Sophiatown was originally a Farm outside Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng). It was bought by Hermann Tobiansky, who named it after his wife; 'Sophia'. Subsequently, the Area became a Whites only Area. When a sewage dump was built next to the Area, White people did not want to live there anymore, and they moved. Later, Blacks and Coloureds were given permission to settle there by the owner, Hermann Tobiansky. When World War I started and many Black people moved to Cities in search for jobs.

As the number of Black people increased in the Cities, the Johannesburg City Council (JCC) passed Slum Clearance programmes with the aim of removing Black people from the inner City of Johannesburg. The JCC was controlled by the National Party (NP). These new arrivals had no place to go; thus 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. (This increased their monthly income a little with the extra rent.)  As the population grew, people built Houses out of metal sheets and excess materials in Sophiatown.

The National Party (NP), with their Apartheid system, realised that Johannesburg was growing and that Black people were increasing in numbers were getting close to White areas, The NP passed the Native Resettlement Act, No 19 of 1954. This Act allowed the ruling party, NP, to remove Blacks from any area within and close to the magisterial district of Johannesburg. Most importantly, the Act was passed to remove Blacks from Sophiatown.

On 9 February 1955, the head of the South African state, D F Malan, sent two thousand policemen armed with sten guns and rifles. They destroyed Sophiatown and removed 60 000 inhabitants. The removal of the residents of Sophiatown was organised by the Native Resettlement Board, which was the NP’s local board. People who settled in Sophiatown were moved to Meadowlands, which formed a part of Soweto, where the NP established a housing area based on the population census within the shanty town. The houses had no toilets, water and electricity.

Residents who moved from Sophiatown to Meadowlands had no idea about the housing provided by the NP. However, the people refused to leave Sophiatown. Subsequently, the residents of Sophiatown protested and they used explosives and guns to fight government officials from forcefully removing them out of Sophiatown. In the end, the government managed to force thousands of people from Sophiatown to Meadowlands in Soweto. The removal of people and the destruction of Sophiatown took place from 1955 to 1960. People’s homes and other properties were destroyed. After the removal of people from Sophiatown, Nelson Mandela made a speech, specifically naming the incident to encourage people to rise against Apartheid system. Resident of Sophiatown lost everything they owned. The ANC turned to boycotts, strikes and civil disobedience.  In 1956, the ANC issued what it called the Freedom Charter, asserting that south Africa belong to those who lived in it, Black and White, and it called for universal suffrage and the individual freedoms found in the United State’s Bill of Rights. 

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Lapierre, D. (2009). A rainbow in the night: the tumultuous birth of South Africa. Da Capo press.|

Lodge, T. (1981). The destruction of Sophiatown, in journal of modern African studies, Vol, 19, No 1. Pp.107-132.|

Sullivan, C. (2013). Nelson Mandela and the soul of Sophiatown. Available at: {Accessed on 17 July 2014}.|

Sophiatown and its history history essays: available at: {Accessed on 16 July 2014}.  

Further Reading soweto under-apartheid