Ethiopian Imprints

Reading and Writing Ethiopia in 1930s South Africa 1

Authored by: Corinne Sandwith

Routledge Handbook of African Popular Culture

Print publication date:  May  2022
Online publication date:  May  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367483869
eBook ISBN: 9781003080855
Adobe ISBN:


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The figure of Ethiopia – often invoked as a synecdoche for Africa or the “darker races” – has been intrinsic to black popular imaginaries since the advent of slavery and colonialism. While considerable work has been done on the political and cultural significance of Ethiopia and “Ethiopianism” in the black diaspora, its resonance in the South African context remains under-explored. I address this omission by exploring the symbolic and political importance of the idea of Ethiopia in early twentieth-century black print cultures, looking in particular at the mid-1930s period and the new wave of interest provoked by Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. I make a claim for the Ethiopian conflict as an overlooked or hidden revolutionary trope in South African politics and letters and trace its inscription across several black South African newspapers. I argue that the invasion of Abyssinia incited an important, early moment of anti-colonial thinking and engagement, one which drew on and re-activated a much older Ethiopian thought-style, grounded in a heterodox exegesis. This chapter reflects in particular on the role of popular black newspapers in convening this debate, on the part they played in encouraging a dissident, anti-colonial hermeneutic and on the significance of the newspaper as diasporic, pan-Africanist inscription.

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