Roll up! Roll up! To the greatest Easter show on earth!
The date is 13 March 1895.
People are arriving from all over the young Transvaal Republic and the brand-new mining town of Johannesburg. They are excited, because today President Paul Kruger will open the second Witwatersrand Agricultural Show on the western edge of the town. It is four years before the Anglo Boer War, and life here is pleasant and mostly peaceful.
The inaugural show was organised by the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society a year before and held at the Wanderers Club, the club that would become Johannesburg’s most famous sports club. The show was such a huge success with the agricultural animals and produce on show and the displays of home baked goodies, fruit, flowers, plants, poultry, dairy products an agricultural equipment that it was decided to make it an annual event. For the kids there was candy and ginger beer and plenty of dusty open space to run around. Word spread quickly, and for this second show in 1895, there were 900 exhibitors and about 20,000 visitors, of whom 3,000 came by train from all the way from the Cape and Natal colonies!
And thus was born what soon became known as the Rand Easter Show… and to generations of South Africans and visitors from all over the world, the greatest Easter show on Earth.
A year later, the area where this second show was located, commonly known as Fietas but officially called Vrededorp, and the adjacent townships of Braamfontein, Fordsburg and the Malay Location, were flattened when 60 tons of dynamite accidentally exploded in a nearby railway yard. It came to be known as the Great Dynamite Explosion. Yet the following year, the popular show went on.
Now fast-forward to 8 April 2020.
What is now known simply as The Rand Show, will take place for the 126th time from 8 to 13 April at the Johannesburg Expo Centre at Nasrec, southwest of the city, having been interrupted only by war in all the years since 1894.
While the city has exploded into a vast metropolis filled with millions of people since the late 1800s, the Rand Show too has grown immensely. It has transformed itself into a fabulous kaleidoscopic, high-tech, cyber-supported collection of exhibitions and displays. Its 1895 version probably attracted around 20,000 visitors at most; these days around half-a-million visitors pass through its turnstiles each year.
Cattle, sheep, pumpkins, cakes and flowers have been displaced by military displays, drum majorettes and aerial acrobatics; geek and pop culture feasts with video games, gadgets, tech, e-sports and cosplay; acres of world-class fashion brands to get any dedicated shopper’s heart bouncing; a zone where agents from different government departments are on hand to sort out your outstanding fines, accounts queries and more; talent competitions for singers, dancers and poets; plus lots of food and entertainment. One can only wonder what those formal Victorian folk of 1895 would have to say!
In 1928, the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce presented the first exhibit by a foreign country and soon a huge range of international pavilions followed each year. Throughout the show’s evolution over the decades, its changing nature frequently reflected the global changes in technology. Thus from its humble agricultural beginnings it evolved to include a hugely popular “motor traders’ section”, added in 1912, an enormous new Motor Hall added in 1927 that also housed an aeroplane and Malcolm Campbell’s land-speed-record-breaking car Bluebird, to later large sections housing manufacturing and industrial displays and on to the dazzling high-tech affair of today.
After the start of the previous century, in the era of the great international fairs, Johannesburg in 1936 also hosted what was known as the Empire Exhibition, a celebration of the city’s 50th birthday. The Rand Show grounds were used for the event, which gave the show a significant boos in the shape of new exhibition halls, a new electrical system, roads, various other improvements and its iconic Tower of Light. The Empire Exhibition lasted four months and attracted more than two million visitors.
Over the years the Rand Show has attracted people from all over the country and every corner of the world, including its fair share of the rich and famous. As mentioned, the second show was opened by President Kruger. After being put on hold during the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902), the show resumed and became South Africa’s flagship exhibition as reflected by the succession of dignitaries who opened it each year. In 1947 it was King George accompanied by Queen Elizabeth and princesses Elizabeth (the current queen) and Margaret.
In 1950, the two-time prime minister, legendary Boer general and later British general in two World Wars, General Jan Smuts, opened the show for the eighth time. It was Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the mining magnate and father of Anglo American Corporation – so strongly intertwined in the history of Johannesburg – who opened it in 1957. In 1962 the first president of the new South African republic, CR Swart, did the honours.
In 1960 the show gained brief notoriety when it became the site of a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. The would-be assassin was a deranged white farmer, David Pratt, who later died mysteriously in prison in what was claimed to have been a suicide.
Since its inception the show has moved from the early site of the Wanderers Club (1894) to the land adjacent to Fietas in 1895; after the Anglo-Boer War to land in the same area in what became known as Milner Park, later simply Milpark, and what would be the show’s home for the next few decades; then moving to its current location at the Expo Centre at Nasrec in 1984.
The Milpark showgrounds were used as military barracks during the Anglo-Boer War as well as during World War 2. After the Great Dynamite Explosion victims left homeless were temporarily accommodated there. Its original Milpark site is now the western campus of the Witwatersrand University.
From the 20,000 visitors in 1895 – probably a somewhat exaggerated figure – attendance rose to around 100,000 people in 1927, some 200,000 by 1946, and more than 500,000 from 1957 onwards. These days the show – having completely changed in nature – attracts between 300,000 and 500,000 people a year.
Over the decades its character changed from a focus on agricultural production and development, to industrial and commercial development, to entertainment. In 1918 a dedicated amusement park became part of the show – to the annoyance of serious agricultural exhibitors and participants – and in 1964 a very popular overhead cableway was added, and the entertainment sideshow became more of a focal point. Today the show is largely an entertainment-based affair.
The show’s name also changed over the years, from the Witwatersrand Agricultural Show, to the Rand Easter Show and eventually to just The Rand Show. This year it is being marketed alternatively as Rand Show and #MyRandShow, the latter a reflection of how it has evolved to cater for the high-tech app-and-phone-driven tastes of people of the new millennium. To make it even more in tune with the current era, the show this year has been completely redesigned but is still one of this country’s most iconic events on the annual entertainment and exhibition calendar.
It’s excellent value for money and fabulous entertainment for kids of all ages from 2 to 100. So, if you are anywhere near Gauteng this April, be sure to visit the greatest Easter show on earth.
Some of The Rand Show highlights this year
“In 2020, we aim to surprise people with a brand-new journey. While we will always celebrate what has made The Rand Show one of the most loved events of the year, added variety will mean each visitor can discover something unique, or of value to them,” says Craig Newman, CEO Johannesburg Expo Centre.
“This positioning also makes the event the ideal platform for exhibitors to showcase and participate, and we are already seeing good uptake from a wide and new range of brands with everything from furniture to perfumes and beauty products, to crafts, services and more. With something for everyone, a day at The Rand Show will be an extraordinary day – creating a great memory”
Examples of some of the exciting new additions this year include a highly interactive Kids Zone; a Foodie Zone delivering on-trend produce and experiences such as craft breweries and gin tasting, a coffee and chocolate experience and delicious food tasters; as well as new Lifestyle, Design, Entertainment, Outdoor and Action and Retail zones. In addition, a significant attraction for visitors in 2019 was the incredible competitions and prizes available, something that will be repeated and made even bigger and better in 2020, the organisers are promising.
The new Entertainment Zone
The all-new Entertainment Zone at The Rand Show 2020 brought to the show by Fundi Education Finance, is giving gifted South African performers a unique stage to come and shine. Entries recently opened for Joburg’s Talent – the Rand Show’s own epic talent search. So, if you think you have what it takes to wow the crowds and take your performing career to the next level, now is your time to shine.
There are total cash prizes of R 125 000 up for grabs, plus Golden Tickets to the final auditions for Born to Perform at the Teatro and Montecasino in 2021. There will also be vouchers for the Stageworx School of Performing Arts to be won. Vouchers can be used towards classes, showreels, professional photographs, music videos or song production. Finalists will also be given links to their performances, to use on their showreels or to share on social media.
Marvel, world of super heroes
Here’s one that will absolutely wow children up the age of 12…..The Marvel Find Your Power Junior Super Hero Training Academy is not only a brand-new addition, but it is also a unique offering that families will not be able to experience just anywhere. The unique training academy is a Marvel-themed event for children up to 12 years old, and will see them learning the moves of some of Marvel’s most well-known super hero characters in specially curated sessions.
Imagine your children learning the moves of some of Marvel’s most iconic super hero characters such as Thor, Black Panther, Captain America, Black Widow as well as Spider-Man. You don’t have to imagine, at the Rand Show they will complete their training and earn their own Marvel Junior Super Hero membership card. Look out for a few surprises too.
Cooking up a storm for big cash prizes
With this item it’s time to brave the heat and get into the kitchen for the Jacaranda Clash of Kitchens. If you have a passion for food, this one’s for you. The Jacaranda Clash of Kitchens is a reality cooking competition with R150 000 in cash and prizes up for grabs. It’s to South Africa’s brightest culinary champions with a flair for fabulous flavours and will keep food-lovers gawking throughout the Rand Show.
125 teams of two people each will compete in live cooking elimination rounds over six intense days, in the 2020 Rand Show’s new Foodie Zone. To ensure that the competition is fair, every team will have to create dishes using ingredients from our mystery baskets.
Easylife Kitchens will be sponsoring all the workstations for the Jacaranda Clash of Kitchens, so contestants will be fully equipped to do their best. And when Rand Show 2020 wraps up, workstations will be donated to a charity. Teams will be judged on creativity, taste and presentation. And mentor judges will be on hand to provide guidance and feedback, at least up until the final 32 teams are revealed. After that, the teams are on their own.
Celebrity judges and Chefs chosen by the SA Chefs Association and Vicky Crease Catering will make the ultimate decision on who walks away with the Jacaranda Clash of Kitchens title and the grand prize.
Festival of Gaming
The show’s Play Zone 2 is being transformed into every escapist’s dream as the Festival of Gaming explodes onto the scene. The team at NAG has partnered with the Rand Show to turn Hall 8 into an epic geek destination. The Festival of Gaming will play host to a variety of video games, gadgets, tech, esports and cosplay, plus a feast of other pop culture delights.
Digital battles, booming bandwidth, all the gaming and tech gadgets you need and loads of cool toys, collectibles and must-have gear, along with tournaments and other digital attractions, will be on hand to tempt seasoned geeks and newcomers alike.
Michael James, Publisher of NAG and Senior Project Manager of Vodacom rAge says, “Our objective at NAG has always been to grow the gaming industry. The exciting reinvention of the Rand Show in 2020 is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase the culture we all love so much to an audience that hasn’t been exposed to our industry on such a large scale.
“We’re also working on bringing a few amazing experiences to our existing community by leveraging off the footprint and power of the Rand Show. We look forward to fresh gaming, technology and geek culture for everyone while staying true to our hardcore gaming audience. The NAG, Vodacom rAge and Rush esports teams have come together to use their combined influence and existing audience reach to bring an enticing new digital energy to the legendary Rand Show.”
This partnership also means that NAG is moving their annual Rush e-sports event to the Festival of Gaming in 2020. The event will celebrate its fourth iteration by expanding scope to include casual gamers while still hosting tournaments for professional players. This is in line with the company’s objective of growing local e-sports by enabling new audiences to participate in and experience this global phenomenon.
Ulanova Visser, Marketing Director of Vodacom 4U, Vodacom’s Youth Branded Channel says, “Rush esports is going to cause a huge spectacle at the Rand Show this year, and Vodacom 4U can’t wait for the big reveal on 8 April. This is South Africa’s biggest show, so of course we have to bring something that matches its stature. It’s going to be huge.”
Another exciting addition to the Festival of Gaming will be the World Cosplay Summit (WCS) South African Championship. Beginning in 2003, World Cosplay Summit has grown to be the largest cosplay event in the world – teams of two must design and create their own costumes, as well as perform a skit, of their favourite Japanese pop culture characters.
In August 2020, over 40 countries will send their representatives to Japan to compete in the WCS Championship, where one team will be crowned the WCS Champion. The Festival of Gaming will be hosting the WCS South African Championship round, where the country’s top cosplayers will battle it out to become the National Champion and fly to Japan in 2021 to take on the world’s best in the biggest cosplay competition in the world.
And there’s still plenty more, liker all the usual outdoor activities and exhibitions in the various halls. So whatever rocks your boat, get on your show gear and head to Nasrec southwest of Jo’burg this Easter. Built on a solid foundation but constantly evolving with the times, this year’s Rand Show will blast you into new fun zones like never before! It’s still the greatest Easter show on Earth.