Academic journal article African Studies Review

Respectability and Resistance: A History of Sophiatown

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Respectability and Resistance: A History of Sophiatown

Article excerpt

David Goodhew. Respectability and Resistance: A History of Sophiatown. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. xxvi + 190 pp. Maps. Photographs. References. Index. $84.95. Cloth.

When the apartheid state machinery forcibly removed residents and demolished the South African township of Sophiatown half a century ago, it demonstrated the worst of the engulfing brutality of apartheid. However, the valiant struggles of the township's residents have been tattooed on the country's history. Although the writer Don Mattera, a former resident, has warned that nobody can write the real story of Sophiatown, the cultural and social mosaic of life in apartheid's delinquent township has been resurrected in many forms. Now David Goodhew has written what he calls "the first full-blown history" of Sophiatown (xvii).

Earlier scholars such as Bernard Magubane have argued that the various struggles of the 1950s convinced the people that they had a common class interest (The Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa, 1979). In sharp contrast, Goodhew jettisons as unwanted cargo the overarching concept of class, and replaces it with what he calls "working-class respectability"-an expectation that if one sought to be respectable in the way one lived, sought education and principles by which to live, respect from the authorities was forthcoming (xix). In chapters 1 and 4, he maintains that the residents of Sophiatown were so situated in the economy of Johannesburg that they experienced severe poverty alongside powerful pressures militating against a unified political consciousness. Workers were divided by generation, ethnicity, occupation, and gender, and were hedged round by a highly coercive system so that blanket poverty did not lead to blanket class consciousness. Instead, it was respectability that welded the community together.

While some historians assume that respectability is always ripe for state co-option, Goodhew insists that the campaigns against removal and Bantu Education were not only the most successful acts of political mobilization in the district, they were also rooted in the impeccably respectable notions of the right to own land and the right to a decent education. …

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