“The British coloureds of Sophiatown”: the case of St. Joseph’s Home for coloured children, 1923-1998
Hlongwane, Charmaine T.
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During apartheid South Africa (1948-1994), black, coloured, and Indian children did not enjoy the same privileges as their peers of European descent – because of racial discrimination. However, some destitute coloured children’s lives changed positively following their admittance to St. Joseph’s Home for Coloured Children – administered by Sisters from the St. Margaret’s Order based in Sussex, England. This paper is not only the first academic study of St. Joseph’s Home for Coloured Children, but also the first to include the latter in the written history of Sophiatown. The article contributes doubly to the historiography of Sophiatown as well as the under-researched history of institutional care and orphanages in Johannesburg. The article explores how coloured children were perceived and treated at St. Joseph’s Home and how their lived experiences differed from those of the other children in Sophiatown – a racially-integrated area until the 1950s when the apartheid regime declared it an all-white area and forcibly removed black people. Furthermore, the article highlights St. Joseph’s Home’s challenges and successes during its existence as an institutional care centre, until 1998 when it was declared a monument and adopted a communal care structure. This paper is based on the Home’s administrators’ reports, interviews, and archival material. The findings of this research indicate that coloured children admitted to the Home adopted the English culture and “lived in comfort”, through the influence of the Sisters, making these children “better off” than the rest of their Sophiatown peers. The implication of the fact that these Home-based children were regarded as privileged is that they were resented by people from the older coloured generation, especially those employed at St. Joseph’s Home, for living privileged lives that were foreign to the rest of the coloured people of South Africa – during apartheid.