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From the Western Areas to Soweto: forced removals

Slum clearance in the Western Areas of Johannesburg occupied the efforts of the town council for many years. Repeated attempts by the JCC to clear slums in the Western Areas had little success in the 1930s and 1940s. Once the Nationalist Party government came into power in 1948, it embarked upon a robust and aggressive policy of slum clearance. This policy involved the forced removal of Africans from the freehold townships of the Western Areas, such as Sophiatown, Martindale and Newclare to Diepkloof, Meadowlands, Dube and Rockville. Similar attempts of slum clearance in Alexandra resulted in communities removed from this township being resettled in Diepkloof and Meadowlands. Forced removals began in 1955 and five years later, the resettlement of African families from the Western Areas to Soweto had been completed.

The Native Affairs Department (NAD) was transformed when the Nationalist Party formed the government in 1948. Conflict of interest between the JCC and the central government threatened to undermine the latter's policy of slum clearance and Group Areas Act in the Western Areas of Johannesburg. The JCC should have taken complete responsibility for slum clearance and resettlement of African communities in the Western Areas in Soweto. But, dominated by the United Party and reflecting its liberal approach to Native administration, the JCC was reluctant to do so. It resented being used as an instrument for implementing what it considered to be racially motivated policies. The Nationalist Party government ignored the JCC and set up its own local authority whose brief was to implement slum clearance policies that had left the JCC paralysed for over 20 years.

The Native Resettlement Board (NRB) was a local authority set up by the Nationalist Party government for specific purposes. These were to implement slum clearance by forcibly removing Africans from the Western Areas of Johannesburg and relocating them to Soweto and, to become a local authority in charge of communities from the Western Areas resettled in Meadowlands, Diepkloofand Rockville. Consequently, between 1955 and 1972, communities in Soweto were administered by two sets of local authorities each with its own style of governance. In townships under the authority of the JCC, location regulations were not applied as strictly and stringently as under the rule of the WRAB. Communities being administered by the NRB were subjected to a plethora of location regulations, with influx control measures being brutally applied.

The resettlement pattern of the Western Areas communities in Meadowlands and Diepkloof was carefully and deliberately designed so that communities were grouped according to their ethnic identity. The purpose pf dividing the communities along ethnic lines was that they could not articulate their concerns as a unit. By doing this, the WRAB managed to establish effective mechanisms pf social and political control of township dwellers in Moroka.

The squatter movements in Orlando grew size between 1944 and 1946. Some of the squatters came from the Old Pimville location, faking advantage of negotiations going on between the JCC and squatters previously residing in Orlando as sub-tenants. As the squatter problem became unwieldy, the JCC decided to set up controlled site-and-service schemes in Moroka and Jabavu. Between 1947 and 1960, the government embarked upon a massive housing scheme at the end of which the Moroka and Jabavu emergency camps were demolished. Residents of Moroka and Jabavu emergency camps were relocated in Moletsane, Molapo, Tladi, Naledi, Senaoane, Dlamini, White City and Jabulane. This group of townships, which include some of the most impoverished areas of Soweto, are often referred to as ‘the Wild West’. These townships experiences very high levels of crime during the 1960s and 1970s



Ongoing project: Last updated October 2007