For many black people who have lived through apartheid (1948–1994), the hated passbooks they had to carry every day is emblematic of their traumatic experiences of that time. Although the passbook is synonymous with apartheid, the ideology behind it is much older.
In his novel, The Go-Between (1953), Leslie P. Hartley wrote “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. Although Hartley referred to British society at the end of the Victorian era, his famous quote is also relevant to South Africa and other countries that have experienced drastic socio-political changes. The fact that the past is described as “a foreign country” means it can never be fully understood by us who live in the present age because we do not belong there. Post-1994 democratic South Africa and pre-1994 apartheid South Africa are indeed two very different countries. For those who grew up in the former, the latter is “a foreign country”.
In 1918, Batho was founded as one of South Africa’s first so-called “model locations”. In addition to sound town planning and layout, brick houses, and public amenities, Batho also became known for its “generous” plots or “garden areas of 50 ft. by 75 ft.” and the ornamental front gardens that were laid out on them. The Bloemfontein municipality’s decision to provide residents with “garden areas” was motivated by a number of reasons, most of which were of a political nature and embedded in the segregationist ideology of the time.
When Mangaung’s old Waaihoek location was gradually demolished between 1918 and 1941 and its residents were relocated to the new Batho location, an embryonic gardening culture was also transferred there. The Municipality of Bloemfontein’s mostly English-speaking officials envisaged Batho as a “model location” with an “exemplary” layout which provided for individual stands big enough to lay out gardens. Batho became known as a “garden location” because of the English-style gardens that were subsequently laid out and the gardening culture that emerged among mostly middle-class residents. During the period 1918 to 1939, Batho’s gardening culture developed, became established, and then flourished due to the residents’ own efforts, as well as initiatives taken by key municipal officials and councillors.
During its relatively short history Bloemfontein hosted a surprising number of royal visitors. In August 1860 the 16-year-old Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, visited Bloemfontein with the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Grey. In May 1925 the British Crown Prince, also known as the Prince of Wales and later Edward VIII, visited Bloemfontein for two days as part of his South African tour, and in February 1934 his brother Prince George (later the Duke of Kent), fourth eldest son of King George V, also paid a two-day-visit to the capital.