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Constructing Otherness, Strategies of Sameness

Constructing Otherness, Strategies of Sameness

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Published by imhehenkamp
An award winning thesis of strategies of invisibility of African immigrants in Alexandra township, South Africa. Ilja Hehenkamp lived and conducted research in Alexandra for 5 months. Research was conducted in the context of the xenophobic riots of May 2008.
An award winning thesis of strategies of invisibility of African immigrants in Alexandra township, South Africa. Ilja Hehenkamp lived and conducted research in Alexandra for 5 months. Research was conducted in the context of the xenophobic riots of May 2008.

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Published by: imhehenkamp on Dec 05, 2011
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02/04/2014

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The late 1940s and 1950s marked a period of many political protests, which gradu-

ally turned many inhabitants into radicalized and militant political activists and out

of which a generation of young and educated intellectuals arose. Inward-looking

political consciousness quickly gained a more mass-based, unified outward charac-

ter as the people of Alexandra began reaching out to wider political organisations on

broader political issues (ibid., pp. 53-5, 59). Both in 1944 and 1957 mass political mo-

bilisation led to bus boycotts within Alexandra, in protest against the rising prices

of public transport. Both boycotts “fundamentally shifted the direction and [...] the

tempo of political struggle countrywide”, out of which apartheid architect and pres-

ident H. F. Verwoerd noted that “the really successful boycotts occurred in uncon-

40

UNITED, BUT POLITICALLY FRAGMENTED

trolled townships”. Because of its radicalized nature and rapid population growth,

Alexandra in particular was targeted with repressive influx controls and continuous

threats of demolition and forced removals of the Black population to racially segre-

gated Bantu areas in order to bring the township “under very strict control” (Bonner

and Nieftagodien 2008, pp. 8-10, 148). But, concurrently, its issues were widely de-

bated in the national press and for the first time seemed to impress themselves on

the minds of a section of the White public. Alexandra started to symbolize the ex-

ploitation and oppression of urban Africans more generally. More importantly, the

success of the bus-boycotts, made painfully clear that the only language the oppres-

sor seemed to understand was mass organised action (ibid., pp. 72,80).

The mid 1960s to the early 1970s marked an era of heavy state-repression and rel-

ative political quiescence. But the lulling political consciousness was strongly awak-

enedinthe70s,ofwhichthestudentuprisingin1976wasthefirstmajortownshipre-

volt, propellingthenationwidestruggleagainstapartheidtounprecedentedheights.

As a Black Consciousness (BC) inspired protest against the inferior Bantu-education

and the introduction of Afrikaans in Black schools as the main language, it marked a

decisive turning point in national resistance politics. Both periods of resistance were

characterised by its diverse political character, grass-roots mobilisation, a strong rep-

resentation of socialist politics and the heavy influence of a “layer of organic intel-

lectuals and working-class activists” (ibid., pp. 10-11). But it was mainly young stu-

dents that inspired the movement, forming local organizations co-ordinating “their

activities beyond individual townships” and consciously reaching out to parents to

support their demands (ibid., p. 11).

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