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The coolies will elbow us out of the country: African reactions to Indian immigration in the colony of Natal, South Africa

By Heather Hughes


There is an extensive literature on the experiences of Indians and Africans in colonial Natal, but almost none of it focuses on the relationships between them. This article explores one element of this relationship, namely the ways in which Africans reacted to Indian indentured workers. It looks briefly at the conditions of indenture, and dwells at greater length on Indians' experiences as small agricultural producers after their contracts of indenture had ended. The attitudes of African traditionalists and the new middle class are examined. The article ends by examining the relationship between the leading political leaders of Indians and Africans in early twentieth-century Natal, M.K. Gandhi and John Dube. It suggests that while the settler state had an interest in driving a wedge between Africans and Indians, such sentiments for separation were felt from below as well

Topics: V200 History by area
Year: 2007
DOI identifier: 10.1179/174581807X224588
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lincoln.ac.uk:1149

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  1. 1 This article began life as a presentation to the African Studies Seminar at the University of Natal (as it was then called) in 2000. Many thanks go to the participants, as well as to the anonymous readers for this journal.
  2. (1974). 3 For general overviews of Indians in
  3. 5 The two studies are P. Maylam and I. doi
  4. (1977). 7 On the 1949 African–Indian conflict, see E. Webster, ‘The 1949 Durban “riots”: a study in race and class’
  5. (1993). 9 For an analysis of early African attitudes to industrial time and discipline, see K. Atkins, The Moon is Dead! Give us our Money! The Cultural Origins of an African Work Ethic, doi
  6. (2001). Although somewhat elderly now, two studies that were produced at the height of the revisionist ‘wave’ in southern African studies remain valuable overviews of more general land and labour issues
  7. (1964). Divide and Profit: Indian Workers in
  8. (1989). Gandhi: the South African Experience, p. 20. Information on the profile of workers is drawn
  9. (2006). Indian research and publication on South Africa’, ANC online archive at http:// www/anc/org/za/un/reddy/research/html [accessed 12
  10. (1985). On the conflict in 1985, see H. Hughes, ‘Violence in Inanda, doi
  11. (1996). Political Economy and Identities in KwaZulu-Natal: Historical and Social Perspectives.
  12. See also the useful discussion on identity formation in
  13. (1991). The Making of a Political Reformer,
  14. (1997). The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa,
  15. (1992). Vahed, ‘Constructions of community’, p. 79. See also the study by

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