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Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Centre, 71 Toby Street, Sophiatown, Johannesburg, 2092 . Post: PO Box 468, Westhoven 2142.
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The Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre. NPO no 020 393
Patrons: Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Ambassador Abdul Minty, Rev Mpho Tutu
Hon Sophie du Bruyn MP, Emeritus Archbishop Khotso Makhulu, Esme Matshikiza, Sally Motlana.
THE TOWN DESTROYED TO STOP BLACK AND WHITE PEOPLE MIXING
By Ellen OtzenBBC World Service
11 February 2015
Sophiatown, in the suburbs of Johannesburg, was once known for its bohemian lifestyle and vibrant music scene. But 60 years ago, the South African government decided to clear the multi-
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The sound of horses’ hooves and shouts from police woke 10-
It was February 1955, and Mokine lived with his family in Sophiatown, home to 65,000 people – black, white, mixed-
“I could see policemen on horseback in our yard. Our parents told us to stay inside the house as they thought there would be violence,” he says.
“They were armed with rifles, pistols, some with machineguns. We could hear the sound of rolling trucks that had arrived to carry people’s belongings.”
The residents of Sophiatown had been told that they were going to be moved to a new site ten miles to the west. But in order to pre-
When Mokine and his family eventually went outside, they realised that 2,000 police had descended on the sleeping neighbourhood.
Sophiatown was one of the few areas in South Africa at the time where black people were allowed to own land.
But the government used the Group Areas Act, which compelled different racial groups to live separately, to enforce its policy of segregation.
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It had decided two years earlier that the people of Sophiatown should be moved to a new site called Meadowlands after residents in neighbouring white suburbs started agitating for their removal.
Over the next couple of days, the evictions began in earnest.
“There was a great deal of fear. Some of the policemen simply kicked the doors in, while they shouted in Afrikaans at people to get outside. It felt like a war situation,” says Mokine.
Paul Joseph, then a factory worker in his mid-
There would have been a massacre if they [resisted] Paul Joseph
“I went there and stood on the fringes and watched people being loaded onto the trucks very quietly. There was no singing, no shouting, no opposition,” he says.
“It was clearly [a campaign] of overpowering intimidation.“
But the authorities portrayed it as a time of celebration, saying the residents were happy to get away from a “plague spot”. A local news bulletin proclaimed they were rejoicing, their “hearts are filled with happy expectation” as they headed for a new home.
.The “plague spot” was, until 1955, known for its musicians, artists, and writers as well as its gangsters.
There was overcrowding and shared toilets in the yard but also a relentless energy and optimism, recalls Joseph.
“People went to Sophiatown to listen to music,” he says.
The scene there attracted people from across Johannesburg and musicians who later went on to become big stars, such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, started their careers performing in Sophiatown’s jazz clubs.
But this wasn’t just the home of dance halls and parties. It was also a hub of ANC activity and one of Paul Joseph’s friends, a young Nelson Mandela, was a frequent visitor.
In the months leading up to the removals, the ANC and the Indian Congress organised joint protests in Sophiatown against the government’s clearance plans. Mandela, then the ANC’s deputy president, gave a speech in Sophiatown’s Freedom Square, telling the crowd that the time for passive resistance was over, and the ANC’s local youth league launched the slogan “Removal over our dead bodies.”
But when they realised how heavily armed the police were likely to be, ANC leaders – including Mandela – advised residents not to resist.
“There would have been a massacre if they had, there’s no doubt about it,” says Joseph.
In August 1956, in the middle of the South African winter, Victor Mokine and his family were finally moved.
“We waited for the removal truck the whole day. By the time it arrived, it was 7pm, dark and cold,” he says.
When they reached Meadowlands, they were given a dustbin, two loaves of bread and a pint of milk. An official took them to their new house.
“When we got there, they just dumped us outside with our goods. There were no ceilings in the house and the floors and walls had not been plastered. The roofing had just been laid over the bricks so the first night we arrived it was very cold, the wind was howling through the vents. We had to use bits of newspaper that night to keep it out,” he says.
“There were still no shops in Meadowlands and we had to go to adjoining townships, Orlando West, to buy goods for the first year.”
And although the family of 10 was now living in a five-
“Coming home from work in the evening, people kept getting lost because there were still no streetlights in Meadowlands and the houses were identical matchbox structures. And many families lost the men who were the heads of the households.”
“They just started passing away. In the street where we lived, within three or four years I found out that most of the households had lost their main bread-
“We attributed that to the stress they suffered.”
Victor Mokine and his family were removed from Sophiatown when he was 11
By 1962, Sophiatown had been flattened and rebuilt as a whites-