Modderfontein on the outskirts of Joburg is a sleepy village with an explosive past.
It’s hard to believe that quiet, historical Modderfontein village was built around dynamite. Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal Republic, commissioned this factory, for a while the largest commercial explosives factory in the world, for the gold mining industry in 1894. Here’s what you must see in Modderfontein.
1. Frans Hoenig Haus and the Dynamite Company Museum
If there is a heart or centre of Modderfontein for the visitor it’s the Dynamite Company Museum and Frans Hoenig Haus, named after the first manager set in a large lush garden.
It’s worth beginning with a visit to the Dynamite Company Museum, originally the Chief Engineer’s house, a small pretty white cottage reminiscent of the early 1900’s. “We are proud of this place and I love the stories,” says curator, Lodwick Mahasha. This a fascinating museum even for a lay person like me who never thought she could be interested in explosives.
I wander up to the main house standing grandly at the top of the slope. Although I can’t go inside unless on a special tour, I can peer inside the windows to get a sense of life in that era.
2. Resurrection Ground and Oakes Coffee Roastery
It’s time for sustenance and where better than appropriately nicknamed ‘Resurrection Ground’ and the Oakes Brew House and Coffee Roastery?
“These old brick and corrugated iron houses were about to be demolished,” explains Robbie Vermont, a Modderfontein Conservation Society member. “They were moved panel by panel, brick by brick and stone by stone further up the hill and rebuilt exactly as they were before.”
Oakes Coffee Roastery is in one of the houses and I breathe in the smell of roasting coffee while choosing from a huge blackboard menu. After a foamy cappuccino and a good breakfast, I wander the old houses on Resurrection Ground with its small stoeps where lots of ‘kuiering’ must have happened after the factory closed for the day.
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3. Modderfontein Nature Reserve
Dynamite means danger so a large swathe of land around the factory was designated as a buffer zone in case of a factory explosion.
In 2012 this land was opened as the Modderfontein Nature Reserve for the public to enjoy. The 275 hectare nature reserve is now a much used green space with walking and cycling trails and lovely areas to picnic and explore. I loved the birding and even spotted a few buck.
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4. The Oakes Brew House
It’s thirsty work walking the trails in a nature reserve so next stop is the all ladies brew house that brews Oakes Beer, the dream of two smart ladies, Thea Blom and Delia Bailey
“When I started I hated even the smell of beer,” laughs larger than life female brew master, Happy Sekanka, who was trained by Thea. “Now I love beer.”
It’s an easy place to get stuck especially on a warm summer day drinking an Easy Blonde while eating a meal at 33 High St, their Portuguese restaurant built under the massive oaks. “Anyone who drinks beer must be a lovable person,” Happy tells me and after a few tastings I am inclined to agree.
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5. Fireman’s Tavern
A dynamite factory area is classified as a 24-hour Hot Zone which means you can have large fires. It makes sense that Fireman’s Tavern is where ex fireman, Jan Liebenberg, runs his business, S A Emergency Care, teaching firefighting skills.
“Come to a Burnout,” trainer Wouna du Plessis suggests. “We have a Burnout on the last Friday evening of every month where we show people what a big fire looks like and how to put it out.” By the look of the big black fire stack this must be one big fire.
- The Dynamite Company Museum – 2 Main St Modderfontein. 011 608 2747. Book a tour with Lodwick Mahasha, the curator.
- Modderfontein Nature Reserve. Open 6am to 6pm daily with an entrance fee of R30. modderfonteinreserve.co.za
- Oakes Brew House and Coffee Roastery 011 458 6018
- Fireman’s Tavern 011 608 0976. Book a burnout and have a beer.
Words and Photography Sue Adams