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.
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.
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.
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.
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.