We were forcibly displaced to make way for a whites-only suburb
I was born and bred in Sophiatown. It was called Little Harlem. We had jazz, we had dancing clubs. You had dancing clubs where people would dance against each other.
There was so much going on in Sophiatown that the birds had to fly backwards to keep the dust from their eyes. We had all nationalities – Zulus, Chinese, Indians and we lived in harmony together.
It was also unique because people could own property and it was unusual because the whites did not want people to won the land. They wanted us to be moved far away from town so they can take Sophiatown and turn it into a white suburb.
People fought because they believe they were here first and if the government wants to move us, they will have to do so by force. We had just finished having supper when we heard this big knock on the door.
They came with big government trucks. They would come late, load everything onto the trucks while the police and soldiers were standing there with guns. And you know as a child, they seemed huge.
After it was loaded, they said to us, “Come in the truck.” You just have to follow the rules that they were saying, so that no one in your family gets injured or killed. They told us they are taking us to a new house in Meadowlands.
In those days there was no electricity. It was pitch black and you didn’t know where you were. They said: “This is your home so you can take your furniture in.” Meadowlands goes from Zone One to Zone Ten. If you are Zulu, you would be put in the Zulu zone.
My mother worked in the suburbs and it was too far for her to come home everyday so after two weeks her employers decided she would sleep at work and come home over the weekends. She didn’t see us and we missed her
It took between five to six years to have everyone moved from Sophiatown and they named the suburb Triomf (Triumph). That is to tell us that they had won the war. Three buildings remained that were in Sophiatown.
It was hurtful at the time but I will say it also made us better people. It made us understand the dynamics of life. Made us face apartheid face on. I have always wanted to come back to Sophiatown. In our culture where your umbilical cord is falls, that’s the place you call home.
I came back in 1997 and bought this house to say: ‘Now I’m back home.’
Elizabeth Nobathane shares her memories as a child who was forced to leave her home during the apartheid in South Africa to make way for a whites-only suburb. More than 3 million people were forcibly resettled under apartheid laws. In 2006, Triomf was renamed back to Sophiatown.