Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Sorcery and Sovereignty: Taxation, Power and Rebellion in South Africa, 1880-1963

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Sorcery and Sovereignty: Taxation, Power and Rebellion in South Africa, 1880-1963

Article excerpt

Sorcery and Sovereignty: Taxation, Power and Rebellion in South Africa, 1880-1963. By Sean Redding. Athens, Ohio, 2006. Pp. xi, 266; 8 figures, 3 tables, 2 maps. $55.00 cloth, $26.95 paper.

The author's purpose in this book is to explain why, after the Cape Colony's colonization of the Transkei in 1880, poor, rural African farmers who (the author says) never accepted the external white state as legitimate, and moreover found the taxes they were obliged to pay that state "a significant economic burden," nonetheless dutifully paid them. Or at least "high-levels" of the African population did, over several decades until 1915. After this, Redding reports (p. 18), the rates of "quasi-voluntary tax compliance [began] to be punctuated by occasional sharp drops." In time, several of these "sharp drops" expanded to become open rebellions against the state, and Redding treats three of these in depth. The most important challenge to the state, in a military sense, was probably the Mpondo Revolt of 1953-63. While others have explained this revolt in essentially anti-apartheid terms, Redding dismisses this "dominant narrative" as being excessively focused on material grievances, while concurrently "missing the broader cultural causes" (p. 205). Redding's aim, using "cultural" elements, particularly African beliefs in witchcraft, is to provide a fuller explanation of both the extensive periods of tax compliance in these rural areas after 1880, and several later episodes of extensive non-compliance.

All such taxes (and there were several kinds over time-payable only in cash) had multiple objectives from the standpoint of the state. One was to symbolically underscore the subordination of Africans to colonial rule. Another was to offset the costs of the colonial administration, and a third was to force Africans out of the subsistence economy of these rural districts, into wage-earning labor elsewhere.

From the standpoint of those subject to taxes, Redding offers three reasons that, at least in principle, made it desirable for Africans to pay them. These were (i) access to rural farmland, which could be denied tax defaulters; (ii) the desire of ordinary farmers to be shielded from continuing harassment by agents of the state; and (iii) the recognized superiority of the military resources available to the state in open confrontations with the local population, though such encounters were few. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.