My proposed paper looks into connections between radical politics in Namibia and South Africa in the early 1970s. It demonstrates the significance of entwined histories of student and labour movements during the heyday of apartheid colonialism in South Africa and in its colony, then known as ‘South West Africa’. Today the regional entanglements of radical politics in Southern Africa are largely forgotten; at best they are told as footnotes of separate post-apartheid narratives of nationalist liberation struggles.  

My paper argues that the activists in Durban were part of a wider regional mobilisation in Southern Africa. By the time of the Durban uprising, protest and labour action had already erupted in South Africa’s colony. In Namibia student protests occurred as early as August 1971, followed by the massive contract labour strike in December 1971 and January 1972. The strike resulted in renewed political mobilisation, and in Owambo resistance to the contract labour system broadened into a generalised revolt against the South African regime. A close look at the Namibian events and their ramifications in South Africa helps to understand the entangled history of Southern African resistance politics.  

The paper is focused on the period preceding the 1973 Durban strikes. The significant links between the Namibian and South African student and worker movements of the period between, roughly, 1968 and 1973 have not yet found much attention in the historiography of the southern African anti-apartheid struggles. This contribution endeavours to address this lacuna; it thereby draws particular attention to the Namibian contract workers’ strike of 1971/1972 and the transnational repercussions the strike had as a vital precedent to the Durban strikes.

Bio: Heike Becker

Heike Becker teaches in the Department of Anthropology of the University of the Western Cape. She has conducted long-term research on struggle histories in southern Africa, with a focus on Namibia. Heike is particularly interested in past and present struggles from below, including those of workers, students, women, youth and community-based organisations, and the transnational dimensions of these struggles.