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Black Political Organisation in the Early Twentieth Century
The first half of the twentieth century saw the politicisation of Cape Town's African residents. Major influences were the First World War, living conditions within the city and the influence of political leaders - both local and international.

By 1919, ICU (the African trade union) had considerable support

In 1923 when the Urban Areas Bill was in process, Selope Thema of the SANNC told Smuts when he was visiting Cape Town

"we have a share and a claim to this country. Not only is it the land of our ancestors, but we have contributed to the progress and advancement of this country…we have built this city". (Bickford Smith P.90)

The Jamaican politician Marcus Garvey had a strong influence on Africans in Cape Town, as shown by the existence of 4 branches of his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the city by 1921. Their emphasis was on black liberation for which America would be the source of mass change.


While this was seen as fanciful by many observers, Garvey's messages challenged an attachment to British liberalism and promoted American values, also increasingly expressed in cinema and music. The movement lost momentum in the 1930s, partly because a section of its adherents thought that Hertzog's segregation policies would offer chances for black self-determination. Furthermore, some leaders within the movement such as James Thaele prioritised the interests of the black elite over the working classes.

The 1923 Urban Areas Act led to the formation of the Native Advisory Board to comprise 3 elected members from among African residents and 3 nominees from the local authority. However, these boards were ineffective as they had little influence on Municipal decisions.


Some Langa community members perceived board members from Langa as 'spies' working with the authorities. However, other members were much respected and were able to achieve independent opposition to the authorities, for example through the creation of the Langa Vigilance Association.

In the 1930s young African radicals investigated potential collaboration within the structures of the government. One example was the election of NLL members onto the Langa Advisory Board, which then enabled the Board to persuade city council officials to tour the township and observe unsanitary living conditions for themselves.


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