Title page for ETD etd-05282008-143310

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Manenzhe, Jacob
Email tshifuralo@mweb.co.za
URN etd-05282008-143310
Document Title The politicisation of Funerals in South Africa during the 20th century (1900 – 1994)
Degree MA (History)
Department Historical and Heritage Studies
Advisor Name Title
Dr J E H Grobler Supervisor
  • politicising funerals
  • ‘black on black’ violence
Date 2007-09-05
Availability unrestricted
The political situation in South Africa since the turn of the 20th century was dominated by two main rivalries: the antagonism between the Afrikaners and the British for the power to rule South Africa, and secondly, the rivalry between the Blacks and the minority White (Afrikaner) Government for the oppressive laws embodied in the policy of apartheid. The situation led to an extent where funerals of both Afrikaners and those of the Blacks were politicised against their respective oppressors.

As a concerned citizen and student of History, the researcher set out to critically examine the impact of politicising funerals. The result is this mini-thesis, which is an attempt to understand how politics infiltrated into funerals and how politicising funerals affected political structures as well as close family members.

The practice of politicising funerals was noticed in the first quarter of the 20th century amongst funerals of Afrikaner leaders. The anti–British sentiments prevailing at the time were implicitly and explicitly expressed in their funerals. However, as the years progressed, the level of politicising funerals lost spark as they became more religious affairs.

While the level of the politicisation of funerals for members of the White community reflects a downward slant, the opposite was the case for the Black community. Politicising funerals in the Black community started on a moderate note and gained momentum and intensity as years progressed. The catalysts to gaining intensity were the 1960 Sharpeville massacres, the 1976 Soweto uprising, the establishment of the UDF in 1983 and the so-called ‘black on black’ violence immediately after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

The impact of the Soweto uprising became more conspicuous during Robert Sobukwe’s funeral. Helen Suzman and Benjamin Pogrund, being Whites, were removed from the funeral program while Mangosuthu Buthelezi was chased from the funeral itself. This funeral highlights very well the level of politicisation of funerals during the 1970s.

The decade 1980 –1990 witnessed a more aggressive and militant manner of politicising funerals. During that decade, funerals were so popularised that they ‘assumed’ the status of political rallies. The new approach in running funerals was not ended with the release of Mandela in 1990, since there were increasing numbers of funerals of victims of the alleged ‘black on black’ violence.

One however welcomes the sombre and respectful manner in which the funerals of Oliver Tambo and Andries Treurnicht were held. The researcher holds the opinion that this should be a trend to follow in future. Politicising funerals dominated the 20th century and in the process affected family members negatively, because they were reduced to passive onlookers.

© University of Pretoria 2007

G595 AG

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