Early settlement patterns of exclusion

Towards racial segregation

Segregated city


Once the fort and the early settlement were established at the Cape, patterns of exclusion began to emerge as settlers drew imagined and physical boundaries between themselves and other people. The earliest places of exclusion centred on land close to the castle and around the company settlement as access to it became restricted. Khoikhoi herders were pushed out of the land surrounding the early settlement and were later pushed out of lands immediately surrounding the settlement. Thus, the most contentious issue at the Cape that contributed to the rise in tensions and eventual outbreak of war between the settlers and the Khoikhoi was the exclusion of the Khoikhoi from accessing land for grazing pastures. Settlers began to invent and implement ways of keeping the Khoikhoi away from the settlement, regulating their access and also using their labour.

Early settlement patterns of exclusion.

One of the earliest proposals by the VOC of creating a barrier between the Khoikhoi and the Dutch settlers was a trench between Salt and Liesbeeck rivers right up to False Bay. Jan van Riebeeck argued against the plan because he deemed it impractical. A new plan to carve boundaries and barriers was implemented. Van Riebeeck ordered the planting of bitter almond trees, all sorts of growing brambles and thorn bushes as boundaries along farms including his own in Wynberg. Van Riebeeck stated that:

The belt will be so densely overgrown that it will be impossible for cattle and sheep to be driven through and it will take the form of a protective fence...” (Jan van Riebeeck’s diary as quoted in Worden et al, p. 25).

The hedge was aimed at protecting Dutch settlers from attacks by the Khoikhoi and preventing their cattle from wandering into VOC ‘owned’ land. To this end, palisades were constructed along the Salt River bank, towers and signalling systems to the fort were also put in place.

Loss of grazing pastures became a source of friction between Khoikhoi and the Dutch. For instance, in 1655 when the Khoikhoi built their shelter and grazed their cattle close to the fort, the Dutch attempted to chase them away. The Khoikhoi refused to move, declaring that the land was theirs and that they would attack the Dutch if they were not permitted to graze their cattle or build their huts wherever they chose. That same year the Dutch asserted themselves more by ordering the Khoikhoi to graze their cattle out of sight of the fort and company settlement. The VOC further inflamed the rising tensions by granting land to free burgers on Saldanha Bay, Swartland and Table Bay. These were lands that were grazing routes seasonally used by the Khoikhoi. The gradually building up tensions led to the outbreak of the first Khoi-Dutch war of 1659-60. After the war, the Khoi were barred from walking anywhere other than on footpaths designated by the VOC. Furthermore, the Khoi were barred  from inhabiting the area near the castle by 1676 and they were also excluded from official records such as population censuses.

By the late eighteen century the Khoi society was devastated by loss of grazing pastures to colonial farmers and smallpox. As a consequence they were forced to move further inland away from Dutch control. Thus, the Dutch erected both physical and imagined boundaries by demarcating places where the Khoikhoi could and could not graze or build their huts. The erection of boundaries as a way of excluding the Khoikhoi laid down the foundation and defined what would later become a segregated city.

Towards racial segregation

When the early sailors from Europe came into contact with Khoikhoi, they  described them as ‘savages’, ‘cannibals’, ‘heathens’ and people that could not be trusted. Initial classifications were broadly divided into two categories of ‘Christian’ or ‘heathen’. These descriptions were largely cultural in nature, but overtime crystallised into racial attitudes. Earlier perceptions of Khoikhoi continued to influence and shape settler attitudes towards them. The arrival of slaves from other parts of the African continent and the East Indies whose cultural practices and skin shade was different from the Dutch settlers further entrenched the already existing prejudices and stereotypes. Spatial demarcation based on the person’s position in early Cape society increasingly became an important feature. For instance, slaves owned by the VOC were housed in the Slave Lodge while administrative and military staff was housed in the castle. Overtime proclamations or laws regulating the behaviour and movement of slaves and Khoikhoi were promulgated. Thus, legislation played an important role in the shaping of Cape Town as a segregated city from the late eighteenth century right up to the middle of the twentieth century.

One of the earliest proclamations was issued in 1794 stating that slaves were not to jostle, or behave in an ill disposed way towards a European even if that European was of the lowest rank. This demonstrates that Dutch settlers perceived themselves as not just different from slaves, but above them. After the British took over the Cape, proclamations and laws that laid down the foundation for future racial discrimination continued to be promulgated. In 1809 the Hotenttot Proclamation (also known as the Caledon Code) was passed. This law compelled all Khoikhoi to carry passes which could only be obtained at the end of their contracts. Settlers saw the Khoikhoi as a source of cheap labour and moved to regulate them. In the 1820s and 1830s Africans began arriving in the Cape Colony in search of work. The British administration in the Cape moved to also regulate Africans through legislation. For instance, Ordinance 49 of 1828 allowed African people to enter the Cape Colony to seek work provided they took out passes and carried them as they moved about within the colony.

When the Caldeon Code was repealed under Ordinance 50 of 1828, the carrying of passes by the Khoikhoi and other free persons of colour was abolished. However, this did not apply to Africans as the law requiring that they carry passes remained in force. The Kaffir Pass Act of 1857 prohibited black African people from entering the Cape Colony except to work. The Act forced them to submit to contracts that had slave-like terms of agreement. The Kaffir Employment Act which was also passed in 1857 provided for the registration of contracts between employer and Xhosa workers. Once the contract expired, black Africans, the majority of whom were Xhosa people had fourteen days to find other employment or leave the colony. These laws became the foundation for influx control laws that were vigorously enforced in Cape Town to keep the Africans out of the town under the apartheid government.

The growth of Cape Town into a busy harbour town stimulated migration into the town from other Asian countries such as China and India. Merchants and sailors from these countries engaged in business activities in the city. Some settled in the city and established themselves as traders and skilled artisans. Settler prejudices against the Chinese, Indians and Muslims manifested themselves in the way the city dealt with these communities. Some of the prejudices hid the sense of insecurity experienced by settlers as some of the immigrants became successful traders and merchants competing with white traders. For instance, the Chinese were singled out as ‘Yellow Peril’ and associated with gambling, smoking opium and crime. The police repeatedly raided what authorities saw as the Chinese ‘gambling dens’. The administration also excluded Chinese who were not regarded as British citizens, the few who were exempted were required to be registered and controlled.

Cape Muslims previously seen as clean and industrious were increasingly depicted as lazy, dirty, ignorant and unruly. Jews who had immigrated to Cape Town fleeing poverty in Eastern Europe and sought to make their fortunes in the diamond fields were viewed as undesirable immigrants, particularly in the twentieth century. The growth of scientific racism in the nineteenth century filtered to Cape Town as stereotypes developed into racial undertones and attitudes. To a large extent, the desire by white middle classes who were anxious to stem competition and carve their space in Cape Town resulted in the move towards spatial segregation.

Segregated city

Increasingly, segregation became an important feature of Cape Town society between 1875 and 1902. Overtime Africans came to live in various parts of Cape Town’s suburbs and on the slopes of Table Mountain. By 1900 an estimated 8000 Africans were living mainly in Horstely Street in District Six  and another 1 500 were housed in barracks at the docks. Other Africans rented plots, owned homes and settled informally in Windemere (now Kensington) amongst coloured and Asian people.

The growth of the African population in the city also hardened racial attitudes as it became the focal point for city’s white residents. Africans were perceived as immoral, indecent, dangerous, criminals and a health hazard that threatened the well being of the city. These stereotypes were reinforced by general debates in scientific racism and a desire to push Africans out of the city to create space for the expansion of white suburbs. Consequently, one of the major reasons that intensified a call by white residents of Cape Town for residential segregation was not a concern for well being of the city, but racist attitudes towards Africans. Medical authorities who were also influenced by public calls for the removal of blacks also pushed for residential segregation by the end of the 1800s. For instance, after the outbreak of small pox in 1882 a suggestion to move coloured people out of city  of Cape Town was tabled. What stopped this attempt was the complaints of employers who wanted to keep workers close to places of work and the ratepayers who were unwilling to bear the cost of  relocating the poor. In 1900 the Cape Town medical officer of health urged that Africans should be removed from insanitary conditions that they lived under and be confined to a location.

Throughout the 1900s, Cape Town City Council and the government continued to pass legislation that pushed African, Coloured and Indian people out of the city. Africans were the first to be targeted. In the aftermath of the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Cape Town in February 1901,  the colonial health authorities invoked Public Health Act of 1897 and quickly established a location in Uitvlugt forest station (modern day Pinelands). Africans living in District Six were rounded up under armed guard and taken to a location in Uitvlugt. Africans renamed the Uitvlugt location Ndabeni (place of news). While the location was established primarily to quarantine Africans who were forcibly relocated after the outbreak of the disease, this marked the beginning of forced removals in Cape Town in the twentieth century.

The passing of the Native Reserve Location Act in 1902 gave impetus to the racial segregation of Africans resident in Cape Town. Under the Act, portions of land in urban areas were allocated for the settlement of Africans in locations outside areas of white settlement. The Act made it compulsory for Africans to live in Ndabeni unless they were registered voters or received permission to reside outside the location. These attempts to force Africans to live in the location did not work as some African families left the Ndabeni settlement in protest and moved to District Six and the Cape Flats.

Furthermore, the removal of Africans from the city was done without provision for adequate housing, and created more problems for the government. For instance in 1919 Africans arrested for living outside Ndabeni were released after pointing out that there was insufficient accommodation for them at the location. The enactment of the Act failed to curb the number of Africans arriving in search of work in Cape Town and their settlement in shantytowns and informal settlements. The Housing Commissions of 1903, 1913 and the Tuberculosis Commission of 1914 condemned ill chosen sites, absence of sanitary services and structures unsuitable for human habitation. Reports from these commissions influenced the government clampdown on slums and shantytowns.

In response to increased ‘slums’ in the inner city, the Union government passed Municipal Ordinance No 23 of 1919 and the Housing Act No 35 of 1920 which empowered local authorities to develop housing schemes for lower income groups. This legislation contributed to the establishment of Langa township and de-proclamation of the Ndabeni location in order to force Africans to move to Langa. In 1923 the government passed the Native Urban Areas Act. This Act enforced the compulsory residence of Africans in locations, controlled their immigration into urban areas and empowered the government to expel those black people that it considered to be idle and disorderly. Furthermore, the Act forbade the granting of freehold property rights to Africans on the grounds that they were not permanent urban residents and should only be permitted within municipal areas to serve the interests of the white population. Location superintendents appointed by the local government administered the townships in conjunction with a Native Advisory Board.

In 1929 the government passed the Townships Ordinance 18 which empowered the Divisional Council to prevent the erection of housing that was considered unsuitable. The shortage of housing resulted in the sprawling of shack settlements throughout the peninsula in the 1920s in places such as Woodstock, Maitland, Windemere and Wynberg. This was further worsened by the de-proclamation of the Docks location and Ndabeni which were African areas of settlement. Consequently, Africans were pushed out the city of Cape Town.

In 1936 the government passed the Representation of the Natives Act. Under this Act Africans who met the property qualifications in the Cape were removed from the common voters roll and placed on a separate roll. From this roll they were to elect 3 white native Representatives to the House of Assembly and 2 to the Cape Provincial Council. The government continued to squeeze Africans out of the city. For instance, in 1933 Africans were no longer allowed to attend Salt River School and African secondary education was only available in Langa. The few Africans living in the Goodwood, Goodwood Acres and Parow area in 1936 were barred from purchasing land in these areas in 1938. In addition they were also barred from purchasing land in Belleville Flats, Phillipi and Windermere. After 1939 legal entry of Africans into Parow was restricted and this was extended to Goodwood in 1943.

The outbreak of the Second World War added impetus for Cape Town to move even further towards segregation. As some coloured men vacated their positions tp join the war, some Africans moved to fill their positions. For example, African employment in private industries increased by 114% during the War in the Western Cape. The post war economic boom also made it possible for African men to find work in factories drawing more migrants to the city. Some Africans preferred manual work in the Cape than heavy labour in the mines and thus migrated to the Cape. Despite the increasing settlement of Africans in the city, there was no provision of housing. Apart from the migration of Africans into the city, whites were also alarmed by the rise of militancy among African urban migrants. It was these fears that contributed to the push towards an even severe policy of racial segregation in the city.

 In 1944 the City Council was granted wide powers to reverse the inflow of Africans into Cape Town through influx control. Thus, by the 1940s, racial segregation was in full swing in Cape Town as legal backing was given for segregated workplaces and suburbs. During this period, black people were slowly removed from the urban centres and residences that comprised ‘White’ households. In 1947 employers in Cape Town were pressured by the government to avoid employing Africans by making them bear the cost of repatriating them when their contracts expired.

The process of segregation in the city was accelerated when the National Party (NP) seized power in 1948. The NP led government began to vigorously implement the policy of racial segregation. Up until the 1940s there were few prosecutions for violating pass laws in the Cape Peninsula, but this changed after 1948 when the NP embarked on a strong clampdown of Africans living in the Western Cape.  Laws that divided people along racial lines permeated almost every fibre of South African society, including the urban areas, were passed in the 1950s. Among others, two pieces of legislation passed in 1950 played a pivotal role in enforcing residential racial segregation in Cape Town and elsewhere in South Africa. The first was the Population Registration Act of 1950 which classified people according to government-defined and allocated racial categories. This Act provided for the issuing of identity cards indicating the assigned racial group of bearer. People were classified as Black, Coloured, Malay, Indians and Whites. This Act laid the foundation for the implementation of the second Act which was the Group Areas Act also passed in 1950. 

The Group Areas Act gave the government power to demarcate where each racial group could live and own property. In addition the government also had control over all property transactions between different racial groups. Once an area was proclaimed as belonging to a particular racial group, only members of that group could reside and own property in that area. After the proclamation the affected property owner of a ‘wrong group’ could not continue to hold property rights in the area and thus had to move. Furthermore, people were not allowed to sell or rent property to people of another racial group. This forced them to move to an area designated as belonging to their racial group. Aesthetically appealing and strategic places were proclaimed as ‘whites only’ areas while areas away from the city were designated non-white. It should be noted that this Act was not the first piece of legislation to create racially segregated places of residence, but it was the most systematically applied. The Urban Areas Act of 1923 already segregated Africans in urban areas.

The Group Areas Act was administered by the Land Tenure Advisory Board (LTAB) later renamed the Group Areas Board (GAB). The GAB proposed that the railway line should be used to demarcate white areas from coloured and black areas. The plan was to move all blacks south of the Belleville line and east of the Simonstown line. For example, in 1954 all non residential areas north of the railway line, i.e. Pinelands, Thornton Epping and Milnerton were zoned as white areas. Thus the railway line became an important line of spatial demarcation based on race. Some municipalities such as Goodwood, Parow and Belleville which were under the control of the NP assisted the GAB to draw up plans for racial zoning.

On the 5 July 1957, the first Group Areas Act proclamation for Cape Town was issued although most areas were not zoned until 1961. Protea Village was proclaimed a white group area in 1961, parts of the city such as Boo-Kaap and parts of District Six were proclaimed in 1965. Perhaps the most glaring example of forced removals that took place in Cape Town as a result of the Group Areas Act were in District Six, Tramway Road and Windermere among others. In 1966 District Six was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act. The community of different racial groups Africans, Coloreds and Indians who worked as merchants, artisans, laborers were forcibly removed from an area that was near the city.  People’s houses, businesses and schools (except religious buildings) were destroyed by bulldozers under the pretext of ‘slum clearance’. Over 60 000 people were moved to areas several kilometers away from the city of Cape Town and relocated at the Cape Flats. By 1962 the Groups Areas Development Board had build 250 houses in the Cape Flats to accommodate refugees of forced removals. District Six stood in sharp contrast to the government’s policy of racial segregation as its population was racially mixed.

In 1970, the government renamed District Six as Zonnebloem after the Dutch farm on which the settlement was built in an effort to attract developers and transform the area into a suburb. Vigorous protests discouraged potential developers from accepting the apartheid government’s proposal to develop the area. Subsequent to its failure to attract developers, the government then constructed on imposing structure on the landscape, the Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology). The final clearing of District Six in 1982 saw the demolition of 20 last standing houses occupied by Indian families.

The Group Areas Act also resulted in the forced removal of many non-white communities along the Liesbeek and Black Rivers. Before GPA was proclaimed, there were coloured and black communities that had lived close to the Liesbeek and Black Rivers in areas of Mowbray, Rondebosch, Claremont and Protea Village for many years. When these areas were proclaimed as white group areas, these communities were forcibly removed and relocated on the Cape Flats. This deprived them of a valuable source of recreation and livelihood. For example Mowbray was proclaimed a white group area in 1961 and the Cavendish Square area in Claremont was proclaimed a white group area in 1966.

 That same year, Coloured people residing in Landsdowne were given 15 years to move. After the expiry of the deadline, families that still remained were forced to move in the 1980s. Over the course of the forced removals, people were scattered to various places such as Belhar, Hanover Park, Mitchell’s Plain and Walmer. Some of the ‘Cape Malay’ and Indians were moved to Rynlands. Between 1957 and 1961, an estimated 106 177 (in text source recommended) coloureds and Indians were forcibly removed from areas that were proclaimed for ‘white’ people.  Group Areas Act proclamations and forced removals continued in the 1970s, for instance Walmer Estate was demarcated as a residential area for coloured people and Malays in 1975. By 1979 the only undecided area near the city was a small portion of Woodstock which remained unproclaimed. 

Alongside forced removals the government planned huge construction projects of townships to accommodate those that had been forcibly removed. Coloured people who were the largest group of people affected by forced removals in Cape Town as a result of the Groups Areas Act were accommodated in these newly constructed townships. For instance, in 1974, the construction of Mitchell’s Plain commenced and people who were forcibly removed from District Six were relocated to Mitchell’s Plain. Those people that were removed from places such as Mowbray were relocated to Bonteheuwel and Heideveld. In 1975 the government commenced construction of a ‘model’ industrial city in Atlantis 45kms from Cape Town to relocate coloured people forced out of Cape Town.

In the 1970s and 80s the government also embarked on a concerted effort of destroying informal settlements where black people lived. In 1976 and 1977 massive evictions and destruction of settlements took place in the Western Cape at Unibel Modderdam, Werkgenot and KTC. When the government could not destroy the Crossroads settlement because it had acquired legal status as a legal place of settlement, it shifted its attention to destroying settlements that had sprung up around Crossroads. Those people whose areas were destroyed moved to Crossroads and swelled the number of people in the settlement. People hoped to find respite in a legally protected place and avoid harassment by police. The police invaded Crossroads to flush out the refugees and ‘illegal’ occupants. For instance in September 1978 a police raid on Crossroads resulted in the arrest of 900 people. Men and women responded by forming a combined Joint Action Committee in order to defend Crossroads. Women played important and leading roles in an intensive campaign of resistance to save Crossroads. The concerted effort by authorities to destroy settlements was driven by a desire to neutralise the threat faced by the government in the wake of 1976 uprisings.

 In July 1981 an attempt was made to demolish informal settlements around Nyanga. People’s shacks were flattened and hundreds of people were arrested, but women who led the passive resistance against forced removals returned to build their homes. In February 1983 the Western Cape Administration Board attempted to destroy KTC. Due to sustained resistance which generated images of state brutality abroad, the government eventually allowed 2500 who ‘qualified’ to be in Cape Town to build their homes. The KTC population increased in 1984 as people from Crossroads joined them. There were more ‘squatter’ houses demolished in the Western Cape in the first six months of 1984 than in the whole of 1983. Raids and efforts to destroy KTC continued and by  June 1986 KTC was almost completely destroyed. In its efforts to destroy informal settlements, the government deployed the Witdoek (white headcloths) vigilantes who destroyed shacks and hunted down leaders of the protests.  An estimated 60 000 people were left homeless and 60 people were killed as a result of the Witdoek vigilantes.

The growing civil unrest in the townships in the 1980s and increased condemnation of the policy of apartheid by the international community forced the government to ‘reform’ apartheid. For instance in 1984 the Group Areas Amendment Act repealed certain sections of the legislation passed in 1950. The amendments made it possible for the president to deproclaim group areas and open them for trading and professional practice. The deproclaimed area still remained as an area of the population group for whom it was originally proclaimed. These piecemeal reforms among others did not work and the apartheid government was forced to set in motion plans to engage the African National Congress (ANC) and commence negotiations for the dismantling of apartheid. On 24 November 1989 President F. W. de Klerk announced the opening of four hitherto Whites-only residential areas to persons of other races.

In 1990 he announced the unbanning of political organizations including the ANC and the PAC. The following year the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act were repealed. On April 1994 the first democratic elections were held in South Africa and apartheid was dismantled.


While the 1900 forced removals disguised underlying racial prejudice as an issue of health, over time the removal of black people from the city became undisguised racism. By the 1940s and 1950s Cape Town was a segregated city. Segregation was extended to other racial groups such as Coloureds and Indians. This attempt to segregate people was accompanied by forced removals in 1960s right up to the 1980s. The legacy of apartheid and forced removals left Cape Town as a segregated city, and residential suburbs created by apartheid through forced removals are still visible.

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