Go to the Labyrinth of East London Lore


The West Bank Location

Losing independence
1848 to 1850

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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By January 1848, East London had in effect become a twin community. The port -- together with the little village of White soldiers and merchants -- had been annexed to the Cape Colony while the Xhosa village not more than 500 metres away remained in British Kaffraria.

Legal separation had therefore taken place. This was further promoted when the Resident Magistrate felt it necessary to organise the Black community to better suit his own purposes.

The cause was the influx of temporary labourers at the port whenever a ship arrived. The Magistrate reported that such an event led to "a considerable number of strangers" entering the district "without authority".

Such circumstances, he wrote, caused "inconvenience" in the Black village, and the new-comers were responsible for such "irregularities" as "squatting" within the district.

The Magistrate immediately transformed the village into a "location" with Headman Maqoma in charge. All huts outside the location were thereupon destroyed.

Problems also arose from another direction. All Black people living in British Kaffraria who desired to enter the Cape Colony, were required to be furnished with a passport or pass for this purpose. This was issued only by the Special Commissioner for their tribe.

The Special Commissioner for Phato's tribe, however, lived at Fort Murray which was a good 60 kilometres away. AmaXhosa at the Buffalo River mouth wishing to enter either the harbour or the White village for any reason had therefore to undertake a seven day expedition on foot to acquire the necessary pass.

It took over a year for the authorities to realise that an exception to the rule was required. Extra labourers were needed whenever a ship arrived and they therefore needed passes in a hurry. Permission was finally given to the local Magistrate to issue such documents.

Free access to East London was definitely not permitted and no Black person was allowed within the Town between sunset and dawn, for which a curfew bell would be rung. Visits to the town were also limited to fixed points, like the market place which was "convenient to all parties".

Furthermore, it was decided that passes would never be issued "on the frivilous [sic] excuse of visiting, or seeing sick relations".

The Xhosa village, which predated the White hamlet of East London, had become no more than a "location" to serve the labouring needs of the growing port. All huts scattered over the countryside had been destroyed and a dusk-to-dawn curfew had been initiated.

Legal segregation had therefore already started at East London almost 100 years before the triumph of Grand Apartheid in South Africa after 1948. By 1856 the first forced removals would start.

But that again is another story.

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