The History of Newtown

Newtown on the Map

Located at the western sector of the Johannesburg Central Business District, the Newtown Cultural Precinct stretches from the Kazerne marshalling yards and railway lines to the north, to Dolly Rathebe Street in the south, Ntemi Piliso Street in the east and Quinn Street to the west.

The core cultural precinct containing the internationally famous Market Theatre, Museum Africa and numerous dance and music venues straddles the historic Mary Fitzgerald Square.

The precinct can be divided into the Market Precinct (located north of the square) which is dominated by the 1913 Market Building - home to the Market Theatre and Museum Africa. From the north-eastern to the north-western quadrants of Newtown, Carr Street connects the Brickfields and Kazerne with the Milling Precinct, home to the old Premier Milling complex on Quinn Street. To the south of the square is the historic Electric and Workers Precinct containing the Workers Compound, Turbine Hall, the Electric Workshop, Sci Bono centre and the South African Breweries Museum. Lastly, the Transport Precinct incorporates the South African Reserve Bank, the Bus Factory, Transport House, the City of Johannesburg’s Directorate of Arts, Culture and Heritage (housed in what used to be offices of the city’s transport department) and the M1 freeway.

The south and northbound M1 freeway overpass dissects Newtown and adjacent Fordsburg in the west, while the railway lines to the north mark the border between Newtown and Braamfontein. In the southern boundary (along with Market Street) the Johannesburg Central Police Station visually forms the border between Newtown and the historic Ferreira’s Town in the south. Diagonal Street in the east has traditionally marked the border between the Central Business District (CBD) and Newtown.

A 'new town'?

The name ‘Newtown’ was adopted by city administrators in 1904 following the clearance of Brickfields and other multi-racial 'slums' in Johannesburg’s first forced removal. Situated west of Diagonal Street and beyond the borders of the original mining town, this racially diverse area incorporated parts of Brickfields, Aaron’s Yard and the Indian (or ‘Coolie’) location.

In 1904 this ‘new town’ was redesigned as a commercial and industrial area to maximise the nearby goods-yards. In the plans for Newtown the strict grid pattern of the CBD has been adopted.

The destruction of Brickfields and subsequent development of Newtown was an attempt by the post-South African War administration of Lord Milner to refashion Johannesburg along ‘modern’ lines. This involved formalising the townscape, developing infrastructure and strictly enforcing racial segregation.

Johannesburg in 1897

Map of Johannesburg dated 1897 in which the Brickfields can be identified. (Source: Museum Africa)

Newtown, Lord Milner and Lionel Curtis

Lord Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount (1854 - 1925) was a leading British statesman and colonial administrator who played a significant role in the redevelopment of South Africa following the South African War (1898 - 1902). While serving as High Commissioner, he became associated with a group of members of the South African Civil Service known as ‘Milner’s Kindergarten' - mostly personal and Oxford connections who occupied senior positions in his administration. Milner retired as High Commissioner in 1905. From 1916 to 1918 he played a prominent role in British politics.

Lionel Curtis (1872 - 1955) was a notable member of Milner’s Kindergarten. He was a strong proponent of British Empire Federalism and in 1901 became Town Clerk of Johannesburg, where he initiated a number of reform projects to modernise the administration of the City. Under his administration electrical tramways were introduced to replace horse-drawn trams. Curtis also played a prominent role serving on the Johannesburg Insanitary Area Improvement Scheme Commission and was a proponent of the clearance of Brickfields in favour of the redevelopment and industrialisation of Newtown.

Newtown & the Cultural Arc

The ‘Cultural Arc’ is a development proposal adopted since 2000 by the City of Johannesburg to integrate culturally important institutions and sites located in Newtown and Braamfontein. The Arc stretches from the Newtown Cultural Precinct via the Nelson Mandela Bridge to the University of the Witwatersrand, the South African Ballet Theatre studios, the Joburg Theatre as well as the Constitution Hill precinct which in turn incorporates the Women’s Jail, the Old Fort, Number Four, the Governor’s house and the Constitutional Court. Collectively the Arc incorporates four theatre complexes, various dance studios, live music venues, significant museum and art collections, historic sites and monuments, as well as a year-round programme of cultural events. Since 2006 a number of public artworks have also been installed in Newtown and Braamfontein.

Joburg’s other cultural precincts

It is only since the late 1970s that Newtown gained a reputation as Johannesburg’s main venue for alternative theatre – and only since the turn of the millennium that it has come to be developed as an integrated cultural precinct. Newtown, of course, had predecessors in the numerous districts scattered across Johannesburg that were once at the centre of the city’s arts and entertainment.

Almost from its founding, Johannesburg developed a reputation for raucous nightlife and entertainment of an often illicit nature sparking ZAR President Paul Kruger to refer to Johannesburg as a "den of iniquity". In the early days, such entertainment was concentrated around 'Frenchfontein' - home to the City’s many music halls and brothels.

Before 1900, Johannesburg boasted four theatres: the Standard, the Globe, the Royalty and the Gaiety. Sadly, none of these remain today. The Globe theatre, built in 1889, was the first permanent entertainment venue but was destroyed in a fire after only six months of operation. A new theatre, the Empire Palace of Varieties (or The Empire for short), replaced the Globe on the same site (corner of Fox and Ferreira streets in present-day Marshalltown).

At the height of the Edwardian era, the City’s Randlords gained a reputation for being patrons of modern European art movements which resulted in the founding of the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 1910 with its extensive collection of European, colonial, classical African and contemporary South African art. The Johannesburg Art Gallery is located in Joubert Park which remained a fashionable neighbourhood until the 1960s – and today includes cultural institutions such as the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Drill Hall.

As African migrants flocked to the gold fields, a distinct musical culture developed in the shantytowns and mine compounds. By the 1920s Marabi was well established as a unique blend of African and European musical styles and set the foundations for a musical tradition that would develop over the course of the next century - culminating in the great jazz period of Sophiatown in the 1940s and 50s.

The 1920s and 30s saw the emergence of a growing black middle class which gathered around organisations such as the Gamma Sigma Club, the Joint Councils, the Bantu Men’s Social Centre and the Institute of Race Relations. The Bantu Men’s Social Centre located at No. 1 Eloff Street promoted music, visual arts and literature.

During the 1930s Commissioner Street was the main entertainment strip of Johannesburg with its theatres, cinemas and other venues. This intersects with Eloff Street which, in its heyday, was Johannesburg’s main shopping strip.

By the 1950s Sophiatown had come to symbolise Joburg’s jazz age and was closely associated with Drum magazine and the literary renaissance of the 1950s as well as the photography of masters such as Jurgen Schadenburg, Ernst Cole, Alf Khumalo and Peter Magubane. In the 1950s the Union of South African Artists established Dorkay House in the CBD which by the 60s had become a notable cultural institution for music, art, drama and dance. The Polly Street Art Centre was founded in 1949 at No 1 Polly Street in central Johannesburg. For many years – closely associated with artist Cecil Skotnes – the centre was a major gathering space for African artists. In the 1960s the centre was closed due to apartheid restrictions which banished black cultural institutions to townships.

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s cosmopolitan Hillbrow with its eclectic community became the focus of night-time Johannesburg, or a "white Sophiatown". The 1960s also saw the construction of the Civic Theatre (recently renamed the Joburg Theatre) in Braamfontein - with the University of the Witwatersrand theatre and the Alexander theatre (built in 1951) this consolidated Braamfontein as a theatre district.

At the height of apartheid during the 1960s, 70s and 80s many of South Africa’s most talented artists went into exile, including Dumile Feni, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Todd Matshikiza, Can Themba, Nat Nakatsha, Jonas Gwangwa and Eskia’ Mphahlele. Black artists who remained in the country were mostly restricted to the townships, with the result that Soweto and Alexandra developed strong arts and cultural communities.

Sans Souci Bioscope in Kliptown, for example, became a venue for artists such as Miriam Makeba, Kippie Moeketsie and Abdullah Ibrahim. Sadly, the building was gutted by fire in 1994. In the vicinity of the still-visible Sans Souci ruins are the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, the Kliptown Open Air Museum and the house once occupied by well-known artist Gerard Sekoto.

In many ways Newtown continues the legacy of these past eras - whether in the names of its streets honouring legendary artists, its cultural collections reflecting Johannesburg’s evolving material culture, or the plays from previous eras staged at the Market Theatre.

The Heritage Significance of Newtown

Newtown offers a unique insight into the development of Johannesburg and modern South Africa as well as the key social, political, industrial, artistic and cultural trends that have come to be associated with Johannesburg’s evolution from a Victorian mining camp to one of the world’s major urban centres. Newtown also provides an understanding of how wider industrial and political forces came to disrupt and destroy poorer communities from racially mixed backgrounds – sometimes carried out in the name of urban regeneration while essentially serving colonial and apartheid racial policies. Equally significant, the suppression of labour rights became a recurrent theme in the history of Newtown.

Early Johannesburg became home to many slums as people flocked to the city only to be met by an acute housing shortage - a shortage that would last for more than a century and is still present in contemporary Johannesburg. In Brickfields, early Johannesburg had one of its worst slums. Although these slums were racially integrated, some communities in particular stand out: the poor white Afrikaners eking out a living from brickmaking along the banks of the Fordsburg spruit, the Zulu amaWasha washing the city’s laundry in nearby Braamfonteinspruit and the Indian and Muslim communities from whose midst passive resistance leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi would later emerge.

Following the end of the South Africa War and attempts by colonial administrators to modernise Johannesburg, the racially-motivated destruction of the ‘Coolie Location’ would result in the foundation of Newtown – envisaged as a well laid-out modern industrial extension of the Central Business District and home to the city’s main ‘port’ as well as key industrial utilities including a power station, workers’ compounds, municipal fresh produce market, tram sheds and major milling centre. The presence of industrial and commercial functions, however, would also mean that Newtown became a focal point for many of the industrial strikes witnessed by the City during the first half of the 20th century. Labour activists such as Mary Fitzgerald as well as South Africa’s major labour movements developed associations with Newtown that still resonate today. Yet this was also the place where many of Johannesburg’s leading industrialists and entrepreneurs honed their skills in the fictitious ‘University of Newtown’ - this is where the bulk of Johannesburg’s fresh produce trading and related food processing took place, as well as various other light industrial and manufacturing activities and trades. During the Second World War, manufacturing in Newtown was even redeployed to support the war effort.

The decline of Newtown from the mid 20th century came about as a result of several factors, including the waning significance of the Jeppe Street Power Station (decommissioned in 1960), the closure of the tram lines (decommissioned from the late 1940s), the construction of the freeway system in the 1960s, the relocation of the Market to the new Fresh Produce Market in City Deep in the early 1970s as well as apartheid racial legislation and the forced removal of communities from the inner city, Fordsburg, Pageview, Vrededorp and elsewhere which effectively deprived Newtown of a vibrant community. The decentralisation of commercial activity to suburban malls and commercial areas like Randburg and Sandton also impacted on trade. Yet the decline also spurred the artistic community to take an increasing interest in the landmark structures of Newtown. From the mid=1970s over the following three decades Newtown as a focal point of cultural activism and artistic production widened from a handful of institutions to the numerous cultural venues, events and institutions today associated with the Newtown Cultural Precinct.

Accounts of Newtown often leave out the eclectic mix of architectural styles, including Victorian, Edwardian, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, modern and international, post modern and contemporary architecture. Although Newtown is today home to landmark spaces, buildings and structures, such as the original Park Halt station, the Nelson Mandela Bridge, Turbine Hall, the Electric Workshop, the Market Building and Mary Fitzgerald Square, many fine small-scale industrial and commercial buildings continue to grace Newtown’s surrounding streets often unnoticed by visitors and locals alike.
The industrial significance of Newtown can also not be underestimated and, while many original industrial functions have moved elsewhere or been eclipsed by new technologies, Newtown continues to display some of Johannesburg’s most imposing industrial architecture.

A Short History of Newtown


'I come from the newly discovered goldfields at Kliprivier, especially from a farm owned by a certain Gert Oosthuizen... I have a long experience as an Australian gold digger, and I think it is a payable goldfield.' George Harrison, 24 July 1886

'…Our forbearers were a lot of roughnecks who knew nothing about culture and who came here to look for gold.' Herman Charles Bosman

Today there is little indication of the indigenous grasslands (forming part of the highveld grassland biome) that characterised the natural landscape more than 130 years ago. Early photographs from the time of the discovery of gold show a largely unremarkable highveld landscape with the first signs of the diggings that would eventually consolidate over the next 30 years into the world’s largest gold industry.

Of course the history of the area stretches back much further than the early and mid-19th century and the arrival of the first European explorers, missionaries, traders and subsequent generations of settlers and diggers. While no known traces of either Stone or Iron Age habitation have been found in and around Newtown, major settlements from the Iron Age are known to have existed close to modern-day Johannesburg and the remaining vestiges of some of these sites can be visited at Melville Koppies and Klipriviersberg. Similarly, much of what is known today about Stone Age cultures comes from the rich storehouse of rock art collections held in many of Johannesburg’s key cultural institutions.

The discovery of gold in the 1880s and the subsequent building boom that followed drew hundreds of miners – to be joined by traders, adventurers and a displaced rural peasantry seeking fortunes and employment.

As the town known as Johannesburg formalised into a cosmopolitan centre, workers – both black and white and almost exclusively male – flooded in. Most settled in workers’ compounds run by the mines or in the numerous ‘boarding houses’ for white workers that mushroomed all over the mining town and in the two main working-class suburbs; Jeppe to the east and Fordsburg to the west of the town.

As a result of the perpetual shortage of accommodation, slums soon developed around the Fordsburg area.


'Let no one attempt a midnight exploration of the Brickfields without a lantern which is guaranteed to throw a light for yards distant, otherwise the chances are that he will not leave that district alive...' The Star, 10 February 1890

'I went over to Doornfontein Monday, wandered about in solitude almost. The houses are all right and gardens kept in good order. I went down as far as the reservoirs, top one empty, lower one full. The Brickfields are a sight. Quantities of bricks set out to dry, some burnt, all work stopped.' T.R. Adlam during the South African War (1899 - 1902)

'...Narrow courtyards, containing dilapidated and dirty tin huts without adequate means of lighting and ventilation, huddled on an area and constructed without any regard to sanitary considerations of any kind. In the middle of each slop-sodden and filth-bestrewn yard, there is a well from which people get their water supply and they choose this place for washing purposes and urinals. These places are dark dens.' City of Johannesburg report on the Brickfields ghetto (1903)

Brickfields was home to a large Afrikaans-speaking community, mostly from poor, rural and uneducated backgrounds – and hence considered unemployable by the mining companies. In 1887 the community lobbied the ZAR government of President Kruger for the right to manufacture bricks on government land bordering the Braamfontein spruit.

Due to the high demand for bricks at the time, brickmaking became a major industry for the City’s poor Afrikaners. As Brickfields and the adjoining areas of Fordsburg, Vrededorp and the Indian location grew, these mixed slums became known as Poverty Point.

Between 1892 and 98, at which point Brickfields was already home to an estimated 7 000 people, it became necessary for the City to expand its railway capacity. A major part of Brickfields was expropriated and the Kazerne marshalling yards officially established by the Netherlands South African Railway Company (NZASM).

Between 1896 and 98 when the last brickmaking activity ceased in the area, a concerted effort was made by the railway company and the Sanitary Board to get the government to cancel the brickmaking concessions and to relocate the brickmakers elsewhere.

The Great Dynamite Explosion

'Half of Fordsburg is practically laid low, and the native locations are simply a heap of iron.'  The Star, 19 February, 1896

On Wednesday 19 February 1896 an explosion ripped through Braamfontein and surrounding Burgersdorp, Vrededorp and Fordsburg. The blast caused by a train accidentally ramming into trolleys packed with 55 tons of dynamite could be heard in Klerksdorp 200 km away. The resultant crater was 61 m long, 15 m wide and 8 m deep and claimed the lives of an estimated 130 people. 1 500 homes were destroyed.

In the aftermath, most displaced residents moved into adjacent areas unaffected by the explosion.


'Newtown had become the home of many Litvak retail and wholesale merchants and grain brokers who came to work and competed with one another, and here they formed a subculture with its own idiosyncrasies - jokes, special events and, most importantly, the 'University of Newtown', which awarded a fictitious certificate to all those entrepreneurs and millers who learnt the grain trade on the job.' Georgina Jaffee, 2001

Between 1910 and the 1940s, Newtown experienced a boom and rapidly became the city’s main gateway for goods and fresh produce through the Kazerne yards as well as a hub of commercial trade and industrial activities. Following the destruction of the Indian location and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, Newtown in the 1910s and 20s became the first area in Johannesburg to be given industrial status. A power station, electric workshops, tram workshops, hostels, a market, railway compounds and a major milling site re-enforced the area as Johannesburg’s main centre for not only power generation and tram workshops, but also fresh produce trading and related food processing industries.


'The state had developed a whole arsenal of laws to help it achieve the unimaginable: people of different races living in separate, pre-planned ghettos. These laws ranged from the Slum Clearance Act to the much blunter Group Areas Act. In my grandmother’s case, her perfectly good – even beautiful – house was declared a slum because it had been built before 1920 and was not constructed of brick and mortar.'  Achmat Dangor, Apartheid and the Death of South African


In the middle of the 20th century, a number of factors already mentioned played a significant role in the decline of Newtown. From the early 1970s, various proposals were made for the redevelopment of Newtown. The plan by architect Monty Sack to extend the CBD westward from Diagonal Street to the M1 freeway, occupying the site of the Central Power Station, never materialised.

However Newtown continued its steady decline when the power station closed down and the cooling towers imploded in 1985.

During the 1990s many key sites and buildings such as Turbine Hall were invaded by the homeless, while open areas next to the railway lines saw the rapid rise of informal settlements. Crime and grime became an increasing problem.

The 'Coolie Location'

Situated adjacent to the Brickfields, the Indian or ‘Coolie’ location dates back to 1887, the year after Johannesburg was founded. As the area technically fell outside of the official mining camp the location was largely neglected by the authorities but provided easy access to town and, as a result, attracted a racially diverse population of a mostly lower working-class background.

Over the next decade the adjacent areas of Fordsburg, Vrededorp, Burghersdorp and the Brickfields became in effect co-joined multi-racial slums - sparking a series of health concerns for the authorities. This would lead to the first attempt by the City authorities to enforce racial segregation when the City cordoned off Brickfields as well as the ‘Coolie Location’, evacuated its residents and eventually raised it to the ground in a fire that lasted three days and destroyed an estimated 1 600 structures and buildings, including a temple.

The destruction of the 'slums' was purportedly carried out in response to an outbreak of bubonic plague which had resulted in 82 deaths in the same year. This outbreak also led Mahatma Gandhi to establish an emergency hospital on a vacant stand in the area where he treated 14 patients.

In 1904, after the clearance of the Indian Location, Joffe Marks, owner of Marks Limited, bought property in the newly-declared Newtown.


'I grew up in the 1950s, in a suburb called Fordsburg, located on the western edge of the City. From my grandmother’s corrugated-iron and wood house, which dated back to Fordsburg’s old mining days, I could walk to school, to the market, to the cinemas, the sports fields, the dairy, the shops, to the mosque or any number of Christian churches if I so wished. There were even safe places in which to play truant from school.'  Achmat Dangor, Apartheid and the Death of South Africa Cities

Fordsburg was named after Lewis Peter Ford of the Jeppe and Ford Estate Company, which originally laid out the suburb on the western side of Johannesburg. During the 1922 Rand Revolt, Fordsburg was at the centre of the ‘red’ revolution – an attempt by white mine workers to overthrow the Smuts government. Under apartheid the large Indian community was constantly at risk of forced removals. Fordsburg has, however, remained a centre of Indian culture.

Newtown - Soweto

'It is an interesting historical fact that Gandhi was in Johannesburg at the foundation of such places as Soweto (Pimville) and Kliptown – the story of the development of these communities is linked to the destruction of the mixed Coolie Location in 1904.' Ochre Communications, Gandhi Heritage Trail

The history of Newtown is inextricably linked to the history of Soweto - arguably South Africa’s most famous township. Purportedly in response to an outbreak of the bubonic plague, city authorities set the racially mixed slums of the ‘Coolie Location’ on fire in 1904. As a result, the displaced African, Indian and Cape Malay communities were relocated to Klipspruit Farm 25 km to the south-west of the City. Pimville, as the settlement became known, formed the nucleus around which Soweto would grow over the next 100 years.

Newtown and Soweto share another historical link in the form of the Jeppe Street Power Station and the Orlando Power Station. By the late 1920s and 30s the Jeppe Street Power Station had become the City’s main source of electricity supply. By the 1940s it was already struggling to keep up with demand and by 1942 the Orlando Power Station in Soweto came into operation to handle some of the additional burden.


It is estimated that by 1904, almost 180 Chinese businesses were operating in this part of Johannesburg. Known as 'Cantonese Quarter' or 'Chinatown', this historic area is located in Ferreirasdorp, south of Newtown. The precinct is one of the oldest in Johannesburg and contains one of the City’s oldest buildings, the Chinese Club Building (substantially altered in the 1940s). Adjacent to this is the United Chinese Club building designed by German architect, Wilhelm Pabst, and completed in 1948. This is considered a landmark Johannesburg building of great architectural significance. Although many businesses have relocated in recent years to the ‘new’ Chinatown in Cyrildene, some restaurants and shops remain in Ferreirasdorp and there are proposals to redevelop the area.

Chinese indentured labourers

Following the South African War, thousands of indentured Chinese labourers were brought to the Rand to work on the mines. Many were subject to horrific abuse. The workers returned to China in 1909 and 1910 as a result of political opposition and repeated protests by the citizens of Johannesburg against their presence. Wilhelm Pabst (1905 – 1964)

Pabst was born in Germany and educated in Berlin where he worked with leading modernists including Mies van der Rohe. Allegedly involved in anti-Hitler activities Pabst left Germany for South Africa in 1935 where he joined the firm Kallenbach, Kennedy & Furner based in Johannesburg. The United Chinese Club building in Commissioner Street is one of his key projects and is considered an architectural landmark.

Ferreirasdorp (Ferreirastown)

Ferreirasdorp (or Ferreirastown) was one of the first mining camps that sprung up at the time of the discovery of gold in the 1880s. It was named after Colonel Ignatius Philip Ferreira who set up a prospectors' camp prior to the official proclamation of the Reef as mining land. The camp was named Ferreiras Camp.

Later, the area was home to a large coloured community and in 1898 a site was set aside for a church (St. Alban’s Anglican Mission Church) to service the coloured Anglican community. The original wood and iron structure was replaced by the present structure built in 1928 and designed by architect Frank Fleming. In 1958 the Anglican diocese was stationed here, under bishops Desmond Tutu and Duncan Buchanan. In the same year as the church was built a girl’s hostel was established for the community. In the 1960s, under the Group Areas Act, the coloured community was forcibly moved.

Colonel Ignatius Philip Ferreira (1840 – 1921)

Speculator and early Johannesburg pioneer, Ferreira participated in the diamond and gold rushes of Kimberley, the eastern Transvaal and finally the Witwatersrand where he formed the Ferreira Company syndicate and the Ferreira Gold Mining Company. He established a prospectors’ camp in what is today Ferreirastown. One of the abandoned mines of the Ferreira Gold Mining Company was discovered in the mid-1980s. The old stope can still be seen at the Standard Bank corporate head offices in nearby Marshalltown.

Newtown Site Descriptions & Key Historical Figures

The Market Precinct

At the heart of the Market Precinct is the 1913 Market Building, which was once bustling with fruit and vegetable traders. The sprawling building with its massive steel structure that was shipped from Britain and constructed on site, is considered one of Johannesburg’s finest examples of Edwardian industrial architecture. It now houses two cultural institutions, the Market Theatre and Museum Africa.

The precinct came to life at the beginning of the 20th century when the new British government under Lord Milner set out to transform Newtown from a slum into an industrial hub. In 1904, city officials used the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague as a pretext to burn down the so-called ‘Coolie Location’ and remove its diverse residents into racially segregated areas. Within months, they transformed the area into an industrial zone that offered a range of commercial opportunities.

The Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market relocated from the city centre to Newtown in 1913. In the early days, the Municipality provided free tram rides for the city’s housewives from the old to the new market and a brass band entertained them on arrival. These ladies would hold hankies to their noses to avoid the fetid smells from the nearby abattoir and tannery.

"Life in early Newtown was busy and competitive. It was easy to start a business but difficult to stay afloat and make a profit. Newtown became a little sub-culture with its own jokes and special events. Business people who had worked and become successful in Newtown were awarded the fictitious 'University of Newtown' certificate given to all the entrepreneurs who learnt the trade on the job." Sue Krige, historian, 2009

In 1974, this colourful and energetic place fell silent when the market relocated to larger premises in City Deep. Newtown declined and the elegant Market Building was threatened with destruction. However, Newtown’s position so close to the city centre meant that the area was always considered commercially important. Preservation enthusiasts and councillors who were passionate about the city also fought hard for its protection.

Several possibilities opened up for the redevelopment of the area. In the end, the idea of a cultural precinct prevailed. Amidst the bulldozers and rubble, old buildings found new functions and the face of Newtown slowly transformed. From 1976, the Market Precinct became an arts complex. Today, it continues to thrive as a space where local talent is nurtured and showcased.

Mary Fitzgerald Square

'On May Day, 1931, for the first time in the history of the Witwatersrand, there was a joint demonstration of black and white workers on a large scale. According to Umsebenzi some 3 000 Bantu and 1 500 Europeans assembled at Newtown Market Square and "with cheers for the solidarity of black and white workers", moved off in a procession.' Edward Roux, S. P. Bunting: A Political Biography, 1944

'Because of the intransigent attitude of the Transvaal Chamber of Mines towards the legitimate demands of the workers for a minimum wage of 10 shillings per day and better conditions of work, this meeting of African miners resolves to embark upon a general strike of all Africans employed on the gold mines, as from August 12, 1946.' Resolution adopted by a crowd of more than 1 000 people, Newtown Market Square, 4 August 1946

This historic square was originally a wagon site. First known as Aaron’s Ground, then as Market Square, it was renamed in 1939 after Mary Fitzgerald, the first female trade unionist in South Africa and the first female public office holder in Johannesburg. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, political and labour meetings were held here. Cultural performances and traditional stick-fighting also took place here and brought new culture fusions to the city. The square is now the center of Newton’s cultural district.

From the time that the first tram rolled onto the tramlines in 1902, Newtown’s workers made their presence felt through strike action. In 1911, Johannesburg saw its first major strike by white tram workers. Mary Fitzgerald spoke at a protest meeting while holding a pickhandle that had been dropped by mounted police to break up the strike. This became her trademark, and she is still referred to as ‘Pickhandle Mary’. She famously led a group of women to lay on the tram tracks and stop the trams.

White workers also gathered in Newtown during the miners’ strikes of 1913 and 1914, and during the tumultuous 1922 strike. In 1931, the square was the site of one of the first large-scale multiracial demonstrations.

In the 1940s, the square was the gathering site for striking black mineworkers, most notably the historic 1946 strike when J.B. Marks, President of the African Mineworker’s Union, addressed a large crowd there.

The tradition of protest continued throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In the 1980s, the square was used by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) for protest meetings.

Mary Fitzgerald

Mary Fitzgerald was the first female trade unionist in South Africa. She stood in the Johannesburg Town Council elections, and won a seat in 1915, becoming the first woman to hold public office in the city. She died at the age of 75 in 1960 and was buried at the Brixton Cemetery.

She played an influential role in the 1911 and 1914 strikes. During the tram workers' strike of 1911, she spoke at a protest meeting while holding a pickhandle that had been dropped by mounted police to break up the strike. The pickhandle became her trademark, and she is today still referred to as ‘Pickhandle Mary’.

Mary Fitzgerald organised the Industrial Women’s League, was President of the South African branch of the International Workers of the World and was also the first woman printer in the country having acquired Modern Press which published the Voice of Labour.  

The Newtown Market Building

Arguably one of Johannesburg’s finest examples of Edwardian industrial architecture, this massive market building was designed by the City Engineer, George Samuel Burt Andrews. At the time of its completion in 1913 it was described as the largest building of its kind in South Africa. The structure is supported by elegant steel trusses that are clearly visible inside the main atrium of Museum Africa. The eastern and southern facades are characterised by classical Edwardian detailing. In the 1960s, a western facade was demolished to allow for the construction of the M1 highway.

The Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market

The Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market dates back to 1893. The original market was located at Market Square in the centre of Johannesburg. In 1913 the market relocated to Newtown where trade took place by auction. Produce on offer varied from meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, dairy produce, tobacco and general greengrocery. Crowds of more than 8 000 people attended the market on Saturday mornings.

At the time of the relocation of the market to City Deep (south of the CBD) in the 1970s turnover was estimated to be R2,4 million per annum. Today the City Deep market services more than 17 000 buyers while a million tons of fruit and vegetables pass through the market each year. It is the largest fresh produce market of its kind on the African continent and the fifth largest in the world.

(Source: City Deep plans to be ‘market of the future’, Business Day, Thursday 16 April 2009, page 2)

Johannesburg’s First Market Square

The focal point of early Johannesburg centred on the old Market Square which stretched from Rissik Street in the east to Sauer Street in the west and was bordered by President and Market Streets. As businesses, shops and banks appeared around the square, the site took on a more official air, particularly after the opening of a market house in 1888 and later a series of prominent government buildings notably the Rissik Street Post Office (1895 – 7). Official buildings would erode Market Square over time and eventually in 1913 the City’s fresh produce and livestock markets relocated to a new Market Building in Newtown.

George Samuel Burt Andrews

George Samuel Burt Andrews served as City Engineer of Johannesburg from 1904 until 1927. He was born in Greenwich, England, and trained as a civil engineer in the local engineer’s department, Bournemouth. He came to Johannesburg in 1889 at a time when the City was experiencing the end of one of its great building booms. He worked as an architect and engineer and served as Town Engineer in1901 and 1902 and again from 1904 until his retirement in 1927. During this period Johannesburg doubled both in size and the height of its buildings. Andrews was a founder member of several societies of architects in South Africa. His main projects include the 1910 Berea Fire Station as well as the Newtown Market Building opened in 1913. (Source:

Museum Africa

‘Through the initiative, the patience, and the persistence of the late Dr. J.G. Gubbins, there was formed in 1915 the Africana Museum, which has as its object the telling of the whole story of South Africa’s history, pictorially and by means of manuscripts, autograph letters, coins, medals, and relics.’ A.W. Wells, Southern Africa: Today and Yesterday, 1956

Museum Africa, originally known as the Africana Museum, was established in 1935 around the vast private collection of Dr. John Gaspard Gubbins. Today, it houses around 850 000 objects and includes significant collections of paintings, manuscripts, African cultural artefacts, Cape silver, ceramics, furniture, photography, costumes, explorer maps and other objects.

During its first 50 years, the museum was housed at the top of the Johannesburg Public Library in Beyers Naudé Square in downtown Johannesburg. Over time, several branches were opened including the Geological Museum (1927), the James Hall Museum of Transport (1963), the Bensusan Museum of Photography (1969), the Museum of South African Rock Art (1969) and the Bernberg Museum of Costume (1973).

In 1974, the old Market Building in Newtown was earmarked for development as a cultural history museum but it took nearly 20 years to realise this vision. Museum Africa eventually took over the old market buildings that had stood unoccupied for many years and opened its doors in 1994. The move gave museum staff an opportunity to reconsider the content and significance of the collections. For the first time, the museum provided an inclusive history of South Africa, focusing on worker and black history. The museum also hosted part of the 1st and 2nd Johannesburg Biennales (in 1995 and 1997), which created a dialogue between the global arts community and the previously isolated South African visual art world.

Only a fraction of the museum’s collection is on display and there are now plans to extensively revisit these collections and bring new perspectives to bear:

"Museum Africa is Johannesburg's centre for a southern African heritage experience. The latter is informed by the fact that the museum's collection is representative of Southern Africa but it throws up endless questions and areas of contestation about the notion of ‘African experience(s)’." Ali Hlongwane, curator, 2008

Museum Africa has been earmarked for upgrading by the City of Johannesburg in order to improve its ageing exhibitions. At present only a fraction of its invaluable collection is on display, although certain collections can be viewed by appointment.

Dr. John Gaspard Gubbins (1877 – 1935)

Renowned Africana collector Dr. John Gaspard Gubbins was born in 1877 and died in 1935. His private collection which formed the nucleus around which the Africana Museum took shape included a fine collection of Thomas Baines paintings as well as early Portuguese explorer maps of Africa and works by naturalist William John Burchell.

The Newtown Camera Obscura

Housed on the top floor of Museum Africa as part of the Bensusan Museum of Photography visitors can see one of only five camera obscuras in the country. Similar to a periscope, the camera obscura provides a 360% view of surrounding Newtown.

The Bensusan Museum of Photography grew from the collection of ex-Mayor of Johannesburg and amateur photographer, Dr. Arthur Bensusan. The museum features one of the world’s most extensive collections of photographic equipment, records and documents and includes a negative taken by the inventor of photography, William Fox Talbot, dating back to 1835.

The Market Theatre

Known as South Africa’s ‘Theatre of the Struggle’, the Market Theatre was established by a troupe of dedicated anti-apartheid actors led by Barney Simon and Mannie Manim. The group’s unique vision led to the conversion of the old Indian Fruit Market, with its soaring, cathedral-like dome, into three new theatres. The founders often participated in the physical labour themselves. The doors opened in 1976, in the same week that the Soweto Uprising began.

The Market Theatre staged controversial plays that tackled the inequities of apartheid. It was one of only a few places where blacks and whites shared the stage and performed for non-racial audiences. Well-known playwright Athol Fugard contended that “The new South Africa was blueprinted on the stages of the Market Theatre long before the politicians started talking about it.” 

In a 1984 interview, Barney Simon underlined the importance of the theatre:

"South Africa is an appalling place. I have friends who have been arrested. I have friends who have been blown up. One is surrounded by these grotesque biographies. And yet South Africa is an exhilarating place because everything happens in open confrontation. You know where you stand. We're not going to overthrow the government through theatre, but people will understand each other more."

Despite financial struggles and a refusal to accept apartheid state funding, the theatre became internationally renowned as the birthplace of some of the country’s best local productions. The Island, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Woza Albert, Asinamali, Bopha!, Born in the RSA, Master Harold and the Boys, Have you seen Zandile?, You Strike the Women You Strike the Rock, Egoli, Hungry Earth and Sophiatown are among the best-known examples to find a voice on the Market Theatre’s stages.

The Market Theatre remains at the forefront of South African theatre, with a focus on the production of new local work. In 2005, the Market Theatre Foundation was declared a national cultural institution.

Johannesburg’s First Theatres

Before 1900 Johannesburg boasted four theatres: the Standard, the Globe, the Royalty and the Gaiety. Sadly, none of these remain today. The Globe theatre built in 1889 was the first permanent entertainment venue but was destroyed in a fire after only six months of operations. A new theatre, known as the Empire Palace of Varieties (or The Empire for short), replaced the Globe on the same site (corner of Fox and Ferreira Streets in present-day Marshalltown).

Barney Simon

Artistic Director of the Market Theatre from 1976 to 1995, Barney Simon was born in 1932 in Johannesburg. In the 1950s while working as a stagehand in Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in London he became first inspired to create a theatre of struggle. In the 1960s he lived in the United States and was in contact with leading experimental directors including Jerzy Grotowski and Joseph Chaikin. Workshop 71 inspired the founding of the Market Theatre in 1976. On his death in 1995, John Kani became Executive Director of the Market Theatre. Simon’s published works include the play Born in the R.S.A.

Mannie Manim

Co-founder of the Market Theatre, Mannie Manim has been in theatre since 1955, having started his career as an usher at the Brooke Theatre in Johannesburg. Since 1970, beginning with Boesman and Lena, he produced and created the lighting for all the first South African productions of Athol Fugard’s plays. He has received the Vita Best Original Lighting Award ten times and in December 1990 was made Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres by the French government. In 1996 he was awarded a gold medal for Theatre Development from the South African Academy of Arts and Science. He is currently Director of the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town.

Kippies International Jazz Bar

'The Gauteng Provincial Government acknowledges the significant role that Kippies has played in putting Gauteng on the map as an international jazz venue of note and its importance as a cultural heritage site.' Gauteng Member of the Executive Council Barbara Creecy, 2005

Since 1986, Kippies has been one of Johannesburg’s most famous jazz venues. Musicians from all over the country have aspired to play there:

"This place is the hub of jazz music in Johannesburg… When you walk onto the stage at Kippies for your first set as an aspiring musician, you know you have made it." Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, musician

Kippie Moeketsi, the legendary saxophone player, gave the place its name and was an inspiration for all who took to the stage. Moeketsi, born in 1925, learned to play the clarinet at the age of 20 and soon moved onto the saxophone. He was associated with numerous bands including Band in Blue, the Shantytown Sextet, the Harlem Swingsters, the Jazz Epistles and the Jazz Dazzlers. He played with South Africa's leading musicians, including Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. In 1961, he toured London as part of the cast of King Kong. While many of his fellow performers chose to remain in exile, Moeketsi returned to South Africa.

Supporters of the Market Theatre Foundation proposed building a music club where local musicians could play and hold workshops as part of the plan to develop Newtown into a cultural precinct in the early 1980s.

The building was constructed in the early 1980s as a pastiche of the original Edwardian public toilet block, dating from 1913, which is two hundred metres north of the club today. Jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim gave the building its name:

"Kippie gave us everything we know. We have just built on what he has taught us." Abdullah Ibrahim, musician, 1983

The club was closed in 2005 after severe structural problems were discovered. It was declared an interim heritage site to protect it from demolition. In 2009, work on the restoration of the building commenced and a statue of Kippie Moeketsi was unveiled.

Kippie Moeketsi

Kippie Moeketsi was born in 1925. He started playing the clarinet at 20 and soon moved on to the saxophone. He was associated with numerous bands including Band in Blue, the Shantytown Sextet, the Harlem Swingsters, the Jazz Epistles and the Jazz Dazzlers. During this time he played with South Africa's leading musicians including Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. In 1961 he toured to London as part of the cast of King Kong. In light of apartheid repressions following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 many of his fellow cast members stayed behind in Europe in exile. Moeketsi returned to South Africa and for a while refused to perform. He died in 1983.

A statue of Kippie Moeketsi was unveiled in Newtown in 2009.

Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA)

The premises currently occupied by the French Institute of South Africa were once the offices and gallery of the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA). FUBA was founded in 1978 in Soweto by black artists, writers and theatre workers. The FUBA gallery was opened in Newtown by South African painter David Koloane. During the 1980s, FUBA amassed a significant collection of South African and international artworks donated by international artists including work by Henry Moore, Sir Anthony Cairo and David Hockney. To the outrage of the local art community this collection was sold to an international buyer in 1999 to settle outstanding debts.

The Railway Sidings and the Potato Sheds

The railway sidings directly behind Museum Africa date back to 1911 and were constructed by the South African Railway Administration to provide access between the Newtown market and the railway yards to the north. Around the railway sidings, the fresh produce market, the Market Hall and the Indian Fruit Market developed over time. Most produce was transported to the market by rail.

Originally designed in 1910 as open sheds, the so-called potato sheds played an integral part in the activities of Newtown. The site incorporates various structures that were added over a 60-year period for keeping vegetables and fodder as well as for slaughtering poultry. Bustling activity, dirt and the smell of livestock characterised this area. By the early 1960s, some 2 000 tons of fresh produce was moving through the market every day.

If you look towards the north of the sheds, you will see the extravagant roof of the old Edwardian public toilet block. The original toilet was constructed in 1911 and was later used as the model for Kippies International Jazz Club. Beautifully designed ablution facilities were common in Newtown. A brightly coloured structure serving as public toilets was established on the square by the Johannesburg Development Agency in 2007.

The potato sheds and the old Edwardian toilet stood derelict for many decades until 1991, when the Afrika Cultural Centre moved into the sheds and ran various art programmes for disadvantaged youth. In 2009, the potato sheds became part of the billion rand ‘The Potato Shed’ development as described by the project managers:

"A prestigious new retail and hotel development will revitalise the historical Newtown precinct. The original potato sheds will be sensitively adapted into a quality shopping centre that celebrates the cultural significance of the site and its buildings. A pedestrian walkway will offer lovers of Johannesburg a unique inner city experience."

The Majestic

This cluster of buildings dating from the 1920s, 30s and 40s is located directly opposite the Market Theatre and has been earmarked for redevelopment by the City of Johannesburg. The building adjacent to the National Arts Council with its distinctive brick facade was erected in 1933 for Lipschitz Bros. to be used as a new machine store. Alterations in 1991 converted the warehouse into a gallery. The building was used as a gallery until 1996 when it was again converted for use by the Market Theatre Laboratory as a drama school and community theatre. Next door, another Lipschitz Bros. building with its elegant cantilevered balcony was built in 1934 and altered in 1941. Also for Lipschitz Bros., the building currently occupied by Afronova was erected as shops in 1922. The shops were occupied by the Cape Wine Bodegas Co. Ltd. in 1924 and subsequently used as a restaurant, beer hall and later a flower shop. This building, together with other buildings on stand 143, was renovated in 1986 to become what is now the Wolhuter Street Mall. Forming the core of this mall is a warehouse which was submitted for approval on the site for owner B. Glazer in 1917.

Old Park Halt Station

This elegant – if rather neglected – Wilhelmine structure was designed by Dutch architect Jacob Klinkhamer (1854 – 1928) in 1895 after being commissioned by the ZAR government. It was originally manufactured in Rotterdam and re-erected at Park Halt (as Park Station was known at the time) between 1896 and 97. The structure is an excellent example of late nineteenth-century building technology. In 1952, as part of the renewal of Park Station, the steel canopy was dismantled and re-erected in Kempton Park as a training centre for railway personnel. In 1995 the old structure was once again dismantled and re-erected in Newtown. It was hoped that the structure would form part of a railway museum.

Between Johannesburg and Park Halt

The history of Park Station (officially Johannesburg Station since 1913) is intriguingly linked to the history of Newtown. Originally called Park Halt this was in fact not the main station for the City as Johannesburg Station was actually located in Braamfontein. In the late 1890s the ZAR government earmarked parts of the Brickfields, situated between Johannesburg Station and Park Halt for the development of new marshalling yards. Kazerne, as the yards became known, served for many years as the main goods gateway of Johannesburg – a vital supply link that would ensure a steady flow of goods, machinery and mining equipment. The Kazerne yards included extensive railway lines, marshalling platforms, goods warehouses, sheds, workers’ compounds and a customs and excise building – remnants of which can still be seen in the area directly behind the Market Building.

Nelson Mandela Bridge

"The [Nelson Mandela] Bridge signifies so much about where South Africa has come from and where it is heading. It represents the high ground upon which our diverse cultures can converge and become one people. It represents pride in the culmination of talents and skills that exist in rebuilding our country. It also represents hope that South Africa will transcend its past and grow to be a formidable nation in its own right."  Nelson Mandela

In 2003, two days after the 85th birthday of the man honoured by this now iconic structure, former South African president Nelson Mandela opened the 284m cable-stayed bridge – the longest of its kind in Southern Africa. The bridge is an integral part in the cultural arc which links the Newtown Cultural Precinct with the various cultural institutions in Braamfontein, clustered around the University of the Witwatersrand, the Civic Theatre and Constitution Hill.

Designed by Danish bridge architect Poul Ove Jensen, the bridge links Bertha Street in Braamfontein with Ntemi Piliso Street in Newtown and straddles the Kazerne railway marshalling yards. The structure is held in place by 52 diagonal cable stays attached to concrete-filled pylons.

The Brickfields Housing Development

Completed at a cost of almost R100 million, the Brickfields project is the largest ever public-private housing partnership in South Africa to date. It consists of 650 one to three-bedroom flats catering for a range of income groups. The development was named after the original Brickfields which date back to the 1890s. Savage and Dodd Architects created the design.

The Milling Precinct

The Milling Precinct evolved around a complex of buildings that were once owned and operated by the Premier Milling Company. Since the middle of the decade many of these fine industrial structures have undergone major refurbishment. Next to the Old Premier Milling Building is Price’s Candles – another historic Newtown tenant.

The Mills (Old Premier Milling complex)

In 1904, after the clearance of the ‘Coolie Location’, Joffe Marks, owner of Marks Limited, bought property in the newly-declared Newtown. In 1906, the first phase development of a maize mill commenced. Over the next twenty years, Newtown would develop into the City’s foremost milling centre as the Premier Milling complex expanded its offices, mills and warehouses, occupying the site where Gandhi’s emergency hospital had once been.

In the surrounding streets an eclectic mix of Victorian, Edwardian, post-Edwardian and art deco warehouses are still used for bulk storage, trading and light manufacturing. Since the mid-2000s, an urban renewal process has resulted in many fine industrial buildings originally associated with the Premier Milling Company being transformed into upmarket offices and apartments.

Premier Milling Company Ltd

Founded in 1914, Premier Milling Company developed into South Africa’s largest milling group and by 1973 controlled more than 11 maize mills and 40 bakeries, while employing 20 000 people. The Company was founded through the amalgamation of Joffe Marks’ Marks Limited (which owned the first Newtown Mill) with Premier Roller Flour Mills which owned a mill in Fordsburg. In 1929 the company listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange and by 1942 operated in all four provinces of the Union of South Africa. In 1963 the company was bought out by Associated British Foods. In 1998 Premier Food Industries was acquired by Genfoods forming the largest milling company in the country. Following this acquisition, Premier Milling was voluntarily liquidated in 1999. The original mill in Newtown closed down in 1994 with most Premier Milling properties in Newtown sold off in 2002 thereby ending a nearly century-long association between Premier Milling and Newtown.

Joffe Marks

Merchant, miller, entrepreneur, industrialist and founder of Premier Milling Company Limited, Marks was born in 1866 in Plungyan, a shtetl in Lithuania, Eastern Europe and came to South Africa in 1884. He started his career as a trader in ostrich feathers but by 1887 had moved to Johannesburg where he established himself as a merchant and trader in the old Market Square. He started his milling business in 1903 by importing wheat from Canada, USA and Australia in response to the growing demand from new bakeries on the Rand. In 1904 he acquired property in the ‘Coolie Location’ recently cleared by the authorities. In 1906 the first phase development of a maize mill in newly-proclaimed Newtown commenced and opened in 1910. In 1912 Marks merged his company with Premier Roller Flour Mills to form Premier Milling Company. In 1914 operations on the second phase of the Newtown Mill commenced. During 1922 and the Rand Revolt the Fordsburg Mill was damaged. Marks died in 1951.

Premier Milling Company and Walter Sisulu

In 1934 a young Walter Sisulu joined Premier Biscuits – a subsidiary of the Premier Milling Company. At the beginning of 1936 Sisulu was fired from Premier Milling for initiating a strike to demand higher wages - an increase of 2s 6d a week and an allocation of bread. He found a temporary job as an agent selling the newspaper Bantu World.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas K. Gandhi, the father of India’s struggle for independence, lived in Johannesburg from 1903 to 1913 and was instrumental in resisting racial segregation against Asians in the Transvaal and later the Union of South Africa. While living in South Arica, Gandhi developed his philosophy of passive resistance (Satyagraha) – a philosophy that would inspire later generations of political activists.

Gandhi left South Africa in 1914.

Price’s Candles, 84 - 86 Carr Street

Edward Price and Co. (renamed Price's Patent Candles Ltd. In 1847) began manufacturing candles in 1830 and was closely associated with Britain’s industrial revolution. During the mid-19th century the company devised a process for cleaning palm oil with sulphuric acid. As the palm oil was mainly sourced from present-day Ghana, Nigeria and Togo – a region that at the time still suffered from the effects of slavery – this trade was welcomed by British abolitionists who saw it as an economic alternative to slavery. This association with Africa became the basis for the company's seal which depicted Africans bringing calabashes of palm oil to a seated Britannia figure under a palm tree. In 1910 Price's acquired its first overseas factories in Newtown, Johannesburg and by 1915 the company owned six factories in South Africa, Shanghai (China) and Chile.

The building in Newtown was constructed in 1910 and extended to its present form in 1923. The company was bought by Shell South Africa in 1984 and later taken over by Sasol Wax.

Old Railway Compound, Carr Street

Now derelict, the former dormitories for African railway workers constitute some of the oldest surviving buildings in Newtown, dating from the 1890s. When the ‘Coolie Location’ was torched in 1904, the Compound was spared destruction because it lay just outside of the Indian shanty-camp. Everything on the other side of Carr Street went up in flames.

Hamidia Mosque

This mosque dates back to the founding of the Hamidia Islamic Soociety which was established, with Ojer Ally as President, in July 1906. The Hamidia Society was very active in the community and was a driving force behind protests against government policies.

In response to the failure of the Transvaal government to repeal the Asiatic Act which placed severe restrictions on the movement of Asians in the Transvaal, Gandhi and various Muslim leaders and their followers burnt more than 1 200 registration certificates in front of the mosque in open defiance on 16 August 1908. This was the first public burning of passes in South Africa. A week later, another 525 certificates were similarly burnt.

In front of the mosque a memorial designed by artist Usha Seejarim commemorates this pivotal event.
The elegant white minaret of the Hamidia Masjid mosque was built in 2002 and complements a smaller copper dome which dates from the late 1950s. The extensions of the mosque were designed by Ahmed Saber Bham Architects.

The Oriental Plaza

This iconic shopping complex situated along Bree Street in adjacent Fordsburg has its roots in the forced removals of Indian traders from nearby Pageview (also known as Fietas). It was designed by Rhodes-Harrison Louw Hoffe & Partners and opened in 1975.

The Bag Factory (Fordsburg Artists Studios)

The Fordsburg Artists Studios (The Bag Factory) opened in 1990 as a non-profit organisation promoting the visual arts through a broad range of activities. Celebrated South African artist David Koloane is the Director. The centre has hosted major contemporary local artists including Penny Siopis, William Kentridge and Deborah Bell.

Electric Precinct

Workers’ Museum

The Newtown Compound is one of the last surviving examples of municipal compounds for black male workers. The City Council built the compound in 1913 to house migrant workers who worked first for the Sanitary Department and then at the nearby power station. The men who lived in this Compound were some of the many thousands of migrant workers who were recruited through informal and formal channels from throughout Southern Africa to work on the mines and in towns and factories.

They left their wives and children hundreds of miles away in the rural areas and each night they returned to their dormitories where they slept side-by-side in double-storey concrete bunks with nine workers per level. There was no privacy and the Compound Manager exercised total control over their lives.

On the north side of the compound, a row of houses was built for skilled white workers with tiny quarters in the yards for black domestic workers. The sharp contrast between the living conditions for white and black workers shows the racial segregation that characterised the lives of these two groups. The working class was divided on colour lines, with black migrants subjected to slave-like conditions in compounds.

Today, the Compound and the houses stand as a poignant reminder of the migrant labour system. Elsewhere, many of the old compounds are disappearing, and more and more hostels are being converted into family accommodation. In 2009, around seventy government compounds and hostels were still operating in Gauteng.

Artist Proof Studio

Along Jeppe Street in the vicinity of the Workers’ Museum was the original studios of Artist Proof Studio founded by artists Nhlanhla Xaba and Kim Berman in 1991. Xaba died tragically when a fire raged through the studios in 2003. The works of more than 100 artists were lost in the fire. Since 2004 the studio has been occupying new premises at the Bus Factory in President Street.

Nhlanhla Xaba (1960 – 2003)

Nhlanhla Xaba studied at leading arts training institutions in South Africa including Rorke’s Drift, Funda Art Centre in Soweto and the University of South Africa. With Kim Berman, he co-founded Artist Proof Studio in Newtown in 1991. He received the 1998 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award. He died tragically in a fire which also destroyed Artist Proof Studio in 2003. At the time of his death, he was working on an exhibition of new works. He was 43.

Turbine Hall

'The Turbine Hall and South Boiler House are superb industrial buildings distinguished by their massive scale, fine proportions, inspiring interior space and delicacy of detail.' Herbert Prins

Turbine Hall was originally part of the Jeppe Street Power Station built in 1927. This was the largest and last of the three steam-driven power stations in Newtown and consisted of the North Boiler House, Turbine Hall and three concrete cooling towers. The new electricity provider consumed ‘a trainload of coal a day’. However, within a few years, demand again outstripped supply and further extensions were required – but still, outages were a regular occurrence throughout the 1930s.

The Power Station lost its importance when a more modern station was built in Orlando, Soweto in 1942, but it was only in 1961 that the plant finally shut down. The station was given new life four years later when two Rolls Royce gas turbines were installed for use in emergencies and peak loading periods.

As neglect and indecision plagued Newtown’s future in the 1970s, this fine example of early 20th-century industrial architecture was threatened. Over time, 300 squatters occupied the cathedral-like soaring space.

Several proposals were made for the building as part of inner city renewal efforts. Ultimately, AngloGold Ashanti’s proposal to build its new headquarters there revived the fortunes of Turbine Hall. After protracted consultations between architects and heritage practitioners, it was agreed that the North Boiler House could be demolished to make way for the development. In 2005, the City relocated the squatters to stands in Orange Farm and the spectacular transformation of the building began. It was completed in 2009:

"The AngloGold Ashanti building has successfully used heritage as a resource, letting the old building shine through the new. The designers have been sensitive to the history and context of the building and have incorporated this into the new identity of the building. It should serve as an inspiration to others and an example of what is possible." Lael Bethlehem, CEO of the JDA, 2008

Newtown Park

This green open space between the Workers’ Museum and Sci-Bono Centre was once home to four massive concrete cooling towers. These were built in 1937 and for many decades formed a major landmark on the Johannesburg skyline. In the face of much opposition from the public, conservationists and academics, the towers were imploded in 1985. In addition to the four cooling towers, three circular concrete towers as well as much older wooden cooling towers occupied the site immediately west of Turbine Hall.

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre (Electric Workshop)

This building was initially the First President Street Power Station, commissioned in 1906 to power the new electric tram system. It was the shortest-lived of the three power stations built in Newtown owing to an explosion in the boiler house in March 1907.

The Second President Street Power Station was hurriedly opened on the site that is now the SAB World of Beer. This building became the Electric Workshop, used to repair machines and electrical parts.

During Newtown’s years of decline as an industrial centre in the mid-1970s, the building stood derelict. In the 1990s, this building was often used as a music and party venue particularly after the democratic elections of 1994. The space was also occasionally used for cultural events, most notably the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in 1997.

In 2004, the Gauteng Department of Education and the private sector initiated plans for a major interactive science centre. The new Sci-Bono Discovery Centre was one of the City's most ambitious urban regeneration projects and was to become the largest science centre in Southern Africa. A new wing housing a conference and education centre was added in 2009.

Sci-Bono’s aim is to improve public engagement with science and technology and build South Africa’s science, engineering and technological capacity. The name comes from an abbreviation of ‘Science’ and ‘Bono’, the TshiVenda word for ‘vision’, reflecting a mission to inspire insight into all aspects of modern science and technology.

Sci-Bono plays an important role in training teachers, offering career education to scholars and youths and supporting classroom learning in mathematics, science, technology and information and computer technology.

Sci-Bono is open seven days a week and is a fun-filled destination for schools, families, tourists and the general public.

South African Breweries Museum (SAB World of Beer)

Evidence suggests that a brewery once existed in the Brickfields area although the exact location is not known today. The South African Breweries Museum (known as the SAB World of Beer) was built on the original site of the Second President Street Power Station. The power station was built in 1907/8 to replace the first President Street Power Station which was closed due to irreparable technical problems. A section of the original facade of this building can still be seen along President Street.

SAB World of Beer was opened by former President Nelson Mandela on 15 May 1995 as the South African Breweries (now SABMiller) celebrated its centenary year.

Old ZAR Native Pass Office

A blue heritage plaque commemorates the site of the old ZAR Native Pass Office. After the South African War, the Pass Office – as well as the ZAR-era pass laws it was meant to enforce – were retained by the British who needed black mine workers to restart mining operations. Ironically, this came after many black citizens welcomed the British to Johannesburg as liberators by burning their passes. During the 1950s a new pass office was built in Polly Street (mostly for black women), while a men’s pass office was built in Albert Street. The present building belongs to the Department of Home Affairs.

Diagonal Street

A visible reminder of the original Randjeslaagte triangle, Diagonal Street constitutes the western border of the original mining town, and has historically marked the border between the CBD and the ‘New town’. As the portion of land west of Diagonal Street fell outside of the official town, it allowed the City’s coloured, Chinese and Indian population to settle and the area became racially mixed. Despite apartheid-era attempts to enforce racial segregation the area still retains much of its cosmopolitan feel. Although many buildings are run down Diagonal Street offers the visitor an eclectic mix of single- and double-storey Victorian and Edwardian structures in stark contrast to modern-day glass and concrete skyscrapers. Along Diagonal Street various ‘muti’ shops can be visited. These African traditional herbalists’ shops offer homeopathic and traditional medicines.

JSE Building (17 Diagonal Street)

Between 1978 and 2000, 17 Diagonal Street was the home of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). The first Stock Exchange was built in 1887 south of Market Square. By 1890 a new building was added to the existing structure. In 1903 the JSE moved to Hollard Street, the original building in turn replaced by a new building in 1960. In 1978 the JSE moved to this site along Diagonal Street.

'Diamond Building' (11 Diagonal Street)

Designed by American architect Helmut Jahn from the firm Murphy Jahn, Chicago (1984), number 11 Diagonal Street (or the ‘Diamond Building’) was built for Anglo American and has since been regarded as one of Johannesburg’s major landmarks. In 2007 the building was sold to ABSA for R104 million.


By 1904, there were almost 180 Chinese businesses operating in this part of Johannesburg. Known as ‘Cantonese Quarter’ or ‘Chinatown’, this historic precinct still has some functioning restaurants and shops and there are proposals to redevelop the area.


Ferreirasdorp was one of the first mining camps that sprung up at the time of the discovery of gold in the 1880s. It was named after Colonel Ignatius Philip Ferreira who set up a prospectors’ camp here prior to the official proclamation of the Reef as mining land.

Transport Precinct

The Transport Precinct became the centre of the administration, maintenance and storage of trams and buses during the rapid growth of Johannesburg’s transport sector in the first half of the 20th century. Today, like the rest of Newtown, this precinct has been transformed into a dynamic cultural district. 

The area began to burgeon between 1906 and 1907, when sheds for the housing and servicing of the first electric trams were built. The three power stations were built here to meet the electricity needs of a modern transport system and the rapidly growing city. The M1 freeway constructed between the 1960s and 80s can be seen above the bustle of Newtown.

This precinct covers numerous elements in the history of transportation in Johannesburg, from early 20th-century trams to the mini-bus taxis that still transport thousands of people today.

In 1990, Newtown was officially promoted as a cultural precinct as part of the initiative to revive the inner city. This area is now a hub of cultural institutions including the City of Johannesburg’s Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage and the Market Photo Workshop. Pioneering dance companies, Moving into Dance, Mophatong and the Dance Factory, and jazz institution, Bassline, are located here within the old servicing workshops. The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) along with a range of non-governmental organisations, has its headquarters in the Bus Factory. The South African Reserve Bank stands on the site of the original Tram Sheds.

South African Reserve Bank (Tram Sheds)

Built on the site of the original tram sheds (1906 – 1907), the South African Reserve Bank was designed by Floris Smith & Meyer Pienaar Architects and Urban Designers and completed in 1996.

The building has been included in the International Union of Architects' publication of landmark contributions to 20th century world architecture.

The Trams of Johannesburg

"Johannesburg’s engagement with modernity had begun with the percussion sounds of the stamp batteries, the hum of electric dynamos, street lighting and illumination, lifts and double-decker electric trams radiating out to the distant suburbs in a system centred on the City Hall, with turning circles on Market Square immediately to the West. All the tram routes terminated in Town, setting a radial urban consciousness that persisted for decades. Even contemporary mini-bus taxi routes obey this mind-set." Clive Chipkin, architect

Horse-drawn trams were in operation since 1891 when six kilometres of tramway track opened in Johannesburg with a terminus located in Fordsburg. As the ZAR government favoured a horse-drawn system which provided a secure income for Boer transport drivers, the introduction of an electric tram system was delayed until after the South African War. The decision, taken in 1902, to introduce an electric tram system became the main impetus for building the 1906 President Street Power Station.

During much of the 1930s and 40s the tram fleet of Johannesburg was managed from the Johannesburg Municipal Transport premises in Newtown. It is from here that the transport authorities modernised the fleet in time for the 1936 Empire Exhibition. During the Second World War the workshops also played an important role in the production of war material.

Increasingly seen as unsafe and incompatible with the City’s growing automobile population, from 1954 onwards trams were replaced with trolley busses. The last trams continued to run until March 1961.

Switching off Joburg:  Mary Fitzgerald, the 1911 Tram Workers’ Strike and 1913 White Mine Workers’ Strike

Tram workers led by Mary Fitzgerald embarked on strike action in 1911 in protest against the outcome of a public enquiry into their grievances. While the municipality tried to keep the tram system running, Mary and a group of women lay down on the tracks forcing a temporary end to tram operations.

During the violent 1913 white mine workers’ strike Mary Fitzgerald again stopped the trams from running as she and a group of strikers pulled tram drivers from their trams. The crowd, led by Mary, took control of the Second President Street Power Station and for a short while cast Johannesburg into darkness before officials regained control of the building.

City of Johannesburg Arts, Culture and Heritage Services Directorate & Market Photo Workshop

This building dates from 1934 and was originally used by the City’s Traffic and Licensing Department. More recently it has become home to the City of Johannesburg’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Services Directorate. The building also houses the Market Photo Workshop which has played a pivotal role in training South Africa's photographers and visual poets and ensuring that visual literacy reaches the neglected and marginalised parts of society.

Market Photo Workshop

Since its inception in 1989 by world-renowned photographer, David Goldblatt, the Market Photo Workshop has established itself as an important training institution for South African photographers who otherwise would have no access to photography. World Press Winners and internationally acclaimed photographers originate from this institution including Themba Hadebe, Jodi Bieber, Nontsikelelo Veleko and Zanele Muholi. The Photo Workshop has played a critical role in ensuring that black photographers enter the work place and about 70% of photographers employed at daily newspapers were students there.

The Bus Factory

This vast industrial structure was built to house tram repair sheds in the first half of the 20th century. It became the garage for double-decker diesel buses when they replaced trams and electric buses in the 1970s. It operated until the early 1990s. The Bus Factory, as it became known in 2001, is now a key part of the Newtown cultural district.

The first electric buses were introduced to Johannesburg in 1931. When the apartheid government passed the Separate Amenities Act in 1953, buses became racially segregated. Those that carried black people did not stop within the CBD as the government wanted to maintain this as a ‘whites-only’ area. The terminal points for black passengers were located in Newtown, on the outskirts of town.

In 2001, the building was extensively renovated with funding from the City of Joburg, Blue IQ and the Gauteng Provincial Government. It is now home to the offices of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), which facilitates inner city development and renewal projects:

"The Bus Factory is a perfect setting for our work. Urban regeneration is ultimately about creativity and this is a creative space. We can feel the history of Newtown all around us and we use this as an inspiration. We are also committed to creating space for artists and cultural workers. The revitalization of the inner city cannot take place without a vibrant contemporary culture." Lael Bethlehem, CEO of the Johannesburg Development Agency, 2010

The Bus Factory also houses a number of cultural non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The most prominent of these is the Artist Proof Studio, which facilitates printmaking and assists disadvantaged learners to achieve economic independence.

Transport House

The now dilapidated Transport House was unveiled in 1938 by the Mayor of Johannesburg and was used by the City’s transportation department. The facade of the building is art deco in style and still displays the letters JMT (for Johannesburg Municipal Transport).

Barend Jacobus Erasmus (1918 – 1976)

Originally from Zeerust, Barend came to Johannesburg during the Great Depression to seek employment. In June 1936 he found employment with the Johannesburg Municipal Transport Service scrubbing trams and buses. He was elevated to the position of conductor and later became involved in the Johannesburg Municipal Transport Workers Union (JMTWU). Erasmus was greatly influenced by the President of the JMTWU, Jan Venter and on Venter’s death in 1953 he took over as President. Erasmus won longer sick leave privileges for workers at Arbitration Court and in 1956 negotiated a 40 percent consolidation of cost of living allowance for all municipal employees. In 1967 he was part of the delegation which lobbied the Minister of Labour, Marais Viljoen, to recognise black trade unions. (Source:

M1 freeway

In 1897, the first car was introduced to Johannesburg. It was purchased for advertising purposes by a coffee firm and was put on display at the Wanderers Club. The vehicle was promptly banned from the streets by the Sanitary Board. Soon thereafter, the Board was obliged to draft regulations for ‘motor carriages’. By 1902, a number of cars were driving in the streets of Johannesburg and the first car dealers opened their premises in town.

The ownership of private cars proliferated and by 1954, over a 100 000 vehicles were registered. In the early 1960s, the City of Johannesburg decided to invest in a motorway system to ease traffic congestion.

The M1 motorway running through Braamfontein and Newtown was one of the first sections of the city’s new motorway system to be built and required that the western facade of Museum Africa was demolished. It was named the De Villiers Graaff motorway after the leader of the United Party who led the opposition during three terms of apartheid government. New sections of the motorway were commissioned over time.

'The motorways, conspicuously however, did not connect into the vast black ghetto locations. In part they acted as a visual and movement barrier to reinforce segregation.' Clive Chipkin, architect

Today, the M1 motorway between Johannesburg and Pretoria is the busiest in the southern hemisphere. In 2010, over 300 000 commuters used this section each weekday. It is now a major arterial route which connects the southern areas of Johannesburg including Soweto, with the city centre, extending north through Alexandra and Sandton.

Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM)

Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) was established in 1978 by Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser as a form of cultural resistance to apartheid. It has developed into the foremost professional dance and training institution in South Africa.

"Under apartheid, we set out to use dance as a form of resistance. We were a non-racial dance company at a time when life was completely segregated. MID gave young black South Africans access to high quality training in a nurturing environment as preparation for careers in the dance and entertainment industry." Sylvia Glasser, founder of MIDM, 2008

MIDM's signature Afrofusion style – a blending of African ritual, music and dance with Western contemporary dance forms – reflected the company’s commitment to integration. This dynamic style has become a leading force in South Africa's dance world.

Rehearsals initially took place in Glasser’s garage in northern Johannesburg. In 1987, the company moved to the Braamfontein Recreation Centre, the only multiracial recreational centre at the time. The same year, Glasser established the Edudance outreach programme, which uses dance to teach general school subjects and life skills. The organisation grew from a part-time multiracial group into a contemporary African dance company. In 1992, it began a full-time community dance teachers training course.

MIDM has taught and mentored several young dancers and choreographers who have moved on to become internationally acclaimed performers and have established their own dance companies.

""Finding Sylvia changed my life. I felt so liberated because at the time she was the only director courageous enough to have both black and white dancers in her company. The spirit of my family and ancestors, along with Sylvia, inform everything I do." Vincent Mantsoe, dancer, 2005

MIDM has been praised locally and internationally for its vitality and choreographic innovation. The company continues its work with under-resourced and underprivileged communities.

In 2009, MIDM moved into a new state-of-the-art building designed by acclaimed South African architect Phil Mashabane and commissioned by the JDA. It features three new studios with sprung dance floors, mirrors and abundant natural light.

The Dance Factory

Home to classes, workshops, performances and annual festivals such as the Joburg Arts Alive International Festival, The Dance Factory is the only dedicated dance theatre in South Africa. The venue frequently hosts performances by acclaimed local and international dancers.

The Dance Factory was built circa 1963 and was conceived by a group of dancers, teachers and choreographers who identified the need for an accessible, communal space for dance. It began operating at the City Hall in 1992, relocating to Newtown two years later, when it came to life as a performance venue.
Initially, The Dance Factory ran open classes for all age groups but, from 1998, with funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, a formal youth training programme was initiated. Participants were members of community dance groups. From 2003, The Dance Factory began to audition, select and train youngsters on an individual basis. The main objective of The Dance Factory is to nurture, promote innovation and excellence within South African dance theatre, through training and performances.

Since 2004, The Dance Factory has committed itself to commissioning and producing new, professional dance theatre works. These have included the award-winners 37 Degrees of Fear (Juanita Finestone-Praeg, 2004), I of Heart (Samantha Pienaar, 2005), Macbeth (PJ Sabbagha, 2006, 2007, 2008), Romeo and Juliet (Dada Masilo, 2008) and Carmen (2009).

The Bassline & Statue of Brenda Fassie

Bassline originally opened in 1994 as a small, live music venue founded by Brad Holmes in the bohemian suburb of Melville. It rose to prominence as the ultimate venue at which to experience South Africa's finest jazz and Afro-beat, and branched out by featuring poetry readings and funk jam sessions. It was a home for all musicians and jazz fans.

The original Bassline closed in 2003 and was resurrected in 2004 in the old Newtown music hall as a 1 000-capacity concert venue with an intimate 150-seat performing space, both with top-of-the-range sound.

Bassline has become an institution amongst music fans. In its 15-year history, Bassline has hosted over 3 000 concerts featuring many of Africa’s most famous stars and world music icons as well as most music acts that have emerged in South Africa since the 90s. Stars such as Vusi Mahlasela, Zim Ngqawana, the late Moses Molelekwa, Paul Hanmer and Jimmy Dludlu started their illustrious careers here. Bassline also provides rehearsal facilities for many artists.

In 2009, Bassline entered a partnership with the African Synergy network, through which bands from all over Africa are regularly featured, and a number of arts development programmes have been established.

Bassline has grown to become a major concert production house in South Africa, organising the massive outdoor Africa Day and New Year’s Eve concerts in Johannesburg, South Africa’s showcase concerts at MIDEM in Paris in 2010 and the United Nations All Africa Millennium Development Goals Song with eight of Africa’s top international artists. It has also been closely associated with Johannesburg’s Arts Alive festival.

In front of Bassline is a life-size bronze sculpture of legendary songstress Brenda Fassie by artist Angus Taylor. This was created in 2006 as part of the Sunday Times Heritage Project to mark the 100th year anniversary of the newspaper.

Brenda Fassie (1964 – 2004)

Known as the Queen of African Pop, Ma Brrr, the Madonna of the townships or simply Brenda, Fassie became South Africa’s top-selling artist. She was born in Langa, Cape Town in 1964 but came to Johannesburg at the age of 17 where she cut her first single with band Brenda & The Big Dudes. This catapulted her into stardom. Four of her albums, Amadlozi (1999), Nomakanjani (2000), Mina Nawe (2001) and Mali (2003) were the biggest-selling albums of the year while her 1998 comeback album, Memeza, sold 50 000 units in the first four hours of its release. Fassie died in 2004 at the age of 39.

Newtown Jazz Walk of Fame

The Newtown Jazz Walk of Fame honours nine South African legends for their contribution to the country’s unique jazz tradition: Miriam Makeba, Winston Mankunku, Hotep Idris Galeta, Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Chris McGregor, Basil ‘Manenberg' Coetzee, Zakes Nkosi and Ntemi Piliso.

Johannesburg Central Police Station

Designed by the architectural firm Harris Fels Jankes and Nussbaum, John Vorster Square served as the police headquarters from 1968 until it was renamed the Johannesburg Central Police Station in 1997. During the last two decades of the apartheid years the building was regarded as Johannesburg’s most sinister site, notorious as a place of detention, torture and police brutality. Between 1971 and 1990 at least eight people lost their lives here at the hands of the security police who occupied the 9th and 10th floors.

A memorial unveiled in 2007 and designed by artist Kagiso Pat Mautloa commemorates the death of the eight detainees who died at John Vorster Square: Ahmed Timol (died 1971), Wellington Tshazibane (1976), Elmon Malele (1977), Matthews Mabelane (1977), Neil Aggett (1982), Ernest Dipale (1982), Maisha “Stanza” Bopape (1988) and Clayton Sithole (1990). Sithole was murdered only days before the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

Henry Nxumalo Street (Goch Street)

In June 1977 two MK operatives Solomon Mahlangu and Mondy Motloung were arrested in Goch Street following a shootout in which two white men were accidentally killed while Mahlangu and Motloung were trying to evade police arrest. Despite international calls for his pardon, Mahlangu was later sentenced to death and executed in April 1979 at the age of 23.

For many years ‘Going to Goch’ meant being sent to John Vorster Square – and with it the fear of dying in detention. In 2004 the city renamed Goch Street after iconic news reporter ‘Mr. Drum’ Henry Nxumalo.

The Newtown Timeline

The Market Theatre opened in the Old Indian Fruit Market

14th c.

Early groups of seTswana and seSotho people settled on the Highveld


Gold prospecting began along the Jukskei river


Gerrit Bezuidenhout acquired Braamfontein farm


George Harrison found the main reef on Langlaagte farm
Johannesburg was founded

Colonel Ignatius Philip Ferreira set up Ferreira’s Camp


The government of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republic bought a piece of Braamfontein farm

The 'Coolie location' was established

Fordsburg was established as a residence for white miners

Poor Afrikaners settled in Brickfields. Brick manufacturing began along the banks of the Fordsburg spruit
First Johannesburg market opened in CBD


First gas, power and lighting station established west of town (in present-day Newtown)
Johannesburg Lighting Company formed


Sigmund Neumann obtained a concession from the ZAR Government to establish a horse-drawn tramway system
The first postal pillar box erected in Johannesburg


Inauguration of the Rand Tram linking Johannesburg and Boksburg. First Johannesburg station located north of present-day Newtown.

First compound for black workers built at site of present-day Bus Factory.


Deep level mining started on Village Main Reef
Six kilometres of tramway track opened in Johannesburg with a terminus located in Fordsburg. Horse-drawn trams introduced


The Johannesburg Gasworks began production at the lower end of President Street. This plant operated until 1920 when new works were completed at Cottesloe.


Rail link between Johannesburg and Cape Town opened

Netherlands South African Railway Company (NZASM) lobbied government for establishment of a railway marshalling yard. Brickmakers protested against the proposal.


Brickfields home to 7 000 people
NZASM founded the Kazerne marshalling yards. Brickmakers relocated from Brickfields to Burghersdorp
Dynamite train explosion in Braamfontein
First house-to-house postal delivery service instituted

Trading companies, banks, brick companies, brewery and fisheries moved into the area


The first motorcar drove through Johannesburg


Outbreak of the Anglo-Boer South African War
Fordsburg Commando participated in the battle of Elandslaagte

Many Boer women left behind in Burghersdorp at the outbreak of hostilities


Johannesburgsurrendered to the British. Re-introduction of ZAR-era pass laws. Lord Milner assumed control of city administration.


British administrators declared Burghersdorp and the ‘Coolie Location’ Insanitary Areas


50 000 Chinese workers recruited for the mines
Gandhi settled in Johannesburg
Report of the Johannesburg Insanitary Area Improvement Scheme Commission released


Gandhi set up emergency hospital in the Indian location in Newtown in response to the suspected outbreak of bubonic plague. Clearance of the 'Coolie Location' at Brickfields and forced removal to Klipspruit (later Pimville, Soweto)
Official founding of Newtown
In July control of the Tramway Company passed to the Johannesburg Municipality
Joffe Marks acquired property in the former 'Coolie Location'


Introduction of electric tramway system as part of Milner's modernisation of Johannesburg. Construction of first President Street Power Station and head office for The City Gas and Electricity Department
First phase of development of a maize mill started in Newtown

Living quarters built for white tramway and municipal employees


Passing of the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act of 1907
In protest, Gandhi and his followers burned their registration certificates outside the Hamidia Mosque at 2 Jennings Street
Miners' strike

Second President Street Power Station built

Newtowndeveloped into industrial and wholesale area


Indentured Chinese labourers repatriated


Price's Candles established in Newtown


Tramways and printers' strikes. May Fitzgerald and a group of women forced temporary suspension of tram service

Construction of Edwardian toilet


Merger of Marks Limited and Premier Roller Flour Mills resulted in formation of Premier Milling Company
Construction of Market Building commenced
Construction of the potato sheds commenced


The Market relocated to Newtown
Miners strike. Attempt by workers to close down the tramways, power station and railways

Construction of the Newtown compound to accommodate 312 black migrant electrical workers. Semi-detached cottages built for white artisans.


Construction of second phase of Newtown mill

c. 1915

Dr. J.G. Gubbins started the core collection of the Africana Museum (later Museum Africa)

Burghersdorp developed into a commercial area


White municipal engineers’ strike. Johannesburg without lights for five nights

Black railway workers’ strike

Sanitary municipal workers’ strike


White municipal workers’ strike at the Johannesburg Power Station


Black mineworkers’ strike


White tramway workers’ strike


Rand Revolt
Fordsburg mill damaged in strike


Construction of the Jeppe Street Power Station commenced
New flower mill commissioned in Newtown


Construction of the Bus Factory


General strike; 4 500 people assembled at Newtown Market Square

Introduction of double-decker buses


South boiler house constructed at Jeppe Street Power Station

Construction of four cooling towers


Model of Jeppe Street Power Station unveiled at the
Empire Exhibition
Johannesburg Metropolitan Transport introduced new tram fleet


Construction of four cooling towers


Transport House unveiled


Aaron’s Ground (Market Square, Newtown) renamed Mary Fitzgerald Square

Early 1940s

Newtownused in production of war material during the Second World War

1941,  26 July

The ANC in Transvaal issued a flyer ‘Mass Meeting, Africans Shot in Cold Blood, calling a meeting at Newtown Market Square Johannesburg’.


African flour milling workers’ strike


An estimated 10 000 men housed in the city’s 20 compounds

Black mine workers’ strike. JB Marks addressed 1 000 people on Newtown Market Square
Fordsburg mill closed


United Chinese Club building constructed in Chinatown


Abolishment of tram system in Johannesburg commenced


Pass office relocated to two new premises: Polly Street and Albert Street, central Johannesburg


City traffic plan made provision for M1 and M2
freeway system

Early 1960s

Construction  of M1 and M2 motorway commenced


Death of Mary Fitzgerald


Jeppe Street Power Station decommissioned


Jeppe Street Power Station given new lease of life as backup power station with two Rolls Royce gas turbines installed


Completion of the Braamfontein to Faraday section of
the M1


Construction of John Vorster Square police station


Death of Ahmed Timol, first death in detention, John Vorster Square


Closure of Newtown Compound


Construction commenced of the Oriental Plaza, Fordsburg (opened in 1975)

Closure of The Market and relocation of the Fresh Produce Market to City Deep




Solomon Mahlangu and Mondy Motloung arrested in Goch Street following a shoot out in which two men died


Moving into Dance Mophatong founded


Formation of the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA), with offices in the building currently occupied by the French Institute in Newtown


11 Diagonal Street‘Diamond Building’ completed


Tributaries, an exhibition of contemporary SA art, held in old Market Building

Cooling towers imploded


‘Kippies’ Jazz Club opened


Market Photography Workshop founded by David Goldblatt


Kim Berman established the Artist Proof Studio with Nhlanhla Xaba


The Fordsburg Artists Studios (The Bag Factory) opened

Death of Clayton Sithole, last death in detention, John Vorster Square


Newtown Galleries opened (closed in 1996)


First Democratic Elections

MuseuMAfrikA (formerly the Africana Museum and

incorporating the Bensusan Museum of Photography) opened

Last bag of wheat produced at Newtown mill. Newtown mill closed.


Africus: the first Johannesburg biennale held

Death of Barney Simon

Newtown compounds and workers' cottages declared National Monument (today a provincial heritage site)

SAB World of Beer opened by former President Nelson Mandela


Construction of new South Africa Reserve Bank on the site of the old tram sheds


Second Johannesburg biennale held

National Arts Council established

Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) established

Gauteng Provincial Government released ‘Trade and Industrial Strategy’ which identified redevelopment of Newtown as one of 10 strategic projects


Eviction of squatters from Turbine Hall


Mary Fitzgerald Squarereopened after extensive upgrades
Market Theatre Galleries closed


Extensions to Hamidia Mosque completed


NelsonMandela Bridgeopened Fire destroyed Artist Proof Studio.

Death of Nhlanhla Xaba Standard Bank Young Artist for 1998.


10 streets in Newtown renamed in honour of legendary South African artists


Demolition of the North Boiler House, Turbine Hall

The Brickfields housing complex opened

The Bassline opened in the Newtown Music Hall


Life-size sculpture of Brenda Fassie unveiled in front of The Bassline


Jazz Walk of Fame unveiled


New dance studios constructed for Moving Into Dance Mophatong


Unveiling of sculpture of Kippie Moeketsi and restoration of Kippies Jazz Club


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Did You Know?

Did you know that in 1900 the Coolie location was the only place where Indians could own property legally in Johannesburg?