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Department of History

Colonial Conquest and Social Change in Southern Africa

Course Code:
15PHIH002
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1

This course examines the colonial history of southern Africa. It is concerned with the social, cultural, political and economic transformations that took place in the region since the onset of colonial rule to the end of the Second World War. It examines the varied ways in which European rulers sought to 'conquer' African societies - ranging from warfare (itself very varied in nature), to the co-option of local indigenous rulers, as well as the proselytising activities of missionaries. But the greater part of the course is concerned with the interactions between colonisers and colonised peoples. Thus it pays particular attention to the novel societies and cultures that emerged out of contact between Europeans and Africans, the responses of African men and women to processes of conquest and the alternate tenacity and dissolution of African social and cultural institutions. 

Throughout, the course is concerned to emphasise the unity of the region.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of this course students should:

  • be familiar with the historical debates on the main themes in the history of colonial southern Africa;
  • understand the historical forces that have shaped southern Africa;
  • understand the ways in which African men and women have resisted and responded to the forces of colonial change;
  • be familiar with the diverse forms of colonial societies that existed in the region;
  • be able to write cogently about the above issues.

Scope and syllabus

Topics covered include: 

  • The conquest of the southern African Khoisan; 
  • Colonial society and colonial war in the Cape Colony; 
  • The 'long conversation' between Africans and missionaries;
  • Millenarian movements; 
  • German colonialism in Namibia;
  • The rise of peasant societies; 
  • Prazo society in the Zambesi Valley; 
  • The founding of a settler state in Zimbabwe; 
  • South Africa's 'mineral revolution'; 
  • The colonial state in southern Africa; 
  • The rise of African urban cultures in southern Africa.

Method of assessment

Exam (40%) 2 x Coursework ( 60%)

Suggested reading

Introductory bibliography
  • Bley, H. Namibia under German Rule (Hamburg, 1996);
  • Bridgman, J. The revolt of the Hereros (London, 1981);
  • Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, volume 1: Christiantiy, Colonialism and Consciousness in South Africa (Chicago, 1991);
  • Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, volume 2: the Dialectics of Modernity on a South African frontier (Chicago, 1997); 
  • Crowder, M. The Flogging of Phinehas McIntosh: a Tale of Colonial Folly and Injustice, Bechuanaland, 1933 (London, 1988); 
  • Giliomee, H. and R. Elphick, (eds.). The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1840 (London, 1989); 
  • Guy, J. The Maphumulo Uprising : war, law and ritual in the Zulu Rebellion (Pietermaritzburg, 2005); 
  • Iliffe, J. Africans: the History of a Continent (Cambridge, 1995);
  • Marks, S. and A. Atmore, (eds.), Economy and Society in Pre-industrial South Africa (London, 1980); 
  • Marks, S. and R. Rathbone (eds.), Industrialisation and Social Change in South Africa (London, 1982); 
  • Newitt, M. History of Mozambique (London, 1995); 
  • Peires, J. The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the great cattle-killing movement of 1856-57 (London, 1989); 
  • Phimister, I. An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe, 1890-1948 (London, 1988); 
  • Roberts, A.D. A History of Zambia (London, 1976); 
  • Ross, R. A Concise History of South Africa (Cambridge, 1999).