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Santarama Miniland

Settler Theme Park

by Andy Davis / 01.06.2011

Today, the Santarama Miniland lurks forgotten on the banks of the Wemmer Pan in the dirty South of Joburg. A bizarre, neglected miniature smurf village of apartheid’s architectural glory, just across the water from where serial killer Cedric Maake committed the murders that would earn him the monicker of the Wemmer Pan Killer. I remember primary school trips to Miniland that were always tinged with both excitement and disappointment. It was like a dinky car playground but you couldn’t touch anything. Engagement denied. You could only look. There was always a meneer with a cane who kept you from dropping to your knees and actually playing with the installation. It always seemed like a wasted opportunity.

Santarama Miniland

These days, the massive Jan Van Riebeeck statue is an absurd punctuation mark on the road to that kif Portuguese restaurant in La Rochelle. The thought of returning to Miniland is just as absurd. The whole place has an air of entropic fatalism. The exit to the carpark has been closed off, despite the painted arrows urging you towards the barrier. The place smells vaguely of sewage and water hyacinth. You walk through a tunnel, pay the requisite entrance fee to a young man in a blue overall broadcasting tinny R&B on his cellphone. He nods you through into a courtyard where you’re confronted by King Kong and the smell of old cooking oil; where a café churns out no-name brand chicken nuggets and chips, cold drinks, sweets and chocolates.

Santarama Miniland

Upfront there’s a putt-putt course lorded over by a massive 20 foot statue of Michael Jackson circa Dangerous. Santarama’s early 90s attempt to get with the revolution? Michael Jackson is to Santarama, what Jesus is to Rio. Beyond lies the wasteland of apartheid era miniatures. Originally, in 1973, Santarama Miniland was conceived as a fundraising initiative, build an accurate miniature South Africa, invite school children by the busload to learn and ogle at the miniatures of vainglorious South African achievement and history, charge a basic entrance fee and raise money for SANTA, a health organisation predominantly focussed on treating TB. Today, the whole enterprise is like a time capsule for the apartheid zeitgeist of the 70s. A huge replica Drommedaris, the ship that brought that quintessential settler Jan Van Riebeeck to Cape Town, is moored and rotting in the shallows of the Wemmer Pan, just in front of the tiny, ersatz Jan Smuts International Airport, although the Boeing 747 has had an overhaul and now (proudly?) displays the new SAA branding.

Santarama Miniland

Beyond is a miniature of East London’s harbour with a recently added replica of Robben Island in the middle of the bay, to get with the New SA. At the far bank is a collection of apartheid era architectural wonders, from the Cable Station on Table Mountain to the 1820s Settler Monument in Grahamstown, the obligatory salutation of the seat of power, then and now, Sir Herbert Baker’s Union Buildings. There is, of course, a small version of Die Taal Monument. There’s Maatjiesfontein train station and the old haunted hotel, a weird nod to cattle farming, a dilapidated Turfontein Race Track which exists, in reality, just around the corner, there’s Boswell Wilkie Circus, popcorn, bubblegum, ice cream and chewing gum, candy floss and Eskimo Pie all leading up to the triumphant replication of the Johannesburg CBD at it’s apartheid Zenith. The New York of Africa. At Santarama Miniland, there is no Soweto.

Santarama Miniland

Most telling of all is the representation of the Zulu, Sotho, Ndebele and Xhosa “settlements”. You can still taste the contempt, the lack of effort. The greatly overlooked, discounted and miniaturised role afforded to the majority of South Africans is like a rare window on the privileged white psyche of those days. Rare in this climate where no one dares to admit ever voting Nat. You can almost hear the question: “but what about the blacks?” And the answer: “Ja well… better build them something.” A forgotten piece of the South African diorama puzzle, tacked on as an afterthought, like an empty flowerbed. Hastily constructed parodies of traditional African culture, in that old spirit of “good neighbourliness” that so well defined those bad old days.

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland stands today like a damning physical construction of the apartheid state of mind. An entropic time capsule. Lorded over by Michael Jackson in his codpiece-g-string, with Jaws in the harbour and a miniature choof choof train that circumnavigates the whole thing. The absurdity of Michael Jackson, King Kong, Jaws and Dumbo sharing the space with tacky miniature nationalistic monuments in a state of decay speaks volumes. Much like the stumps of Ozymandias, this is the real apartheid museum.

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

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Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

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Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

Santarama Miniland

*All images © Andy Davis.

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RESPONSES (54)
  1. Lizzy says:

    woah! this brought back a strange, hazy, childhood memory of a late 80s trip to joburg… remember the dumbo, the drommedaris and the little train, but till now it felt like a surreal childhood fever dream. now i must return…

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  2. Sean says:

    I love Miniland. Don’t trash it! I have ridden that train and had cream soda there. Not so long ago. when I asked about the MJ, I was told, “to attract the blacks.”

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  3. Grifter says:

    “The absurdity of Michael Jackson, King Kong, Jaws and Dumbo sharing the space with tacky miniature nationalistic monuments in a state of decay speaks volumes. Much like the stumps of Ozymandias, this is the real apartheid museum.”
    – Yoh check out the big brain on Andy… 😉 lovely work man

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  4. random says:

    so you know that everyone who reads this is going to go there right?

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  5. Andy says:

    prepare to be underwhelmed… even the irony LOLs won’t save you.

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  6. huh says:

    the reason not much attention was payed to the homelands is cause they had nothing to offer an industrialized high tech developing world –this given 100 million people had just been slaughted by the civilized europeans in ww2-no reason to get soppy about it -maybe its just time think about how the african heart is not meant to be involved in roman games and when it does it is the the golden swan of aspiration-monotonous this white guilty is becoming -bring me a black cock and ill suck it right now but cheese and rice the villians of today are not hitler or verwoerd but u and me?

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  7. random says:

    @huh

    I’m not sure what that means, but my cock is blackish…ish…

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  8. YsterHart says:

    @huh

    I hope you’re just a troll and not genuinely a fucktard.

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  9. Icedoctor says:

    Nice BG…i told u this woould make a greatt story!!!

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  10. Mpho says:

    Looks interesting. Tagged as #77 on my joburg bucket list 😀

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  11. raimondo says:

    I love how you scratch off the scab. Things have come a long way. We’ve got a great trek ahead and it’s exposing ourselves nakedley like this that will keep us all on track. Thanks for a blast from the past!

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  12. mrs bonkowitz says:

    andy! are those cherubs? in real life?

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  13. Andy says:

    No Bonkowitz they’re details on the Drommedaris… but they’re real… nasty!

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  14. Marc says:

    I take my kids there every year in January and they love it. It is looking more tired and run down each time we go. We’re certainly not bothered by any crowds…
    Solution: Move it to the north (Monte Casino or something), re-do it and charge triple the current entrance price

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  15. mmmm says:

    @marc lol….
    what would you add to a new revamped version…..?ushaka marine world maybe?would you still have the Van Riebeeck statue?would you upgrade the “rondavels”?

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  16. Gavin says:

    All quite insane, why have naked little white boys on a boat, what the fuck where the Dutch thinking. Was the designer of the Dromedaris a pedo, All of this just seems a little freaky. A boat full of male sailors travellng for months on end, no female company on board, and you go and put naked little cherubic boys on the boat. Why?

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  17. JM Koet$ee says:

    Nice piece. I never knew such a place existed. I must make haste and visit.

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  18. Mark Strathmore says:

    Andy, you need to build a bridge and get over those issues you are clearly still harbouring from childhood.

    The calibre of this story is small enough to find a home in miniland.

    Instead of whinging about the past, why don’t you drive an initiative to update and fix this place for kids today?

    Lead SA mate.

    Mark.

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  19. Marc says:

    @mmmm
    Scale models of Sofiatown or District 6 – places that cannot be seen again becasue they do not exist. Old Johannesburg. Different settlements and the differences between them. I’m no curator but these kinds of things would be interesting to me. There are many more.
    If they just update or fix what they have it will make a massive difference (including ‘ol Van Riebeek).

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  20. pabie says:

    made me shed a tear… nostalgia. I remember going here when I was in grade 4 (8 years ago). Atleast i’m not the only one who thinks Jan looks like MJ lol. I didn’t know about the place’s history until reading this (didn’t care really). It seems so pathetic and creepy to me now. Someone should shoot a ‘Demonic Toys’-esque horror movie there.

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  21. Bole says:

    This is a nation of sick racists who should be sent to a lunatic asylum….incredible how every little thing should be racialised….SA racists are brain damaged….we need help. Looks demise of apartheid is exceptionally traumatic to racists. …yeah..there are three options; wallow in racist self pity, fix South Africa for your future generations or go to Australia where racists are most welcome. I urge you to stand up and build a safe, peaceful, prosperous, anti-racist and corruption-free South Africa for you and your children….

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  22. lindiwe says:

    Bit ironic even posting this here but, hey, perhaps it’s somehow cleansing to the thread/piece.

    A good, self-less, start-up in the making.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Local-Love/309827299035926

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  23. rory says:

    went there last year for the first time

    was so disappointed.

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  24. jojo says:

    Don’t use the word ‘entropic’ more than once if you’re not writing about physics. It signals verbosity.

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  25. Marge says:

    Last year I ended up shooting part of a TV series at MiniLand, and believe me Andy Davis has captured the essence of this place beautifully. it is sooo macabre and downright depressing. One aspect that Andy missed (but I can understand why – as he has never been there before) was that MiniLand used to be populated by many, many miniature lead figurines. As I was only born in 1973 and never went to MiniLand until last year, I didn’t know this either. I was, however, very good friends with artist Wayne Barker in about 2000, and at the time he tried to woe me with tiny, little, lead figurines which he referred to as his “Chinas’… I still have two. After some prompting, it transpired that Wayne bought them (or maybe acquired them mahala… can’t remember) as possible featurettes in upcoming artworks. Whether he ever used them I don’t know – neither the friendship or the woe-ing was too successful. But for those of you who actually do remember a tiny, lead population at MiniLand – that is where they disappeared too! Pretty cool… I think.

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  26. Vusi Mabaso says:

    The Tokoloshe
    13 November 2011, 15:43
    400 years ago Africa might as well been another planet in our solar system.
    We were living in peace in our thatch huts. The 10 piece of cattle were grazing under the African sky. The head of the family sat in the shade of a tree drinking beer, the wives were working the land and the kids were making clay oxen to play with.
    Every man’s dream, even to this day, no matter where on this planet you might come from. It sounds like the African version of the Playboy mansion. You sit in the shade and your multiple wives work for you.
    Then the Europeans arrived and laughed at our people who had no education and thought our way of life was savagery. We had to fight them with spears to survive and ultimately lost the battle. They took our land and made us their slaves. They sold us to America and we became a trading commodity.
    That is, what it is. We can’t change the past. So now 400 years later, what now?
    We had to learn through bloodshed that we were not a planet of another solar system. We are part of this world and in this world there are certain rules that can’t be broken if you want to have food. Whether we like these rules or not, they are a reality. We can fight them like Mugabe does but it would only result in hunger.
    Too many Africans are yearning for life as we knew it back then…but they just love the white man’s BMW and Lear Jet. The donkey cart is way too primitive for their liking and the cow hides that once covered our loins are not as “cool” as a Hugo Boss suit. We are a race that conveniently wants to fall back on our traditions when it suits us.
    Not everybody has the ability to be as black and white as I am, and I mean that in more than one sense. I accept and acknowledge that. But I had to ask myself where do I fit in? Do I want to go back to my ancestral land in Dundee and demand this land be given back to me so I can acquire a few wives and create my own Playboy Mansion or do I like it here in Sandton with a Blackberry?
    You would be horrified if you read all the messages I get on Facebook of people swearing at me, calling me a traitor, a disgrace to all black people in South Africa and that whites are paying me to blog my views.
    What they don’t know is that I have been very blessed to come from a long line of fighters that have fought from the days of the spear right up to the AK47. They fought for my freedom and as sure as this sun is going to come up tomorrow, I am not going to mess up all they have fought for.
    I have to address this cultural jail that stands between my people and true freedom.
    Let us look at the Tokoloshe first.
    You slept with your bed raised up on a few bricks so that when the Tokoloshe comes at night, he could move freely around your room without knocking his head against any object. For those that know this superstition will know it is a small mystical hairy thing that looks like a psychotic angry little bear and catches you at night. But if he knocks his head against your bed, you are going to get this menace all over you and he has a temper like no other on earth. Stop laughing, I’m dead serious!
    I haven’t seen him yet. I badly wanted to see him when I was small because while others feared him, I thought he sounded cool and wanted to befriend him. My grandmother would look at me in absolute horror when I wanted to see the Tokoloshe. She would tell my mother “Eish, this child scares me!”
    When my Grandfather returned from exile, he brought me a Teddy Bear from London . I looked at the Teddy and instantly knew this was the Tokoloshe I always wanted to meet. So my bear got named Tokoloshe. I got smacked a few times because I would jump on my Grandmother when she takes her afternoon nap and scare her with Tokoloshe.
    But the modern new reborn Tokoloshes sit in Parliament.
    Parliament…hmmmm… let us discuss running this country, being an example to the citizens and our traditions.
    In a new African landscape how practical is it having multiple wives? Nice idea, being a man. Come on you guys reading this, admit it!
    But 20 children? Not so good because if I see what my university education and all the sundry trimmings are costing my father I would hate to think he had to make 20 of us. He would need to join the bank robbers to keep us at university.
    My mother didn’t come cheap either, so he would have had to start stealing cattle from the white farmers if he wanted more wives. She cost him 40 head of cattle back in the 80’s. But wow, was she worth every cow! You should see her today in her Chanel dress…but five of them?
    That is the humorous side of our tradition, but the more serious side is the following reality. There are only two of us and not twenty. So from my first breath my father has been there every step of my way thus far. We are his life and the reason he works this hard. He has spent every moment available guiding me into manhood (without sending me to a bush so some traditional butcher can slaughter my stuff beyond repair) How, as a father will you possibly find the time to devout this kind of attention to 20 kids? I don’t even want to think what life would have been like without my father. Unthinkable.
    But what would I have been, if my father happily cavorted around claiming it is his culture and tradition?
    I probably would have been marching with Malema on the road to nowhere and my father would have been dead by now. I would be visiting a graveyard and trying to find life’s answers from a stone. Back in the 80’s when he married my mother us blacks haven’t heard of HIV/Aids and those enlightened ones that did know about it, thought it was a homosexual disease.
    So unbeknown to us we were killing ourselves. Merrily living out the principles of our tradition, not knowing we are committing suicide and resulting in 2 million orphans just in South Africa alone, let alone the rest of Africa .
    Wouldn’t this be a far more worthy cause to march about than march to get stuff you deliriously think should be given to you for free?
    Imagine what must be going through the mind of a 4 year old kid, who is left all alone tonight, with nobody to take care of him or her? None of these orphaned kids asked to be here, so imagine how a child has to try and make sense of all of this?
    So why do I still have my parents? Because my father knew he can’t run around making babies that he can’t provide for. He had to think soberly about life with a new millennium looming. He had us because he wanted us. We were to become his legacy. We weren’t conceived in a moment of uncontrolled lust or in the name of an outdated tradition.
    We won’t discuss the merits of the social grant for mothers with kids and absent fathers but alarmingly condoms are still very unpopular accessories amongst the population of Africa . Until recently we had that scary old Bat as a minister of health. Tokoloshe personified. Beetroot juice and cabbage leaves will cure the disease, while the Chief would shower after a bit of inyama.
    What did my father do 7 years ago when I reached puberty? He sat me down and told me the facts and how it all happens. Every time I leave the house he jokingly says he will draw blood when I return and have me tested. He jokes, but it has sunk in so deep now, I think about the consequences every time I see a gorgeous girl.
    What do my people do? Until recently it was better swept under the table than discuss the matter. It became unlawful to state a person has died of AIDS on his death certificate. How big is this denial?
    Please don’t make a comment after you have read this and tell me this disease was invented by the Apartheid rulers to wipe us out. I’m not even going to discuss that old stale story! And speaking about Apartheid, get over it. It has no relevance in 2011. Dead, gone, born 31-05-1961 and was executed on 27-04-1994. Our ultimate justification for everything that we do wrong can’t come back so we can stone it.
    The most bizarre superstition was invented to “cure” the disease. Rape a girl and it goes away. By girl, I mean little ones that had to helpless have their lives taken from them without their consent. Grown men believing in rubbish like this. How in the name of God can you possibly justify this, no matter what your traditions or beliefs are?
    We have now for far too long shrugged our shoulders and hid behind our traditions on the one hand and on the other we want to sit at the UN and pretend we have the wisdom to help decide the fate of other countries. In this world we need to merge with, you have:
    1. One wife. You sleep around, you die.
    2. You have more kids than you can provide for, they starve and when they grow up they will steal to survive because you didn’t have enough money to send them to a decent school. The government schools are a complete waste of time because the teachers are never in class.
    3. You can’t sell or trade with your daughters. They are not consumer goods.
    4. You study or qualify as an artisan so you can earn your own keep and build your own house. There isn’t enough money going around building 40 million free houses. You can wait until the sun burns itself out, it is not going to happen. So live with it.
    5. Forget the white man’s wealth. It has long gone been transferred to Sydney . There isn’t any left here. Create your own. Forget about redistribution. Use your logic. The wealth of 5 million whites was never going to send 45 million blacks into a blissful retirement. The white wealth Malema cries about daily, was only in the hands of a few whites.
    So until we move ourselves forward and merge ourselves with the world, we will remain primitive. 17 Years after independence you don’t dance from Beyers Naude to the stock exchange and have foreign journalists film your insanity in the name of freedom. We were freed 17 years ago, embrace it and use your freedom to trade with the world, not crash your own stock market.
    We can march up to the Union Buildings until the cows come home. We are not going to move ourselves forward until we free ourselves from ourselves!

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  27. cnut says:

    Yo Vusi… I’ll assume that’s you (or a fan)… long time no speak brother…

    You still the most hated young, black free-thinking columnist around?

    See your FB account has closed…

    Mr P Simps here… drop us a mail!

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  28. zin says:

    Nice write up on the place. Clearly words can revive anything really.
    Even the long better forgotten Santarama Miniland. The pictures
    Remind us how little our indigenous SA cultures were regarded. When
    Everything else was blown up..#funny?not funny? I don’t know#
    better forgotten or rebuilt as a new miniland that best reflects SA now.

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  29. Gwaks says:

    Aish… was there this weekend… looks quite rundown now – confusing that the hedges and lawns are really well maintained while the minitures are falling apart.

    would be nice to see this revamped and udpated to reflect the current environment.

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  30. Bistone says:

    yes the piece just reminded me way back when i was in primary school,if i jhad to go back i would just to go there and have fun but most importantly i would love my baby to go there..

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  31. carlo says:

    you south africans crack me up, everything is always so heavy and things get sliced up and scrutinized to the point where some one is deeply offended. I am brazilian and we have many problems like you but we have enough intergration, common understanding to get along most of the time. Debate is a start but the old soundbytes just seem hollow. Pity, i think you guys could make a carnival to rival ours if you truly wanted to. it would be really weird to talk about a white brazilian or a black brazilian in brazil,

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  32. ANDREW NDABA says:

    I would like to have the details of sole owners of Miniland or management

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  33. Ian says:

    I have been to this place last month, the birds crap guides u on the pathways. It stinks and is a risk to any1 who decides to visit for rememberance or curiosity. The ship seems to want to sink but i think the weathering is getting the better of it.

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  34. paralegal job information says:

    I am really impressed together with your writing skills as smartly as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid subject or did you customize it your self? Either way keep up the excellent high quality writing, it is rare to see a great weblog like this one these days..

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  35. careyb says:

    At least when this “apartheid” miniature musuem was built the children of South Africa got a proper education on where we come from and who contributed to developing this country.

    At least back then, they maintained these beautful models and grounds, and people actually paid to come and learn and have fun!

    If you are so worried about the post apartheid history and monuments – why don’t you get your corrupt ANC government to build them??
    Oh no wait – that would mean they would have to share their money with the children of this country – and we know they love to do that!!!

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  36. Bernadine says:

    Good day

    Will you please be so kind as to inform me about the fees and time’s you can visit your museum?

    Thank you

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  37. Dyna says:

    I don’t have much to say except for the fact that this place is spine-tinglingly creepy. This place has turned into the set of a potential horror movie. It gives me the absolute heeby-jeebies.

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  38. kenneth says:

    i`m trying to book for a school from rustenburg can u help with details

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  39. Anonymous says:

    Andy you have hit the nail on the head, I was subjected to Santarama miniland when I was young and can honestly say it has always been seriously off. Brilliant article.

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  40. skuku says:

    Santarama was created as a form of art that imitated the life of South Africa. It’s current state of derelict disrepair and tacky ‘newer’ displays make it the possibly the best artistic representation of the new South Africa. The incredible irony is that without much effort or expense, it remains a clear, accurate picture of South Africa in it’s current form – Go there and see what South Africa has truly become.

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  41. Andy says:

    Aah you know what skuku, we South Africans complain too much. Especially the moneyed ones.

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  42. […] There isn’t much information about Miniland online, but you can check out this informative post on mahala.co.za for another blogger’s […]

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  43. Andy says:

    Awfull place, an embarrassment to Joburg.

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  44. Matt says:

    Sheesh! I must really be messed up and a real racist bastard because I absolutely loved Santa Rama, went there every weekend and loved pushing the mechanical buttons that made the models move. Running up and down on the deck of the pirate ship on the pan, driving the remote controlled tanks at the entrance etc. it was well maintained and so much fun.WTF man! The comments on this blog speak more to internal conflicts than to what is for the average 7 year old a lot of fun…. a little world that is fun for little people who know nothing about politics! And a tired facility is a tired facility not some other long conversation about 100s of years of oppression.Other Miniature worlds are just as fun and probably better maintained now. Apartheid is as dead or alive as we the people make it.

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  45. nel says:

    What a shame! This place should be closed down and renovated properly, its a crime to charge people to go in.

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  46. TC says:

    Hey

    When are we going to add Nkandla and all the new monumental buildings added by government the past 20 years !! Who is going to do it ? Ok, it is only Nkandla and it cant be that difficult , but finding somebody to do it might be a problem .Viva !

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  47. […] shadow of the mines. My most exciting school trips involved being ferried out to Gold Reef City or Santarama Miniland to be told about the glories of the South African mining industry while a conga line of voiceless […]

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  48. Joe says:

    Anyone remember Christmas time at Wemmer pan 1992 round there.Story book theme park,stalls and so….

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  49. Anonymous says:

    If you forget about your past/history, how can you move on and improve. The German’s of today are taught and reminded constantly of the holocaust, because they believe forgetting will make history repeat itself. We should keep this park the way it is, fix it up and have school trips there again.

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  50. M says:

    Wow! i was doing research on this place and after reading the reviews after Vusi Mabaso i am converted i will be visiting soon

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  51. Christian says:

    The idea behind the establishment of Santarama was ideal & should be kept alive to reflect the old & new SA. All South Africans need to do some self introspection and stop pointing fingers at each other. The reason why we have a history as a country “good or bad/Apartheid or Zumatyd”, is to learn from it and build a successful nation, forecast for the future & be merry about the fact that you’re still alive. Build or fix the wrongs of today, don’t worry too much about the past wrongs as they lie in another millennium, otherwise you will for sure miss the flight to the FUTURE!!!!

    FORGIVENESS people, it’s hard but POSSIBLE. START WITH SELF-FORGIVENESS.

    God made men equal, no race is superior than the other!

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  52. John says:

    Can anyone remember the Christmas theme at the Musical fountain during the 1990’s. There use to be stalls with all the childhood dolls and stories with cubicles where you could buy lights, masks, popcorn and you name it. I am trying to get hold of the man who set it all up during that time. It was a kind hearted Portuguese man from around Johannesburg somewhere. I think he was also involved with the initial set up of Santa Rama before things started falling apart. An Indian lady that used to be the manager at Santa Rama gave me his number in 2004 but I lost it moving. Please assist.

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  53. Andrew Johnson says:

    I visited it twice in recent years and I certainly has deteriorated even further in the ten year gap I’ve seen it.
    I had visions of seeing another Bekonscot Model Village and was extremely disappointed both times.
    Although there were no crowds to speak of my children were able to run wild, showing no signs of interest in any of the models.

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  54. […] image credit: MAHALA […]

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