Ndabeni Location


Protesting the removal to Ndabeni. overcomingapartheid

Ndabeni is a suburb of Cape Town in the Western Cape, located east of Maitland and north of Pinelands and some 8 kilometres east of the city centre. The name is of Xhosa origin and is said to mean ‘place of debating’, ‘in the news’ or ‘at the news’.

Ndabeni was the first planned township, formerly named Uitvlugt, and established in 1901. Its inhabitants were predominantly male migrants and only about a tenth were women. Many were described as Hottentots’, Malay and mixed races rather than African.

Living conditions in Ndabeni

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The location was surrounded with fences and its main structures were five large dormitories, each accommodating 500 men. In addition, 615 unlined lean-to corrugated iron huts housed eight people each. These corrugated iron huts were appalling, there were no floors and the structures were subject to floods during winter rains. In addition there was no privacy; washing and cooking facilities were communal and inadequate, with no ventilation.

Accommodation in Ndabeni was bleak, overcrowded, unsanitary and regimented.

 Subsequent to the establishment of Ndabeni, a petition was presented to the government that ‘Native’ police be employed and that all businesses in the location should be run by Africans.  Ultimately residents should be allowed to buy and build their own houses.

The government never took these into consideration and  inhabitants were prohibited to trade or own a business. Jews were allowed to trade in Ndabeni, but Africans could only  run bakeries and eating houses and under such restricted conditions, they struggled to survive during the economic depression preceding the First World War.

The removals

By 1920 Ndabeni was overflowing with people. The area was filthy and derelict. In 1926 Ndabeni location was closed. During the course of the removals in District six about 6 000 people were relocated to Ndabeni.

Many historians ascribe the lack of development of a permanent population of Africans in Cape Town to the existence of the Ndabeni location. Previously unemployed men were able to live in town, but  with the establishment of the township came labour supply regulations and pass laws. These regulations forced unemployed men in the city to return to their ‘rural homes’ in the Transkei - the first of the four homelands to be granted independence in 1976.


• Smith V.B., van Heyningen E., Worden N. (1999), Cape Town in the twentieth century, (David Philip), pp.45-46, 87
• Cape Town  site, The First Townships, [online], Available at www.capetown.at [Accessed: 26 September 2013]
• Raper E.P (2004), New Dictionary of South African Place Names, (Jonathan Ball), p.267

Last updated : 05-Nov-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 25-Oct-2013