A History of the Townships

Townships throughout South Africa reflect the impact of the racist policies of segregation that have affected the majority of South Africans since the earliest days of colonisation.
From the early 1900's, and during the apartheid era, the cities were deemed to be for white only. Laws were passed to limit the number of Africans in the cities and townships were created to accommodate and control those who were allowed into the cities to work. A perception was cultivated that the permanent place for Africans was in designated rural areas known as Bantustans or "homelands". So the accommodation provided was mostly single-sex hostels for migrant workers. And for many years, it was illegal for workers' wives and children to live with them.
In 1948, when the Nationalist Party came to power and legalized apartheid, control of Africans became stronger and more brutal. Africans were not allowed in parks or at the beaches, buses and trains were segregated. Even bridges were divided down the middle.
The establishment of South Africa's townships served to create and entrench urban racial segregation and to some exent they still do so despite the State's Reconstruction and Development Programme. Nevertheless, there is a sense of "ubuntu" (humanity) in Cape Town Townships, and the sense of community and neighbourliness in strong. This is where people have always fought against the odds for a place to call home.
The first Township in Cape Town was established in mid February 1901 when bubonic plague hit the city and Africans were identified as a health hazard. By 19 March 1901, over 5000 people had been moved to a state farm called Uitvlugt, now known as Ndabeni. Dockworkers living in hostels on the foreshore (now the site of the V & A Waterfront) were given just a few hours to collect their belongings and were dumped at Uitvlught.
From the start, no strangers were allowed to stay more than 24 hours. Liquor was banned, women were not allowed to stay overnight and arrivals had to present themselves to a Superintendent who would give them an identity card and a place to live. At first Africans responded by refusing to pay rent, but defaulters were arrested and forced to leave the city.
In 1918, a flu epidemic created another wave of fear. Again Africans were identified as a health risk and Ndabeni was felt to be too close to the white suburbs. Africans were moved to Langa, which is cut off from the city by railway lines and a Highway. This process of forcibly removing people from their homes was common all over South Africa before 1990. Despite massive efforts from the authorities to keep more Africans out of Cape Town, Langa was soon too small to contain the people flocking to the city and several other townships were set up. Guguletu was established in 1958.
Most accommodation in the townships consisted of single-sex hostel compounds where the men would sleep in dormitories. Obviously there was no privacy and the hostels were always badly overcrowded. Cooking facilities were inadequate and toilets and showers were communal.
Women were officially not allowed in the hostels and were discouraged from being in the city at all. The rational was that there were migrant workers, their families were meant to stay in the rural areas and live off the money sent back, the meagre wages were not enough to support families, and women had no choice but to seek work in the cities.
In the 50's employers began to demand a more stable workforce and low-cost houses were built using a small range of materials and a standardized design. The image of relentless rows of identical "matchbox houses" symbolizes the state regimentation of African communities. A front door opens on to a livingroom, from which doors lead to 2 bedrooms. The kitchen is at the back of the house with one or 2 taps, single tap outside in the front & a toilet & a small bathroom at the back. In many of these houses there is still only cold water.
Some of the hostels are now being converted into semi-detached family units by the City Council.

Anti Pass Campaigns & the Langa Shootings

Despite all the obstacles they faced, people continued to flock to the cities searching for work. Police constantly carried out pass raids and anyone found without a pass was arrested or deported back to their "homeland".
In 1955, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets throughout the country, led by the ANC Women's League, to protest against the pass laws. And in the late 50's, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan African National Congress (PAC) organised anti-pass campaigns that gained massive popular support. The PAC called for a protest march on 21 March 1960 and thousands responded nationwide. The plan was for protesters to leave their passes at home and march to the nearest police station for arrest. They aimed to fill the prisons to overflowing and make influx control unworkable.
On 21 March 1960, a crowd of 6000 gathered in Langa, planning to march to Langa Police station. The police arrived and said that a march would be seen as an attack on the police. Kgosana asked people to dispurse and reconvene at 6pm that evening. That afternoon, the police send in massive reinforcements and, just before 6pm, the ordered the crowd to disperse and made 2 baton charges. The crowd retaliated by throwing stones. The police opened fire, five people were killed and many injured.
That night the Pass Offices, Municipal offices, & other buildings were set alight. Roads were blocked to keep out the fire brigade and the police. The next morning the plice raided the hostels and beat up many of the occupants. Phillip Kgosana went into hiding, but emerged to meet with Patrick Duncan, a prominent liberal, and Anton Rupert, a tobacco magnate. Kgosana spent the next few days trying to put pressure on these business leaders, hoping that they would appear to the apartheid government to do away with the pass laws. Meanwhile his PAC comrades battled to get food past the police barricades into the townships.
The Langa March

In the early hours of Wednesday 30 March 1960, the government declared a State of Emergency in the townships. Police broke into several homes, arresting people. Shooting at those attempting to escape. This triggered a spontaneous march of people from Langa and Nyanga to the centre of Cape Town.
The weather that day was humid which was taken as a sign that "icamagu livumile", the ancestors have agreed that the March should go ahead. Phillip Kgosana took the lead. The march moved along the N1. Thousands more joined at Mowbray railway station and the 30 000 strong procession headed along De Waal Drive and down the city centre. The marchers were peaceful, cheerful and unthreatening, obeying a strict injunction against violence. Meanwhile the police and army were digging in machine gun embankments around Parliament and helicopters whirred ominously overhead.
In answer to a request by the Detective Head Constable of Cape Town, Kgosana agreed not to march to Parliament and headed instead to the police headquarters at Caledon Square. There the Police Chief, Ignatius Terblanche, on instructions from the Minister of Justice, promised to arrange a meeting between them and Kgosana on condition that the marchers returned home.
Kgosana agreed and persuaded the marchers to leave. That evening, when Kgosana arrived for the meeting he was arrested. Riots erupted in the townships and the police, the army and the navy invaded the townships, stopping food supplies and using batons, crowbars and guns to beat the people into submission.
On Thursday 7 April 1960, the final crushing blow was delivered when police arrested 1500 people. Phillip Kgosana later managed to flee the country and sought exile in Lesotho and Tanzania.
On 16 June 1976, 20 000 schoolchildren in Soweto began to protest a government decision that Afrikaans should be used as one of the languages of instruction in Secondary Schools. The student resistance quickly spread in other areas, and, by August, youth from Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu were engaged in running battles with the police.
The student unrest spread in the "coloured" schools and students were united across the colour line.In September workers joined the protest. Industries in the areas were hit by strikers and the economy of the region began to suffer.
Many students were killed or injured. While others were arrested and held in detention without trial. Thousands of young people left the country and joined the military wings of the ANC and PAC.
The apartheid government was put under a lot of pressure from 1976 onwards. Local resistance grew steadily, while the International community imposed economic and cultural sanctions and expelled South African from the Commonwealth and other International Organisations.
The government responded with still more aggression and was met by yet another wave of popular resistance as students, women's & civic organisations united in the early 1980's under the banner of the United Democratic Front (U.D.F.).
In Cape Town the sroty of the "Guguletu 7" is one of the most callous examples of security force operations. On 3 March 1986, 7 young activists were in a white minibus, apparently being driven to a job interview. Unknown to them the driver was a member of the security forces, one Sgt.Thbelo Mbelo, and police were waiting for the car at a roadblock ahead.When they saw the minibus the police opened fire and all 7 activists were killed. The police planted guns and hand grenades at the scene and reported that "terrorists" had attacked them.
Resistance continued. In 1990, the liberation organisations were unbanned and negotiations towards the first democratic election began.
In1996 the families of the "Guguletu 7" appeared before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) asking for the truth about how their sons had died. In November the following year the perpetrators applied for amnesty and confessed to the details of the killings. A memorial now stands at the place where the Guguletu 7 were killed on NY1.
During the negotiation process sporadic attacks continued to be carried out by forces across the political spectrum. In 1993, a young American studying at the University of Cape Town, Amy Biehl, was stoned and stabbed to death by young PAC supporters in Guguletu. (NY1) The killers of Amy Biehl appealed for, and were granted, amnesty through the TRC.
1901 - Cape Town's first African location is estab at Uitvlugt.

1910 - Union of South Africa is formed.

1912 - The Native Nationalist Congress, later called African Nationalist Congress (ANC) is formed

1913 - The Land Act is passed allocating approx. 13% of the most infertile & marginal land in SA to tribal African reserves, als knows oas "Bantustans" or "homelands". Over 80% of SA's populations are to live in these areas.

1920 - The Native Affairs Act is passed to provide for the

1923 - The Native Urban Areas Act is passed which deems the urban areas white & forces all African men in cities & towns to carry permits called "passes" at all times. Anyone found without a pass would be arrested immediately & sent to a rural area.

Langa township is established.

1934 - The Slum Act is passed resulting in the destruction of areas like District Six, which were claimed to be slums.

1936 -Africans who were allowed to vote in the Cape were disenfranchised.

1948 - National Party to power.
Nyanga East township is established.

1949 - The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act is passed making it illegal to marry across the colourline and outlawing mixed marriages.

1950 - The Group Areas Act is passed to forcibly remove all "Non-Europeans" from areas that were deemed to be white. By 1966, over 55,000 people are removed from District Six in the name of orderly progress.

1951 - The Prohibition of Illegal Squatters Act gives the provincial governments and local authorities powers to destroy "illegal" squatter communities.

1952 - Amendments to the Native Urban Areas Act 1923 forces women to carry passes.

The Defiance Campaign, a campaign of non-violent resistance is launched by the ANC.

1955 - Thousands of women countrywide march against pass laws.

The Freedom Charter is launched/
Nyanga East township is extended to include Mau Mau location.

1955 - 1960 - Treason Trial of 156 activists.

1958 - Nyanga West, now called Guguletu is established.

1959 - Splits in the ANC lead to the formation of the Pan Africa Congress. (PAC).

1960 - PAC & ANC launch Anti-Pass Campaign.

1961 - The "Sobukwe Clause" enacted by Parliament. This clause is subsequently revisited ech year to keep Robert Sobukwe in prison.

1962 - The ANC & PAC are banned and Nelson MANDELA is arrested.

1963 - The Western Cape is declared a Coloured Labour Preference Area, making it even more difficult for Africans to find jobs here.

1968 - The formation of South African Students Organisation.

1970 - The Black Consciousness Movement emerges led by Steve BIKO.

1976 - Student uprisings countrywide, supported by workers.
SA is expelled from the Commonwealth and the UNO. Sport & Cultural sanctions are applied against South Africa

1980's- The government launches it's total strategy, a programme of cosmetic reforms combined with low intensity warefare against all forms of resistance.

1983 - United Democratic Front (UDF) is formed.

1985 - State of Emergency is declared, repression intensifies.

1986 - The brutal killing of the Guguletu 7.

1990 - Release of political prisoners
Unbanning of the liberation organisations.


1993 - Killing of Amy Biehl.

1994 - First Democratic Elections.
Inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
Land Restitution Act passed.
Human Rights are enshrined into the Constitution.

1997 - Truth and Reconciliation hearing begin.

1999 -
The Second Democratic Elections.
Inauguration of Thabo Mbeki.
TRC hearings continue.

2000 - Memorial to Guguletu 7 unveiled on NY1
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