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African Studies / History / Political Science

 


Power and Resistance in an African Society
The Ciskei Xhosa and the Making of South Africa
Les E. Switzer


Imagine a history of the United States written from the perspective of the African-American community. Imagine that the story of this community is told not only from the viewpoint of its leaders—the middle-class elites—but also from the viewpoint of sharecroppers, industrial workers and others living on the margins of American culture. And finally, imagine that this is not only about political and economic relations but also about "race," class, gender, and religious relations, about the lived experiences of one community that both reflect and represent fundamental issues of power and resistance in an entire society.

This is what Les Switzer has tried to do with his book Power and Resistance in an African Society. Scholars who have read it suggest that this is the first attempt to write a history of South Africa from the perspective of one subordinate community in South Africa. The reult is a transformed history "from below." The names, dates, events, and issues of conventional textbook history lose their meaning in the process of reconstructing a history that seeks to free the African from the domain of South Africa's ruling culture.

The book also offers a unique contribution to African studies in sub-Saharan Africa, because it explores the material and symbolic manifestations of power and resistance in a pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial setting.

The Ciskei region in the eastern Cape was selected as the case study. This was the historic zone of conflict between European and Bantu-speaking African in southern Africa—the Cape-Xhosa wars in this region lasting a century. The contemporary African nationalist movement in South Africa first emerged in a variety of organizational forms in the Ciskei during the 1870s and 1880s. The strategy of petitionary protest probably persisted longer here than anywhere else in South Africa in the post-colonial period, but popular resistance found a variety of windows outside organized African politics. The Ciskei, for example, was a focal point of rural resistance in the 1920s and early 1930s and again between the early 1940s and early 1960s. The gap between rural and urban dissidents in South Africa, moreover, was first bridged in the Ciskei and its environs during the 1952 Defiance Campaign. Finally, the Ciskei's segregated African reserve, where economic conditions were judged to be most serious, emerged as a primary site of struggle on South Africa's periphery during the 1970s and 1980s.

The focus of this study is on the Xhosa-speaking peoples who lived in the Ciskei region in the first century after conquest. To highlight the linkages between regional and national issues, the Xhosa in the Ciskei are examined in the context of unfolding events in the Cape Colony and in the unified settler state of South Africa after 1910. A distinct plurality of voices would be formed in the complex interplay between color, consciousness, and class, as this community sought space for itself within the domain of South Africa's ruling culture.

Lee Switzer
is professor in the School of Communication, adjunct professor in the Department of History, and co-director of the Center for Critical Cultural Studies at the University of Houston. He spent sixteen years as a journalist and academic in South Africa. His previous publications include Black Press in South Africa and Lesotho, 1836–1976 and Media and Dependency in South Africa: A Case Study of the Press and the Ciskei “Homeland.”


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Small Map of South Africa

January 1994

LC: 93-010085 DT
464 pp. 6 x 9

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Cloth $29.95 s
ISBN
978-0-299-13380-1
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Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-13384-9
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