I recently wrote about my ride on the new Joburg City Sightseeing bus, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The bus ride was great both for my dad, who had just arrived in Joburg and wanted to get a feel for the city, and for me, a Joburg veteran who enjoys seeing her town from different perspectives.

The hop-on hop-off bus has 12 stops, running at 45-minute intervals. Dad was still tired from his trans-Atlantic voyage and wanted to ride the bus straight through without getting off. However, I insisted we hop off at Santarama Miniland. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit this legendary Jozi attraction.

Santarama Miniland sign

Santarama Miniland does not offer refunds. After my visit, I can totally understand why the management felt the need to post this sign.

Santarama Miniland is difficult to characterize. Amusement park? Outdoor museum? Tiny South African Bizarro World? I really don’t know where to begin. There isn’t much information about Miniland online, but you can check out this informative post on mahala.co.za for another blogger’s opionion.

What is Santarama Miniland?

In a nutshell, Santarama Miniland is a children’s theme park in southern Joburg, built in the 1970s, which is meant to portray a miniature South Africa. There are miniature versions of various well-known South African buildings, like the Rissik Street Post Office and the Union Buildings. There’s a miniature diamond mine and a miniature O.R. Tambo International Airport (formerly Jan Smuts Airport).

Sanataria Miniland ship and airport

Foreground: Miniature O.R. Tambo airport, complete with South African Airways plane. Background: Quasi-miniature pirate ship. (Okay, it’s not a pirate ship. It’s a model of Drommedaris, the Dutch East India Company ship that landed in Cape Town in 1652. But  I prefer to think of it as a pirate ship.)

Tswana rondavels at Santarama Miniland

Foreground: Mini Tswana rondavels (the Tswana are a major ethnic group in South Africa), which look more like clay igloos made by five-year-olds. Background: Mini Hillbrow Tower, pre-Vodacom branding.

Mixed in with the miniature stuff are several abnormally large statues, portraying historical and pop-culture figures that may or may not have something to do with South Africa.

Jan Van Riebeeck statue at Santarama Miniland

Standing at the Miniland entrance is a large likeness of Jan Van Riebeeck, the Dutch explorer who landed on the Cape (in the aforementioned pirate ship) in 1652. Notice the sacred ibis roosting in the tree above Van Riebeeck’s head. There are lots of ibis congregating at Miniland, probably due to its proximity to a lake called Wemmer Pan.

Dad and King Kong

King Kong?

Jaws

Jaws?

And, the pièce de résistance:

Michael Jackson statue at Santarama Miniland

A massive, blueish-skinned Michael Jackson, smack-dab in the center of Miniland. I put myself into the shot for scale. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

I ask you: What the f&¢k?

weird scarecrow thing

 This creepy, scarecrow-like mannequin clearly feels the same way about Miniland as I do.

Dad and I were the only visitors at Miniland. Granted, it was 2:00 p.m. on a stifling-hot Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps Miniland gets more foot traffic on weekends. But I really can’t see why anyone would go there other than to collect material for a funny blog post.

I’ve heard rumors that Miniland is under new management (not sure who the old management was) and is in the midst of a revitalization. But if the “new” Miniland has been revitalized, I can’t imagine what the “old” Miniland looked like. The kiddie train appears to be broken. The “buildings” are crumbling and strewn with weeds. The mini-golf equipment (of course there is mini-golf at Miniland) — which clearly hasn’t been touched in years — is rusty. The bathrooms are dirty. The staff are apathetic, but can you blame them?

wishing well

The saddest mini wishing well of all time. I almost threw a coin in and wished for Miniland to be put out of its misery and demolished. But I decided to save my change.

The most interesting part of Miniland actually has nothing to do with Miniland at all. Just inside the entrance, behind a non-descript metal door, is a Pentecostal Church. We caught a glimpse of the church through the half-open door on the way in, but I didn’t get the chance to investigate it until we were about to leave. I peaked in and struck up a tentative conversation with the two men inside, presumably the pastors.

Santarama church

The Sacred Temple of Miniland (not its real name).

I had so many questions for these pastors. How did you decide to start a church here? What’s your church’s name? What’s it like to worship at Miniland? What are the demographics of your congregation? Can I come and visit one of the services? WTF?

Alas, I ran out of time. I had just asked permission to take photos and gotten my camera into position when I heard my dad out in the parking lot, calling me urgently. The Joburg Red Bus had arrived and there was no way in hell we were going to get stuck at Miniland for another 45 minutes. I shot one frame (above), bid a hasty farewell to the pastors, and raced to the bus.

Michael Jackson behind at Santarama Miniland

‘Nuff said.

Dear Joburg Red Bus folks: Thank you for including Miniland as one of your stops. Miniland provided me with a great blog post. And let me reiterate that I love your buses and I think everyone should ride them.

But really now…WTF?

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