- Reframing Township Space:The Kliptown Project
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In 1955, the African National Congress (ANC) held its historic Congress of the People to ratify its liberation manifesto, the Freedom Charter. This event took place in Kliptown, on the outskirts of Soweto (fig. 1, above), at a site that came to be called Freedom Square in honor of the occasion. Today Freedom Square is an open, windswept tract of land, lying between a shack settlement, a railway line, and a taxi rank and bounded by the back facades of warehouses and wholesale stores. The trees that once lined its edges, providing shade for local traders and commuters, have mostly died, and the farm that once cultivated the land around it has long been abandoned. Remarkable today only for the tapestry of footpaths marking its surface, tracing the movement of people who traverse it in the course of their daily lives, Freedom Square has an auspicious history.
This site in Kliptown was chosen for a meeting of what became known as the [End Page 521] Congress of the People simply because it lay outside of municipal jurisdiction, was big enough to accommodate the expected ten thousand attendees, and had functioned many times before as the site of civic gatherings—religious services, political and trade union meetings, and cultural and sporting events.
On June 25-26, 1955, nearly three thousand delegates and seven thousand spectators from all over South Africa assembled on the site and, surrounded by members of the South African Police, ratified a document that had taken two years to prepare. This process had been inaugurated by Z. K. Matthews of the ANC, not yet a banned organization. His vision was to gather, from across the country, popular demands for a free society. Volunteers from the ANC and its alliance partners collected statements and petitions in church halls, at political rallies, on buses, and in trains. Shortly before the historic meetings, a committee crafted these into a draft charter. This was presented to the delegates at the Congress of the People, amendments were proposed, and delegates voted on its wording, clause by clause. A year later, after it had circulated through the branches of the ANC and its partners, this document was signed by Chief Albert Luthuli, chairperson of the ANC. The Freedom Charter became the manifesto of the liberation movement, symbolizing its vision and dreams of a free South Africa.
Today Kliptown is home to approximately thirty thousand people, many from neighboring Soweto or Eldorado Park but also from the rural hinterlands of southern Africa, Lesotho, and Mozambique. These multiple geographies are mapped via the names given to its component neighborhoods—Charter Square, Mandelaville, Chris Hani, Swaziland, Tamatievlei (Tomato Marsh), Geel Kamers (Yellow Rooms)—its superimposed spatial stories about political affiliations, kinship networks, places of origin, and landscape features. Kliptown is a virtually invisible place, folded into and through the myriad of geographies its residents occupy and the stories they tell.
The singularity of this place called Kliptown lies in this seeming invisibility, in this unlocatedness or, rather, in this condition of being located in many places simultaneously. Kliptown is not singular but rather multiple: a locale of teeming, undisciplined practices and trajectories of people whom, for all intents and purposes, have been excluded from or by the regulatory discourses of spatial planning and social administration. Kliptown is a community of surplus people living in a leftover space.
Kliptown's history is indistinguishable from this condition of being unincorporated, leftover, or outside of. Its origins lie in the eradication of a Johannesburg inner-city slum yard in the early 1900s. When pneumonic plague broke out in 1904 in the downtown neighborhood known as Coolie Location, its entire population [End Page 522] was relocated to a site on the Klipspruit River outside the city limits, close to where Kliptown now lies. The former mixed, slum-yard population—destabilizing to notions of fixed identity and status, of modernity and civilization—was rendered, in effect, invisible and inconsequential. Remaining outside the boundaries of any municipality until 1970, Kliptown survived as a neglected, hybrid space, not least due...