects, judges, heritage experts, city officials and politicians, and is written in an easy-to-digest style. The story takes the reader through the dark period of incarceration and pain into the new era of freedom and finding a new purpose for the precinct, all the while respecting the past. The wonderful photographs enhance the poignant story.


Chic Jozi – the Savvy Style Companion – Nikki Temkin (Penguin, 2009)

This is the updated version of the 2005 book, and it appears to be even more thorough than the first. Everything you need to know about living in the city – from fire walking as a de-stress exercise, to getting help to spring clean your home – is provided in easy-to-digest bites of information, with contact details and website addresses. With "chic tips", "cheap thrills" and "BTW" bullets, you'll be armed with everything you need to be chic in the city. A must for your back pocket, especially if you live in the northern suburbs.


Chic Jozi, the Jo'burg pocketbook - Nadine Rubin & Nikki Temkin
Jo'burg - Guy Tillim

Jo'burg - Guy Tillim

Jo'burg - Guy Tillim (STE Publishers, 2005)

Dingy walls and beds, with shapes of sleeping people, seem to predominate in this photographic collection of inner city images by Guy Tillim. He captures another face of the city: new tenants and their hard lives in city blocks vacated in the 1990s by retreating whites. This concertina book is a teaser for an insightful exhibition that toured the country in 2005, and which picked up an award along the way. The photos were taken in 2004 but will remain the reality for city residents for a long time to come.

Johannesburg, the making and shaping of the city - Keith Beavon (Unisa Press, 2004)

Some 20 years of research have gone into this comprehensive document on the history of the city, the author a retired professor of geography from Wits University. You'll follow the establishment of the mining camp, the making of the townships, the apartheid era, through to the new Johannesburg in 2003, illustrated with maps, charts and tables. Told in a readable style, it's a must-have for serious students of the city's development.


Johannesburg, the making and shaping of the city - Keith Beavon

I remember King Kong (The boxer) - Denis Hirson

I remember King Kong (The boxer) - Denis Hirson (Jacana, 2004)

If you grew up as a white person in South Africa in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, you'll delight in Denis Hirson's "I remember" reminiscences, captured in 130 pages of short statements like: "I remember Hush Puppies", "I remember Male Chauvinist Pigs", "I remember sardine tins with keys", "I remember the main fear: that a girl might fall pregnant", "I remember Thalidomide babies", and "I remember Engelbert Humperdink". The statements capture the naivete and innocence of a pre-internet, pre-Aids, and pre-high-tech age, and bring out mixed feelings: of nostalgia on the one hand, but also of the challenge of living in the 21st century, almost a different planet compared to life 50 years ago.

Johannesburg Circa Now - Terry Kurgan and Jo Ractliffe (2005)

This book is the culmination of a 2004 exhibition and interactive public project, with additional contributions from writers, teachers, architects, photographers and visual artists. The images make the book. They consist of insightful black and white photos and captions, colourful portraits and stunning panoramas of the city. Otherwise, there's an odd collection of articles, some of no relevance to Joburg. The main reason to buy the book is for its striking photographs of the city and its residents.

Johannesburg Circa Now- Terry Kurgan and Jo Ractliffe

Johannesburg Circa Now - Terry Kurgan and Jo Ractliffe

Johannesburg, one city, colliding worlds - Lindsay Bremner

Johannesburg, one city, colliding worlds - Lindsay Bremner (STE Publishers, 2004)

Lindsay Bremner, professor of architecture at Wits University, wrote five essays for The Sunday Times in early 2002 for the Bessie Head Non-Fiction Fellowship Award (which she won), with the title 'Contemporary Johannesburg: cultures, spaces, identities'. Now, two years later, they're together in this quality publication (with French and German translations alongside), capturing, in her words, a particular moment in the city's history, but still relevant to this dynamic city. Told in eloquent style, the essays give the reader a gritty look at the city in the 21st century.

Soweto Inside Out - Edited by Adam Roberts & Joe Thloloe (Pengiun, 2004)

This book is a follow-up to "From Jo'burg to Jozi, stories about Africa's infamous city" but looking exclusively at the vibrant township of Soweto. The editors asked 47 writers and journalists, some local, some foreign, to write about their Soweto experiences, and the result is a lively look under the skin of the township. Not everyone loves the place, some hate it, but most - the late Aggrey Klaaste, Sam Nhlengethwa, Sandile Memela, Anthony Sampson, to list a few - love the place and although they've moved into the suburbs, are still regular visitors to Soweto, such is its pull.


Soweto Inside Out - Edited by Adam Roberts& Joe Thloloe

People who have stolen from me - David Cohen

People who have stolen from me - David Cohen (Picador Africa, 2004)

David Cohen takes the reader down Jules Street in Johannesburg, at the same time opening a window on democratic South Africa 10 years on. Cohen focuses on two friends who own Jules Street Furnishers and describes the challenges of dealing with defaulting customers, hiring former carjackers as repossession agents and a family member defrauding the business. They deal with these headaches with good humour, common sense and compassion. A useful study of a Joburg street and its fortunes.

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, a childhood memoir - Chris van Wyk (Picador Africa, 2004)

A faithful native of Riverlea, where he still lives, Chris van Wyk invites the reader into the Johannesburg suburb of his childhood, where the community struggles to cope with the senseless cruelty of apartheid. They survive through faith in themselves, good neighbourliness and plenty of laughter. Van Vyk captures the wonderment and curiosity of a child growing up in these circumstances, told in a lively, insightful and heart warming style. A must-read for Joburgers.


Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, a childhood memoir - Chris van Wyk

All Under Heaven, the story of a Chinese family in South Africa - Darryl Accone

All Under Heaven, the story of a Chinese family in South Africa - Darryl Accone (David Philip, 2004)

This is an absorbing tale of three generations of Chinese immigrants living in Johannesburg and Pretoria, told with compassion and enormous warmth. It recounts the difficulties faced in the gold mining town of the early 20th century, and later, in apartheid South Africa. The story moves between China and Johannesburg, and gives valuable insight into the story of one of the country's minorities, as well as a different angle on the history of Johannesburg.

When Johannesburg and I were young - Juliet Marais Louw (Amagi Books, 1991)

This is a charming child-eye's view of Johannesburg, from 1910 when the author was born. She traces her life around the city moving from suburb to suburb, and from school to school and on to Wits University. The author warns that some of her memories are a little dusty, but it's still a worthwhile read for a feel of a bygone time that appeared to move to another clock.


When Johannesburg and I were young - Juliet Marais Louw

Gandhi's Johannesburg, birthplace of Satyagraha - Eric Itzkin

Gandhi's Johannesburg, birthplace of Satyagraha - Eric Itzkin (Witwatersrand University Press, 2000)

This informative 100-page book follows Mahatma Gandhi's journeys around Johannesburg at the turn-of-the century, and documents places where he stayed, worked and visited, his brushes with the law, his many friends and colleagues, his influence on fellow residents, and the incident that sparked off his Satyagraha or passive resistance policy. It's full of black and white pictures and illustrations, bringing Gandhi alive and making it easy to follow his movements around the city.

Johannesburg Style, Architecture and Society 1880s-1960s - Clive Chipkin (David Philip, 1993)

This excellent book, by a reputable and knowledgeable architect traces the history of different architectural styles in Johannesburg in an engaging and very readable style. Filled with hundreds of black and white photographs and drawings, it provides an informative history of the city and its people, tracing the cycles of construction and demolition that mark the city's growth from tent town to modern African city.


Johannesburg Style, Architecture and Society 1880s-1960s

Johannesburg Portraits - Mike Alfred (Jacana, 2003)

The author has chosen an unusual selection of well-known Johannesburgers to illustrate different shades of the city. In the 10 sketches the reader will learn about the quickly-changing scene of turn-of-the-century Joburg with Randlord Lionel and Florrie Phillips; or architect Hermann Kallenbach's association with Mahatma Gandhi (with the editors having some trouble deciding on the spelling of "Gandhi"); or lawyer Bram Fischer's brave struggle with the apartheid monster. The book also looks at contemporary Joburgers: ANC stalwarts Walter and Albertina Sisulu, palaeontologist and scientist Phillip Tobias, photographer Peter Magubane, ornithologist Geoff Lockwood, author and literary critic Lionel Abrahams, and diva Sibongile Khumalo. The pieces are of varying quality but they give some idea of the variety of personalities that have made up and do make up the vibrant melting pot that is Johannesburg.

A Concise Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg - Naomi and Reuben Musiker (Francolin, 2000)

This is a useful quick guide to the history of Johannesburg with a 17-page chronology of the city, and more than 500 alphabetical entries, written by two respected researchers. It covers the political and social history of the city up to the end of the 1990s, and also cultural development, including architecture, art, music and theatre. It's a useful starting point for any research on the city.

From Jo'burg to Jozi, stories about Africa's infamous city - Heidi Holland & Adam Roberts (Penguin, 2002)

The editors asked 60 local and foreign journalists to write 1 000 words on Jozi, to hit the bookstores in time for the many visitors to the city attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development in August 2002. The result is a sparkling collection of very readable stories on people, love, architecture, motor cars, apartheid, Soweto and the pain and joy of living in this vibrant city. Royalties from the book go to charities assisting children affected by Aids.


From Jo'burg to Jozi, stories about Africa's infamous city - Heidi Holland & Adam Roberts



Out of print books
These books are out of print but are usually available in the reference section of your local library.



Johannesburg One Hundred Years - a centenary publication

Johannesburg One Hundred, a pictorial history - Ellen Palestran (AD Donker, 1986)
This is a fairly comprehensive history of the city in just under 150 pages, taking the story up until the mid-1980s. It covers the usual growth highlights and other dramatic events, like the dynamite explosion, Halley's Comet in 1910, the Foster Gang and the 1922 Miners' Strike. Apart from a brief mention of Alexandra township and the 1976 strikes, it is very much a book of white people in the city, but is nonetheless a useful read, with lots of great black and white pictures.

Born in Soweto, inside the heart of South Africa - Heidi Holland (Penguin, 1994)

Heidi Holland ventures into the troubled pre-1994 Soweto to speak to the people of the township - young tsotsis, paramedics, school kids, shebeen owners, sangomas, caregivers and reformed criminals. The result is a book which is insightful and compassionate, leaving the reader with a sense of the overwhelming poverty and hardship Sowetans suffer daily, but also with a sense of their hope, resilience and will to survive. It makes for a compelling read.


Born in Soweto, inside the heart of South Africa - Heidi Holland

Johannesburg One Hundred Years - a centenary publication (Chris van Rensburg Publications, 1986)

Published in 1986 to mark Johannesburg's centenary, this hardback volume is packed with delightful pictures illustrating the city's history. It covers the first pioneers in the area through to a look at the next 100 years. Scenarios for the future depend, according to the authors (eight city managers), largely on good leadership and vision, with no mention of dismantling apartheid, very much in evidence in 1986. Despite this limitation, the book is bursting with information about the city and its growth in the first 100 years.

Early Johannesburg, its buildings and its people - Hannes Meiring (Human & Rousseau, 1985)

This well-researched book is jampacked with wonderful drawings by the author. It starts with Randjeslaagte, the triangle of land on which the city started, and traces the development that occurred on the three large farms surrounding Randjeslaagte, the future city of Johannesburg. Every major building has it own paragraph, giving its history. The story is told in an engaging way, bringing to life the characters who built the early city. A useful Johannesburg reference book.

Johannesburg Firsts - Anna Smith (1976)

Anna Smith was appointed chief librarian of the city in 1960 and from then on and throughout the 1970s she produced several excellent reference books on the city. This book is a fun way to absorb the history of Johannesburg. You'll find out who was the first bootmaker, the first hotel-keeper, the first district surgeon, and the first comedian, amongst many others. Also, when the first fire occurred in the town, when the first dog show happened, the first earth tremor, the first dry cleaning establishment, and the first horseshoe factory. In addition, Smith's Johannesburg Street Names, a large tome, is a very thoroughly researched book looking at the city's street names, at the same time giving a very useful history of Johannesburg.

Meet me at the Carlton, the story of Johannesburg's old Carlton Hotel - Eric Rosenthal (Howard Timmins, 1972)

Johannesburg's first Carlton Hotel was built in 1906, modelled on the hotel of the same name in London, from an original idea by mining magnate Barney Barnato. The author, in a very readable style, writes a social history of the hotel, built on the corner of Eloff and Market Streets. In 1962 it was decided to demolish the hotel and build a new one, which went up in 1973, and it still stands on Commissioner Street. The book contains an interesting collection of black and white photographs which capture the elegance and popularity of the hotel.

City built on gold - LE Neame (CNA)

Drawn from research of newspapers and other sources, the author describes the social and economic conditions of a little mining camp that grew into the wealthiest city in Africa. It records the harsh conditions of the early town - the epidemics, riots, drought, famine, disasters and wars which marked the early history of the town, right through to how the city looked in 1959. The photographs are from The Star, the city's first newspaper.

Alexandra, I love you - a record of seventy years (Trident Press, 1983)

This book was commissioned by the Alexandra Liaison Committee, and, together with a great collection of black and white photographs, tells the poignant story of Alex's early history, and how it was saved from the apartheid government's bulldozers. Quotes from Wally Serote's poems on Alex give insight into why residents resolutely remain in the township, despite the hardships and poverty.

Bosman's Johannesburg - edited by Stephen Gray (Human & Rousseau, 1986)

One of Johannesburg's most talented resident, Herman Charles Bosman, lived in the city in the 1940s and 50s. This is a collection of some of his short stories, in particular the ones that relate to the city. The collection offers three perspectives on Bosman's Johannesburg. The first, a selection of seven stories, chronicles the "Voorkamer" stories in which Marico characters make their way to "Joh'burg". The second perspective is a series of 11 essays on the experience of Johannesburg. The third section consists of three works: two incomplete drafts of longer stories, and a one-act play. It makes for absorbing reading and a different view of the city.


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Last Updated on 10 January 2013