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Reviewed by:
  • Ekhaya: the politics of home in KwaZulu-Natal ed. by Meghan Healy-Clancy and Jason Hickel
  • Sophie Chevalier (bio)
Meghan Healy-Clancy and Jason Hickel (eds) (2014) Ekhaya: the politics of home in KwaZulu-Natal. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

This collection of essays focuses on the meaning of home and its historical transformations in what is now KwaZulu-Natal. What has survived from all the legal, material and structural changes affecting the house and the homestead over two centuries is the idea of home – including nostalgia for what has been lost – and the reassertion of the homestead today. Discussion of how European models of the family and domesticity were transformed and promoted in the colonial period provide interesting points of comparison with how Africans developed new domestic solutions to the challenges of apartheid and the difficult economic conditions since then.

The editors in their introduction refer to the ‘Nkandlagate scandal’ about the expensive refurbishing of President Zuma’s homestead at South African taxpayers expense. The politics of home is a very contemporary issue. Their aim is to show that the home – as an idea and as a material place – does not remain the same throughout history, an idealised site of tradition contrasted with the street where modernity is made. The home is at the same time an indicator and incubator of social transformation. The chapters are grouped in a chronological sequence: domestic space and political organisation in the nineteenth century before the mining revolution; notions of home in the period of white home rule; and in post-apartheid times. Most chapters are quite narrow in their scope; but two, by Jeff Guy and Jason Hickel, have a wider historical range.

Guy’s ‘Colonial transformations and the home’ does not offer much that is new for readers who already know his work, but he provides a very [End Page 96] thoughtful and illuminating account of the transformations of house, home and homestead in Zululand under the impact of colonialism. Starting from the pre-conquest period, he shows the nature and extent of the changes that took place later, when the home became fragmented and lost its role as a place which situated and integrated life, labour and livelihoods, on its way to becoming a subsistence base when productive work was over. Drawing on archaeological and anthropological studies, Guy outlines the ‘central cattle pattern’ and argues that this concept fails to identify the far-reaching changes that occurred immediately after the colonial conquest, especially when we consider reconstructions of the homestead. He argues that social forms persisted, but their aim was now the accumulation of things, not people as before.

Hickel, in ‘Engineering the township home: domestic transformations and urban revolutionary consciousness’, argues that resistance to apartheid was focused on the region’s townships and not in the countryside, because of their specific forms of social organisation and domesticity. He shows how the colonial administration limited urbanisation by trying to keep the African population in rural homesteads under indirect rulers, exercising patriarchal power. Urban growth in response to industrial demand for labour disturbed the contrast between an African population conceived of as being traditional and rural, and modern urban ‘white’ society. The answer to this perceived threat found by the colonial and apartheid regimes was first to construct single-sex barracks for African workers; and then to relocate urban Africans, from informal settlements into modernist, planned townships. In the process, what Hickel calls ‘an African indigenous urbanism’ was undermined by European bourgeois norms of kinship and domesticity. Taking the example of Durban (with a focus on Cato Manor/Umkhumbane), he shows how its early residents developed a new, more democratic organisation of domestic space and new egalitarian forms of sociality (the example of the sorghum beer trade).

There are striking similarities between South African town planners’ discourses on modernity and hygiene, informed by the belief that residential environments have a direct influence on the mental and social dispositions of their inhabitants, and the ideology underpinning the construction of huge suburban housing developments in post-war France for a working class whose members included immigrants. Monitoring and controlling what the powers consider to a ‘dangerous class’ or ‘unruly group...


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pp. 96-102
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