Between 1960 and 1983, about 3.5 million black South Africans (black Africans, Indians, Coloureds) were forcibly removed from their homes and had to resettle in other areas, thus beginning the implementation of the Group Areas Act to enforce residential segregation.
The act was aimed at segregating all South Africans according to their race and relocate them to specific areas within the country, mainly the outskirts of cities.
It also restricted the ownership and occupation of land to a specific racial group. For example, blacks were not allowed to own or live in “white areas”. However, black-owned land was taken by the government and used by whites. The forced removals also impacted Indian shop owners.
Residents were segregated into poor and overcrowded areas where the prospects of finding a job were slim.
Sophiatown and District Six are great examples of the effects of the Group Areas Act. Between 1955 and 1963 forced removals in Sophiatown took place, despite resistance from residents. In District Six, removals began in 1968. Religious buildings, houses, businesses and schools were bulldozed.
Government also created Independent Bantustans (homelands) where black Africans were left to fend for themselves.
Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953
This act separated public amenities like benches, beaches, buildings, buses etc. Whites and non-whites used separate amenities.
About 65 000 residents from Sophiatown were dumped in Soweto to make way for Triomph (Afrikaans word which means Triumph), a suburb for whites under the apartheid regime.
From 1953 preparation for removals were made and in 1955 police were sent to Sophiatown in anticipation of resistance from residents.
Between 1955 and 1959 the community of Sophiatown was destroyed. Its residents and their possessions were loaded in the back of police trucks and taken to Soweto, Meadowlands, Lenasia, Western Coloured Township (now Westbury) and Noordgesig.
By the time the new houses were completed in Meadowlands, notices had already been sent to residents about their removal.
The ANC was at the heart of resistance with regards to forced removals, with slogans such as “We won’t move”, “Ons sal nie dak nie” and “Asihambi” painted on houses.
Today, Afrikaners still live in small houses that replaced the lively yet poor three-bedroom homes and shacks of Sophiatown.
“The Day They Came For Our House”
Don Mattera’s poem expresses the agony of seeing Sophiatown ripped apart.
Armed with bulldozers
to do a job
just hired killers.
We gave way
there was nothing we could do
although the bitterness stung in us
and in the earth around us.
Meadowlands became home to communities destroyed by forced removals from areas such as Martindale, Sophiatown and Alexandra.
District Six was also declared a white area under the Group Areas Act and residents were removed since it was near the city where they were not wanted.
The racially diverse community of Africans, Coloureds and Indians would be destroyed.
In 1962 the Group Areas Development Board had built 250 houses in the Cape Flats where residents of District Six would be moved.
In 1966 over 60 000 people were forcibly removed and relocated to the Cape Flats.
10 facts about townships during apartheid
- Townships were built in uniform using the gridiron street pattern.
- They were underdeveloped.
- They were reserved for non-whites (black Africans, Coloureds and Indians).
- They were located in the periphery of towns and cities.
- There were not enough houses to accommodate the large numbers of families.
- On the periphery of townships were informal settlements, usually separated by a small stream or ditch.
- They lacked proper services such as sewerage, electricity, roads, clean water etc.
- Houses were extremely close (there was no room for a garden or children to play and usually referred to as matchboxes).
- They were crowded (as a result, disease could spread easily).
- Communities were further segregated into ethnic groups (Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa)
Today houses in townships like KwaMashu are being rebuilt. They are bigger and include proper plumbing and electricity and have proper structures.
Otla utlwa makgowa arei
Are yeng ko Meadowlands
Meadowlands sithando sam
You’ll hear the whites say
Let’s move to Meadowlands
Meadowlands, my love
Otlwa utlwa botsotsi bare
Ons dak ni ons pola hier
Pola hier pola hier
Pola hier sithando sam
You’ll hear the tsotsis say
We’re not moving, we’re staying here
Stay here, stay here
Stay here, my love
In 1970 the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act removed South African citizenship from all black people who were issued certificates of citizenship for homelands they belong to.
Bantustans: Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa, QwaQwa, Transkei and Venda.
The creation of Bantustans was to strip South Africans of political rights as well as their citizenship in South Africa. Government did not want to be financially responsible for those living in Bantustans.
Communities also known as “black spots” were wiped out and moved to far away places where residents had to travel long distances just to get to their places of employment.
Bantustans had no services, no jobs and poor housing.
Compiled by Thobeka Ngema (MOJO) for the #RacismStopsWithMe campaign.