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Article
Racial Division in the Early Twentieth Century
1900 - 1939 The 1940s
1900 - 1939
The search for cheap labour, combined with the national 'civilised labour' policies and the domination of light industries meant that employment conditions were more favourable for certain groups of the population.

Whites, Africans and women were employed over coloured men, and coloured youth was excluded from participating in apprenticeship schemes on the grounds of insufficient education.

The Depression years of the 1920s exacerbated this trend. Most skilled work was performed by white men, with coloured men practicing less well-paid semi-skilled work. Thus the correlation between poverty and colour grew, and with this educational gaps.

Discrimination was expressed in many other ways. In 1920 a bronze war memorial was erected in Adderley Street to the memory of the soldiers who fought at Delville Wood - all of whom were white - but only a plaque was put up in the City Hall in memory of the coloured men who died in German East Africa and Palestine, and no city memorial was erected to Blacks who participated in the war effort.

It is evident from such distinctions that even in the commemoration of the First World War, which was an expression of South African nationalism, representing a fight for freedom and the cause of civilisation, it was taken for granted that racial distinctions would be made and more attention paid to white lives than others.


The tide of segregation extended to the churches, in part because economic differentials were separating races geographically, but also as a policy that it was preferable to create separate churches. Increasingly public and leisure facilities were segregated. Economic differences also meant that public transport was segregated by the cost of different classes.
Discrimination in the 1940s
Although racial discrimination was not applied in the uniform and absolute way that would come under apartheid, nevertheless policies implemented in the early twentieth century were already shaping a society based on racial discrimination. Policies were designed to provide better opportunities to whites and to limit the aspirations of non-whites.

The education policy provided free, compulsory and good quality education up to junior secondary level to whites. In 1945 this provision was made to coloureds, but not to Africans. The only high schools available to blacks (37 in the whole Cape Province by 1950) were run by churches, and even those able to gain an education were faced with huge restrictions on employment in the form of the job reservation policy for whites.

The only employer that was theoretically open to all was the Municipality, although the highest position occupied by a black Capetonian (a coloured) was senior clerk. It was not considered appropriate that coloured or African people should be in more senior positions than whites.

Education and employment policies combined to ensure a reduction in the number of whites in menial work (domestic service and general labourers) from around 30% to 3% since the 1890s. White males still dominated in commerce, government, industry and in the major professions.

By mid-century white women and a few coloured and Indian men were beginning to gain access to some professions. The options for black men to enter the lower middle classes were limited to becoming a teacher or a religious minister.

Most employed women worked in domestic or laundry work, although opportunities in factory work for white and coloured women were increasing. Nursing and teaching offered women the best salary and status.

By 1941 segregated workplace facilities had been given legal backing, and racially exclusive municipal housing was being built in areas like Kalk Bay and Hout Bay. Urban housing policy was developed that encouraged the trend toward racial segregation.

Whites were given preferential access to central suburbs such as Plumstead and Maitland, through the use of restrictive title deeds. As working class whites became wealthier through the favourable employment policy, they moved out of areas like District Six to predominately white areas, so increasing segregation in the city.

Opposition to racial division remained divided and marginal to mainstream politics. Some liberals wanted equal rights for blacks immediately, whereas others favoured 'continual adjustments' meaning that locations should stay but should be upgraded to 'model villages'.

Marxism had some influence on liberal thought, with Trotskyite thinking influencing the New Era Fellowship (later to become the Non-European Unity Movement), and Leninist thinking within the Communist party, which included trade unionist Ray Alexander, UCT lecturer Jack Simons and social activist Cissie Gool. Their circles of friends held inter-racial parties in the face of opposing trends in the rest of society. These events are captured in the novels about the 1940s by Richard Rive, Reshard Gool and Andre Brink. These activists, however, remained marginal to mainstream politics.


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