|History of South End|
South End, as a suburb, was once a cosmopolitan community. Men, women, children and families lived harmonious lives in the epicentre of cultural diversity. Blacks, whites, coloureds, Indians, Chinese, Jews, Greeks and many more were united in their attitude towards family values, faith and morals, despite the diversity of religion, language and race.
Children of all races played in the old South streets – Walmer Road, Gardner, Frere, Farie, Mitchell, Sprigg, Rudolph and Pier streets, among others. With 12 churches in South End alone, the religious element was strong and respected. These churches included Christian churches, Mosques and a Hindu Temple.
Education was another priority to the people of South End. Non-whites were not able to pursue high-end careers, but education was something that could not be denied (despite the Apartheid laws that sometimes made it very costly and difficult for non-whites). They placed an enormous value on this commodity and ensured that children gained the most benefit out of their education as possible. This bred a community of committed and intelligent youths, a valuable asset to any environment.
Sport was another area in which the South End community excelled. Again, non-whites were only able to achieve up to a certain level, and were prohibited from becoming regional or national representatives of their sport. This did not stop the South Enders, though. They were involved in, and excelled at, almost every type of sport including rugby, soccer, hockey, swimming, cricket, weightlifting, tennis, and lifesaving.
Life in South End at this time was fairly free in terms of where people lived, worked and even walked. Businesses were successfully owned and run by non-whites, and were very lucrative. Neighbours visited one another freely, sharing resources and socialising.
The suburb of South End itself was steeped in history, with beautiful buildings dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries. Such structures boasted high ceilings, wooden doors and stunning gables. Photographs of this period remind one of rural South America in its quaint antiquity and old world charm.
This vibrant, harmonious spirit was all but crushed when, in 1948, the National Party was elected to power and the Apartheid ideals were implemented. This way of ruling held the principle of “equal but separate development”, and one of the laws that came into being was that of the Group Areas Act. This required that all non-whites be ousted from “white” suburbs. This removal was carried out by force, if necessary. Coloureds, blacks and Indians of all ages were assigned to areas far away from the city centre of Port Elizabeth and certainly far away from South End. These forced removals bore many negative consequences for the ex-residents of South End. People were now forced to commute long distances to get to work, school and even church and hospitals. In addition, homes that had once housed the families and extended families of South End were destroyed without discrimination.
Coloured residents were moved to areas such as Gelvandale, Korsten, and Chetty. The Chinese people were moved to Kabega Park, Indians to Malabar and black people to townships such as New Brighton. The effect on the people who had once created the vibrancy of South End was an ideal metaphor for the transition taking place in South Africa, even today. Despite being saddened by the injustices of Apartheid, this now-split community maintained their optimism and sought to embark on positive initiatives towards racial equality.
This reaction, as well as the efforts they made as a group of non-whites, could be attributed to the strong values, religious basis and family morals that were engrained into the community in the South End days. It is in recognition of this proactively constructive approach to a tragic situation that the South End Museum was established. The museum has been designed to provide an accurate picture of the life once enjoyed in this bustling and diverse neighbourhood. More than this, it exposes some of the injustices experienced by non-whites, and it honours the key figures who lived (and sometimes died) for their eternal determination for justice and racial equality.