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A History of New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1903-1953: The Detroit of the Union

A History of New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1903-1953: The Detroit of the Union (Hardback)

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Dr. Baines' careful scholarship is well repaid in this excellent and nuanced study of Port Elizabeth's African community. Hidden from urban history by the twin shadows of marginalisation in the city and distance from the economic heartlands of the country, New Brighton's past is excavated here by one of South Africa's foremost historians. It is a privilege and an honour to have been asked to write a preface for this impressive book. From his base at Rhodes University, Gary Baines has been working on the history of Port Elizabeth from the mid 1980s, and he completed the doctoral thesis on which the present book is based in 1994. The book is more rounded than the thesis, yet remains thoroughly scholarly and is extremely readable. Baines has produced a major work on the history of Port Elizabeth, one that will appeal to anyone interested in urban history in South Africa. Port Elizabeth has been fortunate in the historians it has attracted. Jenny Robinson and Joyce Kirk have published substantial books, while important theses and articles have appeared by A.J.Christopher, Janet Cherry and Kelvin Watson.The Shadow of the City stands out from all the rest, however, as a comprehensive and clearly-written account of the history of Port Elizabeth's most important township, from its inception in the first decade of the twentieth century to the violence at the time of the Defiance Campaign in 1952.

Baines's book is important beyond its recovery of the forgotten history of a particular township. He places the history of New Brighton within the wider context of the city of which it was part. As his chapter on Port Elizabeth's 'politics of pragmatic liberalism' shows most clearly, any history of the township without that wider context would be greatly impoverished. And his book is also important methodologically: it is to be hoped that his study will serve as a model for other township histories, for Baines weaves together the economics of the township and its cultural, social and political life in masterly fashion, to produce a comprehensive account. There is now no better history in print for any township in South Africa. Publication of this book should encourage others to research the unknown history of townships throughout the country.His study ends fifty years ago, but his is very relevant history: no-one can understand New Brighton today without knowing its early history, just as no-one can understand South Africa today without knowing something of the history of its townships.

The Shadow of the City - an evocative title - is a fine book by one of South Africa's leading urban historians.

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