[REVIEW]: Lucien van der Walt, 1994, “A Place in the City: The Rand on the Eve of Apartheid, Luli Callinicos”

REVIEW: Lucien van der Walt, 1994, “A Place in the City: The Rand on the Eve of Apartheid, Luli Callinicos, 1993, Ravan Press and Maskew Miller /Longman,” Unrest, number 1, p. 24.

A Place in the City: The Rand on the Eve of Apartheid. Luli Callinicos. 1993. Ravan Press and Maskew Miller /Longman. 139 pages.R40.Available at large CNAs and other bookshops.

A Place in the City is the third volume in Luli Callinicos’s excellent “People’s History of South Africa” series. As is characteristic of the series, the book is written in an accessible style, lavishly illustrated with photos, and enlivened by the use made of the life stories of 6 ordinary working people (4 Black and two White) introduced in Chapter 1, this book presents the “history from below” of the 1940s, the “Eve of Apartheid”, and a formative period in working class and Black history.

Chapter 2 , having outlined Black life in the cities, discusses rural and urban resistance movements, including the Sofasonke squatters movement, Alex bus boy cotts, Brakpan school protests, and the Zoutpansberg Balemi Association. Especially interesting is the discussion of the activities of the SA Communist Party in this period, regarded by Callinicos as “he most influential political organisation in Transvaal black communities in the 1940s”(p.62).

Against the background of wartime developments in industry, and shopfloor race relations, Chapter 3 looks at workplace truggles. This period saw the rise and fall of CNETU, a nonracial trade union federation unsurpassed in size until the 1980s(p. 75) Racist Whites-only unions also existed. These too are discussed, along with 3 strike case studies, including the crucial Black mine workers strike of 1946.

Chapter 4, “Afrikaner Nationalism Captures the State”, discusses how Afrikaner oganisations like the churches and of course the Broederbond, mobilised White Afrikaners across class lines for a. National Party victory, constructing a new national identity as they did so. This class alliance was able to win sectional benefits for the White workers, traders, farmers, and bankers who supported it.

In the conclusion Callinicos makes a number of observations. One that I found to be of interest was that systematic racial discrimination, segregation, and oppression existed well before the National Party victory of 1948(pp. 135-7). This shows that ” Apartheid” was not voted into government at all, demonstrating the limited role played by the franchise even at this crucial juncture.

Perhaps what I liked most about this book is its excellent use and non reductionist use of class analysis. Keen awareness of the specifichistory and experiences of Black workers is a hallmark of the book. The treatment of the role of women in struggles and in the Afrikaner nationalist movement is also welcome.

If I have one criticism its that the book lacks an index, making it harder to use. The contents page is however quite explanatory.

Recommended reading for revolutionaries!

The other titles in this series are:
Volume 1: Gold and Workers 1886 – 1924, Luli Callinicos. 1980. Ravan Press. 112 pg.
Against the backdrop of the tremendous changes wrought by the mining revolution, this book looks at the origins of racial capitalism in South Africa, at how the working class was created and the methods used by the bosses to control it, and the struggles of working people to gain control of their lives and work.

Volume 2: Working Life 1886 – 1940: Factories, Townships, and Popular Culture on the Rand. Luli Callinicos. 1987. Ravan Press. 262 pg.
This book covers the rise of manufacturing industry, and examines not just working and
living conditions, but working class lifestyles, occupations, political life and struggles, art forms and entertainment.


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