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TThe Johannesburg City Hall was built in the early 1900’s on the old city market square. The space in front of the hall, where the vendors used to gather to sell their wares, became a favourite spot for crowds to meet and listen to debates and speeches. Speakers stood on the granite steps rallying the crowds against a number of policies including apartheid.
TThe City Hall itself is an Edwardian building constructed in 1914 by the Hawkey and McKinley construction company. It was officially opened on 7 April 1915 by the South African Governor-General Lord Buxton.
Johannesburg City Hall Steps
TTaking up one half of the previous Market Square, the City Hall is an imposing structure with a large central tower and dome. The entire building is clad in border stone from the Free State which had to be transported to Johannesburg via ox wagon.
The steps leading up to the doors of the City Hall have always been a place of spirit and protest. Some of the earliest meetings celebrated the victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia, and subsequently led to the creation of the South African Community Party or SACP, which was to play a large part in the anti-apartheid struggle.
WWhen Nelson Mandela came to Johannesburg in 1941, soap boxing on the steps was an everyday occurrence. Mandela found the city politically exhilarating and was a regular attender and speaker at the debates on the steps.
He said of the city, “Johannesburg in those days was a combination of frontier town and modern city. Butchers cut meat on the street next to office buildings. Tents were pitched beside bustling shops and women hung out their washing next to high-rise buildings.”
These days the steps are quiet, aside from a few pigeons and curious passers-by no one really walks them anymore. The Town Hall is used by the Gauteng City Legislature and is a national monument. One can still sit on the steps though, and if you listen hard enough you can almost hear the history of the country being moulded, guided and channelled towards a brighter future.