Pretoria the Segregated city

The Tomlinson Report

Atteridgeville and Saulsville







Lady Selbourne


Pretoria the Segregated city

Post-1948 Legislation

This period marks the beginning of the rise of apartheid. Although South Africa was already a very segregated country, apartheid laws introduced after 1948 made segregation far more harmful to the non-White population. These laws entrenched the idea of separate development and ensured that White supremacy was systematised. The intention of the National Party in 1948 was to reinforce constitutionally the segregation of the Black populations of South Africa from the White minority as a means of upholding the political, economic and social supremacy of White South Africa.

Nelson Mandela wrote: “Apartheid”¦”¦represented the codification in one oppressive system of all the laws and regulations that kept Africans in an inferior position to whites for centuries”¦The often haphazard segregation of the past three hundred years was to be consolidated into a monolithic system that was diabolical in its detail, inescapable in its reach and overwhelming in its power.” (D Mason, 2003)

The Tomlinson Report

Apartheid legislation timeline

Smuts appointed the Fagan Committee to look into the problems caused by the movement of Blacks into towns. The Fagan Report stated that total segregation would never work as modern industry and commerce needed a Black population permanently living in towns close to their workplace. It discouraged migrant labour and encouraged the idea of planned and carefully controlled townships. The idea of returning Blacks to the reserves was ruled out as these were already overcrowded.

At the same time, Malan appointed the Sauer Committee, which argued that the flood of Black migrants had to be reversed. It suggested that “apartheid” was the only way forward and that the reserves must be the real home of the Blacks in South Africa – and that those who lived in towns should be treated as temporary visitors without political rights. The numbers should also be strictly controlled. This report became the policy of the National Party that won the 1948 elections. After the elections, Malan proclaimed:

'Today South Africa belongs to us once more' (Roberts, 2001).

Using their method of apartheid, Malan and his ministers set out to make sure that South Africa belonged only to the white population. The Malan government did not introduce many new laws; instead it made the old segregation laws more systematic. 

In 1955, Professor Tomlinson, who was appointed to advise the government on how apartheid should be put into practice, advised the government that separation of races would work but would be very costly. He advised that the reserves be divided into areas with a homeland for the different ethnic groups. He also suggested that 104 million pounds be spent to improve farming in the homelands and to set up factories on their borders. This would eventually provide enough employment for Blacks, thus removing them from the “White towns”. What Tomlinson failed to consider was that 13% of the whole of South Africa was far too little for 70% of the population. He also failed to project the rate at which factories in the White areas would grow and pull more Blacks into the towns. The government at this stage refused to spend so much of money on farming improvements or on business in the reserves. As a result of these shortcomings, many Blacks lived in absolute poverty in the homelands while those who sought to live in the cities were continually harassed by apartheid laws which aimed to keep them out.

Despite the flaws in the Tomlinson Report, the National Party passed a series of laws which put the first phase of apartheid into effect.  

One of the most important acts was The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) and the Immorality Act (1950), which made it illegal for people of different race groups to marry. It also prohibited all sexual contact between whites and other South Africans.

This law was an extension of Hertzog’s 1927 ban on sex between Blacks and Whites. This Act not only brought humiliation and suffering to thousands of families who were broken up and declared unlawful, but it also allowed police to snoop on people’s private lives.

Racial division was the future goal, which made it very difficult for people in mixed race relationships. M any had to leave the country in order to avoid arrest.

The Nationalist government did not waste any time introducing the Population Registration Act (1950), which categorized all people in South Africa into a particular race group i.e. White, Coloured, Asiatic or Native. All of these groups were to be found in the Pretoria area. Once this was established, it made provision for the carrying of identity cards which stated the race of the person. This would make it easier to separate the races.

Therefore, mixed marriages could not be allowed as it would be difficult to classify the race of the offspring. The next step was introducing The Group Areas Act (1950), which formed the cornerstone of apartheid. Although residential segregation of Indians and Blacks had existed even before this law was passed, the principle was now greatly extended. 

In Pretoria, this led to the demarcation of separate residential areas for Whites, Indians Coloureds and Africans. People were moved from Lady Selbourne, the city centre and Marabastad to Laudium, Eesterus, Mamelodi, Atterdigeville and Hammanskraal. Indian traders were also moved out of the centre of Pretoria.

All of these townships and suburbs were situated at a distance from the city centre, which made it difficult for people to get to their places of work. At this point, the government had not implemented any transport system that would cater for the needs of these townships and suburbs.

According to the Separate Amenities Act (1953), all public places and amenities were separated for the different race groups.  There were signs put up everywhere indicating where 'Europeans' and 'non-Europeans' were allowed. Almost all of the restaurants and recreational facilities in Pretoria city centre were reserved for ‘Whites only’. Public parks were reserved for a single race with benches that were clearly marked 'Whites only’ or ‘Non-Whites only.’ This was indeed an expensive exercise for the city as it required the building of separate hospitals, libraries, post office facilities, hotels and public toilets. The policy of segregated amenities was so extreme that if borrowers at a library had their domestic workers return books, they were asked to wrap the books to ensure they were kept clean.But, although in almost all sectors there were provisions for separate entrances, the banks remained integrated, and various race groups could queue together without any problem. 

In terms of segregated schooling, the Bantu Education Act (1953) allowed the government to fully control Black education. Black schools had to offer instruction in mother tongues, not in English, and the courses offered were different from those offered in White schools. In Pretoria, this law affected the Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, Hammanskraal  and GaRankuwa areas. In various later studies, it was said that these laws were eventually responsible for the militancy that grew out of the schools, especially in the townships in the Transvaal. Therefore, the attempt to deliver a servile and obedient labour force for exploitation in the industrial sector failed.

Post 1952 Housing Developments

In 1948, Apartheid policies were formally institutionalized when the National Party (NP) came into power, with DF Malan as Prime Minister. One of the most distinctive acts passed was the Group Areas Act of 1949. The aim of the act was to further segregate the South African people, by creating areas divided along racial lines and thus forcefully relocating Non-White South Africans to locations outside the cities and towns.

Justice Minister at the time, Charles Swart defends the Act:“We will always find that reasonable amenities are provided for all classes according to their aptitude, according to their standard of civilization and according to their need.”(Reader’s Digest, 1988). 

In Pretoria, this led to the establishment of several townships:

Atteridgeville and Saulsville

Atteridgeville was founded in 1939, and fell within the municipal area and magisterial district of Pretoria. It was originally intended to be called Motsemogolo (large township), but was named after Mrs. MP Atteridge instead, the chairperson of the City Council’s Committee for Non European Affairs at the time.

Atteridgeville lies southwest of Pretoria centre and is divided into three sectors: Phomolong, Concerned and Jeffville. At that time, Saulsville had already been planned as a residential area for Whites but was then bought by the City Council as an extension of Atteridgeville. In 1940, 50 families from Marabastad moved to Atteridgeville.


The township of Temba was started in the late 1950 s to house Pretoria’s Black workers in their own “homeland”. This was to be the “ Tswana homeland”. The idea was that the workers would still be within easy reach of their workplace.

Commonly known as Hammanskraal, Temba is situated on the road to Pietersburg (now Polkwane) and is near the Hammanskraal station. The Pretoria government doubled the capacity of the railway line from Pretoria to Hammanskraal to allow for express trains to transport black workers to and from the city. 


Initially known as Vlakfontein, Mamelodi was another residential township established for Blacks in 1951. Located 16km east of Church Square, this township also fell within the Pretoria Municipality. It is interesting to note that the name 'Mamelodi' was the name by which Paul Kruger was known to the Black population.  It is said that the literal meaning of Mamelodi is 'the man who can imitate birds' or 'the father of whistling'.


Mabopane was to be the largest of the Black townships within the Pretoria area. The township, which is 22km north- west of the city centre, formed part of the Tswana homeland. It was also within easy reach of the Rosslyn industrial area. 


Established in 1960, Laudium, which is situated 12 km south-west of Church square, was set aside as the new residential area for the Indian population of Pretoria. Laudium fell within the municipality of Pretoria, and was initially known as Claudius, named after Claudius Marais de Vries, the owner of the farm on which it was established and the mayor of Pretoria at the time.


The area on the farm Derdepoort near Silverton was proclaimed a township for the Coloured population of Pretoria. This area was laid out in 1962 and named Eersterus. Situated 15km east of Church Square, the area fell outside the municipal area of Pretoria but remained within its magisterial district.

Interestingly enough, there are two explanations on how the name Eersterus was chosen. The first belief was that Eersterus was the first stop of rest made by the mail coaches on their way to the Lydenberg goldfields. A second belief was that the area was named after the Black township that once stood there, this township was the 'first resting place' established east of Pretoria to house Black workers.


Ga-rankuwa was developed in accordance with the Physical Planning Act of 1967 which hoped to divert industrial development away from the city centres to the border areas of the homelands. This would not only serve the purpose of attracting workers directly from the homelands and providing cheap labour to the factories but would also divert the labour flow away from the city, thereby reducing labour migrancy.

Situated 34 km north-west of Pretoria, Ga-rankuwa formed part of the Tswana homeland. The area provided housing for the Black labourers and their families and was meant to service the industrial area of Rosslyn, 10km away. Apart from the state-built houses, Black people were permitted to buy plots and build their own houses. It was estimated that the township would eventually accommodate a population of 120 000 people.

Stands were also set aside for the building of churches, shops, parks, a swimming pool and a sports field.  A modern hospital was also erected in the township.

Political Mobilisation: 1970s-1980s

The built environment was at the root of political conflict in the PWV area townships. This includes roads, railways, factories, offices, parks and pavements, schools, sewage systems and most importantly, housing. The built environment was not only a key feature in the welfare of township residents but also a symbol of both the failures and perceived duties of the state. Conflict over the built environment emphasized the need for township residents to secure control over the decision making process and to claim extra township resources. Both of these needs have apparently led to more overtly political demands.

Therefore, township residents’ struggles to reclaim the township in terms of use-values has entailed chronic conflict with the state over the economic relationship with the built environment. Township residents’ discontent with the built environment prompted different forms of resistance, such as squatting or mounting rent arrears and populism by some candidates for local government elections.

From 1977 to 1983, mobilisation developed as residents’ perception of local councillors changed. During active political protest in 1984, organisational and direct action emerged, which transformed mobilisation.

Before 1984, most of the political mobilisation did not concern the built environment and most local activity was concerned with national issues within organisational structures like Inkatha, AZAPO and the UDF, amongst others. In most of these cases, the national organisations were often credited with a considerably more important role they played in practice, and the nature of local mobilisation was often hidden behind the rhetoric and appearance of national political protest.

When community councillors were first introduced in 1978, they enjoyed some legitimacy. However, this legitimacy was eroded when councillors failed to convert their election promises. Residents grew increasingly discontent with the councillors, and allegations of corruption and mismanagement became rife. This prompted resistance, not only because it destroyed the image of responsible leadership but because the councillors were combining corruption with illegitimate actions over the built environment. Shacks were cleared and rent defaulters harassed. Rents were increased with the justification that it was to finance township development, while such development rarely materialised.

This conflict over the built environment, and the growing crises in many township high schools, shaped emerging patterns of mobilisation as participants interacted.

During 1983, there were isolated protests in individual schools over educational grievances. In Atteridgeville, simmering discontent crystallised over the Christmas vacation over the alleged irregularities in exam marking and the readmission of students. However, school authorities ignored representation by the local COSAS, and by January 1984 students at Saulridge High began the Transvaal’s first sustained class boycott. Further demands were taken up and intermittent class boycotts spread to the other six high schools in the township by the end of February.

The initial protests concerned purely educational grievances and students only boycotted when other channels of communication were ignored. Protests were peaceful, and usually took place outside the schools. This reflected the growing level of resistance in the township as a whole. In November and December 1983, the failure of the councillors and discontent over the built environment led to the formation of the Saulsville- Atteridgeville Youth Organisation (SAYO) and the Atteridgeville-Saulsville Residents Organisation (ASRO) to oppose election of a town council.

Students became aware that the schools were not isolated from wider issues. The Atteridgeville school protests took an unexpected turn by the unprovoked killing of a student on school premises by police in February 1984. Parents were drawn into the dispute by their outrage at the killing. The suspension of student leaders in April intensified boycotts, which caused the DET to temporarily close schools in late April, and completely so in mid-May. School or class boycotts continued for the rest of the year as a result of rising police harassment and the DET’s refusal to meet key demands. The Town Council failed to make any significant attempt to solve the educational crises or restrain the police. This led to the growing support for ASRO and for the discontent with the councillors.

The pattern of events in Atteridgeville was repeated elsewhere, and students were radicalised and drawn into wider township issues.

The announcement of rent increases throughout the PWV area in May, June and July brought rent and education issues together. In Atteridgeville, residents called for the councillors to resign, while ASRO sought legal assistance to oppose the increases. In August, increased service charges were proposed but these were abandoned in September due to pressure from residents and ASRO. Escalating conflict in the Vaal and East Rand, the school boycotts, and the petrol bombing of the mayor’s house in August contributed to this decision.

Faced with opposition in the townships, many councillors across the PWV area resigned. Levels of political mobilisation rose throughout these areas during late 1984 and these were sustained and generalised during 1985 and early 1986, with resistance to rent and consumer boycotts erupting on occasion into virtual civil war. In July 1985, the first State of Emergency was declared which indicated the geographical scope of the protests.

Behind this generalisation and entrenchment of resistance was radicalisation and convergence of political cultures. Educational issues, rent grievances, evictions, councils and repression were not seen as unconnected issues. Rent and evictions concerned both moral and political relations and were also economic problems. Educational grievances took on an importance outside of the disputes about who should make key decisions. Heightened repression, as a political response to discontent, tied all these issues together and explicit political content developed in the moral economy and political culture of township residents.

The legitimacy of the local state diminished and the townships became polarised between support of the local state and the mass of more discontent residents. People now demanded resignation of councillors and withdrawal of troops from the townships. As mobilisation grew, it came to constitute a ‘movement’ through the convergence and radicalisation of residents’ demands. This resulted in emerging active stayaways, which came from the union leaders and other regional political organisers.

Young people played a leading role in mobilisation which very soon became violent. Women were also an active group in these protests and one such group, the Zakheni Women’s Club, played a central role in mobilising residents during 1984. It was women who constituted the core of a march to the Council offices in November 1985 to protest against high rent, the restrictions of funerals and the presence of troops in the townships. During this march, security forces dispersed the peaceful protestors, killing 13 in what became known as the Mamelodi massacre. The outrage over this incident generated solidarity behind Mamelodi’s second consumer boycott.

These boycotts continued during the 1980’s, and brought to the surface the frustration and anger of Black South Africans towards their inferior position which not only occurred in Pretoria, but in other townships around the country.

Forced Removals

Lady Selbourne

In 1905, Lady Selbourne was established as an area where Blacks could own land. It was named after Lady Beatrice Maud Selbourne, the wife of Lord Selbourne who served as High Commissioner of South Africa and Governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies until 1910.

The area was situated in the present day suburb of Suiderberg, about 16km northwest of Pretoria’s city centre. Lady Selbourne was a portion of a farm called Zandfontein, which was purchased by a “Coloured” syndicate through their agents, T Le Fleur and CM De Vries. On 26th September 1906, the farm was transferred to De Vries with 440 plots available for purchase to the public.

On the 26th November 1914, a concession was made by the Secretary for Justice, Mr. JD Rainer, to transfer a lot in the area from De Vries to the Berliner Missionsgeselschaft, which led to the establishment of missionary-aided projects in the township.

In 1936, the Minister of Native Affairs approved Lady Selbourne as a place for Black residents. The sellers of the land did not discriminate among buyers, thus interracial land ownership occurred, which resulted in de facto integration. Because of the target market, small plots and low prices, the Transvaal Surveyor General referred to Lady Selbourne as 'practically a location'.

From 1905 to 1914, the community formed a Management Team, a Health Committee and a Village Committee which focused on public works. These Committees played an integral role in motivating and unifying the residents. In 1914, the Health Committee was disbanded as the area grew, and the Innesdale Village Council took over its duties.

This was the first time Lady Selbourne fell within a municipal area. However, by 1925, the boundaries of Innesdale excluded Lady Selbourne and the Daspoort Health Committee inherited the duties of sanitation and other health services. In 1928, the Daspoort Committee became the Hercules Village Council and the latter needed the support of Lady Selbourne in order to obtain town council status.

Therefore, the committee promised the township reduced costs for sanitation services. However, they failed to carry through with their promises; in fact the costs were constantly raised. The residents of Lady Selbourne complained that their rates were subsidizing neighbouring White areas, which had better facilities. Unfortunately, these complaints made the government realise the potential of Black resistance, and from 1948, the government initiated the process of dispossession.

At the time, this area was also in violation of segregationist policy and the civic spirit of the residents became an irritant to government.  On 1 May 1949, the Hercules Municipality altered the boundaries of Pretoria, which meant that Lady Selbourne would now be administered by the Pretoria Council. This paved the way for forced removals.

The rapid increase in the township’s population also exacerbated the problem, and the removal of the Marabastad Location in the Pretoria Municipality in 1939 lead to the migration of many Blacks to Lady Selbourne who could not be absorbed into Atteridgeville. By the 1960s, there were more than 30 people per stand. This population surge was also due to the large scale rural urban migration driven by a shortage of jobs in the rural areas. The fact that one could hold title to land so close to Pretoria’s city centre made Lady Selbourne an attractive destination for migrant workers. As a result, two-thirds of the residents were tenants.

Although segregation was rife from 1900 to 1948, the State never disbanded Lady Selbourne because it supplied White capitalists with labour for ISCOR, and was a source for domestic workers. This labour was considered more reliable than migrant labour, as permanently settled residents seldom left the area.

However, overcrowding in the 1940s, together with decreased labour demands, paved the way for displacement. In 1948, the government started implementing rigorous eviction policies that enforced separate residential development. In 1949, Lady Selbourne was incorporated into the City of Pretoria with 1 952 registered properties. Residents’ complaints of high rates and underdevelopment fell on deaf ears.

At the same, time property prices were inflated, which encouraged landowners to rent out their homes or to build rooms for leasing, which lead to further overcrowding. The Nationalist government used the situation to portray Lady Selbourne as an overpopulated township and a health hazard. Essentially, the government’s argument was that the area was a “Black Spot”, unwanted and too close to the White areas.

The Community of Lady Selbourne

Lady Selbourne was an area where a spirit of neighbourliness and unity prevailed, although conflict over sanitary conditions and food production was rife between tenants and landlords.

Many residents owned businesses, and most landowners made extra money by renting out their homes. The township had also many professional people like nurses, doctors and teachers who became instrumental in fighting forced removals. However, most residents were poor subsistence farmers, domestic workers and migrant labourers, who survived through home cultivation, selling wood, coal, and clothes and letting out their homes.

The Indian residents were mainly hawkers, while the Blacks focused more on the selling of wood and coal from horse-drawn carts. There was a sense of trust among the community members as hawkers would often give goods on credit to their customers.

Most residents earned low wages but used the environment to subsidise their wages. People across the racial divisions supported each other in their struggle for survival.

Most tenants also paid high rents for small spaces with many occupants. Although there was no racism among the residents, there were class divisions between landlords and tenants.

Political history of Lady Selbourne

In 1940 and 1941, The Hercules Council held a series of meetings with the residents of Lady Selbourne, and declared that the township was too close to the White areas.

Lady Selbourne residents would not accept the imposition of an Advisory Board for their township and complained about high rates and insufficient services, and residents and ratepayers wanted direct representation on the City Council. However, according to the Natives Areas Act of 1923, the municipal franchise and representation on municipal councils was restricted to Whites only.

The Hercules Council then proposed that Lady Selbourne be run like other urban Black areas, which would mean that landowners would lose their freehold rights to land which they had held since 1905. The residents rejected this proposal, but in 1948, the Nationalist government incorporated Lady Selbourne into the City of Pretoria. The Pretoria Council and the Nationalist government promised the White population that numbers in the township would be reduced while demands for labour would still be met. At this stage, it was clear that the government was preparing for the area’s destruction.

The decreased demand for labour by the 1960s prompted the government to revisit areas like Lady Selbourne, which was seen as a threat to White areas nearby. During this time, influx control was tightened and due to the recovery of the economy between 1948 and 1970, many Blacks were displaced from areas close to the city centres.

Lady Selbourne was one of these areas, and because the township no longer conformed to the State’s urban residential needs for employment, it was placed under severe pressure and had to be removed. The problem was made worse by White neighbouring residents who complained about overcrowding and sanitary problems in the area.

This gave the government the excuse they needed to get rid of the township. The government used health as a reason to dispossess the people of Lady Selbourne of their land. The residents of Lady Selbourne retaliated by supporting organisations like the ANC and PAC. The residents were also active participants in campaigns like the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the Bus Boycott of 1957 which presumably aggravated the state’s desire to remove the local residents.

When the Group Areas Act was introduced in 1950, the government realised that the Act could not affect Lady Selbourne since it was a designated Native area and the Act referred to non-Native Trust and Land Act 18 of 1836 and the Natives Urban Consolidation Act of 1945. The Act was not to be applied to areas where Blacks were allowed to settle, like 'locations, 'African hostels', or 'African Villages' or any urban areas approved for the residence of Blacks. The State then had to amend the Act to target “Black Spot” areas where racial integration occurred near White areas. This proved difficult as places like Lady Selbourne were entrenched in law as Black residential areas.

Therefore, the State had to seek new strategies to effect displacement of the area. In 1955, the State passed the Natives Urban Areas Amendment Act no 16, which allowed for the abolition of any locations, Native Villages or Native hostels if it posed a health or safety risk to the general public or to any class or classes of persons. Fortunately Lady Selbourne qualified as a 'Native residence', and thus did not fall into this category. This was a cause of grave concern for the government and in 1955 the Pretoria Council met to discuss the forced removal of the residents of Lady Selbourne.

It was decided that the Pretoria City Council would ensure that Lady Selbourne was declared a Group Area, and would use the State’s legal power to achieve its goals even though the area was supported by Acts like the Native Lands Trust Act no 18 of 1936. The residents, determined to fight this, held their own meeting where they wrote a letter to the Pretoria City Council requesting the reasons for their removal and compensation for the landowners. In a blatant show of disregard, the State did not even respond to this letter.

By 1956, the Pretoria City Council was determined to destroy Lady Selbourne but needed an Act to support it. This was engineered in 1956 with the passing of the Group Areas Amendment Act, which gave the Group Areas Board the power to deal with areas approved for the residence of Blacks. By March 1956, the Pretoria City Council surveyed all properties, a clear indication that they were preparing for forced removals.

In June 1958, Proclamation 150 and 151 were passed, which declared the areas that would be subject to forced removals. This included Lady Selbourne, which was placed under Schedule 11 Section (n) and (m) respectively. The dates for removal were not specified, and many people were not given any correspondence from government on this matter and were forced to move when policemen showed up, took their belongings and destroyed their homes.

Many residents claimed that their homes were bulldozed at the last minute, not giving them enough time to pack their belongings. However, there were some residents who claim to have received some correspondence from the government informing them of the removals and resettlement. Sadly, according to the Bantu Prohibition of Interdicts Act no 64 of 1956, the people were prohibited from seeking any disputes, interdicts or even suspending their removals.

The National government made sure that areas like Lady Selbourne would not happen again in the future and passed Government Notice 889 in the Government Gazette 6235 which replaced Government Notice 946 of 1936, effectively destroying Non-White freehold and tenancy rights in the township. If Black landlords wished to sell their properties to whites, then they had to obtain the approval of the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development. Property owners were given the option of selling their plots/stands to the City Council. The final nail was delivered by Proclamation no 104 of 20 October 1961, which declared Lady Selbourne a White area.


Although removals started in November 1961, the residents tried several strategies, including meetings, petitions and legal action to slow the government’s plans. The residents were supported by organisations like the ANC, PAC and the Progressive Party.

In 1954, a 'Resist Apartheid Campaign' was launched to encourage residents to resist removals.

A meeting was held on 31st May 1955 where it was concluded that forced removals would destroy worker productivity since resettlement areas were far from the city centre. It would also destroy the spirit of the community. At meetings held on 10th and 28th October 1955, a letter was drafted and addressed to the City Council demanding reasons for removal.

When the residents did not receive a response, a demonstration was organised in August 1960 by the Lady Selbourne Village Committee to protest against the loss of freehold titles, financial hardships and the absence of allocated resettlement areas. At the same time the Black Sash declared that resettlement based on ethnicity was unjust.

Various other groups like the Pretoria Action Group, the Council for Human Rights, the Methodist Church, the Progressive Party and the Pretoria District Coloured Vigilance Association all opposed and declared the removals discriminatory. Residents then took up their case to the Supreme Court in Pretoria and were victorious but lost their battle when the case was taken to the Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein.

By the late 1960s, the local residents of Lady Selbourne had exhausted all domestic resistance strategies and now looked to approach the United Nations for assistance. They drew up a petition in April 1961 with 5000 signatures arguing that Lady Selbourne should not become a White area. However, this spurred the government to speed up removals, which had already begun in November 1960.

In a show of resistance, most landlords waited for their turn to be forcibly removed. Although unsuccessful, the residents of Lady Selbourne were not afraid to display their rejection of resettlement. They acted in solidarity and proved that Black assertiveness and politicization was a formidable force in Lady Selbourne.

Forced Removals

When the State passed legislation which declared Lady Selbourne a 'Group Area', it undermined local perceptions of their sense of self and history. The different race groups were resettled as follows: Coloureds in Eersterus and Derdepoort, Indians in Laudium, Blacks in Ga-Rankuwa, Mamelodi, Mabopane and Atteridgeville The government used houses and land to entice the tenants and although the prospect of occupying their own space excited some tenants, many regretted parting with friends and losing touch with their community.

For the former landlords, the removals had humiliating and destructive results. Some could not afford to buy plots in the new areas; others could not make enough money from the sale of their homes in Lady Selbourne to purchase other homes and thus had to become tenants. One has to bear in mind that the landlords were not compensated for their losses.

Residents complained that the new houses in which they were resettled were not completed when they arrived as construction only started in 1961. Others complained that their new homes were a lot smaller than the houses in Lady Selbourne.  In addition, most of these townships lacked facilities like electricity and transport, and an insufficient number of shops were available.

By 1973, all residents from Lady Selbourne were removed and all houses were demolished. By the mid-1970s the Pretoria City Council surveyed the township and altered its layout. The area was renamed Suiderberg and all street names were replaced with the names of Boer victories in the Second South African War.


Lady Selbourne consisted of a community that had a sense of unity and a sense of belonging. It was through this unity that they were able to see past their racial, religious and cultural differences. A strong community spirit was alive in Lady Selbourne which was demonstrated in their efforts to stand together and oppose all efforts to remove them.

The land in the area was important to them as it was fertile and centrally situated, making it easier to survive by cultivating and/or working in the city.

Forced removals meant that the people had to let go of their history and start afresh elsewhere, without historical continuity. The community now remains only in the memory of those who were once residents of the long gone Lady Selbourne.


The Indian presence in South Africa came about due to a labour problem experienced on the sugar cane plantations in Natal during the nineteenth century.

The Indians were brought under a system of indentured labour but after their period of contract had ended, they were given the option to be re-indentured or to return to India. Another option presented to them was to take up land as free men.

It is believed that former indentured Indians entered the Transvaal as early as 1881, but records show that this took place in 1896. They were followed by a new group of Indians who were free or passenger Indians, mainly made up of traders.

In 1885, the ZAR passed Law 3 of 1885, which empowered the government to specify the areas where Asians could reside. In 1896, this law was amended to limit property ownership in these areas. This gave birth to the creation of the Asiatic Bazaar in Pretoria.

This area was divided into three sections: the southern part was allocated to the Coloureds and was known as the “Cape Location”; the northern part was allocated to the Black population of Pretoria and the Indians were given areas north and south of Boom Street, which became known as the Asiatic Bazaar.

By 1900, many Indians were living in Prinsloo and Church Streets. Some also lived in a low-lying area on the northern side of town, close to the Apies River.

The Asiatic Bazaar was a very small area, less than one square kilometer, and soon became dilapidated due to neglect. The homes in the Asiatic Bazaar were simple structures made from wood and corrugated iron. People cooked on open fires and coal stoves. There were only two tarred roads, namely Boom Street and Bloed Street, and the rest were corrugated tracks made by men and animals.

The first Indians in the Asiatic Bazaar made a living by hawking different commodities such as fruit, vegetables, glassware, clothing and blankets. Many of them prospered with this trade and were able to purchase things like motorcars, which improved their mobility and income.

Later, the Indians were allowed to own shops built near the Pretoria Station and later in Church, Prinsloo and Pretorius Streets.

By 1908, there were 150 hawkers, 62 retail traders, 34 fruiterers, two eating house owners, seven butchers and 25 launders, according to the official figures of traders holding certificates of registration as provided by the Asiatic Law Amendment Act No 2 of 1907. It is likely that the numbers were higher as many were trading without licenses.

In 1950, the government passed the Group Areas Act, which forced the Indian people to move from the Asiatic Bazaar to a residential area south west of Pretoria known as Laudium. This was the beginning of total segregation between the races.

The Asiatic Bazaar was declared an industrial area and the government hoped to make it a commercial centre. This marked the end of a vibrant, colourful community whose unity will always be remembered by those who lived there.

This section on Asiatic Bazaar is an edited excerpt from the following thesis: Chinappa, K. (1984) The History of the Asiatic Bazaar in Pretoria (1885-1914). Honours Thesis, University of Durban-Westville, Durban.

Collections in the Archives