[Un/doing Sophiatown] Contemporary reverberations of a myth and in a suburb


Dr. Katharina Fink

Research Area:


Sophiatown, the Johannesburg suburb with its complex history, is a challenge for museum and heritage activities. This research investigates how heritage activities that aim at turning Sophiatown into a ‘destination’ change everyday practices in the suburb. Up to the early 1960s it was, as a freehold area, home to a hybrid and diverse community and emerged as the country’s hotspot of cultural and intellectual production, its transcultural politics were put to an end with the forced removals of its inhabitants beginning in 1955. The suburb was rebuilt as a White community under the name ‘Triomf’. In 2006, after a state of in-between as Triomf/Sophiatown, the suburb was officially renamed as Sophiatown.

By means of participatory observation and qualitative interviews with heritage practitioners, museum and university staff, current and former residents of Sophiatown, focus groups of young South Africans from different scenes/milieus as well as cultural activists a ‘thick description’ of the strategies of "Re-Membering Sophiatown" arises. The research identifies ‘contact and conflict zones’ and (counter-) memories of Sophiatown and Triomf. It aims at contributing to museum-community-interaction in both theoretical and practical ways.