Unity and discord : non-violent resistance and the divergence of working class identity in early apartheid Durban, South Africa

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2023-09-10

Authors

Hoyer, Cacee

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This dissertation focuses on a series of non-violent protests during the early years of apartheid in Durban, South Africa. Using oral histories, newspapers, commission testimonies, and personal papers, my work challenges the accepted historiography of the early anti-apartheid movement in South Africa by arguing that the great diversity of the South African working class frustrated the political agendas of the elites in forming a mass anti-apartheid movement. My dissertation contributes and expands on the historiography of the anti-apartheid struggles, by arguing that there is another thread, that of the working and poorer classes, that must be added to the story. This study first examines the 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign, which used non-violent Gandhian tactics to heightened awareness of discriminatory legislation targeting Indians in South Africa. Being a South African Indian only campaign that found some initial success in the passage of a UN resolution in support of the cause, the movement eventually failed to sustain this success at the UN due to its inability to garner long-term mass support from the general Indian population. This work argues that this failure can be largely attributed to the complex ways Indians multilayer and prioritize their identities, resulting in their inability or unwillingness to support the calls of the elites for political activism. A further ethnic divide becomes brutally apparent during the 1949 Durban Riots, where Africans acted violently against Indians, resulting in hundreds killed, property destroyed, women assaulted, and trusts broken. This study discusses the new empowerment felt by Africans at this time, which is juxtaposed by a further withdrawal of much of the Indian community from political action. At a time when both African and Indian elites were calling for inter-racial cooperation fighting against apartheid laws, both the Indian and African communities were reluctant to engage the elites' goals. As a result, this work concludes with an examination of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, often lauded as the first successful cross-cultural mass non-violent protest of apartheid laws. This study claims the continued inability of the political elites to understand the attitudes and perspectives of the working and poorer classes created the reluctance of much of the African and Indian working classes to support the mass movement, which would eventually lead to its downfall. By locating the varied groups that created the South African Indian and African working classes at the center of my analysis, my research challenges the established conceptualization of a unified political landscape in the early anti-apartheid movement.

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