The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!
Photo Cred: James Delaney | The Wilds

The Wilds were abandoned by the people of Johannesburg due to fear of crime, overgrown areas and general lack of upkeep but a Joburg Artist had a goal to reclaim them, and has created the most incredible safe space in just 2 short years!


Johannesburg South Africa (5 February 2020) – Joburg’s most pristine natural environment, The Wilds Nature Reserve, a 40-acre assemblage of indigenous vegetation, serene water ponds, a fountain, and fetching art installations is a certified tourism allure.

This sentiment has been ratified by residents of the City, who endorsed Houghton’s most verdant park as a joint winner of the Best Spot to Take Out-of-Towners in the recently announced Best of Joburg Readers’ Choice Awards.

The annual awards give readers a platform – through a survey – to vote for what and who makes living in Joburg great.

Jenny Moodley, the spokesperson for City Parks and Zoo, a municipal-owned entity responsible for greening open spaces, cemeteries and parks, says visitors to The Wilds can experience nature combined with art and heritage.

“It’s rare to find a nature reserve in the middle of the city. Joburg residents are lucky because they don’t have to take a long drive for them to experience the best of what nature has to offer. After all, it is just in their backyards,” Moodley explains.

Organisers of the Readers’ Choice Awards endorsed The Wilds for its greenery, sprawling lawns, a rich canopy of trees and waterfalls.

But The Wilds hasn’t always been a verdant, tranquil spot. In the early 90s the park fell into ruin, plagued by crime and grime. However, members of the community valued its existence so much that they mobilised support to repair it.

The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!

It was in 2014 when artist and eco-activist James Delaney, a community member, started the revitalisation of The Wilds project and then a few years later, received an AfriSam-SAIA Award for his work.

But Delaney has topped all of that in recent years and managed to raise over R1 million to help restore this gem in Joburg.

James mobilised a group of volunteers and together they worked to revive the area. They pulled out dead trees, replanted flower beds and repainted benches.

“So, the story is simple. My back windows look into a 40-acre forested park which nobody visited. They were scared. I got a dog, so that made me less scared, and he needed walking. So I ventured in and found a wonderland of beautiful indigenous trees and stone pathways and views. But it was awfully overgrown. The most dangerous thing was a dead tree falling on your head.

So with my helper Thulani we started clearing out dead wood, pruning trees, letting the light onto flowers below, and opening up lines of sight to make it feel safer. We started about 6 years ago. I wish I’d taken more “before” pics but I didn’t realise the impact it would have.

The city only really took notice 2 years ago, when I installed the first sculptures.

My friends still wouldn’t come, so I came up with the idea of the owls – 67 sculptures in a century-old yellowwood forest for Mandela Day. They’re still there, quietly hidden in the canopy. Spend some quiet moments there and you can count them all.

Since then it’s just got better & better.” 

By adding art to the 40 acres park, people were more inclined to revisit the area. James created a reason for people to fall in love with the space. The projects have become even more exciting with bright colours and pop-up libraries.

The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!

The park has now seen an influx of tours and educational groups as well.

“For the active … take a short hike along the paths. For others … picnic on the lawns. A visit to this tranquil spot is sure to leave you and your visitors feeling refreshed and in love with all Joburg has to offer,” organisers of the Readers’ Choice Awards enthuse.

“The trails lead you to all the different viewpoints, especially the sundial, you can overlook the City of Joburg and just enjoy the view,” Moodley adds.

The Wilds is located on the base of the Parktown ridge on the boundary of Houghton and Killarney. It was donated to the then-City Council by the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company in 1924 on condition that it remain in its natural state. It opened to the public in 1938 and was dedicated to the memory of Jan Smuts following his death in 1950. It was declared a national monument in 1981.

Last year, the park received a major boost when it was declared a heritage site following a five-year facelift led by Delaney and the community of Houghton and surrounding areas. Moodley has praised local residents for taking active ownership of the park.

The Wilds has security guards and secure parking at the main entrance in Houghton Drive, Parktown. It is open to the public seven days a week.

The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!

Sources: Submit a story | City of Joburg 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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