The making of “The origins and 55-year pictorial history of Roshnee (1967-2022)”

Studying history, to many of us, means studying world events on a grand scale. The rise and fall of civilisations and the study of famous people and big events that shape the world as we know it. On a micro level, local history works much the same way, with similar social, economic and political dynamics.  Local history contains a wealth of details and stories that help reveal how societal changes impact on the lives of ordinary people. The idea of a history of the Roshnee community was a vision held by a group of friends who had a common interest in local history, and co-incidentally, in photography as well. The three, namely Yunus Chamda, Essop Gathoo and Haroun Pochee, made several false-starts to launch a community history project in the 90’s. The time for realisation of the vision would still come.

By Yunus Chamda

Since 2007, Yunus Chamda had been slowly and steadily working at selecting and preparing images for a community history. When the SABC called in 2007 to feature the Roshnee community on Eastern Mosaic, they started by visiting Yunus Chamda and his history project which was by then very much still in an embryonic stage. Video footage on that programme of Yunus at his old computer is a good reminder of how far the project has come along.  As Yunus worked through his personal collection of over 240,000 images, the idea of a Pictorial History in a coffee-table style book slowly started taking shape.  

In 2013, the three friends, Chamda, Gathoo and Pochee started the Roshnee Photography Club. It was at the Photo Club that the idea re-emerged, this time in the form of a photo exhibition. This was in 2016, and with the available photos at the time, it was possible to hurriedly put up an exhibition of 100 select images. The photo exhibition would have been a rushed attempt to deliver something to mark the 50th anniversary of Roshnee. With this half-baked effort came the risk that the photo exhibition would be the final product, and all other possibilities would fade away. Yet there was a much more comprehensive project lurking in the background.

Yunus Chamda

Sadly, on the 28 July 2017, Essop Gathoo passed away leaving a huge void in the project. It became obvious that a 50-Year history was not going to be possible. More time was needed. The Project was rebranded as a 55-Year History. After a few interviews with elderly residents, the idea of a fully-fledged narrative history was also shelved. It was a slow and time-consuming task. The project was already limping along far too slowly.  Without the resources of a research team and with no funding, and alternative approach was needed.

In a conscious decision, author Yunus Chamda decided upon a pictorial history instead, and also decided to get moving. The next 7 years of work on the book would be intense. His own personal collection of images was a huge available pool of content. Before his passing, Essop Gathoo had also provided a collection of valuable images. A pictorial history also brought with it some huge benefits. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, lots of pictures would require less words. We all love the ease of viewing picture books.


The years of work on the image collection provided some structure. As images were exported into folders according to categories, the categories gave way to chapters.

After some refinement, the author decided on the following 13 chapters:

1.      Intro & Foreword

2.      Origins

3.      Establishment of Roshnee

4.      Education

5.      Civic Life

6.      Business

7.      Sports

8.      Arts & Culture

9.      Politics and Government

10.   Community Outreach

11.   International Solidarity

12.   Other (Miscellaneous items that don’t fit in any of the previous Chapters)

13.   Conclusion, Acknowledgements etc


Roshnee was officially established on 20 April 1967.  It was a forced implementation of the Group Areas Act. The first resident took occupation of his house on 25 January 1968. The history of the community could not be told without going back to its origins. A significant portion of the project would be  dedicated to the early years of Vereeniging, Evaton, Top-Location and several small rural settlements around the Vaal and neighbouring regions.

55 BECOMES 120

Without the Origins Chapter, the story of the community would have no context. It was important to go back to the early 1900s to trace the roots of the community. The 55-year story (1967-2022) became a 122-year story (1900-2022). It was an important decision that the author made. This also meant additional work and an extended timeline.


The call for submission of images for consideration and inclusion in the book drew a very positive response. Over 150 individuals and families responded to the call. They are acknowledged in the book. It also meant wading through many, many photo albums and viewing and scanning old negatives and slides. All very time consuming. Submission of images via WhatsApp was a very quick and easy way to submit images. However, WhatsApp crunches the resolution of images. The images needed to be resized for publication purposes. In many instances, the original photos were requested. These were scanned into high resolution digital images on a dedicated copy-stand.


Readers of the final publication will be pleasantly surprised that their images in the book appear much better than the originals. This is where the years of work was invested. A handful of images could not be improved upon, but because of their historical value, they are included. The photo of the soil turning ceremony of Roshnee in 1967 being one such example. Almost all the images in the book were colour corrected, dust and scratches cloned out, contrast and exposure adjusted and painstakingly restored. In some instances, large portions of the image had to be reconstructed digitally. One particular image took 21 hours of work on its own.


The first draft of the book was presented in an A4 sized file. It was a rough impression of what the book was all about. The need for strong visual presentation of images was critical to the look and feel of the book. It was decided to opt for a large A3 sized book in landscape format. The next set of drafts were in this large A3, landscape orientated format. What would the response to the book be? What final tweaking was needed? To answer these questions Yunus went about presenting the draft to as many people as possible. Most of these presentations are captured in the acknowledgments at the end of the book. All these viewing sessions were captured on a smartphone camera. No high-end equipment was needed. Some very valuable inputs were made at this stage.


Through their association at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the author had asked ‘Kathy’ Kathrada if he would provide a Foreword for the book. He readily agreed. Sadly Kathrada passed away on 28 March 2017. Turning to Advocate Abdus-Samad Nana was an easy decision. He had made a profound impact on the ethos of the Roshnee community and was a natural choice for the Foreword. The author also decided to include a short narrative before each chapter. But instead of writing these himself, he turned to Haroun Pochee who had been associated with the project since its conceptualisation in the 1990s. This was also a logical and natural choice. Haroun knows the history of the community intimately and he is also an accomplished writer and outstanding community leader.


Looking at the draft in 2020, it was deceptive to think that the book was ready for publication. Two major processes still needed to unfold: layout & design and editing. The author has only very basic skills using a graphics programme called Corel Draw. Using this software, he roughly assembled the draft. By June 2022 he was under the impression that a quick neatening-up by a graphic designer was all that was needed. Heritage Day, September 23, 2022 was the target date for the launch. Your most reliable critics and reference team are your immediate family. His children, who by now had become his ‘Book Team’, gently pointed out that the look and feel of the book was like ‘a row of square, boring apartment blocks’. Enter the services of Mamshaad Ismail of DigitalDapple graphic design…… and another long delay. Heritage Day 2022 was out of the question. For editing, a professional book editor specialising in pictorial histories would have to be paid by the hour. Yunus turned to his children to be editors of the book, at no cost. The editing took roughly 300 manhours by the team of four and included some very heated professional disagreements. Under stress and strain, they had some walkouts based on disagreements, one in particular = about the variations in the spelling of ‘Padayachee’ stands out. In the last days before going to print, ‘fresh eyes’ were need and several community members volunteered to be proof-readers. Many gave their time over the 2022 festive season.


As the book approached a state of readiness for launch, the idea of a grand fundraising dinner was on the table. From the very beginning of this project, the author was adamant that the book should be vehicle for community fundraising. It was always meant to be a total non-profit project. The idea of a grand exclusive dinner was abandoned. The story of a community had to be open to the entire community. A simple formula emerged. If sponsors could cover the production cost of the book, then all proceeds from the sale of the book could go towards community organisations. The response from families and businesses was truly amazing. The back-cover of the book proved to be very valuable.


Once the book was at Shereno printers, it was time to turn all attention to the launch. The owners of Inyata Wedding and Conference Centre in Roshnee availed the fabulous venue at no cost. Not just for a launch on 03 February 2023, but also for an open community Heritage Day on 04 February 2023. The original idea of a photo-exhibition by the Roshnee Photo Club is on the cards once again. The book in final print form is a large A3 sized book of 340 pages, contains over 3500 image, over 150 newspaper articles all of which have been retyped and reset to look like originals, and the book weighs just under 4kgs. The cost of R1000.00 for the book, while pricey , offers good value for what it is. At 4kg, it is a book meant to be enjoyed on a coffee-table.  The full title of the book is “The Origins and Fifty-Five Year Pictorial History of the Roshnee 1967-2022”. It is self-published and is registered with an ISBN number.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR Yunus Chamda is a former teacher of History and Art. He has previously served in local government as a Mayor, Speaker and City Manager. He is currently a consultant managing a project for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

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