Lenasia & Its History
Lenasia is mainly an Indian township, which is sited approximately 35 kilometers south of any city center. The Group Areas Act of 1950 resulted in the establishment of the area which was needed to house the Indian Population forcibly removed from the south-western part of Johannesburg.Initially, Indian people lived in suburbs in places such as Turffontein, Fordsburg, Doorfontein, Vrededorp and so forth. During apartheid, these people were given the choice of going back to India or to move to the racially segregated area provided for them. The majority refused to go back to India and therefore had to move to special Indian places like Lenasia, Laudium and Azaadville.
The name Lenasia comes from a German national by the name of Lenz, whom originally owned the property. After acquiring the property, he settled there much earlier, but eventually decided to sell the property for housing developments to the government. At the beginning, Lenasia consisted of people living at the barracks, but plots were then sold by the government for R60 each. Only eligible families for government loans were able to purchase plots, but there was no piped water system, electricity or sewerage system in the area.As the township eventually developed, infrastructure was added to accommodate for the growth.
In 1955, the first high school called Lenasia High School was established which also catered for students from Fordsburg. Lenasia could only be accessed through rail and a single road connected to the R29 road linking Johannesburg to Potchefstroom.The housing typology mimicked the typical matchbox comprising of a kitchen, bathroom and three small bedrooms. The general plot sizes ranged from 76m², while the wealthy (middle class families) lived on 500m² plots.
During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, large scaled housing estates were developed together with the addition of new extensions to the existing layout. Houses became larger and modern and plans for more schools, parks, churches, a cemetery, business and industrial sites were in progress. The addition of water reticulation and electricity were also underway. This resulted in the growth of 11 extensions and a new development (Lenasia South) was established in 1984.Indians were able to maintain their cultural beliefs and practices within the township. Common religious communities included Hindu and Muslim with origins from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu in India. The fight against apartheid remained amongst the residents with activists like Ahmed Kathrada facilitating meetings with neighbouring areas.In the late 1960’s, civic spaces such as the Lenasia CBD, civic centre, post office and other industrial areas were established.
Since sport became important to the community, the development of sports fields occurred. The government still controlled the area, thus residents had to work (and still work) in Johannesburg’s CBD and northern regions. Even though Lenasia was no longer and Indian Group Area after the new democracy, it remained as an Indian residential area, although migration patterns led to some transformation. Some young inhabitants are moving closer to work within the Johannesburg CBD and neighbouring regions, while others remain behind due to the fixed community and cultural aspects. Today, Lenasia is a vibrant suburb that is home to a multitude of people. The arrival of non-South African Asians form India, Bangladesh, Egypt and Pakistan has created a multicultural nature within the area.
The development of Trade Route Mall, many businesses, private and public schools, provides Lenasia with economic success. The suburb is made up of 13 extensions and includes an informal settlement known as Thembelihle. This continuous rapid development creates the need for more public spaces that would provide new opportunities for its inhabitants. There are a number of temples located within the extensions. Most of these temples have community halls connected to them which are rented out for functions, religious festival celebrations and weddings throughout the year.
Dance shows are usually held at the Gandhi Hall in Extension 5, while most school shows, singing and talk shows occur at the Extension 3 community hall. The Trade Route Shopping Mall in Extension 9, hosts bridal shows or expos from time to time, in fairly limited available spaces as there are no designated event or exhibition spaces. It was discovered that the connection of the existing temples and halls, revolves around a central public green space which is not successfully utilized by the public. This central recreation space forms part of Extension 7 and becomes an ideal location for the new Dance Studio as it is within the center of the surrounding halls. This allows for easy access and the ability to connect (if necessary), to the surrounding context.