The D.O.C.C. is one of the trust’s most important projects. The centre has been the heartbeat of Soweto for decades and home to performers such as Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie. The D.O.C.C was also where the fatal marches were planned for June 16, 1976.
In 1943 the founder of the Donaldson Trust, Colonel James Donaldson wrote to the Johannesburg Municipality proposing the establishment of a youth centre.
The offer was accepted and the council agreed to erect buildings up to the value of £5 000 on a site in Orlando which was partially occupied by the Leake Hall.
Both the suburb of Orlando and the Leake Hall were named after Edwin Orlando Leake, who was mayor of Johannesburg in 1925/6 and a city councillor.
As chairman of the committee to administer the increasingly large black population which was building up to the south west of Johannesburg at Klipspruit (now renamed Pimville after Howard Pim of the InstitutLeake was responsible for the establishment of Orlando, which was the first properly laid out suburb in what later became Soweto. Today it is known as Orlando East because the 2 500 acres on which it was originally laid out proved to be inadequate and it expanded westwards into what is now Orlando West.
Leake Hall was built buy Orlando Leake and, as the first community hall in the first suburb of early Soweto, it was an important building. It was officially opened, in 1932, by the Governer General of SA, the Earl of Clarendon. It was not very big and only occupied a small portion of the land allocated to it, so there was room enough to develop the envisaged youth centre.
The municipality duly confirmed that it had voted the full £5 000 for the erection of a building. Not long afterwards Rheinhallt Jones reported that the Department of Social Welfare was also prepared to contribute.e of Race Relations).
A committee was set up consisting of the Colonel, one representative each from the Department of Social Welfare and from the municipality, and Rheinhallt Jones representing the Institute of Race Relations. At its first meeting it arranged that Major Hogan from the municipality do an assessment and make recommendations for the furtherance of the scheme.
Major Hogan was employed to do all the preliminary work which the scheme entailed. A full-time secretary/organizer, Mr S. Ntombela was also appointed. A voluntary working committee was formed with Colonel Armitage as chairman. The Department of Social Welfare and the municipality were asked to appoint representatives to the board of the centre and a constitution was drawn up. The name agreed upon was the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre (D.O.C.C.).
The Minister of the Department for Social Welfare approved the appointment of Lady Albu as the department’s representative on the board of management and the Secretary for Social Welfare as its representative on the board of trustees. The trust`s representative on the centre’s board of trustees were Richard Victor Selope Thema and Rheinhallt Jones.
The Department for Social Welfare wanted an assurance from the municipality that, should the building not continue to be used for the purpose of the centre, its capital would be refunded. The trust was in the same position but it decided against pressing for an assurance for fear of prejudicing the centre’s chances of future support from the municipality. It decided instead, to ask for an assurance form the board of trustees of the centre that, should the centre cease to be used as such, they would refund the trust any moneys received by them from the municipality in compensation.
By the end of 1946 the constitution of the centre was signed and negotiations were concluded with the trustees of Leake Hall whereby control of the hall would pass to the board of the centre and the hall itself would be incorporated into the structure of the completed building, which it was, becoming a gymnasium in which a host of famous boxers did their training, in company of a young amateur called Nelson Mandela.
Building then proceeded. The municipality confirmed that it had increased its grant from £5 000 to £10 000, but it was unable to make any payment until 1948, and the Department of Social Welfare confirmed that it would match the trust’s contribution on a pound for pound basis but it would only do so after the initial expenditure had been incurred. As a result the trust had to pay for everything, including furniture and equipment..
The foundation stone was laid on the 10th January 1948 and the official opening ceremony took place on the 11th December of that same year. The Colonel attended the trustees meeting on the 3rd December but then went into hospital for an operation. He nonetheless discharged himself in order to attend the ceremony but then went straight back to hospital where he died sixteen days later on the 27th December 1948.
The defeat of the Smuts Government in May 1948 sounded the death knell for all the hopes and expectations that were vested in the Union Party’s policies of development. The immediate effect was shock; followed by trepidation and speculation. And then came the shock news of J H Hofmeyr’s death on 3rd December in that same year. Hofmeyr’s moral support had been invaluable. In the Smuts Government he had, at the same time, been Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Education and Minister of Finance. He was the trust’s friend in government and had been with the trust in spirit from before his acceptance of trusteeship in August 1940. For the trustees, the loss of both he and the Colonel within a space of two weeks, in the aftermath of the apartheid party’s victory, was a powerful blow.
It was not long before they had a foretaste of the crippling effect that apartheid policy was going to have not on their future but on their past, activities. The first casualty was the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre (DOCC).
Government had agreed that the cost of running the centre would be shared equally between the trust and itself, but, because the new apartheid government was firmly committed to reversing the flow of black South Africans into the towns so it reneged on the agreement. Instead it proposed that the centre be used as a pass-office.
This suggestion was so crass that one can only wonder whether it was made in ignorance of how offensive it would be to the population of Orlando, or whether it was made deliberately to demonstrate the new government`s contempt for equality. Either way the result was the same: the centre was going to get no money whatsoever from government. And, since the trust was financially incapacitated until it had paid off Succession Duty, this meant that the trustees had to look for some organization that was willing and financially strong enough, to take over the running of the centre.
Toc-H, an international organization with whom the trust had been working was appointed and ran the centre until 1960 when occupation was handed over to the Orlando YMCA who are running it today.
During the intervening years the centre went through a tough time financially, with much of the equipment which the Colonel had put in, including billiard tables, being sold to defray expenses. But the community it served regarded it as their own, and despite the lack of government support, or perhaps because of it, the centre grew in popularity and became the hub of community life in Orlando. It was home to the Orlando Pirates Football Club for many years, and was the training ground for many of the country’s top dancers and boxers. It was the venue for any number of activities, and events were held there such as beauty competitions, talent contests, plays, meetings, church services and even funerals. Some of its famous personalities include Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie.
Political meetings were banned but, nonetheless took place. In the 1976 student uprising the centre was one of the very few public buildings which did not suffer any damage, not even any broken windows which clearly demonstrated the degree of community involvement in the centre. More importantly, on the 13th June, three days before the uprising took place, the South African Students Movement called a meeting at the D.O.C.C. which was attended by about four thousand students, representing fifty five schools. It was there that the decision was taken to stage the demonstration of the 16th June.
Financially, however, tough times continued for the centre. But in the early 1980`s the Orlando YMCA received assistance which went a long way to making itself supporting: the Anglo American Chairman`s Fund paid for the building of a youth hostel at the centre which would serve as a residence for black African students who were attending universities such as Wits but who were not allowed to live in the university residences. Today all students can live wherever they please, but the YMCA residence is nonetheless fully occupied, by youth of sexes, and the centre, having survived the last 60 years without the promised government assistance, is close to being financially independent and has become one of the landmarks of Soweto.
The trust continues to offer assistance. In 2004 Elizabeth Donaldson (trustee and grand-daughter of the founder) organized a R50 000 facelift for the D.O.C.C. that included a revamp of the computer centre. She also created a clothes library for young people to access formal wear for matric dances and weddings as well as suits for job interviews. Educational toys and a trampoline were also added to the aftercare facility at the the centre.