Today: Walter Sisulu stands up for black people removed in Sophiatown

Today: Walter Sisulu stands up for black people removed in Sophiatown

On this day, 65 years ago, ANC member Walter Sisulu acted as speaker at a meeting held in Sophiatown in defiance of the forced removal of black in places designated for Whites only. Sisulu told black people not to allow themselves to be removed.

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Sophiatown was originally a farm outside Johannesburg. It was purchased by Hermann Tobiansky, who named it after his wife, Sophia. The area became designated for white people only. When a sewage dump was built next to the area, White people did not want to live there anymore, and they moved. Later, black and coloured people were given permission to settle there.

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As the number of Black people increased in the cities, the Johannesburg City Council (JCC) passed Slum Clearance programmes to remove black people from the inner city of Johannesburg. These new arrivals had no place to go so they were moved to Sophiatown. The area became overcrowded and they were not allowed by the government to acquire permits for land ownership. Black landowners burdened with huge mortgages allowed others to live in their backyards. As the population grew, people built houses out of metal sheets and excess materials in Sophiatown.

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The NP passed the Native Resettlement Act, No 19 of 1954 which allowed the ruling party to remove black people from any area within and close to the magisterial district of Johannesburg. Most importantly to remove black people from Sophiatown.

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On 9 February 1955, the head of the South African state, D F Malan, sent two thousand policemen armed with rifles. They destroyed Sophiatown and removed 60 000 inhabitants.

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