Mamdani and the politics of migrant labor in South Africa: Durban dockworkers and the difference that geography makes
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One of the more notable attempts to understand the civil violence that affected large parts of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that of Mahmood Mamdani. Mamdani framed the violence with respect to his arguments about the bifurcated state. In areas subject to the customary rule of the chiefs, Africans acquired identities around ethnicity, patriarchy and the tribal. Experience as migrant workers in the cities of South Africa brought them into contact with different political agendas working against their own interests as migrant workers. It was in this context that the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) tried to mobilize them against supporters of the African National Congress through an appeal to these traditional identities. Mamdani has a geography, therefore, but it is a quite simplified one. In particular, he abstracts from the variable way in which migrant workers put down roots in the urban areas, there are also complications resulting from quite sharp regional differences in KwaZulu-Natal. Drawing on a sample of (migrant) Durban dockworkers, what we find is that support for the IFP is indeed related to traditional identities. The translation into voting is more complex, however. Regardless of identity or urbanizing status, no migrant workers from the south of KwaZulu-Natal vote for the IFP. It is only among those from the old Zulu heartland in the north of the province that urbanization seems to be related to voting preference.