The City of Johannesburg has renovated the three historic cottages at the Newtown Workers’ Compound Museum (Workers’ Museum), a site declared a national monument in 1996.
The cottages are adjacent to Mary Fitzgerald Square and the old Newtown Power Station in the heart of the Newtown Cultural Precinct, which is a site the City of Joburg has identified to attract major investment to grow tourism, preserve culture and advance the creative industry.
These cottages were built for white workers, shift men and artisans. Black workers were housed in compounds, an illustration of space racially segregation and unequal labour conditions.
“These cottages are a powerful reminder of how far our country has come,” said Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development in the City of Johannesburg Cllr Margaret Arnolds.
The refurbishment included repairing walls, kitchen and ablution facilities. As part of local economic empowerment, the top 50 artworks were purchased from the Johannesburg-based artists and are now permanent collections of the museum.
This collection was themed “Labour and Johannesburg - reflecting the past and present of workers in the region”.
“The artworks speak widely and directly to the people. They tell the stories of our City and of our nation; of our heroes and of the ordinary people. In that way, we are able to connect to workers’ history and this helps to show who we are and how we connect to our past and to each other. It is very fitting that these art works should be shown here,” said Cllr Arnolds.
One of the artists whose work will be permanently displayed is 25-year-old Kganya Mogashoa.
“I am glad that the City gave me an opportunity to be part of the programme that adds value to the society. My art work will remain in the cottage for many years to come,” said Mogashoa, who received a certificate for his artwork.
The Director of Arts, Culture and Heritage in the City of Johannesburg, Vuyisile Mshudulu, said it was important to restore and preserve heritage.
“These cottages have been restored so that they can maintain their heritage importance and be utilised for organisations that advance the mandate of arts, culture and heritage in the City.”
MMC Arnolds concluded by saying that it is hoped that the amenities like the cottages would accommodate programmes that address job losses and gender-based violence.
The renovations were made possible by Arts, Culture and Heritage in the City of Johannesburg; the Johannesburg Development Agency; Mayat Hart Architects Heritage Practitioners; Public Art Team Sticky Situations and Boundless City; and Heritage Refurbishment Team AJ Renovatum.