Nca gedra en slim ouens, mooi ausies and music that will leave you bobbing your head and tapping your feet are some of the things that can be associated with the Sophiatown era in the history of Johannesburg. Trends that would ultimately influence the rest of the country’s history and music.
One of the ways to re-live this era is by visiting Sophiatown: The Mix, a social initiative of the The Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Centre (THMC) that’s situated in Sophiatown. The Initiative launched, on Wednesday this week, the museum which will now be housed in the original home of Dr. Alfred Bathini Xuma, one of the few Black medical doctors of the time, and one of the presidents of the African National Congress.
The initiative also gives revellers the opportunity to take guided walking tours of Sophiatown to map out the historical area as well share information that wasn’t ordinarily made available.
The initiative also features a cultural space where there are monthly jazz performances, cultural events and a space where the Sophiatown Music Academy operates from. There’s also a dress up photo booth for people who want to complete the experience of traveling back in time.
At the launch, we were treated to the intimate stories of one of the guides, Victor Mokhine who lived in Sophiatown for the first ten years of his life. His memories of growing up on Good Street, one of the liveliest and busiest streets in the suburb. Mokhine also recounted his fond memories of spending time at the Odin Cinema, at the kindness of the cinema’s doorman, who he had to bribe with a newspaper every so often.
Victor Mokhine, former resident of Sophiatown and now registered tour guide explaining trajectory of forced removals to a group. Photo: Masego Panyane
Watching the elderly Mokhine and the younger, youthful Tshepo Letswalo feed off of each other in attempting to re paint the glory days of Sophiatown over the now quiet and modern neighbourhood was a sight to behold.
Our walk back in time began at the top of the viewing deck that allows you to see Johannesburg central, the South and West to as far back as your eye can stretch. The desk is positioned on the top of the Huddleston Memorial Building that is a product of smart construction that required very little to no brick and mortar to make.
Afterwards, we stepped into the museum, the home of Dr Alfred Batini Xuma,which has been
Kept largely the same in terms of its architecture, with gently cared for floors, walls and windows. At the moment, there is an exhibition that to commemorate the life of Oliver Reginald Tambo, another giant in the history of South Africa.
Further in there are images that and original cased documents of Father Trevor Huddleston, a man of the cloth, that was a community builder who lived in Sophiatown. Other rooms have been divided to showcase a different part of the history of the town. With maps of the original Sophiatown before the forceful removals of February 1955.
The museum also enables visitors to watch a shortened version of the documentary film Sophiatown that was produced in 2003 and features accounts from people who lived in the area from musicians and politicians Dorothy Masuku, Abigail Kubheka, Thandi Klassen, Dolly Rathebe, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa and Nelson Mandela.
We then headed out on a condensed version of the tour on foot down Toby street, into Victoria Street and went on till we reached the iconic Anglican Church of Christ the King in Ray Street, one of the few reminders of the area and it’s history.
After the 90 minute tour, in which we’d tasted umqombothi, had amagwinya as a part of the experience and the storytelling we headed back to the Huddleston Memorial center.
A few photographs in 1950s garb, and after sharing a wide range of emotions, we were ready to bid farewell to the center, but not without knowing that we will return soon.
Tours are available weekdays from 9-4:30pm and Fridays and Saturdays 9-3pm or by appointment. Museum entrance and dress up R60 for adults and R30 for children. To find out more about the other features of the The Mix visit: www.sophiatownthemix.com or contact: 011 673 1271.