Photographs and text by JFC Clarke | Contributions by Darryl Accone, Johnny Masilela and Zwelakhe Mthwethwa



Problems and Possibilities
Zwelakhe Mthwethwa

Zwelakhe Mthwethwa was born in 1978 and grew up in the coal-mining town of Newcastle, in Osizweni, in the northern part of Kwazulu-Natal. He remembers, while writing his matric exam, looking out at the view of the Drankensberg mountains and saying to himself that he wished one day that he could go over those mountains and see what is on the other side, especially, because he was about to leave for his tertiary studies. When he was presented with the choice between Cape Town and Pretoria he chose the former without knowing that the latter would be his destination. Zwelakhe has made Marabastad his focus and his home since 1997 and has a vision for the future of the area. He is the chairperson and cofounder of the Sakhisizwe Business Association and has committed himself and a band of enthusiastic like-minded young men and women to the redevelopment of Marabastad as part of the capital city.

Our country is in the process of redressing the imbalances of the past and Marabastad is, and must be part of this process. Currently, it reflects the aftermath of underdevelopment, a legacy of the old regime. From 1966 until 1994 all forms of development in Marabastad were banned. No wonder that degeneration found a perfect environment to manifest itself.

Since 1994, Marabastad has continued to be a home to many people and the municipality has attempted, with little success, to improve the areas with heritage potential like Marabastad. When I first visited Marabastad in 1997, and again in 1999 when I returned, I found the area in a tumble-down state, densely populated, with formal and informal businesses and informal settlements. When I decided to interact with the people, I found that there was an intangible heritage that kept people, young and old, together. Moreover, to some, Marabastad is the place of their birth, and it is used as a point of reference and remembrance of, and about, the life they used to have. Marabastad remains the custodian of the history of forced removals that were part of the apartheid government’s plan for separate development in terms of race and tribal classification.

In 2002, we missed the opportunity to display Marabastad as a model for integrated and sustainable development during the World Summit on Sustainable Development. We need to find a way of making Marabastad desirable as a place and a space for people to interact through the medium of language and culture. Since Marabastad is well known as a place of congregation and full of rhythm we need to create an African precinct that will become a fitting memorial reflecting the times, the lives, and the presence of those who suffered in what used to be the headquarters of apartheid.

Such a precinct could be the focus point for residents, commuters and tourists alike with an infrastructure for business, transport, recreational and cultural activities. It would, however have the primary purpose of reparation, of giving back to Marabastad what had been unjustly taken away. I envisage that in a future modern African capital it is important that there be balance and a place where the numerous facets of African heritage can be made apparent. The past physical conditions cannot be restored but Marabastad could preserve valuable memories in many different forms. Once Marabastad is seen to succeed, I believe it could influence decisions regarding the future development of other South African cities. The reason why I persist is that we all have heritage and memories that we treasure. But for reasons that are clear as to what our country has faced much has been omitted in our living spaces. I would like Marabastad to become a model for homegrown development trends and to inspire others who are living conditions of the area.

- Zwelakhe Mthwethwa, 2007

Zwelakhe Mthwethwa photographed in the old Department of Native Affairs building in von Wielligh Street on the western boundary of Marabastad. Queues of people used to stand for hours in this courtyard in front of the windows waiting for their passbooks to be stamped. The building is now used as offices and studios for a number of voluntary organizations under the auspices of the Sakhisizwe Business Association.

The last remaining section of Lorentz Street, which formed the western boundary of Marabastad. The original shops in this part of Marabastad, close to the main road north through Daspoort, were owned by some of the first migrants from India who settled to the west of the center of Pretoria from 1881 onwards. These shops were burnt out in 2003 and are likely to be demolished

The south side of the bus terminus at the intersection of Mogul Street and 2nd Street in 2007. The building in the centre background once housed the Impala Printers that later moved to Grand Street (see photograph on page 54). The building is now occupied by a number of shops including the Bus Stop Take Away and Bus Stop Butchery.

© 2008 - 2018 JFC Clarke. All rights reserved | | 083 960 7292