Connectedness and disconnectedness in Thembeyakhe Harry Gwala's biography, 1920-1995: Rethinking Political Militancy, Mass Mobilisation and Grassroots Struggles in South Africa
Dlamuka, Mxolisi Chrisostomas
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This dissertation is premised on the notions of connectedness and disconnectedness as a contribution to the field of South African biography. I argue that Harry Gwala’s life was characterised by connectedness and disconnectedness and was shaped by his determination to remain connected while the state utilised its coercive power to disconnect him. While South African history has been largely written within the framework of repression and resistance, a study of Gwala’s life enables historians to examine twentieth century history from a different perspective which focuses on themes of connectedness and disconnectedness. Gwala’s rural background, his training as a teacher and his later involvement in trade unionism enabled him to develop and maintain connectedness with grassroots sentiments. In an attempt to disconnect Gwala from these pursuits, he was occasionally tortured and served with banning orders which restricted his movement and political activities. He was imprisoned on Robben Island between 1964 to 1972 and 1977 to 1987. While disconnected by banning orders and constant harassment by state security agents, Gwala continued to retain his connectedness through underground activities and later through his involvement in re-establishing branches of the African National Congress after his release from prison in 1988. This dissertation argues that Gwala was a product of a complex society and varied social milieux which were all characterised by high levels of class deprivation and exploitation. As he meandered through various social milieux he developed a working class political approach which impelled him towards mass mobilisation and opposition to the state’s oppressive notion of race and class. Gwala became a medium to connect various classes and political groupings during the liberation struggle in South Africa. This biography also makes a contribution to the emerging body of literature on the histories of resistance politics at local and national levels in South Africa.