Our victory was our defeat : race, gender and liberalism in the union defence force, 1939-1945.
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The Second World War marked the point at which South Africa stood at a crossroads between the segregation which came before it and apartheid that came after. Over the past twenty years social historians have placed greater focus on this particular period of the Second World War in South Africa's history. This thesis takes this research as its starting point but moves beyond their more specific objectives (evident in the research on the war and medical services) to explore the South African experience of race and gender and, to some extent, class during the war and the immediate post-war era. This thesis has accorded this some importance due to the state's attempts, during and after the war, to control and mediate the war experience of its participants as well as the general public. Propaganda and war experience are thus key themes in this dissertation. This thesis argues that the war and the upheaval it wrought allowed for a re-imagining of a new post-war South Africa, however tentatively, that departed from the racial and gendered inequality of the past. This thesis traces the way in which the exodus of white men to the frontlines allowed white women to take up new positions in industry and in the auxiliary services. Similarly for the duration of the war black men — and women - were able to take advantage of the relaxation of influx control laws and the new job opportunities opening up to move in greater numbers to the urban areas. As this thesis has shown, black men were able to take advantage of the opportunity to prove their loyalty by enlisting in the various branches of the Non-European Army Services. This allowed them to work alongside white men and was integral in their demands for equal participation which signified equal citizenship. The way in which the war has been remembered and commemorated as well as the expectations and silences around the potential for liberation which the war symbolised for many South Africans, has been largely unexplored. This was pardy due to the memorialisation of the war taking on a private, personal and hence, hidden aspect. This thesis examines this memorialisation in its broadest sense, particularly as it applies to black men, their families and their communities. The thesis concludes by arguing that, by 1948, the possibilities for a new South Africa had been closed down and would remain so for almost fifty years. The Second World War was relegated to personal memory and public commemoration as the "last good war", a poignant reminder of a vision of equality which was not to be.