Building on the seminal work of such key historians and theorists of South African apartheid rule as Heribert Adam, Hermann Giliomee and Ivan Evans, Dr. Veronica Ehrenreich-Risner’s Bantu Authorities: Apartheid's System of Race and Ethnicity delves deeply into the ways in which the white-supremacist state sought to manufacture consent for its pernicious system of race-based exploitation of Africans. Ehrenreich-Risner’s keen appreciation for the people of KwaZulu -Zulu, British and Afrikaner alike, is evident in her vibrant narrative. Her dedication to a sensitive but professionally objective approach to the subject is clear in both her excellent academic background and her insights into the nuances of local culture and politics. Focused on a micro-study of the Mtunzini District in rural KwaZulu, the work is based on extensive field-work and oral interviews in rural KwaZulu, the book has relevance for a much broader understanding of South African history and politics.
In the same tradition as Colin Bundy, William Beinart and Mahmood Mamdani, Ehrenreich-Risner pays close attention to the crucial rural dimension of the emergent apartheid system. Importantly, she points to the critical role traditional authority played in shoring up and legitimizing white supremacist state rule and she argues effectively that the theatre of consent-making by leaders in South Africa was the lynchpin for the tragic longevity of the apartheid system.
Ehrenreich-Risner takes the reader into the hearts and minds of rural Africans struggling to cope with the imposition of state fiats for Bantu Authorities in a context increasingly burdened with poverty and related health crises. In so doing, she makes significant points about the ways ‘tradition’, and the colonial category of ‘tribe’ were reconfigured. More importantly, she lays bare the pernicious effects of the state’s ultimately hollow attempts to manufacture consent for the implementation of the Bantu Authorities system dire economic consequences. Following from Evans, she, moreover, poses an interesting question that has arisen in colonial contexts elsewhere, as to whether accommodations to historic political cultures and adaptations to indirect rule yielded systems that delayed confrontations and so enabled the elite to cling to power for longer. Her narrative is well-written, lively and brings out the unique voices of Zulu chiefs and other key rural figures who lived and worked within the strictures of the Bantu Authorities system. It moreover captures the subtle but nonetheless important ambiguities of African dependence on the state by an elite that was compelled to cooperate and it enhances our understanding of the politics of Zulu identity.
As the ANC political leadership in South Africa continues to grapple with the thorny issue of traditionalist popular politics, Ehrenreich-Risner’s book will no doubt be a key resource for understanding the history behind resilient Zulu nationalism and the challenge it poses for the state. This is, therefore, an important work for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the current state of South African politics and the key rural dimensions of its historical development. It also adds to our broader understanding of the nature of the state in historical perspective and how elites in power, including co-opted classes, vainly seek legitimacy from the past.— Aran MacKinnon, Georgia College and State University
Using a huge range of hard-to-find oral and archival sources, Veronica Ehrenreich-Risner provides a convincing account of how a system of colonial administration devised in the nineteenth century evolved to serve the needs of changing regimes in the twentieth century and, amazingly, post-apartheid, democratic South Africa. Future historians will find it a mine of invaluable information.— Norman Etherington, University of Western Australia
[V]ery salient discussions…. Bantu Authorities should be very useful for college students at all levels as well as researchers and the general reader.— African and Asian Studies (AAS)