P058


Democracy, decolonisation and political contestation: the South African case 
Convenor:
Ayesha Omar (University of Johannesburg)
Send message to Convenor
Format:
Panels
Location:
NB004
Start time:
1 July, 2017 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
1

Short Abstract:

The purpose of this panel is to critically reflect, engage and debate on the discourses of decolonisation, democracy and political contestation insofar as they intersect and configure power and politics in South Africa.

Long Abstract

The purpose of this panel is to critically reflect, engage and debate on the discourses of decolonisation, democracy and political contestation insofar as they intersect and configure power and politics in South Africa. With the surge of student led university protests for example, South African universities have began to undertake serious academic discussion around questions of access, opportunity, inclusion, justice, citizenship,inequality and the impact of colonial legacy on the making and shaping of higher education, epistemologically and ontologically. This panel will attempt to deconstruct some of these difficult debates that pertain to South Africa but extend to Africa more generally.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Talya Lubinsky (University of Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

The exhibition titled, If we burn, there is ash, probes question around what is to be done with a colonial era collection of material culture belonging to the Wits Anthropology Museum. The exhibition uses the metaphor of fire to embody the necessity for burning to facilitate building and growth.

Paper long abstract:

My paper will discuss a recent exhibition I mounted at the Anthropology Museum at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg.

The exhibition, titled, 'If we burn, there is ash', centres around a fire at Wits University in 1931, that burned most of what was then called the Ethnography Museum's collection of material culture. Some of the only objects that survived the fire are small clay burial bowls, collected by a British missionary in the 'Congo' region in the 1920's. Able to withstand the heat, the bowls remain, broken and blackened by the fire, stored at the Wits Art Museum.

The walls of the Anthropology Museum are lined with Victorian-style wooden display cabinets. For the exhibition, one wall of cabinets is filled with heaps of ash, the other with crudely fashioned cement replicas of the bowls that survived the fire.

Ash, the material remains of fire, however elusive, does not disappear. Even when things burn, they are never fully physically or ephemerally eliminated. Ash is not just the physical remains of that which has been burnt. It is also used as an ingredient in cement mixtures. It is literally transformed into a building material.

Using ash and cement as a poetic relation, this exhibition asks about the potentiality of burning in the project of building and growth. Ash and cement serve as a provocation on the question of what is to be done with the material remains of a violent and unwanted colonial past.

Author:

Vladimir Shubin (Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will try to determine the roots of the current political crisis in South Africa by analysing the correlation of social forces, and of class composition of contesting political parties and actors of so-called “civil society”.

Paper long abstract:

Vladimir Shubin

Principal Research Fellow

Institute for African Studies

Russian Academy of Sciences

30/1, Spiridonovka street,

Moscow, 132001

vlgs@yandex.ru

+ 7 910 415 27 96

South Africa: the roots of the political crisis

This paper will try to determine the roots of the current political crisis in South Africa. Most of analysts be them journalists or academics explain it primarily by assessing a controversial role of President Jacob Zuma. However such approach eclipses a vital issue of correlation of social forces, and of class composition of contesting political parties and actors of so-called "civil society", including "Fees must fall" student movement.

Taking into account the main theme of the conference - "Urban Africa - Urban Africans: New encounters of the rural and the urban" a special attention will be paid to the urban - rural political divide that became clearly visible after the local election in August 2016.

Author:

Crispen Chinguno (Sol Plaatje University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how, when, why and the context in which solidarity was (de)constructed drawing from an ethnographic exploration of the Wits #Feesmustfall movement.

Paper long abstract:

The #Feesmustfall movement when it emerged in 2015 characterized by black and white academics putting themselves on the line as human shields defending students from police brutality. When the movement re-emerged in 2016 it was a coalition of black academics who made a similar line of defence. A black caucus emerged as a collective to advance interests of black academics and to support the students' movement. In addition, another coalition, Academics for Free Education also emerged in support of the movement. At the same time some academics signed two opposed petitions. The first petition was covertly against the student movement strategy and way of claim making and was also pro-the position of university management whilst the second took an opposite position. The students were also joined in the protests by outsourced workers at different moments who were active on the picket lines and in the shutting down of gates and lecture halls. The official voice of the academics, ASAWU took an ambivalent position on students demand for free and decolonized education. These events raised questions about solidarity. Solidarity is about mutual attachment, responsibility, community of interests and obligation to help each other when in need and ethic of reciprocity. The paper explores how, when, why and the context in which solidarity was (de)constructed drawing from an ethnographic exploration of the Wits #Feesmustfall movement. Solidarity evoked in this context on one hand and its dissipation was about (re)claiming and (re)defining relations and reflected a strong or lethargic commitment to the project of decolonization.

Author:

Itunu Bodunrin (University of Johannesburg)

Paper short abstract:

The paper broadly addresses the question of who can teach, write, represent and model for a decolonoised African indigenous practice.

Paper long abstract:

The post-colonial debate on indigenous (mis)representation and otherness has been particularly rife in the so-called settler region and countries where the colonisers and the colonised Indigenous peoples (often termed the "natives") inhabit the colonised land supposedly as "equal" citizens.

Unlike in the parts of the world today where native researchers and scholars have emerged, and are directly involved in researching their own affairs, the largely unchanged socioeconomic status of indigenous communities and groups such as the Bushmen in post-apartheid South Africa meant they remained underrepresented in research, and "their stories told mainly by privileged intellectuals" (Mboti, 2014: 473). Hence, the debate on the representation of the indigenous Bushmen has been between non-white South African scholars and their white counterparts, who are considered privileged and easily associated with the "former coloniser". The non-white scholars have challenged their white counterparts' problematic identity and present role in teaching, writing, representing and modelling for a decolonoised African indigenous practice.

In this presentation, the author wades into the issues of representation and otherness in South African Bushman research, while also reflecting on the experiences of othering that emanated from his own 4-year ethnographic research with the Bushmen. The author thus highlights the importance of self-reflexivity in post-colonial/post-apartheid representation otherised groups. The Bushmen of Southern Africa, are among the most disadvantaged, marginalized and most researched people on the planet. Their hyper-mediated identity as noble savages and First People from whom all humans descended, have attracted the curiosity of researchers, journalists, filmmakers and tourists.