Rats, removals, and redevelopment: plague in Port Elizabeth, 1938

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This chapter argues that in the context of the 1938 plague outbreak in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha), sanitary measures imposed to control the movements of rats were extended to the attempted control of Black and Coloured people living in the suburb of Korsten. In the reports and recommendations of public health officials, numerous houses in Korsten were framed as rat habitats, which allegedly enabled the rodents to breed, nest, and disseminate disease to humans, objects, and other structures in Port Elizabeth. Humans living in this neighbourhood were forcibly removed from their homes, placed under quarantine, and encouraged to move to the model township of New Brighton, a ‘hygienic’, ‘rat-proof ’, segregationists’ utopia. Thus, the process of removing undesirable animals – rats and other rodent residents from Korsten – was also a process of removing Black Africans from the same area. Despite numerous protests from residents and landlords who contested the colonial pathologisation of their homes and properties as rat habitats, 3145 people were evicted. Ultimately, anti-rat measures became segregationist measures, shaping official policy, and also African memories of the removals.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnimals and epidemics
Subtitle of host publicationinterspecies entanglements in historical perspective
EditorsAxel C. Hüntelmann , Christian Jaser, Mieke Roscher, Nadir Weber
Place of PublicationKöln
PublisherBohlau Verlag
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9783412525729
ISBN (Print)9783412525705
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2023
EventAnimals and Epidemics in Historical Perspective - Freie Universität , Berlin, Germany
Duration: 30 Mar 20221 Apr 2022

Publication series

NameTiere in der Geschichte - Animals in history


ConferenceAnimals and Epidemics in Historical Perspective


  • Rats
  • Plague
  • Segregation
  • South Africa
  • Forced removals


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