The University of Newcastle, Australia

Solidarity and Subversion in Wartime South Africa

Monday, 14 January 2019

During the Second World War, more than six million servicemen and more than 300,000 civilians spent time in South Africa, a transport hub for Allied operations and a base for military training.

Head and shoulders shot of Jean Smith
Jean Smith

King’s College Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow, Jean Smith, will explore how wartime mobility created an opportunity for anti-colonial solidarity in her public lecture, The Local Population took us Over, the Coloured Population: Solidarity and Subversion in Wartime South Africa.

Hosted by the Purai Global Indigenous History Centre in connection with The War Experience History & Ancient History Seminar Series public lecture, Smith will examine the experiences of the Maori battalion in South Africa and particularly, their interactions with the so-called “Cape Coloured Community” in Cape Town.

Providing often lavish hospitality for the troops became a way to demonstrate support for the war effort and the empire against a background of Afrikaner nationalist opposition to South African participation in the war.

Smith contends that wartime hospitality worked in many different registers and could have a wide range of meanings with varying degrees of intimacy and inclusion.

She argues that hosting troops from Britain and the Dominions can reinforce both imperial and racial solidarity.

Though often simply conflated with generosity and welcome, this hospitality could also work to disguise uneven relations of power informed by and influencing hierarchies of class and race in both predictable and unexpected ways.

Jean Smith is currently working on  Empire in Motion, a social history of migration and travel around the British Empire-Commonwealth during the Second World War.

She was previously a research fellow at the University of Leeds. Her first book, Settlers at the End of Empire: Race and the Politics of Migration in South Africa, Rhodesia and the United Kingdom, 1939-1994 is under contract with Manchester University Press.

Her work on such topics as race, migration and deportation in the twentieth-century British Empire has appeared in Twentieth Century British History, Women's History Review and The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History.

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