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Reviewed by:
  • Rural Resistance in South Africa: the Mpondo revolts after fifty years ed. by Thembela Kepe and Lungisile Ntsebeza
  • Nokuthula Cele (bio)
Thembela Kepe and Lungisile Ntsebeza (eds) (2011) Rural Resistance in South Africa: the Mpondo revolts after fifty years. Leiden: Brill

This book, which examines rural resistance in South Africa with specific focus on the Mpondo revolt of 1960, comprises 13 chapters and is divided into two parts. The first six chapters, forming Part 1, focus on inter alia analysis of the causes of the Mpondo revolt, the course of the revolt, individuals involved in the revolt and their connection to broader political movements of the time, the role of urban political influences through labour migration in the revolt, why revolt-related activities were more prevalent in Eastern Mpondoland than elsewhere, and how popular and academic commentary have dealt with issues related to this revolt. Part 2 of the book addresses the impact of the Mpondo revolt on the political landscape of South Africa, especially on labour unions, from the 1960s.

In particular, chapters seven to ten analyse the manner in which individuals used their experience of this rural resistance in the urban political setting, for example how the rural experiences in the revolt were reconstructed in an urban political setting through Mpondo migrant labourers to towns and cities in the 1960s. Although the rural and urban settings were different, they and those that inhabited them shared common political sentiments, fighting against the onslaught of the apartheid system that left black people landless in the rural areas and developed the black urban exploited underclass.

In chapters eleven, twelve and thirteen Steinberg, Kepe and de Wet respectively examine the significance of the Mpondo revolt in post-apartheid South Africa. The new South Africa has produced new economic and political forces, and challenges, that inform people’s responses to post-apartheid policies and shape their memory of the 1960 Mpondo revolt. The [End Page 107] issue is how ordinary South Africans link their encounters with current leadership to the Mpondo revolt of 1960s. In chapter ten Liana Muller gives an interesting analysis of the revolt by examining the role of physical environment in connecting people’s memories to the past, analysing the deeper meaning of the Ngquza Hill as a natural landscape and as a site of the Mpondo revolt. Muller’s chapter could be a good starting point within memory studies. The chapter appreciates the natural landscapes as reminders of the past experiences of those people who were involved in the revolt and those who were affected by it, and their descendants; a history that could be reconstructed through understanding the landscapes as heritage sites.

Generally speaking, the book is well written in simple easy-to-read English. Undergraduate students who come from non-English speaking backgrounds, or any interested reader from a different disciplinary background, can read the book and follow the discussion without any difficulties. Repetition in some cases, eg the causes of the revolt in some chapters, especially in Part 1, helps to remind the reader what the book is about, and gives good guidance in a manner that helps the reader connect the arguments made in each chapter to other chapters and to the main theme of the book, the theme being the Mpondo revolt. In Part 1, there is a bit of divergence in chapter three, with Pieterse’s chapter giving an analysis of how the Mpondo revolt has been represented in different strands of South African historiography (revisionist, liberal; and by social historians and newspapers). However, chapters in this section (Part 1) mostly follow the same thread throughout the book. For example, Ntsebeza’s chapter two gives a good historical background to the revolt, with his analysis starting from the 1913 Land Act.

Although the book focuses mostly on Eastern Mpondoland, Fred Hendricks and Jeff Peires in chapter six give further context to the book by giving Western Mpondoland a voice in the study. They argue that although throughout the revolt Western Mpondoland was relatively quiet, this does not mean that nothing happened there at all. Hendricks and Peires give a historical background to the differences, and separation, between the Western and Eastern...


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