The Oppenheimer Gardens
The Oppenheimer Gardens offer a fascinating, relaxed park in the middle of Soweto.
Found at the corner of Majoeng and Ntsane streets in Central Western Jabavu, the many indigenous trees and plants are used by traditional healers in the making of their medicine. Incorporating the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village and Oppenheimer Tower, the Oppenheimer Gardens occupy several hectares.
The park’s many trees give it the appearance of a dense forest, and make it one of the few remaining bird sanctuaries in Soweto. It enhances the relaxed countryside feel of the rocky park, which is rich in flora and fauna. The trees also provide medicine for local herbalists who make use of their bark – umphafi is a herb used to fetch the soul of the departed from the spot where they lost their lives, to be taken to their final resting place; and aloe is used to make timjan for purifying the blood.
Other traditional African medicinal plants in the park include aloe, cabbage tree, wild olive, plumbago, canary creeper, coral tree, Cape honeysuckle and a number of thorn bushes.
Several sangomas who live in the vicinity often collect herbs from the gardens for use at their practices.
The historic Oppenheimer Tower, a prominent Soweto landmark, overlooks the gardens. Together the gardens, cultural village and tower make up the key attractions of the Oppenheimer Gardens public park and recreation facility.
Strategically located in the centre of Soweto, the tower offers a panoramic bird’s eye view of the sprawling township. It was built in 1957 as a tribute to the contribution of mining magnate Sir Ernest Oppenheimer to alleviating the housing crisis in Soweto.
In 1956, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer visited the desperately overcrowded Shantytown squatter settlement in Orlando and Moroka Emergency Camp. He was moved to arrange for Anglo American and other mining companies to make a substantial loan to the City council to provide housing in Soweto; some 14 000 houses were built with the help of this cash.
The tower was built from bricks from demolished houses belonging to people who were moved to Moroka from newly declared white areas closer to the city.
Information and pictures are all courtesy of joburg.org.za/culture