Considering race and poverty

To continue one thread of conversation from class last week: how are race and poverty related in South Africa? In class, we looked specifically at conditions in black communities in Johannesburg: Alexandra and Soweto during the 1970s. This photo essay by Nadine Hutton complicates that conversation significantly, and brings the issue up to the present. We will continue to discuss the relationship between race and poverty, with a particular focus on education and the circulation of ideas when we look at Steve Biko’s biography next week, and then bring the conversation to more recent history in the week after that.

Thanks to John Edwin Mason for posting links to Hutton’s work.

Race relations

The troubled relationship of black and white South Africans cannot be fully understood by focusing on what tore them apart and ignoring what held them together. The history of a marriage, even an unhappy one, is inscribed in the wedding banns as well as the divorce notice.

~Charles van Onselen, The Seed is Mine, p. 4

The Role of Indiviudals in History

We’ve spent some time reading and discussing the actions of Nelson Mandela and Ruth First. As you reflect on the recent reading assignments and anticipate the film tomorrow, I invite you to think about questions I’ve been posing in class:

  • Who is authorized to tell stories and make meaning about the past?
  • What are the limits of legitimate opposition to a government?
  • What difference did race and gender make in the treatment of South Africans detained by the police?

Think also about the “critical questions” that shape the course outline, in particular:

What role do individuals play in shaping broad historical processes? Do individual actions influence events, or do events provide the parameters for individual lives? Does your answer to this question change if you consider the biographies of prominent people compared to ordinary people?

Week 2 Discussion Questions

Who is authorized to tell stories and make meaning about the past?

How important are economic factors in the major turning points of SA history?

What are the limits of legitimate opposition to a government?

What is the difference between opposition and rebellion/revolution?

What are the challenges of achieving revolutionary change by democratic means?

What roles did music play in the anti-Apartheid struggle?

Exile was an alternative to prison for some freedom fighters, but it was not without costs. What does the film Amandla! tell you about how exile was experienced by specific individuals?

Is describing the anti-Apartheid struggle as a civil war too strong a statement?

What’s unique about South African history?

In anticipation of our first class meeting, I’m posing some questions to get you thinking about the next ten weeks.

Rock Art, Cedarberg Region, Western Cape

Rock Art, Cedarberg Region, Western Cape

  • What is history?
  • When does “history” start? Is that answer different in South Africa compared to the US?
  • What is gender?
  • What do you already know about South Africa? (It’s fine if your answer is “not much.”)
  • What opinions do you have about Apartheid?
South African family, turn of the 20th century

South African family, turn of the 20th century