The travelling toyi-toyi: soldiers and the politics of drill

Alexander, Jocelyn and McGregor, JoAnn (2020) The travelling toyi-toyi: soldiers and the politics of drill. Journal of Southern African Studies. ISSN 0305-7070

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The toyi-toyi is commonly described as a high-stepping ‘dance’ and associated above all with the anti-apartheid protests of the mid 1980s in South Africa’s townships. Its origins are, however, some two decades earlier and nearly 5,000 miles to the north, in the military training given to cadres of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) in Algeria. Now, the toyi-toyi is as often used in protest against governments led by the region’s former liberation movements as in displays of support for them. Between its Algerian origins and its current incarnations, the toyi-toyi has carried many meanings. We focus here on how veterans of the Zimbabwean and South African liberation struggles remembered the wartime toyi-toyi in oral histories and memoir. Veterans of ZAPU’s armed wing traced the toyi-toyi’s travels from north to south, in training regimes in the military camps of Algeria, Tanzania and Zambia. They remembered it as a defining feature of their army, able to create powerful bonds of loyalty and the physical toughness necessary to survival on the battlefield. Veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the African National Congress’ armed wing, learned the toyi-toyi from ZAPU cadres in shared camps. They agreed that it was emblematic of ZAPU’s army, but often portrayed it as an expression of an intolerant, macho militarism that had corrupted MK, above all in its Angolan camps. For all these former soldiers, the toyi-toyi became both a symbol and vector of particular kinds of military strategy, political belief and masculinist bodily power that provided a means of talking about influences and tensions between and within liberation movements. Tracing the toyi-toyi’s travels allows us to see how liberation movements’ military cultures were made, moved and revalued over time and across a vast geographical terrain.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Geography
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2020 17:41
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2022 02:00

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