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The Sanitation Syndrome: Bubonic Plague and Urban Native Policy in the Cape Colony, 1900–19091

  • Maynard W. Swanson (a1)

Infectious disease and concepts of public health, operating as societal metaphors, seem to have exercised a powerful influence on the origins and development of urban segregation in South Africa. Between 1900 and 1904 bubonic plague, threatening major centres, occasioned the mass removal of African urban populations to hastily established locations at the instigation of medical authorities and other government officials under the emergency provisions of the public health laws. Inchoate urban policy, under tentative consideration since the 1890s as economic development and social change began to stimulate black urban migration, was precipitated by this episode into specific legislation and permanent administration. Cape Town and Port Elizabeth were the two foci of this development in the Cape Colony, where the government locations at Ndabeni and New Brighton exemplify the process. These moves and the effort to consolidate them were to a large degree frustrated by practical administrative, legal, economic and human factors which have characterized the anomalies and contradictions of urban location policy ever since. A black ‘middle class’ resisted the loss of property rights and clung to aspirations of economic and social mobility or legal independence. Especially at Port Elizabeth, where independent peri-urban settlements proliferated, white officials and politicians laboured in an administrative and legal quagmire. White employers and black migrants proved only marginally amenable to location concepts modelled on the principles of quarantine. But ‘the sanitation syndrome’, equating black urban settlement, labour and living conditions with threats to public health and security, became fixed in the official mind, buttressed a desire to achieve positive social controls, and confirmed or rationalized white race prejudice with a popular imagery of medical menace. These issues of urban social order would be repeated again in connexion with such dire events as the 1918 influenza epidemic as the foundations of Union-wide policy and law were laid during and after World War I.

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2 Swanson, M. W., ‘Urban Origins of Separate Development’, Race, x (1968), 3140, esp. 37; ‘Reflections on the Urban History of South Africa’, in Watts, H. L., ed. Focus on Cities (Durban, 1970), 142–9, esp. 147; ‘“The Durban System”: Roots of Urban Apartheid in Colonial Natal’, African Studies, xxxv, 3 and 4 (12 1976), 159–76.

3 Patterson, K. David, ‘Disease and Medicine in African History’, History in Africa, i (1974), 142.

4 Comhaire, J. L. L., Aspects of Urban Administration in Tropical and Southern Africa, Communications from the School of African Studies, University of Cape Town, n.s. no. 27 (1953). 23, 27.

5 Southall, Aidan W. and Gutkind, Peter C. W., Townsmen in the Making. Kampala and Its Suburbs (Kampala, 1957), 611. Gray, Richard, The Two Nations (Oxford, 1960), 108–9, 118, 252 ff. Reader, D.H., The Black Man's Portion (Cape Town, 1961), 1113, 18, 23.

6 LaFontaine, J. S., City Politics. A Study of Leopoldville, 1962–63 (Cambridge, 1970), 19.

7 Gann, L. H. and Duignan, Peter, ‘Changing Patterns of a White Elite’, in Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960, vol. ii, History and Politics of Colonialism (Cambridge, 1970), 138–9. Maude, John, City Government. The Johannesburg Experiment (Oxford, 1938), 70.

8 Betts, Raymond F., ‘The Problem of the Medina in the Urban Planning of Dakar, Senegal’, Urban African Notes, iv, 3 (09 1969), 515, and ‘The Establishment of the Medina in Dakar, Senegal, 1914’, Africa, xli, 1 (Jan. 1971), 143–52.

9 Stren, Richard, ‘Urban Policy in Africa: A Political Analysis’, African Studies Review, xv, 3 (12 1972), 489516, esp. 493–4.

10 Langer, William L., ‘History's Next Assignment’, American Historical Review lxiii, 2 (12 1957), 283304.

11 McGrew, Roderick E., Russia and the Cholera, 1823–1832 (Madison and Milwaukee, 1965), ch. I, passim and p. 156. Cf. Alexander, John T., ‘Catherine ii, Bubonic Plague, and Industry in Moscow’, American Historical Review, lxxix, 3 (06 1974) 670–1, and Chevalier, Louis, Le Choléra: La Première Epidémie du XIXe Siècle (La Roche-Sur-Yon, 1958).

12 Jones, Gareth Stedman, Outcast London. A Study of the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society (Oxford, 1971), pp. 1316, 167, 188–93, 256 ff., 289–98, 306–12, 330–2.

13 Natal Mercury, 24 Mar., 13 Dec. 1870; Durban, Mayor's Minutes 1891, and 1870–93 passim.

14 Huttenback, Robert H., Gandhi in South Africa (Ithaca, 1971), 53 ff. and 77 ff.; Joshi, P. S., The Tyranny of Colour (Durban, 1942), 57.

15 Huttenback, , Gandhi, 107 ff. and 128; Joshi, , Tyranny, 50 ff.

16 Natal Mercury, 2 and 3 Dec. 1886.

17 Jameson, William (Durban Borough Councillor) to Shepstone, Theophilus, and Shepstone to Jameson, 3 and 5 Aug. 1881, Natal Archives, Shepstone Collection, Box 17. Cf. Wolfson, Freda, ‘Some Aspects of Native Administration under Theophilus Shepstone 1857–1865’, unpubl. M.A. thesis (Witwatersrand, 1946), 67–8.

18 For the process by which urban apartheid was precipitated in Natal at this time see Swanson, M. W., ‘“The Durban System”: Roots of Urban Apartheid in Colonial Natal’.

19 Pollitzer, R., Plague, The World Health Organization (Geneva, 1954), ch. 1.

20 Cape Town Mayor's Minutes (MM), 19001901, 169–70 and cxxxix-cxli, Report of the Medical Officer of Health (MOH).

21 A term used by the Police Superintendent of Durban, describing conditions in that city to the South African Native Affairs Commission, 1903–5, Evidence, iii, 640–58.

22 Ibid. 205; MM 1904–5 Appendix 10 (Census of 1904).

23 MM 1900–1, cxl, 172–3.

24 MM 1899–1900, 53; MM 1900–1, 179–80. See MacQuarrie, J. W., ed., The Reminiscences of Sir Walter Stanford, vol. ii (Cape Town, 1962), 213. Stanford gives the impression that the Uitvlugt location was established before the plague, but the commission's recommendation did not appear until after the city council had appealed to the government on 14 Feb. 1901.

25 Public Health Act (No. 4 of 1883) as amended by Act No. 23 of 1897. Section 15: ‘In cases of urgent necessity arising from the prevalence or threatened outbreak in any district of infectious disease… it shall be lawful for the Minister to make and proclaim such regulations to be in force within such districts as may be required to prevent the outbreak, or check the progress of, or eradicate such disease’. Cape of Hope, Good, Acts of Parliament 3741–70. Cf. Stanford, 's Reminiscences, ii, 214, n. 3.

26 MM 1900–1, 180. Cape of Good Hope Native Affairs Blue Book (NABB) 1901 [G25–1902] 81–9, ‘Report on Uitvlugt Location’. NA598/1525, ‘Papers Relating to Natives Living Outside Locations in Urban Areas, 1901–6’, Govt. Notices 237, 52 Mar. 1901, and 577, 24 June 5905. (All archival Citations are from Cape Archives.)

27 MM 1900–1, 169–79.

28 Cases in point were the Indwe Company's coal mines near Molteno in the eastern Cape and the DeBeers dynamite factory at Somerset West near Cape Town. NA625/1988, ‘Matters in Connection with Native Location Acts, 1893–1906’, Minute Paper No. 304, Stanford, W. E. (Supt. of Native Affairs) to Prime Minister, 6 June 1899.

29 Cape Times, 27 July 1899, ‘Second Reading Debate, Native Labour Locations Bill’, N A 625/1988.

31 n. 25 above.

32 NA598/1525, Gumming, W. G. (SNA) to Prime Minister (PM), 6 Dec. 1901; Municipal Clerk, Sea Point, to Gumming, 21 Mar. 1902; File of petitions, certificates and memoranda in re exemptions.

33 NABB 1902 [G29–1903], 94–6, ‘Reports on Ndabeni Location’. NABB 1903 [G12–1904], 94, ‘Report on Condition of Ndabeni’. NA533/617, ‘Papers Relating to Native Reserves Location Bill, 1902’, memoranda of Acting Assistant Resident Magistrate, Uitvlugt, 27 May 1902; W. G. Gumming to PM, 28 July 1902; DrGregory, A. John (Colonial MOH), 2 Aug. 1902. See also Seller, Alfred G. to editor, Cape Times, 23 July 1902.

34 NA598/1525, esp. memos by Cumming, W. G. to PM, 6 Dec. 1901, and Noel Janisch (Under Col. Sec.) to Town Clerk, Sea Point, 27 Mar. 1902. NA 533/617, W. G. C. to PM, 28 July 1902.

36 Ibid., Gregory to Colonial Sec, 2 Aug. 1902. Stanford, Reminiscences, 214–15, says Uitvlugt was renamed Ndabeni, using the name Africans had given to himself, at the request of black leaders, though Sprigg thought it was to celebrate his own role in the settlement.

37 NA598/1525, Gregory, to Cumming, , 8 Oct. 1902.

38 NA533/617, Gregory to Col. Sec. 2 Aug. 1902, Memorandum by W.G.C., 11 Aug. 1902.

39 Cape House of Assembly (H of A), Debates, 144–7, (8 Sept. 1902).

40 Ibid. 145, and 326–7 (29 Sept. 1902).

41 Ibid. 146.

42 Ibid. 145.

43 Ibid. 329.

44 Ibid. 654. Act 40 of 1902 was promulgated 18 Nov. 1902. Cape Government Gazette, supplement, 21 Nov. 1902, 8891.

45 NA 598/1525 Becker, W. C., Magistrate Port Elizabeth (PE) to SNA 15 Nov. 1904, and enclosures. NA597/1524, ‘Papers Relating to the Administration of Natives Location, Port Elizabeth’.

46 Report of the Select Committee on the Native Locations Act (No. 40 of 1902) [A. 15. 1903], 11.

47 Civil Commissioner (CC) to SNA, 19 Aug. 1903, D18/45, 195/03; Gregory, A. John, MOH, to Col. Sec. 1 Sept. 1903, B1792; NA597/1524, Becker, W. C., Magistrate PE to SNA., 15 Nov. 1904. NABB 1903 [G12–1904], 93.

48 NA598/1525, ‘Instructions to police officers… granting permits to Natives to reside within the limits of a municipal area’, to Town Clerk, PE, 25 Apr. 1903; PE Harbour Board protest 4 May 1903; report by Magistrate PE, and minute by SNA to PM, 15 May 1903; exemption applications; NAD telegram 622, 5 June 1903; CC telegr. 1903; Municipality of PE to SNA, 9 July 1903. See also passim for similar situation in re Ndabeni and Cape Town area. H of A, Debates, 18 June 1903; Report of Select Committee (n. 36), 10, 11, 25. Of Port Elizabeth's approximately 10,900 voters in 1905, 2,500 were non-European, of whom some 800 were listed as ‘Kaffirs’, South African Native Affairs Commission, 1903–5 Evidence, 11, 51.

49 Ibid., evidence of J. C. Kemsley, Rev. H. C. Newell, F. Makwena and A. Ross. Attempts to control Korsten under the Locations Act No. 30 of 1900 were also ineffectual: see the case of Rex v. Woolj Jafta, NA597/1524. See also Petition of Korsten siteholders to PE Town Council 27 Apr. 1904, Kemsley, J. C. to SNA 12 May 1904, Becker, W. C. to SNA. 15 Nov. 1904 and enclosure, and Gregory, A. J. to Col. Sec, 1 Sept. 1903: NA597/1524.

50 Report of Select Committee, passim, esp. 8, 9, 11, 36–9, 61, 62–7, 90–1, 101. NA597/1524, Mayor PE to SNA 12 May 1904.

51 Report of Select Committee, Makwena, and Ross, , Mackay, C. H.8894, Rees, D. C.105–8, 110.

52 Ibid.Burness, E. A., 7786.

53 Ibid. 110.

54 NA598/1525, Dower, Edward (NAD) to Sec. Public Works Dept. 18 Nov. 1905.

55 Report of Select Committee, 103–13.

56 Ibid. 1–9.

57 Ibid. 6.

58 NABB 1904 [G12–1905] Verschuur, J. A., ‘Report on PE Native Reserve Location…’, 116–17. NA597/1524, exchange of telegrams NAD and CC of PE 30 Mar. to 5 Apr. 1904. Similar frustrations bedevilled administration at Cape Town. Act 40 was suspended there in 1903. Overcrowding at Ndabeni ceased in 1904 and enforcement was resumed, but the municipalities and private employers reversed their plague-born anxieties and resisted the removal of African labour to Ndabeni. Although government officials decried the squalid conditions, the general practice was to avoid removing from the towns Africans who were employed or otherwise exempt. Even when 4,000 places were available at Ndabeni in Aug. 1904, Stanford, W. E. as SNA instructed police to leave ‘respectable’ and employed Africansalone:NA598/1525, passim; NABB 1904, iii, and 1905, 70.

59 NA597/1524, B1972, Gregory, to Col. Sec. 1 Sept. 1903.

60 Ibid.Gregory, to CC, PE, 28 Feb. 1905, in Gregory to SNA 13 Mar. 1905 (20 179/31, 20 130/31), and W. G. Cumming, memorandum on above.

61 Ibid. Telegrams nos. 346, 379, 400, 362, 432, NAD to CC, PE and replies, 30 Mar. 1904 to 9 Apr. 1904; Petition of Korsten siteholders to Mayor and Council PE, 27 Apr. 1904; and Jameson, L. S. to Mayor, , 4 May 1904 and Mayor, to Jameson, , 12 May 1904.

62 Ibid.Becker, W. C. to SNA and enclosures, 15 Nov. 1904, Detective Quirk, W. H., 31 Oct. 1904.

63 Ibid.Rees, D. C. to Chairman, , PE Plague Committee, and enclosure, 19 Nov. and 25 Sept. 1904.

64 Ibid.Becker, W. C. to SNA, 13 Dec. 1904, SNA to Asst. Res. Magis. PE, 22 Jan. 1905

65 Ibid., telegrams nos. 27s, 274, 277,143, 150, 285, 17 to 27 Mar. 1905, between Magis. PE and NAD and MOH; Newsclip, , ‘Deputations of Native Voters and Property Holders’; H of A, Debates, 1905, 278–80.

66 Ibid. 225; see also 223–9, 78–80, 312–15, 310–20.

67 NA598/1525: text of Act 8 of 1905.

68 Ibid.Newsclip, ‘First Cases under the New Act…’, 15 June 1905; Verschuur, J. A. (Magistrate New Brighton) to SNA, 28 June 1905; same to same, 20 Nov. 1905; same to same end. petition on rents, 30 July 1907 (D2/654/1907); Gilfillan, A. F. (Magis. New Brighton) to SNA 22 June 1908 (D3/198/1908).

69 Ibid.Gilfillan, to SNA, 9 Aug. 1907, ‘Report on assumption of duty…’, PM. D2/693/07.

70 See note 57; also H of A Debates 1908, 427–9, 4 Aug. 1908.

71 Roberts, to SNA, 12 Jan. 1909, PM. D269.

72 H of A Debates, 1908, 428, 4 Aug. 1908.

73 NA598/1525, Stanford, W. E. memorandum, ‘Municipal Legislation in Relation to Natives’, on N. Janisch to Stanford, 16 Jan. 1905. Prefiguring liberal views on later urban areas legislation, Stanford also argued that an African urban middle class should be encouraged in the government locations and African civil rights ought to be entrenched against arbitrary search and seizure by means of the common law requirement for warrants before police entry to any location domicile. He opposed urban pass laws as unworkable in view of the general past failure of such laws in the Colony: NA703/2845, ‘Papers Relating to Municipalities’, Stanford to Under Col. Sec. 10 Mar. 1905, and passim.

74 Scully, W. C. memorandum 31 July 1909, reply to PM request 23 July 1909, PM (ref. D/33/370). Scully was an accomplished author, well-known for his sympathy with Boer victims of the war as well as his interest in African welfare.

75 Report of the Tuberculosis Commission, 1914 [U.G. 34-'14], 125, 129, 13–39, 323.

76 For an early review of the growth of urban policy see Allison, J. S., ‘Urban Native Administration’, Race Relations, vii, 4 (1940) 5462. For the 1923 Urban Areas Act and ‘liberal’ proposals for freehold and amelioration, cf. Davenport, T.R.H., ‘African Townsmen? South African Natives (Urban Areas) Legislation Through the Years’, African Affairs, vol. 68, no. 271 (04, 1969) 98100, and Kallaway, Peter, ‘F. S. Malan, the Cape Liberal Tradition, and South African Politics 1903–1924’, J. Afr. Hist. xv, 1 (1974), 113–29, esp. 123–8. For the beer monopoly, see n. 2 above.

77 Report of the Native Affairs Department 1919–21 [U.G. 34-'22], 13.

1 The research for this article was made possible by grants from Yale University, The American Philosophical Society and Miami University of Ohio.

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