Jozi Walk in Sehonghong sa Thuto

The nonagenarian, ‘University of Makana’ (as Robben Island is referred to by those once interned on it) ‘alumni’ delivered the self-deprecating remark in response to a visitor’s suggestion that he ought to also be recognized in a similar vein to former co-accused, the late Ahmed ‘Kathy’ Kathrada – an unveiling of whose statue, Ntate Mlangeni had attended the day before, at the Cradle of Humankind.

The former Member of Parliament’s house being a Johannesburg Heritage Foundation-designated landmark, a curious and enthusiastic group of nine participants on the Jozi Walks 2019 programme had earlier came to a halt in front of the Isithwalandwe’s house before venturing into his living room and intruding on his lunchtime.  

A blue plaque unveiled in February and on display juxtaposed to a gate into his yard read: Dube Struggle Heritage – Andrew Mlangeni. In 1962 Andrew Mokete Moeti Mlangeni was one of the first six members of Umkhonto We Sizwe to be trained in Communist China. 

A keen golfer he had now to concentrate on politics.  In 1964 he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Treason Trial and incarcerated in the cell next to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.  He returned – with a degree and post graduate qualification in Political Science – to this home that he had occupied since 1954 with his wife June and their children.  In 2015 the ‘Backroom Boy’ (title of his book) became head of the ANC’s Integrity and Ethics committee, an accolade he richly deserved.

Now inside and gobsmacked by the amount of family memorabilia, souvenirs, awards, honours and recognitions Mlangeni had amassed pre-and-post imprisonment, the visitors were now firing away questions and clicking cameras the welcoming and friendly figure’s way – all the while his youngest son, Sello and minder and nurse, Daphne Raseasala marvelled at the unbridled enthusiasm shown by unannounced visitors!  

Seated on a couch behind whose wall hung a very impressive silver metallic framed panel depicting head and shoulder details of his fellow Rivonia accused, Mlangeni dared a septuagenarian lady in our walking group to guess how young he was and when our accomplice’s estimation came out wrong but close – he corrected her by proudly informing the rest of his visitors that he would be turning 94 in June.

As made mention on the plaque regarding his golfing lifestyle, I put it to him as to whether he has had time to play at the recently refurbished Soweto Country Club?  Lifting his trouser’s right pant to reveal a bandage applied onto his leg’s shin area, he offered an injury as a reason presently preventing him from swinging his clubs.

Our walking crew was in luck in that, not only did it get to itinerary at heritage sites, but also got to call in on at least two of residents bearing historical currency in relation to South Africa’s emancipation from Apartheid.  In addition to Mlangeni, we had stopped over at Frank Sexwale’s house, another of seven in the neighbourhood of Dube spotting the distinctive heritage plaques. 

Democratic-era Gauteng Province’s first Premier, Tokyo Sexwale’s paterfamilias was the first chairperson of the Soweto Legion who volunteered for active service during World War II and was one of 200 ex-servicemen to receive a house (the present one, although now extended) which he and his wife Godlieve made home.  The inscribed information on the plaque further pointed out that Sexwale was a staunch campaigner for the Heroes of SS Mendi.

Located on the inclining Thabo Street – a street the tour guide on the walk let participants in on the record that it was once the address of no less than ten Umkhonto We Sizwe fighters – having read the plaque on its front of yard wall and group snaps recorded, we ventured inside to dispense cordial gestures on Ma-Sexwale, whom we found relaxing in front of a heater, in a sitting room likewise adorned with mementos.  Donning a headscarf and wrapped in a shawl, the matriarch lit up as she kept inquiring after the visitors identities and simultaneously imparting on a bit of her family tree.

Quintessentially the one and longstanding neighbourhood of Soweto with the enviable bourgeoisie reputation, Dube and our knowledgeable tour guide continued wooing our legs and the expansion of our vocabularies as – between periodic hydrating from provided bottled water and the snapping of pictures of whatever sight caught the attention of photographers’ cameras – our walk delved deeper en-route other stopovers. 

With one such being the home of the late journalist-turned-boxing trainer, Oom Theo Mthembu. 

Addressed along the busy taxi route of Mahalefele road, the house of the mentor of Soweto’s pugilist hero, Jacob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala, was in fact the very first to be recognized with a heritage status in this location.  A member of the Order of Ikhamanga as well as an inductee of the Sports Hall of Fame, Mthembu established the Dube Boxing Club (just a block away from his house) after a short-lived professional boxing career.  His club has been visited by none other than Muhammad Ali back in 1993 and Floyd Mayweather in 2014.

One of 12 #JoziWalks in the annual series and happening on the weekend of 18 and 19 May under the auspices of the Johannesburg Development Agency, the one traversing Dube was held in recognition of the role retired nurses played in the community.

The particularly sport-filled day had begun in the morning with participants assembling at 1302 Pioneer Avenue, Dube Village.  In a yard with a vegetable and fruit garden brimming with cabbage, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, apricot, peaches and oranges – and in addition to poultry and pigeons – the walkers were welcomed with hot coffee and tea, fruit juice, water, sandwiches and naartjies.  Having filled-in an indemnity form indicating that a participant was healthy and fit to embark on the walk, each was then presented with an event sticker to identify them as partakers.

Ahead of the walk’s 10am commencement participants walked around viewing an exhibition of historic photographs and press cuttings mounted on improvised wooden pallets and hanging from the yard’s brick wall fencing. 

It comprised a rather impressive array of figures ranging from, among others, Reverend John Langalibalele Dube (after whom the neighbourhood is named), Rev. John Knox Bokwe, Rev. Tiyo Soga, Enoch Sontonga, TDM Skota, Alfred Mangena, and Professor DDT Jabavu. 

Sipping on a cup of hot tea and soaking the atmosphere in was Dianne Straw, who was there with her son, Mark, the occasion’s official photographer as well as being a long-time member of a group calling itself the Joburg Photo Walkers.  Disclosing that it was her first visit to Soweto, she mused upon how it was interesting to combine what Mark had been telling her about the place and now actually experiencing it first-hand!  “It’s nice to hear the voices of children playing in the street,” she reflected whilst the carefree sound of frolicking youngsters filtered into the assembly space from a point adjacent to the opposite lying Dr Beyers Naude High School.

Also amongst the walkers was a bespectacled fellow going by the first name, Timothy and representing the AME church in Orlando East.  He was literally caught in between two decisions and walks since he had initially meant to partake in a 3km walk in celebration of the 80th birthday of both Orlando High School and the African Methodist Episcopal church – where, inter alia, Seth Mazibuko – one of the leaders of the Soweto students’ uprising – was scheduled to narrate a brief history of the events at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Orlando Communal Hall. 

The schedules of both walks coinciding, he there and then decided to settle on the Dube event.

If the Dube segment of the twelve walks read laden with history and rather pivotal names-dropping, more of marvels around such a context were still to unfold for the anticipatory participants – with the ideal and apt reference point manifesting in the person of the tour guide, Cheche Selepe!

Founding editor of a tabloid named The Bantu World, Selepe happens to be the grandson of none other than another editor of a newspaper of yesteryear sharing precisely the same title as Selepe’s, namely, Richard Victor Selope Thema. 

The anti-Apartheid newsman’s daughter, Ellen, was actually the one who had gotten up early to prepare the sandwiches the walkers were enjoying whilst taking in the exhibition and introducing one to the other – prior to commencing with the day’s agenda.

Donning a military fatigue jacket and a beanie, Selepe ensured that everyone in the group had water and naartjies in their backpacks before introducing himself and disclosing that it was his maiden walking tour.  Although his brainchild had to go into a bidding hat to determine which proposals (the 12 walks had been chosen from the more than 35 applications received from across a number of the diverse neighbourhoods that make up the City of Johannesburg, according to the JDA) ultimately formed the roster of the series’ 2019 edition – no host would had been more apt and deserving than Selepe.

For starters and in addition to his family ties, the very street he resides on and from where the walk begun, Pioneer Avenue – is in a way the one address in the whole wide world which boasts, precisely such: pioneers!  To mention but a few who invariably used to and reside on Selepe’s avenue: Black theatre impresario, Gibson Kente; Struggle and community activists, Dr A B and Maddie Hall Xuma; physician and civic leaders, Dr Nthato Harrison and Sally Motlana and former Orlando High School teacher and deputy principal, Dr R.N. Gugushe.

The next street to the Selepe’s, Mncube Drive had once television talk show hostess, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle and Black business doyen, Dr Richard Maponya as former residents.

Requisite checks sorted, the walk commenced, befittingly, with stops at homes of veteran nurses located not far-off from the starting point. 

Corralling walkers to always keep to the right side of the roads and streets on the route, the soulful and naturally considerate guide led participants via Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church where a funeral service was in progress, enroute to an ageing structure known as Mampuru Hall.  Thereat, at an outlying building attached to the hall, Selepe had walkers gather around a stone with the following inscription: This stone was laid on the 18th March 1961 by Dr Alan Paton, friend of the African boys and erstwhile president of the Transvaal Association of Non-European Boys Club.  To the well-read, the writing evoked shades of Ha’ Penny!

Literally a walking encyclopaedia, Selepe kept on reminding his followers to hydrate in between relating nuggets of knowledge. Soonly enough, we had been shepherded to an area popularly referred to as, ‘Masoleng’ for forming a substantial block of the hood housing former military servicemen. 

Thabo Street where the Sexwale’s residence is located constitutes a significant swathe of an area whose historical background also entail heartbreak related in the form of one of the brave fighters against oppression being hanged by the then regime.

The tour took in the house of Sergeant Elijah Manye (the brother to the first black female graduate Charlotte Manye Maxeke); the red-bricked AME church situated just off the world-renown Vilakazi Street in Orlando West; the entrepreneurial Maponya’s other house (a much humble-looking and smaller abode compared to the upmarket one on Mncube Drive), butchery, fast-food café and supermarket; parts of Chaulker Avenue where a club also associated with Paton still thrives; a glimpse of SANDF officer, Siphiwe Nyanda’s family home; Mthembu’s house and the boxing club; the YWCA which Selepe informed the group that Xuma’s American wife, Maddie helped establish; singer, Thandi Klaasen’s home and golfer, Cox Hlapo’s house on the same street.

A fascinating stop was one along Mncube Drive at a shop named, Duba Duba, and located opposite where Jozi FM is stationed. Inside, with enticing gastronomic aromas wafting around the confined space, a middle-aged man donning a blue dustcoat was busy at the counter invariably sticking out his arm to accept money bills or hand out fast food orders. 

The son of the late Francis Mncube – one of the earlier African lecturers at the University of the Witwatersrand and after whom the very vital traffic node the store is situated along is named – operated from a decidedly novel space complimented by monochromatic images of how his father’s shop looked like in some considerable time past, hanging on a wall.

The day was at the advanced afternoon stage when the weary but spiritually upbeat and spontaneously chuckling walkers entered house number 1302 on rich Pioneer Avenue.  True to the homely warmth which had characterized the day and the event, Cheche’s mother, Ellen had laid out a feast of hotdogs and some more of the fruit, fruit juice and hot beverages – as a welcome back from undertaking and successfully concluding a commendable feat.

Sometime later, the host handed a copy of his grandfather’s biography titled, RV Selope Thema – From Cattle-herding to Editor’s Chair, to the Straws as they were about to depart.  Thereafter, reflecting on the day’s experiences over a glass of red wine and a cup of coffee, Selepe summarised: “It was a great experience to walk in Soweto,” adding, “We will be able to develop a great tourist experience.”

Hereat is the list of the 12 JoziWalks constituting the #JoziWalks2019 series:

1. SlootDEtour/Bikers must ride with Black Bite Productions in Diepsloot.  Black Bite Productions’ Lucky Nkali shares his experience of how a bicycle in this community is more than just exercise and fun, it can mean life. The tour will offer guests a chance to experience Diepsloot on two wheels.

2. Unknown History of Braamfontein Cemetery with Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries in Braamfontein.  This tour lead by Flo Bird and Sarah Welham will take Jozi residents through the Braamfontein Cemetery to uncover the city’s oldest cemetery, its heritage and visit the graves of heroic figures.

3. International Nurses Month with Sehonghong Sa Thuto NGO in Dube, Soweto.
Cheche D. Selepe will take visitors on a tour of Dube and Orlando West heritage sites to celebrate retired nurses and their role in the community.

4. Meeting Hillbrow: Hillbrow Youth Tours with Outreach Foundation in Hillbrow.  Lesley Mosweu will take walkers on a journey through Joburg’s iconic Hillbrow to discover the history and stories from this dynamic neighbourhood.

5. Braam Comedy Walking Tour with Story Nation in Braamfontein.  Suzanne du Toit will take comedy fans on a walk that shines the spotlight on the history of local stand-up comedy. Walkers will take in six pit-stops and will enjoy a comedic take on the history of comedy in Braamfontein.

6. Sports, heritage and culture walk with Maboneng Township Arts Experience in Maboneng.  Harry Nakeng will lead this engaging walk through one of Joburg’s iconic townships, Alexandra.  Walkers will take in the Alex Shopping Centre, Creative District and end in the Alex Heritage Precinct.

7. Fun walk through the fashion district with the Fashion District Institute in Maboneng Precinct.  Rees Mann will help Jozi residents discover the bustling Fashion District. The walk will highlight daily activities and the diverse cultures within the district. Walkers can expect music, art and a fashion show.

8. Johannesburg Literary District with Bridge Books in the Joburg CBD.  Griffin Shea will take walkers on a tour that explores the Joburg Literary District between Fox and Albertina Sisulu Streets. The tour will include a stop at the Rand Club to see the James Findlay Collections, the Pedestrian Market on Commissioner Street and the Library Gardens.

9. Noordgesig ‘Historical’ Arts Alive with Exaltation Women’s Projects in Pennyville and Noordgesig.  This walk led by Norma Naude will focus on arts and food, allowing walkers to see the raw local talent and also take you on a journey to explore historical sites and heroes from within the community.

10. In-touch Transect Walk with In-touch Youth Development in Orange Farm.  This walk led by Phumla Lurhayi will explore the newly invaded informal settlement, the railway line that is surrounded by cattle as well as various dance performances.

11. Woman on Fire with Miz. Buttons in Hillbrow and Constitution Hill. This walk led by Mbali Mdluli will take walkers on a tour of Hillbrow, Constitution Hill and Newtown to discover the public art that focuses on women and is dedicated to women. The tour will showcase the history behind the rich public art in the area.

12. La Rochelle and Talk with Art My Jozi in Turffontein.  This walk led by Lungile Mabizela will highlight the history of the area’s fashion, food and transportation dating back to the 1800s.

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Image Jacob MAWELA (Interviewing erstwhile Rivonia Treason Trial accused Andrew Mokete Mlangeni (93) while enjoying lunch at his home in Dube- Soweto, pending the Jozi Walks 2019 exercise).

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