Creating a heritage map with strong data governance principles

August 1st, 2019, Published in Articles: PositionIT

A healthy, dynamic city needs to strike a balance between welcoming development and economic growth while retaining its cultural significance. The City of Johannesburg (CoJ) has done this through its Heritage portal, which is underpinned by strong data governance principles.

The City of Johannesburg’s 120-year history, growing from a mining camp to metropolis, has left a rich stock of heritage buildings and places of significance. Heritage information helps the City’s Heritage Team to do their job. To them this information is an asset as it has a specific purpose and value.

Heritage mapping

Starting in 2016, much heritage data was loaded onto the City of Johannesburg’s geographic information system (GIS), making this data available for the first time in an engaging digital format, in the form of story maps. This marked a major advance in making heritage information accessible to city planners, property owners, developers and potential investors, researchers and other users.

Before the advent of these story maps, heritage lists, inventories and registers were compiled, collected and stored by the city’s Heritage Unit. Together with material from heritage surveys, commissioned by the city across large areas of Johannesburg, the information was kept in hard copy folders and a variety of computer files. But without easy access, the information remained largely unknown and inaccessible to decision-makers and the broader public. This led to uncertainty and confusion in the development process, as city officials and developers did not always know whether a site had heritage significance and protection.

The mass of heritage information was also scattered across many different lists, inventories, reports and heritage registers created over many years. Spread across different files and formats, both manual and digital, the information was not readily available from a central consolidated source. The story maps now provide a one-stop resource which is automated and searchable.

As the volume of heritage information continued to increase, finding new ways to effectively manage the data, and to extend access, became increasingly important.  By adding the heritage layer in the form of story maps on the GIS, it was possible to provide user-friendly methods for visualisation and interaction with the heritage landscape, seen in relation to other spatial data, to create a story map tour.

For planners, developers and owners, the heritage status of a site is often unknown, creating doubt and uncertainty about the legal protections attached to historic sites.    The spatially-enabled heritage data on the GIS helps to close that gap by flagging “heritage triggers” which point to the need for heritage approvals.

Fig.1: An illustration of heritage triggers and the heritage approvals process.

Under the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA), some legal protection measures apply in terms of age and declaration status:

Sixty year status: Sometimes called “the Sixty year rule”, Section 34 of the NHRA provides general protection for structures older than 60 years. Section 34 (1) states that “No person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority”.

Declaration status: Declared Heritage sites at National and Provincial level have protection status under Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act. Section 27(18) of the (NHRA) states that “No person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit issued by the heritage resources authority responsible for the protection of such site”.

Case study: Rand Steam Laundry

As a case study, we will explore the site of Rand Steam, one of the first laundry sites in Johannesburg, and see how this location is represented on the story maps. We will delve into the history of the site, where most of the structures were physically destroyed in 2008, and which has now been resurrected as a popular shopping and leisure destination.

Rand Steam was launched on 25 April 2019 as an upmarket shopping precinct which pays tribute to the historic laundry site in Richmond, near Johannesburg’s north-western suburb of Auckland Park. This marked a hard-fought victory for  heritage, involving the large-scale reconstruction of historic laundry buildings which had been illegally demolished. Following protests and advice from heritage bodies, the historic buildings dating from 1904 onwards, have been reconstructed by a new property consortium. Heritage features have been reinstated, informed by the original plans for the site.

Fig. 2: Blue Heritage Plaque at Rand Steam, together with the Amawasha Tribute wall.

The history of the site has been marked by blue heritage plaques, awarded by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) together with the City’s Directorate of Arts, Culture and Heritage. Public art has been added to remember the Amawasha, Zulu laundry men who were active at the site from as early as 1890, washing the clothes of people from the fast-growing mining town of Johannesburg.

Fig. 3: A monthly meeting of the Amawasha at Johannesburg’s Market Square, showing African washermen wearing the Indian turbans which they adopted from the Dhobis.

From the 1980s, the site was associated with the Zulu washermen, who conducted a flourishing business at various sites at the edge of the gold-rush town, hand-washing laundry. Their enterprise was made possible by the Braamfontein Spruit which runs through the area, giving a constant flow of good quality potable water [1]. Another major reason for the success of the Amawasha was that most inhabitants of early Johannesburg were single, unmarried men, who did not do their own washing. These Zulu washermen who came to the Witwatersrand had learned their trade from Indian Dhobis, members of the washermen’s caste who made their living in Natal. By 1896, there were 546 Zulu washermen and 14 Dhobis resident in the vicinity of the Richmond laundry site, as well as 14 Indian females and 64 black women [2].

The Johannesburg Town Council was however of the view that the washing sites operated by Africans were unhygienic and in many cases suitable for the laundry of Johannesburg’s white residents. By 1904, most of the Amawasha were removed from sites close to the town, and were evicted by the Town Council, and moved to Klipspuit, 21 km south of the town.

The eviction of the Amawasha opened the way for the development of white-owned steam-driven laundries [3], which established themselves at the Richmond site, where they went on to operate until 1962. The name Rand Steam Laundries comes from the amalgamation of two laundries, namely the Palace Steam Laundries and the Crystal Stream Laundry, also known as the “American Laundry”, which was formalised in 1902.

Soon Rand Steam Laundries were the biggest laundry operation in South Africa.  The Union Castle Steamship Company would rail its washing to the laundries weekly, and Rand Steam laundry depots were established in a number of commercial centres [4].

Fig. 4: A view of the original Richmond Laundry complex with its red roof-scapes and impressive steam chimneys.

An advertisement in South African Who’s Who in Business 1919-1920 gives this description of the enterprise: “The Rand Steam Laundries and Cleaning and Dying works is the largest establishment of its kind in the whole sub-continent. Employing about 270 people, including about 100 whites, it has its own water supply, cottages for [work] people, Blacksmith and Farrier for making carts, makes its own soap, and in fact is quite a village by itself”.

By the early 1960s, the laundry operations were no more, and small-scale craftsmen and artisans moved into the Richmond site, using the buildings as workshops. The Imperial Motor Company bought the property in March 2006, with the intention of building a car showroom at the laundry site. Soon after imperial bought the site, in September 2006, the place received Provisional Protection as a Provincial Heritage Site, from the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority – Gauteng (PHRA-G).

Fig. 5: The laundry site after demolition in 2008, with one of only two remaining structures (bottom right).

Disaster struck in 2008, when protected structures on the site were deliberately destroyed by Imperial, in order to build a car dealership. The demolition was in contravention of the Provisional Declaration of the site by the Heritage Authority, and brought dismay and rage from heritage groups. Once the bulldozers got going, it was only at the third stop order to stop demolition, issued by the PHRA, that they were switched off [5]. By that time, only two structures remained – a cylindrical water-filtration tower, and a dilapidated laundry building – standing within a barren wasteland.

The levelling of the site by Imperial brought a furious reaction from heritage activist Flo Bird and her colleagues at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF), who led a media campaign to name and shame the perpetrators, picketed the site, lobbied the municipality, and ultimately blocked the car dealership from being built. After the site was effectively frozen for almost ten years, a new development company called the Moolman Group stepped to develop a shopping precinct which pays homage to the heritage of the site.

Key heritage aims of the Rand Steam project have in large measure been achieved:

  • Reinstate the historical buildings
  • Proclaim the significance of the site
  • Commemorate the story of the Amawasha

Heritage story maps

The story maps project began with loading data from an Inner City Heritage Survey which was conducted in phases from 2002 to 2006 [6], with comprehensive coverage of 250 sites in the heart of the old CBD, focussing on the area where Johannesburg first arose, and where a great concentration of heritage buildings is still located.

A mass of new heritage survey data was added in 2016 from ground-breaking new heritage studies conducted for the City’s Corridors of Freedom Project for transit-oriented development. Stretching across large areas of Johannesburg, the three main corridors comprise the Empire-Perth Corridor, the Louis Botha corridor, and the Turffontein Corridor. The heritage study was the largest ever conducted in Johannesburg, covering over 90 suburbs [7].

Fig. 6: The City of Johannesburg Heritage Sites story map interface, which includes information about each site, in this case of the Rand Steam Laundry.

In the story maps, structures older than 60 years and sites which are officially declared heritage places are marked as “Permit required”. Those without formal declaration status are tagged with a provisional heritage grading, supplied by specialist researchers or by volunteers from the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. Other information on the story maps would include a brief description, construction date, architect and architectural style, historical narrative, plaques and inscriptions, and photographs. There is also a base map that indicates the basic cadastral information and the spatial location of the site.

Information as an asset

A healthy, dynamic city needs to strike a balance between welcoming development and economic growth on the one hand while on the other hand retaining its cultural significance.

The processing of development applications for heritage category properties is subject to the issuing of the required permit. The heritage sites are flagged on the city’s geo-enabled Land Information System (LIS), making the Johannesburg City Heritage Register visible at the development application stage already, to all role players. Consequently, the spatially-enabled register can be used as a management tool that ensures sound management of Council’s heritage assets.

There needs to be a shift in mindset to manage information as an asset as it should not be managed by default or chance [8]. An asset is acquired for a specific purpose, it is described and listed in an asset register, maintained, used and assessed over time to ensure that it is still relevant and “fit for purpose”.

The Spatial Data Infrastructure Act 2003 (Act No. 54 of 2003), with its Policies and Regulations, provides the necessary legislative framework for managing spatial information as an asset [9].

The City of Johannesburg participates in the implementation of the SDI Act and SASDI [10]. In parallel, the city’s Corporate Geo-Informatics runs a “mini-version” or “mirror image” of SASDI in the city, coordinating spatial information activities with the various GIS users in other CoJ departments and municipal entities and ensuring overall legislative compliance.

Spatial information governance is managed in the city at the strategic level through the Spatial Information Steering Committee, operationally at the GIS User Group meetings and tactically by the appointment of data custodians and metadata coordinators. The city participates in the publishing and harvesting of metadata on the national Electronic Metadata Catalogue (EMC), and also publishes data on the Gauteng Spatial Information Portal.

Base datasets within the city have been identified, using the SDI Act definition, but applied in a city context, also referred to as core datasets, because local and national base datasets might differ. In terms of cadastre, the city contributes to the national cadastre, as per recommendation by the Committee for Spatial Information (CSI) Data Sub-Committee and approved by the CSI. The City is formally represented on both these governance structures.

Custodianship has been assigned to all the core datasets and service level agreements have been entered into for the maintenance of these layers. The SDI definition is used to identify core datasets, namely the department/entity should have a mandated responsibility, capacity and is appointed accordingly.

Custodian Compliance Forms are completed by all participants on an annual basis.  Standards are adhered to, e.g. the Address Standard SANS1883. Security against loss of spatial information in the City’s custody is monitored by monthly backup reports, for example, that are provided by the city’s ICT department. Although line function departments/entities do not do the backups of spatial information themselves, they still remain responsible to ensure the safety of this information.

In terms of reporting on data quality, the city’s CGIS Problem Log system is used to report and monitor errors and data deficiencies. The system also includes customer satisfaction ratings. SDI’s Form F has been used to report deficiency in access to Surveyor-General (SG) data.

The minimum data layers required for heritage mapping are: Cadastre and Ownership, Road centrelines, Street addresses, Zoning, Aerial Imagery and Heritage sites. Sources/custodians include the Surveyor-General, Registrar of Deeds, CoJ Corporate Geo-Informatics (CGIS), Johannesburg Roads Agency, CoJ Town Planning and CoJ Arts and Culture. SDI’s Forms E1 and E2 have been submitted as request/intention to capture data (aerial imagery and heritage).

Partnerships with custodians of information across (and outside) the organisation are a prerequisite to identify, capture, maintain, integrate, distribute and use spatial information and ensure accurate, current, “fit for purpose” spatial information enterprise-wide. Partnerships are an integral part of managing spatial information as an asset and are critical in establishing the information network that is required to increase the organisation’s value and to benefit the organisation’s operations.


[1] C Keeling and B McKechnie, 2015. Rand Steam Laundries: conservation management plan. Johannesburg: Impendulo Design Architects p17, 19.
[2] C van Onselen, 2001. Amawasha: the Zulu washerman’s guild of the Witwatersrand, 1890-1914, p 281. In:  New Babylon, new Nineveh: everyday life on the Witwatersrand, 1886-1914, by Charles van Onselen. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2001.
[3] PGS Heritage, 2014. Rand Steam laundries – archival and historical study: archival and historical desktop study of an area known as Rand Steam Laundries, comprising Stands, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 225, 246 and 262. Richmond, Johannesburg, Gauteng Province. p19 – 20.
[4] Johannesburg images and continuities: a history of working class life through pictures: 1885-1935. Compiled by Peter Kallaway and Patrick Pearson.  Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1986.
[5] L Davie, July 2011. Imperial moves on laundry site. Online at
[6] City of Johannesburg. Survey of Johannesburg city buildings. Phases 1 – 3.  Compiled by Johann J Bruwer in association with Catharina Bruwer. Johannesburg: 2002 – 2006.
[7] City of Johannesburg. Heritage studies for the Corridors of Freedom. Compiled by Tsika Heritage Consultants and associates. Johannesburg: 2015-2016.
[8] J Ladley, 2010. Making Enterprise Information Management (EIM) Work for Business: A Guide to Understanding Information as an Asset. Burlington: Morgan Kaufman.
[9] The Presidency, Republic of South Africa. 2004. No. 54 of 2003: Spatial Data Infrastructure Act, 2003. Government Gazette, 464: 1-16.
[10] City of Johannesburg. 2019. Corporate Geo-Informatics. [Online] Available at:

Contact Marcelle Hattingh, City of Johannesburg CGIS,

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