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Korsten was just a blot on Port Elizabeth’s landscape – riddled with plague and disease and a dreadful slum.

That is how the apartheid regime described the area in the 1950s amid one of the biggest forced removals in the country when more than 45,000 people were forcibly kicked out of the suburb and resettled in the townships of New Brighton or Kwazakhele. 

It was also the time of the emergence of the now so-called “northern areas”.

In her book A Blot on the Landscape and Centre of Resistance, Prof Janet Cherry says Korsten was at the time the focal point of conflict, with thousands of people refusing to be moved.

Cherry launched the book at Nelson Mandela University’s Archives and Exhibitions Centre on Tuesday.

“The book is about Korsten and the social and economic history of Korsten,” Cherry said.

“Korsten was the site of one of the biggest forced removals in South African history in the 1950s.

“Approximately 45,000 people were moved from Korsten and yet it was a centre of resistance before the ANC was banned – and I’m arguing in the book that this was one of the reasons for the removals.

“In fact today, when there are so many debates about land claims and land restitution, it’s a very important case study for us to look at and understand.”

Cherry said she had never intended for the book to be published.

“It was written as an honours dissertation in 1988, which is 30 years ago,” she said.

“At that time I interviewed activists like Govan Mbeki and the like, and I felt that it was very important at that time.

“But they have since passed away, along with many others.

“We should have interviewed these veterans of the struggle before it was too late.

“That is what I have done and what they’ve had to say has now been published, which is a good thing.

“In addition to the informants who gave me their oral history of Korsten, I also did some archival research [and] one of the archives that I found incredibly important was the municipal archive here at what was called Brister House [now the Lillian Diedericks building].

“I found a file called ‘The Housing and Slum Elimination Commission’ and the minutes of that committee detailed the removals from Korsten; how many shacks were removed, how many people were removed each day, at the end of each week, up until 45,000 people were removed.”

Cherry quoted the apartheid government as saying: “Korsten is just a blot on the landscape – it’s full of plague and disease [and] it’s a dreadful slum and disgusting, but at the same time it’s a centre of resistance.”

She said the name ‘northern areas’ had historical roots which could be traced to the late 1950s and 1960s when communities were forced by the apartheid government to move from places like South End, Fairview and North End to a new area far from the centre of town.

As more extensions were added, the area became known as “the northern areas” and it took on an additional meaning as a “coloured area”.

The head of arts, culture and heritage at NMU, Michael Barry, said the book “is important because it reflects back on our history”.

“It tells us where we’re coming from so that we can be more conscious of where we’re going.

“So the book serves that purpose, it’s part of our heritage.

It tells us this is what happened pre-apartheid [and] even in the colonial times.” 


This article appeared in the Weekend Post of 3 November 2018, written by Siyabonga Sesant

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