"A Symbol of the New African": Drum magazine, popular culture and the formation of black urban subjectivity in 1950s South Africa.
This thesis examines the emergence of black urban subjectivity in South Africa during the 1950s, focussing on the ways in which popular American genres were utilised in the construction of black urban identities that served as a means of resistance to apartheid. At the centre of this process was Drum magazine: founded in South Africa in 1951 , it became the largest selling magazine on the African continent in 1956. Drum's success was due to the way in which it enabled the relocation of black identity from the "traditional" towards the "modern'. The 1940s gave rise to widespread migration of black South Africans from rural to urban areas and this newly urbanised community was seeking models of black urban identity. Yet the Nationalist government was attempting to curtail the emergence of a black urban proletariat, which posed a threat to white political supremacy. Through apartheid legislation black identity was constructed as essentially tribal and rural. As a means of resisting this, urbanised black South Africans turned to, and appropriated, readily available forms of American culture. Drum published Americanised images and stories: gangsters, black detectives, black comic heroes, and pulp romances. This popular material appeared alongside some of the finest investigative journalism ever published. While Drum magazine is widely acknowledged as having provided a platform for the emergence of black South African writing in English, its popular content has been dismissed by critics as apolitical escapism, imitation and capitulation to American culture. This thesis challenges the dismissal of the popular that has dominated analyses of Drum since the 1960s, arguing that such a position denies the agency of local writers and audiences. My analysis reveals that American forms were adopted in critically discerning ways and chosen for their ability to convey local meaning and create positions from which to resist apartheid
- Theses