Tariq West, 1 of 7

The Colonial Identity Machine
A. Tariq West Kathryn Mathers Thursday, February 8th 2007 IHUM 27a – Encounters and Identities Paper #1 In order to achieve the social and economic ends of subjugation and exploitation, European colonizers in Southern Africa assigned identities to the native peoples under their rule that were congruent with these goals. They assigned them economic identities as wage laborers and physical human capital; social identities as inferiors, children and servants; and ethnic identities as strong and wayward Mpondo, docile Mozambicans and high endurance Sotho. Under this system, the indigenous peoples of the lands that would become South Africa had to couch survival, cooperation and resistance in the terms of the social and economic traditions of their conquerors. Social, ethnic and economic self-identifications were similarly recast relative to the expectations and attitudes of those in power. This restructuring of native identities relative to white authority is very much evident, among other places, in the South African mining compounds of the 20th century. The dimensions of identity most notably affected here are ethnicity and age as a component as gender. This second dimension relates, in my usage, to what distinguishes in terms of behavior, the man from the boy. The faction fighting that took place in these mining communities reveals the recasting of ethnic identities relative to white economic power and more subtly, the redefinition of behaviors suited to adult males, relative to the paternalistic social attitudes of white mine management. In order to understand how native ethnic self-identification developed relative to white economic power embodied by the mine management, we must examine the practices of mine management. It was typical in these mines that “different types of jobs were allotted to

Tariq West, 2 of 7 certain groups and certain recreational activities were condoned for some groups but not for others,” (Moodie 184). According, for instance, to the testimony of Ernest Cezula who worked on the Crown Mines in the 1940s, “Mozambicans and Sotho make good lashers because they don’t tire easily” and “Most of the machine boys are Mpondo, because they are strong” (Moodie 184). Cezula notes also that “Some of the Sotho are jealous but they can do nothing because the Mpondo are so strong,” (Moodie 184). In other words, supposed physical abilities characteristic of a group determined the jobs assigned to them, which in turn determined their criteria for self-identification which would play into how they related to other ethnic groups. The effects of management assignments are evident not only along the occupational lines discussed but also along social or behavioral lines. As a statement from a 1938 report on faction fighting saying, “natives of this race [Basuto] are arrogant and overbearing in manner and are inclined to pin-prick natives of other races if they are numerically stronger,” (Moodie 184) suggests, entire groups were broadly assessed a certain personality. This assignment of personality may have related to some reality of interaction between groups at some point, but broad generalizations like this one likely set in stone a supposed group characteristic which was arrived at through observation of only a few incidences of the personality defining behavior. This leads me to question the soundness of the Mpondo “reputation for being trouble-makers”, related by Cezula, as an organic characteristic of the Mpondo. It is very possible that the Mpondo reputation was earned assigned to them by white management as a result a few incidences of trouble in which they were seen by management as perpetrators. It seems likely to me that this reputation was then embraced by the Mpondo and their neighbors as an identifying characteristic of the Mpondo because it was the assignment of those in power. The testimony of mine worker Mitilisho Mdibaniso,

Tariq West, 3 of 7 that often times, “the management would favor the Sotho [in arbitrating a dispute] because the Mpondo had a reputation for making trouble,” (Moodie 188) validates this view as it places the manager as an assigner of identity. This understanding is validated further by Mdibaniso’s claim that, “The Mpondo accepted this [the manager’s deciding against them because of their reputation] because the manager’s word was final,” (Moodie 188). This supposedly natural characteristic of the Mpondo was in effect systematically reinforced by the behaviors of the white management, and accepted by the black workers because they had little choice in the matter. The white management in the mines approached their subordinates in much the way that a parent might approach a wayward child: rewarding at times, punishing at others, and acting as an intermediary at yet others. The character of the faction fights which took place in the mines often conformed to this “wayward child” understanding held by the management, even by criteria culturally relevant to the native laborers. Consider for instance that observers of a number of traditional cultures, including those of the Transkei, Xhosa, Sotho and Mpondo, note that inter-village fights between young men occurred often and that these childhood duels were even encouraged, but that this violence among young males was generally, “abandoned with the transition to manhood symbolized by initiatory circumcision,” (Moodie 192). Fighting was not appropriate behavior, in other words, for an adult male. The comments of Sotho mine laborers on the subject confirm this distinction between the behavior of a boy and that of a man saying, “We don’t fight after we have been circumcised,” (Moodie 192). The statement of one President Steyn Mine worker before an inquiry commission on mine violence, “Treat us like boys and we’ll behave like boys” (Moodie 192), goes to the core of the issue of native redefinition of manhood relative to management’s paternalistic attitudes. Faction fighting often occurred when the structures

Tariq West, 4 of 7 setup by management to handle worker grievances failed to adequately address them. They were in this sense a “practice of politics by violent means” (Moodie 180). Take for instance the police account of a Xhosa-Pondo fight in a Crown Mines compound in which a group of Mpondo went to the induna to seek a resolution to their maltreatment by Xhosa boss boys. When the induna failed to adequately address their complaint, they turned to violence. In order to appease the Mpondo, the mine manager dismissed two Xhosa boss-boys (Moodie 188). When we consider the political aims of these fights in securing the attention and arbitration of management, it seems that they were very much a result of a management paternalism which denied workers adequate control over their own affairs. The workers were in a sense were “acting out” like a toddler might to receive his mother’s attention. Another revealing locus of the formation of native identities relative to white colonial power makes itself available, albeit more subtly, in the examination of the relationships between John Dalton and black residents of Qolorha by Sea, a contemporary Xhosa community. Dalton, a white South African, claims to be one with the Xhosa people he lives among as he declares saying, “I have lived here all my life. So have my fathers before me….I am one with these people,” (Mda 180). His true position relative to the townspeople becomes apparent, however, in a number of statements which evidence paternalism towards his black neighbors. At one point he says, “Spitting is one thing he is not prepared to tolerate among his people,” (Mda 118), suggesting that he tolerates other habits which he finds displeasing out of magnanimity towards his clients. Dalton’s friend, Camagu, an educated black South African remarks on Dalton’s attempts at developing Qolorha saying, “That is the main problem with you, John. You know that you are ‘right’ and you want to impose your ‘correct’ ideas on the population from above. I am suggesting that you try involving these people in decision-making rather than making decisions for them,” (Mda 180).

Tariq West, 5 of 7 Dalton’s relationship with the Xhosa who he lives among cannot be abstracted from the relationship of his great grandfather to the people he presided over as a magistrate and exploited as a trader. Nor can his relationship be completely differentiated from the client patron relationship of the 20th century white mine management and black mineworker. His relationship with the Xhosa of Qolorha is riddled with the vestiges of an attitude expressed by his great grandfather’s contemporary Sir George Cathcart in the statement, “We are achieving what we set out to do. The Xhosa are becoming useful servants, consumers of our goods, contributors to our revenue,” (Mda 257). His credit-lending, provision of goods and services and employment of natives through his store reinforces a native economic identity a hundred years in the making, as wage earners and as consumers. This is the identity that people such as Xoliswa, the principal of Qolorha’s school, embrace with statements such as “It is a backward movement [the wearing of traditional garments]. All this nonsense about bringing back African traditions! We are civilized people. We have no time for beads and long pipes!” (Mda 160) Their conceptions of identity and worth are tied closely to what they call “civilization”, and what might be identified as a bizarre synthesis of the Euro-Christian consumerist identity glorified by Sir George and Black Nationalism. As Camagu points out in his statement with regard to Dalton’s relationship with the people of Qolorha, “Your people love you because you do things for them. I am talking of self-reliance where people do things for themselves,” (Mda 248) the people of Qolorha are clients of the white economic establishment. They earn their wages from the Blue Flamingo Hotel or other white tourist supported establishments and spend them with Dalton. The vestiges of assigned colonial identities are seen elsewhere in Dalton’s relations with the Xhosa natives. When, for instance, Bhonco, a Xhosa elder and friend of Dalton’s, hitches a ride with him, he rides in back despite their supposed current equality. This self-

Tariq West, 6 of 7 identification by Bhonco as an inferior, however vestigial, is congruent with other facets of his relationship with Dalton. When he goes to Dalton’s store requesting to buy tobacco and corned beef on credit, and Dalton denies the request, he prostrates himself to Dalton in hopes of winning his favor in the matter. He later expresses his humiliation at having had to beg upon learning that “the white man had smiled” upon his wife, that is, her employers has paid her (Mda 11). In relating the formation of native identities to the attitudes and expectations of white power as I have, I risk placing the destiny of the black South African peoples, in terms of their individual and collective identities, in a domain completely removed from their control. My intent herein is rather to identify the ways in which these identities conformed, leaving open the possibility of later reformation of identities by black South Africans on their own terms. We are all, to some greater or lesser extent, beholden to the systems of social and economic power under which we live for the definition of some part of our identities. I believe there is, however, also the potential for individuals and peoples to define their identities in terms relevant both to the social and economic present and a past, and future, of dignified traditions.

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Works Cited Mda, Zakes. The Heart of Redness. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000. 11-257. Moodie, T. Dunbar, and Vivienne Ndatshe. Going for Gold. Berkley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California P, 1994. 180-211.

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