«STRUCTURE AND EXPERIENCE IN THE MAKING OFAPARTHEID 6-10 February 1990 AUTHOR: Iain Edwards and Tim Nuttall TITLE: Seizing the moment : the January ...»
Some political activists, particularly those connected to the Communist Party, saw in the national co-operative movement a means of transforming property relations in the city through collective ownership.45 In Durban the proletarian consciousness inspired by cooperative activities was more that of ethnic populism rather than proto-socialist transformation. The co-operatives offered a chance to increase African participation in the existing commercial system, not to transform it. From its inception in the mid 1940s the popular co-operative movement had been a distinctively 'African', and even more narrowly a 'Zulu' phenomenon, drawing racial, national, and ethnic boundaries to advance material interests.
Perhaps the most innovative and bold scheme was that launched by Victor Mallie in
1946. Mallie probably saw the growth of individual African businesses arising through the co-operatives as inevitable and also wanted to focus on manufacture; an area ignored within the co-operatives. He envisaged an industrial school for the training of African artisans. Since there were no state training schemes and African urban
44. Edwards, 'Mkhumbane', Chapter 2.45. M Kotane, Let's Do It Together (Cape Town, 1946). 13
Trained workers would then be available for work in African-owned factories and businesses. Mallie also called for an African boycott of non-African traders, and the isolating of white and Indian domestic or commercial employers who either treated their labourers badly or who did not employ sufficient Africans. Africans should withdraw their labour from such employers." Here Mallie tapped into a generalized grievance against conditions of domestic employment and Indian refusal to employ Africans in their shops. The ANC Women's League also constantly stressed this point.
In the racial structures of Durban's market relations, the most immediate obstacles to African economic advance were commonly seen to be Indians. Indian traders continually 'extracted' money from African consumers. Indian workers appeared to keep Africans out of better jobs, restricting the income African men brought into households. The cooperatives sought to redirect African buying power; they were explicitly anti-Indian in sentiment.47 From 1947 the real wages of African workers dropped sharply.48 For African consumers the prices of goods in Indian stores were tangible indices of declining living standards.
During the late 1940s, then, when the few established African traders, such as those represented on the Locations Advisory Board, articulated their long-standing hostility towards the Indian trading class, their nationalist language struck a chord that ran deep.
When the few licensed African traders called for the literal implementation of segregation, for African-only trade in African areas, this was echoed in the popular cooperatives. White power and domination were long-range targets of the grassroots and communal 'economic movement' amongst Durban's Africans during the late 1940s; in the short-term it was generally agreed that 'Indian' power was a central obstacle to 'African' advancement.
Indian-owned buses were to be a target of violent attacks by African commuters during and after the 1949 conflict. Unlike the case of Indian traders, this was not an immediately obvious terrain of African-Indian tension. There were no precedents earlier in the decade of collective action by Africans On the issue of public transport. This was interesting, because during the 1940s bus transport became a volatile and explosive issue in many urban centres, particularly on the Rand.* The transport question had the potential to unite various class interests and frustrations within black society.
46. Correspondence in NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1700-1702:6-8; Ilanga 26 January 1946 and 14 September 1946; Edwards, 'Mkhumbane', Chapter 2.
47. Riots Commission 1949, evidence, pp.163-9, 304-305.
48. Katzen, Industry, p.25.
49. See for example, T. Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa since 1945 (London, Longman, 1983), pp.13-15.
14 Durban had a distinctive history of public transport for black commuters.30 The municipality was notorious for its neglect of black transport, earning censure from a provincial commission of enquiry in 1946. In the aftermath of the commission certain local officials and city councillors began to toy with the idea of a municipal monopoly over all public transport in the city. At one level this was part of the new post-war commitment to thorough-going urban planning. At another level this suggestion was part of a white ratepayers' campaign to roll back Indian economic interests, in conjunction with Group Areas agitation. Since the 1920s Indian busowners had pioneered black public transport in the Added Areas, organizing themselves into the Bus Owners Association. The 1930 Motor Transportation Act had the ironic effect in Durban of strengthening the hand of existing Indian licensees.
It was into this situation of municipal neglect, policy flux, and Indian dominance that a handful of aspirant African busowners entered during the late 1940s. Hopes had been raised after 1945 by the granting of African-only licences on the routes to Clermont township near Pinetown and parts of the Inanda district north of Durban. Rising African business hopes were channelled into a racial discourse, identifying Indian bus operators in the burgeoning African shack areas as 'foreigners' whose licences should be transferred to Africans in the name of segregation. The major channels by which African traders sought to secure bus licences were the Native Advisory Board and the support of local Native Affairs officials. In the expanding Durban transport market, however, segregation principles ran up against the established interests of the existing busowners, whether municipal or Indian, who used a sympathetic local Transportation Board to block a number of African applications during die 1940s. The most publicized example was the failure of African operators to gain licences to Lamont township in 1948." By 1949 there were seven municipal, no African, and 33 Indian buses on the populous Wiggins/Booth Road route into the heart of Cato Manor.53 If there were material reasons for frustrated African entrepreneurs to articulate antiIndian sentiments, this was less so for the thousands of African commuters who travelled on Indian-run buses. Durban had experienced no bus boycotts or comparable action during the 1940s. Due to the hilly topography of the city the shantytowns were relatively close to the main commercial and industrial areas. Many African commuters did not face the prospect of lengthy journeys to faraway townships. A second important point was the stability of fares on Indian buses throughout the 1940s: a remarkable phenomenon amidst inflation and war-time shortages of parts and fuel. The most obvious source of popular frustration - amongst both Africans and Indians - was the
50. Unless stated, the details for this section are from Natal Provincial Administration, Report... Durban Passenger Transport (1946) (hereafter Scott/Baldwin report); Riots Commission 1949, evidence, pp.317-330, 348, 351.
See also L. Torr, 'A Ticket to Drive: The Struggle over African Bus Services in Durban, 1930-1960', paper presented to the Conference on the History of Natal and Zululand, University of Natal, Durban, July 1985.
51. L. Torr, The Social History of an Urban African Community: Lamont 1930MA, University of Natal, 1985, pp.144-156; NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1580,323B, 2: Bus Owners Association memo to Riots Commission.
52. Torr, Ticket', p.8.
53. NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1580, 323B, 2: Durban transportation board hearing, 25 February 1949.
15 segregation of municipal buses operating in the city centre and white suburbs. A few seats were demarcated for black passengers. Once these were full no more blacks were allowed to board, even if the rest of the bus was empty. On the Durban North route, operated by a private white company, black passengers were only allowed to travel if they possessed a certificate from their white madams.5' Indian-run buses did not segregate on racial grounds, but they generated their own forms of customer dissatisfaction.55 Indian buses were few and infrequent. The sparse roads of the shack areas necessitated long walks to bus stops, followed by tedious queues. Only a handful of Indian buses operated ticket systems; none of the conductors wore uniforms. In the jam-packed buses, many of which had both front and rear doors, the payment and charging of fares was often a disputed business. This was especially so during weekends at Cato Manor when thousands of shebeen patrons from the hostels rode back to the city centre. Physical violence on the buses was common. Such conditions affected African and Indian passengers alike. To understand why Indian buses became a distinct target of massed African anger and boycott action during and after the riots we need to await examination of how the riots started and progressed, and how racially defined 'situational identities' were generated through the conflict.56 The 1949 conflict is still remembered by some as the 'War of Cato Manor". This is not surprising. For a key theme of January 1949 was the African struggle for land and residential rights in the city. The violence was at one level a mass rejection of state housing policy as it had developed by the late 1940s. This rejection took an explosive form: the destruction of an Indian residential presence in the squatter districts of the city, especially Cato Manor.
From the late 19th century onwards the Durban municipal area was effectively closed to Indian landownership, with the exception of the 'Indian quarter' around Grey Street.
Aspirant Indian property owners were forced to look beyond the municipal boundaries where, without state hindrance, they bought up substantial land north of the Umgeni river, south of the Umbilo river, and west of the Berea ridge.57 Much of the land was originally used for market gardening, but plots became residential as population density increased. Many thousands of Indian families began paying off small plots on instalment.58 These districts became known as the Added Areas when they were brought under municipal control in 1933. The central concern of the municipality, and the central state when it began to intervene during the 1940s, was not to exclude Indians from property ownership in the city, but to restrict this ownership to defined areas.
If state policy discriminated against Indians relative to whites, Africans were even worse
54. Edwards, 'Mkhumbane', Chapter 1.
55. Torr, Ticket', p.ll.
56. For a useful discussion of this concept see E. Boonzaier and J. Sharp (eds.), South African Keywords: The Uses and Abuses of Political Concepts (Cape Town: David Philip, 1988), pp.96-99.
57. H.C. Brookfield and M.A. Tatham, 'The Distribution of Racial Groups in Durban: the Background of Apartheid in a South African City", The Geographical Review 47, 1 (1957), pp.57-58.
58. NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1580, 323B, 2: Natal Indian Organization (NIO) memo to Riots Commission, 11 March 1949.
16 off. Durban had been notoriously reluctant to accept permanent African residence, let alone property ownership. By the 1940s the city's native policy was still geared around a migrant labour system, based on service contract passes and single-sex hostels situated in the city centre. Durban effectively rejected the principle of large scale township housing embodied in the 1923 Urban Areas Act. By 1949 two thousand township houses and flats had been built, designed to accommodate around 10 000 of the estimated ISO 000 Africans in Durban. Municipal hostels packed in at least 15 000 residents.
Government, railway and private hostels accounted for a further 30 000 people." A handful of African traders, professionals and clerics had obtained the elusive permission of the governor general to buy land in the city. Africans owned only 0.1% of the value of Durban's immovable property.60 Durban's highly restrictive African housing policy made little impression on the scale of African settlement in the city. Starting in the 1920s, but escalating sharply from the late 1930s, thousands of rural immigrants began to rent shack sites. Landlords varied from the South African Railways, to white and Indian absentee smallholders, to Indian householders in the more densely settled districts of the Added Areas. A focal point of shack settlement became the predominantly Indian-owned Cato Manor area just west of the Berea ridge. In 1939 there were an estimated 2 500 African squatters in this district. By 1949, aided by the inauguration of a bus service to the nearby township of Chesterville, over 50 000 squatters had made their home in Cato Manor."
One observer described Cato Manor in 1947 as 'a recently disturbed anthill'.62 The area was far more than a demographic phenomenon, however. It was a contested urban space, the main focus of a specifically African struggle for land and urban rights in a city which had consistently denied these. The small Mkhumbane area of Cato Manor Farm became a territorial and ideological symbol central to the squatter populism of the late 1940s.63 Influential Zionist preachers in the shantytowns called Mkhumbane the 'promised land'. Through both the co-operative movement and the emergence of new forms of squatter leadership, Cato Manor embodied alternative structures of economic and political power in the hostile city.
For state and capital, shacks cheapened the social reproduction of African labour but posed threats of health and political control. The response of the municipality was characteristically ambivalent, a local manifestation of the indecisive state of the 1940s.
Using the Slums Act, police raids, and squatter surveys the Corporation sought to
59. University of Natal, Department of Economics, The Durban Housing Survey (Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press, 1952), p.335-338; NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1504, 290P, 1: Durban City Council memo to Broome Commission 1947, p. 6/1. Municipal compounds were heavily overcrowded. Officially, Somtseu Road hostel, for example, had 4 500 beds in 1949; unofficially, 8 000 people resided there. See Natal Mercury. 4 February 1949.