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Indian identities in the 'rainbow nation': Responses to transformation in South African schools

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Ethnic minorities pose important challenges for nation-building in post-apartheid South Africa. Indian/black African accommodation is examined through the microcosm of former Indian secondary schools in Pietermaritzburg. The development of Indian identities since the beginnings of indenture in the 1860s reflects an accommodation along predominantly ethnic rather than class-based lines. Whereas the shared educational experience of Indians under apartheid has served to reinforce ascribed 'Indian' identity, internal divisions are reflected in fragmented Indian voting behaviour since 1994. Fieldwork on patterns of desegregation in five former Indian secondary schools reveals critical differences between staff and governing bodies committed to transformation and more narrowly focused concerns of often conservative or apolitical parents. These differences are consistent with historic socio-political divisions among Indian South Africans. Transformation of former Indian schools embraces challenges, which, if successfully negotiated, could help to enable Indians to forge an identity of their own making in post-apartheid South Africa.

Keywords: Indians; Pietermaritzburg; South Africa; democratic transformation; identities; schools

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14608940802249916

Affiliations: Mansfield College and the School of Geography, Oxford, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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