James “Sofasonke” Mpanza

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Biographical information

James "Sofasonke" Mpanza


Community leader

First name: 
James "Sofasonke"
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
Date of death: 

James "Sofasonke" Mpanza was born in 1889. Mpanza was founder and leader from the mid-1940s of the Sofasonke Party of Orlando township, Johannesburg, and a crusader for better housing for Johannesburg's Africans.

He was an eccentric who often rode horseback in Orlando and who built his following into a cultlike organization for the contesting of seats on the Orlando advisory board. Jailed for murder in 1914, he spent 13 years in prison, during which time he experienced a Christian conversion, became a preacher to his fellow prisoners, and wrote a short book. The Battles of the Christian's Pathway.

After his release in 1927 he became a teacher in Pretoria, then later moved to Johannesburg, where in 1944 he led thousands of Africans, overflowing from the slums of Orlando, to set up a huge shantytown on the veld, with Mpanza as their unofficial "mayor". It was at this time that his nickname, "Sofasonke" ("we shall all die") was acquired. By dramatizing the plight of the city's homeless workers, the shantytown movement created pressures leading to the construction of modem Soweto.

In 1946, Mpanza was deported to Natal by government order, but he defied the ruling and won his case on appeal. Continuously returned to the Orlando advisory board, he was one of those who supported the creation of the Soweto Urban Bantu Council in the early 1960s. Mpanza died in 1970, but his organization, the Sofasonke Party, still exists, and in the Soweto UBC election of 1971 it took over half the council seats.

• Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977). From Protest to challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol.4 Political Profiles 1882

Last updated : 16-Aug-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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