The Politics of Heritage, Religion and Identity in Johannesburg, South Africa

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Pragna RUGUNANAN, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Fordsburg, constructed in 1888, was one of the early suburbs to be proclaimed after the development of the gold mines in Johannesburg in 1886. Initially created as a white working-class immigrant mining community in the late nineteenth century, Fordsburg becomes an Indian suburb and takes on an oriental identity in the 1940s, an identity forced upon it by the politics of the South African apartheid government. Post democracy, a diverse range of ethnic groups from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, to migrants from China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal, have entered South Africa as documented and undocumented migrants. The focus of this paper is based on empirical findings and shows how old and new migrant communities reconstruct space, place and identity within a contested political heritage. Many of the new migrants are Hindus and Muslims, the symbols and sites of their worship and faith adorn the physical landscape of Fordsburg. The choice to migrate to Fordsburg was purposeful; prior established networks and an Indian diaspora identified Fordsburg as a ‘Muslim’ place and an ‘Indian’ place. This Muslim identity featured strongly in the narratives of the migrants, subverting a Hindu identity such that religion became the central focus around which migrants construct their lives. Migrants depict their agency in choosing South Africa as a destination because of its economic potential, religious tolerance and the freedom to practice their religion. The paper asserts that migrant identities are fluid, situational and subject to change depending on social location, the space and place of the migrant’s position within their communities. Set within the literature on Lefebvre’s (1991) production and power of space, religion forms a conduit for the politics of heritage, memory, identity and place in Fordsburg, Johannesburg.