Academic journal article African Studies Review

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

Academic journal article African Studies Review

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

Article excerpt

Sean Redding, Sorcery and Sovereignty: Taxation, Power and Rebellion in South Africa, 1880-1963. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006. xi + 266 pp. Photographs. Maps. Figures. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $55.00. Cloth. $26.95. Paper.

This study of the Transkei region of the Eastern Cape focuses on the ritual of taxation and tax payment as a means of examining the nature of Africans' relationship to the colonial state. Redding notes that compliance with tax laws was the norm during most of the period under study. She seeks to integrate the persistence of that norm and the moments it broke down - for example during a rebellion in 1880, the Wellington Buthelezi movement of the 1920s, and the Mpondo revolt of the 1950s - into one explanatory narrative.

African taxpayers and colonial officials frequently had radically different interpretations of what the payment of taxes signified. European officials saw the high rates of tax compliance as a sign of African acquiescence to colonial rule. Taxpayers equated compliance with public acceptance of state authority, but they also saw tax receipts as essential to obtaining farmland and buying autonomy from more intrusive aspects of colonialism. They also, Redding argues, understood the payment of taxes in ritualized, supernatural terms and saw their tax receipts as protection from the malevolent forces of the state.

When the "public transcript" of deference broke down, European officials saw resistance to a particular set of policies. However Africans stopped paying not only because of material hardship or objections to other state policies (such as mandatory cattle-dipping), but also because they believed the state had broken its side of the bargain and was deploying malevolent forces against them. These moments unveiled the "hidden transcript" behind colonial taxation. Redding goes beyond this broader argument to look at the specific manifestations of taxation policies and witchcraft beliefs within Transkeian society; her chapter on the impact of taxation on women is particularly insightful.

In some ways, this book has much in common with Clifton Crais's The Politics of Evil (Cambridge University Press, 2002), which argues for a similar undercurrent of magical belief informing people's concerns in the twentieth century. But like Crais, Redding is bedeviled in many ways by a lack of hard evidence for her contentions and she does not fill in the gaps with a broader conceptual paradigm of how people understood the supernatural and incorporated strangers from afar into that worldview. …

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