Telling the story of Sophiatown
The reclaiming and renaming of Sophiatown, which has had two names for far too long, is a past we dare not forget, said Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo on Saturday.
Masondo was speaking at a ceremony to rename Triomf back to Sophiatown, west of Johannesburg.
“Sophiatown is a place with an amazing history and depth. Sophiatown was, in its heyday, the epicentre of politics, jazz and blues in South Africa. It’s renaming is an attempt and effort to tell [its] story,” he said.
Masondo spoke of the suburb being “bulldozed to dust” during the forced removals in 1955, leaving 65Â 000 residents without homes. They were forcefully removed over the following eight years and dumped in matchbox houses in far away places like Meadowlands, Lenasia, Western Coloured Township (now Westbury) and Noordgesig.
“Sophiatown evokes memories of a vibrant, creative, multicultural community. A place where artists, writers and musicians flourished, against the odds, in an atmosphere of racial tolerance,” he said.
Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, a Johannesburg council member, paid tribute to former African National Congress president, Dr Alfred Xuma, in her speech.
Xuma, who lived in Toby street, was one of the last residents to leave Sophiatown in 1959. Today, his house is one of only two houses that managed to escape the destruction of Sophiatown by the apartheid government.
A heritage plaque honouring Xuma and his wife was unveiled at their former home during the street parade. People dressed up in true 50’s style and jazzed up the streets with their singing and dancing during the street parade after the official ceremony. Everyone rejoiced when the Sophiatown suburb sign was officially unveiled.
Thabo Matsho, an Ekurhuleni councilor who was born in Sophiatown, said there were moments during the street parade when he felt very emotional.
“I felt like knocking on the door [of the house my parents once lived in] and saying, ‘My parents lived here. It’s my parents place. I want it back!’ But you can’t do that.”
Freda Tangee, a former District Six resident from Cape Town, said she will never forget the time of the forced removals.
“I will never ever get over that. It was terrible and it’s frustrating.”
Tangee said she feels frustrated because she never had the opportunity to carve a better life for herself.
“At 17 I couldn’t even get a job. It was because of the colour of my skin,” she smiles.
She said she felt hesitant to chat to a policemen at the event because she doesn’t trust them anymore. “I don’t know. Should I be friends with the police? They are not part of me anymore. They have become extinct. I forgive, but I never forget,” she said.
Small children with painted faces, colourful striped tops, hats and umbrella’s cluttered the back of Ben Linde’s 1970’s cream bakkie.
“Sophiatown is the best suburb. It’s the best place that I’ve lived in”.