Wits flutist wins international scholarship

By Naledi Mashishi

Wits flutist and music tutor Khanyisile Mthetwa will perform at the 47th Annual National Flute Association Convention in Salt Lake City, USA, as part of winning an international scholarship.

Flutist and Wits music tutor Khanyisile Mthetwa will be participating at an international flute competition in the United States (US) later this year after she won the 2019 Myrna Brown International Scholarship.
Mthetwa was awarded the scholarship on January, 14, and will be performing live at the 47th Annual National Flute Association Convention taking place in Salt Lake City.

Mthetwa will perform a concert at the convention on August 2. Before then she will perform a concert in Chicago and another in San Francisco at the end of July. She will be performing works by South African composers only.

Head of Music at Wits, Prof Malcolm Nay, said that Mthetwa is the first person from the department to get the award through the university.

“Her getting the award is an extremely good reflection on the department. Of course when she plays in the US she is not only playing for herself but for Wits,” he said.

The 33 year old is originally from Soweto and began playing the flute and the recorder when she was 15 at a Saturday music programme held at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital Nursing College. At 16 she began studying at the National School of Arts (NSA) where she was trained in the flute.

“At NSA, one of my teachers told me to train in flute further because she thought I had potential and so I decided to do it,” she said.

Mthetwa currently performs as first flute with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, has performed solo concertos with the Durban Philharmonic Orchestra, and performed alongside famed Italian opera singer, Andrea Bocelli, during the 2010 World Cup. She has been a Wits music tutor for three years.

The musician applied for the Myrna Brown scholarship after a friend in Brazil had told her she fit the criteria.

“I looked at the website and a part of me thought ‘don’t even bother’ because I saw flutists from places like China and India who were so amazing. But another part of me said try and see what it’s like and work towards being on their level,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

“It was a pleasant surprise when I got the email that said ‘Congratulations, you’ve got it’.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Khanyisile Mthetwa is the recipient of the Myrna Brown International Scholarship.
Photo: Provided

SLICE: When the party turns into a hangover

By Naledi Mashishi

IT’S THAT time of the year again when wide-eyed first years, still wearing their matric jerseys, descend on Wits University campuses for the first time.

Entering university is like entering an alternate world: the buildings are bigger, the crowds are larger, and everything is seemingly much more relaxed than parents and teachers have made it sound.
You don’t have to go to school assemblies, or wear uniforms, or cheer at house events. In fact, there’s no one telling you to do anything. There’s no teacher ordering you to go to class, or calling your parents when you don’t do your work, or yelling at you for having the wrong colour hair.

When you enter university, the world is your oyster. In fact, the world is a party. You’re exposed to so many new sights and sounds and people. Societies clamour to convince you to sign up, you can queue on the library lawns to get your name printed on a coke can, and your nights are long evenings filled with dancing and drinking, with no mom back at home to tell you to be back before curfew.

But inevitably it happens. You go from getting As and Bs in high school to praying for a 50%. The “one or two” lectures you miss result in you being weeks behind your work. The late nights turn from parties to last minute 2000-word essays.

And after another unappetising meal of chips and pizza at the dining hall, all you want is to taste mom’s cooking. The excitement you felt from entering varsity turns into feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, far from your support structure, and overall sense of feeling alone. The great party turns into a hangover.

When talking about the transition from high school to university, much emphasis is often placed on the workload. In reality, one of the biggest shifts often experienced is on your mental health.

The pressure of varsity work, the knowledge that family members have sacrificed immensely for you to be able to go to university, and the alienation that comes from being in a new, unfamiliar environment surrounded by unfamiliar faces, can all play a negative role on your mental well-being. In a number of cases, this leads to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

So how do you cope? There are a number of mechanisms students can use to keep their stress levels down and mental health in check. And drinking alcohol is not one of them. Coming up with a study strategy that allows you to keep up with your readings and school work by working consistently throughout the term, rather than leaving work until the last minute, can help reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with last minute work.

Joining one of the numerous societies on campus can help build solid friendships with new people and provide a great hobby that keeps the stress at bay.

The most important step is to ask for help. Ask your lecturers and tutors for help when you are struggling with your schoolwork. Reach out to your friends and family when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Importantly, there are a number of campus counselling facilities such as the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU). Reach out to them when you feel that you’re battling to cope.
Above all, remember that you’re not alone and that there is help available.

Honestly, you’ll be okay.

Thumbs down for system to register for res at Wits

By Naledi Mashishi and Onke Ngcuka

First years and parents forced to bake in the sun in long lines as a result of new centralised residence registration system.

WITS’s new centralised residence registration system that was supposed to be “more convenient” has had the opposite effect as first-year residence students and their parents were left distraught after queuing for hours in the sun on Saturday, January 26.

The system, implemented on the day, placed services from the Fees, Financial Aid and Information and Communications Technology offices under one roof, at Flower Hall, West Campus.

The centralised system was also meant to ensure the verification process and the residence registration took place in the same building.

Wits University communications officer Buhle Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela that, “The new registration system sought to ease the challenges encountered by first year res students when registering. Previously, first year students would have to visit various service units to complete their registration. This was frustrating for students unfamiliar with the university.”

All packed and nowhere to go: The line for registration extended from the Flower Hall towards the Wits Science stadium.
Photo: Onke Ngcuka

A parent, Sithabile Ntombela from Durban, who had waited in line from 12pm until after 4pm told Wits Vuvuzela that she had expected to wait a maximum of an hour.

“If this was [University of] Zululand, Fort Hare or Walter Sisulu University, I would expect this, but not Wits. The other universities are previously disadvantaged. Wits has developed technology, so I wouldn’t expect this from Wits. There was no visibility from the assistants. There are assistants but very few, so you end up in the wrong queue,” Ntombela said.

Zuma said that 28 staff members from Campus Housing and 18 from other service units, as well as 35 assistants were helping with the registration, and Wits Protection Services was also present.

However, there were few visible assistants outside Flower Hall in the morning, and in the afternoon there appeared to be no more than 10 that were ushering parents and students into the different lines.

Medhurst Residence House Committee member, Nobuhle Nkosi, told Wits Vuvuzela that the All Residence Council and Residence House Committees were not consulted in the decision-making process, and that both committees opposed the new centralised system at the Residence Leadership Camp held on January 21-25 where they first heard of it.

“The new system doesn’t take into account the students…It disadvantages the students that come from far by buses and taxis as they usually leave their bags at res but now they have to stand in long lines with their bags,” Nkosi said. “It’s already crowded when people register at their reses, now imagine all those people under one roof.”

Nkosi added that the Medhurst House Committee was expecting to welcome 80 – 90 students on Saturday but only 20 had arrived by 3pm.

“People were hungry when they got here, people were crying and parents were complaining,” Nkosi said.

Hot and bothered: Students and parents bake in the sun as they queue to register.
Photo: Onke Ngcuka

Zuma said that the registration process didn’t close at 4pm as advertised, but had been extended to 6:45pm.

“Our challenge on the day was the number of students who did not apply for residence and those whose application was still pending and thus contributing to long queues,” Zuma said.

At 9.41pm on Saturday, the university tweeted an apology from its official account.

“Wits University and the Dean of Student Affairs apologises to all parents and students for the inconvenience caused by the new res system for first year students. We acknowledge the delays and the long queues and we will review the process going forward,” the tweet said.

According to Zuma, the university is doing a full review of the registration process and will consider suggestions from the Wits community.

FEATURED IMAGE: Students and their parents waited for long hours to be registered for their residence in the new centralised registration system. Photo: Onke Ngcuka

New halaal eatery opens at Wits

By Naledi Mashishi

Halaal food outlet Jimmy’s Varsity has opened for business on Wits West Campus.

A new halaal eatery has opened on campus. Jimmy’s Varsity, a subsidiary of the Jimmy’s Group franchise, opened its doors on West Campus for the first time on Thursday, 24 January.

Jimmy’s is owned by the family of a Wits BCom student, and primarily serves sandwiches, burgers, and grilled chicken. Tasneem Gani said that her family had decided to open Jimmy’s Varsity after she had been unhappy with the halaal food options on campus.

“I noticed the food on campus wasn’t up to standard and used to go off campus to get food often,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

The family approached Wits Student Services after a tender was issued by the university at the end of October 2018 for a new halaal eatery. Gani said that her family worked throughout November and December to open the outlet.

 “We needed good cheap food for students and this is a completely redesigned menu. We’ve lowered our prices and still kept the quality of the food. The average meal here is R42 which is comparable to res meal prices,” she said.

The outlet will also deliver food across Main Campus and is still working on deliveries to the Education and Medical campuses.

Nicholas Matthes, Wits deputy director of retail and catering, said that of the six tender proposals that were submitted to the university, only two adhered to the halaal requirements. Jimmy’s Varsity was the only one which responded to the price point requirements as well.

Matthes said that the university is continuously working to improve the quality of the food on campus. “We undertake surveys and ensure that we continuously improve retail mix offering in line with retail strategy, students and university community population and industry trends,” he said.

Former BCom Accounting student, Bilal Ismail, said that the quality of the food was far higher than that of the previous eateries he had been to on campus.

“The food [at a previous outlet] was stale sometimes, but here, so far so good. The food is good and the chips are fresh and tasty,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Jimmy’s Varsity is a new food outlet which gives the Wits community more halaal options on campus.

Photo: Naledi Mashishi.

One common course for all first-year engineering students

By Naledi Mashishi

First-year engineering students will now complete the Common First Year course which will teach core subjects equally across the board.

STARTING in 2019, all first-year engineering students, regardless of branch of engineering, will begin their studies with the new Common First Year (CFY) course which will teach core subjects such as science and maths equally across all branches.

Although students are still expected to register for a specific branch from first year, the new CFY course means that students who choose to change branches in second year, will now be able to do so without taking an additional year.

The different engineering branches at Wits include: architecture and planning; civil and environmental engineering; chemical and metallurgical engineering; construction economics and management; electrical and information engineering; mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering; and mining.

Executive dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Prof Ian Jandrell, told Wits Vuvuzela that in addition to maths and science, the new course will include communications, problem solving, understanding the engineering profession, and design.

First-years will also be expected to complete a Humanities course. “[This is] speaking to the growing need for engineers to be cognisant of their role in society right from the very start of their university career,” Jandrell said.

The CFY course will be assessed by a team of academics across all the faculty’s schools, under the oversight of the Academic Development Unit. According to Jandrell, there will be continuous assessments, dedicated test weeks after the Autumn and Spring breaks, and the final assessment at the end of the year, will be done through the submission of portfolios.

“Students whose overall result is between 45 and 49% will be invited to an oral exam, but this is the only exam for the course,” he said.

Third-year BSc metallurgic engineering student, Asakundwi Ramurafhi, said that the introduction of the CFY was an improvement on the previous years.

“The differing first year [courses] put people at a disadvantage in second year because of the differing intensities of the courses. I wish we had had a joint first year for the more difficult courses like maths to make second and third year easier,” she said.

Jandrell said that the CFY course aimed to produce a “21st century engineer” who can work across boundaries, is confident in their own abilities, and is willing to learn and serve in society.

FEATURED PHOTO: The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment is introducing a Common First Year course for all first-year engineering student.

Photo: File

SRC launches Hardship Fund for missing middle students

By Naledi Mashishi

Wits SRC and management collaborate to assist ‘missing middle’ students with registration fees, accommodation and historical debt.

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and the Wits University management have joined hands to launch the new Hardship Fund to help ‘missing middle’ returning students. Applications for the fund closed on Thursday, January 24.

The fund is designed to help students whose annual household income falls under the R600 000 threshold and whose academic average is at least 50%. It was approved by Senate in November 2018 and formally included in the 2019 budget. The university has contributed R10 million to the fund and an additional R1 million was donated by a private donor.

SRC fundraising officer Solomzi Moleketi says that the fund was created to address systemic barriers to education that students encountered. The fund helps returning students pay their registration fees, secure accommodation, and covers up to 50% of a student’s historical debt. However, in cases where the debt exceeds R80 000, the fund will only cover up to R40 000
in order to allow as many students as possible to be assisted by the fund.

“So far we’ve helped 77 students which has cost just under R3 million,” Moleketi told Wits Vuvuzela. “We are also working out a partnership with South Point to assist with accommodation.”

The Hardship Fund is one of a number of funds that have been launched by SRCs over the years to assist students, including the Wits Humanitarian Fund which was started in 2009 and the Emergency Fund which was launched in 2018. Moleketi argues that the over the years there has been a consistent growth in funding, and the university using its funds to assist students has been an ongoing conversation stretching back to 2011. 

“We are hoping there will be more sustainability with this fund because of its inclusion in the budget. We hope that it will continue next year,” he said.

However, according to Wits chief financial officer Prakash Desai, the R10 million provided by the university was approved by Senate as a once-off item.

“During 2018, savings from other budget line items were redirected towards student hardship. Only a limited number of students are supported on the review of a substantive case made for hardship and on academic merit,” Desai said.

Beneficiaries of the fund are decided by a discretionary committee made up of the SRC, the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic, the Dean of Students, the Registrar, and the Finance Executive. According to Moleketi, there are an additional 400 cases to be reviewed. 

FEATURED PHOTO: The Wits SRC and management are assisting ‘missing middle’ students with a new Hardship Fund.

Photo: File

In plain English, Tuks has dropped Afrikaans

By Naledi Mashishi

The University of Pretoria has scrapped Afrikaans in favour of using English only in official communications and as a medium of instruction.

As of January, 2019, the University of Pretoria (UP) will be using English as the only language of instruction and communication instead of offering Afrikaans alongside English. This was announced by the new vice-chancellor, Prof Tawana Kupe, on Monday, January 21.

The decision resulted from recommendations made by the university’s transformation committee, student representatives, and various other stakeholdersin early 2016. According to UP spokesperson Rikus Deport, the move was made as an effort to transform the university. It was also made in response to the decline in the number of Afrikaans home language students at the university which dropped from 85% in 1992 to 30% in 2015. Only 18% of students wished to use the language as a medium of instruction in 2016.

Deport further stated that the new language policy would only affect students who are enrolling in programmes offered by the university for the first time in 2019.

“Students who registered for the first time prior to 2019 will continue to receive lectures, tutorials, study guides and assessment material (question papers, assignments and the like) in Afrikaans for those programmes which were offered in Afrikaans at the time of enrolment, provided that the class size remains practically feasible and it is academically justifiable.

“Where assessment and question papers are set in Afrikaans, currently enrolled students will also be allowed to answer in Afrikaans,” Deport told Wits Vuvuzela.

After the university’s Senate approved the new language policy in June 2016, civil liberty groups Afriforum and Solidarity  appealed the decision in court.

“This amounts to a gross violation of the language rights of Afrikaans students at UP,” said Afriforum in a statement.

The appeal was turned down by the Gauteng High Court in December 2016 after finding that it was no longer practical to offer classes in both English and Afrikaans, given the changing demographics of the university.

Judge Peter Mabuse, wrote in the judgement, “The language policy choice made by the University of Pretoria is not only consistent and in accord with the provisions of the Constitution, it also signals a deep and sincere commitment to place the university at the forefront of being an agent in advancing social cohesion.”

In a May 2017 statement, Afriforum expressed their disappointment with the ruling. “As access to education in Afrikaans remains a priority for AfriForum and Solidarity, they will continue to have discussions with international forums and experts in order to wage the battle on the protection of this right in the international arena as well.”

The university began phasing out Afrikaans in 2017 and in 2018,  informed students that the university would switch to an English medium institution in the new year.

Lecturers who formerly gave lectures in Afrikaans will now be expected to teach only in English.

However, some such as Siseko Kumalo, a UP philosophy masters student and editor of the Journal of Decolonising Disciplines, argue
that the new English-only policy is still exclusionary towards black students as it privileges students whose mother tongue is English.

“A lot of scholarship around language policy is indicating that universities should look at where they are situated and offer those languages as multilingualism achieves better results. Students perform better when they are able to learn in their mother tongues,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

“There’s a lot of excitement about monolingualism now but in five years’ time I foresee us revisiting the question of why African languages are not being used and what knowledge we can produce when we use indigenous languages,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: The historically Afrikaans institution, the University of Pretoria, will now use English as its primary means of instruction and communication. Photo: File.

Preserving the memory of Melville

As the artsy Johannesburg suburb of Melville modernises, its rich heritage is slowly beginning to fade. Now, new efforts are being made by those who are fighting to keep Melville’s heritage alive.

It’s a warm Saturday afternoon in Melville, Johannesburg. Spring has come into full effect leaving the streets lined with pink and purple flowers. On 7th Street and 4th Street, women weave through the cars holding hand woven baskets and bags for sale while families, 30-something year old trendsetters, students, and bikers sporting two full sleeves of tattoos people-watch at an outdoor table from one of the restaurants spilling onto the pavements.

A few quaint buildings betray Melville’s age. The suburb is one of the older suburbs in Johannesburg, built in 1905 at the foot of the Melville Koppies by a developer named Edward Harker Vincent Melville, for whom the suburb was named.

Over time, many of the older buildings have been altered beyond recognition or disappeared altogether. However, some have held firm. One of these sits on the jacaranda-lined Second Avenue. A large powder blue late Victorian style home defined by a turret stands draped by pink flowers. This is the Melville Turret guesthouse.

It’s gabled roof, French windows, and original steel pressed ceilings first attracted owner Koos Heymand to the house.

“This house was built in 1906. It’s one of the oldest houses in Melville,” says Heymand. He is a warm, lively man who often stops in his tracks to engage in good-natured conversation with Patricia, one of his six employees working full time at the guesthouse, who has been working at the front desk for the past 10 years.

HERITAGE: The Melville Turret pictured today and
as it stood when photographed by The Star in 1980.   

For the past 13 years, Heymand has been trying to conserve the character and history of the guesthouse. He has renovated areas of it, particularly the kitchen and bathrooms. He has also remodelled each room; one is a modern black and white private loft, another is jewel-toned with graphic African prints hanging on the walls, while another is modest in understated tones of blue and grey.

At the same time, he has kept details such as the original tiled fireplace, wooden floors and private hidden courtyards and balconies for some of the rooms. He has also vowed not to change the exterior.

“There are very few houses like this left. I wanted to keep the original character of the house,” he says.

DETAILS: The Melville Turret still boasts its original steel pressed ceilings and displays chandeliers typical to those of the Victorian era. 

The guesthouse is legally protected under the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, which is a law aimed at national heritage sites. The Act defines heritage sites as “places with qualities so exceptional that they are of special national significance” and included under this are buildings that are older than 60 years.

Heymand points to 4th Street, a commercial street in Melville not too far from the guesthouse. “On 4th Street there is nothing that has retained its value. Everything is modern. I think it’s sad,” he says.

He is not the only Melville business owner who believes this. Down the road from Heymand’s guesthouse is the trendy 7th Street. A 10-minute walk up the street will take one under canopies and passed iron lattice decorations and thick columns, a mix of modern buildings with Victorian ones, and a mix of people speaking languages ranging from English and isiZulu to French and Arabic.

Most of the buildings on the street were built between 1905-1936 and were originally home to bakeries, butcheries and boutique shops.

Now the buildings house trendy restaurants, clothing stores and bars. A tattoo parlour and a thrift store share the same distressed wooden awnings.

VIDEO: Several Melville residents explain what makes 7th Street special. 

However, the subtle Victorian details are fading under the clash of bright colored paint and neon signs. The pressed steel ceilings are beginning to crack and sag in some areas. In others, they have been painted over altogether so that some of the detail is lost.

New businesses close almost as fast as they open and each new business owner alters the building to suit their needs.

“You can see some buildings on this street have changed the shape and have changed their sides from wood to steel. That’s wrong; it shouldn’t be allowed. It ruins the buildings,” says Kader Bouredji a business owner of the IT Corner Cafe on 7th Street.

ORIGINAL: Victorian architectural details are still visible on 7th Street.    

By law, business owners are required to obtain a permit and approach heritage consultants before making alterations on heritage buildings. However, some of the business owners had no idea that the buildings were heritage sites. As a result, some business owners have made unapproved alterations with no consequence.

“Melville is famous for its buildings, that’s one of the reasons why tourists come here, and that’s being lost,” says Bouredji.

Bouredji has owned his cafe on 7th Street for the past 10 years. Lining its soft pink walls are oil paintings for sale, distressed wood shelves containing yellowing books and the perfectly preserved original Victorian pressed ceilings.

Patrons sit at the tables working from MacBooks and sipping cups of coffee. Chairs and tables placed outside give patrons a view of the street. A regular smokes a hookah pipe while watching people walk by.

“This place was built in 1923. It used to be a boutique shoe shop,” Bouredji says.

At 95 years old, the building falls under legal protection. This limits business owners like Bouredji in a number of ways.

“When you want to fix or renovate the building you have to use the same materials that were used before. So we have window panes made of wood that we need to replace, and we can’t replace it with steel. We need to replace it with wood. It makes it harder, and takes longer. Even now, we can’t close the windows,” he says. It’s a struggle that Heymand knows only too well.

Maintaining the Melville Turret isn’t cheap; it costs him about R100 000 per year partly due to the old pipework made of galvanized steel. He says it’s worth it to preserve the house. “There are very few houses like this one left because Melville is going the Parkhurst route of converting all the houses into modern abodes,” he says. “But we’ve got to be sensitive to [heritage sites]. This is our history and the history of our city.

Heritage consultants and co-authors of the book The Johannesburg Gas Works Monika Läuferts and Judith Mavunganidze are fighting for 7th Street and other heritage sites in Melville to be further protected. In 2015 they declared 7th Street at critical risk in a heritage impact assessment they did of it.

According to their report, 7th Street was declared a “high priority” area because “most of the buildings on the street are at high risk of being altered until they are unrecognisable”.

Läuferts explained that this was because of the high rotation of owners.

“Facades get changed. They replace the original wood with aluminum or paint over the wood. Once you’ve painted over the wood it isn’t easy to restore,” she said.

Läuferts works from her stark white minimalist office in Westdene containing heavy antique furniture and models for buildings she is working on. Originally from Germany, she is the co-founder of Tsica Heritage Consultants, which has been operating since 2008.

“Heritage protection in South Africa is young,” she explained. “[Before 1999] the lack of legal standing made it difficult to preserve buildings and a lot of old buildings were demolished in the 60s and 70s to make way for modern buildings.”

This was later challenged by activists such as Flo Bird, who began protecting heritage sites in 1972 when the government planned to bulldoze eight Victorian-era buildings in Parktown in order to make room for a new motorway.

Bird has since funnelled her passion for preserving heritage sites into founding the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation which provides heritage tours, campaigns to preserve heritage sites, puts blue plaques on heritage buildings depicting their age and history and archives the history of older sites.

“Melville started as a working-class area and what we’ve found is that very rich and very poor areas tend to change very little while middle class areas tend to change a lot,” she explained.

“Most of the houses in Melville were originally builder designs and today they’re completely different.”

“There is no more picturesque or healthy spot in the vicinity of Johannesburg than Melville. Those who have gone there with a view to purchase pronounce it to be situated in the very finest position for suburban residences.

It is situated on elevated ground, with a magnificent view of the wooded country to the north, the blue Pretoria ranges stretching like lines of steel against the horizon.”

 Extract taken from a notice advertising property in Melville placed in The Critic on 23 October 1896.

This adds to the difficulty of tracing the history of heritage buildings in the area. When Heymand first bought the guesthouse from two architects in 2005, he found that the history of the house was not available. Since then he has been trying to piece it together from snippets of information found around the house and obtained from the previous owners.

“I know it was built by Erik van de Berg and he owned a bicycle shop in Braamfontein. I found the original 1906 plans with the city council. I also found an old plaque on the property showing that it was called Melville Mews and it used to be a lodging house,” he said.

However, when looking through the records at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, an Erik van de Berg doesn’t appear. Like many other houses in Melville, the history of the Melville Turret is one that is passed down through the memories of its owners.

According to the National Heritage Resources Act, a person who alters a heritage site without first obtaining a permit may have criminal charges brought against them. While the state has been proactive about conserving notable sites such as Robben Island, the enforcement of the act for less famous buildings has been laid largely at the feet of proactive people and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, which has had to step in where the state has fallen short by taking business owners who have demolished heritage buildings without proper approval to court.

“Some business owners are cowboys, they’ll just destroy knowing that the chances of being caught are minimal,” Bird explained.

SIDEWALK: Melville residents gather on the pavement outside stores and sit with friends at the bars and restaurants to people-watch.  

Enforcement of the Heritage Resources Act can also bring challenges for developers. Architect and director of Melville-based Two Five Five Architects, André Krige, says there are various unique challenges that come with heritage developments. “The submission [and approval] process can and has often delayed projects for years. We have projects that have been submitted in 2015 and are still in the process of being approved,” he says.

Another issue that they often face is dealing with buildings that are so neglected that it becomes difficult to determine the actual heritage value of them. The documentation of the building that they have on hand can also differ from the documentation available off-site.

“We have had cases where original drawings show mosaic tiles to the entrance foyer and BELCom, a respected heritage committee in Cape Town, requested that we keep these tiles and incorporate them within the design. The reality however is that none of these tiles or any real heritage fabric exists anymore. We change our designs to accommodate things that no longer exist and the process of appealing these decisions is even more cumbersome,” he says.

Läuferts agrees that practical issues often make historical restoration difficult. “There’s always a massive discussion around money. Business owners come to us with elaborate plans and realise they don’t have the funding,” she says.

FIGHTING BACK: Monika Läuferts (above) is one of the people fighting for greater heritage protection in Melville and beyond.     

Within Melville, Läuferts says that there needs to be a comprehensive plan to preserve the area. “The whole suburb needs a conservation management plan dictating what can be built, what style it can be built in, and how many levels a building can have,” she says.

Efforts are being made to preserve the area by giving 7th Street Hertitage Area Protection. This would mean protecting the original street facades as well as identifying specific stands that have heritage value for protection. This would make it much harder for shop owners and occupants to alter the building permanently. If approved, it will take 3-4 years to be finalised.

One of the buildings that has been identified is the Melville Mansions building that Two Five Five Architects is working on which has been identified for being one of the few clear examples of an art deco style building.

Monika Läuferts and Judith Mavunganidze are working alongside Two Five Five Architects to develop the building while still keeping the heritage elements intact. The building currently stands as a stark white, empty building on 7th Street with the geometric details characteristic of the art deco style still recognisable. Once opened, it will house a boutique hotel, apartments and offices.

“Melville still has charm. It still has the feel of a neighbourhood. You can walk around and even with students moving in and out there’s still a community and an exchange of interesting people,” Läuferts says.

She adds, “Heritage is a big thing in Europe and people always think a building has to be centuries old. You don’t necessarily have to go centuries back. You have it right here and in the most beautiful ways. Johannesburg has all decades from the 1880s and that needs to be protected.”

Walking through buildings like the Melville Turret gives one a sense of that a part of Melville’s memory lives within it. When sipping tea on one of its cozy couches on the verandah, Heymand speaks of how he once saw a picture of the original owners playing chess on the same verandah in 1906. The picture is now gone, but in the past 100 years the verandah has remained unchanged.

As Heymand describes the house, the sentiments of Bird echo through. “Heritage buildings are the landmarks of history. An area without a past is like a man without a memory. It feels unreal,” she previously said.

RENOVATION: The Melville Mansions is a building recognisable for being a clear example of art deco architecture.

FEATURED IMAGE: Melville residents gather on the pavement outside stores and sit with friends at the bars and restaurants to people-watch.  Photo: Naledi Mashishi.