Workshop on South Africa in the 1940s

Southern African Research Centre

Kingston, September, 2003


Yusuf Dadoo: Transnational Politics, South African Belonging




Parvathi Raman



Although people of Indian origin have been present in South Africa since 1860, they are still objects of suspicion in the ‘New’ South Africa. In many quarters, they are accused of exploiting Africans and, in the past, collaborating with apartheid. In a climate of increasing hostility, some Indians are asserting their links to India and claiming membership of an Indian diasporic community. This is not the first time that Indian South Africans have looked beyond the borders of the nation state to negotiate a sense of home, place, and belonging. In this paper, I suggest that Indian South Africans have always had a complex relationship with India, and at certain critical junctures, espoused a diasporic consciousness rather than a purely South African identity. One such ‘moment’ took place in 1940s South Africa, and in particular Yusuf Dadoo came to exemplify a transnational sense of Indian South African belonging. Whereas current South African Indian diasporic imaginings are associated with the right wing politics of the BJP, in the 1940s, they were a part of an international left wing discourse of national liberation coupled with the fight for democratic rights in South Africa. I locate this ‘moment’ within wider questions that have arisen in the study of diaspora communities, in relation to notions of authenticity and radical subjectivity.


A Resting Place for the Imagination?

In Search of the ‘Authentic’ Diasporic Subject


In the last twenty years, as patterns of migration continue to disperse growing numbers of people across the world, the idea of the disapora has become increasingly common in the social sciences. Utilised initially as a predominantly ‘neutral’ term to describe the dispersal of people from a homeland, it was largely drawn from the historical precedent of Jewish communities, a varied and complex phenomenon, which changed in character through time and space.[1] Although they were not always explicit, certain assumptions were embedded in the idea of diaspora, which related back to ‘the Jewish experience’. These assumptions were that a diaspora was born of suffering and loss, contained a desire a return to a ‘homeland’, and that this dispersed population was, potentially, radical in character, a subaltern in the midst of dominant political structures.[2] These assumptions were powerfully re-iterated when the notion was applied to the forced migration of enslaved Africans, who, in the process of enslavement, were not only denied their history but also faced alienation, brutalisation and racism in their new ‘home’. African American scholars helped write Africans back into history, and in the process, inscribed a sense of belonging to an African diaspora, through the shared experience of enslavement, and dislocation from a place of origin with common cultural codes, helping create an ethos of an authentic, pan-African identity.[3]


These assumptions were also emphasised in a different way when ‘diaspora’ came to be conceived in a sense that disrupted ideas of essentialised, national identity. In Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Paul Gilroy[4] and Stuart Hall[5] recontextualised the notion of ‘diaspora’, locating it in the experience of colonialism, and contributed to an alternative reading of the constitution of collective identity. This innovative analysis tried to incorporate complex colonial histories and subvert dominant narratives of the nation state, where many of those who had migrated to Britain in the recent past found themselves ‘erased’ from British history. In this instance, instead of reference to an essential ‘pan-Africanness’ the focus shifted to hybrid narratives constructed from the fabric of slavery, displacement and racism, a necessary counter-weight to marginalisation in British society. Diaspora thus marked a different sense of belonging, extending beyond, but also within, the borders of the nation state.[6] The idea of diaspora was interpreted as a subversive mode of identification, which challenged notions of absolute states of being. As such, in this form, it was also a part of the move to anti-essentialist analysis in the wake of postmodernist and poststructuralist critiques of Enlightenment thought and the modernist project, after the ‘critical events’ of 1968. This conceptualisation of diaspora also intersected with, but was not identical to, the wider project of postcolonialism and ideas of hybridity.[7] For social scientists, stuck in a moment of theoretical paralysis, where ‘the gaze’ had turned back on themselves, diaspora studies seemed to offer a way out of the ‘crisis of representation’ suffered in the wake of critiques that increasingly drew a caricature of disciplines determined by their colonial past, shaped by Eurocentric presuppositions, and theorised through such treacherous notions as ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’.


Diaspora studies generated a batch of new journals, which sometimes also centred on theoretical concerns that attempted to break free of ‘eurocentric’ perspectives on modernity and culture. Diaspora: a journal of transnational studies was launched in 1991. From its inception, various attempts were made to create an academic template for the study of ‘diaspora’ as the term was also increasingly used for people involved in voluntary migrations in search of work or in pursuit of trade. Since migration is a central aspect of human history, it is not surprising that the concept seemed appropriate for a growing number of populations around the world. Indicating that things might be heading for a diasporic free-for-all, where the idea was being used in several ways at the same time, in the first edition of Diaspora William Safran outlined who could lay claim to diasporic identity. Safran returned to the ‘Jewish experience’ as the authoritative reference point for authenticity.[8] Critical of Robin Cohen’s rejection of this model[9], and citing it as an anti-Zionist stance, Safran presented six qualifying factors for diasporic legitimacy.[10] Central to this conception is the idea of a desire to return to a literal homeland.


Critically collating his own overview of the term, James Clifford suggested that Safran’s conception was too narrow, and developed the notion of diaspora to express a state of being in later modernity, built around his metaphor of ‘travel’.[11] Through an analysis of Gilroy’s Black Atlantic, Clifford restored a sense of ambiguity to the concept, where the idea of ‘dwelling in displacement’ retrieved some of its earlier anti-essentialist ambitions. Here, connection to a literal homeland was not a prerequisite, but could also be an imagining. In conjunction with a useful discussion of the ambiguities of the Jewish experience, Clifford presents us with a more nuanced approach to ‘tracking’, rather than ‘policing’ diaspora’.[12] However, there are still problems with Clifford’s description; in particular, he paints a heavily romanticised notion of the concept. According to Clifford, even ‘chauvinistic agendas’ amongst diasporic communities are merely ‘weapons of the (relatively) weak.’[13] In this particular reading, diaspora is filled with the potential of the dissident outsider. Interpretations of the diasporic have subsequently veered between the ‘checklist’ approach and an anti-essentialist paradigm, with various shades of interpretation in between. Given this history, it is self-evident that diaspora studies have become a contested terrain.


In more recent times, diaspora is increasingly everywhere, and nearly everyone, it seems, is suddenly disaporic in some sense. Significantly, the concept has been taken up by transnational communities themselves and used as a form of self-description. This is hardly surprising, as our attempts to analyse the diaspora have in themselves helped create self-consciously diasporic communities. In certain academic quarters, this has caused some degree of discomfort, not least because this self-ascription has often been tied to a politics of the right. Recently, for example, in India, the BJP and VHP have actively supported the idea of a diasporic nation for their own political purposes, only too aware of its potency in building an international network of support.[14] In this new phase of disaporic promiscuity, a backlash was inevitable. Conferences and academic journals are full of renewed debates on the need to ‘re-think’ diaspora.[15] This new challenge has taken the form of a two-pronged attack, whose roots go back to earlier concerns. The first stance suggests that the term had become so thinly stretched that it had lost all analytic capacity. The second critique of the now ‘omnipresent’ diaspora is to question whether the term is in fact, appropriate for some of the communities that use it to describe themselves. This argument suggests that if the Jewish precedent is still to mean anything, (suffering, displacement, loss of homeland), that, above all, it is rendered meaningless when appropriated by a ‘new privileged, mobile, post-national corporate class..the benificaries of the …postcolonial world.[16] In a recent article by Thomas Blom Hansen in Himal, the author levels the same criticism at contemporary Indian South Africans.[17]


Hansen returns to the Jewish template. Noting that Indians in South Africa come from two different sets of migrations, the first consisting of indentured labourers, the second made up of ‘passenger Indians’[18], who were mainly higher caste Gujurati traders and merchants, he contends that it is indentured labourers and their offspring, because of forced migration and loss of homeland, that conform to the real diasporic experience, and hence can lay claim to such an identity.[19] However, he suggests that their links to a ‘homeland’, and reinsciptions of ‘ancient cultural traditions’ were limited, and subsequently, they initially had no real experience of being a part of a diaspora. He considers that Indian South Africans ‘developed their own identity, tied to South Africa, and disentangled from the Subcontinent, but … were also separated from the worlds of India by differences of perception, moral conduct, expectations and notions of self.’[20] In addition, he suggests that because of this history, the affluent Indian business community who now use the term to describe themselves, cannot truly be a diaspora; it is, rather, a recent invention, and a cover for the creation of business and cultural links. He suggests (and I would agree) that turning their gaze to India is mainly a way of making sense of their present predicament in South Africa, where despite their long-term presence and the attempts of many to Indians to ‘keep their heads down’, they are still widely regarded as outsiders, and caricatured as ‘exploitative shopkeepers’.[21]


The implication in Hansen’s article is that this claim to ‘diasporic identity’ is in contradiction to the true spirit of the term, which lies in the Jewish precedent, against which diasporic authenticity is to be measured. As with many of the writers above, Hansen’s argument suggests that there is a foundational diasporic subject, born of loss and suffering, radical by nature, and in constant contact with a centre, or ‘home’ through which the experiences of the diasporic periphery are negotiated. Indeed, one of his most insistent protestations against the use of the term for Indian South Africans, (and other international Indian populations) is their ‘problematic’ relationship with ‘home’, i.e. that they don’t really ‘know’ India.  He argues that many Indians, searching for upward mobility, define themselves as ‘modern’, and see much of India as the antithesis of this, a place of dirt and chaos. In addition, those who have visited ‘home’ through ‘roots’ tourism[22] and returned with positive responses, were, according to Hansen, seeing India through rose-tinted orientalist glasses, building romantic visions of peaceful village life a as spiritual haven. It is a no-win situation, and he suggests that this ‘problematic’ relationship with home is also true of others in the 'so-called’ South Asian diaspora.[23]


Hansen cites the growth of literature on diaspora since the 1990s, where the term ‘transmits a certain sense of shared destiny and predicament, but also an inherent will to preservation and celebration of the ancestral culture, and an equally inherent impulse towards forging and maintaining links with other migrant groups as well as the ‘old’ country’.[24] But he considers that this relates to the experience of 1950s and 60s labour and post-war white collar migration, most significantly because Pakistan and India only became nation-states in 1947. He argues that it was only people who subsequently migrated from the Subcontinent who had really formulated a ‘national affiliation and identity…and many were…people from higher castes identifying themselves with a generalised ‘great’ tradition of Hinduism and Islam’.[25] He states that ‘what is objectionable is the attempt in the writings by such migrants to impose on the ‘first generation’ of indentured immigrants the sentiments and modes of connecting to the homeland characteristic of the recent generations of Subcontinental migrants’.[26] Hansen suggests that for early indentured labourers there was a ‘relative lack of any clear disaporic commitment or identification with the ‘motherland’, and most of them did not want to ‘go home’ To ‘forge and maintain links with one’s place of origin was difficult and not desirable’.[27]


My purpose is two-fold. Firstly, I suggest that there is an alternative reading of the experience of early Indian migrants to South Africa, where the idea of India and ‘homeland’ were important components of who they were, for both the offspring of indentured workers and the so-called merchant class. That this form of identity took place some fifty years and more before Indian independence, and at a time when it was extremely hard for many Indians to maintain direct contact with ‘home’ makes this all the more remarkable. I am proposing that Indian identity in South Africa was strongly influenced by the growth of the nationalist movement in India, which helped formulate ideas of Indian subjectivity, and an association with ‘others’ in scattered geographical locations. Central to this was the concept of India as the ‘motherland’ to which all Indians were connected. These sentiments came to a powerful culmination in the 1940s, where Yusuf Dadoo became a particularly articulate exponent of a dialogue which combined socialist ideals with nationalist, and transnational, belonging.


The emergence of the idea of an Indian national identity as a part of the political project of Indian nationhood that was taking place in India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century became an important constituent of early identity formation in South Africa. National identity does not spring from the moment of independence onwards, but is formed in the process of political struggle itself, through which appropriate cultural and political codes and ideas of subjectivity are articulated. The growth of the independence movement had an enormous influence on Indians in South Africa, both in terms of their own formulations of identity, and in the ways that they fought for political recognition there.  In addition, during his stay in South Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Gandhi self-consciously set out to create a ‘new kind of Indian’ built on the idea of an ancient Indian cultural heritage. In formulating his idea of passive resistance in South Africa, Gandhi imagined a type of Indian political subjectivity that was intimately connected to India as the ‘homeland’. Moreover, from the turn of the century, many of the sons and daughters of indentured workers were equally anxious to associate themselves with the ideology of Indian nationalism, and many saw India as their spiritual home. I will explore the reasons for this below.


However, I am not suggesting that this constitutes a template for Indian diasporic identity, but rather, that this particular expression of diaspora was a consequence of a complex set of historical circumstances. Migration in itself does not give rise to diasporic identification. Diasporic consciousness is, rather, created at certain moments in time because of a confluence of circumstances. I suggest that a diaspora is characterised by the historical contingency of its ‘moment’, and tends to manifest itself at times of ‘need’, and that the ‘truths’ of any form of diasporic identity emerge for multiple historical reasons. If we change the register of our questions, it is not so much what diaspora ‘is’, but rather, what diaspora ‘does’ that is of interest. Diasporas are not homogeneous in terms of class (or in this case caste) or political orientation.  Diasporas will, therefor, sometimes also change in the ways in which they articulate themselves, as well as their alignment to a wider politics. I argue that there is no foundational diasporic subject, and that they have no pre-determined radical character. My intention is not to prove Blom Hansen wrong by claiming that the early experience of Indian South African was truly diasporic, (although, ironically, they seem to conform to many of his pre-requisites), but that the search for diasporic authenticity itself is misguided.


Trying to locate a diaspora either through a checklist, or from an anti-essentialist paradigm, are both flawed projects, and, I suggest, is coloured by a nostalgia for a romantic, ‘radical’ subject, born of loss and suffering. That the concept of diaspora is informed by those two great wounds that run through the body of modernity which refuse to heal, slavery and the holocaust, makes this particular nostalgia especially potent. In addition, I also argue that the measure of Jewish diasporic authenticity is itself inherently problematic, reducing a complex and diverse experience, evoked in support of both left and right wing politics, to a one-dimensional model of suffering and displacement. At the core of this, the idea of ‘homeland’ and ‘Jewishness’ is highly ambivalent. For two thousand years, the Jewish homeland has been a spiritual imagining, unlocated in a physical space. It was only with the emergence of the Zionist movement in the early twentieth century that the idea of a physical nation state became the ‘homeland’, and at various times, it was suggested that this might be located in either Uganda or Ethiopia. Many orthodox Jews will still argue that the state of Israel is blasphemous in its physical form, and radical Jews grew increasingly disenchanted with the ring-wing orientation of Zionism and the state of Israel during the twentieth century. The relationship with homeland for the Jewish diaspora is thus far from straightforward, and suggests that diaspora often conjures up a much more complex connection with the idea of ‘homeland’, a relationship which can be both ‘real’ or imagined and ambivalent. Furthermore, the diasporic ‘centre’ itself can change.[28] I suggest that instead of searching for authenticity, we should look to why diasporic identifications arise at particular historical junctures. For me, this is precisely about human beings ‘making sense of their predicament’ conjoined with the power of narratives of dispersal, loss and suffering, which call for some form of political compensation. To illustrate this, I will explore some aspects of the relationship between Indian South Africans and ‘home’ as expressed by Yusuf Dadoo in the 1940s, where Indian South Africans conjoined narratives of injustice, displacement, and suffering in South Africa, with strong emotional and political affiliations to the Indian nation state.


Narrating Transnationalism


In death, Yusuf Dadoo lies in the shadow of Karl Marx’s grave, a respected member of the communist fraternity. But Dadoo could never be described simply as a Marxist, despite his lifelong membership of the South African Communist Party. Buried a few feet away from Marx in Highgate cemetery, his headstone bears the legend ‘Fighter for national liberation, socialism and world peace’. Joe Slovo claimed that choosing the words to describe Dadoo was ‘not easy’[29] Summing up a person’s life in a few words is never simple, but capturing Dadoo’s must have posed particular problems. Someone who attended his funeral remarked that, not knowing much of his life, she found the ceremony puzzling as ‘it was not like a communist funeral’. As well as eulogies from his nationalist and communist colleagues, Dadoo was also given Muslim funeral rites.[30] Dadoo’s communism was the product of a certain historical time, a complex set of circumstances born of cultures of movement, migration and exile, where seeming contradictions were mediated, reinterpreted and transcribed. Dadoo’s life forms a narrative that inhabits a transnational stage, where, en route, the range of references he acquired were translated and transplanted onto South African soil in a register that spoke to many Indians, as well as the political left.


Dadoo, who was born into a Muslim Gujurati trading family in South Africa, was a prominent member of the SACP. He joined the organisation in 1939, quickly rose to a leadership position, and remained there until his death in 1983. However, his Indian identity, and heritage, were also important to who he was, and helped shape his political vision in significant ways. The Indian struggle for independence, anti-colonialism and the fight against fascism all fed into, and transformed, his Marxist beliefs.  Respected across the colour line, Dadoo’s politics were shaped through international discourses, which took on a particular configuration in South Africa. He became a complex embodiment of socialist, nationalist and anti-colonial and anti-fascist dialogues, as well as maintaining his Muslim, and Indian, identity. In particular he bore the contradiction of being a communist and ‘Gandhi’s favourite son’. Gandhi, not well known for his love of socialism, or the industrial working class, who he considered would lead to ‘red ruin’[31] came to have a particular significance for Indian South Africans, including its communists. Ashish Nandy has argued that we have been left with ‘four Gandhis’, meaning different things to different people.[32] I suggest that the Gandhi that came to represent Indian nationalism, and the mythic Gandhi that in death took on the interests of the downtrodden, and gave resonance to the narratives of the dispossessed, both inhabited the minds of Indian South Africans. But perhaps Dadoo also inherited another Gandhi that Nandy does not identify, that of the pragmatic politician. Dadoo enjoyed a close relationship with him, often turning to Gandhi for advice rather than other members of the CPSA, and this played a large part in elevating Dadoo’s status in the Indian community In addition, in his youth, during his time abroad, he was exposed to influences mapped through global networks of ideas, people, and places. These international influences were underpinned by his being born into a community in South Africa who were often driven to develop their sense of place and self through international social and political linkages, and where, at certain times, India took on a particular salience and significance. The idea of India, as well as the intervention of its politicians on their behalf at particular junctures, helped negotiate the tension between belonging and alienation that many Indians experienced in South Africa. This complex relationship with India can be traced back to the time of the first migrations of Indians to South Africa, during which time Gandhi set about developing a ‘new kind of Indian’, a political subjectivity which was embedded in ideas of India’s ancient cultural heritage.


‘A New Kind of Indian’: making Indianness in South Africa


In 1860, the SS Truro docked in Natal Bay with 342 ‘coolies’ on board. The ‘home’ that these indentured workers had left was a long way from being a nation, and the workers themselves were a heterogeneous group, differentiated by caste, region, religion and language.[33] The migration of indentured workers continued until 1911, and they were also joined by ‘voluntary’ Indian migrants. In the main, these were higher-caste Gujurati traders and merchants. These early migrants have usually been envisaged as two distinct groups, but it is dangerous to pose too much of a dichotomy between ‘indentured workers’ on the one hand and ‘merchants’ on the other. Once freed from their contracts, many indentured workers went into industrial production, but also became white-collar workers and small-scale traders. They did not form a homogenous class or group.


The ‘merchant’ part of the population also included many small-scale traders who lived a precarious existence[34], as well as a host of Indians who had come over to fill menial positions in various Indian businesses. Rich merchants often became the patrons of ex-indentured workers who wanted to go into business, and were the landlords and employers of other Indians, building a complex web of exploitation and interdependence. Moreover, in matters of political representation, South African government bodies soon began to try and disenfranchise all Indians, (despite the protests of the wealthier upper castes). In wider society, all Indians were seen as ‘coolies’ or as the ‘Asiatic menace’, a term which encompassed ideas of disease, economic competition, and struggles over social space.  Given these factors, Indians were largely thrown back on themselves, and had little choice but to form some loose sense of  ‘community’, however fragile and contentious that might have been at times.[35] ‘Community’ had to be invoked for political ends, as well as for structures of self-help, such as establishing a network of schools, where state provision was woefully inadequate. This self-identification was reinforced by state policies that repeatedly tried to segregate Indians into certain ‘locations’.[36] Because of these factors, from early on, there was a development of some sense of ‘Indianness’, although this was contested and differently experienced in various parts of the community.  However, important aspects of this ‘Indianness’ took root through a dialogue with events in India.


In India, as a nation-wide organisation, the Indian National Congress, began to form and give political leadership to an emergent ‘Indian nation’, concurrent with a series of political demands from the British state, there was the development of a discourse that tried to create a ‘national feeling’ from the diverse populations of the sub-continent.[37] One part of this complex process was the notion of India as the ‘motherland’, bearer of an ancient cultural tradition, where the dignity and honour of the nation had to be upheld. These concepts were soon taken up by political leaders in South Africa, as a part of their own development of Indian subjectivity. They were incorporated with imperial discourses of citizenship, egalitarianism and equality under the law. At the turn of the century, Indians in South Africa also became important to Indian politicians in India, who were trying to find a voice in the international political arena. Indian disenfranchisement in South Africa soon became seen as ‘an affront to the whole [Indian] nation’, a part of a discourse of nationalism invoked through the concept of a motherland, which represented the dignity of ‘Indianness’. This ‘Indianness’ took on an increasingly international flavour, as Congress was asked to intervene on behalf of Indians in Canada, Australia and Mauritius, as well as South Africa.[38] This heralded the beginnings of a strong relationship between Indian political leaders in South Africa and those in India, as India was increasingly asked to support the fight for rights within South Africa. The treatment of Indians in South Africa soon became tied to the wider question of Indian independence. By the 1940s, India repeatedly took up the question of Indian South Africans at the United Nations, much to the annoyance of the British government.[39]


This relationship had important consequences for the forms of political organisations that were set up in South Africa, both for the ‘merchant elite’ and the ‘colonial-born’ sons and daughters of indentured workers. It also helped formulate ideas of Indian political and social subjectivity. Although Gandhi’s role in South Africa has been somewhat overplayed, most often presented as the ‘great man’ who came to the rescue of South Africa’s downtrodden Indian masses,[40] he nevertheless made important contributions to the idea of ‘Indianness’, in South Africa, and helped establish continued links with the ‘homeland’ after his return to India. Even radical Indian political activists, whose constituency was the working class, appropriated Gandhian discourses of ‘Indianness’ and evoked them in order to mobilise political activity. On his arrival in South Africa, Gandhi quickly discovered that high-caste Indians were not immune from the derogatory stereotype of ‘coolie’ and he soon became known as the ‘coolie lawyer’. His caste status counted for little, as he was subjected to a series of humiliations, including being kicked and punched and thrown off a train. Gandhi helped set up the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. Largely modelled on the Indian National Congress, its main purpose initially was to ‘keep India alive to Indian South Africans but to keep India informed of the situation in South Africa as well.’[41] He famously formulated many of the tenets of his philosophy whilst in South Africa, where the shock he received by his treatment there, and the lack of success through conventional political methods, precipitated him to rethink his early commitment to Indians gaining rights as subjects of Empire through constitutional means. He began to formulate a politics that presented itself as being based on a specifically Indian character, a character that was quintessential, no matter where one found oneself in the world.[42]


As he grew increasingly disillusioned with the possibility of gaining equality for Indians under the notion of imperial citizenship, Gandhi tried to construct an idea of ‘comradeship’ and collectivity amongst Indian South Africans in order to build an alternative political platform. He did this by drawing increasingly on notions of an ancient cultural heritage and a distinct Indian identity. This was articulated in terms of India as the ‘motherland’, and Indian subjectivity was viewed as being based on a non-violent, moral being. Despite the fact that his relationship with indentured workers was, at best, ambivalent and paternalistic, and grew increasingly romantic as his political philosophy developed, he did influence many Indians in South Africa, and this developed after his return to India. Despite his failure to unequivocally champion the rights of indentured labourers, Gandhi was at pains to include indentured workers in his conception of the ‘motherland’. For instance, when a young indentured Tamil girl, Vallianma, who had been imprisoned during a major strike by Indians in 1913, died shortly after her release, she became one of the martyrs of a ‘motherland’ she had never known. Gandhi visited her on her deathbed and lamented:

We mourn the loss of a noble daughter of India who did her simple duty without question and who has set an example of womanly fortitude, pride and virtue, that will, we are sure, not be lost upon the Indian community.[43]

These sentiments were taken up by many South African Indian activists, including a considerable number who had never ‘known’ India first hand. They helped engender these ideas in the wider community, and Tamils such as Thambi Naidoo, a respected grassroots activist who was prominent in the 1913 campaign, considered that he had ‘patriotism running through his veins’ despite the fact that he was born in Mauritius and had been brought up in South Africa.[44]


One of the most influential ways that Gandhi was to develop this idea of the ‘Indianness’ was in the pages of Indian Opinion, a newspaper he started in 1903.[45] As he grew increasingly disillusioned with constitutional politics and the idea of modernity in general, he began to formulate the concept of passive resistance, and imagine a ‘new’ form of politics. The communes that he set up, Phoenix and Tolstoy Farm, were seen as nurseries for the production of a new moral being. This called for a fundamental transformation of the self, a ‘creation of a new kind of human being, and a new kind of Indian.’[46] This conscious construction of subjectivity was, however, naturalised as it was generated in the community and developed into a Gandhian discourse, and was increasingly located in an Indian specificity. The elaboration of passive resistance was particularly significant as it was deemed to be the method of political struggle that was most appropriate to the ‘Indian character’ and these political debates on Indian subjectivity were developed in the pages of Indian Opinion. Indian Opinion was an important voice for the Indian community and helped shape the Indian popular imagination in South Africa. The paper continually emphasised a sense of Indianness, which was invoked through images of the ‘Motherland’ and pride in an ancient Indian tradition. This was constantly reiterated in the pages of Indian Opinion through articles about Indian history, politics, and religious texts. It’s stated aims were:  

to voice the feelings of the Indian community, to remove the misunderstandings which had bred the prejudice of white settlers against Indians, to point out to Indians their faults and give them practical and moral guidance and a knowledge of the motherland and to promote harmony in Empire. [47]

In all likelihood, Blom Hansen would dismiss these factors because Gandhi was for most of his time in South Africa most closely aligned with the apparently ‘non-diasporic’ merchant elite. But his influence on Indians in South Africa was a multifaceted phenomenon, as will be discussed below. Also, articulations of identity are not developed in a vacuum, but are created, appropriated and translated in interaction with others. Workers and their offspring developed their sense of self through complex negotiations in shared social and political landscapes, not in isolation. In the process, ideas of connections with India were perpetuated in multiple ways, including through cultural and religious festivals, and the development of a political dialogue, which intersected with significant parts of Gandhi’s political philosophy.


In addition, segregationist measures directed at Indian South Africans created places inscribed with ‘Indianness’. Certain localities became specifically Indian, and these landscapes became imbued with markers that were increasingly associated with the idea of an Indian identity. In particular, religious sites became important centres of cultural reaffirmation. The articulation of religion as a discursive field of Indian identity also involved inviting Indian religious figures to South Africa, which not only kept India alive in people’s minds, but also had a much wider significance.[48] Discussions about appropriate religious observances formed ways of imagining ‘how to be Indian’, and gave rise to a form of religious nationalism. Many of these dialogues can be traced through the pages of the Indian newspaper, The African Chronicle, where the sons and daughters of indentured labourers, the so-called ‘colonial-born’, began to find a voice to express their hopes and political ambitions. Religion and politics became inexorably intertwined for many Indian South Africans, were organisational and social practices overlapped and transformed each other.


That the evocation of the idea of India through the political press was not solely the domain of Gandhi and the merchant ‘elite’ is also illustrated in the pages of The African Chronicle. P.S. Aiyar, originally a South Indian journalist, had published the Indian World briefly in 1898, and this was followed by the Colonial Indian News between 1901 and 1903.[49] He started African Chronicle in 1908. Squarely aimed at the ‘colonial-born’ sons and daughters of indentured workers, it set a precedent for the articulation of an Indian identity that drew from a similar pool of Indian nationalist imagery utilised by Gandhi and the Natal Indian Congress, but this was combined with a strong sense of pride in their indentured ancestry, together with a powerful feeling of belonging in South Africa.


The early pages of the African Chronicle cover many religious issues and reflect the close relationship between religion and politics for a large section of the Indian community. These formed important links with home and were part of an attempt to re-establish a sense of religious authenticity in South Africa. There is also extensive coverage in the Chronicle of religious practices and the interpretation of religious texts, which became closely associated with an ‘ancient cultural heritage’. These early newspapers paint a significant picture of how imaginings of India were rearticulated in South Africa.  Older members of the community still had a first-hand memory of India at this time. One series of articles, titled ‘The Story of My Life’, narrated the progress of a ‘coolie’ from being ‘caught’ in South India to his experiences in South Africa and gives an intensely evocative account of a South Indian village that probably came from personal experience.[50] Narratives of this kind, together with religious dialogues, formed a language that was taking shape within the community, especially between the older and younger members. The latter had no direct experience of India, although it formed an important part of their self-definition. This was especially significant in counteracting their lowly position as ‘coolies’ or as the sons and daughters of ‘coolies’ in South Africa. Drawing on a discourse of an ancient religious and social tradition helped challenge their low status.


Other articles in Aiyar’s papers indicate some of the wider social concerns of this section of the community. It drew on more universal notions of freedom than the hierarchical ideas of ‘civilisation’ that had first inspired Gandhi and the NIC, but it was also infused with a strong sense of Indian, and Tamil national pride. In talking of the struggle of the passive resisters in South Africa in 1908, the Chronicle declared: ‘they have been standing shoulder to shoulder to fight for a cause that effects [sic] them deeply, but they are (also) fighting for the honour and freedom of their nation. This is a national cause.’[51] The nation they are referring to is India. The evocation of an ‘ancient cultural tradition’ was thus tied to very modern aspirations. There was an inherent rejection of violence, which was represented as being against the ‘Indian character’, followed by the sentiment that  ‘nationalism does not and can not mean a violent departure from the inherited traditions of obedience and respect for elders and self discipline and self restraint’.[52]


For the writers in African Chronicle, the ‘asiatic question’ in South Africa had ‘transformed itself into one of the greatest international questions that the imperial government has been called upon to solve’. Quoting approvingly from the London Times, one article states ‘the Indian government and Indians believed that it is in South Africa that the question of their status must be determined’.[53] The status of India as a nation and the status of Indians in South Africa had become inexorably intertwined. In an article urging Indians not to ‘beg’ for rights in South Africa, the paper declares ‘The only remedy lies in aspiring for national independence’.[54] In another article extolling the virtues of the mother tongue, the paper declares: ‘the vedic doors are open to all mankind; India is the motherland and common heritage of all Indians’.[55]


The early political press that was set up in South Africa was a particularly important vector for ‘imagining India’, and had a strong commitment to ‘keeping alive’ a ‘celebration of ancestral culture’, as well as a strong identification with an Indian nationalist cause. Amongst ‘colonial-borns’, there was the complex articulation of a sense of South African belonging, and pride in their indentured roots, as well as a strong identification with a burgeoning sense of Indian nationalism; a sense of belonging and not belonging which often characterises the diaspora. It was an identification that grew as the idea of India itself developed, as a part of an international narrative of what constituted the Indian nation, as well as Indian subjectivity itself.


‘A Slur on the Indian Nation’


Radical Indian South African politicians, Dadoo foremost amongst them, drew heavily from this dialogue. In the 1930s and 40s, as the idea of a nation was increasingly taking shape in India, ‘colonial born’ activists in South Africa were busy taking this a stage further, creating a diaspora politics, informed by a sense of moral duty, and modern aspirations of statehood and citizenship. The interwoven character of Indian social, religious, and political life meant that these articulations of Indian subjectivity were experienced at multiple points in the nexus of community. To protect their position as young South African Indian professionals, many of ‘colonial-born’ and radical politicians challenged the compromising politics of the merchant class and asked for more decisive measures from the South African state, so that Indian job security would be protected. This section of the Indian community had been badly affected by the United Party’s ‘civilised labour’ policy in the 1920s,[56] and by the 1940s their urban residential status was also being challenged. Their struggles over urban space in the 1940s began a contest over citizenship and belonging, which continued until the 1960s. Colonial-born Indians constructed their ‘Indianness’ in an ambiguous fashion, which reflected their marginal position in society, where marginality also often spurred an alignment with a radical politics. However, the political discourse which they developed was also laced with ideas of ‘tradition’ through Gandhi’s cult of satyagraha. The internationalism that they championed was also powerfully informed by an interpretation of socialism, anti-colonial nationalism,[57] and the fight against fascism. In the South African context, these influences framed their political struggle to gain rights of citizenship. Their diasporic sense of self was thus also embedded in Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality.


 Gandhi acted on the South African Indian imagination in multiple ways. On his return to India, Gandhi started to develop an international reputation for his political philosophy and in South Africa, there was a feeling of personal involvement in the ‘production’ of Gandhi as anti-colonial messenger.[58] Other Indian politicians also loomed large in the Indian South African imagination. In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the Indian press in South Africa was filled with news of the Indian national independence movement, and there was a palpable idolisation of Indian national heroes, through which many Indians in South Africa felt a part of an international Indian political community. At a time of increasing disenfranchisement of Indians in South Africa, as well as social and economic marginalisation, this association with India helped them make sense of who they were. Even radical Indian politicians increasingly addressed the Indian ‘community’ in terms of an Indian identity tied to notions of the 'motherland’ and ‘national honour’, inspired as they had been by the political writings of Gandhi and Nehru and the prestige of Indian independence. It is also important to put this in the context of growing fascism in Europe and the build-up to the Second World War, where anti-colonialism and anti-fascism became conjoined in a particularly powerful dialogue of liberation, internationalism, and transnational belonging. 


Fatima Meer recalls this identification with Indian national heroes:

We became very involved with the Indian liberation movement in India, and Nehru and Gandhi were, you know, very great figures – they really loomed as superbeings, you know, they could do no wrong. It wasn’t just a simple kind of heroism…they were marvellous people, wonderful people, and they were involved in this whole liberation of India, and my father was constantly writing about that struggle[59] -so we had a sense of goodness, and we had a sense of righteousness and we had a sense of freedom..the thing to do in life was to fight for one’s freedom.[60]

Dadoo emerged from this social and political background. In his identification with Indian national liberation, and his fight for socialist freedom, Yusuf Dadoo was to assume the mantle of a ‘national hero’ himself. He was born in Krugersdorp in the Western Rand in 1909. His father, a Muslim, had come to South Africa from the village of Kholvad in the Gujurat.[61] Mohamed Dadoo was a merchant, and, in 1920, when the local municipality attempted to evict the family from their premises and home, it was none other than Gandhi, all the way from India, who took up, and successfully defended, his case.[62] This was the beginning of his links with Gandhi that would help elevate him into the political aristocracy.[63]  Like many other Indians of his generation, Yusuf Dadoo’s childhood was heavily influenced by his family’s tales of life in India, which seemed to contrast sharply with his experience of being Indian in South Africa.


While still at school, Dadoo went to several meetings organised by Gandhi’s former South African allies on Indian issues, and the need to support the Indian National Congress in its fight for independence.[64]  In 1921, because of the severe inadequacies of educational provision for Indian South African children, Dadoo’s family sent him to Aligargh in India to finish his schooling. In all likelihood, Dadoo set off for India with a highly idealised image of ‘home’ in his head. Once there he was further influenced by Indian nationalist politics.[65] By this time, Gandhi had risen to a prominent position in Indian politics, and began to influence Dadoo’s thinking.  However, India also had its downside. Like many other Indian South Africans, who had romantic images of an India that they had created from a distance, Dadoo became somewhat disillusioned after his arrival in India. Reaching his village in the rainy season, he was to observe glumly, ‘This place is full of mud and water. And it looks so grim and dismal. I don’t think India is the paradise I thought it to be.’[66] He soon observed that India itself was rife with caste discrimination and glaring inequalities between rich and poor. His sentiments were to be echoed by many South African Indians who were to return ‘home’ to try and find the India they had conceived in their imaginations.[67] However, I would suggest that far from this being some indication of a ‘bogus diasporic’ identity, the ambivalence in relation to the motherland in this period was a recurring, and important, component of ‘being Indian’ in South Africa. It was a ‘resting place for the imagination’ in times of hostility and exclusion. This is also reflected in the Indian press at this time. On the one hand, there was a glorification of India and its political leaders. On the other, whenever there was increased government legislation threatening Indians with repatriation, as was frequent in the 1930s and 40s, imaginings of India began to change quite dramatically. Echoing the reaction of the young Dadoo and his first experience of India, a memorable picture in The Leader, a Natal Indian newspaper, depicted a windswept village hut during the monsoon in India with the caption ‘Do you want to be sent home to this?’ [68]


In 1929, Dadoo arrived in London to continue his studies. Once there, the politics of the British left, along with an international community from the colonies, helped formulate his ideas of imperialism and colonialism. Much of this was rooted in a great empathy for Indian independence, where India was perceived as the champion of anti-colonialism. Within six months, he had been arrested at an anti-imperialist demonstration against British rule in India. His father dispatched him to Edinburgh in an attempt to keep him out of trouble. Whilst studying medicine there, he was joined by both G. M. Naicker and Kaisaval Goonam, who also became active in left-wing politics in South Africa. Among the Indian student community in Scotland, Dadoo found his imagination fired by an international politics of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. It was also there that Dadoo began to read Marxist literature,[69] and his commitment to the Indian nationalist movement grew. He was also particularly influenced by Nehru’s advocacy of a union of ‘oppressed people and democratic whites’ and, importantly, the anti-fascist struggles in Europe. The growing spectre of fascism helped shape a political vision which foregrounded the struggle for democratic rights as an important component of anti-fascist activity. The world-wide rise of fascism also informed his analysis of the political situation in South Africa, where fascist ideology was seen increasingly as infecting the policies of the United Party and underlying the ideology of the National Party. Anti-fascist activity also engendered Dadoo’s close relationship with Jewish members of the CP such as Joe Slovo, where many Indian and Jewish comrades felt a community of interest.[70] Before returning home, he visited Krishna Menon in London for lengthy talks on the South African situation, who urged encouraging Indians to struggle jointly with Africans.[71] Dadoo arrived back in South Africa in 1936, and his political philosophy there continued to reflect all these influences. Within this, a nationalist agenda of rights and citizenship was married to the socialist idea of class oppression, and a commitment to build multi-racial solidarity. In 1938, Dadoo became one of the founders of the Non European United Front in the Transvaal, and early in1939, he joined the CPSA.


In South Africa in the 1940s, the politics of the left largely revolved around the fight against segregation and apartheid, and the struggle for democratic rights and citizenship for the disenfranchised, against the backdrop of the growth of fascist movements around the world. Several Indian members of the CPSA, Dadoo being one of the most prominent, were active in building broad-front alliances with South African Indian nationalist organisations in the fight for political inclusion. But the boundaries between nationalist and socialist discourses often became blurred.  Dadoo managed to invoke a unique blend of Gandhian modes of political resistance, and a strong identification with the struggle for independence in India, with the fight for rights in South Africa. He came to represent the politics of a diaspora community, which nevertheless was also the result of something unique to 1940s South Africa. This helped create a language that contained an ambivalence in relation to place and belonging. For instance, as Indian CP members pursued a policy of infiltrating and taking over the Natal Indian Congress, they called themselves the ‘Nationalist bloc’, an term that seemed to encompass both an acknowledgement of their alliance with, and support of, the Indian nationalist movement and their commitment to a South African ‘national community’.[72] By the late 1930s and early 1940s, ‘colonial-born’ Indian South Africans hoped to challenge the conservative merchant politics of the NIC and entered into an alliance with CPSA members.


By this point in time, the Indian community in South Africa was facing a host of government legislation restricting business and residential rights, as well as access to jobs and services. In 1939, Dadoo and the ‘Nationalist Bloc’ considered a passive resistance campaign as a response to the Asiatic Land and Trading Act. For advice, Dadoo turned, not to the party, but to Gandhi to whom he wrote: ‘follow(ing) the path of Satyagraha to stop the act from passing on to the Statute Book.’[73] This was followed by several telegrams sent by Dadoo and Gandhi’s son Manilal, to India. On April 30th, they wrote,




After a period of non-commital, Gandhi, advised Dadoo: ‘You have to suffer, not I; therefore let god be your guide’.[75] By this time, Gandhi had begun a correspondence with Smuts, and wanted to see if he could negotiate a ‘favourable’ solution. Thus on July 19, 1939 he instructed Manilal and Dadoo to ‘postpone passive resistance till further instructions’. Dadoo was dismayed, and responded that all the preparations had been made and that supporters of the campaign would be confused. He would now have to tell his ‘Indian brethren’ that despite taking a ‘definite decision to launch the Passive Resistance struggle on August Ist…at that historic gathering of 6,000 Indians…we had to postpone that struggle at the eleventh hour on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi.’[76] Nevertheless, Gandhi still hoped for a ‘honourable settlement’ through Smuts, and the campaign was delayed until further notice. This was not the last time that Dadoo was to follow Gandhi’s advice. After the decision to postpone the campaign, Dadoo issued a press statement: 

Mahatma Gandhi has been our guide and mentor in all that the Passive Resistance Council has been doing in this matter, and we shall wholeheartedly await his advice; for we realise that his interest in the cause of the Indians of South Africa has not abated one whit, even though many years have elapsed since he left South Africa. I desire however, to stress the fact that the Asiatic (Land and Trading) Act of 1939 aims at the virtual economic extinction of the Indian community of the Transvaal, and casts a slur of inferiority on the whole Indian nation. (Original emphasis).[77]

In the 1940s, Dadoo increasingly adopted a language reifying the Indian nation, and associating anti-Indian legislation in South Africa with an attack on Indian nationhood itself. In the early part of the decade, even segregation was spoken of this way, and contrasted with ‘voluntary’ Indian settlement in distinct localities.


There were mounting government attempts to prise Indians out of sectors where, as petty entrepreneurs, they provided services, which were as yet not established by state structures. In competition with both whites and Africans for jobs, social space and services, Indians also became the target of intense hostility at this time. Indian activists launched another passive resistance campaign from 1946 until 1948 against the ‘Ghetto Act’, which tried to limit Indian ownership of property. Passive resistance, as interpreted by radical nationalists and communists, was a reformulation of Gandhian ideas. Gandhi’s philosophy was retranslated and woven into notions of universal democratic rights that fed into a social democratic, anti-fascist tradition of left politics in the 1940s in South Africa, a politics that Jewish activists were also an important part of. Through trade union organisations, many Indian workers also took part in passive resistance.[78], a method of political struggle which was often spoken of as being distinctly suited to the Indian character, and, at this point, considered ‘unsuitable’ for Africans. The themes that Dadoo used to address Indians during this period are telling. In a leaflet issued in 1946, Dadoo outlined the main points of the campaign, invoking both India, Gandhi, and the 1913 strike: 

It must not be forgotten that the Indian people are sons and daughters of a country with a proud and cultural heritage (sic). Their ancient motherland is the bearer of a tradition of civilisation as old as any in the world….Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the first Passive Resistance struggle was launched in South Africa in 1906. It lasted for eight years and ended in a victory. The Indian people cherish the memory of the heroes and martyrs, the many noble deeds and sacrifice and bravery, of that struggle. Whilst serving imprisonment, a young girl of only 16 contracted a fatal fever. She died within a few days of her release. Her name was Valliama R. Munuswami Mudliar.[79]

Dadoo was recalling the young girl who was transformed into a martyr and a symbol of passive resistance by Gandhi. In another statement, Dadoo declared: 

It is for the removal of the difficulties of the Indian community and for the upholding of the honour of Indians that we have launched this campaign…We consider this inhuman Act derogatory to the honour and dignity of the Indian community as a whole and to the Indian nation.[80]

By this time, Dadoo had become a transnational Indian political hero. In South Africa, in the ‘vast majority of Indian homes, every one carried a photo of Dadoo’, and he had also achieved a very high profile in India. Promoted as ‘Gandhi’s favorite son’, who also had the ear of Nehru, Dadoo appealed to a wide social and political constituency. Dadoo’s image, seen as a badge of Indian South African identity, also transcended the boundaries of the politically active. He had come to symbolise the spirit of the Indian nation for Indian South Africans, and a particular formulation of ‘Indianness’ in South Africa.


Because of their class positions, radical nationalists had much to gain from a programme of democratic rights which provided greater opportunities to compete more effectively, on a level playing field, for white collar jobs and desirable housing in attractive social spaces shared with white South Africans. At this point in history, it would be too rigid to draw a firm line between Indian communists and radical nationalists. India, and in particular, Gandhi, provided a powerful bridgehead between them. Congress organisations all invoked Gandhi, ‘the greatest man of all time’. In Dadoo’s words: ‘This is the man – the pilot of India’s march to freedom – who is the source of inspiration of our joint struggle for democratic rights in South Africa.’[81] By this time, Gandhi was an international folk-hero of resistance. Despite the hostile analysis of Gandhi by Indian communists in India, he was re-invented many times around the world, and came to symbolise disparate hopes and aspirations. Contrary to the antagonism at that time between Indian communists and Congress in India, where for many communists, Gandhi was far from a national hero, in South Africa, Gandhians and communists shared many political ideals. Gandhi himself declared that Dadoo had ‘made a very favourable impression on everybody here.’[82] It is telling that Gandhi was so favourably inclined to communist-nationalist co-operation in South Africa, at a time of such hostility between communists and nationalists in India. It is, perhaps, an indication that South African Indian communists were also, at heart, good nationalists.


From the mid 1940s, Dadoo also placed a growing emphasis on taking the case of Indian South Africans to the United Nations under the aegis of the Indian government. Representing Indian South Africans as a displaced and disenfranchised minority, he tried to combine the fight for rights in South Africa with Indian independence. A plethora of telegrams were dispatched to Clement Atlee in Britain, all phrased in terms assumed to appeal to a socialist government. As India approached independence, its leaders sought to use the case of South African Indians in order to exercise their political muscle, particularly at the United Nations, much to the embarrassment of the British government.[83] The British government increasingly took the view that ‘the Indian problem’ was an internal matter for the South African government, and one that Smuts was genuinely trying to resolve since his return to power in 1939. [84] They agreed with Smuts’s position, stated at length at the United Nations conference held in 1946, that Indian South Africans enjoyed a far higher standard of living than their counterparts in India, and were well rid of the ‘deep-seated’ caste prejudices that still prevailed there. Evidence was produced that Natal was, in fact, an ‘economic paradise’[85] for Indians, and Smuts complained of UN interference in the domestic affairs of a member state.[86] The consensus expressed in several British documents prior to, and during, the conference, was that the imperial government did not really want the ‘Indian problem’ discussed at the UN, and that ‘a number of Indians of moderate views’ felt the same way. The NIC’s many lengthy pleas and telegrams to ‘Socialist Britain’, some from Dadoo to Attlee, were clearly an embarrassment that the British hoped would ‘go away’ if quietly ignored.[87]


Although the ‘Indian South African Question’ had by now gained international support from left-wing organisations, using the transnational public space of the UN began to work against Indians in South Africa. Smuts stated impatiently that Indians should make their minds up about where their loyalties were, and for many Indian workers, calls to uphold Indian national honour did nothing to alleviate the poverty of their everyday lives. Their support for political campaigns began to dwindle, as many concentrated instead in building stable environments for themselves. Nor did the constant allusions to ‘Indian national honour’ and ‘pride in an ancient cultural heritage’ sit well with calls for inter-racial solidarity. When the Durban Riots erupted in 1949,[88] utopian discourses were disrupted by the materiality of a South African dystopia. There was insufficient analysis of the exploitation of Africans by sections of the Indian community, or the widespread prejudice many Indians nurtured against Africans. These were often filtered through caste ideologies, and echoed some of Gandhi’s early perception of Africans.[89]


Articles by CP members attempted to address the issues raised by the riots, but did so primarily from an economic and moral perspective, which, like white liberal opinion, blamed the policies of D. F.Malan and his NP government.  Dadoo issued a statement on the riots while he was in London in January 1949, addressing a multiracial demonstration of Indian, African and Colonial students against the National Party, during which a life-size effigy of Malan was burned in Trafalgar Square. In his speech to the two hundred demonstrators present, Dadoo neatly summarised some of these views. He placed ‘primary and main responsibility for the pogrom on the shoulders of the extremely and fascist Government (sic) of Dr Malan and the Nationalist Party’:[90] 

One cannot escape the conclusion that the outbreak here has some resemblance of organised attack, that it was premeditated, although something went wrong with the timing, that a hidden hand of instigators lurks behind the events, that such events eminently suited the Government in order to weaken the growing opposition to Government policy, that it may be used as a weapon to impose further repression on both Indian and African people….the hands of the Malan government are stained with blood…. The Natal Indian Congress was founded by that great apostle of truth and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. He has given it the great tradition of his matchless weapon of passive resistance, first tried out in South Africa.[91]

Dadoo’s ‘conspiracy theory’ was drawn from the dominant narratives of the time, which firmly believed that whites had ‘incited’ Africans to attack Indians, leaving little room for African agency or more nuanced accounts of African- Indian relations. If anything, the riots highlight the heterogeneous process of identity formation in South Africa, and the difficulties of organising class action across the racial divide. Martin Legassick has remarked that early industrialisation in South African had given rise to ‘ill defined groups of dissidents’ rather than pure categories of class.[92] By the 1940s, capitalism had continued to develop unevenly and identities continued to be heterogeneous rather than ‘fully proletarianised’[93]. Most African and Asian workers worked in, but also between, industry, the service sector, petty trade, and agriculture. In these circumstances, identity was differentiated on the individual, group and national level in all communities. But, as Franz Fanon[94] and Homi Bhaba have observed, colonialism produces its own particular forms of hybrid identity.[95] For Indian South Africans, cultural transformations gave rise to a particular form of hybridity, based on an identity that was not fixed, but a point of identification, an act of becoming in relation to Africans and whites. However, political action around a set of demands often still required a more essentialised vision of self and community. For some, the fragmented and fundamentally competitive experience of class in South Africa undermined its ability to act as a vector for mass mobilisation. Dadoo returned to a nationalist narrative because this discourse enabled him to call on a ‘true self’, which recognised a common history, culture and links with India. It provided a sense of ‘oneness, continuity, and coherence, in opposition to the experience of dispersal and fragmentation’ under colonialism.[96] Gandhian notions of Indianness became the vector through which a ‘true Indian self’ could be reinscribed as a political identity which outlined specific forms of action. It was one essentialising discourse amongst many. Apartheid itself was an essentialising discourse that sought to unite the disparate interest groups and classes within Afrikaner society.


From Gandhi onwards, if not before, a complex interaction with India helped constitute the political and social identity of Indians in South Africa. In particular the notion of the ‘Motherland’, became a potent symbol of ‘Indianness’ and was evoked by Dadoo and the young radical intelligentsia as well as other sections of the Indian community. These ‘diasporic notions’ were not confined to indentured labourers and their offspring, but were developed as a part of a complex language of belonging by various sectors of the community, with different political affiliations. At times, political agendas overlapped sufficiently to instigate joint action. At other moments, the concept of ‘Indianness’ became more of a contested terrain. This ‘Indianness’ also helped shape new cultural and political discourses in the context of South Africa. Gandhian ideas of power and social action were re-appropriated and re-represented, and became a crucial part of emergent concepts of what it mean to be an Indian political subject, and of subjectivity itself. For a diaspora community fighting multiple displacements, the configuration of an essentialised identity, or a ‘temporary closure’, became a vital strategy in their struggle to locate themselves in the political and social worlds that they wished to inhabit, and invoking Indianness became one way of doing that. It was given added resonance through the anti-colonial struggle of the Indian nation, the idea of the potential of ‘progressive’ nationalism common amongst the left at the time, as well as the fight against fascism, all of which helped generate a powerful sense of international belonging.[97] And the attachment to the Indian nation state was far more than a whimsical fantasy. It was a conscious, and powerful, political strategy at a crucial moment of realignment in international politics.


However, despite Dadoo’s eloquence when weaving these discursive threads together, the actual success of political mobilisation met with mixed results. The ‘radical wing’ of the Indian South African left often ended up pursuing the interests of the merchant community,[98] whilst many workers disappeared into an Indian South African particularism. If Dadoo succeeded for a while in narrating an Indian diasporic consciousness, that moment passed, starkly illustrating that diasporic identifications are fuelled by contradiction, and bear the seeds of their own negation. In the latter part of the 1940s, a shift took place. Appeals to Indian honour and dignity did not address the crucial social problems workers faced in their everyday lives, and there was an increasing rupture between workers and Indian political leaders.[99] From this same time, Indian radical leadership began to talk less of ‘the glory of the Indian nation’ and more of South African belonging as a part of the Congress Alliance. The emphasis now was on the fight against a potentially fascist state after the 1948 election of the National Party, and the fight for democratic rights. Within this context, ‘Indianness’ as a distinct characteristic, which was tied to the glory of the Indian nation state, was played down in order to emphasise a multiracial South African nation. However, important strands of Dadoo’s political dialogue fed into political activity in the 1950s, as well as the anti-apartheid campaign that was to take shape in Britain. 


But the issue now, is why have some Indian South Africans turned their gaze towards India once more?[100] This would be the topic of another paper, and I can only offer a few observations in conclusion. Many Indians came to occupy a place between Africans and whites in the South African political economy. Whilst the majority of Indians have remained amongst the poorer members of society, a significant number have nevertheless gained positions of relative advantage over Africans. Many Indians have gone into small businesses and also employ Africans. A small percentage has also consolidated itself as a very successful business community. But despite trying to be ‘model citizens’, in many circles, Indians have still not been accepted in the ‘New’ South Africa. Although most Indians are working class, Indians have been conflated into a group characterised as racist exploiters of the apartheid era, and collaborators with the apartheid state. This is not helped by the wide-spread racist views still held by significant sections of the Indian population. These perceptions of Indians are illustrated by the controversy sparked by a song written by playwright  Mbongeni Ngema in 2002 entitled AmaNdiya, meaning ‘Indian’ in Zulu. In the lyrics, Indians are accused of taking over Durban, exploiting Africans, and voting for white political parties.[101] Ngema urges ‘strong men’ to stand up to Indians. In AmanNdiya he states that ‘the reason we are faced with hardship and poverty is because everything was taken by the Indians, but they turn around and exploit us. Our people are busy buying from Indian shops’[102] and Indians are ‘abusive to black people, being more racist than whites’. ‘These views are expressed by Black Africans throughout the country, from taxi stands to soccer matches.’[103]


The song created much heated public debate in South Africa, which was perhaps more about who ‘belonged’ and was committed to the ‘new South Africa’. The fall-out was also reported in The Times of India, where ‘people of Indian origin’ were said to be ‘livid’ about being accused of ‘exploiting Africans and benefiting from apartheid’, stating that Indians ‘demanded an apology’.[104] The song is indicative of the wide-spread hostility that many Indians face in their daily lives, who are in the main bemused by these reactions. The fear in the Indian community is fuelled by the memory of events such as the Durban Riots, as well as the fate of Indians in East Africa post-independence. But many Indians consider that they have made significant contributions to building up South Africa, whilst there has always been a small minority who have been active in the country’s liberation movement. It has forced much of the community to become more inward looking, and seek other ways of making sense of who they are. For some, religion has provided a means, and this has fuelled both an assertion of Muslim and Hindu identity. For many Muslims, their ‘centre’ has become Mecca, whilst others are erasing their Indian identity and claiming to be ‘Arabs from the Gujurat’.[105] For some Hindus, India has become strongly identified as a spiritual homeland, and within this, some Indian South Africans, parts of an affluent business community, are consciously asserting themselves as ‘diasporic Indians’, and, as Blom Hansen illustrates effectively, have formed alliances with the VHP and BJP.


However, this particular diasporic identification is, perhaps, something new, the result of a different set of historical circumstances. One of the weaknesses in Blom Hansen’s argument is his use of a ‘potted history’, which supposedly gives us a teleological explanation of the present. But emergent diasporic identifications can be new articulations, whose immanence relies partly on a very different set of circumstances, rather than the resuscitation of dormant modes of identification. The new diasporic consciousness amongst Indians in South Africa has been facilitated by the creation of an Indian diasporic ‘community’ in other parts of the world, providing some Indian South Africans with a language, and networks into, a certain sense of ‘Indianness’. These communal associations are the new creations of a globalised economic and social order, which nevetheless have powerful affiliations to the nation-state. That these identifications should try and legitimise themselves through creating dialogues of suffering, victimhood, and cultural authenticity is, surely, all too familiar. The point here is their allegiance to the VHP, not their diasporic credentials.


At the same time, a number of radical activists are denying their Indian identity, possibly as a way of stating their commitment to the new South Africa. For instance, adding to the debate on AmaNdiya, Devan Pillay, a sociologist at the University of the Witswatersrand and political activist in the ANC, has stated that he considered himself ‘an African engaged in a struggle for social equality and non-racialism in South Africa, Africa and the world’.[106] South African Indians are thus responding in different ways to their present predicament, and if anything, any loose sense of community seems (once more) to be splitting on lines of religion, regional origin, or political orientation. From the mid 1990s, a number of Saturday language schools have been set up to ‘keep children in touch with their Indian heritage’ but it is increasingly a heritage that is specifically Tamil, or Muslim or Hindu.[107] Questioning whether one form of making sense of who they are is more authentic than another seems to me to miss the point.


As for ‘not really knowing India’, where South African Indians have become the hapless dupes of an orientalist discourse, I would suggest that the idealisation of ‘village life’ is not confined to Indians in the diaspora, but was an important strand of the development of Indian national identity by none other than Gandhi, amongst others. And when it comes to an embarrassment about dirt and chaos, surely this has been a central obsession of middle-class and upper caste Indians in India since time immemorial, something that they have continually tried to contain and control. Many of these same Indians also consider themselves to be very ‘modern’ indeed. Perhaps they don’t ‘know’ India either? If it is now a truism that all identity is constructed, any articulation of identity is going to look ‘fake’ when placed under the microscope. When you get too close, the artifice becomes all too apparent. Are some forms of artifice allowed to go unquestioned when tied to our wider nostalgias and what is deemed to be an acceptable politics? This seems to be an inadequate way of judging the politics of a given situation. Whilst dismantling ‘authenticity’ can be a useful means of challenging certain political programmes, as Blom Hansen has effectively illustrated in his work on the BJP, we need to consider why certain kinds of identifications can become so appealing at certain moments in time, rather than whether one is more ‘authentic’ than the other.


The splintering of Indian South African identity in contemporary South Africa may well be a symptom of the political discourses and economic strategies adopted by the post-apartheid state. Identities that were negotiated in various complex ways during apartheid have continued to be valorised through the aegis of ‘cultural diversity’ under the banner of the ‘rainbow nation’. An aspect of this is the consolidation of liberal restructuring programmes that have singularly failed to equitably redistribute resources, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. The ideological ‘supplement’ to this is the celebration, and, supposedly, respect, of difference, where many in the ANC and its allies in the SACP seem to have largely abandoned the politics of class for the politics of multiculturalism. A commitment to multiculturalism is written into the constitution, and can be seen as a part of the move to a new identity politics, which has accompanied the naturalisation of the liberal democratic state. As Slavoj Zizek has observed, the new politics is not necessarily a politics of emancipation, but rather something that papers over the further extension of globalisation and its negative effects. In the name of celebrating difference and diversity, there is really ‘a will to mastery’ who’s project is the subordination and continued exploitation of the South, ‘and all of those who continue to be oppressed by capitalism’[108].


According to Zizek, it is an end of politics, the post-politics of dispossession by multinational states: ‘there is a danger that issues of economic exploitation are converted into problems of cultural tolerance’[109]. If the ‘New South Africa’ is ‘non-racial’ because of the defeat of apartheid, then racial difference has been replaced by cultural difference, which is understood on almost the same terms as biological ideas of race. Difference is emphasised at the expense of any sense of universality, which in turn has encouraged blaming the ‘culture’ of different groups for varying degrees of economic success or failure, inclusion or exclusion. Zizek suggests that multiculturalism involves both a renunciation of other possibilities, and an acceptance of the status quo, which brings not only an ideological closure, but a naturalisation of global capitalism. Cultural diversity thus becomes a part of a liberal discourse which promotes the construction of cultural difference under the guise of tolerance, where exclusion and marginalisation is no longer the effect of racism, but of cultural itself.[110] In this climate, we can see the proliferation of narratives of ‘difference’, each embedded in their own idea of ‘authenticity’.


If some Indians have yet again been driven to look beyond the borders of South Africa to make sense of who they are, this time around, they have different political affiliations, and are negotiating with very different forms of Indian nationalism than those articulated in the first half of the twentieth century. The India that currently provides a ‘resting place for the imagination’ is not the India envisaged in 1947. Would it be legitimate to argue that one form of Indian nationalism is more ‘authentic’ than the other, or is it more relevant to ask what are the material consequences of certain types of political action under the umbrella of nationalism as a political project? In this context, the politics of the Post-colonial world seems ‘to be spawning (its) own neo-nationalist responses’ which are increasingly embedded in the politics of the right.[111] If, in previous times, diaspora could be associated with a wandering which was defined in part through its relationship to a spiritual homeland, in the contemporary world, diaspora has become increasingly defined by its relationship to the nation state, of being within and without borders. That Zionism began to express itself as a movement of national liberation, which could be resolved through the establishment of a nation state, was not a pre-given, but a product of a certain historical moment. This should also serve as a stark reminder that there is no guarantee that any ‘true heirs’ of loss and suffering will fight for projects of universal emancipation. If, in the first half of the twentieth century, the realisation of the nation state in the fight against colonialism left some potential for its alignment with a progressive politics, that moment is well and truly passed. However, post-colonial ‘neo-nationalisms also serve to illustrate, that despite globalisation, the nation-state is still a powerful mediator of international politics.


As so many of our ‘radical subjects’ have been unceremoniously shooed of the centre stage of history, perhaps the search for diasporic legitimacy is really about finding a resting place for our own imaginations. However, in conclusion, maybe the Jewish experience can provide a template for the idea of diaspora after all, if it is conceived as a complex phenomenon, an immanence which sometimes crystallises, and then dissolves; where homeland has been a spiritual imagining as well as a material place, where the idea of diaspora has been utilised for radical as well as reactionary political agendas. The experience of Indian South Africans, both in the 1940s and the present day, is an effective illustration of these tendencies.  

[1] See K. Appiah, A. and H. Louis Gates, Jr., (eds.), The Dictionary of Global Culture,  (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997), pp. 178-179 for a brief overview of some of the different phases of the Jewish diaspora.

[2] J. Clifford, ‘Diasporas’, in Routes: travel and translation in the late twentieth century, (Cambridge, Mass., 1997), p. 251.

[3] W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington are amongst those associated with the creation of ‘Black Studies’ in the United States, and, via the Harlem Negro Renaissance Movement, helped spawn the idea of ‘negritude’ amongst writers such as Aime Cesaire and Leopold Sengor in the Francophone world , where all those of ‘negro descent’ shared certain distinct characteristics.

[4] P. Gilroy, ‘ Diaspora, Utopia, and the Critique of Capitalism, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: the cultural politics of race and nation, (London, 1987), pp. 153-222; P. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness, (London 1993).

[5] See S. Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and  Diaspora’, P. Williams and L. Chrisman (eds), Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: a reader, (Hemel Hempstead, ), pp. 392-403.

[6] Gilroy has come to find the term diaspora problematic, and suggests the idea of ‘outernationalism’ as a better way of understanding identifications beyond the borders of the nation state. See P. Gilroy, ‘Roots and Routes: Black Identity as an Outernational project’, in H. W. Harris, H. C. Blue and E. H. Griffith (eds), Racial and Ethnic Identity: psychological development and creative expression, (London, Routledge, 1995), pp. 15-30.

[7] I am referring to postcolonial writers such as Homi Bhabha.

[8] W. Saffran, ‘Diasporas in Modern Societies: myths of homeland and return’, Diaspora, 1:1, (1991).

[9] R. Cohen, Global Diaspora: an introduction, (London, UCL Press, 1997).

[10] See Safran, ‘Diasporas in Modern Societies’, pp. 83-84.

[11] J. Clifford, ‘Diaspora’.

[12] J. Clifford, ‘Diaspora’,  p. 250.

[13] J. Clifford, ‘Diaspora’,  p. 251

[14] S. T. Tambiah, ‘Transnational Movements, Diaspora, and Multiple Modernities’, Daedalus, 129:1, (2000).

[15] Thomas Blom Hansen is chairing a panel at the AAA in November 2003 on ‘Rethinking the South Asian Diaspora’; John Hutnyk is co-editing a book critiquing the concept of diaspora which is due to be published early in 2004. These are indicative of a wider disenchantment with ‘diaspora studies’.

[16] D. Ali,

[17] T. Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Dispositions’, Himal, 15/12 December 2002.

[18] So-called because they paid for their own passage on the boat journeys to South Africa.

[19] There is a growing body of work that attempts to situate indentured Indians in the same diasporic template as displaced Jews and Africans. See M. Carter and K. Torabully, Coolitude: an anthology of the Indian labour diaspora, (London, Anthem Press, 2002).

[20] Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Dispositions’, p. 14.

[21] Winnie Mandela famously voiced this sentiment during her testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

[22] There is a growing tourist industry in South Africa, where Indians go ‘home’ to find their village of origin to discover their ancestral roots.

[23] Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Disposition’, p. 20.

[24] Blom Hansen, Diasporic Dispositions, p. 13.

[25] Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Dispositions’, p. 14

[26] Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Dispositions’, p. 13.

[27] Blom Hansen, ‘Diasporic Dispositions’, p. 13.

[28] For many Muslims in South Africa, their ‘diasporic centre’ has shifted to Mecca. See G. Vahed, ‘Changing Islamic Traditions and Emerging Identities in South Africa’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 43-74.

[29] J. Slovo, ‘A Tribute to Yusuf Dadoo’, University of Witwatersrand, September Spring Festival,

[30] MM, interview with PR, London February 2003. Dadoo would also go on a pilgrimage to Mecca in later life.

[31] See R. Palme Dutt, India Today, (London 1940), pp. 524-525.

[32] A. Nandy, ‘Gandhi After Gandhi – the fate of dissent in our times’, The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, http:/

[33] See M. Carter, ‘Strategies of Labour Mobilisation in Colonial India’ H. Bernstein, V. Daniel, and T. Brass (eds), Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Africa, ( London 1992 ), pp. 229-245.

[34] Some have suggested that the lives of these Indian hawkers were very similar to Jewish traders. See J. Sherman ‘Serving the Natives: Whiteness as the Price of Hospitality in South African Jewish Literature’, Journal of Southern African Studies vol. 26, no. 3, September 2000, p. 506.

[35] My understanding of ‘community’ is that it is always a contentious and fragile construction.

[36] Indians were the first group in South Africa to have segregationist measures directed against them. See M. Swanson, ‘The Asiatic Menace: creating segregation in Durban, 1870-1900’. International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, (1983), pp. 401-421.

[37] S. R. Mehrotra, A History of the Indian National Congress: volume one 1885-1918, (New Delhi, Vikas, 1995), p. 21.

[38] D. B.Mathur  Gandhi, Congress and Apartheid,  (Jaipur, Aalekh,1986), p. 57.

[39] . See Dominions Office, (hereafter DO) 35, 1122, G.713/5; DO 35, 1122, G.715/33. For two examples of government documents which are testimony to the irritation of the British government concerning the ‘Indian question in South Africa’ at the time of Indian independence.

[40] See M. Swan, Gandhi: the South African experience, (Johannesburg, Raven Press, 1985) for a reappraisal of Gandhi’s role.

[41] S. Bhana, Gandhi’s Legacy: The Natal Indian Congress 1894-1994, (Pietermaritzburg, 1997),  p. 9

[42] Gandhi developed his philosophy from very eclectic influences, but it became increasingly understood as specifically pertaining to an ‘Indian character’.

[43] V. Banphot, ‘The Emergence and Making of a Mass Movement Leader: a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa’, PhD thesis, University of California, 1968 p. 356.

[44] Banphot ‘The Emergence’, p. 267.

[45] See U. S. Mesthrie, ‘From Advocacy to Mobilisation: Indian Opinion, 1903-1914, in L. Switzer, (ed.), South Africa’s Alternative Press: voices of protest and resistance, 1880s-1960, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 99-126.

[46] J. Brown, Gandhi, Prisoner of Hope, (London, Yale University Press, 1989), p. 43.

[47] M. K. Gandhi, quoted in J. Brown, Prisoner of Hope,  p. 53.

[48] See G. Vahed, ‘Swami Shankeranand and the Consolidation of Hinduism in Natal, 1908-1913’, Journal for the Study of Religion, vol.10, No.2, September 1997.

[49] U. S. Mesthrie, ‘From Advocacy to Mobilisation:, p. 100-101.

[50] African Chronicle, 4 July 1908.

[51] African Chronicle, 4 July 1908.

[52] African Chronicle, 3 October, 1908

[53] African Chronicle, 22 August, 1908.

[54] African Chronicle, 31 October, 1908.

[55] African Chronicle, 5 December, 1908

[56] This was where certain skilled and semi-skilled jobs were increasingly reserved for white workers.

[57] See D. Chetty, ‘Identity and “Indianness”: reading and writing ethnic discourse’, paper presented at Conference on Ethnicity, Society and Conflict in Natal, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, September, 1992, p. 5.

[58] JK interview with PR, Durban June 1995.

[59] Fatima Meer is a well known Indian political activist and academic in South Africa. Her father was publishing the newspaper Indian Views at this point.

[60] F. Meer, interview with J.F., Durban 1985.

[61] As the Dadoo business grew successfully, they named their business premises in Johannesburg ‘Kholvad House’, keeping alive the memory of their village of origin.

[62] M. K. Gandhi, Collected Works, vol. 16, pp. 501-3; V. Soobrayan They Fought For freedom: Yusuf Dadoo, (Cape Town 1993), p. 4.

[63] During my fieldwork in South Africa, many people were keen to claim an association with Gandhi, however tenuous.

[64] E. Pahad ‘A Proud History of Struggle’ African Communist, no. 78, 3rd Quarter 1979, p. 48.

[65] Ginwala, ‘Class, Consciousness, and Control: Indian South Africans, 1860-1946’, D. Phil thesis, University of Oxford, 1974, pp. 16-18; C Kondapi, Indians Oversea, 1838-1949, (New Delhi, 1951)’, pp. 409-410.

[66] Soobrayan They Fought for Freedom, p. 5.

[67] Many of the younger political Indian South Africans I met during my fieldwork had undertaken ‘roots’ tourism, and  returned to India to visit their villages of origin, and most of them were highly ambivalent about their Indian experiences.

[68] The Leader 23 February 1949.

[69] Pahad A Proud History, p. 48.

[70] Dadoo’s third wife, Winnie, was Jewish. Unsure how to break the news to her parents that she was marrying a Muslim, she initially wrote to inform them that her prospective husband’s name was ‘Joseph’, and left it at that. MM, interview with PR, London, February 2003.

[71] Soobrayan pp. 10-11.

[72] A. K. M Docrat, interview with PR, Durban August 1995; Freund Insiders and Outsiders p. 50.

[73] Letter from Dr. Y. M. Dadoo and S. B. Mehd to Gandhiji, March 15 1939, Reddy, Yusuf Dadoo, p. 366.

[74] Telegram from Dr. Dadoo and Manilal Gandhi to Gandhiji, April 22 1939, Reddy,  Yusuf Dadoo, p. 366.

[75] Telegram from Gandhiji to Dr. Dadoo, May 4 1939, Reddy, Yusuf Dadoo, p. 367.

[76] Reddy,  Yusuf Dadoo p. 61.

[77] Reddy,  Yusuf Dadoo p. 371.

[78] The records show 492 Factory workers, 117 waiters, 77 shop assistants, 21 bus conductors, and 43 builders and 53 municipal workers amongst the resisters. ‘Report on Passive Resistance’, NIC First Biennial Conference, 31 May-1 June 1947, ANC Papers, ICS, No.25.


[79] Communist Party of South Africa pamphlet, Johannesburg, 1946, unpaginated.

[80]  Y. Dadoo.The Guardian July 4 1946.

[81] Y.S. Dadoo, statement to the court, 1948, Annexure No.5, NIC Provincial Conference, 29-31 May, 1948, ANC Papers, ICS, No.26.

[82] E. S. Reddy, Gandhiji’s Vision of a Free South Africa, (New Delhi, 1995), p. 116.

[83] See DO 35, 1122, G.715/30, Public Records Office, where in a preliminary report in preparation for the forthcoming UN conference, it is stated that it would be ‘ a great potential embarrassment for us if India is allowed her head’.

[84] See DO 35, 1122, G.715/36, where the government is ‘formulating views on an official level’ for the UN conference in September 1946.

[85] This was according to the Durban City Council, who produced a pamphlet in 1947 called The Indian in Natal, illustrated with pictures of well-dressed, smiling Indian school children, a view of the Springfield municipal housing scheme, and Indian men playing golf.

[86] General Smut’s Address to Assembly, United Nations Organisation General Assembly Papers, 7 December 1946, DO 35, 1123, G.715/40.

[87] Several telegrams were sent by the NIC and TIC to Atlee in 1946, prior to, and after the start of passive resistance. Atlee did not respond. In other correspondence to the Prime Minister’s Office from the TIC regarding the Asiatic Land Tenure Bill, there is a scribbled note underneath stating ‘don’t reply’ and another saying ‘I agree’. See also DO 35, 1122, G.713/5; when Labour MP, A. Henderson unofficially received two Indian representatives from South Africa, the secretary of state, C. Dixon, wrote a confidential letter in April 1946, stating ‘it is rather a pity that Mr. Henderson has found it necessary to receive these two representatives…no doubt he will do no more than listen to what they have to say.’ DO 35, 1122, G.715/33.

[88] See E. L.Webster ‘ The 1949 Durban Riots – A Case Study in Race and Class’, In P.Bonner (ed.), Working Papers in South African Studies (Johannesburg 1979), pp. 1-54; I. Edwards and T. Nuttall ‘Seizing the Moment: The January 1949 Riots, Proletarian Populism and the Structures of African Urban Life in Durban during the late 1940s’, paper presented at History Workshop, University of Witwatersrand, February 1990; D. Chetty ‘The Durban Riots and Popular Memory’, paper presented at History Workshop, University of  Witwatersrand, February 1990.

[89] See D. Arnold. ‘The Self and the Cell: Indian Prison Narratives as Life Histories’, paper presented at School Of oriental and African Studies, conference on Cultures of Confinement, 20 June 2001

[90] Y. Dadoo, ‘Statement at Press Conference in London January 25 1949, Reddy, Yusuf Dadoo, p. 145.

[91] ‘Statement’, Reddy, Yusuf Dadoo, pp. 145-146.

[92] M. Legassick, ‘Class and Nationalism in South African Protest: The CPSA and the Native Republic, 1928-1934, Occasional Papers, (Syracuse University, 1973), p. 7.

[93] I take this as an ‘ideal type’ which is probably never fully realised.

[94] F. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, (London, 1986).

[95] H. Bhaba, The Location of Culture, (London, 1994), pp. 40-65.

[96] See S. Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and the Diaspora’, Identity, P. Williams and L. Chrisman (eds),  Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: a reader, (Hemel Hempstead), Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), pp. 392-403.


[97] Robin Kelley has explored how ‘transnational political identities’ could become entangled with international movements such as socialism and communism. See R. Kelley, ‘How the West Was One: on the uses and limitations of Diaspora’, The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research, 30, 3-4, (2000), p. 32.

[98] See M. Swan, ‘Ideology in Organised Indian Politics’, 1891-1948’, in S. Marks and S. Trapido, (eds.), The Politics of  Race, Class and Nationalism in Twentieth Century South Africa, pp. 182-208.

[99] See P Raman, ‘Being Indian the South African Way: the development of Indian identity in 1940s Durban’, (forthcoming) in A. Coombes, (ed), Making History Memoracble: past and present in settler colonialism, (Manchester University Press, Manchester 2003).

[100] Many forms of contact with India continued during the apartheid era, but there was less of a sense of an international ‘Indianism’ in South Africa for a time, and less of a celebration of Indian nationhood; many working class Indians were more concerned with building permanent homes in South Africa, and those radicals who were active in the liberation movement were keen to stress a sense of South African belonging first and foremost.

[101] Natal Witness 29 May 2002.

[102] Mail and Guardian 6 June 2002.

[103] Mail and Guardian 6 June 2002.

[104] Times of India, 3 February 2002

[105] Thomas Blom Hansen, ‘We are Arabs from the Gujurat!: the purification of Muslim identity in contemporary South Africa’, paper presented at The Centre for Southern Asian Studies Seminar, School of Oriental and African Studies, 6 February 2002.


[106] Sunday Times 21 July 2002

[107] KM, interview with PR, Durban, June, 1995.

[108] S. Zizek, ‘Multiculturalism, or the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism’, New Left Review, 1/225, September-October, 1997, p. 46; S. Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: the absent centre of political ontotlogy, (London, Verso, 1999), p. 208.

[109] S. Zizek, ‘On Multiculturalism’, Spiked, November, 2001.

[110] In contemporary Britain, the British National Party has increasingly used the idea of ‘cultural difference’ in place of race in its official discourse.

[111] C. Bates, (ed.), Community, Empire and Migration: South Asians in the Diaspora, (Basingstoke, Palgrave), 2001, p. 39.