Resilient, explosive and hopeful. These are the words we can use to describe the men and women whose lives have shaped or have been shaped by Evaton. From the devastating bus strikes of the 1950s and the close proximity to Sharpeville to the rent boycotts and student uprisings of the 1980s, Evaton has always been around the centre of monumental events in the history of South Africa.
At the heart of Evaton lay the Wilberforce Institute, an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) school founded by Charlotte and Marshall Maxeke. Charlotte Maxeke was one of the first South African black women graduates in 1900. Wilberforce Institute would go on to be training ground for many black students such as the journalist Godfrey Rosenbaum Sibusise Kuzwayo and political activist Nimrod Sekeramane Nathale.
Evaton was home to struggle icons of various parties like Joseph ‘Anti-Pass’ Khumalo, chairperson of the ANC in the area in 1953 and 1956. He was active during the bus boycotts and was banished to Duiwelskloof.
Vusimuzi Linda Make and Joseph Molefi, founders of the resistance movement Evaton Peoples Transport Council were also ANC youth league members who led the struggle against apartheid on the ground. Make and Molefi were the youngest accused in The Treason Trial along with Nelson Mandela and several others. These charges were later withdrawn. Make eventually joined the PAC and was elected Chairperson in 1978.
Frances Herman Gow, a political activist and Bishop of the African Methodist was principal of Wilberforce Institute in the 1920s and 1930s. He would later move to Cape Town. His daughter, Vera Gow, is a world-famous opera singer who was immersed in an ethos of music and culture during her stay in Evaton. She went on to qualify as a social worker and worked among farmworkers in the Western Cape.
There were other more infamous residents such as Rankeleke Rantuba, the alleged leader of the “Russians” who led violent strikes against the bus boycotters in 1955. Although he was eventually banished from Evaton, he had led a ring of violence along with Saul Simon Nhlapo another feared figure during the 1950s.
Evaton also produced great educationists like Dr Jacob Mfaniselwa Nhlapo, a great journalist and propagandist who was also a one-time principal of the Wilberforce Insitute. The late Dumisani Shadrack Khumalo, a long-serving South African ambassador to the UN was also from Evaton.
In popular culture, there are unconfirmed rumours that as a youngster Mme Rebecca Malope once hiked 400km to Evaton to search for work before she found fame as a singer.
Evaton remains a blueprint for struggles and oppression resistance action. If, like the popular saying goes, ‘It is in the water’, then I guess the country will be alright because Evaton is still alive with possibility.