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The Road to Durban: Workers’ struggles, student movements, and the resurgence of resistance politics

in Namibia and South Africa


This paper looks into connections between radical politics in the wake of student movements and mass workers’ action in Namibia and South Africa in the early 1970s. Early 1973 saw a massive wave of strikes in Durban, often regarded as the turning point of anti-apartheid struggles. These events heralded an upsurge of resistance that led to the Soweto uprising, the popular uprisings of the 1980s, and eventually the demise of the regime.

The paper is not about the Durban strikes, however. Rather, it investigates a period preceding the 1973 Durban strikes and connections between two distinct southern African radical trajectories in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These developments occurred between 1968 and 1972. 

Firstly, the paper discusses ideological and activist connections that originated among students, activists and young intellectuals in South Africa. These followed on the failures of the South African ‘old left’ (mainly aligned to the Communist party) and the repression of anti-apartheid movements in the 1960s. The connection between students, radical academics, workers and other marginalised social groups becomes brilliantly apparent in the Durban moment. 

Secondly, the paper demonstrates the transnational repercussions of the Namibian contract workers’ strike of 1971/1972. This strike has been widely described as a vital precedent to the Durban strikes. The events in South Africa’s colony impacted upon the eruption of labour struggles and their politicization in South Africa, and Durban. Over 13,000 migrant workers went on strike in December 1971; later numbers increased to 20,000 in January 1972. Their demands included the abolition of the contract labour system, higher wages, and permission to bring their families with them to the urban areas. 

I argue that the resurgence, significance and eventual failure of the southern African uprisings of the early 1970s need to be more closely considered.

Dimitri Tsafendas: An African Revolutionary


This essay examines the political activities and ideology of Dimitri Tsafendas. Although Tsafendas is remembered as the man who in 1966 assassinated Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, South African Prime Minister and so-called “architect of apartheid,” in reality he had a long history of political activism about which very little is known.  After the assassination, the apartheid regime embarked on a cover-up: the trial, the subsequent Commission of Enquiry and the media reporting were carefully orchestrated to present Tsafendas as an insane person who had killed the Prime Minister due to his insanity and not for political reasons. Although not a member of an organized revolutionary group at the time of the killing, Tsafendas, a former member of the South African Communist Party and the anti-apartheid movement, was someone who embodied the Revolutionary Left in Africa in the 1960s. Although always very willing to participate in violent acts, he was unable to find the necessary support; therefore he acted by himself.


This essay seeks to explore Tsafendas’s political beliefs and activism, as well as to give an accurate account of his motives for the assassination. It will show that Tsafendas was a determined and dedicated revolutionary who believed that only violence would bring an end to apartheid and colonialism in Africa, and that he killed Verwoerd – a man he considered to be “the brains behind apartheid” – because he hoped that, after his “removal”, “a change of policy” would sooner or later take place. 

Theorising the 1960s ‘left turn’ in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe as the people’s politics

Khanyilie MLOTSHWA 

The central argument of this paper is that the radicalisation and leftist turn in Matabeleland, and by extension Zimbabwean, struggle was influenced by mainly the support of the USSR. However, for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and its military wing, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) cadres, the Marxist-Leninist ideology had to be understood in the context of Zimbabwe’s political landscape. Seeing themselves as heirs of the struggle over the injustices around land dispossession, most Zipra fighters found inspiration in their ancestor fighters’ politics of 1893 and 1896 wars of colonial resistance. For the Zipra fighters, colonialism had distorted an egalitarian political system that subsisted prior to colonial invasion in 1890. In a sense, the Zipra cadres’ idea of socialism was not a utopian vision of a society to come, but something that had been there and still existed in some form in the rural areas. The left turn and radicalisation of the people’s liberation struggle in Matabeleland in the 1960s can genealogically be traced through the 1893 war of dispossession and the 1896 resistance war in two main ways. First, in every one of these epochs the land and dispossession formed the core of the grievances on the part of the Ndebele people of south western Zimbabwe. Second, in every one of these epochs, it is young people who pushed for the radicalisation of the struggle.

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