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Memory is the Weapon

Don Mattera

Publication Year: 2010

Donato Francesco Mattera has been celebrated as a journalist, editor, writer and poet. He is also acknowledged as one of the foremost activists in the struggle for a democratic South Africa, and helped to found both the Union of Black Journalists, the African Writerís Association and the Congress of South African Writers. Born in 1935 in Western Native Township (now Westbury) across the road from Sophiatown, Mattera can lay claim to an intriguingly diverse lineage: his paternal grandfather was Italian, and he has Tswana, Khoi-Khoi and Xhosa blood in his veins. Yet diversity was hardly being celebrated at that time. In one of apartheidís most infamous actions, the vibrant multicultural Sophiatown was destroyed in 1955 and replaced with the white suburb of Triomf, and the wrenching displacement, can be felt in Matteraís writing. The story of his life in Sophiatown as told in this essay is intricate. Covering Matteraís teenage years from 1948 to 1962 when Sophiatown was bulldozed out of existence, it weaves together both his personal experience and political development. In telling the story of his life as a ìcolouredî teenager, Mattera takes on the ambitious goal of making us recapture the crucial events of the 1950s in Sophiatown, one of the most important decades in the history of black political struggles in South Africa.

Published by: African Books Collective


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi

About Don Mattera

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxiv

Don Mattera’s autobiographical essay is an example of the kind of action that Lafebvre describes in the passage above. Mattera’s poetry and books about the black condition and struggles in South Africa derive not from contemplation but from the thick of struggle. It is the combination of...

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Chapter One - Demolition

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pp. 1-20

Wednesday 22 July 1962. The night had been a restless one, nightmarish and foreboding. I awoke in a cold sweat. The room was stuffy and I was choking. Fresh air, God how I needed fresh air to rush into my lungs and fill them with a burst of life. I opened the squeaking door and the crisp, sharp breath of the early morning pricked my nostrils. I drew in great...

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Chapter Two - Bad News

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pp. 21-33

According to the racial statistics of apartheid South Africa, I am a second- generation Coloured: the fruit of miscegenation and of an in-between existence; the appendage of black and white. There are approximately four million other people like me – twilight children who live in political, social and economic oblivion and who have been cut off from the mainstream...

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Chapter Three - To Become a Man

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pp. 34-48

January 1942. I stood in front of my paternal granny’s dressing table, almost transfixed. The multi-coloured cap on my head was perched very quaintly to one side. The grey suit was tightly buttoned. I had just turned six and I was going to a Roman Catholic convent school – Saint Theresa’s – in Mayville, Durban in Natal. The old woman had busied herself packing...

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Chapter Four - Sophiatown

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pp. 49-53

Nobody can write the real story of Sophiatown, the rise and fall of the township, the magic and wonderment of the place... It was inhabited by an estimated 200,000 people of different ethnic backgrounds who lived tightly-knit, mixing cultures, traditions and superstitions in a manner perhaps unique in Southern Africa. Every conceivable space was occupied...

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Chapter Five - Dai-Sok

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pp. 54-60

We were shooting dice on the sand pavement near Ah Poen Leong’s Supply Store in Gerty Street, Sophiatown. Dai-Sok passed right through, almost as if we were invisible, bumping me aside, the money in my hand falling into the sand. I swore and cursed, looking up at him: ‘Hey, what the bloody hell!’ But his eyes penetrated my skull, and I tried to re-circulate...

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Chapter Six - A Brush with the Police

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pp. 61-64

I had many brushes with the police. Like the time I alighted from a train at the Nancefield railway station on a visit to my mother in White City Jabavu in what is today known as Soweto. A tall black policeman stopped me. His huge hands gripped my belt, pulling my trousers against my...

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Chapter Seven - Dumazile

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pp. 65-74

Woodwork class had ended late one Thursday in the month of September 1953. A soft, persistent rain drenched my head and shoulders and rolled down my neck. September Badenhorst pulled at my shirt....

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Chapter Eight - Other Faces of Kofifi

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pp. 75-83

A hideous face belonged to squalor or poverty or sickness or death. There was no real difference: the greater part of Sophiatown was a deplorable, sickening slum. Blacks had freehold rights and some houses were comparable to those of whites living in the adjoining suburbs, but Sophiatown was rotting at the core because the Johannesburg City Council did not...

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Chapter Nine - Father Trevor Huddleston

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pp. 84-93

On Sundays Sophiatown underwent an almost mysterious transformation. The streets seethed with a great mass of people who moved about restlessly and rapidly as if driven by unseen demons and angels who may have been competing for the possession of their souls. Up and down they moved in search of themselves and of God; when only the night before,...

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Chapter Ten - Pinocchio

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pp. 94-97

The terror and trauma of South African apartheid brutality was for me, never so poignantly nor so tellingly told as in the tragicomic story of a Sophiatown jazz lover and record collector called ‘Pinocchio’. Small, almost dwarfish, but with an unusually large, shining forehead, he spoke softly, with an amiability that easily won friends. Pinocchio belonged to...

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Chapter Eleven - Gangland

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pp. 98-111

Maglera’, ‘Sidikidiki’... nobody to this day can say why Newclare, the sprawling, ghetto step-sister of Western Native Township, was called by those names. But one thing the fearful – or indifferent – people knew with great certainty was that Newclare was a hell-hole of violence and crime. It spawned some of the most vicious and cold-blooded knifemen and gangsters...

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Chapter Twelve - Jail

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pp. 112-127

The cell was dark and as the warder pushed me into it, I stumbled over a fellow prisoner. He groaned and cursed. I felt a blow against my ear. Angered and in pain, I held on to him; feeling for his face. I hit him hard. The man screamed and broke free. I sat and bundled myself up, my body...

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Chapter Thirteen - The Change

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pp. 128-139

My metamorphosis from veritable violent beast to human being began in 1955 when the first seeds of political awareness were sown at that historic anti-removals campaign mass meeting. My introduction into the new world, where men and women spoke their minds and openly challenged the police, led me to youth clubs, libraries and education centres....

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Chapter Fourteen - The Big Move

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pp. 140-154

It was the 9th day of February, 1955 and I recall that excitement ran high as meetings were held on township squares, street-corners and in churches. The people were urged not to move and the ANC promised to stand by them. Most stand-owners and businessmen exploited the political platforms...

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780981439839
Print-ISBN-13: 9780620394871

Page Count: 178
Publication Year: 2010