Community House

A Site of Activism in Cape Town

Community House, a living heritage site in Salt River, Cape Town, is the home of Labour Research Service (LRS) since the 1980s. As a founding tenant, the LRS is invested in Community House because it symbolises our organisation's long dedication to supporting trade unions in South Africa.

In the mid-1980s, apartheid South Africa experienced heightened repression, the revival of the workers’ movement and an intense struggle for liberation. Trade unions and civic and service organisations needed a base from which to wage the struggle. Thus, the Western Province Council of churches (WPCC) and Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT), purchased the Community House site then a dilapidated auto-workshop in Salt River in Cape Town. Salt River area is the origin of industrial unions in the Western Cape. The area had vibrant textile and light metal factories.

Community House was opened officially on 21 August 1987 after two years of renovating. Eight days after the official opening, the building got bombed by agents of the apartheid state. Nevertheless, Community House became an established base for collective mobilisation for a diverse range of organisations. Community House was a haven for workers who were involved in the liberation movement. Workers converged here to plan the fight for better wages, working conditions and equality for all.

By 1988, major mass-based organisations faced bannings and restrictions. In July of the following year, the Mass Democratic Movement declared a countrywide campaign against the restrictions. Come September of 1989, Community House was a beehive of activity as activists planned and prepared for the historic ‘purple rain’ march, which saw about 100,000 people flood the streets of Cape Town. The march contributed to the unbanning of political organisations in February 1990. Post-1994, the labour movement took the role of advocating for equal social and economic opportunities in South Africa.

Community House was declared a provincial heritage site in 2010. It is the only site in South Africa that provided and continues to provide a home for organisations and individuals involved in the broader labour movement. The Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU), as well as labour support organisations and NGOs, call Community House home.

Large murals commemorating labour and community activists don the walls, halls and foyers of Community House. The murals tell the stories of people who were detained, tortured and killed by the apartheid regime. The murals also feature the planning and launching of several workers' strikes and campaigns, for example, the campaign for a non-racial Labour Relations Act and the strikes by workers at Vineyard Hotel. The halls of Community House have witnessed the release of political prisoners from Robben Island; they were the nerve centre of the first election campaign of the ANC in 1994; they have hosted cultural workers, training workshops and meetings and the painting of innumerable banners; they have hosted countless community activities such as weddings, funeral wakes, 21st birthday parties and karate classes.

Community House continues to shape the socio-political landscape of its extended communities and our country. The venue remains what its founders envisioned - a vibrant centre for social change and community action. The building continues to house various organisations engaged in struggles for social change.

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