Go to the Labyrinth of East London Lore

Creation of the
East London Municipality

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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East London was long overdue for a municipality. The townspeople had suffered badly from a system where there was still no provision for even the most basic public amenities: water, nightsoil removal and street-construction.

The idea of a municipality had been suggested by The Kaffrarian back in 1865 as the best means to foster growth. The townspeople characteristically did nothing, however, and eventually had to be reminded by no less a person than the Governor himself.

In June 1872 a group of farmers and traders decided the port needed a market and, as was the custom, drafted a memorial to the Governor. In his reply, Sir Henry Barkly explained that he had no objection but suggested rather they establish a municipality.

The memorialists, however, chose to ignore his advice because they feared the rates which a municipal council would impose. Instead, they called a public meeting and went ahead with the formulation of market regulations.

The East London Dispatch and businessman John Gately immediately began to crusade for a municipality which could then itself establish a market. Although a market was necessary, they argued, East London first needed a municipality.

"We are too far behind the age already," the editor argued, "and we must now bestir ourselves like men to recover our lost ground, and take a march forward."

John Gately attempted to hijack the public meeting by proposing the creation of a municipality and, almost immediately the Dispatch launched another crusade. A letter in that same edition argued that a municipality was the only way to improve their lot.

The scribe derided the fear that this would involve "much expense and local taxation". Did they all, he asked, "intend to sit still amidst our ruins and dirt, because we decline paying for amelioration?"

"Do we hope that the Government will come forward," he asked, "and clear away the rubbish that encumbers our causeways, remove the ruins that jeopardise the passers-by, and keep our so-called streets free of cattle and pigs?"

Another meeting was held in January 1873 and, although the attendance was small, it adopted a resolution to create a municipality. It thereupon elected a committee to frame the municipal regulations, and these were approved by the Governor in April.

The two villages of East London and Panmure were united to form the Municipality of East London. Each village would be a ward, with the West Bank getting three members to the Board and Panmure just two. Cambridge was omitted, as were the German acre and ten acre lots.

John Gately, George Eirwood and John Arnold were thereupon elected to represent Ward 1, while Major William Lee and Thomas Venn were to represent Ward 2. Each commissioner would serve a three-year term. This first council would therefore serve until February 1877.

Initially Major Lee was chosen to be first Chairman of the Municipal Board but, after it was discovered that he did not actually live within the municipality, John Gately was voted to take his place.

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