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The East Bank locations

Creating the
East Bank Location
1888 to 1892

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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In 1882, the municipality had shown a rare humanitarian sentiment in granting the "elite" Black people a 14 year quitrent lease of the land. In its day, this was a rare quality of progressive thought.

And yet, in just over five years, the Council turned its back on these same people, deciding that all the locations on the East Bank must go.

The event that triggered this decision was an amazing piece of municipal bungling. In February 1888, a site between Newsam's Town and the Wesleyan Location had been granted to the Presbyterians so that they might erect a church and huts for their congregation.

In October, however, there was a deputation from the residents of North End objecting to any extension of the locations which would, they said, devalue their property. They therefore begged the Council to move every location to at least a mile from their suburb for "sanitary and moral reasons".

For a period of four months the Council vacillated in choosing a suitable site for the Presbyterian Location but in the end somehow bungled the entire debate and, by accident, selected a spot in the middle of Queen's Park Botanical Garden!

The resolution had obviously to be rescinded -- and with much acrimony about who had been responsible for the Council's folly. It was eventually proved that the ex-Mayor -- who had by then moved to Johannesburg -- had made the faux pas.

The muddle, however, gave Councillor Vincent the opportunity to move that the time had arrived to merge all the existing East Bank locations into one, and to select a totally new site. The motion was carried and a plan drafted to place the proposed location much further out of town.

Not only were the residents of Newsam's Town to be relocated but those in the new Wesleyan Location were to be moved once more -- for the fourth time in 12 years. The elite location would also go despite their 14 year quitrents.

The Black people on the East Bank had always remained relatively subservient to the Town Council's demands but the unwanted relocation was viewed as blatantly unjust since the councillors had no concrete reasons for the resolution.

Indeed, the existing locations were well laid out and in accordance with municipal specifications, were relatively new and the Council could certainly not claim that lack of adequate supervision was the problem.

The councillors had simply bowed to the wishes of the North End residents who believed the value of their properties was adversely affected by the close proximity of the locations.

As the East London Dispatch commented some years later, "The evensong of the natives, inspired by the mixed brew of traditional beer and vile spirits, was unappreciated by their White neighbours."

The township communities attempted to take legal action to prevent the move but the Town Council pressed ahead. Thus was created the East Bank Location which would become the primary township for East London's Black people for the next forty years.

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