Did you know?
The building that houses the South End Museum was once the Seamen’s Institute of Port Elizabeth.
If you should speak to an old-timer from Port Elizabeth, ask him about life in the famous South End district before 1965.
By all accounts, South End, which houses the South End Museum, was a microcosm of the perfect South Africa: a lively community of Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, Malays, Greeks, Portuguese and Chinese people, to name a few.
They lived together, cheek by jowl, worshipped in a dozen different churches, temples and mosques, ran their businesses together and schooled their children together. This took place at the height of the infamous apartheid era, when a raft of laws officially separated all races from mixing in most ways.
The South End suburban buildings had that 'grande dame' feel about them. They were stylish, ageing and high ceilinged. Someone best described them as reminding one of ‘rural South America’ with their charming, nearly rundown look.
South End was the spawning ground for good sportsmen and many musicians. The old Alabama Hotel was the honeypot of hot jazz music, featuring bands like the Modernaires, the Cubans and the Rio – not to mention the Soul Jazz Men, the Debonairs and the Cavaliers.
Those who once lived in the old South End remember that there was an atmosphere of togetherness in their community, a spirit of cooperation that transcended any exterior differences.
The Group Areas Act – arguably the most harmful of all apartheid legislation – came into force in 1950. By 1965, the apartheid bulldozers had moved into South End and demolished most of the suburb. The residents were dispatched to new residential areas and townships, according to their race and colour. South End was one of the tragic stories of forced removals in South Africa.
These days, the South End Museum on Humewood Road is where you go to recapture those times. One of the displays is a massive floor map of the old South End. Other rooms contain photographic memories of the community and its sporting achievements, as well as tributes to the heroes who lived here.
From the South End Museum, you can also embark on a walking tour. A guide, who is also a former South Ender, will take you around to see 15 major landmarks of South End, and will tell you the stories of the people who once thrived there.