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Tuesday Aug 14, 2012

Pageview property declared heritage site

Nail varnish, like the Fietas aunties wore, and the pretty dresses in the shop windows of the People's Bazaar caught Salma Patel's eye when she was girl growing up in the suburb that started life as Joburg's "Malay camp" in 1893.

No 25 14th Street in Pageview has been declared a provincial heritage site, but is surrounded by neglected buildings in a rundown area.

Today the suburb, in western Joburg, is known as Pageview. But back then the Malay camp became Fietas and was a trading and shopping hub that thrived until the 1970s.

It vanished when the Group Areas Act got hold of it.

But, Patel says, the 26 parallel streets of the suburb tell a story history should not forget.

By 1904 fears of bubonic plague pushed people out of the centre of burgeoning Joburg.

Fietas became a working-class community of Indian, coloured, black and Chinese people. Patel's family home was on 21st Street, but for the past 25 years she's lived in the last remaining original Fietas house on 14th Street.

The house at No 25 is a newly declared provincial heritage site.

Artist Manfred Hermer's drawings in his book The Passing of Pageview show residents and shoppers crowding streets, parked cars keeping traders interested and double-storey buildings standing with their proud columns. Author Nat Nakasa wrote that 14th Street was "long overdue for recognition as one of Johannesburg's most famous streets".

Patel remembers: "I had a wonderful childhood. My neighbours were Chinese and Indian families, I didn't know colour or status and you could buy just about anything on 14th Street."

Her house is the only doublestorey original shop/dwelling of its kind that survived the eviction campaigns that started in 1968.

Fietas had become Pageview by 1943, and the Group Areas Act of 1950 was intent on making parts of Pageview whites-only. Buildings were razed and families ordered to relocate to Lenasia and to trade in the Oriental Plaza, with its inflated rentals.

Some families moved, others ignored the orders. Even so, by the end of 1977 old Pageview was destroyed. The city's plans to build homes for white families never took off.

Today the suburb is pockmarked with vacant stands, a few new houses, a few old homes, the mosque and No 25.

Patel's house was built in 1938. It's typical of the buildings of the time with shop space at the bottom and three to four residential units on top - two rooms and a kitchen each. There were wide balconies and communal bathrooms. "This house was built by Mall Hoosein, but he never lived here," says Patel.

As a successful businessman Hoosein had other properties.

The Surtee family moved in when the building was finished.

"It's impossible to heat, but there's a generosity of space with these high ceilings that I love.

"The architects and builders had to be ingenious, too. They built up because Paul Kruger didn't give the community a lot of land," says Patel.

The house has original stained-glass windows depicting the Islamic motifs of a star and a crescent moon. Original green tiles on the fa├žade are mostly intact and are a reminder of the grandeur of the house.

Funeral processions of community leaders left from the house and weddings took place in it - including the wedding of Patel's parents.

Patel plans to turn the downstairs shop space into a museum.

"Community leaders like Suleiman Nana should be remembered. He built the school and made education available to girls," she says.

She says the women's perspective of the Fietas story also needs to be heard.

But there's an uphill battle for her. Patel's house is flanked by privately owned lots. Outstanding land claims and community tension have reduced the lots to public toilets and dumpsites.

She says: "I'm so proud of the heritage declaration, but I can't have the walls painted because the stands on either side are in the state they're in."

The architectural firm that rented the shop portions of Patel's house as offices quit the suburb because of the stench of human waste and rubbish. Patel's drawn-out correspondence with various individuals and departments from the City of Joburg has not translated into action.

"The council has not enforced environmental health by-laws. Its attitude is an embarrassment. If things carry on there will be nothing left to bear testament to what happened in Fietas."

Her neighbours say the stench can be so bad they can't hang out their laundry. They complain of harassment by vagrants who sleep in the lots. Further up the road a truck hire company parks its trucks in people's backyards. Even a plaque erected to acknowledge 14th Street was vandalised.

Eric Itzkin, deputy director of the City of Joburg's Immovable Heritage, says it's distressing that heritage sites are casualties of neglect, vandalism and decay and that residents are forced to live the way they do.

Council communication specialist Dudu Lushaba says it will take the owners of the offending properties to court. "The council may not be able to force the owners to erect a fence, [but it can] charge the owners for allowing a health hazard on the site, caused by the vagrants using the place as a toilet."

The Star

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