Why was Soweto different?: Urban development, township politics, and the political economy of Soweto, 1978-84

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dc.contributor.author Seekings, Jeremy
dc.date.accessioned 2011-05-20T10:36:30Z
dc.date.available 2011-05-20T10:36:30Z
dc.date.issued 1988-05-02
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10539/9881
dc.description African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 2 May 1988 en_US
dc.description.abstract Vorster described the events of 1976 as just ‘the whirlwind before the storm’, and events since 1984 have confirmed his judgement. But whereas the protests and conflicts of 1976-77 were focussed on Soweto (although they did spread widely across South Africa [1], the gales of the ‘storm’ in 1984-85 largely passed Soweto by. 'Soweto schools were relatively unaffected by the school protests and boycott which swept through the Eastern Cape, Pretoria, the East Rand and the Vaal Triangle in 1984. Soweto's residents were not drawn up into the protests over rent increases which convulsed the northern 'Orange Free State, Vaal Triangle, Pretoria and East Rand between June and September 1984. When the Eastern Cape erupted in February and March 1985, Soweto stayed generally quiet, as it continued to be when bloody conflict swept the East Rand again in May and June, and the Western Cape and Durban from August. Consumer boycotts in Soweto in the second half of 1985 lacked solid support, and there was only patchy participation in stayaways. In the first nine months of 1985, only 17 people were reported killed in ‘unrest’ in Soweto, compared to 110 on the East Rand, for example [2]. Soweto's councillors not only clung to office but also continued to live in the township itself, unlike many of their counterparts elsewhere who were herded into fortified compounds or put up in hotels outside of their townships. It was only in the last three months of 1985, and more especially in mid-1986, that protests ceased to be sporadic, transitory and disparate, and overt conflict in Soweto matched that elsewhere in the country. Why? This paper addresses this question through an examination of Soweto between 1978 and 1984. In so doing it is a very preliminary attempt to explore a broader issue, namely the nature of "quiescence". "Quiescence", or the apparent absence of overt struggle, is a more general phenomenon than overt protest or revolt, yet receives very little critical attention. In examining "quiescence" in Soweto I focus on a range of factors, including: (1) the social structure of Soweto; (2) the state's prioritisation of urban development in Soweto since 1979, its wariness of revolt, and its use of relatively sophisticated policing; (3) the chronic unimportance of the Soweto Council in township politics; and (4) the character o-f opposition politics and the experience of struggle during the period 1977-84. I hope that, this paper begins to illustrate how "quiescence" should not simply be understood in terms of a process (of transformation to protest or revolt) that did not, happen, but rather as the outcome of the interaction of a set of processes (including processes of struggle and limited overt protest) that did happen, and that did indeed transform township politics although in ways which led to continued "quiescence" rather than widespread overt revolt. en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.relation.ispartofseries African Studies Institute;ISS 387
dc.subject Soweto (South Africa). Politics and government en_US
dc.subject Soweto (South Africa). Social conditions en_US
dc.title Why was Soweto different?: Urban development, township politics, and the political economy of Soweto, 1978-84 en_US
dc.type Working Paper en_US


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