In June 1976 political demonstrations in the black township of Soweto exploded into an insurrection that would continue sporadically and spread to urban areas across South Africa. In their assault on apartheid the youths who spearheaded the rebellion attacked and often destroyed the state institutions that they linked to their oppression: police stations, government offices, schools, and state-owned liquor outlets. In Soweto alone during the first days of the revolt protestors smashed and burned eighteen beerhalls and a similar number of bottle stores; as the rebellion spread more were destroyed. This study sets out to demonstrate that liquor outlets were not simply convenient symbols of oppression. The anger that launched gasoline bombs into beerhalls across South Africa had specific origins in deep and complicated struggles over the control of alcohol production and consumption in South Africa.
Conflict over alcohol has continuously intruded upon the lives of the black residents of southern African towns, cities, and labor compounds and upon the rural communities to which these people traced their origins. Yet the subject has received little systematic scholarly attention until now. In Liquor and Labor in Southern Africa scholars explore the complex relationship between alcohol use and the emergence of the modern urban-industrial system. In examining the role of alcohol in social control and the state, they also reveal the vibrant subcultures nurtured in beerhalls and underground shebeens and expose the bitter conflicts over alcohol that run along the fault lines of age, gender, class, and ethnicity.
Jonathan Crush is a Canada Research Fellow and an associate professor of geography at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of The Struggle for Swazi Labour, 1890-1920, and coauthor of South Africa’s Labor Empire: A History of Black Migrancy to the Gold Mines.
Charles Ambler is an associate professor and chair of history at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is the author of Kenyan Communities in the Age of Imperialism and articles on the history of eastern and central Africa.
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