Over the past several weeks, a new wave of xenophobic violence has swept across South Africa, beginning in Durban and quickly spreading to Johannesburg and its surrounding townships. The targets are makwerekweres, a derogatory term used for foreigners, in reference to the “babble” they speak. They are Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Nigerians, Somalis, Bangladeshis and other foreign nationals. Initial violence in Durban was sparked by the remarks of Goodwill Zwelithini, the king of South Africa’s largest ethnic group, the Zulus, who reportedly called on foreigners to “pack their bags and go back to their countries.”
In the following weeks, the violence claimed the lives of seven people and turned thousands more into refugees. Media images depicted scenes of terror, displacement and hatred: foreign-owned shops looted and ransacked; tent cities hastily assembled for refugees; foreigners boarding buses back to their home countries; and even the brutal stabbing of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole in Johannesburg’s neighbouring township of Alexandria. Yet these images are not new for South Africans. Just earlier this year, another episode of xenophobic-induced looting and violence occurred Soweto. Recent violence particularly calls to mind scenes from just seven years ago, in May 2008, when 62 foreigners were killed and thousands displaced in the worst xenophobic attacks in the country’s post-apartheid history.
These episodes of violence are not sporadic. They represent long-simmering anti-migrant sentiments that have been increasing in the country since the early 1990s. As apartheid collapsed and South Africa opened its borders to foreign migration, many within the country found new scapegoats for their dissatisfaction with democracy’s failed promises. They blamed foreigners, rather than whites or the government, for high unemployment and scarce resources.
Stuart Mole Mr. Mole is a PhD Student at the University of Exeter. He was Special Assistant to the Secretary-General (1984-1990), Director of the Secretary-General’s Office (1990-2000), and Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society (2000-2009).
Nowadays, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal – lawyer and international diplomat – is well settled into retirement, though still a giant figure in his native Caribbean and still able to stir the memories of older generations who remember his boundless activism on the world stage.
From 1975 to 1990 he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and for six of those years I was lucky enough to be his Special Assistant. It was an exhilarating time, now given new immediacy by the recent publication of his memoir Glimpses of a Global Life(2014).
This weighty and enthralling record demonstrates a contribution to international affairs which was multi-faceted and never less than exceptional. He served on a string of international commissions, including Brandt, on development and the North-South divide; Bruntland, pioneering the notion of sustainable development; and Palme, on peace and international security. There were other issues where his intellectual leadership and courage stood out. He was among the first to warn Africa and the world of HIV/AIDS – and among the first to speak of sea-level rise and climate change, many decades before such talk became common currency.
But perhaps he is best remembered for his titanic struggle against racism in Southern Africa – in the eventual vanquishing of white minority rule in Rhodesia and, more than a decade later, in helping bring to an end apartheid in South Africa. Continue reading “Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life”→
Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a joint workshop staged by the AHRC Care for the Future and Labex: Passes Dans le Present research clusters at the Royaumont Foundation near Paris. The two days showcased a range of projects assessing how study of the past can inform contemporary and future policy-making and cultural debates- from the use of colonial heroes in modern Africa, to how digitisation is reshaping understanding of museums, and the links between modern and historical anti-slavery movements.
Last month saw the publication of the Radical History Review’s special issue on ‘The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement’. Appearing on the 20th anniversary of South African democracy, the issue contains articles, roundtables and review pieces that explore a range of transnational connections that shaped political opposition to white supremacy in South Africa. As editors Lisa Brock, Alex Lichtenstein and Van Gosse comment in their introduction, “in seeking contributions to this issue, we made a deliberate effort to give the truly global nature of the movements in solidarity with southern Africa their due.”
Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa, on election day 2014, Exeter’s Emily Bridger argues that the African National Congress’s continued political success owes much to its use of the past and the memory of Nelson Mandela.
Today, South Africans will go to the polls to vote in their country’s fifth democratic general election. South Africa’s political atmosphere has, since 1994, been characterized by the stubborn persistence of political allegiances, and a deep feeling of loyalty and indebtedness towards the African National Congress, the party that liberated its people from the oppressive conditions of apartheid. This year’s election carries particular historical significance, as it not only marks the twentieth anniversary since the end of apartheid but also the recent passing of the country’s political father figure, Nelson Mandela. While previous ANC election campaigns have focused on the hope for a better future, this year’s campaign has made a decisive rhetorical turn to the past. Likewise, to understand the ANC’s continued success, we must look to the party’s past progress rather than its present scandals. Continue reading “ANC Uses History to Sweep South Africa’s 2014 Elections”→
The crowd’s booing of Zuma at the memorial service embodied Mandela’s oppositional legacy.
Following Nelson Mandela’s passing early this month, international media and public interest in South Africa has abounded. From the fake sign language interpreter at the memorial to President Obama’s embarrassing ‘selfie’ taken during the service, journalists have had plenty of scandals to sink their teeth into. In particular, the crowd’s booing of current South African president Jacob Zuma during last Tuesday’s memorial has struck a particular chord with journalists, twitter users, and politicians alike. Continue reading “South Africa’s Long Walk: Political Dissent and the Spirit of Resistance at the Mandela Memorial”→
As a child there were few experiences I looked forward to more than a trip up to London with my father to visit Hamleys toy store in the run-up to Christmas. Rather unusually perhaps, these visits to the capital were also occasionally marked by a stop at South Africa House to see the Anti-Apartheid picket of the embassy, organised to call for the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. We had moved to the UK from New Zealand a few years beforehand, and Dad would always use such occasions to regale me with proud memories of the protests which greeted South Africa’s notorious rugby tour in 1981. When the Springboks came to our home city of Hamilton, a key centre of Maori culture, crowd protests led to the abandonment of a test against the All Blacks. Another game became a farce when flour bombs and leaflets were scattered over the pitch from a light aeroplane. Continue reading “Boycotting Apartheid: the Global Politics of ‘Fair Trade’”→
Jamie Miller Visiting Assistant Professor, Quinnipiac University
Why historians should study the regime, not just its opponents
Last week’s death of Nelson Mandela prompted outpourings of both admiration and introspection across the globe. Public figures scrambled to portray themselves as long-time supporters of the anti-apartheid cause — even where the historical record of their organisation’s relationship with Mandela undercut the credibility of such posturing (the British Tories readily come to mind). Yet amid the panegyrics, there was plenty of consideration of Mandela’s complex legacy. When Tea Party favourite Ted Cruz declared common cause with Mandela, a supporter wrote on his Facebook page: “Tell the truth Ted!!! Who are you??!! Obama?? Don’t rewrite history to try to get people to like you!!! Educate them!! Mandela was a murderer, terrorist, and a Communist!!!! Can we even trust you to be honest now??!!” A more nuanced analysis appeared in an incisive piece in Foreign Affairs. Historian Ryan Irwin traced Mandela’s elusive legacy to his willingness to embody a pluralist and inclusive vision of the anti-apartheid movement, rather than imposing his own ideological litmus test for would-be allies—be they liberals, pan-Africans, union leaders, or communists.
The sad news of the death of Nelson Mandela has led many commentators to reflect on how he will be remembered. His reputation is now, and has been for many years, almost uniquely positive. So it should be, and let’s hope it will remain that way. Let this not, however, be at the expense of historical complexity. Here are some points which historians should bear in mind when reflecting on Mandela’s career and on his evolution from freedom fighter to world statesman. Continue reading “How Should Historians Consider Nelson Mandela?”→
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