27 April 2010

Freedom from oppression: 50 years since the Group Areas Act

As we celebrate this year's Freedom Day, the South African History Archive considers another side of our heritage: it is fifty years since the Group Areas Act No. 41 of 1950 was passed. This act had the effect of entrenching the NP policy of separate development, or 'apartheid', by assigning group areas to different racial groups. People were not free to choose where they wanted to live. The majority of both urban and rural land was allocated to the minority white population. The Act also cleared the way for nation-wide forced removals that ruined countless lives. One of the focal points in opposition to the apartheid regime was bringing an end to the system of influx control sanctioned through the Group Areas Act. Over the years, the system evolved and changed, but it retained the fundamental principle of separate development. By 1986, the United Democratic Front saw this as

"...an attempt to extend our exclusion from the land and wealth of the country and to maintain our position of poverty and political subordination. In other words to entrench white domination and privilege....the people are demanding the total dismantling of apartheid and the transfer of power to the people as a whole; not the renegotiation of the apartheid system, or the creation of an altered form of political domination."

- UDF Statement on Group Areas, 1986, Influx Control, South African History Archive, AL2431_A1.26.12

For over four decades, the South African government used the Group Areas Act as a weapon against its own people. It was repealed on the 5th of June, 1991, but in its wake it has left behind serious long-term impacts. Tribal homelands, or Bantustans, were established as a way of dividing up the population into ethnic groupings. These overcrowded, often remote, homelands were severely neglected. Today, these places suffer from a geographical apartheid that has been etched into the land. Even after fifty years, this contrived and flawed system of segregation has had serious implications for social and economic development, making it far more difficult for South Africa to leave behind the shackles of apartheid.

SAHA and the Group Areas Act No 41 of 1950

As an archive dedicated to making struggle-related material more accessible, SAHA has a host of collections with information related to the Group Areas Act.

AL2431 :: UDF Collection

In 1983, the United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched in Cape Town to co-ordinate opposition to the Apartheid State's reforms, which essentially maintained the racist principles enshrined by legislation such as the Group Areas Act.

AL2548 :: Jo'burg City, Whose City?

In 1990, the "Jo'burg City, Whose City?" photographic exhibition was held as part of a broader oral history project looking at the impact of the Group Areas Act on the urban geography of Johannesburg, and particularly on its inhabitants.

AL2563 Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) Collection

Originally founded by Mahatma Gandhi during his time in South Africa, the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) played a powerful role in the freedom movement. The collection provides rich material on how the Group Areas Act affected the Indian community.

Open City walk in Cape Town to protest against the Group Areas Act. June 1989, International Defense and Aid Fund. [SAHA Original Photograph Collection :: AL2547_19.1.12]

"It's my country: I will live where I choose to!!" Open City walk in Cape Town to protest against the Group
Areas Act. June 1989. (IDAF) [SAHA Original Photograph Collection :: AL2547_19.1.12]


School children protesting against the Group Areas Act. 1955. [SAHA Original Photograph Collection, IDAF, AL2547_06.3.1]