Keeping the natives in their place: the ideology of white supremacy and the flogging of African offenders in colonial Natal – part 1

Author: Stephen Allister Peté

ISSN: 2411-7870
Affiliations: BA LLB (University of Natal) LLM (University of Cape Town) M Phil (University of Cambridge) PhD (University of KwaZulu-Natal). Associate Professor, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Source: Fundamina, Volume 26 Issue 2, p. 374-423


The political economy of colonial Natal was based on a coercive and hierarchical racial order. Over decades, the white colonists struggled to assert their power over the indigenous inhabitants of the colony, to force them off their land and into wage labour in service of the white colonial economy. This process resulted in ongoing resistance on the part of the indigenous population, including a series of rebellions and revolts throughout the colonial period, which were met with force by the white colonists. White colonial ideology was shaped by the violent and adversarial nature of the social, political and economic relations between white and black in the colony. It was also influenced by the broader global context, within which colonisation was justified by racist variants of the theory of Social Darwinism. Driven by a strange mix of deep insecurity and fear on the one hand, and racist paternalism on the other, the white settlers of colonial Natal developed a variant of white supremacist ideology with a special flavour. Nowhere was this more apparent than in their near obsession with flogging as the most appropriate manner of dealing with African offenders in particular. By closely examining a series of public debates that took place in the colony of Natal between 1876 and 1906, this contribution seeks to excavate the various nuanced strands of thinking that together comprised the ideology of white supremacy in the colony at that time.