The Beerhall fracas and contested development of social infrastructure in Pietermaritzburg in the 20th century

Whelan, Deborah (2014) The Beerhall fracas and contested development of social infrastructure in Pietermaritzburg in the 20th century. In: Historical Association of South Africa Biennial Conference, 26-28 June 2014, Durban.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


Cities in Southern Africa have quietly developed over years, with valuable civic infrastructures that support their operations being plugged into the urban and social environment. Most often, this organic growth process resulted in ad hoc corporate decision and implementation, which sometimes resulted in public outcry. Occasionally, legislative imperative was an impetus for active protest, particularly the sluggish implementation of the early versions later to form the suite of laws known as ‘Group Areas’.

In the early 20th century, Pietermaritzburg was in an invidious position. It was located between a need to accommodate Africans within the city limits to provide labour and simultaneously, follow legislations that restricted this. Furthermore, implementing the early 20th century ‘Durban System’ not only controlled the consumption of beer but provided vital revenue for the city that managed its production, and thus was a vital part of city infrastructure in the economically depressed years of the late 1920s and the early 1930s. The resultant beerhalls were thus closely associated with the provision of municipal hostels for both African men and women.

The original central Beerhall was located in the middle of the city, close to the City Hall and other important centres of civic society. By all accounts, being somewhat dilapidated, this was marked for closure in the early 1930s, and its functions moved to a site located in a part of the inner city largely populated by mixed race and Indian people who protested vociferously at this intended development.

This paper will discuss this event and its implemental process, the levels of public participation engaged with at the time, and the eventual formation of the ‘Beerhall’ as a core of African-centred development on the periphery of the city. It will conclude commenting on the structures in contemporary Pietermaritzburg and their potential for future, meaningful development.

Keywords:beer hall, municipal architecture, Pietermaritzburg, contested space, public participation process
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V253 Southern African History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V360 History of Architecture
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K990 Architecture, Building and Planning not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
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ID Code:29039
Deposited On:20 Nov 2017 13:25

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