Histories of Afro-Asian solidarity rarely dwell on intimacy, yet they tend to presume an affective reciprocity between people of African and Asian descent that has come to define postcolonial politics in its characteristically utopian form. In fact, there is every indication that the terms of endearment between African and Indian communities were strained at best across the landscapes of the decolonized and decolonizing world-and that narratives of fraternity are not the whole story of interracial contact, intimate or otherwise. This essay focuses on the life story of K. G. Naidoo (1906-99), a Tamil doctor known as Dr Goonam who treated Indian, coloured and African patients and whose practice drew her into the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Her autobiography, Coolie Doctor, is an intimate history of racial knowledge that challenges easy readings of solidarity or conflict between Indians and Africans in and around twentieth-century Durban. Goonam's text allows us to appreciate the embodied experience of interracial hierarchy in the context of both progressive medicine and anti-racist politics of the kind that was unfolding in South Africa in the 1940s and after. I read Coolie Doctor as an embodied, materialist account of African-Indian relationships in the context of apartheid politics in KwaZulu-Natal-an account that, in turn, archives histories of racial encounter, collision and citation with ramifications for postcolonial histories of all kinds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-235
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Afro-Asian solidarity
  • South Asian diaspora
  • apartheid
  • archiving sexuality and race
  • embodiment
  • politics of medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology


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