Guest Post by Ann Patras: Life in Fourways in the 1990s

When we first visited Joburg in 2009, our relocation agent proudly showed us around the area we had picked to live in. It soon became clear to us that everything pretty much revolved around Fourways. Shopping, restaurants, the fabled Montecasino, doctors’ offices, a cinema – all of it was clustered around a large and busy intersection teeming with cars, minibus taxis, pedestrians, and street vendors. It was like a village of its own. 

I remember feeling surprised when learning that it hadn’t always been that way. Fourways, in fact, had gotten its name by virtue of its original function as a simple fourway stop, out in the boonies where two one-lane country roads met. If I now say, for all I know they were frequented by a few donkey carts a day, I will probably create some outrage, so I will leave out the donkey carts bit, but you get my drift. Fourways was rural back in the day, and now it’s as urban as it gets.

Old Fourways intersection – I don’t have an exact date  for  this picture. Photo credit Chartwell Country Estates
Fourways Mall now occupies the site of the old petrol station
I’ve always been curious what the area might have looked and felt like back in those days. When I got to know Ann Patras and it turned out she moved to Fourways 1989 – precisely 20 years before us – and witnessed its birth as a suburb, I immediately knew I wanted her to write a guest post for Joburg Expat. 
I love Ann’s conversational style of writing, as if you were chatting with her over a cup of coffee. (She has also written a book, Into Africa: with 3 Kids, 13 Crates and a Husband, you will find a link at the bottom of this post). I was particularly captivated by the way she arrived in Johannesburg so many years ago with her husband, kids, sleeping bags, and as many clothes as they could fit into their suitcases, but not much else. It’s very different from my own, pampered experience featuring look-see trips and corporate relocation agents, and makes for a refreshing perspective. Without further ado, here comes Ann Patras:

Dear All,

My name is Ann, and I am delighted to be visiting Sine’s Blog here today. Sine and I have something special in common – Johannesburg. Let me tell you a little about how I got there.

Back in the 1980 my husband Ziggy and I left England with our three very young children to live in Africa, Zambia to be precise, where he had been offered a two year contract as a site manager in the mining industry. We stayed in Africa for thirty-one years.

We didn’t remain with the same employers, however, and this is how in 1989 we left Zambia and undertook the great migration down to Johannesburg, South Africa.

We knew next to nothing about the place, though some of our friends in Zambia used to visit there on a regular basis, mostly on shopping trips from our retail-starved country.  We asked their advice on the best places to look for accommodation, and were told that most of the English-speaking expats tended to live in the more northerly suburbs of Johannesburg, or Joburg. Apparently the population in the south, east and west tended to be more Afrikaans-speaking.  The only Afrikaans we knew were a couple of swear words and colloquialisms such as braai (barbeque), takkies (sneakers) and bakkies (pick-ups) which had filtered northwards, so living in an Afrikaans community did not really seem the best of ideas.

Having suffered a serious burglary in Zambia, we left there with very little. Our finances were tight, so our first two weeks in Joburg were spent in a small hotel room. Just one. With all five of us in it – Ziggy and myself taking up to only two single beds and the kids on the floor in their sleeping bags, which were among the few possessions we carried as baggage when moving down from Zambia.

The Patras children ready to go carol singing in the Fourways area 1990

I knew we needed to find an area to live that offered good schooling facilities for our children. Being loath to commit to a rental in the wrong place, I scoured the newspapers for properties to rent whilst Ziggy commenced work. I found a house available for two months, where we’d have more room to spread out while I searched for a permanent base. This temporary home was located in Fourways, about as far north of Joburg you could get without ploughing the fields and an area I knew nothing about. And yet, we ended up staying in Fourways for 22 years! Several years after we settled there, guess what was built just north of Fourways. You’ve got it – Dainfern, where the lovely Sine lived.

But let’s back-track to the beginning of ‘89. Ziggy’s new place of employment was on the south-western edge of Joburg, so you would think that our living on the northern reaches was pretty dumb. On the contrary: We lived only half a mile from the then quiet N1/N3 highway which headed in the right direction, so travelling the 12 miles to work took less than 20 minutes. The only disadvantage was that I never got to meet any of his work colleagues whose families I could have befriended. As a consequence, completely ‘alone’ in a big city for the first time, I simply visited local stores to find people to chat to and to ask about the area and its facilities. It turned out that I couldn’t have picked a better place than Fourways. There was an excellent primary school just two miles away from our house, and a new high school which had opened just a year earlier was even closer. As Brad, our eldest son, was due to start high school at the beginning of the following school year, this couldn’t have worked out better.We had a little money saved, so managed to buy a few essential household items like a fridge, microwave oven (which I used frequently), and washing machine. Our bed consisted of a mattress I found for a discount as it had a very slight tear in the fabric, sitting on the carpeted floor because I couldn’t afford to buy a base. The children had to make do with connected, fold-out foam blocks which could be spread out to make a bed, or folded up to make a chair. These makeshift mattresses weren’t very wide, so it was a good job our kids were skinny! 

The versatile starter furniture. Ann shown here with Rotti puppy named CBL (for Carling Black Label; a lager beer popular in England at the time). “Since 1980 all our dogs have been named after drinks,” says Ann.

With the kitchen and bedrooms sorted out, we just needed somewhere to sit and relax, and eat. The answer was obvious. I bought a set of garden furniture. It could be used in the dining room at mealtimes, in the lounge for relaxing in the evening, and moved outside at the weekends to enjoy the sunshine. Perfect!

As I continued to look for a long term house, it became obvious that I was going to need transport. Ziggy’s new job had come complete with a company car, so what little cash we had left was used for a deposit on a car for me. We found vehicles to be very expensive in South Africa and had to organise a loan to complete the purchase.

Just before our short lease expired, I found our first permanent house just three-quarters of a mile away. It was quite large – four bedrooms, two bathrooms and with lounge, dining room and kitchen all separate. It was set in a large garden (or ‘yard,’ I think US readers would call it) and had a thatched roof.

The Patras’ first permanent house in Fourways

Our meagre possessions looked totally lost in that house, with just our versatile lounge furniture and bookshelves made from a couple of planks and a dozen house-bricks found in our yard. We stayed there for over sixteen months, but then the owners wanted to sell it, and as we weren’t yet in a position to buy a property (we were still in the middle of selling a house we owned in England) we had to find somewhere else to live. Our next home was only half a mile away, still in Fourways, and closer to the High School. We stayed there for a year. Not long after we arrived in this house we managed to complete the sale of our UK property. I went over to England and arranged for our furniture and masses of hoarded stuff to be shipped out to South Africa. We could now finally start looking for a home to buy, and as far as I was concerned it had to be in ‘Fourways proper’.‘Fourways proper,’ as it was known by established residents, was the original area which included, I would guess, about a thousand properties. Each house sat on a stand of about 2000 square metres, in various shapes. As Fourways became ‘the place to be,’ the outlying areas began to develop, and whilst each small area had its own name (Magaliessig, Norscot, Craigavon, etc), real estate agents would term them as being located in Fourways, which mildly displeased us ‘real’ people.

An aerial view of the area, showing the house with pink arrow to corner where ladder was.  The neighbours later sold their house to become the Animal Eye Hospital.
The ladder was positioned behind the tree to the right of the pool slide, to diagonally access the house on the rear right.

After looking at only about half a dozen properties I found one I instantly knew was perfect for us. It was just around the corner from where we lived and we could have moved house with a handcart – if our possessions would have fitted on a hand-cart. As it was, we borrowed a bakkie from Ziggy’s work to move our furniture the 200 yard distance – including the piano (that has a story of its own, which I won’t go into here). One of the best things about our new house, as far as the kids were concerned, was that it was only sixty yards, as the lourie flies, from Fourways High School. The trouble was, it was a 500-yard walk along the street, but our kids soon solved that problem. They got to know the neighbours at the bottom of our garden, who lived opposite the school, and in no time at all we had arranged a step ladder either side of the five-foot wall for ease of passage. This became the established route to and from school every day – even I used it when I wanted to visit the school for any reason.

We thoroughly enjoyed living in Joburg, though just like the Johannesburg terrain itself our life there had many high and low spots. Over the years we watched as Fourways grew from a quiet residential area into a bustling suburb which offered just about everything you could ever want. There is SO much I could tell you about, but that is material for another time.

My husband and I now live in Spain although literary-wise I still find myself in Zambia, working my way through the amazing time spent there. You can read all about our hectic first year in the opening book of my Africa Series – Into Africa: with 3 Kids, 13 Crates and a Husband. As for the rest – it’s coming. In the meantime you can visit my website at for a collection of my stories.

X Ann

The Patras Family in 2012

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