An Afternoon in the Oppenheimer Gardens

The tower was built in 1957 in honour of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer for his contributions to alleviating the housing crisis in Soweto.

The tower was built in 1957 in honour of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer for his contributions to alleviating the housing crisis in Soweto.

The Oppenheimer gardens (another one of those places I’ve passed and never entered) are in Central Jabavu, just up the road from the famous Morris Isaacsons High school, one of the meeting points of the June 16th march. They are home to the Oppenheimer Tower and the Credo Mutwa Village.  My mother and I decided to stop by and take a stroll. We were pleasantly surprised by what we saw.

A few weeks ago, we heard some pretty awful stories on the radio about the state of the place. However, we found it to be very neatly trimmed  with visible bins to throw away rubbish and seating as well as braai areas. Maybe a chips packet here and there but nothing like the decrepitude we’d heard over the radio. Oh and “Couple Alert!”

Pretty Pretty

Pretty Pretty

The  security guard greeted us and described how to get to various spots. He does patrols around the gardens and said it was safe for a stroll. He called the resident tour guide, Lebo to chat to us a little more and point out the good stuff. Lebo is a minefield of information, with dates, anecdotes and personal additions. By the end of the trip, we both took away little nuggets we had never heard before. He started off by telling us about the history of the area and in particular, the Oppenheimer Tower.

The tower was built in 1957 in honour of Ernest Oppenheimer who played a vital role in getting a loan to build 14 000 houses in the area. It was built from the remaining bricks and soot of homes demolished to make room for new “white areas.”  There are 49 steps leading to the top of the tower. Each step represents one of the 49 townships that make up Soweto.

A mere 49 steps and you're at the top.

A mere 49 steps and you’re at the top.

When Lebo said, “49 steps.” I think my brain converted that to 49 storeys because I remember looking at my mum and thinking “Lord, how are we gonna do that?” Of course, as you can imagine – we reached the top in no time at all and the 360 degree views were great. Once at the top, Lebo pointed out many other landmarks from Meadowlands, the largest township in Soweto to Bara hospital, power park and the Johannesburg City Skyline in the far distance.

A 360 degree view of Soweto

A 360 degree view of Soweto

Information:

Where is it?

The Oppenheimer Gardens are on the Corner of Majoeng and Ntsane streets in Central Western Jabavu, Soweto. You can go through with a tour guide or you can just ask for Lebo who is the resident tour guide.

How much?

Admission is free.

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