Heritage Day: How Did Sandton Central Come to Be?

Heritage Day: How Did Sandton Central Come to Be?

Way, way back in the day, in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg, in what is now known as Sandton, a remarkable transformation took place; a once unassuming patch of rural land was transformed into Africa’s wealthiest square mile – Sandton Central. 

As Heritage Daydraws ever closer, there is no better time to delve into the history of this dynamic precinct, tracing its journey from bushveld to bustling hub of business, lifestyle, and cultural diversity. In this article, we’ll journey through time, exploring the origins, developments, and recent events that have shaped Sandton Central into the thriving urban centre it is today. Join us as we celebrate the heritage of this remarkable space and its place as the sparkling crown jewel in the city of gold.  

The Origins of Sandton: A Historical Perspective 

The narrative of the area’s history is multifaceted, woven together by the threads of indigenous cultures, European settlement, and transformations that occurred over generations. 

Long before European settlers arrived, the land that is now Sandton was inhabited by various indigenous groups, most notably the Tswana and, to a lesser extent, the Sotho people. Even before that, the land was home to the San. One particularly significant archaeological discovery in the precinct was the remains of an Iron Age smelter. 

The European settlement of the region began with the arrival of Voortrekker parties, who embarked on journeys of migration and expansion during the 19th century. Among these parties, the Esterhuysen family stands out as one of the first to establish their presence in the area. They settled on the farm known as Zandfontein. A monument that serves as a grave for Jan Christoffel Esterhuysen and his wife Maria Buitendag can still be seen today, nestled between houses on an unassuming patch of land just north of the epicentre of Sandton Central.  

The construction of Sandton City in the 1970s marked the first step in the precinct’s evolution into a bustling business district. Commercial expansion surged in the 1980s as Sandton offered affordable office space and a picturesque environment. Decisions to allocate land for retail, offices, and residential spaces quickly transformed the area’s skyline into the iconic view we know today. Sandton Central’s development was guided by a vision that balanced business and residential components. The area emerged as the second-largest office node in South Africa, hosting major financial institutions and becoming a hub of economic activity. The decision to reestablish the JSE headquarters in Sandton at the turn of the millennium further solidified its status as a financial powerhouse.  

Places to Visit for a Glimpse into the Past 

Here are a few of the places you can visit that might offer a glimpse into the history of Sandton: 

  1. Iconic Parks: Sandton boasts two historic and sizable parks: Ullmann Park and the Field and Study Centre. Ullmann Park pays tribute to a renowned artist, sculptor, and designer who called Sandton home during the 1940s. Discover his remarkable story here. The Field and Study Centre originated from the renowned Driefontein Farm. A portion was sold to the Arnold family in 1937 by Freya Wilhelmi. The Arnolds established a small farm and built a standing house, now a testament to history. Wolfgang Arnold, their son, arranged in his will for the Sandton Town Council to have priority in purchasing the land upon his passing. The Council acted on this in 1974, founding the Centre which has since become an invaluable asset for residents and visitors alike. The property’s lower region near the river is home to some of Sandton’s oldest trees. You’ll be hungry after all that walking, so why not stop by one of the many eateries in Sandton City for a bite to eat when you’re done?  
  2. Nelson Mandela Square: The towering statue of Nelson Mandela provides a connection to the past and a tribute to South Africa’s struggle for freedom that is hard not to feel moved by (especially on a day like Heritage Day). 
  3. The Little Church in The Pines: Amidst the towering skyscrapers, traces of Sandton’s past remain. The Little Church in The Pines on Stella Street is one of Sandton’s oldest buildings and stands as a testament to the area’s early history and architectural heritage. 
  4. Wander Through Sandton City: A visit to Sandton City can provide an interesting perspective on how the urban centre has evolved. Walking the mall from the southern end to the northern end is literally a trip back in time, as you’re walking from the newest part of the mall to the oldest! 
  5. Sandton Library: The Sandton Library might not be very old, but it’s one of the best in Africa. It’s the perfect spot to relax and learn about South African heritage. If you’re not in the mood to read, you can also listen to thousands of hours of audio on offer.  
  6. Walking Tours: Walk and Talk Tours offer guided walking tours around Sandton. While the focus might be more on the modern development, these tours often touch upon the history and development of the area. You’ll be in for a treat or two along the way! 

Heritage Day Celebrations in Sandton Central 

Today, Sandton Central is a thriving urban hub, offering modern amenities, entertainment, and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Art galleries, performances, and cultural events showcase the fusion of contemporary creativity with traditional elements. Sandton Central’s growth reflects Johannesburg’s journey from a mining town to a diverse and dynamic metropolis. 

As we celebrate Heritage Day, Sandton Central stands as a testament to the remarkable evolution of a once-humble rural landscape. The journey is a story of vision, growth, and determination. Let us explore the rich history of this vibrant precinct, join in the festivities, and embrace the unity that defines South Africa’s diverse and beautiful cultures. Whether you’re popping into the library, browsing the mall, or participating in community gatherings, Sandton Central invites you to be part of its continuing narrative. Join us in celebrating not only the history but also the vibrant present and promising future of Sandton Central this Heritage Day!