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The West Bank Location

Municipal ambiguity
1873 to 1876

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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By 1859 the ambiguity which had existed between East London and the West Bank Location was resolved with the port's return to British Kaffraria. It would, however, make no difference to the Black community since all existing infrastructure was maintained.

For example, despite the fact that the pass had been introduced as a passport to enable people living in British Kaffraria to enter a port in the Cape Colony, this document was still maintained even though people were no longer crossing colonial borders.

In other words, the pass had now become a way of life for the Black community -- an identity document which only Black people had to carry. Its concept would then spread throughout South Africa until it became entrenched as the hated "dompas" of the 20th century.

In April 1873, however, another ambiguity came into existence when East London became a municipality. By now there were two White villages at the Buffalo River mouth: the original East London on the west bank and a German village of Panmure on the east. The municipality united them.

There was a glitch in the constitution, however, because it defined the municipality as the two villages plus its "unoccupied pasture land". Since the West Bank Location was not "unoccupied pasture land", however, it did not form part of the municipality.

The disparity came to the Municipal Board's attention only in May 1874 when it was noticed that the government was still collecting hut tax from the residents of the West Bank Location. The Board called on the government to desist, and demanded a refund of the money.

After a brief investigation, however, it was realised that the location was not part of the municipality at all but nothing could be done until the municipal constitution was revised.

The glitch also placed the Municipal Board in an ambiguous position because it could grant permission to establish or extend a location but could not control it once it existed. This was something that would happen on the East Bank with the creation of the "Fingo Location" which, once created, could not be policed.

The Board had two major concerns. First, there was the collection of hut tax as a major source of revenue for the municipality. The Board was also concerned for the location's Christian population which it was eager to see treated separately from the non-Christians.

This was particularly true for members of religious denominations -- like the Wesleyans -- who expressed a "strong objection" to mixing with the other location residents and had been allowed to create their own adjacent communities so as to maintain their identity.

These problems were solved only in July 1876 when the Municipal Board put an amended constitution to Parliament, after which the West Bank Location became part of the municipality.

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