October 19, 2004
By Ndaba Dlamini
IT'S official. Street names in Johannesburg's cultural hub, Newtown, have been changed to reflect a range of South Africa's cultural icons.
This follows a council decision in February 2003 to change the names of streets in Newtown "to reflect a broader spectrum of South African performers and their contribution to society".
Ten new names were finally painted on Newtown kerbs on 22 September 2004 by the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), a self-contained company owned by the City responsible for the design, maintenance, repair and development of Johannesburg's road network, traffic lights and signage.
According to Johannes Nortje, assistant manager for road markings at JRA, plates bearing the old names were also removed from the street poles and new plates will be erected later this year. "At the moment we are waiting for the City's department of arts, culture and heritage services to supply us with new plates to install."
The mayoral committee, which was part of the adjudication panel, after consultations with the Surveyor General's office, gave the JRA the go ahead to rename the streets on 19 September, according to Nortje. The name changes are:
- Becker Street to Gerard Sekoto Street. (Newtown/Ferreiras Dorp)
- Minaar Street to Mahlathini Street. (Newtown)
- West Street to Ntemi Piliso Street. (Newtown/Ferreiras Dorp)
- Pim Street to Gwigwi Mrwebi Street. (Newtown)
- Goch Street to Henry Nxumalo Street. (Newtown)
- Wolhuter Street to Margaret Mcingana Street. (Newtown/Ferreiras Dorp)
- Sydenham Street to Noria Mabasa Street. (Newtown)
- Avenue Road to Dolly Rathebe Road. (Newtown/Fordsburg)
- Park Road to Barney Simon Road. (Newtown/Fordsburg)
- Bezuidenhout Street to Miriam Makeba Street. (Ferreiras Dorp)
Joice Mabasa, daughter of renowned Venda sculptor Noria Mabasa, says the family is "happy" about the honour bestowed on them. "This is a big award for the family, especially my mother. Even though she lives far away from Johannesburg, she will forever remember that there is a street in the big city named after her."
Connie Piliso, widow of 50s jazzman Ntemi Piliso, says her husband's legacy lives on. "It's great for my husband to receive such an honour posthumously. If it wasn't for him, the family would not be receiving such attention. I thank South Africa for recognising his work. Even though I am not as famous as Ntemi, his fame has rubbed off on me," joked Piliso.
Zoleka Ntabeni, operations manager at the department of arts, culture and heritage services, said the process started in 2002 after suggestions were made by members of the public to change the street names in Newtown to reflect modern artists and musicians.
In April 2003 17 submissions were received following a City advertisement inviting feedback from interested parties. Ten submissions opposed the renaming of Pim Street, stating that Howard Pim was "an important personality in establishing and developing Newtown". One submission from the JRA suggested naming a road after Nhlanhla Xaba, an artist and art teacher who died in a blaze in March 2003.
Names that cropped up during the proposal stage included six women - Miriam Makeba, Margaret Mcingana, Bonnie Ntshalintshali, Mmakgabo Mapula Sebidi, Noria Mabasa and Dolly Rathebe.
After debate, the mayoral committee decided to take into account the submissions to include the names of living persons despite a ruling that no living person should be included.
An "open event" to celebrate the renaming of the streets will be held, possibly on 10 November, says Ntabeni. "A meeting was held with the families concerned in May this year to discuss the staging of the event to be opened by the executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Amos Masondo. Two dates were suggested, one in July this year and another in November. Unfortunately, the streets had not been changed by July so the remaining date still stands."
When 'Bra Ntemi', a much loved and respected icon, died in 2000, the country was left with a grave sense of loss. In the early 1950s Bra Ntemi's Alexandra All Star Band was at the cutting edge of the new music of urban South Africa, blending African American music with the sounds and ethos of township life. His African Jazz Pioneers, formed more than 50 years before his death, survived the apartheid era and, after 1990, started to headline jazz venues and festivals all over Africa, Japan, Europe and Australia. Bra Ntemi was also a prolific composer with a deep sense of social responsibility.
Miriam Makeba is honoured and respected across international boundaries and across the generations. In the latter days of apartheid Makeba was always to be found with those who fought against the crime against humanity. She has been honoured by countries as far afield as Cuba, Guinea and France, as well as by the United Nations, who appointed her as a peace envoy.
Dolly Rathebe was at the forefront of music development in southern Africa from the 1950s. By the 1960s she was acclaimed as the country's leading female jazz vocalist and film actress. Her position as leading blues singer on the African continent remains uncontested. In addition to her contribution to music, Rathebe acted in a number of television dramas and feature films. Music's matriarch died in September at the age of 74, but her legacy remains.
Joseph 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde
Joseph Nkabinde, better known as Mahlathini, was one of the best musicians to emerge from the north of South Africa, single-handedly branding Mbaqanga as the formidable music genre it is today. On stage Mahlathini, teamed with the Mahotella Queens, was a commanding presence with his rich, low voice. When he died in 1997, the nation mourned.
Mrwebi was a fiery alto saxophonist of the 1950s who achieved international acclaim. Affectionately known as "Bra Gwigwi", he played for The Jazz Maniacs and in the African opera King Kong. The saxophone legend died in the 1970's.
The music of Margaret Mcingana during the 1970s was an important link to the previous decade, with her songs filled the gaping hole left by the banning of the music of Makeba, Masekela and a number of other activist musicians. Her great talents also extended to film and television acting. However, the world will always remember her voice for its haunting evocation of Shaka's stature in the epic television series "Shaka Zulu". Mcingana died in 2000.
This gifted artist's name is inextricably interlinked with the history of the Newtown Precinct. Co-founder and artistic director of the Market Theatre, Barney Simon devised and directed community health education projects through drama and song development ventures through the 1970s and early 1980s. He was also a writer and editor. Simon died in 1995.
Gerard Sekoto was unquestionably one of the pioneers of modern South African art. It was for this reason in 1989 that the Johannesburg Art Gallery honoured him with a retrospective that covered 50 years of his work. Although he left the country in 1947, South Africa remained alive through his paintings throughout his life. Sekoto died in 1993.
Noria Mabasa's education as an artist is unique in that she received her tuition from the realms of her dreams. This talented artist has been exhibiting since 1984 and works with clay and wood. Mabasa is the first, and remains the only, Venda woman to make wood sculptures. Her works are in collections around the country, including the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the South African National Art Gallery, the University of Fort hare, the Pretoria Art Museum, the University of Western Cape, the University of Witwatersrand, the Sandton Convention Centre, as well as in collection in the Netherlands, Belgium and the US.
Newsman Henry Nxumalo rose from being a messenger to becoming a sports editor within the short space of three years. He also wrote a regular column for the Pitsburg Courier, educating US readers about the realities of the South African apartheid era. After he joined Drum in 1951, his hardnosed investigative journalism led to his being known as "Mr Drum". He was so determined to dig up the facts relating to any story he worked on that he would get himself arrested to investigate prison conditions, or sign up as a labourer to expose the scandalous Bethal potato farms. He was stabbed to death one night by thugs while investigating an abortion scandal in 1957.
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