EDENDALE municipality has never existed, but it should have done. James Allison, the dissident Wesleyan missionary, arrived in Natal from Swaziland in 1847 with a destitute refugee community of 400 that had originated in Transorangia and settled at Ndaleni, near Richmond. Confusion over title to the land, and Allison’s disciplinary case for contumacy, led to the move to the Msunduzi Valley in 1851.

For £1 300 Allison and 90 kholwa (Christian convert) shareholders bought the farm Welverdiend, once owned by Andries Pretorius, naming it Edendale. Each shareholder had a ¼ acre allotment, ¾ acres of arable land and access to commonage. The owner was Allison, but as title deeds were not issued until 1861 the exact identity of the founding shareholders is unknown. There were 500 original inhabitants, including non-Christian squatters. The project had powerful supporters: Pietermaritzburg lawyer and Natal Witness editor David Dale Buchanan; and High Commissioner, Sir George Grey, who made an interest-free loan of £200 and a £70 donation towards a school.

The village was named Georgetown after Grey. The plan was to convert the land to freehold overseen by a trust with the power to levy rates, and apply later to become a municipality. This was a remarkable ambition for people with very recent roots in the completely different world view of pre-colonial society. Edendale was run on strict non-conformist Christian principles with a ban on alcohol and polygamy. Land was regarded as a commodity and there was an emphasis on agriculture and artisanship, the roots of an enterprising independent peasantry.

By 1857 Edendale had 62 houses with demarcated allotments, vegetable gardens and fruit trees. As early as 1852, when Pietermaritzburg was barely more than a village, Edendale was supplying produce and undercutting white farmers. It had good alluvial soil, eight kilometres of irrigation furrows and a maize mill, managed by Daniel Msimang, later one of the first black Wesleyan missionaries. The people of Edendale with their Indaleni artisan education worked in Pietermaritzburg during the week as thatchers, masons, hedgers, carpenters, brickmakers and blacksmiths. Their cattle, under pre-colonial conditions a store of wealth, became a means of making profit.

Edendale life was very similar to that of colonial settlers and, based on the model of an English village, focused on church, school, store and mill. Education was rudimentary and concentrated on practical skills valued in the local labour market. Headman Elijah Kambule employed servants. The shrewd commercial farmers of Edendale were regarded as reliable debtors and commended by Lieutenant-Governor Scott; while trade links developed with the Swazi, Pondo of the Eastern Cape and Adam Kok’s people in East Griqualand. Intermarriage created strong bonds among Christian families, but lobolo was still practised. Industry, sobriety and piety were the standards of the Edendale elite and the station was regarded as the most successful mission in Natal.

Allison presided as patriarch and counsellor and by 1859 the farm was paid off. But it was then discovered that delays meant an extra survey cost of £350, a situation for which Allison was held responsible. He left Edendale, the community turned back to the Wesleyans, and with the help of Buchanan deeds were issued in 1861. The community’s trustees were Theophilus Shepstone, Robert Mann and the general superintendent of the Natal Wesleyans. They administered usage and rents over the commonage, water and woodland, streets and paths, market and graveyard. But the dream of municipal status was not realised: this was private governance under Wesleyan missionaries.

From this point the history of Edendale became one of a struggle for identity and survival against serious odds. The oNonhlevu (first arrivals) had greater status and independence after Allison’s departure and engaged in a conflict over the poor standard of education, but the Wesleyans controlled the school subsidy. The economic depression of the mid-1860s was caused by insufficient production and capital to bear the cost of speculation, plus crop failure, which affected all communities. Pietermaritzburg was insolvent as early as 1862. Edendale suffered enormous financial setbacks, although little land was lost. Indeed, out-migration was caused by hiring white land at Cedara, and the purchase of Driefontein farm near Ladysmith and Crown land elsewhere. This Edendale diaspora was later reinforced by Unzondelelo (Native Home Misionary Society), which represented spiritual revival and a new sense of religious independence.

Economic revival in the 1870s was not matched by social or political status for the people of Edendale. Indeed, the colonial authorities, influenced by white racism and complaints about labour shortages, became increasingly hostile to kholwa communities. They existed in legally ambiguous space on the boundary of customary (kinship-based) and colonial law. As Daniel Msimang put it, ‘We are in the light and yet in darkness;’ to which Job Kumalo added, ‘Our spirits belong to civilisation.’ The Natal government only grudgingly agreed: from 1865 it allowed individual exemption from customary law, but would not deal with the community as a whole. However, marriage, land inheritance and commerce all remained legal grey areas. By 1895 there were only 1 290 exemptions in Natal.

The demand for civic rights was signalled in 1887 by foundation at Edendale of the Funamalungelo Society, the first modern African political organisation (it later became the Natal Native Congress.) At St Alban’s College, Inkanyiso Yase Natal was edited by Solomon Kumalo. By 1895 it was fully black-owned and advocating the franchise for exempted Africans. The response from most whites, many of them the failures of metropolitan society, was hostility and contempt.

In 1891 the Code of Native Law had designated the AmaKholwa as just another tribe. Chiefs had already lost their customary role and become colonial functionaries, exercising duties without real authority. Edendale had changed little in 40 years with 138 owners, although some were now Indian market gardeners and white artisans. Most of them were absent, but plots were used by families and only 25 were tenanted. Yet Stephanus Mini, the third headman, became chief and abused his powers over forced labour and compensation for stock damage. Opposition to him took a familiar form: a petition for municipal government.

By the 1890s new tensions arose as a result of drinking; and around the priorities of the Natal government. Landowners managed to avoid the appointment of a chief supported mainly by non-exempt voters, an outcome that would have elevated tenant interests above those of owners. Ongoing strife around the position of chief was a direct consequence of a lack of municipal status desired by Christian landowners.

The history of Edendale is one of tenacity and determination to forge and maintain identity against enormous odds. A desire for self-determination and the democratic governance rights extended to white Natalians of similar means, status and education was regularly thwarted. In the late nineteenth century this was partly due to settler resentment of kholwa economic success, especially in agriculture.

With promulgation of the 1913 Natives Land Act, Edendale was designated a scheduled area under a trust without administrative or financial powers. Another request for municipal status was rejected in the 1930s, but a local health authority was established in the 1940s. Under apartheid Edendale was treated as just another township with an advisory board. That an African middle class engaged in a variety of economic activities survived alongside it was due to tenacious land ownership.

  • ● The leading original Edendale landowners were Jonathan Xaba, Daniel Msimang, Johannes Kumalo and Dan Molife. Other prominent family names were Kambule, Kunene, Hlubi, Mini, Mavuso and Dube.

Nalini Naidoo continues the story to the present day:

POST-APARTHEID, the Edendale landowners [of the Edendale Landowners’ and Ratepayers’ Association, ELRA] continue their tenacious fight … When opportunities for African farmers and traders began to shut down and they could no longer sell their produce, many Edendale landowners took to renting out portions of their land to tenants. The situation changed dramatically in the 1980s with the violence in surrounding areas. Refugees moved in droves into Edendale and the landowners felt compelled to offer them refuge. The result was that informal dwellings began mushrooming throughout the valley. However, the problem was that the refugees did not pay rent and soon the existing tenants also stopped paying their rent. It was said at the time that 85% of the tenants stopped paying rent in 1985 and the landowners were owed millions.

With the end of the violence, families stayed on. When South Africa became a democracy, the landowners wanted to develop their land. However, in order to do so, they would have to relocate the families living on their properties. Some approached the city council for help. At the same time, tenants began demanding housing.

In 1998, the then Department of Local Government released R4 million to be paid out as compensation to landowners to give up the commonages in their area. This land was to be expropriated and was earmarked for 20 000 houses to be built in the Edendale-Slangspruit area. The ELRA complained about the lack of consultation from the TLC [Transitional Local Council], the paymaster in this venture. By 2001, Mayor Hloni Zondi called on Edendale landowners to say how much they wanted for plots occupied by their tenants in order for the council to bring about infrastructural development in the area. The ELRA complained that the decision to expropriate their land for housing was taken by the council without consulting them. In the same year, tenants marched to the municipality demanding housing and blamed the ELRA for standing in the way of development in Edendale. The association felt that some councillors at the time were behind this. ELRA spokesperson Mkhungo Ndlovu said that the prevailing view among these councillors was that it was politically incorrect for black landowners in Edendale to lease their land to black tenants.

Ndlovu said that their problems piled up when the municipality began demanding rates from the landowners. This meant that they ended up being made to pay for houses owned by tenants who built them without the consent of landowners. He added that the municipality refused to negotiate this rates question with the ELRA in order to find a solution. By 2002, Msunduzi Municipality had come up with a plan to build low-cost housing throughout much of Edendale. This was a blow to the association because they did not want Edendale to become yet another dormitory township of matchbox houses. They argued that they did not want the RDP [Reconstruction and Development Programme]-type houses that were built at France on the Richmond Road, and preferred the Cato Manor [Durban]-type low-cost housing. As yet, they are in the dark as to what type of houses will be built.

Subsequent Msunduzi municipal councils have continued with the programme of wanting to expropriate the land for housing development. The landowners have continued to be unhappy about the prices offered for their land by developers. They say even if they wanted to sell their land the prices offered were unacceptably low. However, they remain baffled as to why the council wants to divest them of their land, as black ownership is Edendale’s historical legacy.

It is a legacy of which the city should be proud and seek to maintain, said Ndlovu. He said that rather than seeing them as part of the problem, they should be invited to be part of the solution to the development of Edendale. For a start, they want proper town planning in the area, so that Edendale develops from being a township to a suburb. Ndlovu said that they are often told that there was no town planning in Edendale. He said that this was not the case and that when the Health Commission ran the affairs of Edendale, there was proper town planning. Landowners had to get permission to put up even the smallest structure on their land.

The members of ELRA want to see Edendale develop into a suburb that accommodates low-cost housing, bank-charter housing, houses bought with mortgage bonds and rental stock. Above all, they are hoping that in 2013 as the country commemorates the anniversary of the 1913 Land Act, government focuses with them on finding a solution for Edendale. Their struggles continue and they are not giving up. They feel they have no choice: they have to honour the legacy that their forebears fought for with such tenacity.

  • ● The members of the ELRA are chairperson Humphrey Mkhize, vice-chairperson Arnold Kumalo, secretary Phumani Zondi, treasurer Tanduxolo Khonza. The executive members are Dumisani Khumalo, Mandlakosi Sikhakhana, Mkhungo Ndlovu, Aubrey Ngcobo and Hitler Mbambo. Edendale’s population is estimated at 228 000 with over 10 000 landowners – 146 landowners so far have agreed to sell their land for development, which has been largely earmarked for low-cost housing.
  • This article was first published in The Witness on 4 November 2013 and entitled ‘Edendale’s land legacy’.

Further reading: Sheila Meintjes, Edendale, 1850−1906: A Case Study of Rural Transformation and Class Formation in an African Mission in Natal (PhD thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies,University of London, 1988).