No. 70, November 2014 (Special Edition)


Book reviews


Local and Regional Histories of Natal and KwaZulu-Natal: Voices and perspectives

This special issue of New Contree, a journal whose historical roots lie in local regional histories, seeks to document the local and regional histories of Natal and Kwazulu-Natal. Natal has had a distinct cultural, economic and political history that makes it an interesting region to study in the context of race, identity, gender, ethnicity and religion. KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) consists of the former province of Natal, and the former homeland of KwaZulu. Its capital is located in Pietermaritzburg and its population is diverse, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic reflecting its rich and vibrant past. The historical legacies of colonialism and apartheid are clearly reflected in the historical buildings, statues and sites. The sites of Isandlwana, Rorke's Drift, Colenso, Spioenkop, Volksrust and Pietermaritzburg reflect indigenous struggles against colonial oppression whilst the Gandhi's statute in Pietermaritzburg, the Maritzburg prison and the passive resistance site in Durban underscore the role passive resistance played in the lives of the Indian community in Natal.

Yet the vibrancy of this region's history is largely untapped. A perusal of some of the publications on Natal and Kwazulu-Natal underscores the gaps in regional historiography and the urgency to rectify this. Among the earliest works on the region by Brooks and Webb, A History of Natal, provides a more general history of the region, whilst the publication by Duminy and Guest, Natal and Zululand from Earliest Times to 1910 - a new History, provide scholars with a foundational history of colonial Natal up to the Union. Two notable works by Guest and Sellers have provided a social and economic history of the region. Later works have sought to build on this by integrating race, politics and ethnicity in their analysis but were not attempting to provide a history of the region.

However, in post-apartheid South Africa there is an urgency to reclaim regional histories. Since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, the publications on the nationalist narrative (with emphasis on events and individuals, biographies and autobiographies), particularly on the anti-apartheid struggle, have to a very large extent overlooked regional differences and contributions. Subsequently they have tended to generalise the anti-apartheid struggle, and in the process submerged regional voices and contributions. This has produced a rather skewed and to some extent, a distorted picture of South African history.

Regional and local histories have been gaining momentum in international studies which provide an opportunity to challenge dominant paradigms of traditional history that offer views from the above. Regional histories allow for alternating narratives and perspectives that explain social and cultural experiences that are often too submerged in general histories or surveys. In the light of the above a special issue on KZN is significant because this special edition earmarks a place for Natal and Kwazulu-Natal in the nationalist narrative on South African history. It also highlights ways in which Natal and KZN as a region played a pivotal role in the development of South African history. The articles in this special edition on Natal and the KZN region speak to the indigenous history of the region. Exploring Natal as a distinct region with a separate yet interwoven history contributing to the overall South African history lays the foundation for scholars of other regions to look at the significance of their own history. Moreover, the fact that the vast majority of the contributors are indigenous scholars of the region provides them with an opportunity to write and reclaim their own histories.

The articles in this special edition of New Contree highlight the complexities and challenges that are pertinent to KZN today: race, gender, crime, identity, religion and service delivery at local government level. The papers on race and racial conflict in Natal and KZN speak to the importance of understanding regional conflict in the context of history, geography, demographics, and socioeconomic and political factors. The arrival of indentured Indians to Natal in 1860 changed the demographic landscape of Natal's history. Over 90% of the immigrants settled in the region and made Natal their home. Their presence not only shaped the economic identity of Natal but also defined Indo-African and Indo-colonial/white relations at various historical junctures. These complexities and nuances in race relations are clearly articulated in the papers by du Bois, Ngidi, Desai and Anand Singh.

The articles by Hiralal, Vahed, Nkosi and Wassermann speak to the significance of regional history from a gendered perspective. These papers underscored the intersections of gender, masculinity and difference (the diversity of women's experiences), as important categories for analysis in regional history. In addition, women are divided by a range of factors that include class, caste, race, ethnicity, language, religion and sexual orientation, and only by interrogating these factors collectively can we unearth the lost voices and histories of women.

The contributions by Whelan, Khan, Gopalan, Kumalo and Shanta Singh contribute to our understanding of regional, urban, social and economic systems over different historical periods. The issues raised in their papers in the context of electricity, transport, crime, infrastructure and forced removals provide an understanding of Pietermaritzburg and Durban's rich history. More specifically it shows how Durban as a city responded to economic, political and social changes and the responses of its citizens to these changes. The significance of regional urban histories enables historians and scholars to understand local challenges and local realities and "provide a basis for understanding a regional society as a spatially organized system of urban and nonurban units interacting with each other according to a particular pattern of development".

The papers also call for a re-thinking of historical methodologies and the importance of inter-disciplinary research in writing regional histories and developing new theoretical frameworks. The papers allude to the importance of oral histories, memory, newspapers cuttings, and the ways in which we engage and interrogate archival sources. New historical methodologies provide alternative frameworks and narratives and bring innovative and fresh perspectives in understanding regional histories.

How then did all of the above play out in an intertextual manner between the various papers in this special edition?

Duncan Du Bois' contribution provides insights into settler security, insecurity and solidarity in colonial Natal. The paper focuses on the South Coast region of Natal between 1850-1910 - an area rich in history but neglected in regional historiography. Du Bois highlights the challenges country and rural districts experienced in the context of settler insecurity. It provides an insight into the rural colonial communities' mind-set, the vulnerabilities of settlers as a minority group and their fears of displacement. Collectively these factors played an important role in their support of discriminatory legislation and the Union government.

Mphumeleli Ngidi's article The Natal Inter-Race Tournament of the 1950s: Reinforcing or Undermining Race Identities? documents a neglected aspect of Natal's history by focusing on the inter-race soccer tournaments held in Durban between 1946 and 1960 under the auspices of the Natal-Inter-Race Soccer Board. The study provides an interesting narrative of the tournament and makes an important contribution in understanding the complexities of sport and politics as well as Indo-African relations at a crucial time in South African race relations and political history. The study makes a valuable contribution to the growing field of historiography of South African sport, and specifically on soccer, and addresses marginalised histories from below.

Ashwin Desai's paper The Eye of a Violent Storm: Inanda, 1985 offers fresh perspectives to race relations in Natal in the 1980s. This article examines the Inanda conflict at different phases, in the context of its participants and their differing objectives. Through this analysis Desai interrogates regional violence in the context of race and politics and probes whether the violence in Inanda was "anti-apartheid or anti-Indian". Desai's paper highlights the importance of re-thinking and re-evaluating regional historical conflicts in the context of race and how past events can assist in understanding the present state of Indo-African relations.

Anand Singh's article analyses Indo-African relations at various historical junctures during the colonial period, the 1949 African-Indian clashes, and the recent anti-Indian sentiments by a small segment of Africans in KZN. This paper shows how Indo-African relations evolved and the factors that facilitated and hindered race relations in Natal and KZN's history. The paper is a valuable contribution in understanding past and current debates on regional race relations.

Kalpana Hirala's paper "Married to the Struggle - For Better or Worse" Wives of Indian Anti-Apartheid Activists in Natal - The Untold Narratives examines the daily survival and experiences of the wives of political activists in the antiapartheid struggle who resided in Natal between the 1950s and 1980s, at the height of the anti-apartheid movement. The paper highlights how regional socio-economic conditions and political conflicts shaped women's personal and political identities. It also highlights the importance of regional histories to be more interrogative of gender issues as it is only within this conceptual framework that national narratives can reflect the holistic histories of their people.

In Goolam Vahed's paper, Muslim Women's Identities in South Africa: A Zanzibari Perspective in KwaZulu-Natal , he examines how Zanzibari women in KwaZulu-Natal are negotiating their identities within the context of local and global realities. The Zanzibari experience highlights the contingent nature of race as a category of identity. The paper highlights the complexities and challenges of being "Muslim" "Indian" and "African", yet despite these dilemmas and "in-betweenness" of identity, it has provided women with a sense of agency. The paper underscores the importance of understanding women's lived experiences within a historical context and argues that intersections of religion, class, ethnicity, race and language are important tools of analysis in illuminating gendered perspectives.

In their paper Makho Nkosi and Johan Wassermann map the history of ukuthwala in the Natal/Kwazulu-Natal, region up to 1994 and seek to understand whether the contemporary practices of ukuthwala had historical claims to validity. Utilising both primary and secondary evidence, as well as the emerging contemporary evidence, the authors conclude that the practice of ukuthwala is "still contested and clearly not composed of a single narrative". Their paper highlights the importance of understanding and historicising gendered cultural practices and its significance for regional cultural and social histories.

In her contribution Debbie Whelan focuses on Pietermaritzburg. as a city characterised by a central core of late Victorian-era buildings and more specifically on the interplay between the mentioned architecture and the period when electrification arrived. One such adjunct to electrification was the need to provide for structures to house transformers and substations and these had to be integrated into an already existing urban infrastructure in a palatable manner. The paper accentuates the cogent awareness of built environment which is reflected in the design of many of the substations, which are modest and constructed within the prevailing architectural style of the time. The paper reveals how these sub-stations tell the story of the arrival of one of the cornerstones of our modern existence, namely power.

The paper by Sultan Khan on Historical Evolution of Durban's Public Transport System and Challenges for the Post-Apartheid Metropolitan Government traces the historical evolution of Durban's public transport system and the challenges it poses for the post-apartheid metropolitan government. By mapping the evolution of Durban's transport system at various historical periods the paper bring to the fore the intersections of state, capital and local government and their implications for transport engineering in post-apartheid Durban. The paper alludes to the importance of urban regional histories in understanding current challenges faced by municipalities in service delivery.

In his contribution Karthigasen Gopalan highlights the importance of oral history in unearthing lost voices and histories. The paper examines the role of memory in terms of its subjectivities and fluidity on former residents of the Magazine Barracks. The latter were forcibly removed and resettled and their lived realities and experiences are captured quite succinctly in this paper. The paper underscores how forced removals and resettlements impact on both individual and collective identities. This paper offers new perspectives in understanding oppression and displacement during apartheid.

Raymond Kumalo's article on Monumentalization and the renaming of street names in the city of Durban (Ethekwini) as a contested terrain between politics and religion underscores the importance of all constituencies, including the religious sector, in re-writing and documenting a new narrative of the history of Durban and its citizens in post-apartheid South Africa. The renaming of street names in Durban is a highly complex and contested issue and given this, the author alludes to the importance of education, transparency and political sensitivity to be key components to enable healing, reconciliation and social cohesion among racial groups in the region. This paper speaks to the challenges of re-writing regional history in post-apartheid South Africa.

The final paper in this special edition is by Santa Singh on "Doing Time for Crime": The Historical Development of the Different Models (Approaches) of treatment for incarcerated offenders at the Westville Correctional Centre, Durban, South Africa . In her contribution she provides a very interesting account, of prisons in Natal, both in terms of their historical development and the models and approaches of treatment of inmates. Using the Westville prison as a case study, the paper maps the historical fluctuations of rehabilitation programmes and punitive sanctions on inmates and its implications for policy in postapartheid South Africa.

Collectively the papers in this special edition of New Contree provided a fresh interdisciplinary view of some of the regional histories of the Natal and KwaZulu-Natal region and if read in an intertextual manner provide an alternative to the existing dominant meta-narratives.

Guest editors

Professor Johan Wassermann (UKZN) & Professor Kalpana Hiralal (UKZN)

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