The Rand Show: the early years

JOBURG - The Rand Show has come a long way since its first displays of plants, flowers, fruit, table arrangements, posies and gardening equipment in 1894.

The entertainment spectacular will celebrate its 120th anniversary this year, and will do so in style.

“Initially only a display of horticulture, the first Rand Show still captured the imagination of early Joburgers,” said show spokesman Craig Newman.

That first show, the brainchild of the newly-instituted Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, was held at the Wanderers Club and saw local horticulturalists showing off their green thumbs.

“The society moved the show to a rough piece of state-owned veld next to Milner Park, what is today known as Wits University’s West Campus. Steep and rocky, it was the only piece of land that didn’t have gold claims attached to it,” said Newman.

That year’s show was opened by president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger, and some 900 participants made the rail journey up to the Highveld from as far away as the Cape Colony and Natal.

Visitors enjoyed displays of livestock, poultry, dairy products, bees, ornamental plants and trees, farming equipment, and wagons and coaches, the first exhibition by the Transvaal Kennel Club, and wild animal displays.

After the two Boer Wars put the show on hold, 1907 saw the show return with a bang.

The show received a further boost in 1936 when the Empire Exhibition, which coincided with Joburg’s 50th anniversary, contracted to use the Rand Show showgrounds at Milner Park.

This led to the construction of new exhibition halls, a new electrical system, roads and various other improvements to the showgrounds, including the iconic Tower of Light.

The exhibition lasted four months and attracted more than two million visitors.

“[This prompted] the agricultural society to up its game. In the decades that followed, the show [augmented] its agricultural displays with manufacturing and industrial displays and exhibits,” said Newman.

The show became South Africa’s flagship exhibition; its importance underlined by the dignitaries who opened it each year.

In 1947, King George did the honours, with Queen Elizabeth and princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in tow.

In 1950, General Jan Smuts opened the show for the eighth time.

In 1957, the show was opened by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, and in 1962, fell to the first president of the new Republic, CR Swart.

The Rand Show will take place from 18 until 28 April at the Joburg Expo Centre, Nasrec.

Details: www.randshow.co.za

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