71.The Group Areas Act

From the book: A Documentary History of Indian South Africans edited by Surendra Bhana and Bridglal Pachai

When the Group Areas Act was passed in 1950, all Indian political organisations strongly opposed it. The N.I.C., S.A.I.C., and the S.A.I.O. passed resolutions at their annual conferences condemning the Act, submitted memoranda and petitions to the Government and UNO, and also organised conferences to discuss the stand that both the community and the individual should take. The Indian community was unanimous in its sentiment with regard to the viciousness of the law. Two documents are reproduced below. The first is an N.I.C. secretarial report on the Act in direct response to the proclamation of 6 June 1958. Source: N.I.C. Agenda Book, Durban conference, 21-23 November 1958, S. S. Singh Collection. The second document has been specially prepared for this collection by Mr. Ranji S. Nowbath, who as a lawyer and journalist has seen at first hand the havoc wrought by the Act on the lives of individual Indians. The moving story he tells of Kandbhai and his son is but one of many instances of suffering. Only the names in the story are fictitious.

(a) The Congress policy on the Group Areas legislation is clear and has been enunciated at each conference since the Act was passed in 1950. We are totally opposed to this law, and at every stage of its implementation it is the task of every constituent body of the South African Indian Congress to rally the affected people under our slogan of 'Defend Our Homes'.

Since we last met in conference the most significant development under the Group Areas legislation has been the proclamations of June 6thaffecting Durban and Pretoria. These proclamations more than any other recent act fully vindicated our stand in opposition to this obnoxious legislation, and nakedly exposed the law as primarily aimed at ruining our people economically.

Besides the proclamations of June 6th the Group Areas Board has held hearings in certain areas and in others has advertised race-zoning proposals. The Congress has in all such cases lodged the objection of the Indian people totally rejecting race-zoning and condemning every move to present alternative race-zoning plans.

It is the duty of the Natal Indian Congress and the branches to make known to our people the independent Congress line on the Areas Acts. We have been fortunate in creating a united front around our basic policy under the Natal Provincial Vigilance Committee. This body has accepted fully the Congress stand of opposition.

A distinction must be drawn between the principled opposition to the Group Areas legislation offered by the Vigilance Committee and the broader united front formed for the specific purpose of opposing the proclamations of June 6th. Conference is aware of the fact that under a Committee of Sponsors the 26th June this year, the Indian people of Durban demonstrated as never before in their tens of thousands at Curries Fountain. It is true that among the sponsors were individuals who have favoured submission of alternative race-zoning plans.

When the Congress takes part in such a broad united front its first and primary function is to get the maximum support of the people on the issue in question. In respect of the proclamations of June 6th that primary function was to demonstrate to the Union Government and to the world unanimous rejection of the devastating proclamation. Besides this primary function Congress has another vital function to fulfil in respect of its policy and programme, and that is to take its independent policy of total opposition to the people as a whole. There should be no room for confusion in regard to these dual functions of working within the united front and yet boldly putting forth to the people our independent line of action.

Let each branch of Congress really answer this question, whether it has in its own area succeeded in working within the framework of a united front and yet at the same time taking to the people its full programme and policy regard to these laws.

DURBAN

It is essential that at this conference we place on record the devastating effects of the proclamation affecting Durban.

According to the figures of census taken by the Union Government in 1951 the population of Durban was as follows:

Indians145,744

Africans 132,841

Whites131,430

Coloureds 16,104

The position in respect of landholdings for Durban is as follows:

AcresValue

Total area of Durban39,732 £178,645,960

Owned by Government and local

Authorities (all white)12,885 £40,113,620

White-owned16,419 £113,879,100

Indian-owned 10,323£24,541,061

African and Coloured-owned 105 £90,000

It will thus be noted that of all the non-white groups Indians own a substantial area of Durban. One of the factors responsible for this position is the unique racial composition of Durban among the major cities of South Africa. Because of legal restrictions on freedom of movement within the boundaries of the Union of South Africa itself, 40.16 per cent of the total Indian population of the country, as compared to 5.01 per cent whites, 1.51 per cent Coloureds and 1.57 per cent Africans, is confined to Durban. Furthermore the landholdings of the African people have been severely restricted by the Land Act of 1913 and the Urban Areas Act of 1923, measures enacted so that they permanently remain a reservoir of cheap labour. It is our contention that one of the aims which the Group Areas Act seeks to achieve is to destroy the Indian people in the economic field, make them also a reservoir of cheap labour and coerce them to expatriate from the Union of South Africa.

The proclamation affecting the city of Durban was published in the Government Gazette ExtraordinaryNo. 6068 of June 6th 1958. The proclamation, although only covering a portion of the city (subsequent proclamations will deal with the rest), has resulted in a hue and cry on the part of all South Africans who love justice, as it nakedly illustrates the true nature of the Act.

In the Union Parliament Dr. Donges, replying to a question as to the estimated number of persons who would eventually have to be moved from their homes and premises in Durban as a result of the proclamation of June 6th, said that based on the 1951 Census the approximate numbers were as follows:

Indians 75,000 Coloureds 8,500 Whites 1,000

And it was the same Dr. Donges who had said the 'carrying out of this Act ... will be based on justice.'

The areas still unzoned but already threatened by the council's race-zoning plans will, it is estimated, result in the further uprooting of 54,000 Indians, 44,000 Africans and 6,000 Coloureds.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that there is a move to make Durban an all-white city by expelling from its boundaries more than 200,000 of its non-white citizens.

Dr. Donges did not give Parliament the figures of African displacements but it is estimated that under the full implementation of the zoning plans of the Durban City Council over 100,000 Africans will be displaced.

It has been estimated that with the full implementation of the race-zoning plans of the Durban City Council, Indians will be deprived of 6,658 acres of their present landholdings and 4,626 dwellings.

Taking into account the present-day market value of the properties affected it is estimated that Indians in Durban stand to lose over £30,000,000 under the proposed race-zoning plans. It has been estimated that if the zoning plans of the Durban City Council are fully implemented 35 Indian schools with an enrolment of 8,771 pupils will be uprooted. This will have devastating effect on Indian education in Durban, a city where already about 10,000 Indian children are without any schools whatsoever because of the policy of racial discrimination in the educational field ”” a policy which makes education and compulsory for white children only.

Thousands of Indian businesses in Durban will be ruined as a result of the proclamation. It is not possible at present to estimate fully the total losses which Indian commerce will suffer in Durban with the city completely zoned under the Group Areas Act.

The proclamations of June 6th1958, besides dealing with Durban, also deals with Pretoria, the capital city of the Transvaal, where about 70 per cent of Indian businesses will have to close down within 1 and 3 years of the proclamation. In the Prinsloo Street area of Pretoria alone where 127 businesses are affected, it is estimated that Indian commerce will lose over £6,500,000.

Not only are businesses and homes affected but also mosques, temples and churches, notwithstanding the fact that Moslems and Hindus regard their places of worship as sacrosanct and which should forever remain as places of worship in terms of their religious laws. The Group Areas Act in respect of these places of worship violates the fundamental principle of religious freedom.

The proclamation of June 6th has the immediate effect of making large areas owned and occupied by our people in and around Durban immediate Group Areas for white ownership. In some areas like the Beach and upper Berea, we have to vacate within a year. In the other areas the sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of our people. The areas of Cato Manor, Riverside, Prospect Hall, the Lower Berea, Bellair, Hillary and others areproclaimed future white-occupation areas.

On the Berea we stand to lose 127 acres of land and 705 dwellings at £1,134,450.

In the Beach area over 120 Indians, 120 Coloureds and about 2,700 Africans are affected.

In Woodlands and Montclair over 1,600 Africans and 175 Indians will have to move.

In Merebank Indians will lose 241 acres of land valued at £82,140. Over 2,000 Indians and 1,100 [Coloureds or Africans?] are affected.

On the Bluff some 1,800 Indians, 3,359 Africans and 181 Coloureds will have to move. Indians stand to lose 175 dwellings and 552 acres of land valued at £195,000.

In Rossburgh, Sea View, Bellair and Hillary over 6,000 Indians, 493 Coloureds and 3,306 Africans, totaling 9,879 non-whites will be moved. Indians will lose over 400 dwellings, 755 acres of land valued at £266,520.

In Briardene, Riverside and Prospect Hall Road over 6,000 Indians and 5,000 Africans will be displaced. Indians stand to lose 480 acres of land, and 400 dwellings are involved at a value of £403,240 and a market value of a million pounds.

In Cato Manor 25,798 Indians, 2,107 Coloureds and 28,298 Africans will be shifted. Indians will lose 2,891 acres of land and 2,444 dwellings valued at £1,685,350. Coloureds and Africans will lose over 70 acres of land and 133 dwellings valued at £25,940.

COURT ACTION

The mass meeting of June 26th has decided on challenging the proclamation in the Supreme Court. The timing of this action must be left in the hands of the Sponsoring Committee who must act as advised by legal opinion. It is however the duty of Congress to remain ever vigilant and thus ensure that no undue delay takes place in taking action at the appropriate time.

OUR TASKS

The mass petition now circulating should receive the highest priority in the tasks before the Congress. Branches must immediately after this conference plan vigorous area campaigns, canvassing each and every home in Durban on this issue. The petition speaks on behalf of all justice-loving people of Durban and therefore it is incumbent on us to get all sections of our multi-racial population to back this petition. It is strongly felt that the petition opens up great possibilities for joint fieldwork on the part of the Congress alliance in particular and on the part of all those opposed to this legislation.

The most effective way of handling this question would be to organise concerted weekly area drives, choosing one particular area per week. In the particular area chosen for the week we should have in the field Indian, African, European and Coloured field workers working as a team and collecting signatures in unison. This will be an effective way of coming to know the people of the area and at the same time explaining to the people that essentially the Group Areas legislation is aimed at all the non-white people of the Union and that it is just another facet of the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, laws which have already struck severe blows at the economic progress of the African people.

Just imagine how valuable will such work be if during one weekend our multi-racial team operated in Cato Manor and the next Springfield, followed by Sparks Estate housing-scheme.

For some time now it has been felt that readable literature on Group Areas was required in our fieldwork. The magnificent booklet, The People Wept, by Mr. Alan Paton is ideal for this purpose. We are indeed grateful to Mr. Paton for writing this booklet which speaks from his heart and is an effective contribution to the cause of the fight against this legislation.

We reject the Group Areas legislation in toto, and so does the entire democratic world. Our task is to remain forever vigilant because this law threatens our very existence and we cannot in any way be a party to its implementation.

(b) The full measure of the impact of the Group Areas Act on the Indian people of South Africa in human and socio-economic terms has still to be calculated, if it is at all possible to calculate human suffering. Settled communities, numbering several tens of thousands, and in one case estimated at forty thousand, have been uprooted from their hearths, homes, temples, churches, mosques, schools and cultural institutions, and forced into dormitories and sleeping cubicles without the right or the opportunity to choose neighbourhoods and neighbours.

The order has been, 'Get out from your homes', given by some white officials of the state, and 'Take what you are given', by other white officials. It has been as simple as that.

No scientific study has as yet been made of the material losses of the Indian people under the Group Areas Act ”” of the extent of land lost, of the number of people who have been affected, of what has happened to them in terms of the destruction of their family life and the break-up of joint families and the resultant socio-economic ills, of the types and the quality of homes destroyed, of the types and quality of houses into which they have been driven, of the compensation paid, of the replacement costs of those people who have elected not to go into the dormitories and the cubicles called Indian townships, of people who were landowners and are now tenants of the state and local authorities, of the number of Indian businessmen who have been ruined, of the value of their losses, of their replacement, if any, and of the number who were once businessmen but have now been obliged to join the labour market.

A study of this kind cannot effectively evaluate the human suffering, agony and pain which the Act has caused unless it looks at individual case histories, at the violence both physical and emotional inflicted upon the soul, upon the spirit and upon the emotions of a man and his family when they are ordered to get out of their hearths and homes and leave behind places made sacred to their gods and their deities. Even then it will not be possible to (if one can put it in that way) assess the infraction of the soul and the spirit.

Kandhai left his native Bihar towards the close of the nineteenth century under a contract for service in what was at the time called the Colony of Natal. He and his wife Dulari sallied forth from their ancestral home, leaving behind the family gods and deities in order to improve the quality of their lives; and by the time they had served their indentures they had lost contact with their people in Bihar and stayed on in the Colony.

Once free of indenture Kandhai set about getting himself independent of an employer. The driving force behind everything he did was the ambition to buy a piece of land, build a home and wrestle with the land for a living or a supplementary living to his employment. He and his family led a frugal and thrifty life. Often it was hard and raw but when son Sewram began to work and make his contribution, father and son were able to make a down payment on a piece of land in Durban's Riverside, an area flanked on the side by the Umgeni River, then rich and full, and the Indian Ocean, then without laws governing the catching of shad.

Riverside was far away from town. The soil was still virgin and if a man was prepared to work he could draw on the land for a living. Kandhai's whole heritage had been linked to the soil and he and his kind could make things grow where none grew before.

But Kandhai was not immortal and he died, and his property passed to his son Sewram. Sewram and his family drew their livelihood from the land. His wife Dhunraji and the little children tilled the land and planted vegetables. Sewram worked on the land in the evenings and early mornings and over the weekends for he was wise enough to realise that it was important and necessary that he should earn cash income from the labour market.

Fruit trees were planted and in season there was an abundance of mangoes, jackfruit and avocado pears. These and the vegetables were marketed. On Saturdays Sewram took his vegetables and fruit to the Squatters' Market in town and with the cash that he got for his produce he bought the groceries that were required at home, rice, sugar, dal, salt, oil and the like.

In an isolated corner of the land screened off by trees and shrubs Kandhai had built his sthanand initiated his son Sewram into the rituals and the practices of his religion. The sthanmight be called an altar and a shrine combined. It was here that Kandhai offered oblations to the family gods, where he hoisted the Jhanda, the red flag mounted atop a bamboo pole, in honour of Hanuman, son of Marut, the wind-god. In the epic literature of the ancestors of Kandhai Hanuman is the embodiment of all that is good and just, virtuous, loyal and courageous, and he who recites the Hanuman Chalisa, the exploits of Hanuman, fears not death or the ills of the present life.

It was at this sthanthat Kandhai's wife, Dulari, performed each morning her Surya Namaskar, greetings and thanks to the rising sun, for its warmth and life-giving force. It was here that Kandhai offered food and libations each year to the spirits of his ancestors, who held guardian watch over him, his family and his fortunes. This sthanwas for him the most sacred spot in the entire world for he had consecrated it and it was here that he communed with his gods.

When Kandhai died the property, the sthanand the duty of performing the religious rites and rituals devolved upon his son Sewram, who carried on in the traditions and the disciplines cast by his father, deviating only in order to accommodate himself to new and developing norms. Then suddenly, when Sewram was set to retire and dandle his grandchildren on his knees, his whole world fell apart. The Government of the land announced that Riverside had been given over to the white man and that all Indians would have to get out of the place.

The Government did pay compensation but Sewram was not asked what he wanted or what it would cost him to settle elsewhere. In fact the Government did not bother whether he could settle elsewhere. The amount to be paid to him for the theft of his land by the Government, for it was no more than theft of his land by the Government except that it had the law behind it, was determined by the Government.

Sewram, steeped in the traditions of his forefathers, could do no more than say ‘So be it' and cast around for some place where he could start life anew. He was no more a young man but there was his responsibility, and the spirit which had moved his father to leave his native Bihar in search of a new life also animated Sewram. It was, indeed, a valuable heritage and Sewram set about finding another piece of land, believing and accepting that his suffering was God's will and that it had to be done.

Sewram found a piece of land. It was much further away from town than Riverside. There were no roads, no lights, no sewerage, but he and his sons set about hauling themselves back on their feet. The best years of his life were behind Sewram and it was physically, mentally and emotionally difficult for him to start life all over again. There was no river nearby and no sea from which he could draw some food. The land had to be tilled and cultivated. The market was too far away. The girls were growing up and had to be married. A new sthanhad to be consecrated. Sewram did all these things with courage and faith and belief in his gods, Hanuman in particular, for he who believes in Hanuman suffers no troubles in the present life nor pain in the hereafter, and out of the ruins of his life caused by the Group Areas Act, he built with the help of his sons a large and spacious home.

He was a Hindu and the traditions of his forefathers were that the sons should all live under the same roof and that it was his duty, ordained by the gods, to make this possible. The girls belonged to the homes of their husbands and it was the duty of the fathers of their husbands to provide for them. But no sooner had he completed building his new home and making provision for his sons than the Group Areas Act struck him again. Newlands East was declared an area for coloured ownership and occupation,

It may only be a coincidence that Sewram died shortly after the proclamation. It may be that his spirit was broken by the proclamation. To have been uprooted and driven out of Riverside for no other crime than that he was not a white man in South Africa was wicked and evil but to have it happen second time was possibly more than human resilience and tolerance could bear.

As soon as he died his eldest son Harilall, the executor of his estate, was ordered by the self-same Department of Community Development ('Development' being only a masquerade, for destruction was more suited to what it was doing to the blacks) to realise the estate property and account to it.

This meant that within ninety days the executor had to find a buyer from the correct racial group, sell the property and tell the beneficiaries and the occupants to leave and, pending such sale, apply for a permit to 'hold' the property. Sewram's widow and children were once again ransomed to the Department of Community Development and had orders to get out of their home. It was fortunate that the downturn in the economy of the country in the mid-seventies prevented the Department from expropriating the property and redeveloping Newlands East, and Indians settled there were left to their own devices in disposing of their properties.

The uncertainty was nerve-wracking, cancerous and cruel. Sewram's sons did not know what the future held for them, but one thing they knew – their joint-family system and the security it had provided for generations was at an end. The brothers would be scattered, each to fend for himself as best as he could.

They got together and with their pooled savings bought a piece of land in an area declared for Indian ownership and occupation, as a hedge against being driven out of Newlands East. They were fortunate because Harilall, the eldest, although he was no more than a truck-driver, was a man of vision and foresight.

Sewram's widow suffered a stroke shortly after her husband's death. Harilall and his brothers decided to stay where they were until such time as there was no alternative but to move, but the uncertainty and the hopelessness of their position ate into the souls of two of the brothers. They could not endure the strain and left the family home to live with their in-laws and from there, if possible, start building again.

About seven or eight months ago a coloured buyer was found for the property. He offered R36,000 payable in cash against registration of transfer. Harilall and his brothers decided that there was no choice but to accept and the deed of sale was signed. Within three months of the signing of the deed of sale Sewram's widow died. Again possibly a coincidence, perhaps the knowledge that she would have to move once more might have broken her spirit and destroyed her will to live. At least she did not live to move a second time from her hearth, home and sthan.

Harilall estimates that after the costs have been paid there will be about R35,000 to share among the six brothers. Each will get about R5,833. Two of the brothers who still live in the family home do not earn enough to qualify to buy a council house in Phoenix and so have had to settle for a flat in the renting block. Harilall and one brother have paid the deposit on the purchase price of homes which are no more than semi-detached buildings. The two who left earlier are still un-housed people who once had a home of their own, shared with those whom they knew and loved and who loved them.

None of them now has the guiding hand of Harilall. One of the two who have been obliged to opt for a renting-scheme – 'scheming houses' as the people call them ”” has a difficult wife and, but for Harilall who was accepted as the head of the household, the marriage would have broken down a long time ago. Harilall is pessimistic about the ability of his brother Heeraman to hold his marriage without a paterfamilias.

Harilall and Ramlall, who have purchased homes in Phoenix, have a long haul before them. Harilall is now fifty years old and has a 30-year mortgage bond ahead of him ”” a man who until now lived in a freehold home. If he lives to 80 he will be a free man. For the next thirty years his soul and body are mortgaged to the evil spawned by the Group Areas Act and if his sons choose to search for their freedom from the Group Areas Act through the sights of a gun who can blame them?

A Documentary History of South african Indians