Formerly 'Rambling with a cantankerous old mule"
I enjoy the idea of a ghost-town. I imagine walking down its abandoned streets, looking through dirty windows, seeing in my mind’s eye the lives of its former inhabitants; the warmth of family and everyday life.
But the other day I was driving south down Nelson Mandela Drive in Pretoria (South Africa), and looked to my right where I glimpsed the old Berea Park Cricket grounds through the trees; a stadium that once hosted international test matches, now broken and crumbling. And it saddened me. I considered screeching to a halt to trek across the river to take photos but I wasn’t quick enough, and there were cars coming up fast behind me.
And then I glanced left, where I saw the building in the foreground of this photo (and which I featured in a post last week).
For some while I’ve been wondering about the story behind the building that seems to have had the majority of its “skin” peeled away – with its innards laid bare to the gaze of passers-by; home to pigeons and the elements. And so I went to investigate. It turns out that it is in a fenced-off suburb on a street called Normal that is patrolled by security guards with nasty-looking Rottweilers. But I used my charm and sparkling smile to persuade the guards to let me explore.
The building was originally a hostel for students from NKP – a teachers’ training college formed way back in 1902. When the college was closed down in 2000, the hostel, Huis Potgieter (Potgieter House), was turned into barracks for the South African Police Force’s Unit 19. No-one seems to be able to tell me how long it was occupied by the police, or when they abandoned it.
Eventually it, along with the surrounding houses, was acquired by the University of South Africa (UNISA), which is when it became home to vagrants. According to one of the security guards I spoke to, it was at this time that the hostel started being picked apart – piece by piece – by people who sold the metal and glass for scrap. By the time the university woke up to what was going on, and posted guards in the suburb, Huis Potgieter and the surrounding buildings were devastated.
How heartbreaking to wander through its echoing, litter-strewn hallways and rooms, imagining the many young people who once called it home; the many memories that were made there. Even the communal bathrooms have been stripped – toilet bowls hacked from the floor, basins toppled and broken, pipes bored from the walls.
The security guard told me the university is planning on restoring the residence. I’ll leave you, after looking at my photos, to decide whether you think it’s viable …
(Click on photos for higher-res versions)