Current Institutional Affiliation
Higher Education Researcher, Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, University of Cape Town

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Yale University
Port Culture: A Modern History of South African Sailors, Stevedores & Sugar-Girls

For centuries, sailors were primary carriers of cultural, political, genetic, and material cargo. Their movements created a global network of ports where dockers, prostitutes, barkeepers, and smugglers thrived on sailors' presence. In twentieth century South Africa-where white supremacist governments segregated the races, restricted black rights, and demonized "foreign" ideas-ports were potential hotbeds of subversion as foreign sailors flouted racial restrictions, local seafarers sailed beyond state surveillance, stevedores organized massive strikes, and sugar-girls provided the "comforts of home" to passing seamen. But after the 1960s, economic globalization and intensified apartheid repression eroded the foundations of port culture. The features that had characterized dockside relations for generations were altered through developments such as: the advent of cheap air transportation; the expansion of mass tourism; the turn of prostitutes and barkeepers away from sailors toward foreign businessmen and tourists; the ascendance of insurance logic in the shipping industry; the enhancement of the state's repressive capacity and its physical destruction of dockside communities; the containerization of cargo; and the relocation of cargo depots away from the old docks to distant landfill sites. The 1990s saw the completion of this transformation as developers turned the old harbors into bourgeois recreation areas. This is a global tale, as relevant to San Francisco and Sydney as it is to South Africa. My research will focus on Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth, using participant-observation techniques, oral testimonies, and archival research to examine the social dynamics of South African port culture from 1880 to the present. It will explore the social, economic, and political foundations of that culture, analyzing how it was transformed through local and global processes.