A few weeks ago I visited the oldest existing house in Johannesburg.
I’m a little confused as to exactly how old the house is. The house standing beside the oldest house was built in 1852. At least that’s what the historical plaque on the house says; this article by the City of Joburg says it was built in 1863.
This second house (not the oldest one, but the one standing beside it) is referred to as the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. It was built by the Viljoen family and later taken over by the Bezuidenhout family when a Viljoen married a Bezuidenhout.
But the actual oldest house, which the Viljoens presumably lived in before building the larger house next door, doesn’t have a plaque. Isabella Pingle, the heritage activist who showed the houses to my friend Marie-Lais and me, says it was built around 1850 — more than 35 years before Johannesburg itself became a city.
The most interesting thing about this house, to me at least, is that there are a bunch of regular people living there. The house is obviously a significant historical site, but no one really knows or cares about that. For the people who stay there, this is just the house where they live.
The two houses are inside Bezuidenhout Park, a Joburg City park, and I got the impression that at least some of the the people living here are staff of the parks department.
When I visited the house, there were a bunch of kids outside playing with a shopping cart. I asked them if I could go in. I met a beautiful woman named Thandi, wearing a beautiful red coat, and she showed me her room.
After checking out the houses, Marie-Lais, Isabella and I walked over to the old cemetery a few hundred yards away. It was the Bezuidenhout family cemetery for several generations.
There is a lot more to be said here — about the city’s oldest house, when and why it was built, what has happened to it over the past 160-something years, and the people who live there now.
But like lots of stories in Joburg, most of this story is still a mystery to me. I hope you enjoyed this small piece of it.