Mines to Multi-Millions

Private Property South Africa
Cathy Nolan

If you call Joburg “home”, here is some rich property history that you probably didn’t know – and links to some current on-the-market properties that you’ll wish you didn’t know about … Unless, of course, you have a couple million to spare.

We know that human settlement in Johannesburg goes back some 25 000 years but are, strangely, less certain on when the city’s more modern citizens began to build housing as we know it today.The first structures to go up on the grassy plains that made up the site of early Johannesburg were a mix of miners’ tents and mud and reed huts, followed by iron and wood houses. According to researcher and chief city librarian Anna Smith, the first actual structures were probably erected in the 1880s.

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Johannesburg's Old Post Office

Smith believes that one of the first wooden city buildings was the Central Hotel, on the corner of Commissioner and Sauer streets, but there is some dispute as to which was the first brick house in the town. Three structures qualify: a house built in 1887 in the city and suburban area of the inner city, which was destroyed by heavy rains in 1891; a “little house erected to serve as an office” – a three-roomed stone and brick house – that was occupied by Jan Meyer, in the Natal Spruit camp; and a third house, known as Rose Cottage, with a thatch roof, that was situated near Meyer’s camp and built by land-owner Julius Jeppe.

Of course, none of these houses stood for long, as the town grew rapidly and buildings were quickly demolished to make way for the next wave of expansion – a pattern that has lasted up until the 1990s, when conservationists finally managed to persuade the city bosses to preserve the city’s heritage.

The Parktown Heritage Trust offers guided tours of the Parktown and Westcliff areas, which are home to many gracious Randlord (mining magnate) homes that have been preserved and gently renovated in line with heritage standards. Many of these mansions were designed by Sir Herbert Baker, a British architect who dominated South Africa’s architectural style for two decades around the turn of the century. His forward-thinking style often incorporated natural elements from the building site – a practice that is continued by today’s architects such as Kate Otten, whose design for Gabriel’s Garden, a modern office building on the site of a now-renovated century-old Westcliff home, takes the original building’s history, site and materials into account.

Westcliff, with its mansions, is naturally one of Joburg’s most prestigious and expensive suburbs, as far as owning property goes. Other areas in which the average selling price is upwards of R4-million include Sandhurst, Chiselhurston, Dunkeld West, Bryanston , Sandown, Hyde Park, Wierda Valley and Illovo. Randjespark Extension in Midrand is the only area outside of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs to feature on this list.

Even if you haven’t got this kind of budget (and really, who does?), Privateproperty.co.za, South Africa’s busiest property portal, is an ideal place to start searching for your dream home. The site contains tens of thousands of for-sale and to-let homes, many of which can be viewed from the comfort of your current home, via a virtual tour.

Whether you’re looking for a bachelor pad, a two-bedroom starter-upper or a slightly larger fixer-upper – or anything inbetween – this portal has it all. And there’s plenty there for the voyeur too … check out this 16-bedroom mini palace in Melville –real value for just-shy of R10-million … And this 11-bedroom, R25-million entertainer’s dream in Bryanston

It’s enough to make even the Randlords of yore turn in their graves.

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