A look at the colourful history of the ‘Fietas’ area.

31August, 2016

The ‘Fietas’ area is not large – it is sandwiched between the Braamfontein and Brixton Cemeteries – 1st Street starts north in Vrededorp and runs into Pageview, which ends in 25th Street, edged by Krause Street in the west and Solomon Street in the east. The modern day Exchange Loft development stands in the heart of what was once known as the Fietas.

Most Joburgers have never heard of a suburb called the Fietas. But to a close-knit community not far from the city centre, Fietas – a name whose origins no one can recall – was a thriving community and home to several thousands of coloureds, Malays, Indians and whites in the decades before the 1970s.

A look at the colourful history of the ‘Fietas’ area.

Nowadays the area is an odd mix of small, new houses some of which house pensioners, together with old semi-detached houses, some bright purple and turquoise, interspersed with open grassy plots, several of which have been converted into open-air shebeens, littered with garbage, and adding to the dishevelled look of the area.
There’s an odd corner café or scrap dealer, and several of the streets have been closed off, giving the area a disjointed, cut-up feel with roads that stop midway and go nowhere.

Traditionally, this area was made up of many different ethnicities . The area north of 11th Street was occupied by white residents, and across the road and southwards, residents consisted of a mix of Coloureds, Malays and Indians

Today the scars of demolition can be seen in Fietas. There are many buildings standing vacant, and partly demolished. Such eyesores spark the seeds of ingenuity and redevelopment, presenting the potential for urban living spaces and homes.
Nowadays, the sea seems to be an odd mix of small, new houses (some built by pensioners), together with semi-detached houses, some bright purple and and turquoise and interspaced with open grassy plots. There’s an odd corner cafe or scrap dealer, and several of the streets have been closed off.

Old Joburgers remember with fondness the buzzing atmosphere of 14th Street in Pageview, a street of traders and shops with bargain tables that tumbled out onto the pavement, with the catch phrase of “buy one, get one free”. It was a lively community, with shopkeepers living above their stores.

A look at the colourful history of the ‘Fietas’ area.

Arnold Benjamin devotes a chapter to Fietas in his Lost Johannesburg. He says about 14th Street: “The small dark shops, most of them selling clothing and soft goods in cut-throat competition, spilled out their wares into display stands and racks on both sides of the colonnaded pavements. Whatever pedestrian space was left would be jammed with a motley, jostling throng of buyers. The clientele covered the entire South African racial spectrum, from mineworkers’ black to northern suburbs lily-white. Indeed a good half of the buyers were affluent bargain-hunting whites, their Jaguars and Mercedes prominent among the parked cars jamming both sides of the narrow street.”

The Star cinema in 20th Street used to attract hundreds of people; fresh bread was bought at the Atlas Bakery in De la Rey Street; the dry cleaners were on 17th Street and Barclays Bank was on 8th Street.

A sad-looking, shuttered Jajbhay Hall used to be an active meeting place for the sports community of Fietas. Pass resistance meetings and religious afternoon classes were also held in the hall.

It is endearing to read, that according to the Heritage Portal (www.theheritageportal.co.za), that up till today, close on 40 years since the bulldozers rolled in to physically demolish the locality following the forced removal and separation of its residents, Fietas still endures so powerfully in the hearts, minds and souls of its former residents.

With sincere thanks to Joburg.org for permission to use this content