Recent Publications

Submitted by Sean Redding on Friday, 3/1/2024, at 4:40 PM


Violence in Rural South Africa, 1880-1863. University of Wisconsin Press, 2023.

Violence in Rural South Africa, 1880-1963: Cover depicting a hilly horizon with the sun midway through the sky. The title text is in black all capps font with some of its letters broken.

Violence was endemic to rural South African society from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. But acts of violence were not inherent in African culture; rather, violence resulted from the ways in which Africans navigated the hazardous social and political landscape imposed by white rule. Focusing on the Eastern Cape province, Sean Redding investigates the rise of large-scale lethal fights among men, increasingly coercive abduction marriages, violent acts resulting from domestic troubles and witchcraft accusations within families and communities, and political violence against state policies and officials.

Many violent acts attempted to reestablish and reinforce a moral, social, and political order among Africans. However, what constituted a moral order changed as white governance became more intrusive, land became scarcer, and people reconstructed their notions of “traditional” culture. State policies became obstacles around which Africans had to navigate by invoking the idea of tradition, using the state’s court system, alleging the use of witchcraft, or engaging in violent threats and acts. Redding’s use of multiple court cases and documents to discuss several types of violence provides a richer context for the scholarly conversation about the legitimation of violence in traditions, family life, and political protest.

“An important contribution. Redding draws brilliantly on a range of archival sources to ask pointed questions about the history of violence in rural South Africa. Far from being an expression of atavistic African proclivities, the violence that marked white rule was, in fact, a response to the disruptions caused by that rule. Violent actions by African actors constituted a form of social navigation in a world over which they had limited control. Redding shows how it is possible to study violence historically without falling into tired tropes about ‘black-on-black violence.’”
—Jacob Dlamini, Princeton University



Sorcery and Sovereignty: Taxation, Power and Rebellion in Rural South Africa. Ohio University Press, 2006.

Rebellions broke out in many areas of South Africa shortly after the institution of white rule in the late nineteenth century and continued into the next century. However, distrust of the colonial regime reached a new peak in the mid-twentieth century, when revolts erupted across a wide area of rural South Africa. All these uprisings were rooted in grievances over taxes. Rebels frequently invoked supernatural powers for assistance and accused government officials of using witchcraft to enrich themselves and to harm ordinary people.
As Sean Redding observes in Sorcery and Sovereignty, beliefs in witchcraft and supernatural powers were part of the political rhetoric; the system of taxation—with all its prescribed interactions between ruler and ruled—was intimately connected to these supernatural beliefs.
In this fascinating study, Redding examines how black South Africans’ beliefs in supernatural powers, along with both economic and social change in the rural areas, resulted in specific rebellions and how gender relations in black South African rural families changed. Sorcery and Sovereignty explores the intersection of taxation, political attitudes, and supernatural beliefs among black South Africans, shedding light on some of the most significant issues in the history of colonized Africa.

“This study is…both original and hugely thought provoking. It addresses head on a key issue that has often been ducked in South African historiography—how Africans understood the world they lived in—and it elevates the subject of witchcraft, which is now beginning to attract appropriate attention in South African studies, to center stage.” — The American Historical Review 

“This richly detailed and long-awaited book joins a corpus of new work on culture and the political imagination in Africa. Based on extensive archival research and written in clear and accessible prose, Redding's work offers insight into how people have understood and contested colonial rule in South Africa.” — Journal of Southern African Studies 

Recent Articles:

“African women farmers in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, 1875-1930: State policies and spiritual vulnerabilities,” in Female Entrepreneurs in the Long Nineteenth Century: A global perspective, ed. by Jennifer Aston and Catherine Bishop, Palgrave MacMillan, 2020.

“Women and Gender Roles in Africa since 1918: Gender as a Determinant of Status,” in Blackwell’s Companion to the History of Gender, 2nd edition, edited by Teresa Meade and Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Basil Blackwell, 2020.

Witchcraft in Africa: Political Power and Spiritual Insecurity from the Precolonial Era to the Present.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Oxford University Press. doi:

“Women as Diviners and as Christian Converts in Rural South Africa, c.1880-1959,” Journal of African History, 2016

“Armed Struggle in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa,” in Encyclopedia of South Africa, edited by Krista Johnson and Sean Jacobs, Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2011.

"Faction Fights, Student Protest and Rebellion: The Politics of Beer-Drinks and Bad Food in the Transkei, South Africa, 1955-1963, African Studies Review, 2010.

 “Maybe Freedom Will Come from You”: Christian Prophecies and Rumors in the Development of Rural Resistance in South Africa, 1948-1961,” Journal of Religion in Africa, 2010.





Professional and Biographical Information

Submitted by Sean Redding on Friday, 8/28/2020, at 10:37 AM

Ph.D Yale University

B.A. Swarthmore College