Saturday, 22 December 2012

The End of the World?

I am quite proud of myself; I have survived the end of the world on a number of occasions.  Quite an accomplishment for somebody that is still alive and kicking (albeit at a leisurely pace). The problem with end of the world prophets is that I never hear from them on the day after the world was supposed to end! I suppose though, having scared the bejabbers out of so many you daren't show your face just in case somebody expects you to pay for the 800 tins of tuna, 400 candles and 896 litres of Perrier water that they stocked up on "just in case". The end of the world that was supposed to happen yesterday (21 Dec 2012) was courtesy of the Mayans. I am not too sure what sort of sense of humour Mayans had (not much I expect), but maybe they decided to leave this conundrum for us, knowing full well that their own civilisation was toast.

Then there was "The Rapture", who can forget that day? Harold Camping  (now where is he today?) predicted that it was due to happen on 21 May 2011, and when nothing happened he then changed it to 21 October 2011! Well, we all survived that one, although quite a few people had severe financial problems afterwards when they tried to explain why they had given their possessions away, and bought themselves fancy sports cars on the never-never.  Make no mistake about it, I admire somebody that has faith in their convictions, but I do suggest they do some homework themselves before wringing their hands and  cashing up their chips.

My other favourite global catastrophe had to be the so called "Millenium Bug" (aka Y2K bug), that was supposed to cripple us all on the 1st of January 2000. Massive amounts of money were spent on fixing computer dates and overpriced Y2K "experts" went around charging huge amounts of dosh to sort out the potential problem.  When the clock rolled over into January 2000 things did not grind to a halt and aircraft did not fall out of the sky. However, could it be that all the precautions that were taken really prevented any problems? Or was the whole thing just a flash in the pan? We may never know the answer to that one. 

I don't know when the next end of the world is predicted for. Supposedly were are in for a hefty period of solar activity, during 2013 and 2014. Solar flares have probably been with us forever, so it is really a luck of the draw thing. But, if one of those flares is big enough it could play havoc with the planet, not to mention really slow internet access down (and that in itself is a real disaster). 

If anything I expect South Africa is in for its own "end of the world"  as the politics become increasingly messy and the economy keeps on shrinking with employment falling all the time.  That could be the disaster that quite a few people are ringing alarm bells about, and unless something gets done we are in for a very bad ride. Of course that is assuming etolls don't bankrupt us all first.

So next time somebody sidles up to you and tries to sell you a tee-shirt emblazoned with "The End is Nigh!" on it, just remember that the end of the world won't happen tomorrow because it is already tomorrow in Australia. 

Tin foil hat anybody?


Monday, 17 December 2012

At this time of year......

.... I am reminded that like most children I attended a Sunday School at our local Anglican church. At that time it had a "satellite" congregation/chapel in 7th Avenue in Mayfair. This was called "St Giles" and was under the leadership of Mrs Linden, who usually played the organ. Like so many dedicated people in the church she used to wear many hats, and Sunday School at St Giles was one of them.

Each year at Easter and Christmas the Sunday school would hold a "play" (or something resembling it), and all the children were roped in to play parts and parents were roped into providing costumes and or support, Everybody was expected to attend and participate whether we liked it or not. Nobody wanted to invoke the wrath of Father Wallace or Mrs Linden.

Of course these "plays" can be torture for those of us who are shy or can't sing and who just really wanted to disappear into the background. There are those who are best suited to playing Mary/Joseph. and those who are best suited to being "2nd shepherd watching his flock by night".  Ideally that was the role I wanted and invariably got because a) I cannot sing, b) I am neither cute or good looking c) I can be very shy. And, that is still true today. 
Naturally around Christmas when the Nativity Play was being held, carol singing was all the rage and lines of children would give their best rendition of  that old favourite...

                                        "While Shepherds washed their socks by night, 
                                                            all seated round the tub,
                                                    a bar of Sunlight soap came down
                                                       and glory how they rubbed..."

Clad in slightly used curtains/sheets/blankets we shepherds would watch our flocks of cardboard sheep and deliver our wooden lines while trying our best not too fluff it. Invariably the cutest girls would end up being Mary or angels, while boys would end up being shepherds, wise men (only 3 required), and Joseph. Occasionally a bit of gender bending was required due to a lack of boys or girls.  I played a shepherd once and was told by Joseph (or was it Mary?): "Give me the babies bottle" to which I replied "the bottle is broken."  (said bottle having come a cropper shortly before) and I have never lived it down.  I am sure that somewhere somebody remembers a shepherd wearing a tablecloth and thick coke bottle specs telling the holy family that the babies bottle was broken. Fortunately in those days cameras were not that popular so no images exist of the annual nativity play that I messed up. 

I do not know whether it ever occurred to Mrs Linden how much agony some of us went through during these plays, I suspect though it was more a case of doing what we were told or there would be consequences.  We were also expected to participate in various activities such as handing out programmes, showing parents to seats, and singing in the choir (accompanied by a gaggle of children playing the xylophone, drum and triangle). I considered taking up the triangle professionally, but kept on dropping the hammer thingey. Eventually we would graduate from Sunday School and then have to go sit and fidget with our parents on the church pews during the Sunday service.

At some point St Giles closed down and we started to attend Christ Church in Crown Mines. This handsome church is one of the older churches in Johannesburg and was built in 1897. Most of the wooden pews and pulpit were built by Father Vic Wallace who was the parish priest when I was a member of the church. He had worked on the mines for many years and loved reminding us of that fact in his sermons. He had a magnificent singing voice and was a highly skilled carpenter and very dedicated to the church and congregation. Although I was not christened in this church I was confirmed there, and  in 1981 my late father would be buried from there. 

Every year the church would hold it's annual fete and everybody was roped into it as well. My brother, an accomplished puppeteer, would usually be persuaded to produce a puppet show for the hordes of bloodthirsty children (and adults) who enjoyed seeing the grotesque Mr Punch belt Judy over the head, and Mr Plod doing the "'ullo, 'ullo, 'ullo, wot's going on 'ere then?" line before assaulting Mr Punch with a truncheon. Talk about police brutality and women abuse!  Then there was the story about the soppy King and Queen and a missing cake. Alas I do not remember the plot of that one. However, the reason I do know about these shows is that I was always roped into provide a 3rd and 4th hand, my talent with voice impersonations was always in demand for puppet shows, and my brother had quite a reputation for producing a very professional production.

When Father Wallace retired the church was never the same, and eventually we moved from Mayfair and lost touch with the church. I returned there 2011 to visit the Garden of Remembrance, and take some pics. Sadly the church has become a fortress, and yet it is still so beautiful inside with its woodwork, stained glass windows and pipe organ. But I expect falling congregations will eventually put paid to this building and its many memories.

Around about this time every year,  in the dusty caverns of my mind,  I still hear a choir of toddlers singing about shepherds and their socks accompanied by an cacophony of sound from the orchestra pit, while a diminutive Mary and Joseph walk across a stage towards a light bulb masquerading as a star, and 3 wise men hang around, looking nonchalant, waiting for their cue. And in the audience beaming parents would nod approvingly, all the while thinking "that's my son/daughter" and, more importantly no cellphones would disturb the sanctity of the annual Nativity Play.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Olde Software

I admit it, I hang onto old software. I can't help it, once I find (or found) something that works I tend to not upgrade unless I absolutely have to. My current Windows 7 computer still uses a lot of olde legacy odds and ends that I have used since the days of DOS and Win3.11.

My first real word processing program was Wordstar. In those heady days when I still used to edit a newsletter, I installed Wordstar V4 on my first PC (an XT). In those days you could run the program from a single 360K floppy, with data being stored on the "b" drive (2nd floppy drive). Once I upgraded to an ST225 (20MB), I was able to install the program onto the HDD and things went very much quicker. 

Seagate ST225
Version 5 did not really work well for me, although it did have a lot of additional functionality that I realistically did not use. One of the add-ons was a program called "Letrix" which allowed you to change font properties like BOLD, Underline, Italic, height and width at print time. I seem to recall "/B/W/I *insert text here* /i/w/b would result in a bold, underlined and italicised print. It worked really well with my slow 80 col Panasonic dot matrix printer, but took ages to print a page

Wordstar 7
Rooting around on the internet I was able to find a copy of Wordstar 7 which is working on my desktop. Gee, I still remember how to use it!

Scroll forward to 2013 and I found a copy of WS4, and, it actually works in Windows 7 compatability mode.

Front end of Wordstar 4.
There is a certain smugness in knowing that this piece of legacy software is still able to work so many years after it ceased to exist, and that many look back on it as being the best word processing software around in its day.

When it came to image editing I got stuck on PaintShop Pro Version 5.0.1.  I have been running the same iteration of this piece of software since I got it in 1998. Having used it for so many years I can do things really quickly with it, and it's so  much easier to use than any Adobe product that I may have. Don't get me wrong, my beloved PSP is a entry level program compared to the bell and whistle laden stuff currently available. I also run version 8, but I always found it was no good for labeling and inserting text. I admit that I did try my hand at Adobe Photo Elements and Coreldraw, but PSP was just so much quicker.

About Paintshop Pro
Of course I latched onto Eudora Lite as my mail client many many years back too, eventually graduating to the sponsored version and currently use so I always confuse technical support when I have an email issue. The new open source version did not work for me, I had endless issues with it crashing so reverted back to, and the only problem I had with the Windows 7 installation was that I had to change my default directory, and the program works just as well today.

When it came to an HTML editor, I latched onto Arachnophilia years back in 1997 when the very first iteration of my webpage made its tentative appearance.  For some reason I got stuck at version 4 and never moved on. The program has been amongst my basket of software that comes across to each of my computers when I do a re-install, and 99% of my webpages have been created with it. Arachnophilia did move on though, and is now Java based. The current version is 5.5 build 2781. I also admit that I liked the "Careware" philosophy of it's creator.

About Arachnophilia

The final piece of oldie software still hanging in there is my FTP program. I have used WSFTP-LE  for years too, and the same iteration of version 5.08 (probably dating from 1998) gets used when I move files between my website and home computer. I do admit that this is one piece of software I have seriously considered upgrading, but so far have not found a suitable replacement, (although I haven't really looked either).

Somethings never really change, and my software is definitely up there with the best of them. I have never really been one of those that loves upgrading software. If it had been up to me I would have probably still been using Office 97, and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to upgrade to Office 2003! (and that was in 2009). My operating system tends to lag at least 4 years behind too, and I will hang onto Windows 7 as long as I can. 

The thing about living in South Africa with its awful internet and overpriced bandwidth is that it does severely limit your ability to download huge updates, and I deplore loosing the days when I could download a full version of a program; instead today I have to download an installer then hang around for hours while it downloads the program. It is one of the reasons I will not support the Steam platform. I was not amused when I bought a CD with a game on it and then spent 14 hours downloading the game! 

Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I like my coal burning software, and I bet that with a bit of work I could still find my precious Wordstar on one of my defunct drives, I do know I have some of the original txt files that were created with it all those years ago. In fact, now that I think about it, let me see if I can still use WS, it was never all that complicated to start off with.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Revisiting Bays Hill

One of my favourite memorials has to be the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria. It is a magnificent structure that epitomises "those who mount up with wings as eagles". 

I recall going there as a toddler with my parents and an uncle. In those days the Book of  Remembrance used to be in a recessed holder, and it was in there that we looked for the name of my uncle that died in Egypt during World War 2.

The memorial was opened on 1 September 1963 by President CR Swart. Other additions have been the Garden of Remembrance, the Walls of Remembrance, and the recent addition of the Potchefstroom AFB Memorial.

Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.
Garden of Remembrance
The futuristic and angular design of the building is unique and it does not have the heavy often morbid feel of a memorial, if anything it is light and airy, reminiscent of flight. 

The interior houses a small chapel as well as spaces for the Rolls of Honour and guest books, while not a large space still retains a aircraftlike feel with its angular windows. 

On the day of our visit the national flag was at half mast, probably to honour Chief Justice Arthur Chaskelson who had died that week. However, little did we realise at the time that the Air Force would loose an aircraft and its crew and passengers on the next day. Those names will be added to the thousands already inscribed on the Roll of Honour. 

Korean War Roll of Honour.
It is a sombre place to visit, and seeing the names inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance always leaves one feeling humble, and as you leave this small haven of peace you may hear the sound of an aircraft flying overhead, and know that it is a kindred spirit of those who are remembered here.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Air Force Museum

Due to an unplanned party, our usual Wednesday Pretoria trip took a detour, and one of the places I revisited was the South African Air Force Museum at Swartkops AFB. I had originally visited there in December 2008, and had been somewhat disappointed, but also enthralled by their collection of aircraft. Nothing I saw though would really compare to the collection I had seen at The National Museum of the  US Air Force in Dayton Ohio in 2000. That place was truly amazing.

As usual I did have an ulterior motive in my visit, I really wanted to see the P51 Mustang that had evaded me in 2008, and was hoping to spot a complete Vampire too, the last Vampire I had seen had been incomplete. The images in this blog post are really a mix from my 2008 visit and the 2012 visit, because there have been changes since I had first been here.  There are aircraft that I have not added images of, that is because I did not have a specific interest in them on this visit.

Inside the museum (2008)
The main display area on the apron housed the larger aircraft, and my special favourite has to be the Shackleton. She had been moved from her original spot, and as usual was really worth seeing up close and personal. 

Also dominating the area was the SAAF Boeing 707,  I had never been lucky enough to see one of these up close and personal, and she is really the only one I have seen. 

Actually that is a fib because I have been on board the 707 at Wright Patterson AFB. That particular aircraft, Boeing VC-137C – SAM 26000 (Boeing 707) had served President John F Kennedy as the presidential aircraft (aka "Air Force One") before it too was replaced by a 747. Personally I prefer Boeing aircraft, these new fangled Airbus aircraft don't work for me.

Also on the apron is the DC4 Skymaster, She too had been moved from my last visit, and she is deteriorating rapidly, the fabric of her elevators and ailerons is falling apart and she really needs to be under cover and restored.


A new addition that had not been there on my previous visit was a Puma helicopter. There was another Puma (or Oryx?) doing circuits and bumps while we were visiting but I never got any decent footage of her. 

Most of the Mirage and Impala had been moved under cover which should protect them from the elements, but the larger aircraft are really in a precarious situation.  Even the sleek Canberra is looking somewhat faded.

I have not shown images of the C160 Transall or the Ventura or Super Frelon that are parked on the apron. Neither have I shown images of the aircraft parked under cover.

Moving indoors to the display hangers I was delighted to find my missing Mustang!

As well as the restored Vampire.

I was also hoping to get better images of the Sabre while I was there, and was delighted to find her in a much better position than previously.

Another addition that I had not seen previously was an SAAF trainer, I am not sure whether this is a Pilatus or the local derivative.

I was also hoping to get a better image of the Fieseler Storch but it lived in relative darkness so this is the best I could do...

There is a lot of other aircraft to view at the museum, like the wonderful Sikorsky S-51 which is a real blast from the past,

And the Communist Bloc era Mikoyan MiG21 BIS which ran out of fuel while on a flight over Northern South West Africa in 1988. 

Our own South African Air Force aircraft also feature strongly, and one of my personal favourites is the Mirage IIIBZ in her original delivery colours.

And, the Westland Wasp in her Naval colour scheme, hankering back to the days of our 3 frigates.

Unfortunately though the museum does not have a complete Harvard on display,  that stalwart trainer did our country very proud, and the snarl of their engines overhead is only a memory. Like most museums though, this one lacks funds and dedicated people to keep it going.  We are very fortunate to have this small collection available, and it would be tragic if we were to loose it. It is well worth the time and effort to go through to Pretoria for a visit, because if you are an air force and aviation buff, these are the machines that you may soon only read about.

A postscript. At the time of writing this, the Air Force had just lost a Turbo-Dak with all her crew and passengers in bad weather over the Drakensberg. This is the second Dakota that has been lost recently, maybe its time the museum acquired one for the collection before they too become extinct.  

Monday, 26 November 2012

Rietfontein: the last word.

To say that Rietfontein and its cemeteries has been an obsession these past few weeks would be telling the truth. What started out as a excursion to photograph a few graves turned into a whole series of discoveries. 

My recent excursion, on Sunday 27th November, was to find the cemetery on the eastern bank of the river. Poor weather made me wary of taking a walk, but in the end the day turned out to be quite pleasant, if not a bit hot and steamy. I was not too sure of where the cem was, but was working off information off Google Earth, as well as what Dave had told me. Finding the river was easy enough, it pops out from under the highway and rambles more or less parallel with the highway until it reaches a bridge which I then had to cross to be on the highway (eastern bank) side of the river. 

The bridge over the river
Once over that bridge I then had to cross a small stream a bit further on that flowed into the river before coming to the area where the cemetery was supposed to be. Early Google Earth images revealed that this was a grove of trees prior to the March 2004 image. Since then the trees were cut down and fires had burnt the stumps down to small black projections that can easily be mistaken for headstones. The area was flat with an embankment on one side and the river on the other.  In the distance was Sizwe Hospital, Edenvale Hospital and Modderfontein Road.

Headstones were scarce, and finding them was very difficult as most were toppled and hidden in the grass. Sometimes there was only a slab or the remains of a headstone. I could only pick up five identifiable headstones, with roughly 8 grave remains, there were probably a few mounds present too. These graves dated from about the turn of the century, the oldest seemed to be 1898. Given their position in relation to the hospitals and river I suspect these may be from the original Rietfontein farm. 

Having taken my pics I head up towards the hospital to investigate two structures that we originally thought were 2 crematoria. However, on closer inspection they it seems that they were probably incinerators.

My next target was the "terraces". There are two sets of these, one is a very large area and is between the end of the hospital and Linksfield Road. My original thoughts were that these may be related to erosion control, but the fact that it is rumoured that between 7000 and 10000 people are buried in this area leads credence to this being one of two possible mass graves site. From the ground there is not much to see to prove or disprove anything, 

One of the terraces, looking South East
My verdict is "inconclusive", but that is just because I cannot see any physical evidence of  this being a gravesite. I investigated the other terrace which is below what we call "Rietfontein 4/4" and returned to the burnt log that I mentioned in the previous blog post about that area. Again the only  comment I can make is "inconclusive". However, if I look at the Google Earth images of the hospital I see similar terraces inside the grounds, and this makes me return to my original hypothesis about them being some sort of erosion control.

The burnt out log in the "terrace"

I then returned to try ascertain the extent of Rietfontein 4;  in my previous investigation I had found that this African section was roughly within a square block of trees, but there was no real way to know how many graves were here. There are at least 30 graves with headstones,  which extend for quite a long distance down the hill towards the terraces.

Looking North from the corner of Rietfontein 4
What I did discover was possibly the Southern boundary of the cemetery; a row of quartz stones were propped equidistant in at least 3 rows. This was not a natural occurrence, but it did give me some indication of  where the cems starts, and where it ends.  Numbers? I don't know. There is no real way of knowing. An early GE image revealed what looked like rows within this area, and they extend in a northerly direction and based on that I can surmise that this area alone may hold as many as a 1000 graves.  Some of the graves date from the 20's to 50's, although the upper boundary of this area did reveal one previously unseen stone which was dated 1906, and had the number 49 on it. 
There is also one very tantalising marker there, a small simple rusty cross with "Mabena" stamped into it. In my reading I had seen metal markers mentioned, but so far this was the only one I had actually seen in any of cemeteries in this site.

The records I have from a possible headstone transcription for what we now call "Rietfontein 2" revealed that there were 8 identifiable headstones and 4 unidentified ones (one of which was toppled), 12 graves are not accounted for (no headstone found), of which we can allocate 4 of the toppled stones to, which means there are still at least 8 graves still unfound in the area of Rietfontein 2. They have probably been  buried under builders rubble.

That pretty much wound up Rietfontein, and until such time as we can find more information there isn't much to do except wait for Winter when the grass is short, or a fire which which will reveal a lot about what is buried in the undergrowth. It has been an interesting journey,  and I feel that at least now we know more about the cemeteries here, and can at least name some of the people that came to rest here, probably killed by diseases that today we can combat. 
There are more questions though, but I don't think the answers are within our reach.  There is no doubt that this is a very pretty unspoilt area, but who knows what is buried underneath the grass there, all it really takes is for an unscrupulous developer and a bulldozer to ruin it forever. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Scope of Rietfontein

In my previous blog posts about Rietfontein I was unaware of the sheer scope of the cemeteries associated with this 15 hectare site. It is one thing looking at the area with Google Earth, and then trying to translate that into physical features on the ground. Fortunately, a comment made on the blog has provided answers to a number of questions, and created even more questions.

One of the anomalies on the satellite view of the area are a series of terraces. I traversed the one terrace during my third visit when I found the second cem associated with the hospital. The security guard that had originally told me to look at the area around the burnt log had been correct. That whole area of terrace may be a mass burial site, and there are two sets of terraces on that 15 hectare site. From the ground you can't really discern any detail because of the high grass and nature of the terrain, but I was told that there are some sort of demarcations and this area definitely needs further investigation.

The other question I had was, where is the other cemetery? Again the answer was provided by my correspondent. There is a dirt track/road that runs roughly parallel to the river and highway, crossing it at a small bridge. The cem is roughly North of the bridge,  and in the 2001 Google Earth photograph was surrounded by trees. By 2004 the trees were gone. The biggest problem facing a photographer is actually accessing the cem, there are no real roads, and parts of this area are fenced. 

However, there may be thousands of people buried here (Rietfontein Necropolis?),  and the register is long gone so there is no way of knowing who they may have been unless a headstone is present. The fact remains that the area where the two cemeteries that I found are, is rapidly becoming a dumping site. I do not know how many headstones have already been lost under piles of building rubble. I do know that there may be as many as 6 cemeteries and not 3 in that area, although I expect they can all really tied to each other, and I know that those who are buried here are in a very pretty place which is relatively unspoilt. 

The danger is that one day somebody will scheme, bribe and plot and suddenly lots of townhouses will pop up overnight. And unless we can further document this area who knows what the future may bring. 

Thanks to Dave for all the information

Monday, 5 November 2012

Graves in the Veld: Rietfontein 2

The problem with finding the other two cemeteries in Rietfontein is that I was not too sure where to find them. This is a large overgrown area and given how well graves tend to blend in with their surroundings I stood very little hope of success. However, during my subsequent visit to the area I got talking to a security guard and he said there were graves about a kilo behind the old Superintendents house. The area he pointed to was past a burnt log that was the only feature midway up a hill, and while I couldn't see anything from where I was I decided to start exploring from there.
Parking my car I headed off into the bush, it was a hot day, and I soon discovered that this area was really an upwards slope with a lot of dead ground. On my way I spotted an African minister and I asked him if he had ever seen any graves but he wasn't able to help, however, one of his congregation pointed towards a clump of trees and said they were "by the trees". The stump proved to have nothing around it though, so I climbed the slope a bit more, almost towards the top of the hill, traversing the area as I walked, hoping to spot a headstone.
The first headstone I encountered was a newish stone, and looking around me I was able to spot random headstones that dotted the area in front of me.

As I walked and photographed I kept on finding graves, many were really only mounds, while some had simple unmarked stones on them. What struck me though was that this was quite a large area and if there was full of graves then there must have been a lot of people buried here. The headstones dated from around the 1940's although it does not mean that there were not earlier graves here.
People did seem to visit here too, because I did spot evidence of visitations, and some of the old headstones had been replaced with "modern" stones, I was able to photograph about 25 graves, (or spots that I could positively ID as being a grave). But how many simple headstones have gone missing or been vandalised I cannot say.

I am now happy to report that 2 out of 3 (possibly 4) cemeteries at Rietfontein have now been found and recorded and they are no longer "graves in the veld". As for cemetery number 3 (4)? I don't know, logic says it should be close to the hospital, but this will take a lot of investigation, and whether I will find it is another story for another day.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Graves in the Veld: Rietfontein Hospital.

Many of the  odd cemeteries I have encountered are found through conversations I have had with people. I heard about the Rietfontein Infectious Diseases Hospital Cemeteries after my brother went on a tour in that area. Unfortunately, finding the physical cemeteries would be a hit and miss thing because, as usual there is very little information to go on.
The area where the graves are supposed to be is bounded by Club Street, Linksfield, Modderfontein Road and the highway which is really a very large patch of open veld. The current Sizwe Hospital and the Edenvale Hospital are both in this area and the cemetery is tagged to the former.
Naturally my first port of call was Sizwe, and it was like visiting another planet. This hospital was founded in 1895 and consisted of a number of tin shanties. It's first superintendent was Dr John Max Mehliss (1868-1927), and he laid the groundwork for the institution that eventually became Rietfontein Infectious Diseases Hospital.  
The hospital would see a cross section of patients suffering from a variety of diseases, many of them contagious, and with the potential for decimating populations. In short, a cemetery (possibly more than one) was created to bury those who perished from diseases like Smallpox, TB, Bubonic Plague etc.
There are supposedly 3 separate cemeteries to find, and the first one I have found so far is close to the intersection of Club and Linksfield. After so many years it is really just a collection of randomly placed graves surrounded by builders rubble, grass and trees. I was able to photograph 20 distinct graves, of which some were unmarked or with toppled stones.  One of the graves may be that of the wife and possibly a son of Dr Mehliss .

There are also a number of largish mounds in the area, but they seem to be too big to be mounds from graves. I have no idea how many people are actually buried in this spot. Not too long ago there was talking of erecting low cost housing at the site, but then somebody remembered that many of the people laying there had died from highly infectious diseases, and there was no real way of knowing whether pathogens were still viable in the ground so the idea was shelved.

Just outside the admin building of Sizwe hospital  there are 3 graves surrounded by a fence, these are are the graves of Dr JM Mehliss, Matron Mary Middler and Nurse Emily Blake. These 3 graves were moved from one of the 3 cemeteries to their present position a few years ago when the hospital turned 100 years old.
Somewhere is this large area of veld there are still 2 cemeteries to find, and  the only real clues I have is that they face North-East looking across the valley onto the highway. On the opposite side of the highway there are buildings from the original farm Rietfontein, and somewhere in this area there must also be a farm cemetery associated with the farm.

Members of the Mehliss family.
The story is not over yet, I did explore a spot near Linksfield Road, but it turned up nothing, although given the vandalism and general state of decay in this area all I may find at any potential gravesites are the remains of graves in the veld. A conversation with one of the security guards may just have revealed the whereabouts of one of the other cemeteries, and I will investigate that next week.

It has been a fascinating journey into the history of a little known institution, and the question begs asking, did any of soldiers end up here? did any of the survivors of the East African campaign die of blackwater or malaria within these walls? I will probably never know.

I did revisit the site and was able to document some of the other cemeteries. These are on my blog as follows: "Rietfontein 2"  "the Scope of Rietfontein"  "Rietfontein, The last Word" "So what happened about Rietfontein?"

Images of the graves that I managed to photograph are at Eggsa.
Rietfontein 61_1
Rietfontein 61_2 
Rietfontein 61_3
Rietfontein 61_4

Update: The final Environmental Impact assessment was made available in 2015 and was available to download from the consultants. The deadline for submissions was 8 March 2015.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Lets go by bus!

Reading a blogpost about buses a few minutes ago got me thinking about my own experiences with bus travel as a child.

Our family did not own a car, and living in Mayfair we were very fortunate that we had a variety of buses to choose from when we made an excursion "into town". Originally we lived in Robinson Road and would catch the Homestead Park bus, but once we moved to Hanover Street our local bus stop was shared by buses on the Homestead Park, Crosby, Langlaagte and Mayfair routes which all turned around at the terminus in Loveday Street. (Bus numbers were 60, 60a, 61 and possibly 61a). Trolley bus lines ran up to Homestead Park where the bus turned around for its return journey, I seem to recall the terminus was in Van Ryneveld Road.

In primary school I used to catch the Crosby bus up to EP Baumann Primary, getting off a block away from the school in 3rd Avenue. My early trips were on platform style JMT diesel buses with a conductor ensuring that the correct fares were paid and that we behaved ourselves.

JMT Platform style bus at James Hall Museum of Transport
A used bus ticket.
I do not recall when the platform style buses were removed from service but at some point the conductor was made redundant by a ticketing machine by the driver, and he also handled cash for people who did not have tickets.

Unused bus ticket

The original platform style buses had the driver in a separate compartment, but single deckers and the newer double deckers had the driver accessible to passengers, and when you traveled the same bus everyday we all got to know the individual drivers on our routes, and eventually we would gravitate to sitting on the ledge by the front window next to the driver.  I do recall the one driver that I traveled with went on pension in my last year in primary school and I was quite sad that I would no longer see him on the route. 

My morning trips were usually in a very empty bus, but in the afternoons the Crosby bus would be full of the children from EP Baumann as well as other schools in the area. I used to bail out at the stop in Central Ave between Hanover and Langerman Streets, stopping at the Greek cafe to buy the afternoon paper for my mother before heading off for home.  This was the same bus stop we would use to travel into town,  the west bound stop being close to the corner of Hanover Street and Central Ave.

The bus terminus in Johannesburg was in Loveday Street, between Commissioner and Market Streets. None of our west bound buses used Van Der Bijl Square (today Ghandi Square) as a terminus. The terminus was also next to the Union-Castle Building where I could ogle the ship models in the window while waiting for the bus to take me home. Today the terminus is still there, but is used as a taxi rank. Union-Castle Line is long gone and so are the ship models. And, for that matter, so are the buses.

The former Mayfair/Crosby/Homestead Park Bus terminus

Once I went to high school in Langlaagte, my daily commute changed slightly. I would now catch a  dedicated Langlaagte school bus that would turn around outside our school, and in the afternoons there was a dedicated school bus that used to collect us at 14H05 and drive into town on the Homestead Park route. If you missed it the next Langlaagte bus would leave an hour later and it was usually easier to walk up to the Homestead Park terminus instead. 

The buses on this route were converted from the platform diesel buses, the platform being removed and replaced with a bench seat with the access stairs behind the driver. There was an unofficial pecking order on these buses. The smokers sat upstairs, the more senior the boys the further back they sat. Non smokers sat downstairs and the seniors would occupy the bench seat at the back. Our school was a single sexed school so no girls were on the bus (Goudveld Hoer up the road had their own bus). 

Unfortunately I do not have a picture of the inside of these diesel buses, but they were very similar to the converted trolley buses that had their platforms removed. 

Downstairs looking towards the back of the bus
Upstairs looking towards the front of the bus
By Std 10 I too had graduated to the back bench, and some other Std 6 had to fight the gauntlet of bigger boys trying to board without getting squashed. The ticket machine had changed too, as tickets now had 10 rides per ticket instead of a single ticket per ride. 

Johannesburg also started to use buses for advertising when I was in primary school, and we were always eager to travel on a bus that had something new advertised on it, sadly though it meant the demise of the familiar red and cream livery, which leant a certain professionalism to the bus service.  The much loved trolley bus was also withdrawn,  and an articulated singled decker trolley bus was tried but it was never adopted throughout the fleet. Eventually even the trolley bus lines were removed, and they too have passed into history.

By the time I came out of the army my transportation had moved to trains as I worked in Braamfontein and Johannesburg, and apart from the occasional trip  from where I lived in Hillbrow I stopped using buses altogether. I know when I was young the ever rising fares meant fewer people used buses so they they had to raise fares to increase revenue and it became a spiral that saw the bus service cut until it was shade of its former self.  Today the Metrobus service is abysmal. 

I have traveled in buses elsewhere in the world but they don't really compare to the childhood experience of going to school in a big red and cream diesel bus, safe in the hands of an experienced driver.  I miss the experience though, especially hurtling down the hill in Fordsburg in a trolley bus, secretly hoping that the pickup would jump off the lines, bringing us to a grinding halt. It was all part of the fun when growing up.

The James Hall Museum of Transport has a beautiful collection of old buses and trams to explore, and is well worth visiting to see them once again.    All the photographs in this blog entry were taken at the museum.
Trolley and diesel bus at the James Hall Museum of Transport