Review Of Apartheid In Bloemfontein Verno Cultural Studies Essay



Introduction 1

Pre-Apartheid Stage 1

Apartheid Stage 3

Post-Apartheid Stage 5

Neo-Apartheid 7

Conclusion 8


When looking back at apartheid memoirs, Bloemfontein has very distinct and vivid memories of the past apartheid city. Most of the spatial reorganization in Bloemfontein’s urban landscape occurred mostly during the last hundred years or so. Several key policies and laws such as the Group Areas Act, Lands Act and the banning certain races were used to fuel the "engine" of apartheid in reaching its segregated "destination". Amongst the towns and cities of South Africa, Bloemfontein is the most outstanding examples of segregated living space in the urban environment of South Africa.

Apartheid's influence in a city such as Bloemfontein, unfolded pretty much in the previous century. This essay takes a critical review of that development. What will be discussed is a critical evaluation of the development of apartheid in three consecutive stages namely, pre-apartheid, apartheid and post-apartheid. The pre-apartheid stage will deal mostly with historical details as well as early developments of apartheid prior to the formation of the National Union in 1948. The apartheid stage will take a look at what are the major landmarks in terms of accomplishments in the apartheid city and its effect on development in Bloemfontein. The last stage, post-apartheid, will mainly discuss the transitional problems Bloemfontein experienced and is currently experiencing as well as existing and new emerging forms of apartheid such as neo-apartheid.

Pre-Apartheid Stage

South Africa has a long history of separate living space, which originated mostly from the Dutch and British settlers in the Cape (BEAVON, 1992). Apartheid come from the idea of a frictionless society and can only be achieved when interaction with other races is kept to a minimum and especially in residential and work areas (BADENHORST, 2006). The outcome of such ideological thinking caused macro level changes in South Africa. The urban landscape has been carved up into different racially defined sectors (Swilling, 1991).

Bloemfontein was officially founded by a British Major Henry Douglas Warden, and served as a military outpost for the Transoranje area. The name 'Bloemfontein' literally means fountain of flowers, which sounds pleasant to the ears and invoke sentiments of happiness. However it was not exactly the picture a black-African artist would paint of Bloemfontein's urban landscape, which was intensely segregated and unfriendly toward non-whites. In one sense one can sarcastically conclude that, the name of the city should rather have been 'Whitefountain' instead of 'Bloemfontein.

As time went by, more trek Boers settled in this region of the Orange Free State. It later became the Boer Republic which served as a 'Mecca' for Boers. Bloemfontein started to become of notorious importance as it gained status is key governmental positions such as being the judicial and administrative capital of the country. Serving as the central node in the Bloemfontein, Bothabelo and Thaba Nchu region.(LEMON, 1991)

Since the very origin of Bloemfontein, white people relied heavily of black labourers. Thus like all cities, Bloemfontein attracted more and more of these into its expanding urban space. Although the white man made use of black labourers, they nevertheless saw them as uncivilized and temporary citizens. Racially this might seem hunky-dory however spatially it becomes a problem. The point was labour should still be provided to whites in spite of clear racial separation. This led to the question which inevitable faced many town planners: where should this indispensable labour force be located. So the very thought of separate living space comes naturally, if one race group sees itself as superior to another. Establishment of places such as Waaihoek was the first indicators of separate neighbourhoods (CLARK, 2004).

Rapid growth was caused the completion of the Cape-Johannesburg Railway line with a large workshop in Bloemfontein. Urbanisation continued to pick up momentum between 1890 and 1904 even as much as tenfold. Waaihoek (area for hosting black and coloureds) experienced massive influxes of people which led to a mixed living space between blacks and coloureds. However during this period Bloemfontein experienced its first voluntary segregation which was the establishment of Cape Stands for Coloureds in 1902. (LEMON, 1991)

Already in this period, macro-level segregation became prominent, with one aim and that was to prevent blacks from urbanizing. Sectored planning became evident in this pre-apartheid stage as the city had already pre-defined living spaces in the shape of a sectored wheel (VISSER, 2008).It may be notable to point out that even before apartheid officially came into being, Bloemfontein had many key apartheid features, and the most prominent was residential zones. Whites occupied the CBD and westerly region of the city, and Black lived in Mangaung and Coloureds in Heidedal (KRIGE, 1988).

As of 1911, Bloemfontein had more difficulty in maintaining reasonable distances between whites and blacks. Thus relocation and establishing of physical barriers was the solution. The Coloureds area were moved to a reserved location called Heidedal. Which were physically separated by the De-Wets Dorp road. Waaihoek however suffered forced relocation, which surmounted to massive moving costs when it was finally completed in 1941 with a little over a 1000 units demolished. The Free State as a whole and especially Bloemfontein, was very keen on adopting and implementing new racial policies (Swilling, 1991). As Daven Port (1971) aptly put it:"The rigid applications of segregation in the Free State makes it the most deliberately segregated province of all".

During this era Bloemfontein established its first Natives area known as Batho, which was aided by the declaration of the Native Urban Act 1923.What made Batho different or superior to other African settlements was its location, 3.3 km from the Central Business District (CBD). Basic services such as medical services, crèche, post office, library, recreation centre, market and park and sport facilities was provided. Assistance for further development in terms of housing was made possible by artificially low interest rates. Home ownership picked up, affording blacks a first taste of urban living. A large extension to Batho was added during 1931-1946. This laid the foundation for what was to follow as second major African residential extension known as Botshabelo.(LEMON, 1991)

Apartheid Era

The apartheid era was officially marked by the formation of the National Union in 1948 when South Africa became a republic. This marked the era of a 46 year racial dominance (BELL et. al. 2003). The term 'apartheid' became very prominent, and basically implied the creation of a multitude of laws to prevent the non-whites from occupying white space. The usage of buffer strips and consolidation of townships also occur in this stage.(LEMON, 1991)

As of 1951 the apartheid architects in Bloemfontein had most of its work in place and only modest changes were needed. Other towns suffered more since hard measures were needed to implement apartheid. Bloemfontein’s coloured community in Heidedal had to cope with more residents as Cape Stands was demolished. However due to Coloureds living in such close proximity with Bantu people; intermarriages across racial lines occurred, resulting in a partial mixed population in Heidedal and Mangaung. Provision for new residential areas in 1952 for Bantus was made available. What is fascinating about this period is that almost all group areas had to be separated by buffer strips to prevent inter cultural conflict. For example 34% of Phahament another Bantu development was buffered and 25% of the Kagisanang area(LEMON, 1991).

After a more rigorous implementation of the Group Areas Act in 1950 a new separation between ethnic groups such as South Sotho’s, Xhosas and Tswana’s were formed. This formed part of the greater sectored model of Apartheid. Physical buffer such as the railway line and roads further strengthen separate development outward along these barriers. In a sense this appeals to be reasonable, cause of frequent cultural clashes. Unfortunately with all new development Apartheid always responded with their ad hoc approach to housing shortages, which was not sufficient to meet the demands of basic infrastructure. In 1968 Mangaung faced serious housing shortages as much as3000-6000 housing units were needed (LEMON, 1991).Deteriorating living conditions and large scale overcrowding in townships became the norm. What was apartheids solution to this mess? A 55 kilometre east ward expansion called Botshabelo.

Botshabelo is probably the cream of the crop when it comes to distance separation. Itserved as a "place of refuge" so the speak for the Bantu people and an outlet for Mangaung’s overcrowding. The Sotho’s were also relocated to Thaba Nchu. Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu were later declared "independent". As of 1968 all further development in the Mangaung area were put on halt and redirected to Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu (VISSER, 2008).

Although these places hosted the Bantu people, poor infrastructure and deteriorating living conditions and insufficient input from the state made townships unattractive to live in; this was of course done on purpose to encourage out migration back to the rural areas. By 1989, more than 37 000 units and 34 000 stands was found in Botshabelo (LEMON, 1991). Factories relied on cheap labour and not to say woman labourers in particular. Paying lower wages, made Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu a relative economic success. However large scale grants from the state and massive subsidies which without Bothsabelo would collapse, did not justify it being an economic asset (NAGLE, 2000).

Botshabelo continued to attract people from its surrounding areas. Refugees from forced removals settled in Botshabelo, which gave rise to an annual increase of about 25%. This made Botshabelo a booming urban expansion (NAGLE, 2000). It is estimated that Botshabelo hosted about 0.5 million people which were larger than the city of Bloemfontein itself (SMITH, 1992).

Most of Bothabelo’s residents were internally employed (55%)in the clothing, shoe and plastic industries and about 30 000 worked on the Free State gold fields new Welkom. Another 14 500commuted on a daily basis to Bloemfontein (MARAIS, 1997). However other sources reveal that the numbers could be as high as 23000 (BEINARD, 1995). Distance wise, the development of Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu surmounted to massive expenses in travelling costs, even as high asR15.6 million in 1986 (SWILLING, 1991).Ticket prices sky rocketed as economy stress caused subsidies to shrink. However labour subsidies in Botshabelo had prime time for a while. Subsidising up to R100p.m per person, this made labour cheap and available to external investors such as Taiwan. Althoughmost of the barriers erected by apartheid’s architects was mostly physical, distance prove to be a more efficient way to keep living space segregated (VISSER, 2008).

Post-Apartheid Era

Bloemfontein’s sectored structure is in a very real sense ion cast in a 140 year old mould. Reshaping will take decades, except where aggressive action is taken. The railway and road barriers which served as an apartheid boundary lines will continue to do so.

As influx control came down in the 80’s, large scale reverse urbanization to Bloemfontein happened as a result. This left vast areas unoccupied in Bothshabelo, as much as 400 formal housing units. The obvious reason for moving back was to save, which make Botshabelo costly and time consuming in both aspects. It is interesting to note that apartheid emphasized, distance separation between work and home, which turned out to be the opposite workable trends where higher densities and less spatial distances afforded better economy viability. (VISSER, 2008)

Mangaung being the largest municipality is the world*, understandably couldn’t cope with this high net inflow of people. Squatting was unavoidable which was temporarily solved in through the creation of Botshabelo. Bloemspruit was the worst of in terms of squatting, subsequently ‘white flights’ occurred, giving more room for blacks to penetrate these areas. Most of the squatting occurred round the eastern side of the CBD, within 3km radius. Whites in particular felt threatened seemingly and saw these townships as "breeding grounds" for unrest and white insecurity..(LEMON, 1991)

Another interesting occurrence was that of Freedom square. The poor who had no home, land formed a Mangaung Civic Association (MCA) which illegally organize land invasions such as repossessing the Rodenbeck area. They erected 3000 standing structures within 3 months; this led to negotiations which Mangaung Civic authorities to formalize this area by providing it with basic infrastructure. As a result Freedom Square was a major triumph the in reallocation and formalizing of land for the worst off. However highly paid officials slowed the process (SOWMAN, 1998).

As ANC ideology was now drastically reshaping the urban space, more shack sprawls on the outskirts of Bloemfontein occurred. Furthermore fully serviced stands and tarred roads were developed for high and middle class income for the Bantu in Bloemfontein. At a certain stage housing was actually cheaper in Bloemfontein than in was Botshabelo. Meriting a newly serviced township area, account to 14000 stands on Mangaung's township area at the moment (LEMON, 1991).

Ethnic separation also came down resulting in restoration of full home ownership and property rights. Much of the stands became private and other was temporarily leased for the purpose to becoming private property eventually. In 1887 Bloemfontein’s Regional Service Council (RCS) in partnership with the white and coloured local authorities embarked on a large scale development for disadvantaged blacks, consequently 68% have water 42% have electricity and 27% have flushing toilets (LEMON, 1991).

Many major changes were taking place in a relatively small time span. Greying of the areas across the railway lines happened. Integration into the first suburbs of Bloemfontein, such as Hilton. Bloemfontein being an Afrikaner city in general has a little more of a struggle to desegregate than other liberal areas such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. Probably the biggest challenge facing Bloemfontein's civil authorities is the provision of housing. An estimated ratio of one formal house per 3.5 white people and a shocking one formal house per 43 black people. This indicates by how much the scale needs to dip, which is highly unlikely with the economic power South Africa has. Other major problems lurking the pipeline of Bloemfontein's development is job creation, Bloemfontein doesn't have a lot of big industries and big employment corporations other than the state institutions, which is anyway not beneficial since it rely on taxation and not on competitive business models (COSSER, 1990).

Another aspect that holds apartheid still in its place is economic probabilities for Bantu people. In fact most Bantu people won’t even make it across the railway line into the cheapest middle class neighbourhoods. The more affluent black middle class may do so over time. The wealthier have been able to penetrate the expensive northerly suburbs in Bloemfontein. Another factor of delay that slows integration is housing shortages in general.

Much of apartheids face will remain with Bloemfontein for a long time to come. Botshabelo is probably the last to disappear in terms of integration, since it was so strategically planned. Although the Group Areas Act was removed as of 1990 and many National parties including the Africa National Congress(ANC) were legalized, and democratic governance replaced totalitarianism (white minority rule), Bloemfontein faced new emerging problems. Such as increase poverty. Rapid urbanization is now taking its toll the city's ability to provide adequate infrastructure, and the decrease in opportunities for formal employment. And not to mention increasing rates of violence and crime continue to alarm people. On the positive side Bloemfontein has provide infrastructure to much of the unfortunate in some areas of Mangaung's such as the new phase1-6 developments (SMITH, 1992).

Furthermore another breakthrough was made by allowing access for blacks to the business areas for free trade. Indians which were expelled from the Free State by law for a long time, settled back in. However when it came to the usage rights of public swimming pools, libraries and halls, the story is a little more complex in Bloemfontein’s integration chapter (VISSER, 2008).


The apartheid ideology is still very much present with us just in another form and is far from being a historic influence as new development is reinforcing previous apartheid barriers. For example recent developments in Bloemfontein's northern periphery: a massive Gated Community, known as Woodland Hills which extends to over 700 plots, is in a very real sense separated from black presence by means of socio-economic power. Such independent developments have been favoured by whites in general, much like apartheid which favoured the whites (TODES 2003).

Gated and walled communities will become more prominent in Bloemfontein's urban landscape. This will foster greater inequality between the wealthy and poor citizens in Bloemfontein. It is understandable in a sense that people will withdraw themselves from neighbourhoods are plagued by crime. Security is probably the top argument to justify the development of enclosed neighbourhoods, at the exclusion of others. On the other hand some have argued that gated communities lead to a new level of social bonding and openness amongst the residents. (BAGAEEN, 2010).

Closure signal exclusion, separation. The explosive and exponentially negative effects of closure nation building, on future perception and attitude, cannot be more serious. We have barely stepped out the laager. We must not step in into a ghetto (Pienaar, City of Johannesburg, 2003. Proceeding from the Public Hearings of Security Restriction).

The usage of road closures, is a typical practice of the past apartheid era in Bloemfontein. Gated developments is seen as a direct contradiction to the vision of the post-apartheid state, and could become similar in essence to that of official apartheid era. In a very real sense Bloemfontein faces what could be coined 'economic apartheid' and not racial apartheid as in the past. Fragmentation of the urban landscape in Bloemfontein will happen and continue to happen to undermine the post-apartheid vision of unity (BAGAEEN, 2010).


Bloemfontein's, although founded as a military outpost by Major Warden grew into an intensely segregated urban space over the last hundred years or so. Pre-apartheid were mostly marked by great influxes of Bantu, Coloureds into the city region, which resulted in automatic segregation such as Waaihoek and Cape Stands. Furthermore clear sartorial structures in the city's planning were already visible such as separate neighbourhoods for white, coloureds and blacks. Rigid application of apartheid by means of physical barriers was put in place prior for the coming apartheid era.

In the apartheid era Heidedal was proclaimed a coloured neighbourhood and Mangaung black. In spite of harsh measures to keep urbanization from occurring, city planners made a master move by establishing Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu 55 km east of Bloemfontein. These places were supposedly ‘independent and self-sustainable’. However cost wise this was not beneficial since travelling costs and new developments in Botshabelo surmounted large debts and massive subsidies from the government’s side to keep it going. As the National Union came down and ANC came into power, a vision of unity and rebuilding of the nation marked the end of the apartheid era. Large scale developments in favour to the worst off were made possible in Bloemfontein through new frameworks of governmental policies. However sad to say, new apartheid barriers is already starting to emerge, that is the development of gated/walled communities which is economically segregated rather than racially, which radically undermine the unity post-apartheid vision wants to see.

In conclusion:"Despite its remarkable longevity, apartheid (as concept) and Apartheid as a formal system of laws and practices failed because it constantly undermined the unity it sought through the implementation of difference." (BAGAEEN 2010);