Sign of the times at “Sonop”

I grew up in the old east of Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, where I attended a not-very-exceptional junior school and then went to the much-more-impressive Pretoria Boys High from grade 8 to 12. It was during my high school years that I discovered Sonop (Sunrise) – one of the University of Pretoria’s residences for men, a few blocks east of Boys’ High. We would run past it often, at the start of our regular training routes, and it struck me back then as a pretty cool place to stay.

It consisted mainly of small four-roomed houses, unlike the other huge, more typical university hostels on campus, but it was its many “advertising boards” that made it really unique.

These are streets signs, business advertising boards and other knick-knacks – most of which have been “liberated” by its residents over the years. The first apparently appeared in the residence in the 1930s. Little did they know that this would be the start of a tradition that has grown to over 700 signs on site currently. Sonop’s website proclaims tongue-in-cheek that it “offers external institutions an opportunity to advertise their services and products free of charge on the Sonop premises. Sonop residents are more than willing to fetch advertising material … from the producers’ premises and to install them at Sonop.”

Clearly Sonop students aren’t your normal students, and over the years have had several run-ins with the authorities. (Go figure.) Their official vehicle is an old VW Combi (van) called Bollietrollie – the central character in a movie shot on campus in the 1960s – which is equipped with toilets for seats. They once had a live crocodile on campus (which escaped in 2002) and held the Guinness world record for the longest hotdog in the world …

In June 2016 Sonop will officially be 100 years old. I think it’s a pretty hip centenarian.



  1. When my son moved into Sonop the HK said that the place is held together by spider webs and traditions..I presume one could add…and signs and layers and layers of paint. A very special place indeed.

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