Imvubu Newsletter

Ginsberg - an early history researched

 © Pienaar, S. 2003 Imvubu 15: 3.

Mr Bavusile Maaba from the Steve Biko Foundation paid a visit to the History Section in November. The Foundation is currently conducting research on the history of Ginsberg location with the view of possible publication. The Historian subsequently searched through the early local newspapers, especially the Cape Mercury, for more information on the establishment of Ginsberg.

The township, named after the prominent local councillor and member of parliament, Senator Franz Ginsberg, for his active role in the establishment of the township, was founded as a direct response to the outbreak of bubonic plague in the Cape Colony in 1901. According to the Town Council, the advent of the plague made better housing conditions and sanitary requirements prevalent, but it also gave impetus to efforts of segregating the town.

The new township was situated next to the existing Tsolo location on the west bank of the Buffalo River ‘at a spot chosen for the salubrity and convenience of its situation’. Fifty wattle and daub huts, 17 foot in diameter with 6 foot walls, thatched roofs and two glazed windows, were subsequently erected by the Council. They were built in five rows of ten, whitewashed inside and out, and contained flooring made of beaten ant heap. The wattles and poles were obtained from the Pirie Forest and the remaining materials in the town and district. The sanitation scheme was not elaborated on in the newspapers, but was apparently a new departure for the Council.

The Town Council initially charged 10 shillings per hut per month which included an adjacent plot of land. So-called overcrowding was prevented by instituting a maximum limit of six inhabitants per house. The Council felt that the rental fee was nominal, but the truth of the matter was that many prospective inhabitants struggled to pay this amount in advance, as was required by the Council.

The immediate response from potential tenants was not enthusiastic. By the middle of December 1901 only 18 of the huts had been let. Instead of inducing blacks to leave the town centre, the new location attracted rural blacks who moved to King William’s Town looking for work. This situation must have changed however, because by April 1904 a further 30 huts were erected by the Council.

By 1908 two trail brick huts, roofed with iron and thatch respectively, was erected. This was viewed by the Council as an improvement on the original wattle and daub huts. In the same year 116 houses were occupied by 503 people in Ginsberg. There were three buildings in the township which served as both school and church. These buildings belonged to the Salvation Army and the English churches respectively.

The last of the original Ginsberg huts were demolished as recently as 1999 by the local authorities. Another piece of tangible history was subsequently lost.


The Cape Mercury 18.10.1901

Caldwell, Sharon E. The course and results of the plague in King William’s Town, 1900 -1907. Unpublished BA Honours thesis, UNISA, 1987

Photo Caption: Early Ginsberg, circa 1901.