Johannesburg Heritage Foundation: A year’s achievements and the year ahead

by | Aug 6, 2019

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) held its annual general meeting on Saturday 3rd August at Northwards (pictured). This was their best attended AGM with over 80 members and associates present. The event combined the formal annual general business meeting, report backs and a talk on Blue Plaques.

Brett McDougall as the outgoing chair of JHF presented the Chairman’s report and review of the achievements of the Foundation during the past year. JHF has concentrated on its research activities, conservation work, a school tours programme, training tour guides, heritage tours of Johannesburg within the weekly walking, lectures and bus tours programme and during the October Heritage weekend. A major activity has been the ongoing digitisation of heritage documents housed at the JHF Research Centre. The three Joint Plans Committees guide architects, developers and planners in the management of heritage on the ground. JHF has installed over 20 blue heritage plaques during the past year, painting the town with blue history word bites.

Stakeholder engagement has seen the JHF connect with the City of Johannesburg, JAG and Museum Africa, Gauteng Provincial Government, the Gauteng Heritage Action Group, The Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance, Egoli Heritage Foundation, the Wilds project and the Heritage Association of South Africa. It has been a full, active and energetic year led by Brett McDougall and the Board of Management. JHF activities are publicised on the website and social media platforms; fundraising has been achieved through book sales and the sales of new books to  members. The focus has been on tackling heritage neglect, campaigning for conservation, putting its money where its mouth is with backing given to the restoration and repair of neglected heritage treasures (St John the Divine Church and the stained glass window restoration at the Friedenskirche in Hillbrow and the Holy Trinity Church in Braamfontein, as well as the restoration of the greenhouses at the Wilds). An entirely new project is the Friends of the Cemeteries, which works to repair, restore and improve the gardens in Johannesburg cemeteries.

JHF works with passion and commitment to raise awareness about heritage. An exciting discovery in 2018 was the 1913 blue print of the Yeoville Water Tower which led to a research project, accredited academic publications in Architecture SA and the printing and sale of a series of limited edition prints of the blue print.

A vote of thanks and appreciation to Brett McDougall was passed with applause and acclaim for his five years of service to the JHF as the Chair.

Prof. Kathy Munro as the incoming Chair presented the plans and programme for the 2019/20 year ahead. JHF plans to continue to focus its efforts on volunteer-driven projects with a significant impact but low financial investment. The most important of the goals are: building research capabilities, archiving building plans of the city in Museum Africa; the monthly meetings and site visits of the three Joint Plans Committees (Central, East and West), running the quarterly tour programme and the Heritage weekend; the Blue plaque programme – a minimum of 21 blue plaques are planned for erection. The JHF education programme for schools has drawn sponsorship and support enabling JHF to reach into all types of schools in order to educate school kids in heritage work (this is a 20-year sow-the-seed investment). The Friends of the Cemeteries will continue to restore and document the graves and tombstones in historic cemeteries.  JHF will continue to work with the City of Johannesburg, for example, in the relocation and restoration of the Bez Valley World War I memorial to the 64 men of the Valley who lost their lives in that war; JHF is also excited about the planned exhibition on the Bensusan photographic legacy coming up at Museum Africa in August; and it is backing Museum Africa in the upgrading of exhibits for school tours.

The Foundation’s special projects concentrate on the completion of the restoration of the interior of St John the Divine Church in Belgravia, the stained glass church window projects as well as the greenhouse project at the Wilds. JHF is also working on the production of a limited edition series of historic maps of Johannesburg. It will also be publishing two heritage studies on the Orange Grove Waterfall and on the Highlands Ridge/ Yeoville Ridge. And lastly, it will be lobbying the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority – Gauteng to declare some important heritage sites as provincial sites. 

Kathy also stressed that the JHF is an NGO that punches above its weight. Continuity is evident in all the JHF is planning for the coming year. To achieve this and to be successful, team work is needed, an engaged membership and partnerships. JHF strives to draw in new audiences and attract new members and has developed new categories of membership (for example, corporate membership, fellow NGO membership and residents’ association membership in addition to the existing categories  (ordinary, family, pensioner)). Members are the backbone of the organisation. Members are needed to give the organisation voice and clout. This coming year, the JHF is looking forward to more residents’ associations collaborating with the organisation and to welcome their engagement in heritage work. The first line of defence for heritage properties are the local campaigners, whether in Orlando, Dube or Houghton, Yeoville or Kensington. Kathy offered the commitment to residents’ associations, that the JHF will back residents to guard their heritage worthy past and celebrate the suburban role in Johannesburg’s history.

The JHF resource centre is a research space for member bodies. Kathy stressed that conservation is about defining heritage and discovering local history. The JHF is looking for partners and partnerships in diversity and in young people, for example, to get the Rand Club working with Hillbrow Outreach. Kathy is a Wits University Honorary Associate Professor and brings close links to the Wits Historical Papers and the School of Architecture and Planning. She commented, “We can open doors to celebrating history and heritage.” JHF plans to continue to market and promote its vital work visibly on Facebook, Twitter, the internet and other social media. The message is that JHF is an active and vibrant, big impact, low budget Johannesburg heritage organisation; facing all the challenges of Johannesburg city life and changing times with courage and excitement. “We want the biggest bangs for our bucks and we want Johannesburg heritage to be a drawcard for the city”.  

The JHF annual report included a tribute to longstanding member, tour guide and researcher, Winnie Job who passed away in June 2019. The JHF acknowledges Winne for her stalwart contributions over a 30 year period of membership. JHF is embarking on a membership drive and needs new members to take the place of Winnie.

The JHF’s operational review, future plans and financial report and budget are available on request. Contact the JHF office at Northwards, tel: 011 482 23344 (Eira Bond). JHF welcomes new members and Eira can supply membership forms and information sheets. All NGOs are made by their members. The JHF therefore welcomes volunteers – let them know your skills and your interests; you will find friends, fun and an enriching learning experience in the JHF. For more information, email the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation at (attention Eira Bond).