A Visit to the Thokoza Memorial

by | Nov 6, 2020 | Ekurhuleni (East Rand), Johannesburg, Tours, Townships/Informal Settlements | 14 comments

Last weekend I attended my second #SpazaShopTour of Katlehong and Thokoza (see my post about the first tour), and visited the Thokoza Memorial for the first time. The Thokoza Memorial, opened in 1999, honors the people who died in this area during the violent political conflict in the years leading up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

Entrance to the Thokoza Memorial
Entrance to the memorial.

In the 1990s, Katlehong and Thokoza experienced intense fighting between members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the African National Congress (ANC), two parties vying for leadership of the new South African government as apartheid came to an end. The memorial — which consists of a small, tranquil park and a monument bearing the names of several hundred of the people who died in the fighting — stands on Khumalo Street, a flashpoint for the violence due to its location between the IFP-dominated workers’ hostels on the west side of the street and the ANC-dominated residential areas on the east side.

Sidewalk leading to the Thokoza Memorial
The walkway leading to the memorial. The staff had just put in new plantings in the flowerbeds along the sides.
The monument.

I visited the memorial with one other local “tourist” and a group of people from Katlehong and Thokoza: Bongani Mabuza of the African Accent Spaza Shop, who, as a small child in Katlehong in the 1990s, had to walk through the fighting to get to and from school; Bongani’s father, Obert, who owns a taxi business and was shot multiple times in the conflict; and several others.

People from Katlehong and Thokoza at the Thokoza memorial
Left to right: Sipho Matsuma of African Accent; Bongani Mabuza of African Accent; Bongani’s friend, Lehlohonolo Kekana; Bongani’s father, Obert Mabuza; Jabulani, a Thokoza Memorial staff member who also builds these incredible toy trucks (let me know if you want his number); and tour guide Nkosikhona Kumalo.

We also visited the Sam Ntuli Memorial, a couple of blocks away from the main Thokoza Memorial, which marks the place where community leader Sam Ntuli was killed in 1991 while trying to broker peace between the ANC and the IFP.

Sam Ntuli Memorial
The Sam Ntuli Memorial.

These memorials are important sites in the history of South Africa’s struggle for democracy; they deserve the same attention and visibility as the many Struggle sites in Soweto and Alexandra. But this part of South African history is complicated, and Ekurhuleni (a.k.a. the East Rand, where Katlehong and Thokoza are located) is often overlooked on the Johannesburg historical tourism circuit.

But luckily we now have the Spaza Shop Tour, which — in addition to covering the complex history and culture of spaza shops — tells the story of the 1990s conflict through the voices of people who lived through it. It’s a unique opportunity that every South African history enthusiast should take advantage of.

The next Spaza Shop Tour takes place on 14 November. Sign up here. Also, follow @SpazaShopTours on Facebook and Instagram for information about future tours.

Group picture from Spaza Shop Tour


  1. Albert

    Very interesting. I had forgotten all the fighting between the ANC and Inkhata. I just remember the Luthuli House massacre when growing up. Didn’t know or can’t remember about the fighting in Thokoza.

    • 2summers

      Did you see the movie “The Bang Bang Club”? It’s all about the photographers who covered that conflict. It’s been years since I’ve seen it — need to watch it again.

    • Mshini

      Visit Thokoza Memorial Site

  2. Albert

    Oh yes. That was a great movie. Also need to.watch it again. Growing up one got so de-sensitized with all the violence on the TV news night after night. Due to apartheid spatial planning, the townships felt like a million miles away and it is actually so close. Crazy times. A miracle we came thru it.

  3. dizzylexa

    Wish that I had known before visiting that Ken Oosterbroek one of the members of the Bang Bang Club’s name is on this memorial.

    • 2summers

      Yes, I also just learned that myself when reading up on the memorial just now. Eventually I’d love to get Joao Silva (one of the other Bang Bang Club photographers) to come along on the tour and talk about his experience there.

      • Albert

        Count me.in!! Is he still in SA?

        • 2summers

          Yes, I believe so.

  4. Peggy Laws

    This is a Tour which I enjoyed immensely and definitely will do it again. I learnt so much and had no idea of all the history. A very special place for me. So glad you helped getting this Tour “up and running” Heather.

  5. Lani

    I enjoy educational tours. Looks like you’ve found another good one 🙂

  6. Pam

    I have also done this tour and loved the personal insight and stories that permeated the tour through the streets, interactions with locals and window into a different world.


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