Celebrating iconic Orlando East in Soweto through an exhibition as the township turns 90

This exhibition is about as much about the past as it is about the present in the life of a Soweto township.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Without a doubt the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto’s history is very much embedded in the history of the evolution of urban South Africa. This includes the development of an urban black culture, the struggle for freedom as well is the spirit of entrepreneurship among the black community over the years.

It is for this reason that any tourist who is visiting South Africa feels like the trip is not complete until they have also visit Soweto besides of course the greater Johannesburg area and its surrounds, such as Maboneng, and of course Cape Town. What about the township’s rich history and heritage in education, resistance against the apartheid system is a demonstration of the resilience of the human spirit over adversity.

Women queue for chicken feet meant for the evening’s dinner, around the Orlando train station in the late afternoon.

And of course Soweto is not a one township monument. In fact it is a collection of over 30 odd townships, each with a story of its own, a rich history.

One such township in Soweto which has played a monumental role in the rich history of Soweto, is Orlando East, which turns 90 this year. Now visionaries in the township, including those who no longer live there, but have a connection to this place have put their heads, resources and talent together, to celebrate this township’s rich cultural, political and educational heritage through an exhibition  opening this weekend. This visual representation, which aims at capturing the history and the life of township includes objects, photographs and other visual representation of an iconic township within the sprawling greater Soweto that has played a host to different characters over the years including great minds such as the two Nobel prize winners (hailing from the neighbouring Orlando West, the late former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and the late Anglican Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu. among others.  And of course it also had legendary greater than life personalities, ranging from hard core criminals to great minds in the professions such as educationists, writers and painters. Orlando East contributed a great deal to this rich history of Soweto.

Thamsanqa Wilkie Kambule – mathematician and academic, recorded inside one of the classes at Orlando High School, where he was the principal.

Therefore Heritage Day, September 24, 2022, will witness the opening of the momentous visual exhibition, Orlando at 90, opening at Orlando High School, in Orlando East.  It is an exhibition that walks through a timeline of the Soweto neighbourhood from its establishment and architecture in the early 1900’s, its early development in the 1930s and the James Mpanza-led squatter movement of the 1940s – to the establishment of the model of townships by the apartheid government through the Group Areas Act in the 1950s, and beyond. Stepping through time, it provides a glimpse of the area’s rich history of music, sport, personalities and everyday life.

The exhibition was curated by a collective of Orlando East residents, historians and organisations (who include the City of Johannesburg’s Directorate of Arts, Culture & Heritage, The WITS History Workshop, University of the Witwatersrand Historical Papers Research Archive, South African History Archive, National Archives of South Africa, Museum Africa Archives, Sticky Situations, the James Mpanza Legacy Foundation Trust and the Orlando Pirates FC Supporters Branch [MOB]) who are dedicated to keeping the location’s memories alive today and into the future – and whose experiences, recollections and connections to the place bring the photographs, memorabilia, articles, posters and maps alive.

Matsilele ”Jomo” Sono, South African soccer legend, recorded with Irvin Khoza, during festivities at Orlando Stadium in celebration of Orlando Pirates winning the CAF Champions League in 1995.jpg

Augmenting the presentation is the monochromatic contribution of Pimville-based photojournalist, M Jacob Mawela, who embarked on a visual documentation of the neighbourhood in 1994. 

Enjoy stepping into the past and future of Orlando East and immersing yourself in the rich history that its people and places have to offer as this exhibition is about as much about the past as it is about the present in the life of a Soweto township.

Please share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *