The 1949 Durban 'Riots' - a case-study in race and class

Webster, E.C.
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This paper was written as a response to the somewhat abstract discussions that sometimes take place in university seminars on the relative weight of class, race and ethnicity in explaining human behaviour. It rests on the assumption that conceptual clarification has limited value, unless conceptual analysis is followed by a concrete historical or sociological analysis of a particular social situation. The Durban 'riots' of 1949 was chosen as a case-study because it has been widely used by 'separate development theorists' as an example of the inevitability of conflict between the races, without any attempt being made to relate this conflict to the political economy. This paper is an attempt to develop a theoretical franework that recognizes the embryonic and partial nature of class formation in a 'plural society' through the notion of class 'suppression', but nonetheless attempts to derive a meaningful frame of reference for explaining a class based act. In Part 1 I will introduce the theoretical framework. Part II, III and IV is an attempt to give a portrait of the participants in the riot, analysing their composition, motives and how activity was generated among them. Here a note of caution needs to be introduced. I am still at a tentative stage in my research in two crucial areas; firstly, on the 'consciousness' of the participants I have to date only had access to written material such as newspapers and reports. These sources are a partial perspective - this includes in particular, the official Government Inquiry into the riots. Hopefully I will have a fuller picture when I have extended my data-gathering to interviews of participants. Secondly, I realise that in a crucial area of my argument among the African traders I am still at an early stage of research. Part V tries to place the conflict in a wider perspective of the social structure.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented October 1974
Riots. South Africa. Durban