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Authors: Peter Magubane; Charlene Smith
Soweto, a name known internationally, is synonymous with the struggle against apartheid. During the forced removals of the 1950s, countless black people were relocated to areas surrounding Johannesburg, that eventually came to be known as Soweto. It was in Soweto that the uprising took place in 1976, signalling the beginning of the end of apartheid. This text showcases some of Peter Magubane's finest photographs, taken over almost 50 years. The book covers the town's development and continues to today, showing its poverty, colour and art. The reader is taken through the creation of Soweto in the 50's and it's bloody uprising in the 70's. The main body illustrates the people of Soweto going about their daily lives: working and playing, celebrating and grieving.
Charlene Smith has over 20 years' experience as a political writer and documentary maker for CBC, CBS and ABC. She is the author of Robben Island, published in 1997 by Struik and reprinted many times. She lives in Greenside, Johannesburg.
Peter Magubane is an internationally acclaimed photographer, whose long and distinguished career spans over 45 years. As one of South Africa's most distinguished photographers, he began his illustrious career with the Brownie camera his father gave him when he was a boy. The young Peter took photographs of his classmates and set himself on a path to becoming a photographer of world renown.
Working first with the illustrious Drum Magazine during the fifties and later for the Rand Daily Mail, Magubane routinely covered political assignments. As a result he was detained, kept in solitary confinement and later banned by the nationalist government of the time. Despite the harassment, his photographs recorded much of the violence and pathos of the apartheid era and his pictures of the 1976 Soweto riots defined his reputation as a first-class social and political photographer. Peter Magubane boasts an impressive career that spans nearly half a century and he has received numerous accolades for his contribution to the world of photography.
He has received a number of prestigious accolades for his courageous and outstanding contribution to the world of photography, including the Robert Capa Award (1986), Special Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism (1992), Martin Luther King Luthuli Award (1995), Lifetime Achievement Award from Mother Jones Foundation and Leica Cameras (1997), Fellowship by the Tom Hopkinson School of Journalism and Cultural Studies, University of Wales, Cardiff (1997) and Order for Meritorious Service Class II from President Mandela (1999). He has published 12 books, among them Black Woman's Federation (1975), Magubane South Africa (1978), Black as I am (1978), Soweto (1978), Soweto Speaks (1979), Black Child (1982), I'Gradi Fotografi (1982), June 16 (1986), Soweto - Portrait of a City (Struik, 1990), Women of South Africa (1993), Mandela, Man of Destiny (1995), June 16 1976 - Never Never Again (1995) and Vanishing Cultures of South Africa (Struik, 1998). He is based in Johannesburg.
Saturday Dispatch (Jean Wyatt)
I shall never forget that winter morning
Ubucub' obuhle buhamba ngabubili
According to this Zulu proverb two people are always better than one: they are interdependent, as Johannesburg and Soweto are. Less than a century ago, Soweto did not exist. "Today's smoky stretch of densely packed people was just another patch of highveld, and few could have predicted the worldwide impact and historical significance that it was to have in the future.
With the discovery of gold in 1886, Johannesburg grew rapidly and haphazardly. It was a wild town of few rules, its economy, ever hungry for cheap labour, dominated by gold, liquor and prostitution. Rural black people flocked to the town, some driven by the introduction of taxes that had to be paid, others drawn by the glinting prospect of wealth. Black men entered short-term contracts on the mines, leaving their families in rural areas while they lived in single-sex barracks on mining property. They also came to supply the other needs of the fledgling town, braving the squalor of the racially mixed slums around the city centre.
In 1904, plague spread among the black residents of Vrededorp, one such suburb hugging the centre of Johannesburg, to the west of its produce market and abattoir. Seeing this as an opportunity to clear out the slums, the Johannesburg Town Council forced the ill to move to a sewage farm more than 10 kilo-metres to the south-west of Johannesburg. Here they lived in corrugated iron sewage tanks that had been sawn in half (43 years later those people were still living in the tanks). Klipspruit, as this new area was called, was the seed of Soweto, becoming the location of Pimville.
The Land Act was introduced in 1913, dispossessing many black people of their land and increasing the now steady flow of migrants to Johannesburg. By the early 1920s there were more than 20,000 black people living in and around the city, the number doubling before the end of the decade. Despite their efforts, the town council was unsuccessful in keeping black people from living in the city centre. The council did not possess the finances to set up housing elsewhere for evicted inner-city black people, something that they were obliged by law to do. A change of law and an upswing in the gold price appeared to solve their problem; in 1931, a new area of low-cost housing was created for black people near Johannesburg. Orlando, named after Councillor Edwin Orlando Leake, the first chairman of the Native Affairs Committee, was close to Pimville, the two later forming the heart of Soweto.
Between 1936 and 1946, the black population of Johannesburg increased by more than 100,000, the Second World War having a major impact on urbanisation. Many more people facing poverty and land confiscation moved to the cities with their families. Yet the council built fewer than 4,000 houses for black people during this time, a trend the apartheid government would continue. The rationale was that, if houses were not built for black people, who were not allowed to build in 'white' areas, they would eventually return to rural areas. Orlando rapidly became a sprawl of backyard shanties, as new-comers had no option but to rent space in the yards of those with houses.
In 1944, an Orlando local, James 'Sofasonke' Mpanza gave up petitioning the Johannesburg Town Council for more houses for black people and led a large group of protesters from Orlando to erect shacks on open municipal land in an area that was to become Orlando West. Soon 25,000 shanties had sprung up. Mpanza showed that, if the white authorities refused to listen to black demands, black people would take matters into their own hands.
In the 1940s and 50s, increased pressure by the growing number of squatters on the council forced them to declare new areas for settlement. These included Jabavu and Moroka where people constructed shanties on miniscule plots and lived in highly insanitary conditions. Diepkloof and Meadowlands, with their tiny houses were further additions. Under the Nationalist apartheid government it was ruled that all black residential areas in Johannesburg were to be to the south-west of the city, in the area around Orlando. The racially-mixed suburb of Sophiatown was just one of the casualities in the government's actions to entrench racial segregation and clear out the slums of the city centre; many Sophiatown residents were moved to these two new suburbs.
A young lawyer, Nelson Mandela, considered these matters when, in 1944, he and friends Oliver Tambo, a lawyer, and Walter Sisulu, an estate agent, joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), led by Anton Lembede. The three lived in Orlando and were acutely aware of the challenges facing inhabitants of the bustling township and surrounding shanty towns. Sisulu sold houses in areas like Dube where freehold title was allowed. (Soon after coming into power in 1948, the Nationalist government removed freehold from black homeowners, and replaced it with 30-year leaseholds.) He was conscious of the housing problems and the barriers to finance for housing that black people experienced. The three discussed these issues, speaking about them on public platforms, and rapidly rising to senior positions in the ANCYL.
In 1955, the Minister of Justice, Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, ordered single-sex hostels to be built in what had officially become known as the South Western Townships. The idea was that men would leave their families in the impoverished rural areas demarcated for black people (only 13% of the country for over 80% of the population), come to the city to work, live in single-sex hostels, and return for vacations and retirement to their rural homes. In 1956 the first men were moved into the hostels: Dube for Zulu-speakers and Nancefield for Sotho-speakers.
Hostel dwellers were discriminated against by township residents, who whispered that they were having sex with young boys. The men in the hostels hated township residents too; they knew they were looked down upon and bitterly resented it. Hostels rapidly became dens of beer drinking and dagga smoking. Their facilities were shocking: they had only cold water; there were no partitions between toilets, and no toilet paper was provided; a single washbasin for clothes, dishes and ablutions was shared by dozens of men; one small coal stove was shared by 20 or more people; and beds were either concrete bunks or rickety steel frames with cheap foam mattresses.
A competition was held in 1959 to find a name for the sprawling community of hostels, shacks and tiny houses that sheltered more than half a million people outside Johannesburg, and that the apartheid government saw as its showpiece of slum clearance. Names such as Vergenoeg ('far enough'), Goldella, Dumuzweni ('famous the world round') and Khethollo ('segregation') were submitted. It took four years for the naming committee to settle on Soweto, an abbreviation of South Western Townships.
Willem Carr, the Administrator of Soweto, divided the new city according to ethnicity: Zulu people lived in Zola, for example, and the Baralong and Sotho in Naledi. The closeness of the community was thus shattered and ethnic tensions began emerging.
Finding a place to stay in the designated suburb of the vast township and dealing with the often atrocious living conditions were only a part of the problem faced by black people coming to live and work in Johannesburg. A section 10 stamp in every black person's identity book or pass (known dismissively by African people as a dompas, 'stupid pass'), introduced in 1955, determined whom they could marry, where they could live, and whether or not they might work in the so-called 'white urban areas'. Even those people who were qualified by a section 10 stamp to live in urban areas could be endorsed out of the city by another stamp that gave them 72 hours to leave.
By 1959, both the ANC and a break-away wing, the Pan-Africanist Congress, had launched anti-pass campaigns. On 21 March 1960, protesters set fire to their passes outside a police station in a township called Sharpeville, roughly 100 kilometres south of Soweto. Police opened fire, killing 69 people. The demonstrations that followed saw swift and ruthless police action. People were detained, both people and organisations were banned, and there was a massive escalation in the repression of black people.
While political activism appeared to be crushed, interest in the news media flourished, much of it drawing its inspiration from the busy streets of Soweto. Black publications like Drum, Golden City Post and Bantu World had healthy circulations. They encouraged interest in music, with musicians such as Dolly Rathebe and Kippie Moeketsi leading the jazz-influenced scene. There was an intense interest in sports, in particular soccer which drew large devoted fallowings. Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows and the inimitable Kaiser Chiefs are a few of the Soweto-born teams that continue to draw huge crowds.
Soweto's spirit was far from crushed, and oppression always carries with it a necessary ancillary - the spirit of resistance. In July 1969, the match was lit again when the South African Students' Organisation (SASO) was formed at the University of the North. Young people, mostly from Soweto and townships around it, began studying the writings of Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah and, most of all, Malcolm X. In 1972, SASO fell under the Black People's Convention, which came to embody the Black Consciousness being articulated by a brilliant young medical student, Steven Bantu Biko, who said: 'Black consciousness seeks to instill the idea of self determination, to restore feelings of pride and dignity to blacks after centuries of racist oppression,' Nowhere did the words of this young man have greater resonance than in the streets, shebeens and schools of Soweto.
African art and culture 52,