Royal Block Masizahke
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Last Updated: April 2015

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About Royal Block Masizahke

Royal Block in Masizakhe, Graaff-Reinet

The name uMasizakhe means “We built it ourselves” and is a suburb which officially started its development around 1857 when an influx of starving Xhosas came to the district after the devastating “cattle killing” that took place following the visions of the young Nongqause, the Xhosa prophetess in 1856.

Some of the original houses were built from materials to hand namely dolorite rocks mixed with mud and mud bricks. The mud houses were thatched and round in the Khoi style with reed mats for roofing. Soon they developed their own style of building, a fine example of which is “The Royal Block”.

The Royal Block was constructed during the early 20th century as the buildings are built of brick and cement and have flat corrugated-iron roofs. Although reminiscent of Stretch’s Court these homes are semi-detached and of a uniform style and size indicating that these homes were built as one construction phase. The individual homes are also much smaller in size which gives one the impression that they were built as lodgings for men. In my opinion this points to only one possibility and that is that labourers were housed there during the construction of the Van Ryneveld’s Pass Irrigation Dam in the 1920’s. Find below an extract from “Nqweba Dam – Supplying water to the thirsty Karoo” by Lani van Vuuren which supports this view.

“As was typical of that time, one’s position and one’s race very much dictated what lodgings one would be afforded on site. All white (skilled) quarters were constructed of brick under an iron roof. The married quarters consisted of pairs of semi-detached cottages with flat roofs while single quarters comprised single rooms with small kitchen attached. The staff (mainly engineers) lived in single cottages with pitched roofs. All the houses had water laid on to near the kitchen door and were supplied with electric light. Black employees, who made up the whole of the unskilled work contingent, were housed in two brick compounds, each capable of accommodating 200 men. When the number of black staff rose to 700 between July-November 1923 the extra men had to be accommodated in huts made of cement bags.”

The name "Royal" Block probably originates from the fact that the men living in this street lived like royalty compared to the rest of the labour force who lived in cement bag huts.

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