The anti-apartheid struggle in our neighbourhood

From the 1950s, the “struggle in the suburbs” was concentrated in the northeastern suburbs – and largely in Norwood and surrounds. Explore an arc that starts with the influence of Gandhi and ends with the death of the giant of the era Nelson Mandela.

 

 

Mohandas Gandhi - 15 Pine Road, Orchards

 

Gandhi’s philosophy of passive resistance would have a profound impact on human rights movements across the globe. Gandhi lived in the area between 1908 and 1913, first in Orchards and later in Mountain View. The Kraal at 15 Pine Road, Orchards, is a simple structure with strong influences of South African vernacular architecture designed by Gandhi’s great friend, Hermann Kallenbach. It seems likely that the house was designed as their home, and the simplicity of the architecture is consistent with their asceticism. They lived here between 1908 and 1909 before moving to Mountain View. Today The Kraal is a boutique hotel and museum owned and operated by French group Voyageurs du Monde. 

 

 

Ann and Issy Heymann - 156 Henrietta Road, Norwood

 

Ann and Issy Heymann were deeply involved in the Communist Party. Issy is now perhaps unfairly remembered as having cracked under torture after his detention in December 1964, giving the Security Branch information that would lead to the detention and torture of Violet Weinberg and the eventual arrest of Bram Fischer. Their son, Stephen Heymann, recalls meeting Nelson Mandela here in the early 1960s:

 

“I clearly remember the day he came to 156 Henrietta Road... Our parents’ close friend, Wolfie Kodesh, had a dry cleaning business and a panel van for collecting and dropping off.  One Sunday he came and said “Meet my driver.” The driver was Nelson Mandela dressed in a brown dust coat. Apparently pretending to be a van driver was ideal for him to move around from one township to another…"

 

 

Helen Joseph - 35 Fanny Avenue, Norwood

 

In her biography, Side by Side, Helen Joseph says “On 31 December 1956 I moved into my little cottage with the tall trees, delighted to have a home of my own…”. Moving here was an act of faith and optimism as Helen had been arrested just days before that and charged with treason, and would be on trial for four harrowing years. Banned four times, jailed four times, her life became a long saga of police persecution, much of it spent under house arrest at this very address. A number of other activists including Norman Levy, Norma Kitson and Ronald Press lived nearby.

 

 

Mannie and Babette Brown - 3 High Road, Orchards

 

Mannie Brown is well known for the role he played in arranging the getaway car and safehouses for Goldreich and Wolpe after they were arrested following the raid on Liliesleaf, and then for arranging for them to be smuggled across the border into Swaziland. But he is perhaps most famous for the key role he played in one of the most audacious operations of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s when he smuggled truckloads of weapons into South Africa under the seats of innocent tourists. The truck used is now on display at Liliesleaf.

 

Red Square

 

High Road between Plantation and Nursery Roads was called Red Square by the Security Branch because of the number of residents involved in anti-apartheid activities.

 

Ray and Michael Harmel - 47 High Road, The Gardens

 

Michael Harmel was the chief theoretician of the Communist Party, and a member of the MK High Command, but publicly devoted most of his life to journalism. From 1950 he was listed, arrested and then sentenced to house arrest at this address. His wife Ray’s trade union activities resulted in her frequent dismissal, and because Michael’s own political activities made household income erratic she started making children’s clothing to make ends meet. Her skill is evident in the wedding dress made for Winnie Mandela, immortalised in photos taken at this address. 

 

 

Violet, Eli and Sheila Weinberg - 11 Plantation Road, The Gardens

 

Eli became a professional photographer when state repression restricted his political activities in 1948. He become one of the most successful commercial portrait photographers in Johannesburg, and one of the most celebrated photographers of the struggle. Violet Weinberg was active in the Garment Workers Union and in the Communist Party. In 1965, following Issy Heymann’s confession, she was interrogated non-stop for 70 hours until she revealed the whereabouts of Bram Fischer, and then detained for 179 days.

Mark Weinberg, son of Eli and Violet, was a militant Communist Party and ANC supporter. During the frequent power failures targeting 11 Plantation and 47 High Road he could be found on the pavement, reading newspapers under the street light. His sister Sheila became the youngest detainee under the 90 day detention law in 1964 at the age of 19, when she was held for 65 days without charge. Her political activities continued into the 70s and 80s, and she represented the ANC in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature from 1994 to her untimely death in 2004. Recently renamed Weinberg Park in Savoy has a remarkable sculpture by Hannelie Coetzee and Andrew Lindsay commemorating the family.

 

 

Hazel and Hymie Rochman - 21 Nursery Road, The Gardens

 

In Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela writes: "I stayed at a doctor's house in Johannesburg, sleeping in the servant's quarters at night and working in the doctor's study during the day. When anyone came to the house during the day, I would dash out to the backyard and pretend to be the gardener." 

The doctor was Hymie Rochman, and Mandela stayed here for 6 weeks in the early 1960s. 

 

 

Bram and Molly Fischer - 12 Beaumont Street, Oaklands

 

“That house was part of the struggle”, was the comment made by Fred Carneson about 12 Beaumont Street. Home to the Fischers from 1938, it was the centre of left-wing social life in Johannesburg. It was here that the annual fundraising dance for The Guardian took place, and Molly remarked that the pool often looked like Muizenberg beach at peak season. Police cars would be parked outside, but in these boundary walls was another country. Much of the preparation for the Rivonia Trial took place here as Fischer and his colleagues were certain that their chambers were bugged. When he went underground in 1965, disguised as Mr Douglas Black, Bram Fischer hid in a number of locations nearby and was eventually arrested two blocks away, at the corner of Stella and Beaumont Roads.

 

Nelson Mandela - Corner of 4th Street and 12th Avenue, Houghton

 

The final home of former President Nelson Mandela is a short distance from the Fischers, and it was here that moving tribute was paid to his legacy in candlelight vigils after his death in December 2013.

 

 

Do you have information on our neighbourhood's history that you would like to share?  Contact us on noracommittee@gmail.com