Spaces of Perplexity

Nearly a quarter of a century after South Africa’s first democratic elections were held, the country still grapples with the legacy of apartheid, whether in the form of relationships between people of different races; the massive economic disparity between the rich and poor; or the physical remnants in the form of town planning.

KwaMashu was one of the first townships to emerge in Durban, and was the direct result of the Group Areas Act which saw the forced removal of residents from Cato Manor (uMkhumbane), amongst other areas. The aim was to clear Durban of its ‘slum’ areas, allaying the security concerns of the white residents, and at the same segregating urban areas in terms of race. The KwaMashu township was first proposed in 1948, with construction only starting nearly a decade later, in September 1957. By February 1962, the population of KwaMashu had reached 40 000, and was continuing to grow at a rapid rate as the Group Areas Act was implemented in other areas, and more and more people migrated from rural areas into the city in search of jobs.

The KwaMashu Hostel was built to accommodate these labourers and, as was typical of the time, was a single sex hostel for black male residents. Far from being a home-away-from-home, the hostels built by the apartheid government were made up of row upon row of bare bricks laid out in unimaginative parallel blocks. Hostel residents’ movements were also regulated and policed through apartheid legislation, such as the infamous pass system, administered in the building which now houses the KwaMuhle Museum.

Post-1994 a number of programmes, such as the Hostels to Homes scheme, attempted to transform the buildings into family accommodation. The KwaMashu Hostel now houses not only men, but women and children as well. There are of course instances where the residents adapted well to life within the hostel, but the notoriety of the apartheid hostels remains, with squalid living conditions, and unheard of murder rates.

Published by UKZN Press towards the end of last year, Hostels in  South Africa: Spaces of Perplexity, looks at the transformation of the KwaMashu Hostel in the 21st century. The author, Nomkhosi Xulu-Gama, who spent two years living in the hostel, offers a unique view of life within the KwaMashu community, and specifically of life within the confines of the hostel.

Tomorrow, Wednesday 16th May, Ms Xulu-Gama will be in discussion with the Director of the Chris Hani Institute, Dr S Bhengu, at the Johannesburg launch of Hostels in  South Africa.

For further information please visit the UKZN Press Facebook page.

Image of KwaMashu courtesy of

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