Elizabeth and Vincent in Sophiatown

#Gauteng52, Week 29: Sophiatown The Mix

Welcome to Week 29 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Sophiatown The Mix.

The point of the #Gauteng52 challenge is for me to visit 52 places in Gauteng where I’ve never been before. However, I have been to Sophiatown many times. I’ve done walking tours of the suburb (see here and here) and listened to jazz in the Sophiatown Heritage Centre.

But Sophiatown The Mix — a new multipurpose center next to the old Heritage Centre, which offers many new and exciting events and services — had escaped my awareness until two months ago. So I think this still counts as new.

Sophiatown The Mix centreSophiatown The Mix, part of the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre nonprofit.

Some background on Sophiatown: Similar to Cape Town’s District Six, Sophiatown was a multiracial, richly cultural neighborhood that was destroyed under apartheid. During the 1950s, Sophiatown’s black, colored, and Asian residents were rounded up by police and forcibly removed to townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

The apartheid government razed Sophiatown to the ground — only three buildings survived — then rebuilt the suburb into an all-white enclave called Triomf (Afrikaans for “triumph”). Years after apartheid ended, in 2006, Sophiatown officially returned to its original name.

street in SophiatownSophiatown today — an average, middle-class suburban neighborhood with little hint of the trauma that took place a few decades ago.

Sophiatown was home to many South African legends — musical heroes, anti-apartheid activists, writers, artists. Father Trevor Huddleston, a leading anti-apartheid voice within the Anglican church, lived here for years and is buried here. Musicians Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Abdullah Ibrahim and artist Gerard Sekoto also lived in Sophiatown.

There are references to Sophiatown all over the city, yet many Joburgers have no idea where it is because it was erased from history for more than three decades.

Sophiatown The Mix

The Sophiatown Heritage Centre, which occupies the former home of Dr. A.B. Xuma (one of the few houses in Sophiatown that wasn’t destroyed), has been open for years. Sophiatown The Mix was built in 2015, immediately beside the Xuma house.

Sophiatown the Mix describes itself as a social enterprise, but I would describe it as a community center on steroids. It’s a museum, a community meeting place, a music and events venue, and a small business incubator. It’s hard to explain — I guess that’s why it’s called “The Mix”. But this hard-to-explain place is bringing more attention to Sophiatown and I love that.

Upstairs at Sophiatown the MixThe second level of the Mix, with a memorial to all of the original streets in Sophiatown.

I highly recommend the Sophiatown walking tours, which have been happening for years but seem to have expanded in frequency and breadth since the Mix was built. I did the tour twice over the last several weeks and had some extraordinary encounters, including conversations with current and former Sophiatown residents who experienced the forced removals in the 1950s. I also got inside Christ the King Anglican Church, another building that survived Sophiatown’s demolition, for the first time.

Tshepo Letsoalo, guide for Sophiatown The MixTshepo Letsoalo, an animated guide for the Mix, speaks during our walking tour. Tsepho grew up in Meadowlands but his grandparents were from Sophiatown. Many years later, Tsepho moved to Sophiatown himself to become a caretaker at Christ the King Church.

Elizabeth Nobathane in SophiatownElizabeth Nobathane, who was removed from Sophiatown with her family when she was about eight years old. Elizabeth moved back to Sophiatown in 1997: She was one of the first black residents to return. We visited her at her house on Bertha Street, which was a very special experience.

Elizabeth and VictorElizabeth and her friend Victor Mokhine, who also was born in Sophiatown and forcibly removed as a child. Victor now serves as a guide at the Mix.

Inside Christ the King ChurchInside the beautiful Christ the King church.

Trevor Huddleston Memorial at Christ the KingThe Trevor Huddleston Memorial outside the church. Father Huddleston’s ashes are buried here.

Sophiatown the Mix is at 73 Toby Street, Sophiatown. The Heritage Museum, inside the A.B. Xuma house, is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and has beautiful exhibits about the history of Sophiatown. Walking tours are available every day of the week and the Mix offers many other interesting exhibitions and events. More information here.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

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6 Comments

  • Reply autumnashbough July 18, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    I’m glad Triomf didn’t stick. What’s the racial makeup of the neighborhood now?

    • Reply 2summers July 18, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      I know, it’s such a bone-chilling name, given the circumstances. It’s still mostly white but a lot more diverse than it was…Maybe 10 or 20% nonwhite? That’s a total guess though.

      • Reply violetonlineisonline July 18, 2017 at 7:38 pm

        I think (could be wrong) that Sophiatown is today one of the more diverse suburbs in Jozi. Many black families returned after 1994 and I’m pretty sure that today it’s a fairly mixed neighbourhood.
        Great blog btw.

        • Reply 2summers July 18, 2017 at 7:51 pm

          Thanks Violet. I’ll research this! When walking through the suburb it still feels very ‘white’. But of course looks can be deceiving.

          • violetonlineisonline July 18, 2017 at 7:53 pm

            the one thing that struck me, and I did this walk about a year ago, was that every house seemed to have a guard dog. low walls but fierce dogs.

          • 2summers July 18, 2017 at 7:55 pm

            Yes! I’ve done the tour three times and always notice that too.

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