Call made to rename Soweto

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James 'Sofasonke' Mpanza.

The idea of renaming the giant township after James ‘Sofasonke’ Mpanza has the apparent support of Julius Malema.

The second deputy provincial secretary of the SA Communist Party in the Eastern Cape Lazola Ndamase took to Twitter on Monday night to call for the renaming of Soweto.

He wants it to honour its “unofficial mayor”, James “Sofasonke” Mpanza, who was one of the first leaders in 1944 to encourage black people to invade and occupy vacant land towards the south of Johannesburg. These camps later became known as the South Western Townships (Soweto).

Ndamase tagged the ANC and Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa in his post.

It was retweeted by EFF leader Julius Malema, who has often said in some of his speeches that his call for renewed land occupation is inspired by the illegal land occupations before and during apartheid.

According to SA History Online, Mpanza was born in 1889 and was the 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 organisation 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 dramatising the plight of the city’s homeless workers, the shantytown movement created pressures leading to the construction of modern Soweto.

Another source reveals that Mpanza was interested in horse racing and owned his own racehorses in the Orange Free State and Transvaal, but because of the laws at the time he had to hire white jockeys to race them.

“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,” adds SA History Online.

The Citizen