HOUSE number 1670 Molahloe Street, Orlando East, Soweto is no ordinary address.
United we stand…Letta Mbulu and her husband Caiphus Semenya
This is where Letta Mbulu, one of South Africa’s foremost music luminaries was born and grew up. And on 24 September this house will be honoured with a Johannesburg Heritage Site Blue Plaque from the Heritage Ways in partnership with the City of Joburg Immovable Heritage department and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, for being the cradle that reared a national treasure.
The honour is part of 2018 Legacy Events and as part of the celebrations, there will be a Letta Mbulu Honorary Lecture at Northwards Place, 21 Rockridge Road in Parktown, Johannesburg on 23 September under the theme: The Meaning of African Diaspora in the national liberation discourse. In addition, there will be a Fun Walk on 24 September starting at the Orlando Communal Hall in Orlando East from 6am with registration. The day will culminate with the plaque unveiling at 11am.
While preserving Mbulu’s Heritage home, it’s also her 75th birthday on September 24 and it will be fitting that the Road to Independence and the National Liberation Route shall note the gallant work of this inductee of the Order of Ikhamanga Silver.
Tshenolo Mokhele, Heritage Researcher and Strategy Developer at Heritage Ways based in Soweto. “The road to independence in Africa was hugely influenced by various artists some of whom went to foreign lands, hoping to spread the message that the time to free Africa was now and as such it must not be postponed. While we celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu, South African liberation story must include works that have their genesis in the struggles against land dispossessions from 1913.
“Where Mama Letta Mbulu grew up in Orlando East is a place that will be credited as a Mother of all Townships under the leadership of the late great civic leader Mr James Sofasonke Mpanza who in the 1940s led the struggle of land grabbings. Materials such as the Letta Mbulu sites must also be considered for future inscription into the national liberation Route Register of Sites.”
Mbulu says she is humbled and honoured by the announcement.
Welcoming the news she says: “It’s difficult to express myself because I’m not the only one who was involved in the struggle with the music I was doing. But I do feel honoured and humbled, I did not expect it.”
Mbulu says their location was also known as Plantation and it holds many wonderful and sad memories at a difficult time of apartheid brutality.
She lived in the house with her mother, brothers and aunt (mother’s younger sister).
“We struggled under apartheid. My brothers were chased by the police for pass laws and pass books. The cops would come at 4am to kick the door looking for them.
“I lost my brother when I was 13. He was arrested and taken to Leeuwkop where he was shot at close range and died. When we tried to get his body, the authorities refused to release it, my mother had to get a lawyer.
“But there are also great memories I cherish. It was a musical family, both my mother and aunt were into music and that kept us going. I also come from a neighbourhood that I have great respect for. There was camaraderie and the men and women held on to the spirit that every child is their child.
“Even under Bantu education the teachers were formidable and they taught us what they wanted us to learn and I’m thankful to them. I have very fond memories.”
Mbulu currently rents the house and she often visits the community to see people she grew up with or join in funerals and other occasions.
“Orlando is my heart. My umbilical cord is there, I will always be drawn to it.
“I thank God for the gift he gave me and how my mother nurtured it. I’m also indebted to James Mabena the man who discovered me as a singer. There are a lot of people who played a role with this gift, but it’s the people of this country who made me aware that I had something special because every time I performed they applauded, approved and gave the confidence. The Americans just put on a stamp, but it’s my people at home who saw me grow up and bestowed the confidence.”