The Forgotten People

Political Banishment under Apartheid


The apartheid state employed many weapons against its opponents: imprisonment, banning, detention, assassination – and banishment. In a practice reminiscent of Tsarist and Soviet Russia, a large number of ‘enemies of the state’ were banished to remote areas, far from their homes, communities and followers. Here their existence became ‘a slow torture of the soul’, a kind of social death. This is the first study of an important but hitherto neglected group of opponents of apartheid, set in a global, historical and comparative perspective. It looks at the reasons why people were banished, their lives in banishment and the efforts of a remarkable group of activists, led by Helen Joseph, to assist them.
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Biographical Note

Saleem Badat is Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University. He is the author of Black Student Politics, Higher Education and Apartheid and Black Man, You Are on Your Own, co-author of National Policy and a Regional Response in South African Higher Education, and co-editor of Apartheid Education and Popular Struggle in South Africa.

Review Quotes

“For the long years of meticulous research and finally the superb telling of the story of banishment under apartheid, we owe a great debt to the author” – George Bizos, from his "Foreword"
"An extremely impressive manuscript on an aspect of political repression that has previously received scant academic attention. For both the definitive study of banishment and the valuable overview of rural struggles in the apartheid era, this book will be welcomed by the scholarly community as an important contribution to knowledge." – Colin Bundy, Green Templeton College, Oxford, UK
"... Badat’s aim is not to understand the nature of state power. Instead his focus is on recovering the experiences and life stories of those that were ‘forgotten’ twice: during the apartheid period the banished were removed to remote and desolate areas without meaningful interaction with the outside world. In post-apartheid South Africa, their voices and contributions have been marginalised both in scholarly literature and recent political discourse. Badat makes an important contribution to reinsert hitherto marginalised aspects of resistance and the voices of the banished into historiography and public consciousness." – Franziska Rueedi, NRF Chair ’Local Histories, Present Realities’, University of the Witwatersrand, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 18.02.2014
"The forgotten people exemplifies the role good history can play in reassigning dignity to those marginalised in master narratives of political change and social revolution." – Heather McDonald, School of Built Environment, University of Technology, Sydney, in: AREF 6 (1) June, 2014

Table of contents


List of abbreviations

1 Banishment: an old and common practice
2 Banishment and rural resistance in the early 1950s: GaMatlala and Witzieshoek
3 Banishment and rural resistance in the late 1950s: Bahurutshe and Sekhukhuneland
4 Banishment and rural resistance in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Mpondoland, Thembuland and Natal
5 Urban political opposition and banishment
6 Banishments under the Suppression of Communism Act
7 Life in banishment
8 Responses to banishment

Appendix 1: Copy of banishment order
Appendix 2: Release order from banishment
Appendix 3: Can Themba, ‘Banned to the bush.’ Drum, August 1956
Appendix 4: Cosmas Desmond, ‘Vorster’s forgotten people.’ Guardian Weekly, 19 June 1971
Appendix 5: List of people banished


Scholars, intellectuals, politicians and individuals who are politically active through political organisations and civil society bodies. All those interested in aspects of South Africa’s authoritarian and repressive past and in human rights issues.