Port Elizabeth of Yore: New Brighton – “A Model Native Settlement”

Located between the Papenkuils and the Swartkops Rivers, New Brighton was established inside the Municipal Boundary of Port Elizabeth in 1901 in order to house the black residents of the inner-city locations such as Stranger’s and Gubb Locations’. The White property owners and ratepayers were pressurising the Council to relocate the Black inhabitants of the locations in the inner city area.

This blog will cover the history of New Brighton from this inflection point in the separation of residential areas.  

Main picture: Semi-detached houses erected in New Brighton in 1912

Origin of the township
The New Brighton Township grew around the railway station built in 1877. It includes Red Location, White Location, McNamee, Boastville, Elundini and KwaFord. Red Location is a settlement of mostly tin shanties; the name originated from the red oxide paint used to protect the corrugated iron structures and roofs from rust, which have become a trademark in the area.

Watercolour of scene in MaNamee Village by George Pemba – 1944

Plague
During the South African War, the British military authorities imported a large number of horses from Argentina. Unfortunately, their fodder was infested with vermin, which carried bubonic plague and, between 1901 and 1903, most of South Africa’s major towns recorded outbreaks of this disease. The plague erupted in Port Elizabeth in 1901, and although its spread affected all sectors of the population, it was the black community who bore the brunt of the Plague Health Regulations. 

Horses being offloaded from the surfboats and onto North Jetty during the Anglo Boer War

Closure of the inner city locations
In 1891, property developers and ratepayers commenced apllying pressure on the Council to remove the existing inner city locations as they were a hinderance by blocking further westward expansion of white suburbs. The most problematical locations were as follows:

  • Strangers’ Location at the top of Russell Road
  • Cooper’s Kloof at the top of Albany Road
  • Reservoir Locations near the top of Mount Road
  • Gubb’s Location in Mill Park

Firstly a new site further westward needed to be identified. After discussions with the residents of Starngers’ and Cooper’s Kloof Locations, an agreement was concluded during June 1896 between the residents and the Town Council for the former’s removal to the planned Race Course Location near Fairview [today’s Greenacres]. According to Gary Baines, “The conditions agreed upon included the stipulation that Section 205 of the Port Elizabeth Municipality Act would be complied with. Some 300 site-holders in these Locations were promised plots 18m x 12m with a title as a quid pro quo for the land which they surrendered and compensation for the building existing on the plot.” Both parties were pre-empted from concluding this agreement when the military authorities took possession of portion of the property at the commencement of the Anglo Boer War during 1899.

Watercolour by George Pemba entitled The Birth of Site Service 1930

Reconsideration
During the war, officialdom had had time to rethink their initial rushed and perhapsprecipate decision. Foremost amongst the issues was the fact that this Location would itself soon halt the next suburb to block the establishment of a new suburb to its east. Moreover they had to take into consideration white fears and concerns regarding hordes of blacks passing through their suburb on the way to work in town. Lastly, the maths regarding the number of stands required had been vastly underestimated. It would never be able to accommodate the population of 12,709 residing in those Locations.

1915 Map of New Brighton

Bubonic plague strikes
Life for the African population would be overturned during April 1901 when a case of bubonic plague was discovered at Gubb’s Location. This discovery aroused the fears of the white suburbs that the Locations were the source of this disease. Vindicating their fears were further cases reported.

In his book The Communities of the Northern Areas, Abrahams describes the various theories regarding transmission of the disease and its containment as follows: George John Blackmore, a plague officer, who had dealt with the bubonic plague in India and China was sent to Cape Town in 1901 where the plague had broken out. One theory at the time was that the disease was spread through the air and contracted by people breathing the infected air. Another was that it would be contracted by contact with infected people or with their belongings. In this way there existed the belief that clothing and buildings had to be burnt and destroyed.

Sub economic housing in 1938

On the other hand, “Blackmore believed that the disease was spread by fleas that lived on infected rats: Consequently he instigated a vigorous crusade against rats which came into town via the ships bringing grain from other countries. He used  disinfectant and appointed rat catchers.  

According to his theory of controlling the spread of bubonic plague  would be the control of the rats. In his view neither the quarantining of victims nor the destruction of property, clothes or possessions would prevent the spread of the disease. Vindicating Blackmore was the fact that infected rats had been found in four parts of Port Elizabeth viz Vlei Post at the extreme northern end, the extreme southern end, Strangers Location near the middle of town and the Remount Area, the Agricultural Showgrounds erea used by the military during the Anglo Boer War as an equestrian storage area.

In a clash of opinion, the Town Authorities vigorously disagreed with Blackmore’s kill-the-rats solution and instead insisted on the destruction of Stranger’s Location as well as the Reservoir Location. Blackmore defended his “corner” as he foresaw that this option was a waste or time and resources. In frustration at the Council’s reluctance to accept his considered opinion, Blackmore packed his bags ad emigrated to New  Zealand.

Kwaford houses built from packing cases donated by Ford Motor Company

In summary, D.A Campbell listed all 33 cases which occurred for the period 16th April 1901 to 30 July 1901 during which only 13 people died. Misguided beliefs had  spawned erroneous decisions.

The Native Reserve Location Act

In his article entitled The Control and Administration of Port Elizabeth’s African population 1834-1923, Gary Baines explains the rationale for the passage of this Act as follows: “The introduction of the Native Reserve Location Act provided the means whereby the local authorities could facilitate and consolidate the emergency programme of mass evictions and slum clearance by the establishment of a  location under the auspices of central government ………….. It effectively translated emergency public health measures into permanent urban locations legislation.

Origin of the township
The New Brighton Township grew around the railway station built in 1877. It includes Red Location, White Location, McNamee, Boastville, Elundini and KwaFord. Red Location is a settlement of mostly tin shanties; the name originated from the red oxide paint used to protect the corrugated iron structures and roofs from rust, which have become a trademark in the area.

In 1899 the Port Elizabeth city purchased DR. G.L. Galpin’s property portions of Cradock Place and Deal Party Estate for the relocation of “natives” for the sum of  £20,000. This was before the 1901/2 Bubonic plague outbreak, which provided additional momentum for this relocation.

A person walking on a sidewalk

Description automatically generatedSub economic housing in 1938

After considering several sites, in 1899 the Council purchased for the sum of  £20,000, Dr G.L. Galpin’s property, portions of Cradock Place and Deal Party, on which to establish a “model Native settlement” during January 1902. The portion set aside for the location was approximately eight kilometres to the north of the centre of the town. It was situated on land unsuitable for industrial purposes. Moreover it was unsuitable for white residential development. According to Baines, “the middle classes at least, was likely to expand in a westward direction. This meant that it was unlikely that the location would have to be moved at some future date.”  

Wood-and-iron buildings from the closed Uitenhage Concentration Camp were re-erected here and painted red. In June 1903 the first residents moved into ‘Red Location’. The name ‘New Brighton’ had already been coined by Matthew Berry for his part of Deal Party.

Objections, obstacles and resistance
A month before the Native Reserve Location came into operation on the 1st June 1903, removals to the New Brighton Location commenced. Removals were immediately stalled due to several obstacles. Baines states that “The African middle-class strongly objected to the lack of security of tenure and demanded the right to erect their own dwellings. Dissatisfaction with compensation payments and the failure to provide adequate accommodation in the New Brighton Location for those to be removed from the inner locations contribution to their unwillingness to move. Resistance to removals also came from African traders who wished to obtains exclusive trading rights in New Brighton.

Furthermore, Baines continued, “Merchants supported workers’ objections to the distance and cost of commuting to their place of work which amounted to 6s per month for train fare. Moreover, rents in New Brighton of between 20s and 30s per month for family quarters and 8s per month for single quarters in 1903, were in excess of those charged by rack-renters  elsewhere in the town or its periphery. Even though rents were subsequently reduced, these rentals still exceeded one third of the average earnings of Africans in Port Elizabeth.   

Population movements

A review of the population movement statistics for the period 1903 to 1909 reveals that instead of the population numbers steadily increasing, they were highly volatile with departures often exceeding arrivals. As such, the location had a relatively large floating population. According to Baines, “[This] can be parttly attributed to the post war recession and the necessity for workers to seek employment elsewhere, especially on the mines, ntil at least 1908. Butcertain famiiies who had had their homes demolished, simply sought temporary residence in the Location until such time as they found accommodation elsewhere. IN fact it was necessity and not choice to seek accommodation in New Brighton”

Relocation from Korsten to New Brighton
According to the E.P. Herald of week ending 10th October 1903, on a Saturday afternoon Sir Gordon Sprigg met the residents at Korsten to hear their views about planned changes. The objective of this meeting was to convince the black inhabitants of this area to be relocated to New Brighton.

In the hot afternoon sun, Sprigg addressed a large gathering of blacks as well as numerous Europeans. The meeting was held outside the Independent Church. Sir Gordon proclaimed that the Government had established a location at New Brighton for the blacks to live there by themselves. Sprigg’s use of the words “by themselves” referred to the fact that Korsten at that stage was a multiracial area. He explained that houses would be built in New Brighton for which rent would be charged. The Government would also supply them with water and there was sufficient wood available in the vicinity for their fires. Furthermore, a hospital would be built, and medical treatment would be provided gratis.

Pavement commerce

Sprigg also revealed that it was the government’s intention to request that all the black inhabitants in the Port Elizabeth district, who were not in domestic service, live in the location at night. In addition, they envisaged that all the blacks in Korsten, which was not then within the Port Elizabeth municipal area, would also be relocated to the proposed New Brighton location. To encourage the process, Sprigg informed the attentive audience that special houses would be provided, and if 10,000 were moving, then there would be plenty of room to accommodate them. Given the fact that some of the blacks in Korsten owned plots of ground with houses built on them, Sprigg committed the Cape Government to make the inhabitants of Korsten an offer. In exchange for their plots in Korsten, they would be given a plot of the same size and value in New Brighton. Still dubious, the residents of Korsten raised the issue of the houses already erected. Sprigg assured the sceptical audience that if the inspector viewed a house as worthy of moving, the government would bear the cost of relocation. If not, they would re-imburse the inhabitant the cost of the materials. As an added incentive, he reminded the audience that a railway service was available unlike Korsten where the residents had to walk to town.

Entrance to the house of the Superintendent in New Brighton

Then, as if as an implied threat, in the “carrot portion” of Sprigg’s offer, he mentioned in passing that the Glen Grey Act might be amended, thereby providing the Government with the power to force the people to be resettled. For many this offer in its totality had little to recommend it as they would forfeit a freehold right in a non-government controlled area for rental accommodation within the municipal jurisdiction. For many, the words, “This cannot end well,” came to mind. Given the fact that the balance of power was firmly rooted in that of the colonial authorities, what option did the residents of Korsten have but to comply.

After the South African War [Boer War], the “Blacks” from Bubba’s location were housed in New Brighton. By 1904, Africans from Strangers’ Location, Russell Road and Coopers Kloof were relocated there. In effect, the offer to provide every Black family in Port Elizabeth with a house in New Brighton implied that a major construction project extending over numerous years would have to be undertaken. To any neutral observer, that begs the question of where the residents would be accommodated in the interim.  Nowhere is this conundrum discussed.

Henen’s Trading Store in New Brighton

Shocking conditions” revealed
What is notable is that various white dignitaries of this period utilised whatever influence that they possessed to present the unvarnished truth about conditions prevailing in the townships. One such person of this era was the Port Elizabeth Member of Parliament and editor of the E.P. Herald, Sir Edgar Walton, who raised questions about the “shocking conditions in the Locations”. This arose during a sitting of the House of Assembly in August 1908, during which Walton moved that the attention of the Government be directed to the administration of the of the Native Location Acts of 1902 and 1905; Walton provided a number of examples where the liberties of the black resident had been impinged upon. Foremost amongst their complaints was they were treated differently from other people due to the colour of their skin. He raised the situation in which children were compelled to reside in the new locations rather than with their parents in the old locations. A similar problem arose when friends or relatives from outside Port Elizabeth visited them. They were not allowed to stay in the inner-city locations with their hosts.    

Later developments
On the 9th February 1909, the Resident Magistracy at New Brighton was abolished as the area henceforth would fall under the Port Elizabeth Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate.

Houses in McNamee Village

On the 1st August 1923, the Port Elizabeth Municipality took over the responsibility for New Brighton from the Government and in 1925 £18,000 was borrowed to build more houses to be known as “White Location”. This was the first economic housing scheme that was built there after the Urban Areas Act of 1923.

During June 1927, the City Council bought the New Brighton Estate from the New Brighton Estate Land Co, proprietors Hansen and Schrader, for £17,500. This included the dynamite mag­azines, racecourse and sanatorium.

During April 1928, new cottages and single men’s quarters were completed at New Brighton.

Apartheid in practice

On the 5th August 1928 the new administrative buildings at New Brighton were opened by the Mayor, A.H. Brookes. It was also in this year that the New Brighton Native Welfare Association was formed to monitor and report upon the physical and social welfare of the inhabitants.

On the 27th February 1930, the formal switching on of lights in New Brighton was performed by Mr W.C. Adcock, Chairman of the Electricity and Industries Committee. On 2nd April Redhouse was “switched on” too.

The Wall Street crash of 1929 had worldwide repercussions. On the 27th July 1930, a meeting was held to form an organisation to alleviate distress among working people caused by the world-wide economic depression which by this time was reaching its peak. The existing charitable organisations were simply not equipped to cope with the calls made on them for help. The Mayor’s Emergency Fund came into being, with Albert Jackson as first Chairman (later W.C. Adcock) and an office in the City Hall. Relief works around the City and in New Brighton were planned. The fund was closed at the end of January 1933.

1938

The T.C. White Hall at New Brighton was opened on the 3rd April 1935 by Sir William Clark (His Majesty’s High Commissioner in South Africa) and Lady Clark, in place of the Governor-General. The Hall was named by the Native Advisory Board. Almost two years later, on 2nd March 1937, the Mayor opened the New Brighton Library in a room in the T.C. White Hall. It was the work of the local European-Bantu Joint Council – L.F. Addis-Smith, President, and Miss Violet Couldridge, Secretary. In May 1939 it was reported to have 11,000 books.

On 21st November 1937, Councillor A. Schauder, Chairman of the Housing and Slum Elimination Committee, turned the first sod of the planned 3,000 houses at New Brighton under the Council’s five-year plan. The money was bor­rowed from the Government at three-quarters of a per cent interest. Just over a month later on the 22nd December 1937, the City Council approved a plan for housing the aged poor at Gibsonville, Korsten and New Brighton.

An outbreak of bubonic plague was reported on the 23rd March 1938. The Council immediately swung into action and initiated a campaign for the control and eradication with inoculation, fumigation and the destruction of rats. By 30th June, twenty-one cases had been reported and 19 had died. The old sanatorium at New Brighton was taken into use as a Formidable Epidemic Diseases Hospital; formerly Matthew Berry’s hotel, it was a TB Hospital from 1942 until was demolished in 1959.

The New Brighton Presbyterian Church was opened on the 5th March 1939. It was dedicated by Rev A. Ashenhurst, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa.

On the 20th April 1939, the Co-operative Trading Movement was formed at a meeting in the T.C. White Hall in New Brighton, presided over by W.W. Jabavu.

During WW2, a Joint Air Training Scheme, known as 42 Air School, was established at Driftsands under Group-Captain J. Cottle. They operated in various buildings including a hospital. In May 1947 the hospital was taken into use as a TB convalescent home and later that year hutments from the Park were moved to the Formidable Diseases Hospital at Deal Party (New Brighton) as a temporary TB hostel there.

Between 1940 and 1945 the School Board opened the Pendla and Kama Lower Primary Schools, the Molefe Higher Primary and the Newell Secondary School in New Brighton.

During January 1945, the building of a creche at New Brighton was commenced and it was opened by the Mayoress on 20 June. It was run by the Charity Welfare Organisation in the municipally-owned building.

Any increase in property rentals was guaranteed to “raise temperatures” and provoke protest action; that in1945 was no different. A plan to increase rentals in New Brighton was the cause of protests and a procession to the Donkin Reserve on the 27th January 1945.         

Jun. 30, 1945: The total population of Port Elizabeth was given as 133,878, comprising 64,468 Whites, 26,424 Coloureds, 3,793 Asiatics and 39,193 blacks (including New Brighton’s 29,633).

In heavy fog on the 21st February 1917, the troopship SS “Mendi” collided with the “Darro” off the Isle of Wight. On board were officers and men of the Volunteer S.A. Native Labour Contingent. 625 men drowned, some from the Eastern Cape, and a memorial was erected in New Brighton. It had disappeared by 1997 and a new memorial, designed by municipal architect, Danny Dreghorn, was re-dedicated on the anniversary of its sinking.

Sources
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
100 Years Ago – 10 October 1903 by Ivor Markman (E.P. Herald, week ended 10 Oct 2003).
MP from Bay details shocking conditions in locations by Ivor Markman (E.P. Herald, Friday 15th August 2008).
Wikipedia.
https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/new-brighton-location
Article in the EP Herald dated 9th June 1959 on Matthew Berry & the New Brighton Hotel.

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  1. In 1952 the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) called all South Africans to stand up against the apartheid government’s unjust laws directed at the black African, Indian and coloured population. On April 6, while most white South Africans celebrated the tercentenary of Jan van Riebeeck ‘s arrival at the Cape in 1652, the ANC and SAIC called on black South Africans to observe the day as a “A National Day of Pledge and Prayer”. 15 000 people attended in Johannesburg, 10 000 in Cape Town, 10 000 in Durban and 20 000 in Port Elizabeth. The meeting in Port Elizabeth was led by Professor Z. K. Matthews and by Raymond Mhlaba . On 25 July 1952, a day before the official start of the Defiance Campaign, 30 volunteers led by Raymond Mhlaba gathered at the New Brighton Civic Centre and prayed throughout the night. At m on 26 July, they left the Civic Centre and walked towards the New Brighton Railway Station. In

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