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Visual Impersonation — Population Registration, Reference Books and Identification in the Eastern Cape, 1950s–1960s

  • Lorena Rizzo

The paper looks at the population registration and issuing of reference books in the Transkei in the 1950s and 1960s. The dompas became the iconic object of apartheid policing within the logic of urban racial segregation and capitalist labour exploitation. The analysis proposed here investigates population registration through the lens of materiality and visuality. It sketches the visual economies that facilitated the scheme in a rural area and explores the role of photography in one of apartheid’s most notorious administrative schemes. Along the lines of Walter Benjamin’s reflections on technological mediation the paper retraces how the dompas as an image/object oscillated between panoptic surveillance and subaltern contestation.

Cet article concerne le recensement de population et l’émission de documents d’identité (“reference books”) au Transkei dans les années ’50 et ’60. Le dompas devint un objet iconique du contrôle politique de l’apartheid dans une logique de ségrégation raciale urbaine et d’exploitation capitaliste du travail. L’analyse ici proposée s’oriente sur le recensement de la population à travers le filtre de la matérialité et de la visualité. Elle ébauche les économies visuelles qui facilitèrent la mise en place de ce système en milieu rural et explore le rôle de la photographie dans un des systèmes administratifs de l’apartheid les plus connus. Dans le sillage des réflexions de Walter Benjamin sur la médiation technologique, cet article montre comment le dompas en tant qu’image/objet oscilla entre surveillance panoptique et contestation “par le bas.”

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History in Africa
  • ISSN: 0361-5413
  • EISSN: 1558-2744
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