iconic Kofifi remembered

Lebogang Tsele

Lebogang Tsele

Sophiatown was quite unlike any other place in South Africa.

As a freehold suburb, it was one of the few places in urban South Africa where black people were allowed to own land. It also had its own unique, colourful history and character.

Yesterday Sophiatown commemorated the forced removals of its residents by the apartheid government 54 years ago.

Local community leaders, the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) signed a memorandum of understanding, promising to work together to foster unity and reconciliation between the different races in the suburb.

"We want to bring the different communities together," said Natasha Erlank, director of the Centre for Culture and Languages in Africa at UJ.

Erlank said that one of the aims of the project was to raise funding to build a community facility that would allow the community to come together and engage one another.

Also included in the project's objectives is to create a visual archive where people will be able to put together their memories of Sophiatown - photographs of themselves, their houses, photographs of the removals as well as of everyday life.

She said: "I know a lot of people think reconciliation is out of fashion, but these communities here have a history. They want to be able to speak about that past."

Actor Patrick Shai, who with Malcolm Purkey, the late Ramolao Makhene and Arthur Molepo, were in the cast of the theatre production Sophiatown in 1979, praised the initiative.

Said Shai: "I hope the centre will play its role in unifying people, in becoming a symbol of hope and integration for South Africans.

"It would be nice to one day hear the hip hop and kwaito guys include lyrics paying tribute to Sophiatown in their music."

Former Sophiatown resident Israel Setshotlo was among the first people to be moved by the apartheid regime police on February 9 1955.

He recalled: "I was about 15 years old when we were moved from Sophiatown. We were in the second group of people who were forcibly taken to Meadowlands that day.

"Sophiatown was really nice. There was very little crime in the area besides the gangsters. We knew each other. It was 'first-class' there.

"I still live in the same house in Meadowlands Zone 3 since moving there in 1955.

"I saw Soweto grow in front of my eyes." - Sowetan Online