Bantu Men's Social Centre
A recreation Centre for Bantu (Black) men founded in 1924 and sustained by white philanthropists and black professionals and teachers from the 1920s to the 1950s as a gathering point for the social, political and cultural elite of the black urban community.
Foundation and history
The Bantu Men's Social Centre was started by Rev. Ray E. Phillips (1889-1967) of the American Board Mission in central Johannesburg for recreational activities by black South Africans. Phillips was a Congregational minister who in 1918 came to South Africa from the United States with Dora, his wife (1892-1967). During the forty years that the Phillipses spent in South Africa, Ray helped found a number of organizations to assist black South Africans, or to foster racial co-operation. Firmly opposed to segregation, Phillips was involved in the founding of the South African Institute for Race Relations (1929), the Johannesburg Coordinating Council for Non-European Welfare Organization, and the Jan H. Hofmeyr School of Social Work (1941), of which he was the director. The Hofmeyr School provided training for black social workers, among whom Winnie Madikizela, before her marriage to Nelson Mandela. Political activists like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu (1912-2003) were members of the Bantu Men's Social Centre, and the African National Congress's Youth League was started on its premises in 1944.
The Social Centre was located at 1 Eloff Street at the edge of Johannesburg's central business district, among car dealerships and cheap food stores. Apart from a gymnasium, the Social Centre building featured a stage. Next door was Dorkay House, a former clothing factory and eventual home to the South African Union of Artists (later known as Union Artists).
The BMSC and theatre
Various plays were presented to a variety of audiences on the Social Centre's stage. In 1938, for example, H.I.E. Dhlomo presented Moshoeshoe, a drama about the baSotho king, performed in English. A large racially-mixed audience watched the all African cast that included Dhlomo.
A farewell concert was held at the Social Centre in 1956 for Father Trevor Huddleston, the missionary priest of Sophiatown.
In 1958 Athol Fugard's No-Good Friday was performed, showing for the first time the reality of black South Africans. Fugard held auditions at the Bantu Men's Social Centre which drew only males, who were either members of the Centre or musicians from Union Artists. The cast included Fugard, who also directed, and first-time actors Stephen Moloi, Connie Mabaso, Dan Poho, Ken Gampu, Zakes Mokae, Preddie Ramphele, Bloke Modisane, and Gladys Sibisi. The African Feeding Fund, through its white chairman, Hugh Tatham, was the sponsor. The audience comprised mostly black Africans. The only whites present were Tatham and his committee, actor and critic Bill Brewer, and acting teacher Benedicta Bonnacorsi.
On June 8, 1959 Fugard's Nongogo was performed by a cast comprising Cornelius Mabaso, David Phetoe, Solomon Rachilo, Thandi Khumalo and Zakes Mokae. The significance of Fugard's racially-mixed plays at the Social Centre is that at the time other theatre venues prohibited racially-mixed casts.
The Social Centre offered performances and training in jazz and classical music in the late 1950s. One room held a number of gramophones which members could listen and practice music to. Eric Gallo, chair of Gallo Africa record company, donated musical instruments to the Social Centre.
Alan Cobley (1997) relates that membership declined during the apartheid era. In line with the Group Areas Act the Bantu Men's Social Centre was forced to close on December 31, 1971. The West Rand Administration Board occupied the building from 1973. Appeals by the Centre's executive committee for a building in Soweto fell on deaf ears. The Bantu Men's Social Centre issued its final report in 1975.
A social centre and venue in downtown Johannesburg, situated in Eloff Street Extension, adjacent to Dorkay House, founded in 1924 and sustained by white philanthropists and black professionals and teachers from the 1920s to the 1950s as a gathering point for the social, political and cultural elite of the black urban community. in 1934 it housed the National Thanksgiving (or Emancipation Centenary Celebration), which [according to Loren Kruger, 1999] in a sense gave rise to the notion of the “New African” in South African Black culture.
Numerous local works by such divergent writers as Dhlomo and Fugard were performed here over the years. For example Brian Brooke presented the grand dame of the English theatre, Dame Sybil Thorndike in a series of drama and poetry recitals with her husband, Sir Lewis Casson. They played for a black audience at the BMSC in 1956. John Bolon staged a concert at the BMSC in 1953, in a fund raising attempt for Father Trevor Huddleston. No-Good Friday, Athol Fugard’s first play, was staged here in conjunction with the Union of Southern African Artists. Fugard himself appeared in the play, together with his black cast – Bloke Modisane, Dan Poho, Steve Moloi, Ken Gampu, Gladys Sibisa and Zakes Mokae in 1958.
Percy Tucker, 1997
For more information
See the Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_Men's_Social_Centre
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