A Disgrace to the Master Race: Colonial Discourse Surrounding the Incarceration of "European" Prisoners within the Colony of Natal towards the End of the Nineteenth and Beginning of the 20th Centuries

  • Stephen Allister Peté University of KwaZulu-Natal
Keywords: Apartheid; colonial; colony; discourse; discrimination; ideology; imprisonment; offenders; Natal; penal; prisoners; prisons; punishment; race; racial.

Abstract

The discourse surrounding the punishment of offenders within a society reveals much about the particular ideological underpinnings of power within that society. Penal discourse within colonial societies is particularly interesting in that it traces the specific contours of the racist ideologies which characterise those societies. This article is focused upon penal discourse within the Colony of Natal towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Within the colony at this time, the race of an offender was becoming increasingly important in determining the type of punishment, treatment and training considered appropriate for that offender. This article is focused - in particular - upon the discourse surrounding the punishment of "European" offenders in colonial Natal. It is submitted that the punishment of these offenders raised all sorts of ideological problems for the colonists, since the offenders in question were members of the white "master race". The following central themes within the colonial penal discourse of the time are discussed: first, the role that "shame" and "degradation" were considered to play in the punishment of white - but not black - prisoners; second, the perceived need to train white - but not black - prisoners in skilled work, to enable white prisoners to find employment upon leaving prison; and, third, the perceived need to keep white - but not black - prisoners out of the public gaze, in particular avoiding situations in which white prisoners could be seen being punished alongside black prisoners and subject to the control of black prison guards. Examining the precise contours of the penal ideology which underpinned the punishment of offenders in colonial Natal may be useful in understanding certain of the foundations of racist penal thinking during subsequent periods of South African history, including the notorious apartheid era.

 

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Official and archival documents

Debates of the Legislative Council of the Colony of Natal 1883 vol 6 Debate of 24 August 1883: Mr Crowder
Durban Corporation Superintendent of Police Report Book 6: Report of Superintendent, 26 April 1897
Durban Corporation Superintendent of Police Report Book 6: Report of Superintendent, 5 June 1902
Durban Corporation Superintendent of Police Report Book 7: Report of Superintendent, 5 December 1903
Durban Corporation Superintendent of Police Report Book 7: Report of Superintendent, 1 January 1904
GN 436 in Natal GG of 2 December 1884
GN 161 in Natal GG of 5 June 1888 (amended)
GN 344 in Natal Government Gazette of 5 June 1906
Master and Servants Ordinance Bill 9 of 1876
NAB CSO 314/2265
NAB CSO 982/3976
NAB CSO 1180/614
NAB CSO 1518/2324
NAB CSO 1518/4040
NAB CSO 1685/9488
NAB CSO 2847
Natal Blue Book 1896 at F44: Report of Governor Durban Gaol
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The Natal Advertiser "A Plea for the Criminal" (30 May 1904)
The Natal Witness "Crime and the Criminal I" (13 September 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "Crime and the Criminal II" (18 September 1905)
The Natal Witness "Crime and the Criminal III" (20 September 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "Crime and the Criminal IV" (25 September 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "Crime and the Criminal V" (27 September 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "Employment Bureau for Ex-Convicts" (3 June 1904)
The Natal Advertiser "Industrial Prisons" (30 May 1904)
The Natal Advertiser "Opinions of Representative Men - Letter of Joseph Barker" (30 May 1994)
The Natal Witness "Prison Reform II (Editorial)" (15 June 1904)
The Natal Witness "Prison Reform" (29 December 1904)
The Natal Witness "Prison Reform" (31 December 1904)
The Natal Advertiser "Prison Reform" (5 January 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "Prison Reform" (21 February 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "Testimony from Within" (1 June 1904)
The Natal Witness "The City Gaol" (6 May 1905)
The Natal Advertiser "The Criminal Regenerate (Editorial)" (7 June 1904)
The Natal Witness "Why Waste Prison Labour?" (8 June 1905)
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Published
2017-12-08
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Articles