The Longest Ride – Part VI: Exploring Segregated Pre-Apartheid South Africa

The Brethren Service Committee accepted the job of recruiting UNRRA’s cattle tenders with the motivation of providing “an unusually broadening and educational experience” for the men who served. The S. S. Carroll Victory‘s stop in Durban, South Africa, to pick up horses for Greece in December 1946 most certainly provided that opportunity for Charlie Lord. His eight days in Durban gave him a window into the racial situation in South Africa that led to the creation of the “Apartheid” laws and system only months later in 1948.

Durban, South Africa, December 1946. Photo by Paul Beard.

On his first full day in port, Lord looked up two fellow Quakers who helped arrange some visits for the Carroll Victory seagoing cowboys. The first tour took them to the McCord Hospital for Natives, located, not without objection, in the fashionable white Berea section of Durban. “Twenty-one cattlemen took the bus,” Lord said. “We rode thru miles of a beautiful city. . . .They have 325 beds, are forced to turn away people all the time. Short of money, help and equipment. Very, very interesting!”

Children at the McCord Hospital for Natives, Durban, South Africa, December 1946. © Charles Lord

That evening, Lord went with one of his Quaker contacts to a meeting of the Joint Council of Europeans and Natives to hear Mr. Barrett, the Chief Magistrate of Durban, speak. “His talk was interesting,” Lord said, “but the discussion afterwards was much much more fascinating. Intelligent natives really put Barrett on the spot. He was obviously on the defensive all the time. After the meeting ended, several cattlemen talked with 3 or 4 of the Negroes for about half an hour, and learned an awful lot.”

The next day, Lord and some other cowboys spent time with Lord’s other Quaker contact. “Maurice told us the origin and nature of the Indian problem in S. Africa,” Lord said, “the background of the present Passive Resistance movement. We all found it fascinating.

“When we first arrived I wondered why everything is marked European or non-European, why they divided it that way. I can understand now. That is the easiest way to separate the white from all the other groups when you have four distinct castes. They are:
–White European – about 25% of the Union of SA maybe
–Indian – 20% or less of Natal [the province where Durban is located] (not the Union)
–Native – 50 to 75% in both Natal and the whole Union
–Colored – small % of mulattos
The Indian men tend to be intelligent, good businessmen, but women uneducated. Many of the men own shops, make lots of money, which is probably one of the reasons for white hatred of them – economic.”

The next afternoon, cameras in tow, Lord set out on his own to explore the Indian quarter. He fortunately was taken under the wings of a couple of honest young Indian men who took him around. “Without them I would have been sunk,” Lord said, “might even have been in real danger.” The men took him through the Indian and native barracks, separated by a wire fence and built and owned by the city of Durban for city employees. “Some of them are very bad,” Lord said, “but many are quite nice. The native barracks were significantly better constructed and planned than the Indian ones.”

Native barracks, Durban, South Africa, December 1946. © Charles Lord

Barracks in the Indian quarter, Durban, South Africa, December 1946. © Charles Lord.

Lord’s “good-will ambassadors” took him into Indian homes, to a Hindu temple, and into an off-the-beaten-path basement pool hall, all the while explaining to Lord Indian customs and grievances. When back uptown, reminiscent of his experience in Virginia, Lord noted, “We couldn’t go in a restaurant to eat together. I bought a sack of candy and shared it with them.”

Another full day followed, with a regular bus tour for the cowboys into Zululand and the Valley of a Thousand Hills, a place where they could not have gone on their own. “You have to have a pass to enter the territory,” Lord said.

Cooke’s Tour Bus in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa, December 17, 1946. Photo by Paul Beard.

“We saw lots of wonderful photographic material but breezed right past most of it. We did stop at one native village, fairly typical I guess, except for commercialization.”

Zula huts in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa, December 17, 1946. The white-walled hut is the Chief’s. © Charles Lord.

A tall Zulu lad, December 17, 1946, Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa. © Charles Lord.

Lord’s stop in Durban was rounded out by viewing movies taken by a friend of one of his Quaker contacts showing “extraordinary” footage of Indian yearly festival customs, native war dances, and native religious ceremonies, capped off with “quite a discussion on politics” with a young Afrikaner of Dutch descent who was there.

Lord’s eight days in Durban had indeed provided a truly “educational and broadening experience”.

~ to be continued

Once again, my deep appreciation to Charlie Lord for granting me permission to share his photos and accounts from his letters.

3 thoughts on “The Longest Ride – Part VI: Exploring Segregated Pre-Apartheid South Africa

  1. Hi Peggy! Thank you for linking to my post on McCords Hospital in Durban, South Africa, I’m reading and learning about the Seagoing Cowboys with fascination. Great job!
    I have linked to your SC blog in my story now, as well as specifically to the Durban post. Keep digging and enjoying!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very fascinating and detailed information on how things went back in 1946 in Durban. As a matter of fact, when I was in Durban in 1995, not really much had changed there…

    Liked by 1 person

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