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The caring suburb of Malvern Print E-mail
29 January 2003
Tidy rows of houses in a street in Malvern
Tidy rows of houses in a street in Malvern

THERE'S a suburb in Johannesburg, where when you move in, you'll get a welcoming note with helpful information from the local community forum, and a pot of jam. Now that's what I call good neighbourliness.

This friendly, caring suburb is Malvern, some five kilometres east of the city centre. The suburb has its own slogan: "The village suburb for families where neighbours are side-by-side friends".

One of the city's oldest suburbs, it is an example to all Johannesburgers on how to care for neighbours, and how to care for your surrounds so that everyone benefits, and everyone becomes "side-by-side friends". And it's clear that being neighbourly is partly a consequence of low wire fences and gates, a feature that is prominent in the suburb but long gone from other suburbs.

What Malvern residents have realised is that it's the little things that matter: residents have each other's details, and they look after one another: watch each other's homes when on holiday; notice when neighbours are ill and visit them or wish them well for hospital visits, and welcome them back when discharged; congratulate matriculants on passing their exams; and wish married couples well on significant anniversaries.

Each week residents of the suburb send requests for prayers for ill residents to be read out in Malvern's 10 churches.

The welcoming note and monthly newsletters, entitled Malvern Matters, are largely the work of Sally Hogan, vice chairperson of the Malvern Community Forum.

Hogan, like many people in the suburb, has lived in Malvern for the past 19 years, and after raising her children there, she now has time on her hands to mother the suburb a little.

Malvern residents relaxing at the street party
Malvern residents relaxing at the street party

Besides producing Malvern Matters, she produces six newsletters a year covering news for the street in which she lives. It's jampacked with welcomes for new arrivals to the street (including giving all the relevant information needed by residents), marriage or birth announcements, invitations to people to visit their sick neighbours, and encouragement to residents who are improving their homes.

In 2001 the residents in Hogan's street had a street party, and have since had garage sales, mini markets and tea parties. Word has got around: the young people from the suburb have approached Hogan, asking her for suggestions on activities for the youngsters.

"We're working on a few ideas, like leadership training for 16-25 year olds. The churches have very active social and sports programmes," says Hogan.

Hogan is embarking on a clean-up of pavements in the suburb, and filling them with colourful plants, and then encouraging residents to maintain the gardens.

Origins of Malvern

The suburb is dominated by Jules Street, a wide, busy street, with honking taxis looking for customers all the way into town. The street is lined with shops - the usual Checkers, banks, takeaways, hairdressers, dry cleaners and several restaurants, with light industry south of it.

Jules Street is believed to be the longest, straightest street in Johannesburg, named after Sir Julius Jeppe, who bought the land east of the city, and was instrumental in establishing the suburbs west of Malvern - Jeppestown and Belgravia. In the early years a tram trundled from the centre of town down the middle of Jules Street.

The houses are generally small two- or three-bedroomed homes on small properties, with distinctive turn-of-the-century features: cosy verandas, strip wood floors, pressed steel ceilings, and low picket fences, still very much in evidence. There's one or two Art Deco houses, and quite a few semi-detached houses.

Malvern dates back to 1889, and was closely linked to the Jumpers Mine across the railway line in neighbouring Cleveland. Those early miners were from Cornwall, and one of the first buildings to go up was the school, along with the Methodist Church.

In those early days the suburb was known as Morristown, named after "law agent" Hyman Morris. In 1904 its name changed to Malvern, believed to be named after Malvern in England, a health spa with rolling green hills. The association was made because the ridges of Malvern offered a pleasant respite from the bustling, dusty gold-rush town of Johannesburg.

There's still evidence of the suburb's age: the Methodist Church is 107 years old, the Masonic Temple was built in 1902 and the Malvern Primary School is even older.

The beautiful St Patrick's Anglican Church in St Frusquin Street was built in 1903 in neighbouring Cleveland and moved brick by brick from there to Malvern. It has a wooden ceiling, wonderful stained glass windows, a marvellously carved wooden pulpit, and gold-bearing stone baptismal font, all offset by a rich red carpet down the aisle.

Some residents have lived in Malvern for several generations, and in some cases, have tried other suburbs, but have moved back again into Malvern, at a loss without the friendliness and closeness that the suburb offers. Malvern was the incubator of opera singer Mimi Coetze and boxers Brian Mitchell and Pierre Fourie. More and more professionals are moving into the area, says Hogan.

The residents recently held a History of Malvern Day at the NG Kerk in Pandora Street. The Community Forum put together dozens of posters, detailing various aspects of the history of Malvern. Some 300 people turned up for the event, and in the afternoon they held a successful tea for 70 old folk of the suburb, the only qualification being that they had lived in the suburb for more than 35 years.

Block Contact

Malvern has a neighbourly system called Block Contact. It involves one person from each block getting to know the people in that block, partly by distributing the monthly newsletters, and partly by keeping an eye on the street. The Block Contact encourages residents to report faulty street lights, water leaks, illegal dumping and other problems. And, says, Hogan, the City has "responded well on maintenance problems".

A new development is to encourage group complaints. Many residents have received incorrect electricity bills, and instead of going individually to the City complaints offices, residents are being asked to detail their complaints which will then be bundled together, and submitted by the Community Forum.

By-laws transgressions

But Hogan and her team have a bigger task at hand: they are endeavouring to record and close down by-law transgressors - illegal electricity connections, small businesses from homes (hairdressing salons, shebeens, street telephone operations, spaza shops), and overcrowding and slum lords.

And they have had some success: 65 illegal telephone outlets have been closed by the police, who have also raided shebeens and drug operators.

There's good news for Hogan and Malvern residents: the city is inviting comments and suggestions to a set of newly drafted by-laws.

There are 1 700 properties in Malvern, and driving around the suburb with Hogan, it's clear she knows a good deal of the residents by name. She points to the local brothel, Amanda's Escorts & Massage, in King Street. She has just learnt that the building is to be sold, and is hopeful that the brothel will be closed down at the same time.

Agnes the librarian

Hogan stops in at the Malvern Library to meet Agnes Rogers, the librarian. Rogers was born in the suburb and is close to retirement. She lives in the house her parents bought in 1934. She drives an old Austin which she bought in 1957, which has 60 000 miles on the odometer. She comes from a generation who called their neighbours 'Mr' and 'Mrs', but she has a ready laugh when reminiscing about the past.

She remembers playing tennis in the street, and playing on the minedumps across the railway tracks. She remembers some people considering Malvern to be an inferior place. She says: "I never considered Malvern inferior to anywhere else." When she retires she's going to stay exactly where she is, until she can no longer fend for herself, then she'll move into a retirement home.

To many people in the suburb Malvern is not an inferior place and never will be. Like in the old days, there's lots of children again in Malvern and they're playing happily in the streets.



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Last Updated on 25 May 2007