Remembering People’s Hall

015Well, well, well. I am pretty pleased people are enjoying my walk about and that it is stimulating their memories of years gone by. I had a call from Mrs Chotie Motala, a doyen in our community who has a rich history to share of the struggle against apartheid. Now Mrs Motala, as pleasant as always called to say “I enjoy going back down memory lane. Shan you’ve got a fantastic  memory. Keep writing,” she said, and to which I responded with a “thanks aunty Chotie”.
Well I know we parted at Yacoob’s barbershop last week. This week I crave your indulgence to make a little bit of a u-turn here and go into Thomas Street for I believe there’s a little bit of our history up this street. Remember the People’s Hall or Red Square where Willowton Meats are presently situated? This is where people like the Lion of the Midlands, Harry Gwala, spent most of his time plotting and planning his quest for freedom. Seeing him there with his blood-shot red eyes and red tie was indeed a true representation of the symbols of the Communist Party that he ate, slept and drank.
I will never forget his colleagues SB Mungal and Comrade Ramdeen who were always there with him and also “die-hards” who helped fight for liberation despite being banned and even having spent time in jail. We can only hope that their fight and efforts continue to be remembered by generations to come.
My mind also goes back to the times when I used to cycle to Ockert’s kraal on dirt roads (an area somewhere near Bellevue today), to warn Mungal of imminent raids having been tipped off from Johannesburg and the many times I visited his home with journalist Creina Alcock. I also remember when his mother passed how the apartheid regime would not allow him to attend her funeral.
Coming back into town, directly opposite the People’s Hall was the surgery of our hero activist, Dr Chota Motala. His surgery at 518 Langalibalele St ( Longmarket Street ) was previously occupied by my friend Joel Kinene, a labour union activist, who had his offices there. The People’s Hall was always a hive of activities and many will recall Sam Percy who taught physical culture and boxing there. I attended those physical culture classes while others attended dancing lessons and a pre-primary school.
Going down the road was another silent activist Naran Ghela and his wife, then there was the Enochs, policeman and undertaker David Holby, flower seller Ram and Mania, Rev Choono, and Dully.
It is here that I leave you for the week. Since so many of you meet and talk to me about my column, why not drop a line to Public Eye with old photos and your memory of pioneering Pietermaritzburg families. Has your family been mentioned in any of my columns? If so, why don’t you send us some pictures of them, a brief recollection of their history and perhaps your memory of the area in those years.

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