Saturday, 14 January 2012

Alexandra Township

Joburg Photowalkers' first photowalk for the year was into the township of Alexandra because this year Alexandra celebrates their 100th year in existence. Alexandra is that dark secret of Sandton where most of us keep well clear from because of memories of their violent past have stayed with us. Now The Alexandra Heritage Centre is trying to change that perception and they gladly lead the Joburg Photowalkers on a photowalk in their township visiting a large number of heritage sites.

Alexandra started off as a farm belonging to a German settler and named the farm after his wife Alexandra. It was sold to be developed as a township of Johannesburg in 1905 but no-one wanted to live there because it was too far to walk to the gold fields. So in 1912, the stands were offered to non-whites. It became one of the few places in South Africa where blacks could own land in as urban area. Soon Alexandra grew into a thriving but over crowded community. Like most non-white townships in South Africa it was not forgotten by the violence of Apartheid era and the so called Six Days War, is remembered by red painted sidewalks where the youth and police violently clashed in 1986.

Alexandra is now like the forgotten suburb of Johannesburg as most of the struggle and heritage attention is put on Soweto. Like Soweto, here too did the Joburg Photowalkers find the people of Alexandra warm, friendly and inviting. Today I even stopped at an unveiling of a tombstone party and was welcomed in, had food and danced to a brass marching band. I wonder when looking at this man sitting outside the party tent if facial lines and wrinkles could talk, that it would tell a story of Alexandra so fascinating that we would sit for hours just listening. At first glance Alexandra is not a pretty place as you tend to drive quickly past but if you just open your eyes, you will see the vibrant township life that is just below the surface. Will the ugly duckling shake loose from its shackles and become a tourist swan in Johannesburg now that it is turning 100 years old?

1 comment:

Mark said...

A touching portrait and a beautiful thoughtful post.

This was really a good walk to start the year and certainly in stark contrast to our last walk in December held in Sandton Central, a mere 5km away.

Popular Posts