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Ashwin Desai PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 February 2007 04:21

Ashwin Desai, the holder of a Masters degree from Rhodes University and a doctorate from Michigan State University, is currently affiliated to the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and lectures part time in Journalism at the Durban Institute of Technology and The Workers College. Dr Desai is an unusually prolific and wide ranging writer whose work has been published in academic and popular books and periodicals around the world. One of South Africa's foremost social commentators, Dr Desai's work is internationally celebrated for its courage and clarity of vision and for its focus on the lived experience of oppression and resistance. His work resolutely resists easy classification. It is not written in the service of sociology or journalism or poetry or analysis or ideology. It just is. And this independent presence has made it a material force. The Poors of Chatsworth is described as "in part, first rate sociology, then investigative journalism, then seething post-colonial writing" which is "indispensable reading for anyone attempting to understand contemporary South Africa". Dennis Brutus, Emeritus Professor, University of Pittsburgh, and former political Robben Island prisoner, writes about Desai's work, We are the Poors: "One of South Africa's leading activist intellectuals has produced a remarkable book detailing growing resistance to neoliberalism in post-apartheid South Africa. Desai gives a moving picture of desperate conditions in post-apartheid South Africa, where things have not changed for most of the people. But this is also a stirring account of a courageous fightback, the fight that is being globalized as we challenge corporate globalization".

In 2007 Desai co-published (with Goolam Vahed) Inside Indenture: A South African Story, 1860-1914.  Subsequently, in July 2010 he published The Race to Transform:  Sports in Post Apartheid South Africa.

In 2012 Desai released Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island. This book examines how Robben Island prisoners smuggled in banned political literature like the works of William Shakespeare and the influence these texts had on them.

The next year he co-published (with Goolam Vahed), Chatsworth: the making of a South African township, which included reflective narratives by residents of Chatsworth.

In 2014 Desai released The Archi-texture of Durban: A Skapie’s Guide which provided an unromanticised personal account of the city.

His latest publication, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-bearer of Empire, offers a critical counternarrative to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiring figure in world history and as a freedom fighter. The book was co-published with his long-time collaborator, Goolam Vahed and launched in 2015.

Selected Work

The Anamuthoo's from The Poors of Chatsworth (2000)

They said: "Old man, are you moving? And I replied, I am not moving." They said: "It is a pity father, for you will be crying for a little while" ... So I took my crowbar, pulled the house down ... I was afraid maybe they would arrest me if I was left alone - Mr Mapapu, Glenmore, Eastern Cape, Recorded in the early 1980s

... he took a note from his pocket. It stated: "You Venkatsamy, are notified by the City Council to leave your plot number so and so ... Ma, I've been living in this place for the last fifty years. Where do I go now?" When I went back a few weeks later, the old man had died. It was the death of one who did not want to live anymore - Dr K. Goonam

Among the first residents of Chatsworth were shackdwellers from the Amanzimnyama area of Clairwood. Indians had settled in the area from the 1920s and had access to market gardens adjacent to the settlement. Within twenty-one months the community was destroyed and many forced into Chatsworth. One of the first to move was Mr Anamuthoo who was employed at Consolidated Textile Mills as a spinner for over two decades. He had lived in shack A90 in Clairwood for twenty- two years. He moved into house 290, Road 328 on September 30, 1963. The records show that when asked the reason for his application to move from Clairwood to Chatsworth, Anamuthoo's response was, "We must apply."
Intrigued by the simplicity of Mr Anamuthoo's comment, I attempted to track him down thirty-six years later. I arrived at the residence of Ramiah Anamuthoo but he had passed away on November 29, 1976. His wife Ankamma still lived in the flat. She was eighty-one years old. Her son Antony, one of eight children joined us. He lived in a flat around the corner. He was fourteen when they arrived in Unit 3. The family lived at 262 Whitehall Place, Jacobs. Before moving to Whitehall Place they had a five bedroom house in Balfour Road but it was destroyed during the 1949 Indo-African riots.
Slowly Ankamma, without frills, told me her story. They were first offered a house in Unit 1 but they did not qualify as Ramiah was not earning enough. By the time they moved, Ramiah had already worked at Consolidated Textile Mills for twenty-seven years. After thirty-one years of service, Ramiah's take home pay was R8 a week. Gross annual remuneration, according to his 1968 income tax return, was R459.47. In Clairwood, Ramiah Anamuthoo supplemented the family income by going fishing to the "Wests". With the long distances from Chatsworth to the sea, this was only occasionally possible. Ankamma also worked at the Natal Bottle Exchange for eleven years and then Bailes for eleven years. Ankamma gets a pension of R520. Most of it goes on rent, lights and water which comes to between R345 and R360. She has bought goods at Shaik Supply Store for the last thirty years on a monthly credit system. She is up-to-date with her rent. However, she moans about the escalating costs. She shows me a rent slip for R28.46 from 1978. Another from 1982, R37.98. Now R350.
The son, Antony, has eight children; one of them from a previous marriage. His first marriage broke-up because his in-laws felt he was spending too much money on his father's funeral. At the age of fifteen, Antony went to work. He worked at R. Faulks footwear for fifteen years starting with the princely salary of sixty cents a week. After a period of unemployment in the 1980s, he found work at Delano Footwear in Unit 10, Chatsworth. He was put on indefinite short-time. He has not worked since 1997 and has pawned both his and his wife's sewing machines to get money for food. He believes that the shoe industry has collapsed because of "cheap imports from China". Unable to meet the rent and provide for his family, he has built a structure in his mother's back garden to try to do some sewing. But he needs money to get his sewing machine back. His son in Standard 8 seeks refuge at the grandmother's. Antony still hopes to get back into the footwear industry, but the odds are against that. Cheap imports have escalated in the last decade rising from 12.86 million pairs in 1989 to 50.83 million in 1996. A 1997 South African Clothing Textile and Workers Union (SACTWU) secretariat report indicated that since 1990, 13 000 jobs were lost in the footwear and leather industries. At the same time production has declined from 72.6 million pairs in 1990 to 48.3 million pairs in 1997.
I look at Antony and know that at forty-nine years of age he will never work again. He left school at fifteen to help his family as the cost of living in Chatsworth escalated. He has been put on indefinite short-time as a result of the government's tariff lowering policies which have destroyed the shoe industry. Will his kid in Standard 8, sharing a house with seven other people and aware of his family's plight, have any reason to hope for a better life?
But it is Ankamma's hurt that I feel. She is always so neatly clad in staid saris. Her house is immaculate. She keeps returning to the theme of why seventy percent of her pension is gobbled up by rent and electricity and water. One can sense she is worried about Antony.
My last image of Ankamma is of her unfolding her husband's certificate of twenty-five years service received in 1962.



1996. Arise ye Coolies: Apartheid and the Indian 1960-1995. Johannesburg: Impact Africa Publishers.

1999. South Africa Still Revolting.  Johannesburg: Impact Africa Publishers.

2000. The Poors of Chatsworth.  Durban:  Madiba Publishers.

2002. We are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa. New York: Monthly Review Press.

2002. Blacks in Whites: A Century of Cricket Struggles in KwaZulu-Natal. (co-authored with Vishnu Padayachee, Krish Reddy & Goolam Vahed).  Durban: University of Natal Press.

2007. Inside Indenture: A South African Story, 1860-1914. Johannesburg: Human Sciences Research Council.

2010.  The Race to Transform: Sports in Post Apartheid South Africa. Johannesburg: Human Sciences Research Council.

2012. Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island. Pretoria: Unisa Press.

2013. Chatsworth: the making of a South African township. (co-authored with Goolam Vahed). Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

2014. The Archi-texture of Durban: A Skapie's Guide. Durban: Madiba Publishers.

2016. The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire. (co-authored with Goolam Vahed). Delhi: Navayana & California: Stanford University Press.

Herbert Dhlomo PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 February 2007 04:20

Herbert I. E. Dhlomo (1903 - 1956) the younger brother of R.R.R. Dhlomo, was born in Siyama Village near Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa. In the thirties he was appointed to the staff of the Bantu World, a weekly journal, and later was assistant editor of Ilanga lase Natal. He died at King Edward Hospital in Durban on October 23, 1956.

Dhlomo's first work is also the first drama published in English by a black South African author. Entitled The Girl Who Killed to Save (1936), it is based on an episode of the Xhosa history, the cattle- killing tragedy of 1857. The Valley of Thousand Hills (1941) is a long elegiac poem, based on the contrast between the harmony of nature, and the cruelty and ugliness of human society. Three of Dhlomo's plays, dealing with the Zulu kings Shaka, Cetshwayo and the paramount chief and founder of the Sotho nation, Moshesh, "were meant to be published in one book, which the author intended to call The Black Bulls" (B.W. Vilakazi). Apparently, none of these works ever reached print.

Chaka - a Tragedy (1936), however, was performed by the African Dramatic Society in Johannesburg. Dhlomo also dealt with Zulu oral art in a series of articles. His controversy with B.W. Vilakazi about form and content of Bantu literature is probably the first controversy in the history of African literature.
'Dhlomo provides one of the most lucid expositions of the societal significance of folk art, and especially praise poetry, to have come from the pen of an African' (Albert S. Gerard).


Selected Work

from Dingana (Adapted performance script. First performed by the Medical Students' Drama Group of the University of Natal, 28 May 1954.)

JEQE: Shaka - The man who set the world on fire: It is right that I should spend my last moments speaking in his praise, O countryside, O hills, O cattle paths and winding streams - how much he loved these things, Shaka, King of Men, the Black One, in the listening hours of night we sought the path, he and I, to the inner mystery of life, the soul of watching mountains and the pregnant darkness. For beauty of bird or woman or evening strangely stabbed him, and in all his wildest acts, I believe, he sought the blood of beauty, and the heart of it.
NTOMBAZI: How wonderful, the Zulu tongue; strong, and full of stabbing music.
JEQE: Is it?
NTOMBAZI: Your speech is song.
JEQE: Ha, in Zululand we run to eloquence; we are all orators and bards.
NTOMBAZI: Are you not hungry and thirsty after all your trials?
JEQE: You are a woman who understands the language of the stomach.
NTOMBAZI: Here is water.
JEQE: (Drinking) Water is like a woman, cool, sweet, and lovely.
NTOMBAZI: The pot is like you, warrior; big, strong, and empty.
JEQE: Indeed I am still empty.
NTOMBAZI: There is food in the village.
JEQE: Whose village is it?
NTOMBAZI: Ntombazi's.
JEQE: Ntombazi. She, that great healer.
NTOMBAZI: And slayer.
JEQE: And slayer. The renowned doctor of Swaziland. So far from death I've come to death, for the Zulus who come here never return.
NTOMBAZI: Yes, in Zululand you make words; in Swaziland we make medicine. This is a land of doctors: almost every grown-up person here knows which roots and leaves are medicinal - and which have power to kill.
JEQE: I wish some of us knew more about such things, and less about forging arms. Yet medicine has its own evils. It is made of insects, lowly creatures, and herbs: wild and earthy things. So it has two powers: a power for life and, a power of destruction.



1936. Chaka: A Tragedy.  Johannesburg:  African Dramatic Society.
1936. The Girl who Killed to Save: Nongqause the Liberator. Eastern Cape:  Lovedale Press.
1941. Valley of a Thousand Hills. Durban:  The Knox Publishing Company. 
1954. Dingana: A Play. Durban:  University of Natal Press.

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Reginald Dhlomo PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 February 2007 04:19

Rolfes Reginald Raymond Dhlomo (1906-1971) was born near Pietermaritzburg and was the brother of renowned KwaZulu-Natal poet H.I.E. Dhlomo. He worked as a mine clerk in Johannesburg and as a freelance journalist becoming, in 1932, assistant editor of the Bantu World and, in 1943, editor of Ilanga lase Natal. Most of his creative work is in Zulu and consists of historical novels of nineteenth-century Zulu leaders: U-Dingane (1936), U-Shaka (1937), U-Mpande (1938), U-Cetshwayo (1952) and UDinizulu (1968). He wrote a novella An African Tragedy (1928), the first piece of English prose fiction by a black South African to appear in book form and presenting a sombre picture of life in the black urban slums. Under several pseudonyms including 'Rollie Reggie', 'The Randite' and 'Pessimist', he regularly sketched moral tales of life in the mining compounds for Stephen Black's magazine The Sjambok (1929-1931) - a selection is to be found in English in Africa (March 1975). In 1946 he returned to the conflict between rural and city ways in the Zulu-language Indlela Yabani ('The Evil One'), a narrative depicting the dilemmas of an African in the locations of Johannesburg.

In 2015, Dhlomo (together with HIE Dhlomo) was  awarded a "Literary Posthumous Award" at the 2015 South African Literary Awards (SALAs).

(Adapted from the Companion to South African Literature - Adey, Beeton and Chapman, 1986)


Selected Work

from 'Evils of Town Life' in An African Tragedy (1928)

Two reasons made Robert Zulu leave teaching at Siam Village School. The first was that he wanted to get married to Miss Jane Nhlauzeko as soon as possible. But as Jane's father had asked for a silly huge sum of money and other gifts for Ilobolo Robert felt that he could not raise this sum quick enough while teaching - teachers' salaries being anything but lucrative at that time.
So he made up his mind to leave teaching, and go to Johannesburg to look for work. He felt sure that there he could make more money in more ways than one, and that quickly too.
The second reason was that he thought, as most foolish young people think now-a-days, that town life is better in every way than country life; and that for a young, educated man to die having not seen and enjoyed town life was a deplorable tragedy. These excuses made Robert deaf to all the efforts of his parents and friends to dissuade him from going to that most unreliable city of Johannesburg. His final decision therefore, to go to Johannesburg at all hazards, was a blow to his people, who had thought highly of him, as a young Christian teacher in the Mission.
This blow was felt even more strongly by his future parents-in-law. But as Robert pointed out to his father-in-law that, unless he reduced his Ilobolo, there was no alternative open to him but that of going to Johannesburg to try and raise money quickly, his father-in-law did not argue any further.
He wanted money for his daughter. He had said : " What business has Robert to ask my daughter's hand in marriage if he has no money to pay for her?" This is unfortunately the parrot-cry of many Christian fathers, the costly mistake which, in many cases, results in poor, and financially stranded homes, or driving the young lovers to the terrible alternative of a "Special License," or running away from their homes with disastrous results all too-well known.
Robert Zulu had been in Johannesburg for about two years as our story begins. During this time, he had been engaged in all sorts of nefarious activities in pursuit of get-me-rich quick methods. But all these activities, instead of getting him rich only plunged him deeper and deeper in vice and evils.



1928. An African tragedy: A Novel in English by a Zulu Writer. Alice, Eastern Cape: Lovedale Press.
1935. Izikhali zanamuhla. Pietermaritzburg:  Shuter and Shooter. 
1936. UDingane kaSenzangakhona. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter. 
1937. UShaka. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Publishers.
1938. U Mpande ka Senangakhona. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter.
1938. (n.d.) UNomalanga kaNdengezi. Pietermaritzburg:  Shuter and Shooter.
1946. Indlela yababi. Pietermaritzburg:  Shuter and Shooter.
1952. UCetshwayo. Pietermaritzburg:  Shuter and Shooter.
1977. Izwi nesithunzi. Durban:  KwaZulu Booksellers.
1996. Selected Short Stories.  Grahamstown: Rhodes University.

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