Indian Community in Lenasia

From the very beginning, settlement in Lenasia was a contentious issue, driven with debates about race, class, collaboration with and resistance to apartheid. Calls were made by the Indian Congress to reject the plans of the newly elected Nationalist government, but the drastic shortage of housing for Indians in areas close to the Johannesburg city centre meant that some, especially the very poor workers, welcomed the offer of a place to stay and conditions which, although minimal, were a vast improvement on their previous lot.

After the National Party won the 1948 election on an apartheid ticket, the government moved speedily to introduce new laws and to implement these. The existence of suburbs like Sophiatown, where people of all races, including poorer White people, mixed more or less freely, had always irked those who wanted to see segregation more rigorously effected. This tendency, now ensconced as the ruling party, suddenly had the power to realise these plans – to unscramble racial mixing, separate the groups and deposit them in racially exclusive locations. The first step was the passing of the Group Areas Act in 1950.

Indians had been living in various suburbs in and around Johannesburg, in varying numbers, for decades. In towns such as Turffontein little pockets forming small communities had taken root, while in others there were larger communities, such as in Fordsburg, Doornfontein, Vrededorp, Sophiatown, Newclare and other areas.

The Nats at first proposed an alternative to re-housing the Indians by offering them a free passage back to India, but very few took up this offer. So the plan was for the Indians to be moved to a suburb populated only by Indians. The government at first offered the community the area today known as Robertsham, about 10km from the city, but community leaders refused to be housed there. Eventually some accepted relocation to an area known as Lenz, despite the fact that the Indian Congress had rejected the Group Areas Act.

Mahommed Jajbhay, Rev Sigamoney, Mahommed Abed, Ebrahim Dadabhai and Advocate Minty formed the Transvaal Indian Organisation, which was tasked to persuade Indians to move to Lenz.

Indians living in Sophiatown were the first to move to Lenz as housing had been the biggest issue for all the people living there. Entire families lived in tiny rooms because space was in such short supply. Rents were extremely high, and to secure living space tenants were also required to pay other costs, such as goodwill, a sum to guarantee the right to rent the lodgings in the first place.

Working class people in areas such as Sophiatown and Newlands, were being evicted from their lodgings by the authorities, with no alternative accommodation, their possessions dumped onto pavements. The Reverend Sigamany, a prominent figure in the Indian community, arranged for these desperate people to take up accommodation at a military barracks in Lenz.

First Moves

Many of the newcomers to Lenasia were waiters at hotels and restaurants in the city centre who could not afford even moderate rentals, and found  the lodgings at the military camp based 35km southwest of Johannesburg, affordable. It was a practical answer to an urgent need. They moved there in the early 1950s, living in barracks that were partitioned off into makeshift units.

The surrounding property was owned by a German national by the name of Lenz. He had acquired the property and settled there much earlier but he eventually sold the property to the government for housing developments.

At first, the entirety of Lenasia consisted of the people living at the barracks. Later the government sold plots for around R60 each, in the first extension to be established. The plots were purchased by families eligible for government loans to build private homes, according to strict specifications.

By 1955, the first school was established, the Lenasia High School, which was also meant to cater to Indian pupils living in Fordsburg and other areas of Johannesburg. These students would travel by train or bus to the school, the government having closed off access to high schools in Johannesburg. The first school principal, Mr Francis, was an enlightened educator, who served in this capacity from 1955 to 1967.

Like the other schools that followed, Lenz High School was a structure made up of asbestos, in an age when the dangers of the material had not been publicised. Despite the apparent temporary nature of the structure, it was used for some 40 years before a more permanent brick construction was erected, on another site, after the coming of democracy.

Indeed, infrastructure in Lenasia, in 1955, was nonexistent. Until the later 1950s, houses in Extension 1 had no piped water, electricity or sewage, except for a bucket system. Later a single U-shaped street became the first residential area proper. It was called 12th Street, and today it makes up Nightingale, into Sunbird, into Smew. The first families with permanent houses all lived along this horseshoe arrangement. Breadwinners travelled to the city centre via a road that crossed the railway line and connected with the R29 road that linked Johannesburg to Potchefstroom – mainly by a municipal bus service that offered two trips in the morning and two in the evening.

In 1958 Lenasia was proclaimed an Indian township under the Group Areas Act. The minutes of a meeting of the Non-European Affairs Committee of the Johannesburg City Council, dated 31 October 1961, reflect that the item under consideration was “Indian Housing: Lenz Camp”. The minutes record that on 27 June 1961, the Council resolved that:

“(a) That the lease of part of the military camp at Lenz by the Council from the Group Areas Development Board be renewed for a period of six months as from 1st july 1961, on the same terms and conditions.
(b) That the arrangement be subject to review after December 1961.”

The minutes further record that the Secretary for Community Development had informed the Town Clerk in September that the Group Area Development Board was planning to take over the camp “as from 1st January 1962 on expiry of the present lease”. The meeting ended with the recommendation:

“That the Group Area Development Board be asked to continue housing the existing tenants at the Lenz Camp until other accommodation becomes available for them.”

Some of the earliest inhabitants include the Singh family from Sophiatown, the Adjoodas, Govenders, Moonsammys, and Khans, among others.

In 1957 Mr Bila Singh and his family moved to Lenasia Ext One after they were granted several plots on which to build homes. The Singhs were one of the pioneers on this new frontier, and continue to have a large presence in the town.

Mr Bila Singh, the oldest of a family with 10 siblings, reports that he was paid a sum for his property in Sophiatown that enabled him to qualify for a mortgage to build a house in Extension 1. Mr Singh said that the conditions in Sophiatown, which his family had abided because of an absence of alternatives, were horrendous. In his case, his father and his father’s brother each had 10 children, and the entire household of some 24 people lived in two rooms. There was no privacy, the surrounding community had the use of only two toilets, the backyards were always filled with strangers, and life was near intolerable.

The creation of Lenasia meant that Indians were hived off into a separate area, and if Africans had a presence in the town, it was as workers: domestics or labourers. It also meant that Indians, as Mr Bila Singh reports, could “maintain their identity”, ordering the environment in accordance with their religious and cultural practices.

But this development also meant that a process of differentiation took root, where Hindus and Muslims each developed a sometimes uneasy cohesion. Further divisions also became marked, to a large extent determined by class and caste stratification: Gujerati Hindus tended to have a more middle class position than Hindus of Tamil origin, while Muslims were stratified according to their place of origin in India, the well-known “gaam” system. Tamilian Hindus largely originated from indentured labourers, while Gujerati Hindus had earlier made their own passage to South Africa, as did many Muslims also from Gujerat.

The centre takes shape: Extension 2

When the number of those who could not qualify for houses on the mortgage scheme reached a certain critical mass, the government built council houses and other forms of residential units to house them. Thus, Greyville, Thomsville and Rainbow came into being, together making up Extension Two.

The units in Thomsville were basic, smaller even than the “matchbox” houses in Greyville. About six families were housed in one long structure, divided into six units of two rooms each. Toilets were shared, situated in the backyard. These were subeconomic units that housed the very poor, and it was no coincidence that many Thomsville residents were the offspring of indentured labourers.

Housing units in the Greyville section were a little more conducive to family life. Identical to the famous matchbox houses provided for African people in Soweto, they consisted of a kitchen, bathroom/toilet and three tiny bedrooms. Larger council houses were also provided for families that could be described as relatively middle-class, in what became known as Rainbow, also a part of Ext Two. Because the houses were painted in a variety of colours, residents spontaneously named the area Rainbow. These units consisted of 500 sq/m plots with three-bedroomed houses. They were occupied in 1962, when many people moved to Lenasia from Fordsburg and other areas.

The establishment of Extension 2 cemented the idea of an Indian township, and henceforth the idea of Lenasia took on a momentum that could not be reversed.

Further Extensions

The late 1970 and 1980s saw a massive migration to Lenasia. Housing estates were developed on a large scale and various extensions were added to the existing layout. Extension 3 opened up the east side of 1st Street, later renamed Flamingo Street. The houses were slightly more modern in appearance than the units in Rainbow. Ext 5 consisted of houses built on larger plots of 750 sq metres. Residents named the new swankier area “Luxury”.

By late 1970, another extension was in the pipeline. The Johannesburg City Council noted at a meeting on 27 October 1970, that the Director of Local Government had made an application for permission to establish another residential area, Extension 6.  It would be situated south of Extensions 2 and 4, and Department of Community Development plans set aside sites for two schools, two nursery schools, a business site, 27 sites for industrial purposes, and sites for a church, two parks and a cemetery. Water reticulation and electrical supplies were to be put in place.

Eventually, Lenasia grew to have 11 extensions, but the largest development came in 1984, when Lenasia South was established.

Leisure and infrastructure development

The houses in Ext One were built before water was piped into the area, and residents recall that a bucket system was in place to remove sewage. Electricity became available in the late 1950s, and the minutes of a Johannesburg City Council meeting on 27 January 1970 reveal that the council recommended “that Escom continues to give bulk supply to Lenasia for an indefinite period after incorporation” into the municipality.

In contrast, the houses in Rainbow were built only after an infrastructural grid was put in place, and residents moved into units equipped with water and electricity.

A Post Office was erected in the early 1960s, and a telephone exchange followed soon after. The early telephones were of the ring-the-exchange variety: the handsets did not have the round, numbered wheel that came later, and users had to rotate a lever that workers at the telephone exchange would answer – if they were awake – and put users through after they dialled the numbers to make the connection.

The Post Office also provided more affluent Lenasians with post boxes, from which they could collect their mail.

Sporting facilities were situated at a central point  , next to the Lenasia High School. The grounds were used for soccer and cricket matches. In December 1969 the Lenasia Consultative Committee “expressed a wish to rename the Lenasia Sports Stadium after Mr W Lever as a gesture of esteem and gratitude for outstanding services rendered by him to the Indian Community of Lenasia during his term of office as representative of the Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas”. A meeting of the CC on 30 June 1970 resolved that the stadium be renamed the Wilfred Lever Stadium, and a sign be erected to indicate the new name.

A little earlier, a meeting of the JCC in March 1970 records that “there are certain sportsfields in Lenasia that require urgent maintenance. An Inter-Provincial cricket tournament is to be played on them early in March.” The council recommended that R2000 be set aside for the maintenance of the sportsfields.

At a special meeting of the JCC, attended by members of the Management Committee, the Coloured Management Committee and the Lenasia Indian Consultative Committee, the council recommended that money be set aside for infrastructure developments in Coloured areas, and that recreation facilities in Lenasia be increased and upgraded. The council planned to spend R142 000 on a stadium, tennis courts, change rooms, playgrounds and equipment. A meeting in November records that a cricket oval, five open sportsfields, four tennis courts and two children’s playgrounds would be constructed.

The council set aside R39000 for installing stormwater drainage in various areas in Ext 1, saying that “this stormwater drain is required as a matter of urgency to prevent the flooding of property”.

On 23 February 1971, a special meeting of the City Council was convened to consider an application for borrowing powers for the construction of a Civic Centre. The council noted that there was a “pressing need in Lenasia for the public hall, library and administrative offices”. It had received two tenders from Everest Construction Ltd and L Cohen Construction Ltd for the construction of the facilities. The Everest tender was accepted, at a cost of R254 500, and additional borrowing powers were granted.

By mid-1972, the Civic Centre was nearing completion, and on 29 August 1972, the JCC set charges for the hire of the hall. The council set the amounts at R25 for a five-hour period during weekdays, and R30 for weekends, including a deposit of R30. The smaller hall was to be hired out for R10 per session, including a deposit of R10.

Meanwhile, the growth of the township meant that the street names and house-number system was creating confusion. The Lenasia Indian Commercial Association wrote a letter to the Transvaal Peri-Urban Board on 23 April 1969, saying:

“Could you NOT take a second look at the system you have employed in naming and numbering the streets and avenues in this large Indian Township of Lenasia.

It is NOT only the police, postal or government departments that have a hard time in tracking down  defaulter or addressee; business people and visitors to the area have an equally rough time in getting to their destination. If we could be of any assistance, may we say that the Authorities eliminate compass directions from the addresses of Lenasia and avoid duplicity in street and avenue numbers.

Trusting that this constructive suggestion will be worthy of consideration.”

Their respectful suggestion was accepted by the Peri-Urban Board, which drew up and presented a report, dated 27 August 1969, to the JCC which was adopted by the council on 25 May 1971.

 The Board illustrated the issue by saying, among other things, that “Honeysuckle Avenue connects up in a straight line with Ninth Street”.

The Board had considered the issue and decided to rename the streets, deciding on the names of trees and flowers for Extensions 2 and 3, and birds for the other streets. Thus First Avenue became Rose Avenue, Seventh Avenue West and The Boulevard North became Hummingbird Avenue. In all, 50 streets were renamed, reflecting the growth of the township.

In November 1971 the Council approved applications from people wanting to build additional rooms on their council properties, reflecting the growth of families and increased subletting. A 1970 census revealed that 43,8% of houses accommodated more than one family.

A September 1972 meeting of the Council considered the construction of a pleasure resort ­– noting that “this project is urgently needed by the Lenasia community because of a complete lack of this amenity in this area – and a swimming pool.

In November 1972 the Director of Local Government passed on a request to Council to set aside land between Lenasia and Lawley for a drive-in cinema. The Council approved the measure and the drive-in cinema was duly established, giving Lenasians one more facility to keep them in their Group Area. The Council minutes note that “the applicant wishes to establish a drive-in cinema to be used by the Indian population only”, ruling out patrons from Soweto and Kliptown.

On 29 May 1973, the Council approved a recommendation from the management Committee to set aside an additional R9720 to complete stormwater drains on Rose Avenue.

After the Soweto students protest on 16 June 1976, the City Council allocated R4,25-million for the development of recreational facilities, the construction of a hospital, a medical day-care centre and a police station, all to be completed by 1980.

Top Shops: Commercial Activity

The beginnings of commercial activity were small. The Govender family operated a sort of tuck-shop at the railway station, as well as a coal business.

By the early 1960s a thriving commercial hub, known as Top Shops by residents, was developing, and shops were doing a more or less brisk trade in the business district, situated between Ext One, Greyville, Rainbow and Township.

Described in a 2004 Department of Finance and Economic Development report as poorly planned business district, a concentric arrangement of one-way streets makes for a discontinuous relation to the residential areas.

By the late 1960s Lenasia had its first cinema, Apsara Cinema. By 1970 another cinema known as Tahiti Cinema was constructed, next to the Tahiti shopping centre which was owned by a Mr O Joosub. JCC records reveal that the Council resolved in March 1970 to lease office space from Mr Joosub to set up administration offices after Lenasia’s incorporation into the municipality.

The business district has extended southward, but cannot grow because westward expansion has never been possible because of the railway and the 675 000 square metre Lenz Military Base on the other side of the rail line. The LBD is boxed-in in the north and East by residential areas.

Over the years Lenasia has benefited from its proximity with Soweto. According to the 2004 Department of Finance and Economic Development report: “Residents of Lenasia proper generate about 42% of turnover, according to business owners. About 24% of patrons originate in Soweto. The remaining 35% of patrons originate in a broad geographic area ranging from north of Soweto to south of Orange Farm, and into Sedibeng and neighbouring jurisdictions.”

The development of transport hubs has been welcomed and reviled. While shoppers from Soweto began to have easier access to shopping facilities in Lenasia, many saw the taxis as adding to already critical congestion.

Schools for toddlers

After the establishment of Lenasia High School, more schools were established to cater to the needs of a growing population. First Primary became operational in the early 1960s, and Model Primary followed soon after. Nirvana High School was followed by Trinity High and the MH Joosub Technical School, as well as various primary schools.

A development of another kind indicates the growth of the township and its need for forms of regulation. Lenasia was assigned its own traffic police after Council created five posts for traffic inspectors. Council minutes report that “there have been repeated requests from the Indian Community of Lenasia for traffic control in this area. Motorists are disregarding traffic regulations and are not assisting in general safety. Dangerous conditions exist for school children who are obliged to cross busy roads on their way to and from school.” The Council also opined that “Asian staff would be most suitable for this area”.

The Council approved the purchase of six motor cycles for a sum of R7200 and set aside R4800 for the salaries of the five cops, who were to begin their duties on 1 February 1973.

Religious Developments

Religious developments exhibit the nature of the plurality that made up the Lenasia community. The subsections of the community began to form religious organisations that mobilised their resources, most evident in the construction of churches, temples and mosques.

The first church, The Church of the Nazarine, was built in 1960 on the corner of 9th Street West and 10th Street West. Other churches followed, including the Anglican Church of Christ the Saviour (corner of Rose Ave and Petrea Str), the Church of St Thomas (Hummingbird Avenue), the Faith Evangelical Church Mission church (corner Rose Avenue and Dahlia Ave). The Christian community is relatively smaller than the other faith communities, but has always had a strong presence in the township.

The Hindu community has also set up a series of temples, one of the first being the Siva Soobramanian Temple on the corner of Primary and Heron Streets. Others include the Lakshmi Narayan Temple (Crane Street), the Sanathan Ved Dharma Sabha (Penguin Avenue).

The Rainbow Valley Mosque, situated in Lark Street (formerly 3rd Str South), was constructed on a residential site set aside for it in the midst of the council houses in Extension 2. Run by the Lenasia Muslim Association (LMA), it also included a madressah on the other half of the property.

The Saaberie Jumma Mosque was constructed in the early 1960s on the outskirts of Rainbow, on its border with Greyville in Rose Avenue. Many other mosques emerged, including the Saaberie Chistie mosque, Nur-u Islam mosque, Jaamia mosque, Kuwait-ul Islam, Omar Farouk mosque, among others.

The Sporting Life

Right from the beginning, sport played a major role in forging a community spirit in Lenasia. Although other teams were already playing in various leagues, several teams became the most well-known and widely supported bodies in the bourgeoning town.

The Singh family, who had established the soccer team Swaraj even before they moved en-masse to Lenasia, became a central feature of life in Lenasia.

Later the Munsamy family, children of First Primary principal Mr Alan Munsammy, established Bluebells, perhaps the most popular of Lenasia’s soccer teams. A fierce rivalry developed between the two main teams.

Dynamos, established in Ferreirastown in Johannesburg, also had a presence in Lenasia. Made up mostly of Muslim players, Dynamos was mostly supported by Muslims, while Swaraj drew mostly Hindu supporters and Bluebells mainly Tamil fans, although Bluebells somehow had a more cosmopolitan quality that saw people across the community give them their support.

These teams were embroiled in a system that encouraged ethnic and religious divisions within the community, but there were also attempts by some to diminish the influence of ethnicity and other divisive factors.

The Minister of Sport, Piet Koornhof, had been trying to construct a notion of “multiracial sport”, as opposed to non-racial sport. Koornhof’s plan was to keep sport divided along racial lines, but he presented the division as differences between nationalities – in line with separate development ideology.

When the Lenasia Football Association found itself under pressure to restrict footballing activities to Indians, it chose instead to pursue a non-racial approach. At an award presentation on 29 November 1974, Lenasia Management Committee chairman RAM Salojee congratulated the association on its stance.

Cricket also enjoyed much support in Lenasia, and various leagues were in existence. At first many local cricketers played for the Vredons, formed by Revrend Sigamony around 1935. They used the Natalspruit grounds. Later, Lenasians formed their own teams, including Surrey, Arsenals, Queensland and other cricket clubs. There was enough activity to support three divisions.

When the stadium was renamed the Varachia Stadium in the late 1970s, and Minister of Sport Piet Koornhof presided over the ceremony, activists and cricketers mounted protests. Varachia, the president of newly formed SA Cricket Union, was opposed by Sacos, the anti-apartheid sporting body.

Lenasia in the Democratic Era

With the coming of democracy, changes in the social fabric of Lenasia matched the changes in the social, political and economic structure of the country in general. The demise of apartheid meant that, theoretically at least, Lenasia was no longer an Indian Group Area. But the inertia of apartheid structures meant that it has effectively continued to be an Indian residential area, although some changes have become plain for all to see.

Migratory patterns have contributed to the transformation. Many residents, especially younger ones, have moved out of their home town to live closer to their workplaces in Johannesburg. Former Lenasians now live in Greenside, Emmarentia, Houghton, Midrand and many other areas formerly populated only by whites. 

The influx of non-South African Asians from India, Bangladesh and especially Pakistan has hanged the nature of the township, introducing yet another element in a multicultural town.

Other developments have to do with the governing structures. No longer a Group Area, Lenasia now falls under region 11 of the Johannesburg Municipality, and falls under a new form of governance.

The passing of apartheid opened the way for scholars from Soweto and other African areas to attend schools in Lenasia. The development of a large informal settlement, Thembelihle, was also possible because of the new political dispensation.

Other changes have been indirect outcomes of the political transition. Lenasia, like Soweto, has come to be counted as a regional economy, and developers have stepped in to tap this market. Thus Lenasia now has its own mall, the Trade Route Mall, a huge shopping centre that features national franchises that make it unnecessary for residents to travel to the city centre to do their shopping.

Thembelihle Informal settlement

The demise of apartheid meant that influx control and segregation policies were no longer in place to dictate where people live. Since a large percentage of the population of Lenasia has always included domestic workers, there has always been an African presence in the town. Many of these workers prefer to have their own homes rather than live on the premises of their employers, and have set up shacks or small buildings in an area between Extensions 9 and 10, now known as Thembelihle.

The growth of the settlement has posed new challenges for the people of Lenasia and for governance structures. The people of Thembelihle have been clamouring for government to provide services to them, and have embarked on violent service delivery protests.

The Asian Influx

Lenasia has beome a favourite destination for migrants from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The majority of migrants are men aged between 18 and 40, with very few females among them. Most of these men are from rural areas in their home countries and have education levels up to high school, but rarely university degrees.

Many of them are employed in the informal sector and earn low wages, although some have started their own businesses, such as food stalls or takeaway shops, hairdressing salons, trading in small goods.

They tend to form networks that take care of needs such as accommodation. Many of them live in flats in Lenasia’s business district, usually in large groups and in higher densities than locals would, splitting the rent into manageable portions.

The relationship between the older residents and the migrants is complex. It would be safe to say that the migrants do not pose competition for jobs, since they tend to inhabit a different class position and gravitate towards the informal sphere. They have begun to provide services that South Africans have begun to shy away from. The typical hairdresser in Lenasia is a dying breed, and Indians and Pakistanis have flocked to this profession, providing relatively cheap haircuts for men in many areas besides Lenasia.

The variety of cuisine has also grown, with migrants opening restaurants and take-away facilities featuring Tandoori menus which had not previously been available. Indeed, the many Indian restaurants in Johannesburg are staffed by many of these new migrants.

Official figures for Asian migrants, culled from the 2001 census, are widely thought to be lower than the actual number of migrants. A report by the Consortium of Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CORMSA: 2008) estimated that there are 60 000 – 70 000 Pakistanis in the country and 30 000 – 40 000 Bangladeshis.

New South African Schooling

With the introduction of universal schooling in the new South Africa, the nature of the education system has changed. Previously falling under the House of Delegates, Lenasia’s schools now fall under the Department of Education. Another change came with the introduction of Outcomes Based Education (OBE) in 1997, which has proved to be a disastrous policy in practice, and has very recently been revoked.

With the deracialisation of education, scholars from Soweto flocked to Lenasia’s schools, which they perceived as providing better teaching and other facilities. This was followed, or perhaps happened at the same time, as Indian scholars migrating to private schools in Lenasia and in formerly white areas.

The majority of pupils at schools in Lenasia are now African children from Lenasia’s informal settlement, Themelihle, and from Soweto and surrounding areas. The children from Soweto can be seen boarding taxis when they return home, boosting the taxi industry in the area.

There has also been a change in the racial composition of teachers, with African teachers appointed to teach at Lenasia’s schools. This follows the exodus of senior Indian teachers who were given retrenchment packages by the new government.

Younger Indian teachers have also found it difficult to cope with the transformations, especially with the introduction of OBE, which discourages rote learning and traditional forms of assessments. One effect of OBE has been that teachers find it difficult to teach numeracy skills, which depends on a certain amount of rote learning. 

Other problems have also emerged like the large amount of paperwork which has become a discouraging factor  and the fact that the pupils are not available for extra tuition because they live elsewhere further disheartens the teachers. Increased learner/ teacher ratios has made it difficult to maintain classroom discipline and devote adequate levels of attention to each pupil, and language difficulties have also been reported. The lack of access to parents also makes it difficult to develop a relationship with the pupil.

The Ups and Downs of Business

A report commissioned by the Department of Finance and Economic Development explored the economic potential for Lenasia. It found that factors affecting the viability and functioning of the Lenasia business district (LBD) included “crime and grime, traffic and congestion poor access and visibility, lack of management resources, and an increasingly competitive retail environment”.

The report concluded that the business district appeals to consumers on two basic levels: it has a strong focus on specialty goods related to Indian cultural patterns; and it features a high volume of discount shopping, attracting those with limited incomes.

Addressing the issue of the new Trade Routes Mall, it warned that competition would stiffen and the presence of national retailers, such as those that take up the majority of shops in the mall, would see traders in the business district losing significant market share.

But the report concludes that the business district, despite its poor location and various constraints, “is a viable economic entity” that can adjust to the new competition by building on its strengths: specialty and discount trading, as a cultural and entertainment hub, and through redevelopment.

Businesses in Lenasia are reliant on  submarket – shoppers from Soweto and Eldorado Park, as well as areas such as Ennerdale, south of Lenasia. The presence of the army in the Lenz Military camp means that soldiers also do their shopping in Lenasia.

About 80% of businesses in the LBD engage in retail trade, about 9% on auto maintenance and repair, 5,5% for medical services, 3,5% for financial and banking services, and 2% for professional services such as engineers, lawyers and architects. About 3120 people work in the LBD.

Approximately 250 residential units, mostly flats, are located in the LBD, housing about 775 people. Businesses are also located in other sites in Lenasia, and Rose Avenue, probably the longest street in the town, has seen many residential units turned to business use, which has resulted in an increase in traffic congestion along the road. Open air public spaces are also used for business activities. The space across the road from the railway station has been used as a market, with as many as 600 stalls doing trade, a significant number of them informal traders.

Lenasia is now home to two large shopping centres, Signet Terrace and the Trade Routes Mall. Other shopping centres include the Freeway Plaza Area close to the eastern highway exit, the Protea/Nirvana node, Nirvana Circle at the intersection of Nirvana Drive and Flamingo Road, and the LTA Plaza in Extension 2 at the intersection of Impala Street and Rose Avenue.

Three main industrial areas are located near the business district:

Albert Street Industrial Area

Situated in Extension 6, the area had 27 enterprises engaged in construction, food processing, auto repair, warehousing, metalwork and printing.

Anchorville Industrial park

Located about 2km south of Lenasia, 28 firms were based in Anchorville in 2002, engaged in cosmetics, construction, furniture, food processing, plasticware, metalworks, warehousing and auto repair and maintenance. About 500 people work in Anchorville.

Lawley Industrial Area

Although underdeveloped, the majority of the area is used by Corobrick, which manufactures bricks for regional and national distribution. Corobrick employs 250 people and produces 200 000 bricks a day, seven days a week. It began operating in 1988 and is expected to continue operating until around 2030 or even later.

A dumpsite is also located in Lawley, owned by Pikitup.

New Malls, New Lifestyles

The emergence of Signet Terrace Shopping Centre, in Gemsbok Street, on the site of the original Lenasia High School, has transformed the business district as well as the culture of the township. As a site for many national franchises, Lenasians now often eat out at the many restaurants, a practice that had not existed before because of the dearth of restaurants and the predominance of take-away joints.

This trend was reinforced by the inauguration of the Trade Route Mall in 2009. Now Lenasia has a spread of business areas, and the local economy has been transformed by the new developments. There are more people employed within Lenasia than ever before, and less of Lenasians’ money leaves the township.

A 2001 census found that residents of Lenasia work throughout Johannesburg, especially in the Johannesburg CBD. The breakdown:

SECTORPERCENTAGE OF WORKFORCE IN SECTOR
Retail30%
Finance22%
Social services21%
Manufacturing17%
Mining1%
YearPopulation
1960650
197021037
199648211
200154457
2010+/- 60 000

The development of malls in Soweto, though, means that shoppers from the township are less likely to shop in Lenasia than they used to be, and although figures are hard to come by, the trend has been noticed by some business people. The population of Lenasia has grown to such an extent that it is a significant nodal point in the Johannesburg metropolis. Figures reveal a huge influx in the later 1960s and 1970s, when the Group Areas policy was at its height:

Politics and Governance

As alluded to throughout this brief history, the move to Lenasia was from the very beginnings determined by political events and policies. The first to settle were grateful that they had been provided with accommodation that far surpassed their previous conditions in terms of living space, access to basic conditions and possibility for development. As such, many came under the sway of government influence, and worked hand in hand with apartheid authorities, wittingly or unwittingly.

But many were opposed to the grand designs of apartheid, even if they had been forced to succumb to decisions made under the Group Areas Act and other apartheid legislation.

Apartheid Politics

The South African Indian Council was established by the state in 1964. An advisory body without any decision-making powers, its members were appointed by the state, and their lack of representivity weakened their capacity from the beginning.

The Lenasia Indian Consultative Committee was established in 1964. The minutes of a Management Committee meeting held on 5 November 1969 reveal that on 15 April 1964, “a consultative committee system of local government was established by the Hon. The Administrator … for the Indian Group Area of Lenasia”.

The Committee carried out its functions “under the jurisdiction of the Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas”. It consisted of five members appointed by the Administrator who met once a month. But after Lenasia would be incorporated into the Johannesburg Municipality on 1 January 1970, “the functions and responsibilities of this committee will have to be carried out under the jurisdiction of the Council”.

The minutes also report that “secretarial and other administrative duties in Lenasia are being undertaken by Mr D Rathinasamy, an official of the Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas”. The five members of the committee were V Govender (chairman), O Joosub (vice-chairman), C Pillay, SM Vania and S Govender. V Govender and IFH Mayet were also sitting members of the SA Indian Council.

The members of the committee were not paid, and enjoyed no executive powers. They operated until a few years after Lenasia’s incorporation into the Johannesburg Municipality in 1970.

The terms of office of the Consultative Committee expired on 21 October 1970, and the committee was reconstituted in November 1970. The new committee would have five members, two appointed by the Minister of Community Development and one by Council. The Council recommended that S Govender be appointed, with O Joosub as an alternate.

In April 1972, the Council agreed to pay the members of the committee allowances of R50 for the chairman and R40 for other members, backdated to 1 November 1971.

Plans had been underway for the government to reconstitute the Lenasia Indian Consultative Committee as a Management Committee, and on 30 May 1972, the City Council considered the issue in more detail, with input from an Ad Hoc Committee for Indian Affairs. The new system would see representatives elected, with the vote being given to residents aged 21 and older.

When the Coloured Management Committee decided on 16 April 1972 to ask the Council to provide its members with tokens of office so that they could be identified as committee members, the Council decided to manufacture medallions for this purpose.    The members of Lenasia’s Management Committee would also receive this privilege. The Council resolved to get two companies to manufacture chairman’s medallions and members’ lapels, to be plated in 9 carat gold.

Council moved on its plans for a management Committee after receiving a letter from the Director of Local Government requesting that the Council submit “proposals for a partly elected and partly nominated Committee”. The Council on 27 February 1973 resolved:

“Voting qualifications were made as simple as possible to allow all adults of the age of eighteen years and over to register as voters, and 7609 applications were received by the closing date of 31 December 1972. This represents about fort percent of the number of voters estimated to be eligible.”

The Council determined that six candidates would be elected and three nominated.

The Council had also set into motion the process of determining wards, and on 27 March 1973 it recommended approval of six wards, and on 29 May set the date for the election as Wednesday,12 September 1973.

Dr RAM Salojee, who had been one of the founders of the Lenasia Residents and Ratepayers Association, formed the Peoples Candidate Party to contest elections for the local council. He sought the endorsement of Lenasians at a public meeting in 1973, attended by hundreds of supporters. The subsequent poll, with a 75% turnout, returned Dr Salojee to the top position in the management committee.

Salojee, by many accounts a well-intentioned general practitioner and community leader, had decided to take part in the government organised structure because he wanted to minister to the needs of the community, and because he wanted to prevent positions of influence falling into the hands of corrupt, self-serving opportunists. But Salojee was criticised by more radical anti-apartheid elements, such as the Black Consciousness activists and some Congress-aligned figures.

Salojee served on the Management Committee for a little more than one term, but arrived at the conclusion that working within the system yielded no benefits for the community, and from then on boycotted government-created institutions. Later, in the 1980s, he became the Vice-President of the Anti-SAIC Committee, as well as a vice president of the UDF’s Transvaal Region, throwing in his lot with Congress-aligned organisations.

Organisations allied to the ANC, such as the Transvaal Indian Congress, were banned in the wake of Sharpeville and the Treason and Rivonia trials. But Congress-affiliated activities did take place, despite the ban on the ANC. When Ahmed Timol, an ANC operative, was killed while in detention in 1971, Lenasia’s residents held a meeting in his honour, and hundreds attended.

But by the late 1960s, Black Consciousness became the dominant anti-apartheid ideology in many African, Indian and Coloured schools and universities, and had a number of adherents in Lenasia. The charismatic Sadeque Variava, a student at the Teachers Training College in Fordsburg and a resident of Lenasia, spearheaded the dissemination of BC ideology in the town. He mobilised several people into a potent BC grouping, including Rashid Moosa (the older brother of Mohammed Valli Moosa), Ebrahim “Tibu” Mayet, and various other young comrades.

The group formed the Lenasia Students Movement and the People’s Experimental Theatre (PET), which staged various theatre productions in the township.

The Barn Incident

October 1977 was a momentous month in the politics of South Africa. Following the unrest of June 1976, and continuous unrest in many townships and schools across the country, the State decided to crack down on all Black Consciousness organisations. The move came after security police effectively killed BC leader Steve Biko on 12 October, this sparked a wave of revulsion  across the country as well as the international community. On 19 October the State declared 18 BC organisations unlawful and banned two newspapers, the World and the Weekend World.

In Lenasia, where political activity had been disrupted by the arrest of the BC leaders, several young people felt the need to express their outrage at the death of Biko and the bannings, and organised a protest meeting set for Saturday 21 October. Led by Anjeni Poonan, Rooha Variava and Haroon Patel, the students distributed pamphlets at schools calling for students to register their outrage.

When the students gathered at the venue, the owner of the hall could not be found, and Patel began to address the students. Some weeks earlier, the State had declared all open-air gatherings illegal, and some later felt that they had been set up, forced to hold the meeting in the open air, thus rendering them liable for arrest.

Patel had barely begun to speak when scores of police stormed the venue, beating the students and assaulting many, including young girls. The police had effectively sealed off the venue, and no one could escape. They were taken to Protea Magistrates Court in Soweto and processed before being moved to John Vorster Square in the Joburg city centre. They were locked up in cells, girls in the one and boys in the other.

After three nights in prison, they were charged and released after pleading guilty.

Those who attended the meeting include Hassan Lorgat, Agsie Pillay, Gregs Moonsamy and many others, in total between 40 and 50 people. Some suffered severe consequences. Linda Moonsamy, Haroon Bera, Hassen Lorgat and nine others, who had been enrolled at the Transvaal Indian College of Education in Fordsburg, were expelled. Teacher Yusuf “Luke” Kajee, who was one of the only adults at the meeting, suffered from persistent harassment by the education department.

Many of those who attended the meeting later continued, in various forms and through myriad organisation, the struggle against apartheid.

Time to Learn

Students influenced by Black Consciousness, led by Hassan Lorgat and Haroon Bera, set up an extra-curricular tuition scheme, where students were helped with homework and with extra lessons by volunteers, mostly university students and teachers. But the students received more than school lessons, they were also politicised in the process, in an application of the “conscientising” method propagated by BC strategists.

Operating at the Jiswa Centre, school children of all ages could attend classes every afternoon, and hundreds of them passed through the facility. Many of them eventually peopled the local and national anti-apartheid organisations that emerged later.

The 1980 Schools Boycotts

The school boycotts of 1980 began in February at Mountainview High School in Cape Town. Coloured school-goers, having become politicised by ongoing discrimination, rejected the educational designs of the apartheid planners. By April the boycott had spread to the Cape Flats, and to the Transvaal, where 2000 students went on a march. Solidarity marches began to take place in Natal, as well as other parts of the country.

In Lenasia it was the students of Nirvana High that first began to protest, on 22 April, to be joined the next day by students at Lenasia High, Trinity and MH Joosub Technical College.

The students were briefed by older activists such as Yusuf “Joe” Veriava, Jerry Waja (both of the BC movement) as well as Congress people such as Kanti Parshotam, Mohammed Valli Moosa, Ismail Momoniat, Ismail Vadi (a new generation of Congress activists) and Reggie Vandeyar, who served a decade on Robben Island.

Students leading the movement included Saffora Sadeck, Kenneth Sebastian and Shamim Akhalwaya from Nirvana, Haroon Krull and Mickie Padayachee from MH Joosub, and Mohsin Moosa, Rashid Seedat and Yasmin Momoniat at Lenasia High.

The students organised committees at each school and forged links with students at Coloured schools in Bosmont, Riverlea and Eldorado Park.

A Parents Action Committee was established to help and guide the students and to convince cautious parents to support their children. The Committee included Joe Veriava, Dr Essop Jassat, Cassim Saloojee, Joe Cassim and Dr Yusuf Saloogee.  The committee published a newsletter, called ‘Cause’, which set out their grievances.

By June 1980 the boycotts had petered out. Several members of the community were detained, including Joe Veriava, Ismail Momoniat, Mohammed Valli Moosa. Two teachers, Mr Y Essack and Solly Ismail were also detained as well as students, including Rajesh Cheebur, Yusuf Jada, Zunaid Mohammed and Firdoze Bulbulia from Trinity High; Haroon Krull, Kenny Padayachie, Sharon Pillay, Ashwin Moyenie, Nazir Omar and Fuad Abrahams from MH Joosub Tech; Jitendra Hargovan; and Kenneth Sebastian from Nirvana High.

Congress Politics Resurgent

In 1979, tensions between BC and Congress forces came to a head when Congress activists managed to displace BC leaders from the Anti-SAIC bodies. Previously, both streams had been part of anti-SAIC efforts, but at a crucial meeting at Jiswa to elect an Anti-SAIC Committee, Congress activists were elected to run the organisation. Essop Jassat was voted chairman, RAM Salojee became Vice Chairman, and Ismail Momoniat was made the secretary.

With the decline of the BC organisations, which had been banned in October 1977, and the banning of many of its leaders, ANC-affiliated activists began to mobilise in Lenasia, avoiding the kinds of errors made by BC activists, and linking everyday struggles to political issues in order to mobilise entire communities rather than small sector of the intelligentsia, as the BC activists had been doing.

A civic movement emerged, and Congress activists organised residents committees, transport committees, and organisations focussing on the everyday struggles of ordinary Lenasians.

The year 1980 marked the 25th anniversary of the emergence of the Freedom Charter, which renewed focus on the philosophy, politics and symbols of the Congress movement.

The trade union movement was also re-emerging after the wave of industrial unrest in Durban in 1973. Activists called for people to boycott various products whose manufacturers were being challenged by trade unionists. Thus, campaigns to boycott red meat, Wilson Rowntree and Fattis and Monis products emerged.

When the government announced that elections would be held in 1981 for positions on the SAIC, the move was opposed on a mass scale, and the Transvaal Anti-SAIC Committee (TASC) took as its task the boycott of the elections.

When they held a rally in August 1981, 3000 people attended the meeting. Even the activists were shocked at the turnout. The wife of Walter Sisulu, Albertina Sisulu, was the main speaker at the event.

The election, held on 4 November, was boycotted by the majority of eligible voters. Polls in some areas were ridiculously low: in Fordsburg two votes were cast, and in Lenasia only 10% of voters cast votes. The security police swooped on congress activists, detaining Prema Naidoo, Shirish Nanabai and Ismail Momoniat from Lenasia, and Firoz Cachalia from Benoni.

The Congress activists decided that a more permanent structure was needed to continue mobilising anti-apartheid forces, especially since the Botha regime was in the process of establishing the Tricameral Parliament as part of its constitutional reforms, and revived the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC). The move was heavily contested and became a source of tensions between Congress organisations and those aligned to BC and ultra-left organisations.

The TIC was formally reconstituted at a meeting held in the Ramkrishna Hall in Lenasia on 1 May 1983.

Last updated : 10-Nov-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 19-Oct-2011

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