In 1881, when Benoni was established, the surveyor-general, who had the task of assigning the title deeds to all unclaimed government land found his task very challenging owing to the irregular shape of the land. At his wit’s end, he named the new town Ben-Oni, a Hebrew word from Genesis, the first book of the Bible, meaning “Son of sorrow”.
Six years later, the discovery of gold caused the town to develop rapidly. Sir George Farrar, chairman of the mining company, made it his mission to enhance the appearance of the town. Trees were planted, mine water was channelled into the marshlands and the reservoirs were filled with trout. This effort is thoroughly appreciated by the present inhabitants and Benoni with its five lakes is one of the loveliest cities in the area. Benoni also lies next to Blesbokspruit, one of the world’s seven proclaimed wetland areas. Although Benoni is no longer a major mining area, it is an important steel and brass manufacturing area.
Benoni is also known as having been the hometown of its most recent famous export, Oscar winning actress, Charlize Theron.
Daveyton and Wattville are the two townships attached to Benoni, formerly reserved for black people.
Adventure And Sport
Hiking: The Blesbokspruit Hiking Trail, a leisurely 11 km trial that is clearly marked out, starts at Homestead Dam and passes the Middle and Civic Lakes, ending at Kleinfontein Dam. Bring your picnic basket and choose your spot near any one of the four lakes.
Water Sports: Benoni’s recreational areas include a string of natural pans, wetland areas, lakes and dams such as the Rynfield Dam, a source of entertainment and adventure for all water enthusiasts. Popular activities include scuba diving, waterskiing, windsurfing, power boating and yachting.
Chinese Cultural Centre: This Centre is a social club for the large Chinese community of the city and classes in traditional Chinese activities such as Chinese painting and Kung Fu are also conducted in the Centre.
Sibikwa Community Theatre: The theatre, on the corner of Liverpool and Bolton Roads, may be visited by appointment only. Tours offer a glimpse of the community-based theatre and dance group activities with the previously marginalised youth of the Eastern Gauteng area.
Township Tours: Guided tours to the townships of Daveyton and Wattville introduce visitors to the vibe and swing of black urban culture. Have a drink in a typical shebeen (traditional tavern), listen to vibrant township jazz, visit a sangoma (traditional healer) and buy some of the art and crafts of local artists and crafters.
Entertainment And Shopping
Benoni Lakeside Mall Shopping Centre: The Benoni Lakeside Mall Shopping Centre offers a variety of entertainment and shopping facilities in a tranquil environment.
Cleminson Park: Cleminson Park on the banks of Homestead Lake is a popular picnic spot and also hosts regular art exhibitions and water sport enthusiasts frequent the lake itself.
Lane of Fame: Benoni’s Lane of Fame is situated in the Cranbourne Centre where the hand and footprints of famous residents and visitors have been immortalised in concrete slabs. Some of the better known are Charlize Theron, (Hollywood actress), Frith van der Merwe (Springbok long distance runner), Montgomery Zwane (Mr Junior Universe), Vic Toweel (South Africa’s first World Champion Boxer) and pioneer heart transplant surgeon, Chris Barnard, to name but a few.
Rynfield Children’s Park: The Rynfield Children’s Park, affectionately known as the Bunny Park, is a popular with children of all ages. This 17,5 hectare playground is inhabited by hundreds of rabbits, as well as by farmyard animals and birds.
Uncle Tim’s Cabin: Uncle Tim’s Cabin is three restored Victorian buildings that house 20 shops where original gifts and goods such as wrought iron, arts, crafts, antiques and curios, are on sale. Antique and craft fairs are frequently held here.
Fauna And Flora
Bullfrog Pan: Bullfrog Pan in Rynfield is one of the most interesting reserves in the area. The shallow grassy pan gives sanctuary to the African Bullfrog, the largest frog in South Africa. These shy amphibians hibernate for most of the winter months, snugly covered by a mud blanket until they wake from their winter sleep during spring. It is a rare privilege to hear and see them emerge from beneath their winter mud blanket.
Korsman’s Bird Sanctuary: Korsman’s Bird Sanctuary, in the suburb of Westdene, is not only home to various species of birds such as flamingos, ibis and egrets but also to several species of antelope, such as duiker, springbok and blesbok. The shallow pan in the centre of the sanctuary is the main attraction for the large numbers of migratory birds that frequent the sanctuary. The Witwatersrand Bird Club has a hide in the sanctuary and, although members have access to the hide, casual visitors must make prior arrangements with the Wildlife Society to be allowed to visit.
Leeupan (Lion Pan): Leeupan (Lion Pan) is an important wetland area on the eastern side of the town. Migratory birds visit the wetland on their journey to warmer countries. Sandpan is the stopover of many migratory birds during the rainy summer months and is a particularly well-preserved wetland ecosystem.
Vic Penning Bird Sanctuary: The Vic Penning Bird Sanctuary is situated next to Rynfield Dam and is popular among bird watchers.
History And Architecture
Benoni Museum: The Benoni Museum focuses on the cultural diversity of the people of the area and political events that took place here. It has an excellent collection of African pottery as well as rare examples of traditional musical instruments and traditional weaving. Another striking exhibit depicts the miners’ strike of 1922 and more recently, the life and times of the renowned black leader Oliver Tambo. Visit the restored steam locomotive that used to work on Benoni’s mines in 1903 and walk through the museum’s fragrant herb garden.
Oliver Tambo Grave: The last resting place of Oliver Tambo, former president of the African National Congress, is in Xaba Street Cemetery, in Wattville. Tambo lived in Wattville until his exile in 1960. He returned to South Africa in 1991 and is acknowledged as a great hero of the Struggle.
St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church: St. Athanasios Church in Woburn Avenue is the site of the Miracle Icon, a phenomenon that no expert has ever been able to explain. In the late afternoon as the sun sets, an image, resembling the crucifixion of Christ, appears on one of the northeastern windows of the church. The members of the congregation consider it a benevolent sign from above. The church itself is easily recognisable by its traditional Hellenic blue and white colours.
“Yesteryear”: “Yesteryear” is a gracious 1920s deco style home and a well-known landmark in the area. The house is filled with Victorian and cottage furniture. Porcelain, crystal and other arts and crafts items are on sale.