1919 – 1940

Life in Cape Town 1919 – 1945

The First World War hastened the modernisation of Cape Town. While its basic structures had already been set in place before the Great War, between 1919 and 1945 the town was transformed into an industrial city, particularly with the development of the docks and the growth of new manufacturing areas. These years also saw the introduction of many of the facilities and conveniences of modern life such as electricity, motorcars and the cinema. At the same time Cape Town grew into a new role as cultural, provincial and legislative capital. A monolithic Provincial Administration building replaced the Wale Street police court, which moved to Caledon Street, to the site of the old barracks.

In the Public Gardens the newly built National Gallery, fronted by a fishpond and a boulevard of war memorials, provided testimony to Cape Town’s status as cultural capital of South Africa. Cape Town was in the forefront setting the pace for other South African cities. The original Dock Road power station was opened in 1904 and its successor, built in 1908, became a prominent feature of the waterfront. (Where the Cullinan & Holiday Inn hotels now stand, at the entrance to the Waterfront)

For the first time since the early nineteenth century the number of blacks overtook that of whites. Most were coloured people but rural impoverishment also drove large numbers of Black to the western Cape. The influx too of ‘poor white’

Afrikaners gave a new profile to the working-class districts of Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory. Gardens, the residential area in the city, became another Afrikaner stronghold between the wars.

For black and white the experience of immigration was often similar. Their various customs and traditions severally and jointly helped dilute Cape Town’s Englishness. In District Six, for instance, coloured and white Afrikaner rural migrants rubbed shoulders with Jewish and Indian shopkeepers. West Indians introduced the language and ideas of African America; and St Helenans lived cheek by jowl with Cape Muslims and the descendants of Filipino fishermen. As fishermen and cooks in boarding houses and hotels, Italians introduced Capetonians to the rich variety of fish off the Cape shores. At the time they only ate stockfish and snoek. The hotels had Italian chefs and Italian maitres d’hotel, so, through them, they brought crayfish, sole and calamari, onto the tables.

Apart from the West Europeans favoured by the official immigration policy, Jews were the largest group to enter the country in the twentieth century. The poorest established themselves in District Six or Woodstock and Salt River, moving later to Oranjezicht, Gardens and Tamboerskloof, or Sea Point. Many found it easier to assimilate in heterogeneous District Six than in white English-speaking Cape Town. Those who had already learnt the ropes passed the local lore and know-how on to newcomers. While the older people cherished the traditions of their homeland, younger people felt the tug of the modern world.

1923 The urban Areas act requires blacks to live in seperate areas to whites.

1924 August, Cape Town’s main war memorials, at the bottom of Adderley Street, opposite the Cape Town Station are unveiled.

In 1920 a site at the bottom of Adderley Street was chosen for Cape Town’s main war memorial. The memorial of two bronze figures on either side of a central needle. This supported the symbolic figure of Victory, modelled on the torso of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. At the base is a roll of honour, covered by a bronze door which has a bas-relief design of Delville Wood.

1925 May, A principal aspect of General Hertzog’s policy is achieved when Dutch is replaced by Afrikaans as one of the official languages of the Union of South Africa. It was done at a Joint Sitting of both Houses of Parliament.

1926 The Adderley Street fasade of the Old Supreme Court is set back 13,4 m. The work is done most meticulously and it is claimed that the present fasade is not only identical, but just as good as Thibault’s original work.

1929 The first section of the Shell Oil head office building on Greenmarket Square is completed. It was designed by WH Grant and completed in two phases. The second section was added in 1941. It became a hotel in 1980. This building, with its central clock tower, forms an important element in the architectural character of Greenmarket Square.

1929 The Cable Way, to the top of Table mountain, is completed. Until this time the mountain had been out of reach to all but the most energetic. The Table Mountain that was the closed preserve of the youthful in body and spirit, prepared to face an arduous climb. It was now accessible to all, without any climb at all.

1930 White South African women are given the vote.

1930 25 August The first of the new ‘trackless trams’, or trolley buses, arrive in Cape Town. They soon plied the thoroughfares of Pretoria and Durban as well as those of the Mother City. Special legislation was introduced to allow both single- and double-deckers on the streets. They enjoyed a five-metre play on either side and were more manoeuvrable – and a great deal quieter. Trolley buses remained a familiar city feature until the end of the 1950s.

1930 3rd of November, The SA National Gallery is opened by the Governor General, the Earl of Athlone. It is situated halfway up Government Avenue, on the left hand side.

By the late 1930s The New Year Carnival had become more formally organised. It persisted throughout the bleak years of the war. By then a Western Province Jubilee Carnival Board had been instituted to work for ‘the betterment of the Minstrels, to improve its organisation, and to keep it under Coloured’ control’.

During the war their garb took on Allied colours, with the Union Jack, the Union of South Africa flag, and the Stars and Stripes worked into the satin outfits which they wore as they sang patriotic songs.

Women had little place in the carnival, except in support roles.

1931 Construction of the Barclays Bank (First National Bank) in Adderley Street is completed. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and Scott. His reaction to the commission was not one of enthusiasm, for he remarked, ‘I really do not feel that I much want to do the work except for a rather natural longing to attempt to remove some of the squalor of Adderley Street.’ This was the last building that Baker designed in South Africa. It shows the approach of the mature architect, with the bold and dignified facade of grey granite and the domed banking hall within the great bronze doors.

1931 Desmond Mpilo Tutu is born. Ordained an Anglican priest in 1961 he was associate director of the World Council of Churches in Britain from 1972 to 1975. He subsequently became Dean of Johannesburg and Bishop of Lesotho. During this period he was an outspoken opponent of apartheid. He was the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 – 1995, and in 1984 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in advocating peaceful opposition to the Apartheid oppression.

1932 Imperial Airways start a regular service between Cape Town and London.

1932 Delville Wood Memorial is unveiled

By the middle of July 1916, 121 officers and 3,032 men of the South African Brigade of the 9th Division have advanced to the fringes of Delville Wood, a key tactical position. On the 15th, they storm the wood, which they then hold for almost a week in the face of ferocious artillery bombardment and infantry counter-attack. Just five officers and 750 men survive unwounded.

German Kaiser Wilhelm II later says: ‘if all divisions had fought like the 9th, I would not have any troops left.’ Author John Buchan describes the battle as ‘an epic of terror and glory scarcely equalled in the entire campaign’.

The Somme offensive lasts five months. By November, the Allies have advanced just five miles, at a cost of 420,000 British, 190,000 French and 650,000 German lives.

General Sir Henry Timson Luken Statue

Ther statue, of Major General Sir Henry Timson Lukin (K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Commander, Legion of Honour, Order of the Nile), stands in his riding breeches gazing at a likely mount being rounded up by two naked men aloft the adjoining Delville Wood memorial. The inscription on his plinth reads:

“He served his King, his Country, and was beloved by his fellow men.”

Major General Sir Henry Timson Lukin was born in Fulham, London, in 1860. In 1879 he came to South Africa and took part in the Zulu War. In 1880 he joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as a Lieutenant. During the South African War he commanded the Artillerv in the Colonial Division and took part in the Siege of Wepener. He was then promoted to Iieutenant Colonel and was awarded the D.S.O. He became the Colonel commanding the Cape Mounted Rifles and later Commandant-General of the Colonial Forces in the Cape. On founding of the Union Defence Force in 1912 he became Inspector-General. In World War I he fought in S. W.A., Egypt and France and commanded the South African Forces at Delville Wood. He rose to the rank of Major General and died in 1925.

Abutting the Avenue is a 25 Ib. Howitzer erected in memory of the Officers, N.C.O.’s and men who fell in the First World War.

It was further dedicated, on the 26th April 1970, by the South African Heavy Artillery Association and the Western Province Branch of the Gunners Association, to the memory of all Artillerymen who laid down their lives for their country in World War II.

1932 August To the left of the Sir George Grey statue, under a pergola of wisteria is a stone Japanese lantern, erected by the Japanese Government in appreciation for the kindness and hospitality shown to Japanese immigrants.

1935 A proposal for the expansion of Table Bay Harbour, and the establishing of the Foreshore through the reclamation of 480 acres of land from the sea is submitted. It was envisaged that the project would result in some 270 acres becoming available for the extension of the central City area itself.

1936 Construction of a new headoffice for Old Mutual Building starts. Built on the corner of Darling and Parliament Street in Cape Town and completed in 1940. It remains the prime example of African-inspired Art Deco architecture in South Africa. Together with the General Post Office building, opposite, boasting 13 floors, was for many years the tallest building in South Africa.

1939 War is declared against Germany. General Herzog resigns as Prime Ministe and is replaced by General Smuts.

1940 The reclamation of the Foreshore starts with the demolition of the old Pier, at the bottom of Adderley Street. Its implementation brought an impressive change to the appearance of central Cape Town. The approach of the Second World War showed all too clearly that the reclamation of the area had been undertaken just in time, when hostilities broke out. The Duncan Basin was nearing completion and without these new facilities the port never could have coped with the vast volume of naval and merchant shipping traffic that called here between 1939 and 1945.

1940 The General Post Office building, overlooking the western side of the Parade is completed. It was built on the site of the old Opera House.

Opposite the main entrance of the G.P.O. is Trafalgar Place, between Parliament and Adderley Streets and adjoining the old Standard Bank. This Square houses one of Cape Town’s most colourful attractions – the world-famous flower sellers. To ensure fairness of trade, they rotate their positions every two weeks, to give everybody the opportunity to trade on the Adderly Street side.

Also to be found here, facing the Post Office is the memorial to Archdeacon Thomas Fothergill Lightfoot, born on 3rd March 1831. He was a priest of the Anglican Church. Around 1860 he translated parts of the English prayer book into High Dutch, opened an adult school for mechanics and was legendary for his work among the poor of Cape Town. During the smallpox epedemic he regularly visited Somerset Hospital, to offer spiritual comfort to the sick. A ward in Somerset Hospital is named after him. He became a Canon in 1870 and Archdeacon in 1885. He died on the 12th November 1904. The drinking fountain, in red Verona marble, is a copy of a 14th Century original in the old market in Verona. It was designed by the architects Herbert Baker and Francis Massey

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