Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth the Segregated city

A street in South End, before the forced removals. c1950s. © South End Museum.

1910-1950

By 1950, the population of New Brighton had grown from 3,650 in 1911 to 35,000. Almost all of the population was Black. This polarisation was reinforced by the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 which required municipalities to establish separate locations for their Black citizens, and made Black residents in ‘White’ areas subject to a permit system which Apartheid legislation subsequently extended into the now-infamous dompas. The Native Land and Trust Act of 1936 also precluded Blacks from purchasing land outside designated areas. Existing suburbs, as well as new housing projects for Whites, began to include racially restrictive clauses in their title deeds. In this way most of Port Elizabeth's western suburbs were reserved for exclusive White residence.

Apartheid ideology and implementation from 1950

Post 1948: Institutionalising Apartheid & the Apartheid Laws

When the Nationalist Party came to power in 1948, the City of Port Elizabeth underwent a number of extensive changes in its land use patterns through the implementation of racially-motivated segregationist legislation. This included the separation of citizens into so-called ‘White’, ‘Bantu’, ‘Coloured’ and ‘Asian’ suburbs. Apartheid legislation lay down that such areas should be set apart by buffer strips at least 100m wide. These often coincided with existing physical barriers. As a result, industrial areas such as Struandale, and natural features such as the Swartkops River and its escarpment, and pieces of empty land such as Parsonsvlei, were used to define the parameters of the city's suburbs.

It is important to note that apartheid ideology did not view Black workers as a permanent component of urban life, but held that, at some stage, they would return ‘of their own initiative and free will’, to some rural ‘homeland’. This is an attitude which had important political repercussions in later years. Not only did it relate directly to the quality of ‘Bantu’ education, which in turn sparked off the Soweto student uprising of 1976, but it also created residential conditions which will take many years, and a substantial proportion of the national budget, to eradicate. Because of this, Black access to land tenure, quality housing, infrastructure, social amenities and economic opportunities was severely curtailed.

Map: Group Areas

Black suburbs were developed on the remote outskirts of the city making daily travel to the workplace expensive. Also, little retail and business development was permitted within the townships (as they began to be called), forcing residents to conduct the bulk of their shopping in the central city area. The 'apartheid city’ thus did not merely seek to beggar its Black citizens, it also entrenched in its fabric the ‘company store’ relationship existing between its Black suburbs and the White-controlled CBD.

Matters did not change substantially after 1981 when the Government acknowledged the permanent status of urban Black communities and put in place an Ibhayi Town Council which would administer Port Elizabeth's Black suburbs as a separate municipality. At this stage, the zoning of all industrial, retail and business development within the boundaries of a neighbouring White Port Elizabeth ensured that the two Municipalities did not share equally in the city's tax base. This is one of the ways in which Port Elizabeth's Black citizens continued to subsidise the White community’s expensive segregated lifestyle.

The process of apartheid expropriation, relocation and residential control had the effect of increasing New Brighton's population from 35,000 persons in 1951 to 97,000 in 1960. As a result KwaZakele was established in 1956, and following the demolitions of Salisbury Park, Fairview and South End in the late 1960s, Zwide was declared in 1968 and Motherwell in 1982.

It also needs to be borne in mind that although the Nationalist Government single-mindedly pursued a policy of racial segregation in the case of White areas, it tended to ignore racial mixing and even intermarriage in other communities. Thus even though new segregated suburbs such as Gelvandale, Bethelsdorp and Bloemendal were established for exclusive Coloured occupation, with Malabar being set aside for Indians, some areas such as Korsten which, historically, had enjoyed a mixed population, retained much of their integrated character well into the 1980s. Other communities, however, such as Fairview and South End, saw their homes literally bulldozed to the ground and their lands given over for exclusive White settlement.

Conclusions

It is clear that although the Group Areas Act was repealed in 1991, the component elements of apartheid planning have been indelibly etched into the urban fabric of Port Elizabeth. It is probable that their effects will continue to be felt for many years to come, and that their traces may never be entirely expunged from the city's map.

In practical terms this means that the economic inequalities and social injustices which apartheid planning has imposed upon Port Elizabeth will not be done away through a long term, liberal, free-market exchange of land. Current experience has indicated that, despite the removal of Group Areas limitations, most middle and upper income Black families are trapped in their old suburbs through an inability to dispose of their properties without suffering massive financial losses. The plight of lower income Black families is even worse.

It is obvious therefore that this deadlock can only be broken through an interventionist policy of stringent land and price controls orchestrated through a central government committed to strong democracy, community empowerment and the generation of wealth. This is not a philosophy likely to find favour with either White Liberals or the country's Neo-Democrats who have both benefited extensively from the interventionist policies imposed upon a voteless majority by a minority government obsessed with totalitarian notions of race, ethnicity and skin pigmentation. It is probable that the granite edifice of discrimination will not be dismantled by using rubber mallets.