Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-Century South Africa

By William Beinart; Saul Dubow | Go to book overview

1

THE SANITATION SYNDROME:

Bubonic plague and urban native policy in the Cape Colony, 1900-09 1

Maynard W. Swanson

Maynard Swanson, a historian based at Miami University, wrote this highly original article on the ‘sanitation syndrome’ in 1977. Drawing on a wide comparative international and Africanist historical literature, Swanson was concerned to show that public fears of epidemic disease were utilized by authorities in the early twentieth century to justify residential racial segregation in two of the Cape Colony’s chief cities, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. White colonial officials in these cities were deeply concerned about chaotic social and sanitary conditions in the urban areas, identifying Africans, ‘coloureds’ and ‘Malays’ as a threat to public health. Influenced by the rise of social Darwinist thought in Europe, they used fashionable biological and bodily imagery to justify class and racial separation in the social context and to rationalize white race prejudice. Underlying these fears was the imperative to manage a newly industrializing society and to maintain social control in the burgeoning cities. In this closely argued extract, Swanson therefore demonstrates how political and material interests interacted with ideological concerns in the construction of segregationist policy. He indicates, too, that the origins of modern segregation have to be sought in the context of the planning initiatives of the English-speaking (and so-called ‘liberal’) Cape Colony.

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