It started with trains: city wanted no part in di­vi­sion

Some key events from this week in his­tory are re­flected in the fol­low­ing re­ports from the ar­chives of the Argus’s 160-year-old ti­tles

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

TWO-AND-a-half months af­ter scrap­ing home in the May 1948 elec­tion – with a slen­der ma­jor­ity of seats and a mi­nor­ity of votes – the Na­tion­al­ists’ first stab at in­tro­duc­ing apartheid in Cape Town seemed ten­ta­tive and al­most com­i­cally un­re­al­is­able.

A tone of in­credulity colours the re­port of mid-Au­gust that year – “Apartheid will be first- class only; seg­re­ga­tion in sub­ur­ban trains” – as if, in the Cape any­way, the cen­tral – or even only – plank of DF Malan’s elec­tion man­i­festo was sim­ply too far-fetched to be imag­ined in prac­tice.

But there it was, and, indefinite and im­prob­a­ble as it seemed, this was a his­toric mo­ment, for the mea­sures to “come into force next week”, as read­ers dis­cov­ered, “will be the first prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion, how­ever lim­ited in form, of the Na­tion­al­ist Party’s apartheid pol­icy”.

The re­port was ev­i­dently based on a tip-off rather than an an­nounce­ment, as it be­gins: “The Min­is­ter of Trans­port (Mr Paul Sauer), it is learnt, has de­cided to in­tro­duce a mea­sure of racial seg­re­ga­tion on Cape sub­ur­ban trains.”

The re­port went on: “The pro­vi­sions which will prob­a­bly come into force next week will be by no means com­plete apartheid. They are likely to con­sist merely of re­serv­ing cer­tain first- class ac­com­mo­da­tion for Euro­peans only, and the coaches con­cerned will carry boards to that ef­fect.

“So far as is known at present, there will, for a start, be no apartheid in the sec­ond­class. The scheme is ex­per­i­men­tal and may be de­vel­oped later.”

Spec­u­lat­ing on the fea­si­bil­ity of the en­ter­prise, the pa­per’s par­lia­men­tary cor­re­spon­dent wrote: “To carry out apartheid fully would mean run­ning dou­ble trains, which the rail­way with their lim­ited rolling stock, track, and staff, are not able to do.

“In the ab­sence of de­tails, it is pre­sumed that the pro­vi­sions pro­posed by Mr Sauer will be as far as the rail­ways can at present go.”

The me­dia was clearly still try­ing to get its head around In­te­rior Min­is­ter Eben Donges hav­ing re­cently “de­fined apartheid as ‘racial sep­a­ra­tion with equal fa­cil­i­ties’ ”.

“Ob­servers find it dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile this with the scheme for the Cape sub­ur­ban lines un­less an equiv­a­lent num­ber of first-class coaches is re­served for non-Euro­peans.”

There was also the tick­lish prob­lem of de­ter­min­ing who was who. “Dis­crim­i­na­tion be­tween those who are Euro­pean and those who are not will place an in­vid­i­ous task on rail­way of­fi­cials,” the cor­re­spon­dent wrote.

Just as telling is that, for Ge­orge Gold­ing, pres­i­dent of the Coloured Peo­ple’s Na­tional Union, while apartheid on the trains “was not un­ex­pected” as the Na­tion­al­ists had “fought the elec­tion on this is­sue”, the re­al­ity was dis­turb­ing.

Gold­ing was quoted as say­ing: “The idea of seg­re­ga­tion in the face of the Cape’s lib­eral colour pol­icy comes as a great shock to us as a peo­ple.”

He added: “The coloured peo­ple might ac­cept seg­re­ga­tion in which they were given equal fa­cil­i­ties on trains, such as sep­a­rate coaches of all classes and their own ticket- ex­am­in­ers, but they could not ac­cept any dis­crim­i­na­tion such as was en­vis­aged by the Min­is­ter of Trans­port’s pro­pos­als.”

In mid-Au­gust four years later – eight months be­fore the Na­tion­al­ists’ sec­ond gen­eral elec­tion vic­tory in April 1953 (again, with fewer votes than the United/Labour pact, but a ma­jor­ity of seats) – the gov­ern­ment was more em­bold­ened and was up­ping the ante.

The re­port of Au­gust 14, 1952 – “City coun­cil to think again on Group Ar­eas” – re­flects the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive’s im­pa­tience with what it must have re­garded as Cape Town’s petu­lance.

From shortly af­ter 1948, the city’s pol­icy on apartheid was one of “non-co-op­er­a­tion”, the coun­cil in­sist­ing that if the gov­ern­ment wanted to in­tro­duce fresh mea­sures to sep­a­rate peo­ple by race, then it could im­ple­ment them it­self.

The par­tic­u­lar law the city was de­ter­mined to be non-co­op­er­a­tive over was the 1950 Group Ar­eas Act, which was in­tended to – and did, with con­tin­u­ing im­pact in 2017 – carve up ev­ery town and city into racial en­claves.

And, two years into the life of this law, Cape Town was “warned (that it would) be com­pul­so­rily zoned in racial groups if it does not vol­un­tar­ily com­ply with the Group Ar­eas Act”, a warn­ing that, as read­ers learned in Au­gust 1952, im­pelled the coun­cil to “re­con­sider its present pol­icy of leav­ing it to the gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment the act”.

The warn­ing was con­tained “in a let­ter from the head of the ad­min­is­tra­tive sec­tion of the Land Ten­ure Ad­vi­sory Board”.

The re­port said: “Re­fer­ring to a re­cent gov­ern­ment no­tice af­fect­ing Cape Town and ad­ja­cent ar­eas, it says its ob­ject is to give lo­cal au­thor­i­ties an op­por­tu­nity to sub­mit pro­pos­als for the de­mar­ca­tion of group ar­eas.

“It adds that af­ter the closing date, Au­gust 30, all pro­pos­als re­ceived will be sub­mit­ted to a Plan­ning and Ref­er­ence Com­mit­tee ap­proved by the Min­is­ter of the In­te­rior.

“If the coun­cil changes its mind about im­ple­ment­ing the act, it will then have to con­duct racial sur­veys and for­ward its pro­pos­als, to­gether with de­tailed sketch maps.”

The risk for the city in re­main­ing out­side the process lay in los­ing all say over the mat­ter. As the re­port put it: “It was pointed out to the Gen­eral Pur­poses Com­mit­tee that, though this might be a long and costly un­der­tak­ing, the coun­cil might for­feit its right to have any say in the racial de­mar­ca­tion of the city if it did not at once take this op­por­tu­nity.”

The rest is his­tory – but it’s a his­tory we live with; no one can doubt that many hun­dreds of mil­lions of rand have yet to be spent un­do­ing its ef­fects.


Protesters at Cape Town sta­tion demon­strat­ing against seg­re­ga­tion on the trains.

‘Non-white’ com­muters are shown where they ‘be­long’.

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