Politically, “South Africa somewhat resembles the ancestor of Western democracies — the Greek city-state” (Myrdal, 1995, p.
442). That is to say, it consists of a ruling minority group whose members enjoy full and equal civic rights, superimposed upon a considerably larger group, ethnically and often culturally different, whose members, while subject to many civic duties such as the payment of taxes, have little or no share in political rights.The resemblance ends, however, when we turn to the basis of differentiation. Barbarians might become Hellenised, but there is no appeal from a judgment determined by skin colour. The lived relations of paternalism which bound black and white together in South Africa presented white supremacy as part of the natural order of things in its (im)moral universe. To an extent, this obviated the need for the elaboration of explicit theories of racial superiority as evidenced in Britain or the United States.With respect to urban legislation, the language of biological racism is especially clear. Maynard Swanson, writing of the ‘sanitation syndrome’ in the early-twentieth-centuryCape, examines the ‘imagery of infectious disease as a societal metaphor’, and demonstrates its role in the evolution of the ideology and institutions of urban segregation (Swanson, 1977).
In the view of many, Africans were ‘naturally’ part of the land. Cities were portrayed as an ‘alien environment’ for which Africans were supposedly not yet ready.To the new migrant the city was seen as the site of vice and immorality, ‘influences far too potent for his [the African’s] powers of resistance’ (Loram, 1917). The phenomenon of ‘poor whiteism’ was frequently held up as a warning of what would occur should unrestrained African proletarianisation be allowed to continue. For many biological determinists ‘poor whiteism’ was a perfect illustration of the inevitable tendency of civilization to decline. Concern was expressed for the physical and moral ‘degeneration’ of Africans in the foreign environment of the cities.
In the 1920s urban social welfare became an important area of liberal concern, as liberals attempted to arrest physical and moral ‘decay’ and to defuse the potential for social and industrial conflict (Rich, 1984). Notably, the ideological presentation of the 1923 Urban Areas Act stressed the measure as a ‘protective’ measure which would assist Africans in their confrontation with ‘industrialism’. Miscegenation, particularly among the working classes, was held to sap the fibre of white civilisation at its most vulnerable point.
‘Race fusion’ was portrayed in the most apocalyptic terms.Maurice Evans, associated himself (as did most white liberal thinkers) with the opinion of the ‘average white South African’ that the ‘admixture in blood of the races is the worst that can happen, at least for the white race, and perhaps for both’ (Evans, 1911, p. 223). So strong was feeling on this point that African politicians took care to distinguish their political claims from the implication that they desired ‘social equality’ — often as not, a euphemism for miscegenation. The dangers of miscegenation were powerfully exploited at the hustings.This point was observed by the liberal philosopher Alfred Hoernle who noted that ‘the fear of race mixture is at the root of the “anti native” attitude of many White South Africans’. He explained that those who were ‘primarily afraid of the native’s economic competition or of being swamped by the native vote’ were ‘easily strengthened in their opposition’ when it was put to them that economic and political integration would ‘inevitably lead to a breaking down of social barriers and thus of the racial integrity of the white group’ (Hoernle, 1934, p.
265).At the same time Peter Nielsen, an administrator in Rhodesia, devoted an entire study to answering the question ‘Is the African Native equal to the European in mental and moral capacity or is he not? ‘ This, he considered, was the ‘crux of the Native Question in South Africa . . .
‘ and the issue on which Africans’ ‘proper place in the general scheme of our civilization’ would depend (Nielsen, 1922, p. 3-4). After an exhaustive discussion of contemporary theories of racial biology, he concluded that there was ‘good reason for accepting the Bantu as the equals of Europeans in every respect save past achievement . .
. ‘ (Nielsen, 1922, p. 148).The problem of genetic inheritance provoked three major problems with respect to Africans; their innate as opposed to their potential mental capacities; whether their intellect was ‘originative’ as well as ‘imitative’; and whether their mental development was ‘arrested’ after adolescence (Duerden, 1925). The results of intelligence testing, derived from Amercian models then in vogue, was frequently invoked in support of arguments for or against segregation (Fick, 1929).