Soweto

Related articles

11

Map of Soweto

A history of Soweto

The consequence of this promising wealth was that a great number of people left their farms, rural homes and other towns in South Africa to make a quick buck on the Rand. Moreover, gold mining was labour intensive and, as a result, attracted more labour away from the countryside to Johannesburg. It was also capital-intensive and because the South African Republic was cash strapped, there was room for European businessmen to engage in the mining industry. Before the South African War (Anglo-Boer War 2), these foreigners were treated as outsiders (uitlanders). British victory in this war paved the way for more foreigners to settle in Johannesburg and exploit gold resources.

Early Settlements: The Slums

An earlier feature of these developments was that at first the poor were racially mixed and lived in the same neighbourhoods. The rich, who were white, lived separately in better housing than the squalid conditions the poor were living in.

The Water and Sanitation Board, which was later given local government powers, was concerned about the diseases that could spread as a result of conditions in the slums.

This fear was exacerbated by the kinds of vice the discovery of gold brought to a racially conscious republic. The discovery of gold brought to the Rand not only gold seekers. From its early beginnings, some people realised the potential benefits of opening a business near the mines. Such people were the AmaWasha, Zulu laundry washers, Zulu 'houseboys' who served as domestic workers for white middle class and prostitutes who alarmed the authorities by sleeping also with black mine workers.

Fifteen years after the discovery of gold in the Rand, more blacks were coming to Johannesburg to make a living and increase their fortunes. Similar to mining developments elsewhere, for example Kimberly, black people were forbidden from owning land to prospect for gold. Prospective rights were for whites only. This meant that black people would have to work for the mining industry or seek employment elsewhere.

Despite this disheartening obstacle, a large number of black people continued to flock to the Rand because of a combination of factors such as the hut tax introduced in 1890 to increase the dwindling revenue of the British Cape colony. The loss of land after 1913 pushed many black people to seek alternative earnings by coming to the Rand.

The Klipspruit Native Location is Proclaimed

In 1905, a native location called Klipspruit on the margins of Johannesburg was declared. People who were moved to Klipspruit were from the "coolietowns". Approximately 600 Indians were relocated elsewhere and 1-358 black people were relocated to Klipspruit. Even though government claimed that the removal was to improve the squalid conditions of slum dwellers, Klipspruit was not better than the shantytowns they were leaving behind. It was located about 300 meters from the City Council sewerage. The housing was a V shaped shack without foundations.

Moving to Klipspruit made life even more intricate. First, to maintain a 'respectable' distance between whites and blacks, it was far from the city centre were most people worked, a distance of thirteen kilometers. Secondly, because of the long distance to the city center, workers had to commute to work and home. This meant that they would have had to pay their transport fare each day in addition to their other expenditures. Furthermore, Klipspruit ensured a desired tight control of black people in urban areas.

The AmaWasha, a group referred to earlier, was severely affected by this forced removal. Washing clothes constituted an alternative source of income for blacks, more specifically Zulus, who established themselves in Braamfontein as washers. Because Johannesburg lacked a drainage system, the Sanitation Board feared that washing clothes in residential areas could become a health hazard. It, therefore, banned washing within residential areas and confined washing to few available streams in Braamfontein. The removal of the AmaWasha to Klipspruit cut them off from their source of income. During this period the relocation of blacks was still in its early stages.

In 1914, Alexandra, located beyond municipal boundaries, was proclaimed and black people were allowed to buy freehold land. These early developments of Township settlement for black people should be followed within another context of labour competition in South Africa. In the countryside, most farmers were complaining about the loss of labour as a consequence of an influx of black people to Johannesburg. The government was intent on maintaining a constant labour supply to farmers without affecting labour demands in the mining industry. The creation of townships was to keep a steady labour force in urban areas for the mining industry, and to control the influx of black people.

The Creation of Soweto: Orlando

Under Prime Minister Jan Smuts, the South African government passed the Native Urban Areas Act, determining areas where black people could reside and allowing for their relocation. The act also had a clause determining that government should provide alternative accommodation (housing) before relocation. The need for housing before any relocation turned out to be one of the major problems faced by Sowetans, especially the earlier inhabitants of Soweto, and the government reacted by amending the clause that made the provision of housing compulsory. This came after slum landlords and African tenants successfully challenged the relocations in the Supreme Court, 1925. In the 1920s there was a backlog of 40 000 houses and the list was growing.

From the early 1930s, the number of black people in the Johannesburg was increasing probably due to the great depression, forced removals in the countryside, and the 1932 gold wealth. The 1927 amendment of the Native Urban Areas Act enabled the government to relocate people without first providing them with alternative accommodation and also without paying considerable attention to the growing need for more housing. In 1931, black people were relocated to what was to become the first township of Soweto, namely Orlando. Most of the 1st generation Sowetans, who were relocated to Orlando, were from Prospect.

The government first approached this relocation by encouraging black people to voluntary move to Orlando. A number of those who volunteered were wealthy Africans who could afford the added costs of relocation like transport to work and rent. By 1936, 12-000 people had been relocated to Orlando.

The Context - Parallel Lives

In a speech to the Imperial Insitute on 22 May 1917 General Smuts, who two years later was to become the the fifth Minister of Native Affairs, said the following on the development of policy with respect to African people in the country;

"There is now shaping a policy which may have far reaching effects... we have realised that political ideas which apply to our white civilisation largely do not apply to the administration of native affairs... and so a practice has grown up in South Africa of creating parallel institutions... giving the natives their own separate institutions on parallel lines with institutions for whites... In land ownership, settlement and forms of government, we are trying to keep them apart, and in that way laying down a policy which may take a hundred years to work out, but which in the end may be the solutions of our native problem"

Six years later on 7 February 1923, Smuts introduced the Native (Urban Areas) Act. According to this Act:

  • The responsibility for town planning fell upon the urban local authorities, however if the local authority failed in its duty, then the Act authorized the government to step in to take the necessary action. The Act laid that the municipality may set aside land for African occupation, for those Africans employed within its area of jurisdiction.
  • African people were forbidden to acquire title to land in an urban area, and the act provided for the prohibition of residence in an urban area by black people
  • It also provided for the removal of African people to locations
  • Restrictions were also placed on the employment of African people without the permission of the local authority.

By 1927 the Johannesburg City Council (JCC) had decided to create a Department of Native Affairs to deal with matters concerning local African administration. In 1929, with the pressures of influx of African people to Johannesburg, the removal of African people from the whites-only designated residential areas became a priority for the council. So began a process of segregation and removals to the area now known as Soweto.

From the Western Areas to Soweto: forced removals

Slum clearance in the Western Areas of Johannesburg occupied the efforts of the town council for many years. Repeated attempts by the JCC to clear slums in the Western Areas had little success in the 1930s and 1940s. Once the Nationalist Party government came into power in 1948, it embarked upon a robust and aggressive policy of slum clearance. This policy involved the forced removal of Africans from the freehold townships of the Western Areas, such as Sophiatown, Martindale and Newclare to Diepkloof, Meadowlands, Dube and Rockville. Similar attempts of slum clearance in Alexandra resulted in communities removed from this township being resettled in Diepkloof and Meadowlands. Forced removals began in 1955 and five years later, the resettlement of African families from the Western Areas to Soweto had been completed.

The Native Affairs Department (NAD) was transformed when the Nationalist Party formed the government in 1948. Conflict of interest between the JCC and the central government threatened to undermine the latter's policy of slum clearance and Group Areas Act in the Western Areas of Johannesburg. The JCC should have taken complete responsibility for slum clearance and resettlement of African communities in the Western Areas in Soweto. But, dominated by the United Party and reflecting its liberal approach to Native administration, the JCC was reluctant to do so. It resented being used as an instrument for implementing what it considered to be racially motivated policies. The Nationalist Party government ignored the JCC and set up its own local authority whose brief was to implement slum clearance policies that had left the JCC paralysed for over 20 years.

The Native Resettlement Board (NRB) was a local authority set up by the Nationalist Party government for specific purposes. These were to implement slum clearance by forcibly removing Africans from the Western Areas of Johannesburg and relocating them to Soweto and, to become a local authority in charge of communities from the Western Areas resettled in Meadowlands, Diepkloofand Rockville. Consequently, between 1955 and 1972, communities in Soweto were administered by two sets of local authorities each with its own style of governance. In townships under the authority of the JCC, location regulations were not applied as strictly and stringently as under the rule of the WRAB. Communities being administered by the NRB were subjected to a plethora of location regulations, with influx control measures being brutally applied.

The resettlement pattern of the Western Areas communities in Meadowlands and Diepkloof was carefully and deliberately designed so that communities were grouped according to their ethnic identity. The purpose pf dividing the communities along ethnic lines was that they could not articulate their concerns as a unit. By doing this, the WRAB managed to establish effective mechanisms pf social and political control of township dwellers in Moroka.

The squatter movements in Orlando grew in size between 1944 and 1946. Some of the squatters came from the Old Pimville location, taking advantage of negotiations going on between the JCC and squatters previously residing in Orlando as sub-tenants. As the squatter problem became unwieldy, the JCC decided to set up controlled site-and-service schemes in Moroka and Jabavu. Between 1947 and 1960, the government embarked upon a massive housing scheme at the end of which the Moroka and Jabavu emergency camps were demolished. Residents of Moroka and Jabavu emergency camps were relocated in Moletsane, Molapo, Tladi, Naledi, Senaoane, Dlamini, White City and Jabulane. This group of townships, which include some of the most impoverished areas of Soweto, are often referred to as 'the Wild West'. These townships experiences very high levels of crime during the 1960s and 1970s.

The last group of townships to be established was Emdeni, Senaoane and Zola. Residents in this group of townships were forcibly removed from Eastern Native Township (ENT) or George Goch, the balance of families removed from ENT was accommodated in a part of Pimville location that residents still refer to as George Goch to this day. In 1972 the administration of Soweto was streamlined and placed under a single local authority, the West Rand Administration Board (WRAB). It was while the townships were under this administration that the Soweto Revolt broke out.

The Second World War

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1938 paved the way for a further influx of black people to Johannesburg. This influx followed a similar pattern as in the United States of America. In the United States, the war caused a vacuum in employment because more men were sent to Europe to fight the war leaving behind a growing demand of labour that was filled by women who were previously housewives. In South Africa, white men left a growing demand of labour that was filled by black men from the countryside. Furthermore, the growth of the manufacturing industry, with better pay than the mines, attracted more people, black people in particular, to come to Johannesburg. To ease their movement to Johannesburg the government relaxed pass laws. Their arrival in Johannesburg added to the increased pressure on the housing backlog.

The dire need of housing was instrumental in the rise of James Mpanza as a 'father of Soweto'. Also instrumental in his rise was the failure of the African National Congress to take the rights of people without houses within their political agenda. This meant that a large number of people could not become a political force because they were left without representation and alliance to a formal organisation. James Mpanza saw the need for such an organisation and he founded the Sofasonke Party. At first the party sent their complaints to the city council, but later, the party resorted to land invasion. On 20 March 1944, James Mpanza led a group of homeless people to a stretch of vacant land across the river and boundaries of Orlando Township where they erected their shacks. The number of people in this squatter camp, known as Shantytown, increased almost on a daily basis. Within a short period of time, the number of people staying in Shantytown reached 4000.

The land invasion in Orlando was followed land invasions from Pimville, west and east of Johannesburg, in 1947. In the previous year, James Mpanza had led another invasion of houses still under construction, which were intended to house people removed from the city centre. These invasions forced the government to concede that the need for housing in the township was very dire and that the City Council lacked the financial resources required to house the township population. In 1950, Ernest Oppenheimer visited Orlando. He was appalled by the living conditions of township dwellers and he entered into an agreement with the City Council to provide a loan to alleviate the housing backlog. The City Council would to repay the loan after a period of 30 years.

In 1960 the Mentz commission recommended that all 'black spots' within the vicinity of Johannesburg be relocated to the area around Orlando. One of these 'black spots' was the famous Sophiatown. In 1961, President Hendrik Verwoerd was the President of South Africa. He believed strongly in the separation of races and ethnic groups on the grounds that each should be allowed to develop according to its own terms, pace, and culture - a policy he referred to as 'good neighbourliness'. During this period the removal of black people from town to township was almost complete.

Conclusion

The housing problem of Soweto has not been resolved yet. For those with houses, paying rent turned out to be a cumbersome burden that caused many to default on their payments. The government often responded to defaulters very harshly. Evictions were common in Soweto and this left people without tenure security. As result of lack of housing, evictions, and continued urban influx in Johannesburg, squatter camps, for example Snake Park, became a common feature in Soweto. The housing needs of township dwellers were once again demonstrated by another land invasion at Bredell in 2001.

These occurrences show that housing in Soweto continues to be a fundamental social problem that has been instrumental in the development of the resistance movement against apartheid, and, possibly, instrumental in challenging the dominance of the African National Congress in post 1994 South Africa. That is, if the African National Congress Government fails to adequately address the housing problem of Township dwellers.

Last updated : 09-Feb-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011