Revolutionary Papers

Revolutionary Papers is a transnational research collaboration exploring 20th century periodicals of Leftanti-imperial and anti-colonial critical production. Read More

umsebenzi / umvikele-thebe

Reading Ethiopia in Radical South African Newspapers

​In this paper, I make a claim for Ethiopia as hidden or overlooked revolutionary trope in South African politics and letters and trace its inscription across selected examples of popular South African newspapers. In South Africa, the idea of Ethiopia has been an important site of pan-Africanist and anti-colonial re-imagining, affirmation and investment going back to the mid-nineteenth century. This can be traced not only its political significance as the last remaining independent African state but also to a history of dissident reading practices in which canonical Ethiopian references were appropriated by writers and activists as part of an anti-colonial politics. With the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the idea of Ethiopia assumed new prominence and the event was widely reported across a range of newspapers. Focusing on editorials, news items, letters to the editor, cartoons and photographs in two Communist-aligned newspapers, Umsebenzi and Umvikele Thebe, this paper makes a case for the importance of these newspapers as non-canonical sites of political engagement and exegesis. While asserting a more general argument about the significance of print culture as a polyphonous mode of popular political and cultural intervention, it also looks at the ways in which the idea of Ethiopia was marshalled in print as a focal point of political disruption, radical engagement and black diasporic connection; in short, as part of a more general inquiry into forums of the counter-political, the paper explores the importance of Ethiopia in relation to developing anti-colonial perspectives and vocabularies of dissent in South Africa.

Corinne Sandwith

Corinne Sandwith is Professor of English at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and is the author of World of Letters: Reading Communities and Cultural Debates in Early Apartheid South Africa (2014) and co-editor with M.J. Daymond of Africa South: Viewpoints, 1958-1961. Her research interests include African print and reading cultures and the history of […]