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.
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.