Accepted paper:

Subjects, Citizens, and the Making of Durban's Working Class under Apartheid

Authors:

Alex Lichtenstein (Indiana University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that the backbone of the new Black South African unions of the 1970s were workers who while legally defined under apartheid as “migrants” developed a consciousness of themselves as settled proletarians rather than temporary urban sojourners.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the place of "migrant" labour in Durban's industrial development, 1950-1975. First, it examines the simultaneous growth of an industrial belt around Durban's urban core and the expansion of nearby African townships situated inside the "borders" of the KwaZulu "homeland." These migrant labour reservoirs remained within daily commuting distance of the factories that came to be the primary workplace for the city's expanding African working class. The paper considers evidence of African employment and residence status drawn from local research conducted in Natal by economists and sociologists in the late 1970s. This evidence suggests that by the early 1970s a majority of African manufacturing workers in Durban were settled urban residents rather than long-distance migrants. Drawing on archival material documenting union organizing drives in Durban's textile belt during the 1970s, the paper argues that the backbone of the new independent Black unions of this era were these workers who while legally defined as "migrants" developed a consciousness of themselves as settled proletarians rather than temporary urban sojourners. . The paper concludes that a process of proletarianization under apartheid helped constitute African workers as "citizens", who sought to expand their rights by building democratic trade unions and tight-knit shop-floor structures. This is in contrast to Mamdani's thesis that these workers remained "subjects", whose primary consciousness, identity, and political loyalties remained bound to rural structures of authority and ethnic affiliation constituted by apartheid and rural homelands.

panel P138
Encounters of the Urban and the Rural: Labour in Durban/KwaZulu