Jabulani Amphitheatre Heritage Project

Bringing the iconic amphitheatre back to life

Ronnie Madonsela (RIP) on the Brook Benton (RIP) Tour with the Drive - Guitarist Lucky Sithole (RIP) Band Leader Chris Schilder and Stan & Henry Sithole (RIP) at the Jabulani Amphitheatre, Soweto 1971 - Photo by David Marks

The City of Johannesburg's property agent, Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), through its township revitalisation programme, has started the revamp of the iconic Jabulani Amphitheatre. A worthy investment as the Amphitheatre holds great historical value and memories of our past. It was here, on February 10, 1985, that Nelson Mandela's daughter Zindzi read a defiant, smuggled message from her father from Pollsmoor Prison, in which he refused PW Botha’s offer of conditional release from prison if he renounced violence. This message was read to a roaring audience of thousands of black South Africans who had filled the Amphitheatre to capacity, with others crowded outside the walls.

1952 – The Jabulani Amphitheatre was built in 1952 by the West Rand Administration Board (WRAB) as a venue for hosting cultural and sporting events. It was, for many years, the only facility in the area that could accommodate large gatherings.  One of the few leisure facilities in Soweto during the apartheid years, and a place of political significance, it was also one of only a few state structures that was spared during the June 16 Student Uprising, in 1976.

1960’s - During the 1960s, this was the venue for Jazz Festivals, which then turned into the Soweto National Jazz Festival. Local bands such as “The Beaters”, led by Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse - later renamed ‘Harare” after their successful tour of Zimbabwe - mesmerised audiences during their concerts. Blondie Makhene and his brother Papa and the Black Hawks also played to full capacity at the Amphitheatre. Touring African American groups such as The Staple Singer and Dobbie Gray also performed here and Gospel Festivals, featuring singers such as Rebecca Malope and Lundi brought our people together.

1970’s – Boxing promoters staged big tournaments featuring local champions such as Norman “Pangaman” Sekgapane and Anthony “Blue Jaguar” Morodi.  Simon “Tap-Tap” Makhathini from Stanger, KwaZulu Natal was knocked out by David Love from USA in this venue. During this fight, there was a section, located high above the stairs, allocated to radio stations broadcasting the event to listeners worldwide. Among other sporting events, the Soweto Basketball Association staged their tournaments at the site. Local community members would normally use the venue as a gymnasium space for body building training. During Easter holidays members of various church denominations from different provinces converged at the Amphitheatre to pray for the sick, for stability in the country and for peace between Inkatha Freedom Party members and ANC supporters.   

1980’s - In the 1980’s, and because of its close proximity to the Jabulani/ Inhlanzani Hostel, the Amphitheatre became popular for hosting Maskandi as well as Isicathamiya traditional music. With a seating capacity of 15 000, it became a popular venue for political rallies staged by organisations such as the African National Congress, Pan Africanist Congress, AZAPO and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Other political formations such as UDF, which were aligned to the then banned ANC, also held their rallies there.

The City of Johannesburg's property agent, Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), through its township revitalisation programme, has started the revamp of the iconic Jabulani Amphitheatre.

1986 - In 1986 a bomb exploded at the site. No one was hurt, and it later emerged, during the ANC’s amnesty application, that it was part of uMkonto weSizwe (MK) activities. At this time, the site was also used by trade unions for their educational workshops, congresses and meetings.  Among many other union congresses and programmes, this was the venue for a FOSATU educational workshop in 1985. 

1990’s - Funerals for high profile activists were conducted here over the years.  In 1990, following the death of exiled student leader Tsietsi Mashinini in Guinea, his funeral service was held at Jabulani Amphitheatre.  The memorial service of Chris Hani, the assassinated leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, took place at the venue on 14 April 1993.

The revamp of the Amphitheatre includes the construction of rehearsal studios, new performance stages, an outdoor gym, braai areas, a revamped cafeteria, a rope adventure park and spots for busking. Once complete, the Amphitheatre will once again serve as a place where history is made and brought back to life through music, storytelling and dance.

Credit: Special thanks to the 3rd Ear Music/ Hidden Years Music Archive Project (HYMAProject)

Website: www.3rdearmusic.com

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