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From 1860 onwards, Indian labourers were ‘imported’ into South Africa to work on the sugar cane field of Natal. Subsequently Indian traders began to arrive in the region and started to migrate towards the interior of the country.
In the 1896, the area today known as the Johannesburg suburbs of Vrededorp and Pageview was designated as a ‘Malay’ location, where people from various ethnic backgrounds settled. This area became known as the Fietas and quickly turned into a bustling community of successful traders and artisans. In the early 20th century the Fietas Asian merchants turned the 14th street into a famous bazaar.
This raised the ire of white traders. In 1956 the apartheid government declared the area a ‘white’ Group Area in terms of the infamous Group Areas Act and went to evict the mostly Indian people. With police raids and bulldozers the government started to destroy this vibrant community. Only 23 families refused to budge …
Situated to the northwest of the Johannesburg CBD the Fietas was ideally located for those people working in the ‘white’ businesses and mines of Johannesburg.
But soon the successful Indian traders roused the envy of the ‘white’ traders. The government of the time decided to protect ‘their’ people and declared the Fietas a ‘white’ group area. People were evicted and translocated to what today is Lenasis.
The bustling community was turned to waste. Businesses that supported extended families were forced to close.
Houses were razed to the ground, turning large parts of the Fietas into a wasteland. Interestingly enough the apartheid government did not dare to touch places of worship.
Forced removals destroyed not only houses but also the extended family structures in the community. The area was never really turned into a ‘white’ suburb like, e.g. Sophiatown, today’s Triomf (Afrikaans for ‘triumph’.
But 23 families refused to succumb to the apartheid government. They succeeded in thwarting the attempts to evict them, attempts which carried on into the early 1990’s.
The year 2002 saw the first Fietas festival.