Making a Voice: African Resistance to Segregation in South Africa

By Joyce F. Kirk | Go to book overview

Preface

This book emerged from my dissertation topic, not at the beginning of field research that began in October, 1981 but almost at the end of a year in South Africa. The topic evolved when, in order to better understand the history of the Industrial and Commercial Worker's Union (ICU) in the Eastern Cape and the Transvaal, my original research focus, I felt I should know more about the period prior to its formation. Consequently, I began to read about the conditions of life in Port Elizabeth, where Masabalala had led the 1920 ICU strike. In doing so, I realized that Africans in Port Elizabeth, especially the western-educated leadership, had been struggling a long time for basic civil and political rights that did not specifically touch the wage struggle, which was the initial focus of the ICU.

I soon found myself drawn toward a study of the struggle between the black population in Port Elizabeth and the white local and central government over African ownership of land and housing and residential segregation in the town. It became increasingly clear that this struggle was much more than a conflict between the government and Africans over the geographical location of black workers. Rather, there were fundamental questions at issue not only about control of the workforce but also about who would determine where and under what conditions Africans would live; who would pay for the reproduction of the black labor force in Port Elizabeth--the employers, the local government or the workers themselves; and to what extent Africans would be incorporated into the colonial economy, as equals or as exploited labor. A major obstacle to the government resolving these questions was the existence of an emerging black middle class that was in the forefront of resistance to the erosion of their political, economic, and civil rights, especially land rights, in the urban areas. In their protest against exploitation they invariably prevented blanket exploitation of the black working class.

Secondly personal reasons also influenced my decision to focus on the struggle over residential segregation. During the time I was in South Africa doing my field research, from October 1, 1981 to January 23, 1983, I travelled through all four of the provinces, as they were at that time, (Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and The Cape) and lived in the Transvaal and the Cape for periods of three to six months. Because I am

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