The historic Drill Hall in Joubert Park, which was almost destroyed by fire in April 2002, has been given a new lease on life after a R10-million refurbishment led by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) and funded by the City of Johannesburg.
The 100-year-old Drill Hall building has been developed as “a heritage asset and public open space that forms part of the historical and cultural tourism trail of the inner city”.
In its new life, the Drill Hall accommodates:
- the Rand Light Infantry in the northern wing;
- the Johannesburg Community Chest, which provides lifeskills training for disadvantaged people in the inner city;
- the Joubert Park Project, a collective of creative artists concerned with the promotion of the arts and cultural development in the inner city; and
- the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society in the southern wing. The society provides skills to girls at risk – street children, homeless girls and sex workers – through special programmes intended to develop their entrepreneurial spirit. A hair salon, sewing machines and amenities for cooking lessons are under development.
WHERE IS IT?
The Drill Hall is on the eastern side of the Johannesburg’s CBD, near Joubert Park. It is on the corner of Plein and Twist streets. Click here for a map
Led by architect Michael Hart, the development has been driven by the desire to honour the layers of history of the site. The Drill Hall has had a chequered past. Built in 1904, it was used as a military barracks that supplied regiments throughout the Anglo Boer War. It was the site of the mobilisation of volunteers from the Transvaal who went to the aid of the Natal colonial troops in quelling the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906 and housed regiments responsible for suppressing the miners’ strikes of 1913, 1914 and 1922. Troops gathered at the hall on their way to fight in the first and second world wars.
Perhaps more famously, it was the site of the initial stages of the Treason Trial in the late 1950s, in which former president Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were among the 156 accused. (The trial was moved to Pretoria for security reasons.) It was also a popular dance venue from the 1930s to the late 1970s.
From the mid-1990s, it became home to several hundred squatters until a fire gutted the building in 2002.
Situated at the corner of Plein and Twist streets in Joubert Park, the Drill Hall forms part of the Joubert Park precinct, which houses a park, a medical clinic, a crèche, a greenhouse, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
In the centre of the complex are two rows of five-metre high white plastered columns, the borders of the public square and the area that housed the original Drill Hall. Wrought iron frames link the columns, on which the names of the 156 Treason Trialists, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. The paved square is used for military parades and public events. Beneath the square is an underground rifle range. Built in 1923 and around 25 metres in length, the range has been restored and is used by the army. Its entrance serves as a podium for the public square.
The west wing, which was originally a two-storey building of officers’ mess and offices, of which the upper floor was destroyed in the fire, has been restored to a one-storey set of offices with a central entrance cut through on to the square. Display boards capturing photographs and diagrams of the original structure are housed in the west wing. Some of the rusty rifles found during excavation of the site will be displayed on the walls.
The eastern side of the site is to house “art bays”, large metal screens for artworks in a “living exhibition”. Music and story-telling also take place here. Find out what’s on at the Drill Hall
The northern two-storey building, which was untouched by the fire, has been renovated and restored for the Rand Light Infantry, which originally occupied the building. They conduct parades in the square.
This exhibition comprises a series of handpainted displays, which were produced by the city’s young signwriters in collaboration with artist Dorothee Kreutzfeldt. The displays offer different insights into the history and function of the Drill Hall, from its inception in 1904 to the present.
The signs are also informative, telling the story about the refurbishment and role of the site as an active, multiuse heritage and cultural site. A large mosaic serves as a visual interpretation of the changing plans of the Drill Hall.
This exhibition was produced by various artists as well as by inner-city training organisations, the Boitumelo Project and the Creative Inner City Initiative.
A schools programme with an accompanying educational publication for students and a teachers guide will be launched in April 2005. Contact Thetsh at (011) 333-1112 or email: email@example.com.
Guided tours are available by appointment or on Saturday mornings between 10am and 12 noon. It is necessary to book. Contact Thetsh at (011) 333-1112 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a programme of temporary exhibitions, current shows and upcoming events, contact Thetsh at (011) 333-1112 or email:
Note: Safe parking is available. Disabled access to all public areas of the site is currently under way.