The model native village: early social housing in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa 1926-1931

Whelan, Deborah (2017) The model native village: early social housing in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa 1926-1931. Studia KPZK, 180 . pp. 291-306. ISSN 0079-3493

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The effects of an early modern movement in Europe may not have been patent on the southern tip of Africa until the 1930s for those architects who were seriously progressive. The Union of South Africa, formed in 1910, was more concerned with branding the new Union Government as an amalgam of British and Cape Dutch interests, rather than embracing the new on a distant continent.
However, post-war discourses were similar. The requirements for improved standards of living, access to sanitation, potable water and the new phenomenon of electricity, fitted with the deliberations of the European modernists as to light, air and sunshine. This imperative was exacerbated by repeated malarial outbreaks in the 1920s and the early 1930s which compelled corporate farmers and municipalities to address the requirements of responsible housing, formalising sanitation and access to piped water, thus limiting the breeding grounds of the malaria mosquito.
In Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the then province of Natal, the deliberations of the Borough resulted in the production of social housing rental stock for Africans close to the city, allowing, to a large degree, for a pool of ready labour in close proximity to the city centre, but also exploring the possibilities of high density housing within the city limits. This village, for many years referred to as the ‘Native Village’ became known as Sobantu, and was one of the earliest examples of experimental social housing in the city.
This paper will begin with discussions on post-World War I Europe which highlight a new agenda of housing provision, based on the Modernist premise of ‘light, air and sunshine’, as well as new attitudes towards health. It will then briefly introduce Pietermaritzburg the city, and Natal the region and its politics, before discussing Sobantu the village. It will discuss previous assertions by scholars of control and the ‘sanitation syndrome’ before laying out the history of the construction of the village, and the provision of ancillary services. It will continue by commenting that suppositions in the realm of history could in fact, have been supplemented with studies of architectural trends in order to contextualise the provision of housing for African people as a strategic need, rather than a direct political necessity, in the early decades of the 20th century.

Keywords:Social housing, Sobantu, Modernism, health and architecture, Pietermaritzburg
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K450 Housing
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
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ID Code:30468
Deposited On:27 Feb 2018 12:14

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