Glenn Moncrieff
Sandton. Source: Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, NGI by Glenn Moncrieff

Using archived aerial footage from the 1930s, Glenn Moncrieff, an ecologist at SAEON who creates visual stories of South Africa's ever-changing environment, has produced stunning illustrations of how Sandton, Durban, Cape Town and Theewaterskloof have transformed over the last 80-odd years.

“Since the 1930s aerial photographs of South Africa have been collected, showing the radical changes in our country's landscape. Some incredible stories are documented in this archive,” said Moncrieff.

The aerial photos form part of the National Geo-spatial Information (NGI), a survey system that includes aerial photographs covering all of South Africa. The archive is publicly accessible via the department of rural development and land reform. The first images date as far back as 1928, and photos have been taken approximately every three years.

They reveal how human activities have altered landscapes, how cities have grown and reshaped themselves, and how natural ecosystems have been degraded and depleted.

“Digging through these images is like a treasure hunt. Obvious landscape changes like the construction of a dam or a new suburb are easy to discover, but there are many many stories hidden in these archives,” Moncrieff said. 

The hard work is aligning the old images with modem maps, he said because often there are very few features that have survived the 80 or more years since the old photos were taken. But once they are accurately matched, peeling the modern images back to reveal the history underneath is often jaw-dropping. 

Here is how parts of South Africa have transformed over the past 80 years.

Cape Town Foreshore, 1944 and 2016

Durban harbour 1937 and 2016

Sandton 1938 and 2016 

Theewaterskloof dam 1953 and 2016

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