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Seek ye first the kingdom of mealies’.
Ideologies and politics of agrarian progress in South Africa, c. 1900-1945

Julia Tischler

University of Basel

During the first half of the twentieth century, deep structural changes occurred in the South African countryside. While farming became an important pillar of the national economy, more and more people left the land in search of better lives in towns and cities. Agricultural commercialization, urbanization and the so-called “native question” were at the centre of heated political debates and led to a range of state interventions. In my presentation, I will discuss such rural development programmes and the reactions they triggered on the ground, highlighting the different visions of “agrarian progress” which were framed as a response to the growing opposition between urban and rural areas and the rising racial tensions. In trying to engineer a modern nation, South African actors were inspired by models of segregation and agrarian progress in other countries, foremost the USA. Tracing these entanglements, I will discuss how the case responds to current historiographic debates concerning the position of African history with regard to the booming transnational and global history approaches