In 2004 the City of Johannesburg changed a number of street names in Newtown in honour of major South African artists. This was part of a broader strategy throughout South Africa to honour those who had contributed to the struggle against apartheid. Names changed in Newtown were
Gerard Sekoto was one of the pioneers of modern South African art. For this reason the Johannesburg Art Gallery honoured him in 1989 with a retrospective that covered 50 years of his work. Although he left the country in 1947, South Africa remained alive in his paintings throughout his life. Sekoto died in 1993.
Joseph 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde
Joseph Nkabinde, better known as Mahlathini, was one of the best musicians to emerge from South Africa. He single-handedly branded mbaqanga as the formidable music genre it is today. Mahlathini, who teamed up with the Mahotella Queens, was a commanding presence on stage with his rich, low voice. When he died in 1997, the nation mourned.
In the early 1950s, Bra Ntemi's Alexandra All Star Band was at the cutting edge of the new music of urban South Africa, blending African American music with the sounds and ethos of township life. Ntemi’s African Jazz Pioneers, formed more than 50 years before his death, survived the apartheid era and, after 1990, started to headline jazz venues and festivals all over Africa, Japan, Europe and Australia. Bra Ntemi was also a prolific composer with a deep sense of social responsibility.
Mrwebi was a fiery alto saxophonist of the 1950s who achieved international acclaim. Affectionately known as 'Bra Gwigwi', he played for The Jazz Maniacs and in the African opera King Kong. The saxophone legend died in the 1970s.
Newsman Henry Nxumalo rose from a messenger to a sports editor within a short space of three years. He also wrote a regular column for the Pitsburg Courier, educating US readers about the realities of the South African apartheid era.
After joining Drum in 1951, his investigative journalism led to his being known as ‘Mr. Drum’. Such was his determination to dig up the facts relating to any story he worked on that he got himself arrested to investigate prison conditions, and signed up as a labourer to expose the scandalous Bethal potato farms.
He was stabbed to death by thugs while investigating an abortion scandal in 1957.
The music of Margaret Mcingana filled the gaping hole left by the banning of the music of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and a number of other activist musicians during the 1970s. The world will always remember her voice for its haunting evocation of Shaka's stature in the epic television series Shaka Zulu. Mcingana died in 2000.
Noria Mabasa's education as an artist is unique - she received her tuition from the realm of her dreams. This talented artist has been exhibiting since 1984 and works with clay and wood. Mabasa was the first and remains the only Venda woman to make wood sculptures.
Her works are in collections around the country, including the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the South African National Art Gallery, the University of Fort Hare, the Pretoria Art Museum, the University of Western Cape, the University of Witwatersrand, the Sandton Convention Centre, and are also in collections in the Netherlands, Belgium and the US.
Dolly Rathebe was at the forefront of music development in Southern Africa from the 1950s. By the 1960s she was acclaimed as the country's leading female jazz vocalist and film actress. Her position as the leading blues singer on the African continent remains uncontested. In addition to her contribution to music, Rathebe acted in a television dramas and feature films. Music's matriarch died in 2004 at the age of 74.
This gifted artist's name is inextricably linked with the history of the Newtown Precinct. Co-founder and artistic director of the Market Theatre, Barney Simon devised and directed community health education projects through drama and song throughout the 1970s and early '80s. He was also a writer and editor. He died in 1995.
Miriam Makeba was a South African singer and civil rights activist. The Grammy Award winning artist is often referred to as 'Mama Afrika'. Her professional career began in the 1950s with The Manhattan Brothers before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong alongside Hugh Masekela, her future husband. In 1963, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She had nine passports and was granted honorary citizenship of ten countries.
Makeba went into exile and, in the latter days of apartheid, she was always to be found with those who fought against crimes against humanity.
She was honoured by countries as far afield as Cuba, Guinea and France, as well as by the United Nations, which appointed her as a peace envoy. Makeba died in 2008.
It is interesting to note that Carr Street, named after William St. John Carr, retained its original name.