Over time it included the neighbouring areas of Martindale and Newclare. It was purchased by a speculator, Hermann Tobiansky, in The distance from the city centre was seen as disadvantageous and after the City of Johannesburg built a sewage plant nearby, the area seemed even less attractive. By the late s Sophiatown had a population of nearly 54, Black Africans, 3, Coloureds , 1, Indians and Chinese. From onwards, the Johannesburg City Council planned to move the black population out of the Western Areas, including Sophiatown.
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Almost three decades since its debut, the Malcolm Purky directed musical Sophiatown is back at the Market Theatre with a new cast. They destroyed a spirit, a culture, and a rich heritage that had been built up over generations. The story of forced removals will be told for many generations to come.
The pain cannot be ignored. Known as Kofifi, Sofiatown or Sophia, the surburb was the hub of black writers, musicians, activists and intellectuals in the s. Based on a true prank in which Lewis Nkosi and Nat Nakasa advertised in Drum magazine for a Jewish girl to come and stay with them in Sophiatown, the play, centred in the house of Mamariti and her shebeen, embeds questions about race and identity, the relationship of music and politics, and between writing fiction and politics.
Shebeens were political spaces, a boardroom of sorts where meetings and protests were planned and politics discussed. Mamariti, the shebeen queen, is the mother of Mingus, part of the infamous Americans gang and Lulu, a cheeky year-old fed up with Bantu education. The pages of the magazine carried the stories of the people of Sofiatown — from the swinging night life and pin-up girls to the political mayhem of the time.
Jewish bohemian girl Ruth Golding from Yeoville comes to stay with them after seeing the ad. The play highlights perspectives of people who were involved in everyday acts of resistance and organised protests against the apartheid regime.
The a capella harmonies resonated with me, having grown up in a community where these songs were sang to reminisce about the strength and bravery of everyday heroes who put their bodies on the line for liberation.
Perhaps the real reason I watched the play was to revisit those memories, the good and bad of Sofiatown, and be present in the moment. The play is a perfectly composed interpretation of Sophiatown, past all the jazz and glamour.
For a moment I think I understood what it meant to be black born in a place where both group and individuality are shaped by external circumstances founded in socio-cultural models rather than traditional black affiliation and tribal structures.
Sophiatown : a play