Melancholia of Freedom

Melancholia of Freedom: Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa

Thomas Blom Hansen
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sj2k
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  • Book Info
    Melancholia of Freedom
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4261-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Thomas Blom Hansen
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-25)

    As South Africa celebrated its first decade of freedom and democracy in 2004, a film calledBroken Promises(Kumaran Naidoo, 2004) became a craze in Durban’s formerly Indian townships. A slapstick family comedy about a Hindi-speaking girl who marries into a Tamil family, the film followed a long tradition of local theater in these townships. The acting, story, and dialogue had a semi-amateur style that was instantly recognizable from many plays I had attended in the Indian townships. The film was packed with fast-paced dialogue that was sprinkled with vernacular abuse. It was an instant hit and sold about 150,000...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Ethnicity by Fiat: THE REMAKING OF INDIAN LIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA
    (pp. 26-58)

    “Why can’t you just call yourself African Indians?” asked then president-elect Thabo Mbeki in May 1999 at a large meeting with self-styled community leaders drawn from the Indian community in Durban. Mbeki’s entourage consisted of a high-powered group of ANC ministers and advisers, many of Indian origin. ANC leaders hoped that the meeting could broker an electoral breakthrough among the resourceful Indians in the city, a group that had largely turned its back on the ANC since the early 1990s.

    After listening to what his advisers dismissed as “perceptions, not rooted in facts,” Mbeki lost his patience with what he...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Domesticity and Cultural Intimacy
    (pp. 59-96)

    At the end of June 1999, yet another grisly murder occurred when an Indian policeman gunned down his fiancée and then turned the gun on himself in downtown Durban. So-called love-murders have become more common as ownership of guns among Indians has skyrocketed in recent years. Under the headline “TV and the West Stand to Blame,” the weeklyPostreported answers to the question, “Has our culture and society gone horribly wrong?” The answers ranged from people calling for counseling for young families to those blaming the new global television landscape for glorifying violence. A man stated a widespread opinion:...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Charous and Ravans: A STORY OF MUTUAL NONRECOGNITION
    (pp. 97-141)

    The relationship between Indians and Africans in South Africa, and in particular in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, is a strange story of mutual nonrecognition. It is neither misrecognition nor lack of presence but nonrecognition, by which I mean a willed incomprehension derived from a lack of desire, intimacy, and respect. In Hegelian terms, I propose that Indians and Zulus in this colonial province never constituted their identities through actually “seeing” each other, by deciphering each other’s gaze, or by “desiring the desire of the other.” Despite 150 years of “apprehensive coexistence,” these communities never developed regular forms of conviviality or...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Autonomy, Freedom, and Political Speech
    (pp. 142-175)

    As the rift between the Zulu-speaking majority and the Indians deepened in the 1950s, mass mobilizations of Indians subsided dramatically. By the end of the 1950s, the once-powerful Indian organizations, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC), were reduced to shadows.¹ The two organizations sustained themselves mainly through already-existing kin and community networks among the wealthier and well-educated Gujaratis. Left-leaning, nonracial forces had a strong standing in the Indian community in South Africa until the onslaught of apartheid. Much of it was premised on the well-organized labor movement and the presence of accomplished leaders from Yusuf...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Movement, Sound, and Body in the Postapartheid City
    (pp. 176-199)

    The rapid accumulation of wealth in South Africa made automobile and bus transport crucial elements of urban life from the 1920s. With apartheid’s more comprehensive approach to urban planning and segregation, an extensive road system was laid out to service white areas across the country. Areas for people of color were connected to this grid by separate access roads, bus routes, and rail lines. It became possible for whites to commute between work and home and shopping facilities without ever passing through nonwhite areas. Whites would enjoy the freedom of individualized movement that cars afforded, while “nonwhites,” not yet ready...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Unwieldy Fetish: DESI FANTASIES, ROOTS TOURISM, AND DIASPORIC DESIRES
    (pp. 200-222)

    The standard narrative of Indian identity in South Africa was presented in a fully formed and explicit fashion in a series of articles in thePostin 2010 that commemorated the 150th anniversary of Indian indenture in the country. The key themes were loss and recovery: indenture was a traumatic migratory experience forced by abject poverty and colonial despotism. Despite internal differences Indians were united by a natural urge to retain core values—family life and kin relations, religious cosmologies, food and aesthetics—in the face of a hostile and indifferent colonial society. The ties with India were severed and...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Global Hindus and Pure Muslims: UNIVERSALIST ASPIRATIONS AND TERRITORIALIZED LIVES
    (pp. 223-260)

    It was a sunny and quiet afternoon in 2007. I was visiting the Shri Vaithianatha Easvarar Alayam (Umgeni Road Temple) complex in Durban, the oldest and most venerated Hindu temple in South Africa (built in 1883) and said to be the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere. We were soon in conversation with the senior pujari, who enjoyed practicing his native Tamil with my partner. He was gently shaking his head as he narrated to her how he had found Durban when he had arrived more than a decade earlier from Sri Lanka. “I was a bit shocked by...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Saved and the Backsliders: THE CHAROU SOUL AND THE INSTABILITY OF BELIEF
    (pp. 261-289)

    There has always been a small proportion of Christians among Indians in South Africa. Some arrived from India as Christians and others were converted by missionary societies that were active among the indentured laborers.¹ Preference for Indians with anglicized names in public sector jobs, and the strong patronage by established churches in Natal, increased the number of Christians during the colonial and the apartheid eras (Brain 1983). One of the most controversial developments in Chatsworth over the last decades has been the rapid growth of Pentecostal churches in the poorer sections of the township. An official survey put the percentage...

  14. Postscript: MELANCHOLIA IN THE TIME OF THE “AFRICAN PERSONALITY”
    (pp. 290-296)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 297-324)
  16. References
    (pp. 325-344)
  17. Index
    (pp. 345-354)