Updated: 14 October 2009
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Between 1890 and 1923, the East London Town Council tended to regard its townships for the Black community -- what it called "locations" -- as somewhat of an evil necessity.
On the one hand, they provided the much needed labour for the port and town. On the other, little money was ever spent on them and wherever possible the cost of administration had to be balanced by the money collected by way of hut-tax and various other rentals.
Nevertheless, despite the racial prejudice which existed among several of the councillors, there was a marked degree of paternalism in that sphere and great pride was initially taken in the fact that the locations were kept hygienic and well organised.
The Council was seen to have a "duty" towards its "Native dependents", as the Medical Officer of Health commented in 1896, but it was also a matter of simple expediency because a major epidemic within the locations could have had a serious effect on the White community as well.
In 1901 Charles Lloyd replaced Percy Potter as Location Superintendent, and remained in the post for three decades. He was a man with an extraordinary attitude to the African community, whom he saw purely as a commodity for the labour market but believed they were overpaid and lazy.
Indeed, he testified before the South African Native Affairs Commission -- Lagden Commission -- in 1903 that he believed the locations should exist purely to supply labour, and that wages to the Black people should be held at such levels as to force them to work.
The "extravagant wage" at East London, Lloyd said, enabled a man to work only a few days a week and "to lie idle at home" for the rest of the time although the amount of leave allowed to a location resident was purely at the discretion of the Superintendent.
He personally would never allow a man to absent himself from work for more than one or two days, he said, without serving an eviction order on him. Indeed, his "general view" was that it was "not reasonable" for an African to rest every Saturday but "occasionally" he would not object to it.
The only exception he was prepared to allow was for a man who met the Government's norm for exemption -- i.e. was a registered voter in the Cape Colony -- in which case he would refer the case to the Mayor.
The Location Superintendents at East London were men with enormous power over the communities which they supervised, being allowed to police the location residents free from almost any restriction laid down by the Town Council itself.
As such, therefore, they almost unilaterally engineered location policy which was then merely rubber-stamped by the councillors.
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