Kensington Flats, cnr. Noord and Banket, cbd, Johannesburg

I moved into the above address at the end of 1994. For no other reason but being desperate for a place to live having had to leave my previous address in Yeoville. (It was a boyfriend I couldn’t live with any longer). It was to be a short term arrangement until I could find a ‘better’ address. Living on a taxi rank wasn’t my idea of having fun. I heard about the flat through an acquaintance. Also, the rent was affordable. If I remember correctly we paid a mere R500 a month. The building was, at the time, occupied by primarily white people, artists by nature and occupation. One of the incongruities of this wonderful country we live in. It was also declared a national heritage site by the then owner, Dr Rogalsky. None of the flats had a toilet built in, that came later with change of ownership. We all used the two toilets outside. Our hot water came from an old coal burning boiler and was totally insufficient. We learnt to bath in 30cm of hot water. Often it would break, or there was no coal and we would go to our friends to have a bath. Why did one tolerate this? We loved where we were at.

The building was originally built for school teachers being brought out to South Africa to teach the children of the immigrants who flocked to the gold fields. Noord Street used to be called ‘millionaires row’ it having been the most northern border of Johannesburg in 1886/7. That was when the railway line from Pretoria to Johannesburg was built.

Needing something from the shop on my first morning there I opened the security door, a solid piece of metal through which one couldn’t see outside. One turned a knob from the inside to open but in order to get back in one has to have one’s key. As I opened the door I realised I left my key upstairs, simultaneously looking a line of people in the face, queueing for a taxi. I closed the door immediately and I could see on their faces they thought I was afraid. I went to fetch my key, opened the door and the same people still there – it didn’t take long – and we smiled at each other.

I remember calls for Phola Park, Orange Farm, Natalspruit and I later discovered one can get a taxi to Alberton from there as well, but one has to check first that one doesn’t go to Natalspruit. Which I did the one day and almost again another time. Each a story for later.

For some reason I have only a few photos of my white neighbours of the time. I thought I had more but in several moves it must’ve gotten lost. There was a nice little garden in the courtyard created by the residents, a wonderful oasis in the middle of a concrete desert.


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