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Rural Cosmopolitanism and Peasant Insurgency: The Pondoland Revolt, South Africa (1958--1963)

Fidler, Katherine (2010)
Dissertation (251 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Crais, Clifton C
Committee Members: Ravina, Mark ; Scully, Pamela F
Research Fields: History, African; History, General
Keywords: African History; African Studies
Program: Laney Graduate School, History
Permanent url:


This study examines a revolutionary moment when a group of rural South Africans, calling themselves iKongo, sent a petition to the United Nations requesting recognition of their sovereignty and engaged in a insurgency against the apartheid state. iKongo members rejected the policies of the South African state and, for a brief moment, between 1950 and 1962 created a new government. In 1960, as part of its counter-insurgency campaign, the South African government placed the region under emergency regulations.

No systematic study of the Pondoland insurgency exists. Through an examination of the insurgency, beginning with the inception of the movement in the late 1940s through its suppression in 1963, this study explores the contributions of rural Africans in contesting colonial rule and defining their vision of independence. Rather than advocating a return to a pre-colonial past or adopting the framework of the modern nation state, iKongo insurgents engaged in a rural cosmopolitanism that simultaneously engaged with elements of the modern nation state and familiar lexicons of social control and order.

In addition to exploring the society created by iKongo, this study examines the suppression of the insurgency by the South African state and argues that South African officials participated in discussions about the suppression of anti-colonial movements across the colonial world. Finally, this study explores why a movement that threatened rule of law in the Transkei and garnered the approval of large-scale resistance organizations of the African National Congress is now largely absent from a historical narrative of anti-apartheid resistance. This study argues that the reason for this is located precisely in the fact that iKongo constituted a moment of rural cosmopolitanism. Unable to reconcile the lexicons of the supernatural that iKongo insurgents utilized, members of the ANC seized upon elements of iKongo commensurate with ANC ideology. The ANC transformed iKongo members from independent rural insurgents into members of the ANC's peasant vanguard. An examination of the Pondoland insurgency as a moment of rural cosmopolitanism contributes both to a history of resistance to apartheid in South Africa and to an understanding of insurgency in the contemporary world.

Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS -- Introduction. The Anatomy of Rural Insurgency… 1 -- Chapter One. The Beginnings of Insurgency: A History of iKongo (1947-1960)… 37 -- Chapter Two. Constitutions, Petitions, and Invocations of the Supernatural: Rural -- Cosmopolitans and the Construction of an iKongo Nation… 91 -- Chapter Three. "It has only been equaled by Mau Mau": The Repression of iKongo -- and the Declaration of a State of Emergency… 132 -- Chapter Four. The Transformation of the Rural Insurgent into the Peasant -- Vanguard: The Folding of iKongo into the Historical Narrative of the ANC… 174 -- Conclusion… 206 -- Appendix A… 214 -- Appendix B… 215 -- Appendix C… 216 -- Appendix D… 217 -- Bibliography… 218


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