Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Workshop: “The Practice of Resistance: Durable Dispositions and the Violent Play in Colonial Natal (1895-1914),” by Abikal Borah, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Tue, November 19, 2019 | GAR 4.100

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Writing the colonial habitus in Natal poses a challenge to historians as multiple structured structures came into play with one another while it produced individual and collective practices. This paper looks at the practice of resistance among the indigenous Africans and the migrant Indians in colonial Natal during the first two decades of the twentieth century. On the one hand, M.K. Gandhi and his followers led a non-violent campaign against the colonial state and on the other hand, Chief Bambatha and his followers raised arms amidst white settler domination. In Gandhi’s practice of nonviolence, there was a constant acknowledgment of the violence deeply embedded in the colonial state. However, Gandhi imagined that history making was possible through temptations of violence instead of armed resistance. Thus, Gandhi neither negated the violent nature of the colonial state nor he imagined a future without inhabiting history. Instead, he outlined a practice that could posit a history of his own belonging in the colonial theater of Natal. Similarly, the violent play of Chief Bambatha and his followers originated in the recognition of their own history, which clashed with that of white settler society. Bambatha’s rebellious play with violence began with critical self-recognition. However, unlike Gandhi and his followers, Bambatha chose to play with colonial violence frontally believing that he could make history for the African population. In this paper, I argue that both Gandhi and Bambatha remained trapped in their own habitus and maintained their durable dispositions due to the mutual politics of misrecognition that governed the social life of colonial Natal. Furthermore, I show that the politics of misrecognition between the Africans and Indians in colonial Natal was not only a statesponsored project but also a product of racial imaginary of the indigene and the migrant.

This paper is the third chapter of my dissertation and it responds to my central research question i.e. how did indigenous Africans and migrant Indians interacted with one another in colonial Natal while living under white settler domination? It lays the ground for my fourth chapter wherein I tell a social history of the political by focusing on the politics of the governed.

Abikal Borah received his MA in English Literature (2008) and MPhil in Comparative Literature (2011) from the University of Delhi. In 2015, he completed an MA in History from the University of Texas at Austin. His research recognizes the growing centrality of conversations about ethics and violence in the modern world and engages with the emergent structures of global governmentality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His dissertation, titled “Aftertaste of Empire: AmaNdiya and Ethnic Violence in South Africa, 1860-1949,” examines multiple sites of racial politics that shaped the strained social relationship between the Zulus and the Indian diaspora in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Natal, South Africa. His peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Africa Today, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History, Review (Fernand Braudel Center), and South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. Read more about his work at:

Benjamin Claude Brower
Associate Professor in the Department of History
University of Texas at Austin

Tiana Wilson
Doctoral Student in the History Department,
Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Historical Studies, and
Coordinator, New Work in Progress Series
University of Texas at Austin

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to to sign-up to attend and receive the pre-circulated paper. Refreshments provided to all who RSVP. The Institute for Historical Studies is committed to sustainable practices and minimizing waste. To that end, we have eliminated all bottled water and encourage attendees to bring their own reusable canteens to fill at our first-floor bottle-refilling station.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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