On Durban's Docks

On Durban's Docks

Zulu Workers, Rural Households, Global Labor

Ralph Callebert

eBook for Handhelds

University of Rochester Press



Offers a new approach to the study of labor on the subcontinent and globally, questioning the relevance of the predominant wage labor paradigm for Africa and the Global South.
On Durban's Docks focuses on dock labor in early apartheid Durban, South Africa's main port city and a crucial node in the trade and communication networks of the Indian Ocean and the British Empire. Although the labor of Zulu migrant dock workers made global trade possible, they lived their lives largely in isolation, both socially and economically, from these global networks.

Using seventy-seven oral histories and extensive archival research, Ralph Callebert examines the working and living conditions of Durban's dock workers and the livelihoods of their rural households. These households relied on a combination of wage labor, pilferage, informal trade, and the rural economy. Dock workers' experiences were thus more intricate than a focus on wage labor alone could capture. Foregrounding such multifaceted livelihoods, Callebert considers the dynamics of gender within dock workers' households as well as their complicated political identities, including their economic nationalism and fervent anti-Indian sentiments. On Durban's Docks thus offers a new approach to the study of labor on the subcontinent and globally, questioning the relevance of the predominant wage labor paradigm for Africa and for the Global South.

Ralph Callebert teaches history at the University of Toronto.


3 black and white illustrations
252 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
Hardback, 9781580469074, December 2017
eBook for Handhelds, 9781787441347, December 2017
eBook, 9781787441408, December 2017
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS047000, BUS022000, SOC031000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Dock Workers in South African History
Dock Workers and the City, 1910s to 1950s
One Head of Cattle Named Salt, Another Named Beans: Livelihood Strategies in the 1950s
Work and Life Between the City and the Countryside
My Children Never Went to Bed Hungry: Gender, Households, and Reproductive Labor
Cleaning the Wharves: Pilferage, Bribery, and Informal Trade
Buffaloes on Noah's Ark: Reimagining Working-Class History
Conclusion: Durban's Dock Workers in Global Perspective


This is a fine monograph that tells a great deal about the twentieth-century experience of South African black men. [Callebert] has excellent command of official records and the secondary literature on the history of African labor in South Africa, especially in KwaZulu-Natal Province. LABOR

A rich ethnography (chapters 2-5) surveys working and living conditions, enabling valuable insights into complicated lives, which if partly known from articles and published theses, are not brought together in this original book.Callebert not only forces scholars (and union activists) to rethink the relevance of the wage labour paradigm, but draws important connections.Labour historians will find much here of interest and value. LABOUR HISTORY

On Durban's Docks is not a long book but it is an admirably ambitious one and it marks a welcome return to labour history in South Africa but on new and challenging terms. LABOUR/LE TRAVAIL

Callebert has . . . produced a book that not only illuminates the particularities of Durban's dockworkers, but provides a useful example of examining work in relation to the geographical and social complexity of the region in which the workers lived. ECONOMIC HISTORY REVIEW

This important contribution to African labour history looks at the 'livelihood strategies' pursued by dockworkers in South Africa's major port city, Durban, during the 1950s. Callebert's ambition to 'write back' against some of the Eurocentric assumptions of global labour history and to challenge 'a universal, formalist market logic' has wide implications. SOCIAL HISTORY

Callebert invites the reader to rethink established categories by opening up more nuanced perspectives on identity and labor, making the book a worthwhile and inspiring read. H-SOZ-KULT

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