The panel considers questions of political legitimacy in southern Africa today: how historically rooted narratives of nation are mediated through the contingencies of social, political, economic & social change at local, regional & global level, in the staking & challenging of political claims.
This panel seeks to analyse the evolution of political legitimacy in southern Africa today against the backdrop of the region's place amid shifting global forces. The focus is on the terms in which states construct hegemony, the terms in which ruling parties assert their effectiveness as rulers, and the terms in which opposition movements and civil society contest political power. The idea of multi-party democracy is notionally present throughout southern Africa and institutions of state may be superficially similar, yet contingent historical factors have produced a variety of political practices, both formal and informal, across the region. In most southern African countries, the line between state and ruling party remains weakly defined. Narratives of anti-colonial struggle and of the defence of the nation against foreign domination remain an important part of the foundational identities of southern African nation states. These national narratives have subsequently been mediated through a variety of historical experiences: continued white rule and the struggle against it, internal conflict supported by the Cold War, and the fluctuations in global commodity prices and power relations that drove industrialisation and de-industrialisation, and underwrote political possibilities within the various nation states. The emergence of China as a power in Africa has added a new dimension to national discourses in countries where China has a significant commercial presence. We seek contributions based on case studies that investigate the creation and contestation of meaning in contemporary southern African politics through examining the interplay between local, regional and global histories and contingencies.