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Article
Discrimination and Resistance in the British Era
Discrimination Resistance
Discrimination
By the beginning of the twentieth century the prejudice that had developed at the end of the nineteenth century led to measures of social control based on race.

Racist attitudes became obvious during the South African War (1899 - 1902). The war had had a romantic appeal to many Cape Town men and many rushed to join volunteer forces. Coloured volunteers, however, were rejected and many recorded statements expressing their regret. Both sides in the war sought to avoid arming blacks.

Even when the Boers had ventured into the Cederberg mountains to the north of the city resulting in the declaration of Martial Law and a drive to enlist troops, still Coloured men were excluded. This spurning of their loyalty led to further resentment. Milner was in favour of including them, but the prime minister WP Schreiner resisted this demand as he knew it would offend the white electorate.

Relief Funds were set up for refugees and aid allocated 'without distinction of race, colour or creed', but in practice, distinctions were made. Many coloured men received no aid and the number of poor in the city increased.


The Municipality set up the Relief Committee as a means of helping the poor after the South African War and to provide employment to British labourers. Coloureds were excluded from this employment until 1904, and the relief committee ran out of money in 1906 and closed down. Street protests comprising white and coloured people demanding employment followed.

Certain laws also began to regulate racial groups. The 1902 Morality Act forbade intercourse between black men and white prostitutes. The 1905 Education Act expanded white education, but restricted coloureds to underfunded mission schools in the towns.
Political Resistance
Discrimination led to protest, but the fractured political response was unable to resist the developing tide of race policy. Many coloured people demonstrated loyalty and attachment to the British empire, and as Municipal policy grew more hostile, so they became more ardently 'English'. Others, however, became more militant and opposed British rule. Still others 'opted-out' and formed anti-social gangs.

Post-war Cape Town saw the politicisation of social groups previously excluded from mainstream. Coloured people in Wynberg formed a patriotic branch of the South African League, advocating 'equal rights for every civilised man' and John Tobin began the Stone meetings, at which coloured people met each Sunday in District 6 to debate political issues.

Other organisations started with an emphasis upon black empowerment, most with black American influence such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which remains an active denomination in Cape Town.

In 1904 Dr Abdullah Abdurahman was the first non-white person elected to Cape Town's municipal council - he was popular among Cape Town's coloured working classes, but he failed to mobilise them to effectively resist racial discrimination.

Many coloured politicians clung to their imperial loyalty until the 1930s, perhaps because the Empire seemed to promise a non-racial justice and equality lacking in South African rulers.

Black Africans also protested against the state at being forced to live in certain areas and pay high rents. Black lawyers led these campaigns through taking the state to court.

The emergence of new guilds and political bodies posed challenges to the imperial order, but poverty and unemployment were the greater catalysts to protest.

The formation of the first unions offered a forum for non-racial organisation. The first worker's unions formed in the Docks after the South African War ended in 1902 as large numbers of workers were employed in the harbour area and construction. The General Workers Union was open to women and non-racial.



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