Benoni is a city on the East Rand in the South African province of Gauteng. Since 2000 it has been part of the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality.
Benoni’s inauspicious beginnings were in 1881 when then surveyor-general Johan Rissik found it difficult to assign title deeds to all unclaimed state property. He named a piece of land in the area Government Farm Benoni (son of my sorrow), after the Hebrew name given by Rachel to her son in the biblical Book of Genesis. In September 1887, gold was discovered and the Chimes Mine was established by Cornishmen. The village became known as “Little Cornwall” for a time.
Sir George Farrar, the chairman of a mining company, undertook the planning of the rapidly growing mining town in 1904. A river was dammed into a series of dams for mine use. Today these dams remain and are populated with fish. Many people do recreation activities at these dams including boating and picnicking.
Thousands of trees were also planted in the new mining district and it was declared the township of Benoni in 1906. Most residents were British miners followed by a strong Jewish population who suffered anti-Semitism in eastern Europe and lost all their possessions.
In 1907 the Benoni Race Track was opened. This horse racing track was breathtaking by its sheer size as compared to the small mining town in which it was situated. The first race was run on Saturday 7th December 1907 and was won by a pony named Fusy and owned by Mr John (Jack) William Travis, a Jewish farrier on the gold mines from England. Two unusual prizes were awarded for that first race, a mounted golden whip for the jockey and a gold medal for the owner of the pony. John William Travis was also responsible for importing the first race horses from England.
In 1922 the Rand Revolt (or 1922 Strike) broke out throughout the mines on the Witwatersrand and thousands of white miners went on strike. The strike was partly led by the South African Communist Party and was not well received by the South African Government so soon after the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917.
The strike quickly degenerated into open revolt, with armed miners fighting the South African police and army in the streets. The revolt lasted for about a year and the miners were bombed by the newly formed South African Air Force (SAAF) during this time. Some of the SAAF aeroplanes were shot down by the miners by groundfire. During the revolt, Benoni was used as one of the headquarters of the miners and much fighting took place in and around the area. The Benoni Museum details this episode in the town’s history.
During World War II, the South African Airforce was training pilots in Benoni.
In 1957, in an effort to introduce the sport of rugby league to South Africa, Great Britain and France played the first of a series of three exhibition matches in Benoni.
During the Apartheid Era designated townships for Blacks were established outside Benoni, namely Daveyton and Wattville. The township of Actonville was established for the habitation of Indians, whilst Benoni proper was reserved for 'whites only'. These various suburbs remain although the town is today relatively well integrated and all race-groups may live anywhere they please.