1973: Neo-apartheid and the sleeping the giant.

Mbuso Nkosi (Sociology Lecturer-University of Pretoria)


The sociologist Michael Burawoy argues that the production politics of the 1970s saw the emergence of global hegemonic despotism where ‘labor makes concessions on the basis of the relative profitability of one capitalist vis-a-vis another-that is, the opportunity costs of capital’ (Burawoy, 1982: 602-603). In South Africa, during this period of hegemonic despotism, a new form of unionism emerged that challenged the despotism of the state and capital in a period where businesses could not afford to increase the wages of Black workers while demanding an increase in productivity (Lichtenstein, 2017). In looking at the 1973 Durban strikes, I argue that they initiated the emergence of neo-apartheid- a renewed interest in apartheid by the White society during a crisis. This crisis was the collapse of an economic system centred on welfare to a one premised on individual authority and the discipline of the free market. The Durban strikes were to wake up the sleeping giant in South Africa, the Black working-class movement that demanded non-racialism and democratisation in the workplace and society. The apartheid state responded by granting concessions like the 1979 Wiehahn recommendations amending the 1956 Labour Relations Act- recognising Black trade unions under government supervision. One of the zeitgeists of this moment, Rick Turner, was to begin a conversation about the future of society. Turner asked this question during a time of crisis- when a new conjuncture was dying to be born.  In focusing on this period- I move contradistinction to the arguments that frame neo-apartheid as emerging post the 1994 democratic settlement; instead- I aim to answer what neo-apartheid is and how it affects the future society.


Burawoy, M. (1983). ‘Between the labor process and the state: the changing face of factory regimes under advanced capitalism,’ American Sociological Review, 48(5): 587-605.

Lichtenstein, A. 2017. ‘‘We do not think that the Bantu is ready for labour unions’: Remaking South Africa's Apartheid Workplace in the 1970s’, South African Historical Journal, 69(2): 215- 235.