The Edendale Kholwa of Colonial Natal



Sheila Meintjes

Occasional Publications imprint
The Natal Society Foundation.

This history of one of the earliest nineteenth-century mission stations in Natal traces the transformation in the lives of a community that settled first at Indaleni near Richmond and later at Edendale a few miles from Pietermaritzburg. Initially an independent mission under the religious and educational tutelage of James Allison, who left the Methodist Church to pursue independent mission work, Edendale was the first African community in Natal to experiment with freehold tenure. This had implications for the way its inhabitants were integrated into colonial society as educated, market-orientated producers and as citizens. They sought equal recognition, no different from British settlers. The concerns of this case study return to questions that dominated materialist debates in the 1980s, when the thesis on which this book is based was written. How did social relations of production and reproduction of communal kinship society mesh with those of the colonial capitalist economy, which in the nineteenth century was essentially a petty commodity economy within the beginnings of a plantation nexus? What were the mechanisms that led to the transformation of political and other social relations? How did ideological change occur in the context of religious conversion? Focus on a single community enables exploration in concrete detail of the matrix of forces that shaped changing social consciousness, family structure, patterns of marriage and inheritance, property ownership, corporate structures, and institutions in the village community. As Marx and Engels wrote in ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire’, ‘Upon the different forms of property, upon the social conditions of existence arises an entire superstructure of distinct and peculiarly formed sentiments, illusions, modes of thought and views of life. The entire class creates and forms them out of its material foundations and out of the corresponding social relations’. While the larger forces of capitalism in the nineteenth century provide a backdrop to the study, it is their translation in the lives of indigenous peoples that is of consequence. It is through the prism of a small, peripheral colony in the nineteenth century that we can see how they unfold and transform people’s lives at the level of village life. For those living in colonial Natal, it was the Victorian imperial state represented by its small cohort of officials on the ground that overshadowed social and political relationships. But at the local level, people reacted, adapted and opposed these forces to create their own existence. The Edendale community shows this syncretic process very clearly.

Sheila Meintjes taught Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand for 30 years. Her initial research interest in the historical transformations of independent precolonial polities to subordinate colonies during the nineteenth century transitioned to a focus on gender and women in both her research and teaching. She is an honorary research associate professor in the Department of Political Studies at Wits, and a visiting professor at the Institute for Women and Gender Studies, Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg, Germany.

Book details

Natal Society Foundation
Publication date:
Paperback, section sewn
322 pp. illustrated with photographs
Selling Price:
Peter Croeser, Phila Mfundo Msimang and Christopher Merrett
Christopher Merrett
Proof Reader:
Catherine Munro
Design & layout:
Jo Marwick
Printed by:
CPW Printers, Pietermaritzburg

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