9 February 1955: Remembering Sophiatown

Sophiatown, February 1955 (© Jurgen Schadeberg)

It was magical. The town that was home to the vibrant sound of Jazz, an oasis if you like of non-racialism in a South Africa that had been claimed as white through and through.

Thanks to freehold rights a community existed and it brought us the likes of Can Themba, Mzwakhe Mbuli and Hugh ‘Bra Hugh’ Masekela. Of course Apartheid wouldn’t have that.

Don Mathera in his poem The Day They Came For Our House from his 1987 release Memory is a Weapon summed it all up when he said:

Armed with bulldozers
they came
to do a job
nothing more
just hired killers.
We gave way
there was nothing we could do
although the bitterness stung in us
and in the earth around us.

They razed the whole town to the ground and replaced it with a white neighbourhood. And to add insult to injury they called the town Triomf (Triumph).

Livelihoods and lives were taken. We must never forget Sophiatown, 9 February 1955. May the spirit live on!