Racialization and Racism

The ocean and the city: Spatial forgeries of racial capitalism

This article tries to look beyond what I call the spatial forgeries of racial capitalism in early 20th century Durban, South Africa, a set of renditions of the ocean and the city, to make sense of quite a surprising and relatively unremarked set of events. In a period of racial and xenophobic vitriol, Black subalterns from the Indian Ocean who had lived through harsh periods of indentured labour slowly and concertedly transformed the urban periphery and interstices. I trace three moves through which Indian indentured labour was ‘shoaled’ on South Africa’s racial shores, the way mixed Black populations in the urban periphery and interstices ‘built’ marginal and interstitial infrastructure to support their communal survival, and the way they literally ‘rooted’ themselves in place in ways that make Durban distinctive as an 'Indian' city on African shores, in partial complicity with a deepening landscape of racial segregation. What is clear is that these forms of spatial praxis accomplished nothing less than the decisive dissolution of the fantasy of a white city by the Afro-Indian sea. The complexities of this account also offer a cautionary tale with respect to our own desires for spacetimes of marronage to prove ‘successful’.

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Volume 39 Issue 6

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