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Bleaching Durban: forced removals of formal Black urban settlements in central Durban (1963-1985)

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The living, cultural, political and commercial urban space, occupied by the collective of African, Indian and Coloured people, referred to as a Black presence in this study, was distinct yet “invisible” as possible to the privileged racial group, during the colonial and apartheid periods. This invisibility is reflected in Durban’s urban history narrative, particularly its spatial development and built environment. The urban space and built environment perceived to be for Whites, has been documented, visually illustrated, its heroes celebrated and architecture preserved, whilst the “invisible” Black presence was first marginalised, then finally “bleached” from central Durban by the process of forced removals. This omission and marginalisation creates the general impression that Blacks did not occupy urban space and were not part of the evolution of this port city, apart from the Grey Street “Indian quarter”. The “bleaching” or forced removals in central Durban, conceived as urban space for Whites, started in earnest in the 1960s and continued until the mid-1980s, yet this socio-spatial re-organisation of the city has been neglected and thus largely undocumented. Although some studies have since examined Durban’s multicultural character and composition during the colonial and apartheid periods, these studies have focused on either the African or Indian urban experience, with a paucity of information on Coloureds and the subject of forced removals. In addition, these studies focused on specific aspects such as residential, traders or workers’ issues, resulting in a racially fragmented and incomplete picture of what a collective Black urban presence consisted of, before and after forced removals. Built environments are shaped by a past which celebrated some of its “monuments and markings”, whilst omitting some of that past (Knowles 2003: 97). “Race making is a spatial practice, and space contains important information about racial grammar as forms of social practice to which race gives rise” (Knowles, 2003: 80). This study examines the spatial evolution of Durban and demonstrates the connection between space and race. The spatial practice of ‘race making’ is demonstrated by an examination of White attitudes and legislation introduced that enabled the spatial clustering of Blacks into undesirable spaces, during the development of Durban from the 1870s to the 1980s. Various legislative measures are identified over different periods in the city’s development, which enabled the spatial practice of separating Blacks from White settlers, socially and spatially, before finally being removed from the central city from the 1960s. Different legislative measures were used to control the entry and occupation of urban space by Africans and Indians, and similarly, their removal was also achieved by the use of different legislation. The contribution that this thesis makes to Durban’s urban history is to identify the previously “invisible” living, educational, commercial, religion, sports and political space, occupied by Blacks. The Black presence is made visible by identifying, describing and illustrating what this space consisted of, where, when and how it was created and removed from the White city. Also, of importance to the urban history narrative of Durban, is the use of maps, diagrams and photographic material, which not only depict the character and architectural qualities of the urban Black presence, but also integrates it within the spatial development of the city until the mid-1980s.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.