Appointed As

Department of History


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Cornell University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, History, University of Texas at Austin

Dissertation Abstract

“Aftertaste of Empire: Amandiya and Racial Violence in South Africa (1843-1949)”

This dissertation examines the entangled histories of race and violence in South Africa by exploring the strained social relationship between the blacks and the Indians in colonial Natal. It narrates histories of migration, labor, and land dispossession in Natal between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries to explain the causes that led to the Durban race riots of January 1949 between the Zulus and the Indian minority. Simultaneously, it maps the discursive formations of race to narrate a social history of the political in colonial Natal. It responds to two different historiographical gaps concerning racial violence in modern South Africa. First, it seeks a narrative space for writing about racial violence between two historically oppressed communities that moves beyond the binary of state violence and popular resistance. Second, it responds to the lack of adequate discussions on how South Africa’s racially excluded populations turned against one another while living under white minority rule. It emphasizes that violence studies and postcolonial historiography must recognize the painful and difficult issues that are not easily resolved through many of the inherited ideological and historiographical frames of analysis. Drawing on official records, political party documents, personal correspondences, newspaper archives published in multiple languages, recorded oral evidence, and memoirs, it revisits the Marxist and poststructuralist histories of capital, sovereign authority, and race in pre-apartheid South Africa. An examination of the politics of the governed in colonial Natal informs the core arguments of the dissertation. It shows that the racial violence of January 1949 between the Zulus and the Indians was an outcome of racialized conversations in all spheres of private and public life in the port city of Durban. Thus it argues that a social history of racial violence between oppressed communities in colonial South Africa must address the fluid logics of subject-formation and pluralize the histories of political authority. Moreover, it suggests that the fragmented loyalties of the socially segregated Zulus and Indians complemented the policy of racial segregation sponsored by the white minority government. It argues that an examination of the social relationship between the blacks and the Indians in Natal, mediated by the hegemonic white minority, offers new insights into the making of the apartheid society. The historiographical vision of the dissertation emerges from two disparate yet connected geographies of colonialism with due recognition of the differences between settler and non-settler forms. While narrating the history of Zulu nativism and explaining the process of the Indian diaspora’s immersion into the social life of South Africa, it recognizes the movements, itinerations, and global flows of people and ideas. Thus it deprovincializes the social history of Southeastern Africa by alluding to the contemporary visions of Afropolitan histories.