|Discrimination and Resistance in the British Era
|By the beginning of the twentieth
century the prejudice that had developed at the end of the nineteenth century
led to measures of social control based on race.
Racist attitudes became obvious during the South African War
(1899 - 1902). The war had had a romantic appeal to many Cape Town men and many
rushed to join volunteer forces. Coloured volunteers, however, were rejected
and many recorded statements expressing their regret. Both sides in the war
sought to avoid arming blacks.
Even when the Boers had ventured into the Cederberg mountains
to the north of the city resulting in the declaration of Martial Law and a
drive to enlist troops, still Coloured men were excluded. This spurning of
their loyalty led to further resentment. Milner was in favour of including
them, but the prime minister WP Schreiner resisted this demand as he knew it
would offend the white electorate.
Relief Funds were set up for refugees and aid allocated 'without distinction of
race, colour or creed', but in practice, distinctions were made. Many coloured
men received no aid and the number of poor in the city increased.
The Municipality set up the Relief Committee as a means of
helping the poor after the South African War and to provide employment to
British labourers. Coloureds were excluded from this employment until 1904, and
the relief committee ran out of money in 1906 and closed down. Street protests
comprising white and coloured people demanding employment followed.
Certain laws also began to regulate racial groups. The 1902
Morality Act forbade intercourse between black men and white prostitutes. The
1905 Education Act expanded white education, but restricted coloureds to
underfunded mission schools in the towns.
| Discrimination led to protest, but the fractured political
response was unable to resist the developing tide of race policy. Many coloured
people demonstrated loyalty and attachment to the British empire, and as
Municipal policy grew more hostile, so they became more ardently 'English'.
Others, however, became more militant and opposed British rule. Still others
'opted-out' and formed anti-social gangs.
Post-war Cape Town saw the politicisation of social groups
previously excluded from mainstream. Coloured people in Wynberg formed a
patriotic branch of the South African League, advocating 'equal rights for
every civilised man' and John Tobin began the Stone meetings, at which coloured
people met each Sunday in District 6 to debate political issues.
Other organisations started with an emphasis upon black
empowerment, most with black American influence such as the African Methodist
Episcopal Church (AME), which remains an active denomination in Cape
In 1904 Dr Abdullah Abdurahman was the first non-white person
elected to Cape Town's municipal council - he was popular among Cape Town's
coloured working classes, but he failed to mobilise them to effectively resist
Many coloured politicians clung to their imperial loyalty until
the 1930s, perhaps because the Empire seemed to promise a non-racial justice
and equality lacking in South African rulers.
Black Africans also protested against the state at being forced
to live in certain areas and pay high rents. Black lawyers led these campaigns
through taking the state to court.
The emergence of new guilds and political bodies posed
challenges to the imperial order, but poverty and unemployment were the greater
catalysts to protest.
The formation of the first unions offered a forum for
non-racial organisation. The first worker's unions formed in the Docks after
the South African War ended in 1902 as large numbers of workers were employed
in the harbour area and construction. The General Workers Union was open to
women and non-racial.
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