Mary Fitzgerald Square

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 lie 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 here.

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. It is still used as a site for strikes today.

Did You Know?

Did you know that the First President Street Power Station, built in Johannesburg in 1906, exploded in its first year of operation? In 1907, the Second President Street Power Station was built to replace it.