Rustenburg the Segregated city

Towards Union

The Afrikaner character of the town persisted after Union in 1910, and there was little to attract other Whites to the area. The population, according to the 1916 edition of The Guide to South and East Africa, stood at 900 whites and 960 blacks.

When WWI broke out, some Boer leaders seized the occasion to mount a rebellion. The war saw the Boer community divided in two: those opposed to efforts to side with the British and those, like Smuts and Botha, who stood with the British against the Germans. The plan to invade German-held South West Africa was met with "considerable opposition", according to Smuts Jr.

The army's Commander in Chief, Beyers, tendered his resignation, and tried to mobilise Boer leaders like De la Rey to join his cause. Beyers was later defeated by Botha near Rustenburg, as was Jopie Fourie, who was defeated in Zoutspansdrift in August 1914.

Three regiments of Kgafela-Kgatla served with the British in South West Africa, while another regiment served in France as part of the South African Native Labour Contingent.

The economy of the region was hard hit by the war. In July 1919, the Rustenburg branch of the Suid Afrikaanse Vroue Federasie (Housewive's federation) convened for the first time. Essentially a welfare grouping for Afrikaners, the institution of the branch was prompted by the 1918 griep (flu) epidemic. Many Afrikaners were hard hit by poverty, and the federation began to run soup kitchens in 1922. The worsening of poverty in the period after the Great Depression, especially from 1938 to 1942 saw the federation step up its activities.

Labour shortages worsened in the 1920s, when the Native Recruiting Corporation employed local BaTswana to work on the Rand mines. By 1937, the corporation signed three-year leases with the Kgafela-Kgatla to situate transit points in Saulspoort.

In the 1920s, the residents of Bethlehem were removed to the township of Tlhabane, some 5km from the centre of town. Infrastructural development and the emergence of various services also proceeded apace. The Rustenburg Power Station began producing power in the early 1920s, and while 264000 units were sold in 1929, by 1938 the figure rose to 940660 units, and 1742561 units by 1945, to 4083752 units in 1950, after which Eskom set up substations and became the main provider of electricity.

An irrigation dam at Olifant's Nek, completed in 1932, covered an area of 2004 morgen, drawing water from the Hex River. It placed 12290 acres under water, and two smaller dams in Boschpoort (16km from Rustenburg) and Buffelspoort (24km from Rustenburg) were completed in 1933.

The tobacco industry in particular benefited from the increased availability of water. It grew exponentially, producing 8.2 million pounds of tobacco in 1929, which rose to 16 million pounds in 1944, and passed the 30-million pound mark in 1950.

In 1938, the SPCA was established in Rustenburg, by a Miss Lilford.

Population figures depended on the state of mining and other economic activity (See Box) and therefore The Great Depression saw people leave the town in search of better economic opportunities. However, the subsequent recovery saw a steady growth of the population.

Year Whites Black, Indians, Coloureds Total
1929 2757 2650 5888
1932 2757 2650 5407
1936 3132 2935 6067
1939 4000 >3000 >7000
1946 8834 5653 14487

The Apartheid city

Like all apartheid cities in South Africa, Rustenburg was a divided city, whites in the town, and blacks on the periphery, in townships, allowed into white areas only when their labour was required.

But such was the rigour of apartheid implementation in Rustenburg that, as in other towns in conservative areas, the town was subject to a strict curfew. Blacks were not allowed in the streets after 9pm, when a siren reminded all and sundry that the curfew would begin. Black residents required special documents from their employers, officials or the police, if they needed to move around after 9pm.

The Rustenburg Kloof, until 1954 an open area that was used by locals as a picnic spot, was established as a resort for Whites. It was closed off and amenities such as showers, toilets and eating spots were installed. More financial services became available to cater to the growing mining and agricultural industries, and Sanlam opened its first branch on 4 January 1964.

Meanwhile, the development of the mining industry saw more and more Whites settling in the town, and new suburbs were proclaimed in 1964: Proteapark, Cashan 1 and Avondrust Extension 5.

In her autobiography, PhenyoVictory, Maggie Bopalamo reports that when she taught at the Tlhabane Teachers Training College in 1983, White lecturers were among the staff even though, as a college for Black trainee teachers, all the students were Black.  The White lecturers, many of whom did not have qualifications deemed adequate for positions at White institutions, were paid extra for teaching at a Black college. Bopalamo also reports that there were two staff rooms, one for Whites and one for Blacks, reflecting the micro-political forms of segregation enforced in just about every institution throughout the country.

The National Party held the parliamentary seat in Rustenburg throughout the apartheid period, but the white supremacist AWB had a strong presence in the town too, and established a training camp not far from the city centre. In 1988, AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche proposed standing for election for the seat, but eventually scuttled his plan.

In the early 1990s, after farmers had ejected them from White farms, about 600 homeless people took refuge at the Catholic Church in St Joseph's, just outside Phokeng. Some two hundred farmers decided to come to the mission and eject the homeless people, but Bishop Kevin Dowling got help from the police to keep the farmers at bay. The homeless people were eventually transferred to Boitokong.

When homeland legislation came into force, Black people in Rustenburg lost their rights to SA citizenship. They were forced to submit their SA identity documents and passports and given Bophuthatswana documents.

Forced Removals & township resettlement

Forced removals were particularly brutally enforced. Whole communities were loaded onto trucks, with only the possessions they could carry, and dumped in the veld (open areas), without any facilities or infrastructure. From Rustenburg itself, people were removed to an area near today's Sun City. From Twee Rivier, near Brits on the Crocodile River, people were moved to Rooikraalspruit.

In total, more than 200 000 people from the region were relocated. The Winterveld removals were a particularly vicious episode, where the homeland's "national defence force" was used in raids against squatters and "non-Tswana" traders. Despite the plans of apartheid social engineers, older townships began to grow, and new townships were established in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Indians were moved out of the town centre to a site close to industrial areas, called Zinniaville.

Tlhabane, already established in the 1920s, began to see further extensions. Tlhabane was first known as Oukasie (Old Location) and was first settled by people who were later classified as Coloured. They were the offspring of the slaves of Boers from Lydenburg and other areas in the Transvaal. They were Afrikaans speaking black people originally settled in Bethlehem, where the Pick n Pay store stands today. In 1977 Tlhabane was incorporated into Bophuthatswana.

Phokeng, the headquarters of the BaFokeng, saw significant growth, especially after apartheid ended.

Boitokong and Hartebeesfontein were established in the 1960s and 1970s. Since they fell on the South African side of the border, they came under the administration of the Transvaal Provincial Authority.

Other townships, such as Phokeng, and newly created townships Geelhoutpark, Meriteng and Monakato, fell under the Bophuthatswana government.

Bophututswana: homeland politics

The South African Homelands

The history of Rustenburg is, because of the nature and function of the Bantustan system, at the same time the history of Bophuthutswana, especially after the homeland was "granted independence" in 1977.

But two other factors also take on increasing significance for the region's history: from June 1976 onwards, after students in the surrounding townships and in the homeland emulated their Soweto counterparts, the region was the site of continuing unrest; and secondly, this is the same period during which labour unrest and attempts to unionise mineworkers accelerate, forever changing the apparently placid temper of the region.

When the homeland laws were passed, Bophuthatswana was set aside for the Tswana people, and all Tswana automatically became citizens of the Bantustan, having lost any rights in South Africa proper. Rustenburg was divided into two, a South African sector and a sector that fell into Bophuthatswana, with Plein Street as the boundary between the two 'countries'.

In 1972, Bophuthatswana, a discontinuous territory made up of seven enclaves, became a self-governing state, and in 1977 was granted 'independence' by the apartheid regime, the first homeland to have this status forced onto it. Mmabatho was made the seat of government.

Lucas Mangope became president, and in the first election his Bophuthatswana Democratic Party gained the most seats in the 96-seat parliament. Of these, only 48 were open for election, the other 48 being reserved for local chiefs who were appointed by Mangope. The Seoposengwe Party, a front for more radical forces who decided to fight against apartheid from within the system, won six seats.

Bophutatswana independence was not recognised by any country except Israel, although Botswana took a pragmatic attitude and had some relations with the "state" to facilitate cross-border matters.

Mangope wielded his authority in tyrannical fashion, cracking down brutally on any resistance to apartheid or to his government.

The coup in Bophuthatswana

Rocky Malebane-Metsing

Mangope's increasingly dictatorial rule prompted Rocky Malebane-Metsing to mount a coup. The organising of the coup was a major exercise, necessitating a search for allies in almost every department of the Bophuthatswana government, the army, police force, broadcasting services and other apparatuses. Despite the massive spread of people this involved, the plan had to remain secret if it was to be a success, and if deaths were to be avoided.

On 10 February 1988 the coup plotters moved, took over army barracks, police stations, the TV and radio stations, and the telephone exchange. Mangope and his ministers were all arrested, as were brigadiers, army generals, police officials and other strategic figures. By 6am, they were all in jail, except for the foreign minister, who managed to escape by jumping a fence, and sought refuge in the South African embassy in Mmabatho. His defection gave the South African government a reason to put the coup down and invade Bophuthatswana.

Malebane-Metsing spoke to PW Botha to convince him that his rule would be better than that of Mangope, but the South African president was livid, and sent in the army, which surrounded the stadium where the captives were held, and freed them. The coup had failed.

Malebane-Metsing escaped to Botswana, but many of the plotters, as well as many not at all involved in the overthrow, were also arrested. Among those arrested were Maggie Bopalamo and her husband.

Sun City

Sun City began as an idea in the mind of Sol Kerzner, an entrepreneur.  In the mid-1970s, he decided to build a luxury casino resort in Bophuthatswana, an idea that could only be conceived because Bophuthatswana enjoyed the status of an 'independent' state after 1977. As such, Bophuthatswana did not have the strict Calvinist ethos and laws that were dominant in SA.

Since gambling was not allowed in South Africa, Kerzner sought to exploit the homeland's more "liberal" ethos to establish South Africa's first casino. The casino was targeted at South African clientele, using the Bantustan's pool of labour to clean up after Whites and other middle class South Africans flocked to sample forbidden pleasures.

Soft porn movies were screened in a further transgression of the Calvinist ethos, and prostitution made interracial sex possible, flouting the Immorality Act, with White men sleeping with Black women.

After securing a deal with Bophuthatswana President Lucas Mangope, Kerzner began construction in July 1978, and the resort opened its doors on 7 December 1979. Situated in the Pilanesberg, the resort was a glaring example of American kitsch, overwhelming visitors with its plush 340-room hotel, Gary Player-designed golf course, man made lake, huge swimming pool and, of course, the huge casino.

The Pilanesberg Game Reserve was created to add to the entertainment facilities, on a site from which 100 Black families were removed to make way for the resort.

Liza Minelli performed at the resort, giving White South Africans the impression that the international cultural boycott was slowly being eroded. But she performed to an apparently mixed audience after free tickets were given to Blacks to satisfy her reluctance to perform in front of a Whites-only audience.

The success of the venture ensured that large-scale expansions would follow, and various other additions were made to the resort, such as a state-of-the-art music stadium, the Superbowl, which was opened by Frank Sinatra in July 1981.

The Lost City was the next major addition to the resort. Other artists, condemned by anti-apartheid activists, who played at Sun City, include Dame Kiri Janette Te Kanawa, Elaine Page, Queen, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, Julio Iglesias, The O'Jays, Ray Charles, Boney M, Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Laura Branigan and Thomas Anders (of Modern Talking fame).

The establishment of the resort, although peripheral to Rustenburg, exerted a significant effect on the town as well as on South Africa as a whole. It offered activities that were forbidden in South Africa, and became a draw-card for locals as well as people from all over the country. 

There was some economic benefit for Rustenburg, in that the town is the closest large city in the vicinity, and acts as a source of commodities and services for the complex and its visitors. As a way station, traffic through Rustenburg increased, and with the development of the mining industry, Sun City currently provides leisure activities for employees of the mines.

By the time economic and cultural sanctions made news, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain and the US became more effective, people began to get a sense that they should boycott Sun City.

Stevie van Zandt, formerly of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, mobilised musicians to form an association called Artists United Against Apartheid, and they released a song called AintGonna Play Sun City. The track featured 54 artists, among them Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run DMC, Peter Gabriel, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Jackson Browne and then-girlfriend Darryl Hannah, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil-Scott Heron, Nona Hendryx, Pat Benatar, and Joey Ramone.

The project raised more than $1-million for the Anti-Apartheid movement, and drew attention to the oppressive conditions in South Africa, and dissuaded many artists from performing in the country.

Mining the riches of Rustenburg

Mining began in the vicinity when Henry Hartley's claims of ancient gold diggings were confirmed by German traveller Karl Mauch in 1868. Mauch, who foresaw the development of gold mining after discovering several reefs around the Transvaal, was also the first to find deposits of chrome ore in the Rustenburg area. In 1865, he noted the existence of the mineral along the Hex River, and included its location on the geological map he drew up at the time.

In the 1890s, prospectors explored the farm De Kroon in search of platinum. The Mining & Industrial magazine of Southern Africa reported in 1925 that a prospector had sunk a shaft some 80 or 90 feet on the farm before the outbreak of the South African War.  In 1907, an incline shaft was sunk in De Kroon, revealing chrome iron beds, but it was only in 1921 that the first attempts to mine chrome commercially were made. The Union Steel Corporation managed to mine 400 tons of ore.

Dr Percy Wagner made a fresh study of the area in 1923, reporting that there were 'impregnations of chrome' along norite deposits, some as large as 30 inches wide. Two years later, in 1925, De KroonPlatinums was established, when the company noted: "All chrome seams so far opened up are carrying platinum in payable quantities."

The discovery of the Bushveld Igneous Complex revealed that the region was home to the largest deposit of chrome, a mineral essential to the production of high-grade steel. The survey revealed: "The Western Belt extends for about 100 miles as follows: from Brits towards Rustenburg and then northwards, skirting the Pilanesberg on its western side and continuing almost as far as the Crocodile River."

Export of the metal in 1928 stood at 35005 tons, doubling to 70520 tons by 1929. But the Great Depression saw production crash to 15129 tons in 1930, only to recover five years later. Steady advances thereafter saw the establishment of several large companies, including Rustenburg Chrome Mines (Pty) ltd in 1938.

Diamond and nickel finds proved unrewarding, although 29 tons of nickel was brought to surface in 1938. The discovery of Blue Granite, norite, proved to be a more valuable find, and the stone has been exported to many European countries. It was used to build the Marble Arch cinema in London, and annual exports in the 1950s reached 250 000 tons. The abundance of the stone prompted the emergence of a thriving stone cutting and polishing industry in Rustenburg.

The introduction of apartheid coincided with the beginnings of mining in the area, although Rustenburg Platinum Mines had already been established by 1940. When the price of platinum began to climb, Dr Merensky concluded a deal with the BaFokeng in 1966 and, under the company name Impala Platinum, began to mine the metal in 1969, having been granted a mining licence in 1967. The company was listed on the JSE in 1972.

The platinum group of metals includes asbestos, tin, chrome, lead, marble, granite and slate, and these are all mined in the area.

By 1966, support services began to have a presence in the town, and Afrox, a supplier of gas and welding material, set up shop.

By the 1980s, the price of platinum had climbed to unprecedented heights, and many large companies were established in the mining industry. RPM and Implats are the largest players. Implats at first mined the Merensky Reef, and in the early 1980s it began to mine the UG2 chromitite layer as the technology to smelt higher chrome ore was developed.

By the early 1990s, Implats was producing 1-million ounces every year. In 1968 it had acquired a mining lease over land owned by the BaFokeng, later known as the Royal BaFokeng Nation (RBN), and in 1999 it was granted a 40-year lease. The RBN now earns royalties from all ore mined on its land. In March 2007, RBN secured an agreement to convert royalties into equity to become Implats's largest shareholder.

Throughout the apartheid period the mining companies were guilty of keeping mineworkers in abject conditions, and in the 1980s, when the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) began to unionise mineworkers, the mines were the scene of many strikes. But even after apartheid was dismantled, the mines have been accused of worker exploitation.

According to one report: "At Impala Platinum's Rustenburg operations workers are living in appalling conditions at "Freedom Park" squatter camp in close proximity of some of the richest platinum mines in the world. On a recent visit health workers told me that more than 60% of the population of Freedom Park is HIV positive. All the mining corporations are retrenching tens of thousands of workers monthly in the Rustenburg area, as the National Union of Mineworkers has informed me. These workers are not only losing their jobs and income, but also their access to Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART)."

In December 2001, 1500 mineworkers handed over a memorandum to Implats accusing the company of being racist. According to the Num: "The company appoints only whites to senior positions and overlooks any skilled personnel from among the previously disadvantaged workers implements a race-based disparity in wages, paying whites more than their black counterparts even though they are in the same work categories."

Furthermore, Num alleged: "From September 2000 to September 2001, Implats has dismissed over 2000 black employees. Within the same period, over 1000 blacks have resigned citing dissatisfaction with their job classification and the benefits thereof, compared to the white employees."

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