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What is the Northern Areas?

The Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth is a historically Coloured demarcated residential area. The Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 defines designated disadvantaged groups as Blacks (Africans, Coloureds and Indians). According to Mohamed Adhikari, leading scholar of Coloured Identity, the concept of colourednes functioned as a social identity from the time of the formation of the South African state in 1910 to the present.  He believes the Coloured identity did not undergo a process of continuous change during the era of white rule in South Africa but remained essentially stable. He argues, that it was due to the Coloured People’s assimilation which spurred hopes of future acceptance into the dominant society; their intermediate status in the racial hierarchy. It generated fears that they may lose their positon of relative privilege and be relegated to the status of Africans. The negative connotations which Coloured identity was imbued, more notably, the shame attached to their supposed hybridity and the marginality of the Coloured people caused them a great deal of frustration.

Sociologist, Zimitri Erasmus notes that Coloured identities are not based on race mixture, but on cultural creativity and creolized formations, shaped by South African history of colonialism, slavery, segregation and Apartheid. She perceives Coloured identities as “cultural identities compromising detailed bodies of knowledge, specific cultural practices, memories, rituals and modes of being formed in the colonial encounter between colonists (Dutch and British), slaves from South and East India and India from East Africa, and conquered indigenous peoples, the Khoi and San.”

The Northern Areas

The name ‘Northern Areas’ is complex and has historical roots which can be traced to the late 1960’s and 70’s when communities were forced by the Apartheid Government to move from places such as South End, Fairview, Salisbury Park, North End and Willow dene, to a new  area far removed from the centre of town.

Narrative 1: The mission station in Bethelsdorp

When the village of Bethelsdorp near Port Elizabeth was first established in 1804, it was managed by two driven men from London Missionary Society. They found themselves acting as guardians, defending the resident KhoiKhoi against representatives of colonial government and the labour hungry Boer farmers of the area. Forced removals have taken place since the inception of the Mission Station at Bethelsdorp in 1804. It was the first organized settlement in the Algoa Bay Area of the then Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony.

The concept of ‘settling’ the indigenous peoples and the freed slaves into European styled settlements was a favoured way of the colonial government of ‘placing’ indigenous peoples such as the Khoisan groups into areas where they could be ‘civilised’ ‘Christianised’ and ultimately controlled. Other local authorities had tried the idea of passes for the Khoikhoi and slaves. It however became embedded in the law for the first time in Bethelsdorp. Therefore it was transformed into a ‘forced settlement’ by law, both being unnatural state for people who were used to determining their own boundaries. Bethelsdorp was also a place of displacement that occurred periodically when some residents were sent to  Zuurbrak, Pacalsdorp, Theopolis , Hankey in the Gamtoos Valley and the  Kestberberg River Settlements.

Narrative 2: The story of Korsten- 1860’s-1902

Korsten today is a dense, mixed use, lower-income suburb with obvious signs of physical degradation. It has a mix of structure types that covey its history, including limited origin structure (some of them wood and iron), a range of densely arranged residential structures, rarer double  storey colonnaded structures on Highview and Durban streets. Some of its signage demonstrates evidence of the early 20th century relocation of Chinese people. Furthermore, there is limited civic structures with modest modernist detailing and a significant amount of municipality sponsored housing from the 1970’s which replaced ‘slums’ that were demolished.

The suburb of Korsten was named after Frederick Korsten. He was one of the first traders to settle at Algoa Bay. It was established in 1896 but only began to develop after 1902 following an outbreak of bubonic plague in Port Elizabeth. The town’s Black population was forcibly resettled in nearby New Brighton. Frederick Korsten was the first recorded occupant on   the now known suburbs Korsten and surrounding areas.

Frederick Korsten, a Dutch Settler was born on 17 August 1796. He acquired the land known as Papenkuilsfontenin between Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, renaming it Cradock Place in 1812. The property was divide into 236 plots and sold off with the condition that the name of Korsten be retained. The current spatial layout is still largely based on these plots.

Essentially, Korsten and New Brighton were both intended as dormitory areas on the outskirts of the town from which labour could be drawn. However, in their nature they were quite different. Korsten initially consisted of privately-owned land to the north of Port Elizabeth, which had been laid out as a potential village form 1853, once the farm of Cradock Place had been divided into plots. There was very little growth there until 1901, when removal of inner city locations.

Relocation for people from (including Stranger’s Location) was intensified. At the stage, those who were being removed had two options: to be settled in the newly created New Brighton Township or go to Korsten.

Korsten was favoured because it was outside the town limits and authority of Port Elizabeth and although colony law was applicable, it was practically unenforceable. There were also increased business opportunities and opportunities for land ownership. This resistance by Black families to being resettled in the model township of New Brighton endured until the 1930’s.

The unregulated state of Korsten has led to a perception that the Korsten of the early 20th Century was a slum and was solely intended for those who were not White.  For example, Terblanche, a local historian notes that ‘many poor Whites put up their homes in Korsten, because it was cheaper to do so. But Korsten was in fact one bug slum. For instance, the health conditions were shocking. It was a menace to the health of Port Elizabeth (Wintermeyer, 2015)

Narrative 3: The Group Areas Act

The development of the vast Northern Areas for Coloured and Indian people (to be known as the Northern Areas, including the suburbs of Gelvandale and Parkside for Coloured people and Malabar for Indian people) was an extension of Standford Road. Gelvandale was established in 1963 by families forcibly removed from South End, Centeral, North End and Dassieskraal and Malabar (formally Woolhope) was established in 1967 when 500 families settled there.

In 1948 the National Party came into political power in South Africa and over the following years set in place the legal equipment to continue the ambitions of segregated city that they had inherited, most notably the Population Registration and Group Area Acts of 1950.

The Group Areas Act during the apartheid regime played another role in placing or displacing people in the Northern Areas. Although the Group Areas Act had many physical effects which are still seen in the demographic “grouping” of races, it is the spiritual and emotional affects that linger in the memories and lives of those who suffered its consequences. This Act was one of the prime reasons for the physical separation between races, especially in urban areas. Well known removals in Port Elizabeth were those in South End, Fairview, Willowdene Salsibury Park, North End and Korsten.


The Northern Areas has complex heterogenous history. Although not conclusive, the origin of the NA is drawn from three narratives: 1. The mission station in Bethelsdorp 2. The story of Korsten 3. The Group Areas Act.


Adhikari, M., 2005. Not White Enough, Not Black Enough: Racial Identity in the South African Coloured Community (Ohio RIS Africa Series). Ohio : Ohio University Press.

Erasmus, Z., 2001 . Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town. Cape Town: Kwela Books.

Sith African History Online, S. A. H., 2016. South African History Online. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/how-group-areas-act-shaped-spaces-memories-and-identities-cape-town
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

Wintermeyer, B., 2015. Nostalgia and heritiage in Korsten Port Elizbaeth , 1956 to 1990 , Cape Town : Univeristy of Cape Town .

this area became known as the Northern Areas and it took on additional meaning of “coloured area” . There are three narratives that need to be told to best understand how this area came  about.

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