AfricaLagos to JoziSouth AfricaTourism

The City of Johannesburg’s Remains of the Sophiatown Renaissance

Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Building - Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Center, City of Johannesburg

My Newly Found Fun Thing To Do In Johannesburg.

See what I found around Westdene in Johannesburg! I was on my Sunday morning 10km hike downtown Auckland Park when I found this treasure. This place is called Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Center.

Sadly, they are closed on Sundays which means I surely owe this place a visit. I have previously read about the forceful removal of black South Africans from Sophiatown in Johannesburg. That act remains one of the few global evil instance of such. It is luck for me to finally find this place where the history is preserved for posterity sake. Before I visit the museum and share my tour experience, I will attempt to tell you a bit of the Sophiatown of old.

Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Building - Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Center, City of Johannesburg
Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Building – Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Center, City of Johannesburg

Sophiatown: Past, Triomf And Present

To go down memory lane, the photo of the private property above represents one of the three properties in this area that survived been razed to the ground by the oppressive South African apartheid government. After the destruction of most of the properties, the area was then renamed ‘Triomf’ which means ‘Victory’ or ‘Triumph’, literally meaning, we (the white people) now have victory over this area and we have dominated it for our use.

This is the Dutch Reformed Church - Triomf (Triumph) in Sophiatown --- [Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk - Triomf]
This is the Dutch Reformed Church – Triomf (Triumph) in Sophiatown — [Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk – Triomf]

Prior to the destruction of Sophiatown, the area in the 1940’s and early 1950’s was peculiar for it’s rich multicultural flavor. It was a melting pot of tribes and races. Several notable artists, politicians and jazz musicians congregate to have conversations and to use their talents to condemn the unequal social justice of their time. It was a breeding ground for anti-apartheid activists.

Sophiatown was a unique assembly point in the Old South Africa where intellectuals, of note and musicians congregate to have productive conversations
Sophiatown was a unique assembly point in the Old South Africa where intellectuals of note and musicians congregate to have productive conversations

Trevor Huddleston And Dr. Alfred Xuma

Trevor Huddleston was the man whom this building was named after.  He was a local priest in the area in those days. The next door building was Dr. Alfred Bitini Xuma’s home. He was an exceptional medical practitioner of his time and a former president of the African National Congress (ANC).

A stone plaque commissioned by the City of Johannesburg to mark the undemolished house of Dr. Xuma in Sophiatown
A stone plaque commissioned by the City of Johannesburg to mark the undemolished house of Dr. Xuma in Sophiatown

We Won’t Move Movement

Father Trevor along with Mr. Nelson Mandela, Ruth First and Helen Joseph were some of the staunch anti-apartheid activists who condemned the destruction of Sophiatown in the strongest terms possible. This area was razed to the ground by bulldozers on the 9th of February, 1955 to give way for new housing development for only white people. Over 2,000 fully armed policemen partook in the forceful removal of black, coloured, Indian and Chinese people who were living in Sophiatown.

The people resisted the forceful removal by chanting “Ons dak nie, ons phola hier” meaning that "We Won't Move"
The people resisted the forceful removal by chanting “Ons dak nie, ons phola hier” meaning that “We Won’t Move”

Meadowlands

Black people were allocated a township in Soweto called Meadowlands. I have the soulful music of Sibongile Kumalo & co titled Meadowlands. Not to forget Thandi Klaassen’s tribute to Sophiatown in her Together As One album. “Sophiatown was indeed the place they all knew. It was where their dreams came true until the white man came to break it down”. Several other artistes sang beautifully about the pain and agony of the forced removal of black people from Sophiatown.

The Revival of Sophiatown
The Revival of Sophiatown

Freedom Atlast

Thankfully, today, apartheid’s head has been crushed and that heritage of multi-plurality has been restored. The rich flavors of art has returned. Life in it’s fullness is now free for all. And I, as a Nigerian living around this area is a testament of that freedom for all and not for some.

Sophiatown Museum poster
Sophiatown Museum poster

It will be nice to read from you in the comment section if you have additional information about this area and most importantly, if you have a personal experience of life in Sophiatown. I hope to share more photos of my experience at the museum as soon as I visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *