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City renames Soweto street after PAC leader Mothopeng

The spirit of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leader Zeph Mothopeng came alive on Saturday October 22 when the City of Johannesburg officially renamed Pela Street in Orlando West – where he lived – after him.

His home is a stone’s throw from the house where African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Walter Sisulu lived. It is also in the same neighbourhood as the home of former president Nelson Mandela, which has since been turned into a heritage site, and that of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Both are in Vilakazi Street, probably the only street in the world that boasts the homes of two Nobel Peace laureates.

In between all these four homes lies the Hector Pietersen Memorial, built in honour of one of the youngest victims, who was shot dead by apartheid police during the June 16 1976 Soweto student uprising.

As part of its 40th anniversary commemoration of the uprising in June this year, the City of Johannesburg officially renamed Thabethe Street, in the same Orlando West locality, after Hastings Ndlovu, widely believed to be the first victim of the Soweto riots.

On Saturday, Mothopeng’s family, PAC members and local residents gathered a few steps away from his home as Johannesburg Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development Cllr Nonhlanhla Sifumba cut the ribbon to officially rename Pela Street after a man who spent most of his life fighting for freedom and justice only to succumb to illness in 1990 – four years before the advent of democracy. He was 77.

Addressing the gathering, MMC Sifumba said it was an honour for her, as a public representative in the Joburg Council, to be part of this epoch-making event. She told the crowd that the renaming of the street was not just to remember the PAC leader’s struggle credentials but also to acknowledge the sacrifices he made to help bring about freedom.

She said as a resident of Soweto herself, she was proud to be part of the event.

“Today, as the City of Johannesburg, we are grateful to Uncle Mothopeng for the role he played in the struggle. His legacy will not be forgotten. As we rename Pela Street after him, we say thank you to the Mothopeng family for sharing your father with the nation,” Cllr Sifumba said.

The event was attended by a number of PAC leaders, including former president Dr Mohau Pheko. A memorial lecture was later held in his honour at Uncle Tom’s Hall.

His daughter-in-law, Ellen Mothopeng, said: “Uncle Zeph was a staunch and shrewd politician who went in and out of prison for his political activities but always outsmarted the racist white regime.”

She said what was most painful was that he never enjoyed the days when his children got married. “Either he was in jail or under house arrest,” she said.

PAC members said they were grateful to the City for ensuring that Mothopeng was never forgotten.