Mooki Street declared a heritage site

The Star


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James Sofasonke Mpanza house. Mpanza was a founder leader from the mid-1940s of the Sofasonke Party of Orlando township. He led people out the overcrowded slums of Orlando.
Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse039
The City of Johannesburg placed a monument of the wall of James Sofasonke Mpanza house. Mpanza was a founder leader from the mid-1940s of the Sofasonke Party of Orlando township. He led people out the overcrowded slums of Orlando.
Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

MOOKI Street in Orlando East is to be granted formal protection status as a provincial heritage site by the City of Joburg because of its historical importance.

The area is well known as the birthplace of Soweto.

It will become complementary to Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, which in June this year was granted similar heritage-protection status and declared a precinct.

Two other historic sites in Orlando East, close to Mooki Street, have also been declared heritage sites by the council: the Orlando Communal Hall and the James “Sofasonke” Mpanza House.

Orlando East dates back to 1932, and this year marked its 80th anniversary.

It was a product of a town planning competition advertised by the then Joburg City Council to establish a “model native township” in response to rapid urbanisation in the 1930s.

It was called Orlando after the first chairman of the Native African Affairs Committee, councillor Edwin Orlando Leake. It was the first of its kind in the country and, together with Klipspruit, was to form the core around which other townships were to develop into what eventually became known as Soweto.

According to a report tabled before the council meeting at which the heritage status was approved, the houses in the area were small, three- to four-bedroom units, cheaply built and packed closely together.

The overall pattern established in Orlando East was matchbox houses built on small plots, and this set the standard for years to come in Soweto.

The emergence of Orlando West followed in 1946 as an extension of Orlando East.

“It shares a rich, political and social history and deserves attention both sepa- rately and as part of the greater Orlando area,” said the report.

The Orlando Communal Hall was the first recreational hall in Soweto. It was a popular venue for high-profile political meetings, as well as for concerts and community events.

During the late 1940s and 1950s, annual meetings of the Transvaal regions of the ANC Youth League were held there. It was also the venue where the Pan African Congress broke away from the ANC in 1959.

The James “Sofasonke” Mpanza House has also been declared a national heritage site.

The original house stands, but is surrounded by shacks and is in a state of disrepair.

Mpanza’s grandchild, Richard Sithole, lives in one of the shacks. The original house is occupied by other family members.

Sithole said his grandfather was seldom at the house as he was occupied with his political activities. One room of the house has been set aside as a tiny, makeshift museum that has about 10 poor-quality photos on the walls. Mpanza is well known for having led people out of the overcrowded slums in Orlando in 1944.

He set up a squatter camp known as Masakeng (place of shacks), which became a self-governing settlement of 20 000 people. The house became the headquarters of the Sofasonke (We shall die together) movement.

The movement became a champion for better housing for the city’s black residents.

The council said that while a positive start had been made in declaring heritage sites in Orlando East, this should be advanced by declaring and promoting other historic sites in the areas.

Many of these are along Mooki Street and include the Orlando Stadium, the New Church, Mooki Memorial College, Orlando High School, the Orlando police station and the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre.

Mooki Street was named after Bishop Obed Simon David Mooki (1919 to 1990), the founder of the Mooki Memorial College and New Church.

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