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Melancholia of Freedom

Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa

Thomas Blom Hansen

Publication Year: 2012

The end of apartheid in 1994 signaled a moment of freedom and a promise of a nonracial future. With this promise came an injunction: define yourself as you truly are, as an individual, and as a community. Almost two decades later it is clear that it was less the prospect of that future than the habits and horizons of anxious life in racially defined enclaves that determined postapartheid freedom. In this book, Thomas Blom Hansen offers an in-depth analysis of the uncertainties, dreams, and anxieties that have accompanied postapartheid freedoms in Chatsworth, a formerly Indian township in Durban. Exploring five decades of township life, Hansen tells the stories of ordinary Indians whose lives were racialized and framed by the township, and how these residents domesticated and inhabited this urban space and its institutions, during apartheid and after.

Hansen demonstrates the complex and ambivalent nature of ordinary township life. While the ideology of apartheid was widely rejected, its practical institutions, from urban planning to houses, schools, and religious spaces, were embraced in order to remake the community. Hansen describes how the racial segmentation of South African society still informs daily life, notions of race, personhood, morality, and religious ethics. He also demonstrates the force of global religious imaginings that promise a universal and inclusive community amid uncertain lives and futures in the postapartheid nation-state.

Published by: Princeton University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xviii

...innocent travelers. Those months taught me much about the starkness of everyday apartheid. One of the startling experiences was that my own skin color immediately placed me, even implicated me, in the structural logic of race that was defined...

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pp. 1-25

...forward to this local production and clearly expected something between a quality Bollywood movie and the art house genre that dominated the festival. Behind me sat a group of young, smartly dressed couples who spoke a mixture of...

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Chapter 1: Ethnicity by Fiat: The Remaking of Indian Life in South Africa

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pp. 26-58

...South Africa. The imperative of putting “African” first signified the overriding emphasis on autochthonous origin as a crucial defining feature of the true citizens of the new South...

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Chapter 2: Domesticity and Cultural Intimacy

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pp. 59-96

...the ancestors in Zululand (White 2011); as displacement of the authority of older men by the new generation of “com-tsotsis” in the 1980s in African townships (Bank 2011; Bozzoli 2004); and as worries about the proliferation of multigenerational...

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Chapter 3: Charous and Ravans: A Story of Mutual Nonrecognition

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pp. 97-141

...sentiments that to this day pervade the white population of the province. This relative invisibility and nonrecognition of other dominated groups, except through (hostile) colonial mediations and their apportioning of patronage and punishment, is intrinsic...

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Chapter 4: Autonomy, Freedom, and Political Speech

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pp. 142-175

...rather than active networks. In their stead, a broadly defensive attitude of internal consolidation emerged. To some, this indicated nothing but a resurfacing of the old clannishness...

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Chapter 5: Movement, Sound, and Body in the Postapartheid City

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pp. 176-199

...owned taxi industry was simply disbanded in the late 1950s as townships were built. Instead, bus transport became dominant. Long-standing frictions between Indian bus owners and African customers in Durban, and the successful Alexandra...

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Chapter 6: The Unwieldy Fetish: Desi Fantasies, Roots Tourism, and Diasporic Desires

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pp. 200-222

...natural and fundamental. This requires some qualification: First, the diverse communities that left the Indian subcontinent between 1860 and the 1890s left one colonial territory for another one, and the identification with “India” was not yet there. The imagination...

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Chapter 7: Global Hindus and Pure Muslims: Universalist Aspirations and Territorialized Lives

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pp. 223-260

...by how little people here knew of our tradition,” he said. “People do not really speak Tamil here anymore, and they are quite ignorant of even the basics of Hinduism. When I came here with my family, we were quite alone. It was as if there was no real society...

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Chapter 8 The Saved and the Backsliders: The Charou Soul and the Instability of Belief

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pp. 261-289

...several schools in the poorer units—2, 3, and 5—reported that almost half of the students were Christians. All the large cinema halls and several big industrial halls in the township, some holding two thousand people at a time, have been converted into churches. In...

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Postscript: Melancholia in the Time of the “African Personality”

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pp. 290-296

...had reignited deep antiwhite sentiments among ordinary Africans. None of the prima facie evidence of the killing suggested that it was any different from the hundreds of attacks, robberies, and murders—fueled by complex and mostly localized conflicts over land, pay, and dignity—that have taken place in the South...


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pp. 297-324


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pp. 325-344


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pp. 345-354

E-ISBN-13: 9781400842612
E-ISBN-10: 1400842611
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691152967
Print-ISBN-10: 0691152950

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Core Textbook

OCLC Number: 794491916
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Melancholia of Freedom

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • East Indians -- South Africa -- Durban.
  • Chatsworth (Durban, South Africa) -- Race relations.
  • Chatsworth (Durban, South Africa) -- Social conditions.
  • Chatsworth (Durban, South Africa) -- Religion.
  • Durban (South Africa) -- Race relations.
  • Durban (South Africa) -- Social conditions.
  • Durban (South Africa) -- Religion.
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