Photographs and text by JFC Clarke | Contributions by Darryl Accone, Johnny Masilela and Zwelakhe Mthwethwa



This photograph was taken at about midday on a Saturday. The view is in an easterly direction down Grand Street and includes Meintjes Kop and the Union Buildings in the distance. The three fashionably dressed sisters, Devi, Rani and Rajis Naidoo are approaching the intersection of Grand Street and 6th Street. Their home was further down Grand Street close to Steenovenspruit.

The changes that have occurred in South African society since 1994 make it necessary to comment on the use of certain names and terms historically relevant to this publication.

The south-central part of what was the Transvaal Province, which in turn had been the Transvaal Republic, is now Gauteng Province. The City of Pretoria now falls within the greater metropolis of Tshwane, but the future use of the name 'Pretoria' has yet to be decided upon. What is now generally referred to as Marabastad is in fact the Asiatic Bazaar section of a much larger urban residential area that was known as Marabastad. This residential area and the original settlement which was given the name Marabastad no longer exist.

In the Preface and in Marabastad: Adversity and Survival, I have used the old place names and also race classification terms such as 'blacks', 'whites', and 'Coloureds' that were central to apartheid ideology. This has been done for the sake of historical authenticity and accuracy and it is not my intention to be either controversial or disparaging.

Since I was an art student in Johannesburg in the 1960s, I have added to a collection of photographic reference material that I find essential for my creative work in print, pencil, and pastel. These photographs have mainly been selected from the hundreds of photographs I have taken over decades on my travels in southern Africa. Many of the photographs reflect my interest in the history and archaeology of the region. I have never seriously used photography as an expressive medium, rather simply as the means to record. But quite ordinary photographic documentation can acquire heritage value as material culture and social entities change or are destroyed.

In 1970, I began photographing remnants of the older inner city of Pretoria. Part of my interest in old Pretoria stemmed from the fact that my two maternal great-, great-, grandfathers of two immigrant Dutch families, Stiemens and Bergsma, were citizens of Pretoria during its formative years. I was particularly attracted to the old shops in Prinsloo Street. Many of the buildings had survived with few alterations since the 19th century.

During a visit to Prinsloo Street I was approached by Mr. Hassem Keshavjee, who owned the business M. Keshavjee & Co., on the corner of Prinsloo Street and Proes Street. He asked me to photograph his shop and family before they were forced to move - to conform to requirements of apartheid's Group Areas Act.

Mr. Keshavjee's son, Murad, presented me with a book: The Aga Khan and Africa. A large section of the book is devoted to the Aga Khan's visit to South Africa in August 1945, and includes photographs of the Ismaili Mosque in Boom Street which the Aga Khan visited. The mosque is in the heart of the Asiatic Bazaar, part of an area generally known as Marabastad. There are also photographs of two of the three local cinemas, the Empire Theatre in Boom Street and the Royal Theatre in Grand Street that were decorated for the occasion.

Mr. Hassem Keshavjee standing outside his shop on the corner of Prinsloo Street and Proes Street, 1970. This photograph was taken while he was supervising the closure of the shop in terms of the requirements of the Group Areas Act. In the background is the Munitoria building (later partly destroyed by fire) where many of the politically based decisions relating to Marabastad and other Pretoria communities were made.

I had hardly been aware that Marabastad existed until then, but I discovered that close to the centre of Pretoria and a few blocks from Paul Kruger's house there was an almost hidden community that had evolved its own dynamic and colourful character - and been in existence since the 1880s. In general, Pretoria's white population knew little of Marabastad and regarded it as a place apart, or to be viewed with suspicion and fear. Vivien Allen's book Kruger's Pretoria, published in 1971, and Lola Dunston's Young Pretoria 1889-1913 published in 1975, both deal comprehensively with the early history of Pretoria but neither makes any mention of Marabastad.

Between 1970 and 1973 I returned to Marabastad with a camera on a number of occasions and I regret that I did not take more photographs while I had the opportunity. By the end of the 1970s, most homes had been demolished and the inhabitants dispersed to segregated townships on the outskirts of Pretoria. I moved on as my interests focused, in particular, on the Kalahari Desert across the South African border. The Marabastad negatives were stored and have, fortunately, survived a leaking roof and various relocations.

  JFC Clarke
  December 2007

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