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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Has South Africa’s labour movement become a middle class movement? An extract from Labour Beyond Cosatu

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

This article, written for The Conversation, is based on an extract from a chapter by Andries Bezuidenhout, Christine Bischoff and Ntsehiseng Nthejane:

Do South African trade unions still represent the working class?

The South African labour landscape has undergone massive changes in the past few years that have left the country’s trade union movement almost unrecognisable from yesteryear.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, still the country’s largest trade union federation, has been bleeding members for a while and has been shaken to the core by the exit of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. This exit has led to a new formation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions. Both labour federations still claim to represent the interests of the working class.

Something else, perhaps more fundamental has been changing within South Africa’s trade union movement. The membership base has shifted significantly from one dominated by unskilled and semiskilled workers to one that shows bias towards skilled and professional workers. This is captured in a series of surveys undertaken between 1994 and 2014, before the National Union of Metal Workers’s exit.

The data shows that less than 1% of members within the trade union movement classified themselves as professional in early years of democracy. The picture had changed radically by 2008 with 20% of the respondents classifying themselves as professional. It would therefore seem that South Africa’s trade union federation had become a home for middle class civil servants, rather than a working class federation.

The evolution

A group of labour scholars has been conducting surveys of Congress of South African Trade Unions members before every parliamentary election since 1994. The intention of the survey, titled Taking Democracy Seriously, was to study the impact of union democracy on parliamentary democracy.

The data set (drawn from five surveys, with the last conducted in 2014 just before National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa was expelled) tell us much more than just what union members’ attitudes towards democracy is. It paints a complex picture of who trade unions actually represent.

At its high point, the federation had a membership of 2.2 million. This was the result of three waves of unionisation.

The first wave of members comprised of workers who were organised into the initial manufacturing unions that resulted from the militancy of the 1973 strikes.

The second wave started in 1985 with the National Union of Mineworkers – the first to organise black miners and what was to become the largest union in the country – joining the Federation of South African Trade Unions in 1985.

The third wave came with the public sector unions that emerged after 1990. This wave benefited from the Labour Relations Act of 1995 which brought public sector employees under the same dispensation as the private sector in terms of collective bargaining and organisational rights.

In the early years of democracy public sector unions were so marginal to the federation and debates in labour studies that the researchers did not even include any unions from the public sector.

The professional factor

From 1994 union members were asked to classify themselves as being professional, clerical, supervisors, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Less than 1% classified themselves as professional in 1994, 1998 and 2004.

The data reflects a major shift in the last two surveys conducted after the inclusion of public sector unions in the sample. 20% of respondents classified themselves as professional in 2008, and 19% in 2014. This constituted a fifth of federation membership base, certainly a massive shift from the early 1990s.

Those members who classified themselves as clerical remained more or less constant, with those classifying themselves as supervisors increasing slightly from 4% in 1994 to 6% in 2014.

What is interesting though, is an increase of those who classify themselves as skilled increasing from 21% in 1994 to 37% in 2014.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 978-1-77614-053-4
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Read an excerpt from Michael Neocosmos’s Thinking Freedom in Africa

Thinking Freedom in Africa The Mail & Guardian has shared an excerpt from Thinking Freedom in Africa: Toward a theory of emancipatory politics by Michael Neocosmos.

The book, published by Wits University Press and the recipient of the 2017 Frantz Fanon Outstanding Book Award, explores the politics of emancipation via the study of the global history of African peoples’ struggles for liberation.

The excerpt reads:

How are we to begin to think about emancipation in Africa today after the collapse of the Marxist, the Third World nationalist and the neoliberal visions of freedom?

How are we to conceptualise an emancipatory future governed by a fidelity to the idea of a universal humanity in a context where humanity no longer features in our ambit of thought and when previous ways of thinking emancipation have become obsolete?

In the formulation made famous by Frantz Fanon on the last page of The Wretched of the Earth, how are we to “work out new concepts” for a new humanism?

Thinking Freedom in Africa: Toward a Theory of Emancipatory Politics seeks answers to these questions in the light of what has become apparent, namely the absence of a thought of politics in all three of these conceptions of universal history today.

You can read the coverage of the launch of Thinking Freedom in Africa here.

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How I became South Africa’s first African clinical psychologist: Excerpt from N Chabani Manganyi’s new memoir

Apartheid and the Making of a Black PsychologistRead an excerpt from Apartheid and the Making of a Black Psychologist: A Memoir, the new book by N Chabani Manganyi, published by Wits Press.

About the book

This intriguing memoir details in a quiet and restrained manner what it meant to be a committed black intellectual activist during the apartheid years and beyond. Few autobiographies exploring the “life of the mind” and the “history of ideas” have come out of South Africa, and N Chabani Manganyi’s reflections on a life engaged with ideas, the psychological and philosophical workings of the mind and the act of writing are a refreshing addition to the genre of life writing.

Starting with his rural upbringing in Mavambe in Limpopo province in the 1940s, Manganyi’s life story unfolds at a gentle pace, tracing the twists and turns of his journey from humble beginnings to Yale University in the USA. The author details his work as a clinical practitioner and researcher, as a biographer, as an expert witness in defence of opponents of the apartheid regime and, finally, as a leading educationist in Mandela’s Cabinet and in the South African academy.

Apartheid and the Making of a Black Psychologist is a book about relationships and the fruits of intellectual and creative labour. In it, Manganyi describes how he used his skills as a clinical psychologist to explore lives – both those of the subjects of his biographies and those of the accused for whom he testified in mitigation; his aim always to find a higher purpose and a higher self.

Prof Manganyi’s thoughtful and meticulous account of what it has meant to become South Africa’s first black psychologist is particularly relevant for our times. Sadly, the issues of violence, injustice and trauma are still with us. Manganyi’s work offers the possibility that a different legacy could prevail – that of a commitment to truth, and a clear vision of what it means to value the humanity of others, as well as of oneself.

- Shayleen Peekes, psychologist

Chabani Manganyi is that rare thing in South Africa – a genuine and independent intellectual.

- Tim Couzens, author

Wits Press has shared an excerpt from the book:

Prelims for Apartheid and the Making of a black psychologist by WitsPress on Scribd

Book details

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An excerpt from Students Must Rise – “The plan was simple, the march disciplined”

Students Must Rise2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1976 uprisings. It’s also a year in which we’ve seen a surge in student activism, from the #FeesMustFall movement that ignited last year to the more recent #RUReferenceList protest against rape culture on campus and in society as a whole.

Students Must Rise: Youth Struggle in South Africa Before and Beyond Soweto ’76 edited by Anne Heffernan and Noor Nieftagodien rethinks the conventional narrative of youth and student activism in South Africa by placing that most famous of moments – the 1976 students’ uprising in Soweto – in a deeper historical and geographic context.

Leading up to Youth Day, 16 June, Bhekizizwe Peterson wrote an essay for Mail & Guardian about the role artists played and continue to play in reshaping our country.

Peterson, Professor and Head of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, writes: “It is a truism that major social upheavals and changes are often preceded by a flourishing of the arts. This is also true about South Africa and the years before June 1976.”

In the article, Peterson reflects on the role art magazines like S’ketsh and Staffrider played in reinvigorating arts, culture and politics. In conclusion, he shares an extract from Chapter 6 of Students Must Rise, written by Sibongile Mkhabela.

Read the excerpt from “Action and fire in Soweto, June 1976”:

The plan was simple, the march disciplined

The events of the cold morning of June 16 1976 are written in blood, ash and tears.

I met other student leaders to review plans before the march was scheduled to begin at 6.30am.

The direction the march was to follow was clear. Those coming from the west would meet other students at central, designated points. The Naledi group would proceed northwards via Zola, Emdeni, Jabulani, Zondi, Mofolo North, Mofolo Central, Dube and Orlando West townships, and finally all schoolchildren would meet at the Orlando stadium where the student representatives would lead discussions about Afrikaans, and draw up a petition for the department of education. After this act of solidarity, the students would disperse.

Related stories:


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Leon de Kock considers Marikana in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Losing the Plot

SLiPnet has shared an excerpt from Leon de Kock’s forthcoming book, Losing the Plot: Crime, Reality, and Fiction in Postapartheid Writing, to be published by Wits Press this year.

In the excerpt, De Kock considers how the Marikana massacre has been covered in the media, underlining the prominence of what he calls “‘true’ writing about perceived ‘crime’” in South Africa.

In addition, he suggests that the Marikana massacre demonstrates the country’s “routinely pathological public sphere”, and that the media representations of “ruptured and broken bodies” come to stand in for a “shocked” public sphere. As such, De Kock says, Marikana “blurs the line between the private and the public, bringing otherwise nonpublic and unknowable agony, something that threatens the ‘body public’ as much as it hurts private bodies, into affective general view”.

However, a brief synopsis does not do the excerpt justice. Read it in full:

If there is one event in postapartheid history that concentrates all the elements of a pathological public sphere, and suggests that the country is as much in the grip of a wound culture as it is a (mal)functioning democracy, then it is the event known as the Marikana massacre.1 The salient details of this event, as extensively reported in the media (and narrated in at least one full-length documentary, by Aryan Kaganof, as well as a multi-tiered, multimedia Mail & Guardian online “project”2), are the following: 34 people, most of them striking rock-drillers at Lonmin platinum mines near Rustenburg in the North West Province, were shot dead by members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) on 16 August 2012; in the preceding week, 10 people had been killed in strike-related “unrest” (to use a peculiarly South African euphemism for uprising), including two policemen and two Lonmin security guards; the Farlam Commission of Inquiry set up by government to investigate the incident and report on its causes saw evidence that suggests the police/state used a key witness, Mr X (real name withheld by the commission) to testify falsely in its favour as part of what appears to be a cover-up, as this witness’s evidence was shown, during cross-examination by advocate Dali Mpofu and others, to contain what appear to be irreconcilable contradictions and plain lies.3

Well-credentialed commentators on the killings, including Pullitzer-prizewinning photojournalist Greg Marinovich, writer/filmmaker Kaganof, sociologist Sakhela Buhlungu and others detect in this event the combination of a neoliberal ruling elite and big capitalism setting its amalgamated face against exploited underground mineworkers earning as little as R5000 a month. For many commentators, including family members of the slain miners, Marikana recalls the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 in which 69 people were gunned down by the South African Police (SAP), as well as the killings associated with the Soweto uprisings in June 1976, and the Bhisho massacre in 1992.4

Related stories:

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Jacob Zuma Likes to be Cast as a Man of the People, But is He? – Susan Booysen

Dominance and DeclineThe twilight of Jacob Zuma’s controversial leadership of the governing African National Congress (ANC) and the country finds both in a parlous state. The party is in decline and centred on Zuma’s personality, while his flawed leadership undermines its ability to govern competently. I explore these themes in Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma. This is an edited extract from the book.Susan Booysen, University of the Witwatersrand

President Jacob Zuma’s entrance ticket into his Polokwane 2007 election was “reconnection with the people”. He was “the man of the people”, close to those who, the Zuma camp argued, then-president Thabo Mbeki had alienated. The evidence of this having been achieved is ambiguous.

Judged by general citizen sentiment expressed at the grassroots, Zuma failed to bring the ANC closer to the people. My research has shown substantial alienation between the ANC and the communities:

  • On general democracy issues citizens felt aggrieved that they frequently only saw their elected representatives at election times, and that ANC leaders care more for themselves than for the people. In election campaigns they are flooded with ANC visitors, leading to another round of “empty promises” and appeals for support for the “liberation movement”.

  • In ANC structures and meetings there are two trends: the insiders that speak glowingly of the great work of the movement; and those who regard themselves as ANC supporters (and often are ANC members), but feel excluded, for example not welcomed into branch meetings.

Research decimates the Zuma camp’s argument that the people do not care about the Nkandla scandal, involving the use of public funds on his private residence, and similar issues. The people greatly care and deeply begrudge the new political elites and their president for greed and consumption of public resources. My research project showed hardly a word of pardon or praise for the president. Instead, there was a wall of condemnation and ridicule.

The research findings contrasted with ANC staff and workers on the 2014 campaign trail, for example, testifying how Zuma was welcomed with accolades and warmth when he went campaigning. Such images were also beamed across South Africa when Zuma’s community appearances were televised.

Zuma’s “people charm”, bolstered by the general pull of power, was his great redeeming factor in his relentless quest to get into and retain presidential power for all of his second term. The Jacob Zuma Legacy Special advertising campaign put together by the state-transporty company Prasa proclaimed that he has “mainly endeared himself to people through his personal charisma and magnetic charm”.

In an interview with Business in Africa in 2009 on the eve of becoming South Africa’s president, Zuma singled out Oliver Tambo as one of his role models in becoming “a man of the people”:

While Tambo was a great thinker, he was very simple. There is nothing he did not do … When people came to him he attended to them. He would even attend to somebody who comes to raise the issue of the shoe that doesn’t have shoelaces, he would ensure that the shoelaces were found … I am not a great man. I am a man of the people. I believe in people and I think that the people are everything. Once there is disconnection with the people you have problems …

Zuma’s connection with the people is partial. At least two major events, in Gauteng and in Limpopo (one was Nelson Mandela’s memorial service), saw Zuma being booed by large numbers in the audiences. ANC strategists, subsequently, carefully managed Zuma’s exposure to avoid public embarrassment.

Some “closeness to the people” was evident in the audiences Zuma has entertained at his residences in Pretoria and Nkandla. Across class, aspirant “tenderpreneurs”, (the name given to entrepreneurs who have created businesses from government tenders), and modest community members with pension and social grant issues rub shoulders while waiting for and then consulting with Zuma.

Many of the after-hours visitors are put in touch with relevant government departments. These meetings give insights into the Zuma presidency’s creation of personalised patronage networks, the other side of the formal government networks and operations. Aspects of the meetings also resemble traditional leadership community meetings.

In refutation of Zuma as the president of the people who understands their culture, my research reveals popular ridicule of the president. When focus group participants from across the demographic spectrum received the positive prompt of “Zuma is a leader, a man who understands our culture”, there followed scorn, laughter and comments on polygamy and showering.

Further prompts encouraged participants to abandon this tone, to no avail. Both this project and others confirm that voters separate their opinions of the president from their willingness to vote ANC (at least at the time, in 2014).

Zuma has nevertheless carved a safe personal net with many South Africans, especially those also of Zulu origins. Little had the Mandela-Mbeki axis of the 1990s imagined that their deployment of Zuma to get peace in the war fields of KwaZulu-Natal (and bring the province into the national post-liberation ANC) would have the repercussions it did. They helped create the platform on which Zuma would rise into power.

The ANC KwaZulu-Natal as electoral giant awoke late, and then sustained the ANC when it started declining in other provinces. Without the KwaZulu-Natal performance in the national elections of 2009 and 2014 (largely facilitated by Zuma) the ANC would have looked pitiful even if still winning.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Lewis Gordon Examines Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks in an Excerpt from What Fanon Said

What Fanon SaidThe Mail & Guardian has shared an excerpt from Lewis Gordon’s What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to his Life and Thought.

Gordon is Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut, Storrs; European Union Visiting Chair in Philosophy at Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France; and Nelson Mandela Distinguished Visiting Professor at Rhodes University. He was a guest of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival recently.

Read the excerpt, which looks at Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks:

There is a white construction called “the black”. This construction is told that if he or she really is human, then he or she could go beyond the boundaries of race. The black can supposedly “really choose” to live otherwise as a form of social being that is not black and is not any racial form or designation.

Racial constructions are leeches on all manifestations of human ways of living: language, sex, labour (material and aesthetic), socialising (reciprocal recognition), consciousness, and the “soul”. Black Skin, White Masks thus describes a quasi-anonymous black hero’s efforts to shake off these leeches and live an adult human existence.

Each chapter represents options offered the black by modern Western thought. In good faith, then, the black hero attempts to live through each of these options simply as a human being. But the black soon discovers that to do so calls for living simply as a white. Antiblack racism presents whiteness as the “normal” mode of “humanness”. So, the black reasons, if blackness and whiteness are constructed, perhaps the black could then live the white construction, which would reinforce the theme of constructivity.

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The Colour of Our Future: Read an Excerpt from Xolela Mangcu’s New Book, Explaining Why People Should #Luister

The Colour of Our FutureWits Press is proud to present The Colour of Our Future: Does race matter in post-apartheid South Africa?, edited by Xolela Mangcu:

The Colour of Our Future makes a bold and ambitious contribution to the discourse on race. It addresses the tension between the promise of a post-racial society and the persistence of racialised identities in South Africa, which has historically played itself out in debates between the “I don’t see race” of non-racialism and the “I’m proud to be black” of black consciousness. What the chapters in this volume highlight is the need for a race-transcendent vision that moves beyond “the festival of negatives” embodied in concepts such as non-racialism, non-sexism, anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid. Steve Biko’s notion of a “joint culture” is the scaffold on which this vision rests; it recognises that a race-transcendent society can only be built by acknowledging the constituent elements of South Africa’s EuroAfricanAsian heritage.

The distinguished authors in this volume have, over the past two decades, used the democratic space to insert into the public domain new conversations around the intersections of race and the economy, race and the state, race and the environment, race and ethnic difference, and race and higher education. Presented here is some of their most trenchant and yet still evolving thinking.

South Africa is ready for a new vocabulary of national consciousness that simultaneously recognises racialised identities while affirming that as human beings we are much more than our racial, sexual, class, religious or national identities.

The Colour of Our Future is a timely book. The individual chapters clearly show that questions of race have not withered away with the installation of a progressive constitution intended to create a nonracial society. That there might be good reason for understanding and accepting racial identities that are not only imposed or accepted for the purpose of resistance, but can, properly understood, be part of a positive future, is to be welcomed.” – Paul Graham, former executive director of IDASA

* * * * * *


City Press has shared a poignant excerpt from the book, titled “Whites do the talking; blacks do the listening”. This is especially relevant given the ongoing debate sparked by the #LUISTER documentary about the racial status quo at institutions like Stellenbosch University, and the ongoing aftermath of the #RhodesMustFall movement.

Mangcu explains concepts such as Steve Biko’s rejection of blackness, nonracialism and multiracial societies and insists that a framework is needed that acknowledges our racialised identities as historical experiences, and most importantly: for people to listen to one another.

Read the excerpt:

The historian Phil Bonner has described the alternation between nonracial modernity of the African National Congress and the race consciousness of Black Consciousness and Pan-Africanism as a “recurrent trope in South African resistance history”.

He writes that “this tension will probably always be with us: even when the one political tradition gains the ascendancy, the other lurks with less public profile below”.

However, a sense of this historical tension has been lost in the pretence that nonracialism was always the normative consensus in black politics. This apparent consensus is of course belied by the tortuous journey of the term.

The ANC opened its membership to non-Africans only in 1985, a mere five years before it was unbanned. Throughout its life it was a multiracial organisation. I prefer this multiracialism of its early years to the nonracialism of its later years, with some caveats. The multiracialism I prefer is, however, not based on race but on historical experiences.

Watch the #LUISTER documentary:

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“I Didn’t Join the Revolution to be Poor” – Deborah James Examines the Freedom to Engage in Consumption

Money from NothingStanford University Press has shared an excerpt from Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa by Deborah James.

In Money from Nothing, James explores the “national project of financial inclusion”, which “aims to extend credit to black South Africans as a critical aspect of abolishing apartheid’s legacy”, and the contradictions inherent in the project.

The book highlights the lived experiences of the millions of indebted South Africans, and shows how access to credit is linked to identity and status.

Read the excerpt, taken from the introduction:

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Violence, Condemnation, and the Meaning of Living in South Africa – An Excerpt from Go Home or Die Here

Go Home or Die HereGo Home or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia and the Reinvention of Difference in South Africa, edited by Tawana Kupe, Eric Worby and Shireen Hassim, was published in 2008 after the eruption of xenophobic violence in South Africa. However, the publication remains as relevant today as it was then.

Ruth Bhengu, chair of the parliamentary committee set up to probe violence against foreigners, recently questioned the use of the word “xenophobia” to describe the attitudes of many South Africans to immigrants and refugees from the rest of Africa.

“As journalists, you must refrain from using xenophobia because it means having extreme hatred which we don’t have as South Africans,” she said, continuing:

“We must move away from this xenophobic word because it brings us to the wars and makes it seem like South Africans hate foreigners when we have lived with whites and Indians who we don’t know where they come from. We are proudly South African and we accommodated those who came from all over, therefore it is not correct to judge and say South Africans are xenophobic and prevents us from moving forward. Media must report that it’s just attacks, not xenophobic attacks, which shifts the focus from the real issues.”

Although in agreement that Bhengu “was right to ask whether this phrase was accurate and helpful”, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University Anton Harber argues that her view “sounds like denialism rather than trying to avoid harmful labelling”:

One does not have to go far to hear anger expressed by many South Africans against immigrants, legal or illegal, who are competing for jobs and trade. This needs to be dealt with head-on. While it is true some violence is the result of criminal opportunism, I have little doubt that one of the results of our many years of isolation and the lingering belief in our exceptionalism in Africa, is a suspicion, or even hostility, towards outsiders.

In a piece from Go Home or Die Here titled “Violence, condemnation, and the meaning of living in South Africa”, Loren B Landau says: “The divisions among self-exclusion, cosmopolitan citizenship and ethnic nationalism are dangerous ones – not only as differences in values, but because they map so closely with class, race and nationality.

“As such, they provide tectonic faults that may result in far greater disruptions. With an increasingly centralised and unpopular political party mandated to span the divides, it may not be long before we hear more than the distant roar of battle.”

Read the chapter:

Violence, condemnation, and the meaning of living in South Africa by Loren B Landau

Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, illegals, border jumpers, displacees, Nigerians, aliens, amakwerekwere have long been on South Africans’ minds. For many they are primarily groups to be feared, disdained, occasionally pitied, often exploited and seen as a threat to the country’s wealth and health. The country’s government and much of its civil society has long turned a blind eye to foreigners’ systematic marginalisation, mass deportation (close to 300 000 people in 2007) and the ever more rapid and rabid murders at the hands of the country’s citizenry.

When the government did react to violence against foreigners, its responses were two-faced: chastising communities for their intolerance while accelerating arrests and removals.[1] In a nationally broadcast speech on 25 May, President Thabo Mbeki encouraged South Africans to ‘… build on the tradition of many decades of integrating our foreign guests within our communities’.[2] Given the history of exploitation, alienation, and expulsion, it is hard to imagine where he (or anyone else) got the idea that government or citizens have ever promoted the peaceful integration of migrants into South African society.

But my concern here is not with the long-term disregard for migrants’ rights and welfare. Nor is it to condemn the initial denialism of crisis or the tardy and ineffective efforts to help those who were violently displaced.[3] Rather, this piece considers what the responses by South African citizens and institutions reveal about being from and living in South Africa.


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