Santarama Miniland: WTF?

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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43 Comments

  • Reply miadidthis March 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Insane and WTF indeed. Never new this place existed. Makes for good blogging though.

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      Yeah! I would say you should go and check it out. but, you really shouldn’t.

      • Reply Fanasto March 4, 2014 at 2:48 pm

        I was there in 1989,a as a student, during an educational tour. I am intending to take my kids there but you are now you are discouraging me. I don’t want to waste my money from Bloemfontein
        for nothing. But I can see they have added MJ now, he was not there before.

        • Reply 2summers March 5, 2014 at 7:39 am

          Hmm…I definitely wouldn’t come all the way from Bloemfontein for Santarama Miniland! It’s really quite run-down. But there are many other cool things to do in Joburg so maybe you should plan some other activities and just make this a quick stop?

          Sorry but I don’t know what Share World is.

      • Reply Chantel March 19, 2015 at 4:34 am

        We need your help to save Santarama Miniland. Please sign this petition!
        https://www.change.org/p/national-lotteries-board-south-africa-urgent-funding-needed-for-santarama-miniland

  • Reply Robin March 13, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    After your previous Miniland mention I decided to go and check it out on Sunday. Bizarro was the exact word that also came to mind. I was also the only one there except for a few kids (that seemed to belong to the churchgoers). A really sad and broken place….”Jaws” really summed up the whole thing for me…propped up on a rusty pole, in a stagnant pond with several missing teeth….says it all really.

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      Haha, that’s funny that you went there after reading my post. I guess Miniland should thank me 🙂

    • Reply Fanasto March 4, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      they don’t market the place. talking about miniland, what happened to Share World?
      It was supposed to be competing with Ushaka Marine by now, I mean with slides.

  • Reply shahilj March 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Jozi has a lot of these forgotten places. Down the road from Mini Town is the Transport Museum (I think) which also is slightly passed its prime although, from the look of your pictures, its in MUCH better shape than this place. The Durban Mini Town is actually quite awesome and is in a very good shape. You can check out some pictures in this flickr gallery from late last year.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/chothia/8306387309/

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks Shahil. I was wondering about the transport museum – it’s the next Red Bus stop after Miniland. I’ll have to check it out sometime. What’s up with all these Minilands in SA? I find it a very strange concept.

      • Reply Brandon March 23, 2013 at 10:17 am

        They built the mini lands for children. I remember going to the Durban one as a child.

      • Reply Trevor December 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm

        They have them in other countries too. I went to one in Amsterdam. Little canals with moving boats etc. FANTASTIC !!

  • Reply Fiver March 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    OK. Now I have to go. Perfect photowalk material. Maybe your blog will create a new mini land visiting surge.

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      Yes! Wouldn’t that be nice for Miniland.

  • Reply Lee March 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    I had the (mis) fortune of doing a TV shoot there recently. I hadn’t been to Miniland since I was a kid in the ’70’s. (Showing my age here) The ruination of what was once an iconic attraction was heartbreaking. Looking at the pics of Durban Miniland is what I remember the Jozi Miniland looking like. I distinctly remember being able to clamber all over the Dromedaris with a pre recoded piped voice telling of van Riebeeck’s adventures. Now wouldn’t dare set foot on the pirates boat for fear of falling thru the hull into the marsh lands below. Also Instagrammed pics of my experiences there. Very sad.

  • Reply Kevin Ryan March 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    I had fond memories of visiting in the sixties when it was new, based on Madurodam in the Netherlands http://www.madurodam.nl/en/?gclid=CMCFkNij-rUCFcHHtAodzCIAKQ Sad that its now so neglected. Made the kids feel like giants

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      It’s interesting to hear about everyone’s fond memories of it. Of course my perception is totally different since I only know what it’s like now. Similar to so many other things in Jozi that I write about.

      • Reply Trevor December 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        I went there last year. No Michael and no Jaws. SO IT IS IMPROVING ;-)….Like you said WTF. Huge MJ that has FA to do with SA. Be yutti ful SA.

        • Reply 2summers December 3, 2013 at 7:54 am

          When did you go? Has Michael been taken down?!

          • Trevor December 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm

            I’m sure he’s still there, F knows why. I was there last year.

  • Reply Justcallmegertie March 13, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Wow! I also haven’t been to miniland since the mid 80s when we used to go to the musical water fountain at Wemmerpan and we once fit a trip to Miniland over Christmas time. I must admit, even then I thought it a bit corny, but I am glad I didn’t waste another R30 to go and take the kids there…

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm

      Haha. I’m glad you said that because I was also wondering to myself, how good could it really have been? I think it’s one of those places that seemed great to the kids of that time, but might not have really been as great as they remember. It’s all about perception I guess.

      • Reply Justcallmegertie March 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        I definitely think in my mind it pales in insignificance to the musical fountain, which I loved. Today that would probably be laughed at!

        • Reply Lee March 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm

          Aah. The Wemmerpan musical fountains. Now that brings back memories. The musical fountains at Silver Star Casino in Krugersdorp are magnificent and in my mind rivals Wemmerpan of yesteryear.

        • Reply 2summers March 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

          If they were anything like the dancing fountains in Las Vegas, I’ll bet they were awesome!

      • Reply Trevor December 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm

        ……and not much else to do……hahaha

  • Reply amelie88 March 14, 2013 at 5:54 am

    I thought maybe the shark was a reference to Bruce from Finding Nemo. But since you say this place dates from the 70s, I guess it’s a reference to Jaws? I think that’s when the first movie came out? Unless South Africa is known for a lot of shark attacks? Which I don’t think it is.

    • Reply 2summers March 14, 2013 at 7:37 am

      Actually, now that you mention it, South Africa is well-known for shark attacks. The public beaches around False Bay in the Western Cape have shark spotters to warn people to get out of the water when sharks are around. Cage-diving with great white sharks has also become a huge tourist attraction in that area. So maybe the Miniland shark is in fact a reference to that!

  • Reply victoriabruce March 23, 2013 at 9:21 am

    I remember going there as a kid, in those days (a looooong time ago) it was marvellous. I never managed to get on the ship due to “Kidnapped” induced terror. My mother is very involved in the Transport Musuem close by though and they have fabulous events that involve riding in old fire engines and stuff.

    • Reply 2summers March 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      I need to check out the Transport Museum one of these days.

  • Reply victoriabruce March 23, 2013 at 9:24 am

    To discover some of the city’s best hidden gems, follow Joburg’s Darling (www.joburgsdarling.co.za) a magnificent blog run by Shelli Nurcombe-Thorne.

  • Reply Florian / Abandoned Kansai July 11, 2013 at 6:20 am

    So it’s basically an abandoned theme park with only one employee left who charges you R35 upon entering? 🙂

    • Reply 2summers July 11, 2013 at 6:34 am

      Well, yes, kinda. Although I think there might be three of four employees.

      • Reply Florian / Abandoned Kansai July 11, 2013 at 6:43 am

        I’ll mark it on a map and if I ever have the opportunity to visit SA I will make sure to have a look around… 🙂

        • Reply 2summers July 11, 2013 at 6:46 am

          Absolutely. It’s a must-see.

  • Reply Luc Praetor December 20, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I too went to one as a child. My fondest memory was the Drommedaris. I remember a children’s railway train that encircled a part of the installation.

    Stark contrast to see photos of it against the memories I had of the place.

    • Reply 2summers December 21, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      Yeah, I know what you mean. The place itself has certainly changed, but your memories of it were also filtered through the eyes of a little kid.

  • Reply Sad, Sad Santarama Miniland | Being Angel November 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    […] picture credit: 2summers […]

  • Reply Ken May 24, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    I was there as a kid, maybe 30 years ago. It was amazing and i have awesome memories of it, it really spurred up my imagination. Now that i want to go back and see it, after seeing this post and i cant help but wonder, WTF! Its a place with truly a lot of potential and i think the city should sort it out… The pics here creep me out….

    • Reply 2summers May 24, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      Yeah, I never saw it before but it’s definitely sad. I’m sorry to have thrown a cloud over your childhood memories 🙂

  • Reply Mpho February 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    I went on the Red bus maybe two years ago and skipped that stop, so I was thinking of what to do and thought I look it up…So I’m certainly not going. MJ’s behind cracked me up 😅

    • Reply 2summers February 4, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      Save yourself! Don’t go 😂

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