|The Group Areas Act|
The Apartheid Era was one of division and segregation based on the colour of one’s skin. The Group Areas Act of 1950 (Act No. 41 of 1950) was created on 27 April, the day that is today recognised as Freedom Day in the New South Africa. This act was created to split racial groups up into different residential areas of any given town or city.
The result of this act was that the best, most developed areas were reserved for the white people, while the blacks, Indians, and coloureds were assigned to the more rural outskirts of the major metropoles. 84% of the available land was granted to the white people, who made up only 15% of the total population. The 16% remaining land was then occupied by 80% of the population. This led to overcrowding, diseases, shortage of food and funds and a host of other problems. The areas assigned to the black people were dubbed the Tribal Homelands.
Once the areas were defined, anyone living in the “wrong” area was required to move, or else be forcibly removed. However, of the 3.5 million people who were required to leave the homes they had established for themselves, only 2% were white. And this group were moved to better areas than where they had been living.
Establishing the non-white areas on the outskirts of the metropole or city centre meant that they had to travel vast distances to get to work. But it also meant that they were isolated from basic amenities, such as hospitals, police stations and other emergency services. This created a sense of chaos in the homelands, an independent attempt at dealing with issues as they arose. This was dangerous for the residents, and led to many riots, outbreaks, and even deaths.
The only exceptions made were for non-whites who worked within the white suburbs, such as domestic workers. These workers were often required to stay on the white boss’ premises to avoid the daily commute and they were issued with special permission to allow for this. However, none of their family members were able to live with or even visit them. If they were found on the premises, they could be charged and imprisoned. This led to the splitting of many non-white families due to secular demands.
The assignment of areas to the black people was based on their tribal grouping, the record of which was often incorrect. The plan was that each homeland would eventually form a citizenship, so that blacks could no longer be considered citizens of South Africa, thereby relinquishing them of their rights and responsibilities. Between 1976 and 1981, four homelands were developed. The black people that had once occupied South Africa now needed a passport to cross the borders of their homelands into SA.
The Group Areas Act also stipulated that non-whites were not allowed to own or run businesses within the white areas. This limited their growth and financial development considerably, as they were only allowed to work in their townships and homelands. Even there, they could not usually afford major enterprises and would try to survive off small supply stores or basic services run from a shack.
South End was once a bustling suburb of both residential and commercial properties. The residents lived together and supported one another, both socially and economically. However, this was soon done away with in accord with this act – businesses and homes were destroyed, and people were dispatched to their area in and around Nelson Mandela Bay (or Port Elizabeth, as it was known then). It is inconceivable that a nation under such restrictions and prohibitions could continue in the same optimistic spirit by which they were once defined. However, the fact that, even today, there remain many of the same entrepreneurs and business that once populated Walmer Road (albeit in different areas) is a testament to the strength and the fighting spirit of the proud South Enders.