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International Socialist Review, Spring 1959


Lois Saunders

Total Segregation


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.2, Spring 1959, p.63.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Durban, A Study in Racial Ecology
by Leo Kuper, Hilstan Watts and Ronald Davies,
with an Introduction by Alan Paton
Columbia University Press, New York, and Jonathan Cape, Ltd., London. 1958. 221 pp. $3.75.

Total residential segregation – so complete that Africans and Indians will not even find occasion to travel through “white” areas – is the aim envisaged by the South African government in the Group Areas Act passed in 1950.

In urging its passage, the Minister of the Interior claimed with evident hypocrisy that it was conceived, in part at least, to improve the lot of those who were destined to be its victims.

“The Honorable Members,” he told the House of Assembly, “will realize what it must mean to those groups (Africans, Indians) always to have to adopt an inferior attitude, an attitude of inferiority towards the Europeans, to stand back for the Europeans, where they live alongside the Europeans, but if we place them in separate residential areas, they will be able to give expression to their full cultural and soul life, and that is why we say that separate residential areas must be established.”

Giving also an understanding of the real motivation of the legislation, the minister asserted that “points of contact inevitably produce friction and friction generates heat which may lead to a conflagration,” and then added: “The paramountcy of the white man and of western civilization in South Africa must be ensured in the interests of the material, cultural and spiritual development of all races.” In his concluding remarks, he declared: “I also want to say this, that no policy which is not based on justice has any prospect of success.”

This total segregation based on the “paramountcy of the white man” is, according to the South African government, supposed to produce “harmony through separation.”

How this “harmony through separation” is to be achieved in Durban, port city of half a million population almost equally divided racially among Europeans, Indians and Africans, is the subject of Durban, a Study in Racial Ecology.

The authors attempt the impossible. They try to reconcile the segregation called for in the Group Areas Act with “justice” to all concerned, to provide for equality in plans founded on inequality. The result is a somewhat schizophrenic monograph, replete with maps, graphs and charts, but which avoids fundamental analysis of the race problem it examines. As trained researchers, the authors describe the racial patterns existing in the city, together with the extreme exploitation and poverty that here as always accompany segregation. But as segregationists, they refrain from drawing the conclusions that flow from the facts they have so painstakingly assembled.

They base the study on the untenable concept that one way of achieving harmony is by carving up the city along racial lines; at the same time they are critical of the Europeans, who control all the organs of power, because in devising plans for redistribution they have used their power solely in their own interests. Like many white Southerners in this country, the authors seem unaware that there can be neither equality nor justice in a segregated society.

One glaring omission in the book is its failure to treat adequately the effects of the proposed partition plans upon the Africans. The reason given in the preface is that “this is not from any desire to minimize the importance of the problems which face the African and Coloured peoples of Durban. But Indians and Europeans are the main competitors for the land of Durban, and the problems of compulsory segregation between them are most acute.” It is possible, however, that the authors realized it would be hopeless to talk of justice when dealing with the plight of Africans in their own land.

Perhaps it is unfair to be harsh in judging the authors of this study, for undoubtedly the book’s limitations are due in part to the lack of academic freedom in South Africa and to the fact that money for the survey was provided by a grant from the South African government’s Department of Education, Arts and Science. Prof. Leo Kuper, who headed the research team, is a member of the Sociology Department of the University of Natal.

It should also be pointed out that despite its shortcomings, the book has considerable merit in that it gives an objective and detailed picture of the city, its history and its population, and also because it presents quite clearly the problems involved in uprooting 55,000 Indians and 80,000 Africans and forcing them to relocate into what undoubtedly will develop into shantytowns on the outskirts of the city, far from the industrial areas, and where, say the authors, there will be a “low standard not only of urban amenities, but of the basic necessities.”

The authors do not see how this drastic separation of the races, under the proposed plan, will produce harmony. Neither does Alan Paton, author of Cry the Beloved Country, who in the introduction aptly calls the concept of “harmony through separation” a “fantastic ideal,” and adds perceptively that “the very words kill each other.”

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