Ruins of a missionary church dating back to 1897 can be seen close to Ratanda. Jomo Kenyatta once commented: “When the missionaries arrived the African had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed, when we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”. Many churches followed, with even the ANC being established on 8 January 1912 in a church at Bloemfontein. Those from Africa that rejected the teachings of Mohammed were even sold as slaves.
Apartheid laws, forced relocation, evening clock rules and pass laws restricted residents of Ratanda from freedom of movements. From the Vaal Dam Road (R549), we turn into Protea Road as the main entry into Ratanda. The Ratanda Cemetery is located next to it. The Protea, as our national flower, pays tribute to those buried here in their liberation struggle for justice. One of the graves is that of Alinah “Anti-pass” Mokoena. She mobilised women to take part in the national women’s march of 9/8/1956 to the Union Buildings. Thousands demonstrated against the pass laws. She served the community as traditional healer and was an active member of the then banned ANC. The motto, “Wathit abafazi, wathit imbokodo”, meant if you hit a woman, you hit a rock had echoed true in her life.
Another well-known activist who attended a funeral here was Winnie Mandela, also known as Mama Africa. Her former husband Nelson Mandela received honorary citizenship of Heidelberg in 1996. She was outspoken and stated during the struggle on 13 April 1986: “Together hand in hand with our boxes of matches and necklaces, we shall liberate this country”. Even Reverend Frank Chikane wasn’t a stranger and delivered a UDF (United Democratic Front) speech in Ratanda. The SACP secretary and Umkhonto we Sizwe leader, Chris Hani, also attended a funeral here. A street in Ratanda is named in his honour. His murder in Boksburg nearly brought all peace negotiations to an end.
Lower down in Protea Street is the home of another former community leader, our first black mayor of Heidelberg, the late Obed Nkosi. The house situated in 1328 Mapanza Street is that of Busi Modisakeng, the first female mayor of Heidelberg. Both remained true to their roots. During their office, the Heidelberg honorary citizenship was awarded to Nelson Mandela on 29 November 1996. Heidelberg went full circle from the main seat during apartheid to awarding honorary citizenship to our first fully elected democratic president.
You could have celebrated it with traditional Umqombothi beer. It is a very sour beer made from mealie meal, ground wheat, sorghum malt, yeast and water. Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s song about it featured in the international film “Hotel Rwanda”. In 2017 it however became the 4 000th passenger on the Ark of Taste Slow Food’s international catalogue of food stuff fearing extinction.
On 4 October 1658, Jan van Riebeeck wrote in his journal that the first European beer was brewed at the most southern point of Africa. In the 20th century, it was illegal for blacks in South Africa to buy European beer, subsequently; an illegal shebeen culture was developed in South Africa. Shebeen, an Irish word, for smuggler’s pub, was used by thirsty mine workers in the townships. On the 15th of August in 1962, a law was passed to legalise the buying of alcohol by blacks. Shebeens were here to stay and are still a big part of the community. This was the place where the community gathered, shared news, and discussed political matters. The owners were usually female and were also the ones who would brew the Umqombothi. They were well-known for their rhythm and their music of preference was hip-hop. Ratanda delivered some of the popular “Skwatta Kamp” musicians who have received SAMA awards.
There are various shebeens in the area, like Round 14, Sister Gee, Biza’s Place and Mommy’s Joint. This development is part of Ratanda’s rich history. Be it strong women, shebeens, banned organizations or “Skwatta Kamp”, Ratanda is proof that its community was actively part of the resistance and freedom struggle.