Monday, December 09, 2013

Spring 2014 Sneak Peak 4

We were all saddened to hear of Nelson Mandela's passing last week. At the age of 95, Mandela lived a long life that impacted many, both in South Africa and the rest of the world. In a televised address Thursday night, President Jacob Zuma said, "Our nation has lost its greatest son." The video of the address is available here from the New York Times. On the Nelson Mandela Foundation website, Mandela's biography is summed up like this: "Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life has been an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation."

In her forthcoming book, RETHINKING THE SOUTH AFRICAN CRISIS: NATIONALISM, POPULISM, HEGEMONY, Gillian Hart's insightful study of the ongoing social, political, and economic struggles in post-apartheid South Africa gives much attention to Mandela and his efforts.

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has become an extreme yet unexceptional embodiment of forces at play in many other regions of the world: intensifying inequality alongside "wageless life," proliferating forms of protest and populist politics that move in different directions, and official efforts at containment ranging from liberal interventions targeting specific populations to increasingly common police brutality.

RETHINKING THE SOUTH AFRICAN CRISIS revisits long-standing debates to shed new light on the transition from apartheid. Drawing on nearly twenty years of ethnographic research, Hart argues that local government has become the key site of contradictions. Local practices, conflicts, and struggles in the arenas of everyday life feed into and are shaped by simultaneous processes of de-nationalization and re-nationalization. Together they are key to understanding the erosion of African National Congress hegemony and the proliferation of populist politics.
The problem, however, with the question of ‘how to move beyond Mandela without becoming [Robert] Mugabe’ is who is to decide where ‘politics proper’ begins, and what form will it take. Clearly, there has been considerable movement beyond Mandela’s brand of liberalism, but it has gone in different directions. A key implication of taking passive revolution seriously is that any political strategy to confront the brutalities of the present and construct a different future has to begin with actually existing practices and meanings in the arenas of everyday life, while also stretching out to forge relations and connections with forces at play elsewhere.
This book provides an innovative analysis of the ongoing, unstable, and unresolved crisis in South Africa today. It also suggests how Antonio Gramsci's concept of passive revolution, adapted and translated for present circumstances with the help of Martinique-born French psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, can do useful analytical and political work in South Africa and beyond.