"We are digging, we are seizing huge chunks of the municipalities land" (Siyawugubha, Siyawugubha Umhlaba Ka Maspala)": Popular struggles in Benoni, 1944-1952
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The Second World War transformed the face of South Africa like no other era since reconstruction. Unlike reconstruction however, the war years were no period of planned state initiatives or aggressive social engineering. State policy was reactive, tentative, piecemeal. State planning was informed by no broader vision with which to regulate and direct the massive social and economic transformations underway. All this left considerable space in which the major new force to appear in the political arena - the urban proletariat – could manoeuvre. Huge gaps opened up in the cities' ramshackle and improvised structures of social control. Real opportunities presented themselves to the new working class to shape and to mould the world in which it moved. However the very abruptness of these changes which injected such uncertainty, and incoherence into official policy making circles, also imprinted itself on the character of the new urban proletariat. The newly assembled urban communities were still too fluid, too diverse, too unformed to take sustained advantage of the state's fumbling indecision. Some important gains were won, and certain policy options foreclosed. However, the struggles of the urban masses were all too often, sectional, individual and introverted, and only incidentally and indirectly shaped or subverted state policy. A political movement with the programme and the tactics to take on this role did not emerge till the early 1950's, and then largely in reaction to the massive social engineering and political repression that accompanied the implementation of grand apartheid. By then the period of maximum opportunity had already passed by. It is to this period and these struggles that this paper draws attention. It focusses on the East Rand town of Benoni which was one of the major centres of wartime industrialisation on the Rand. It represents a preliminary attempt to order some of the data already collected and to define future directions of research.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 28 October, 1985
Industrialization. South Africa. Benoni , Benoni (South Africa)