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Democracy as Death

Democracy as Death: The Moral Order of Anti-Liberal Politics in South Africa

Jason Hickel
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Democracy as Death
    Book Description:

    The revolution that brought the African National Congress (ANC) to power in South Africa was fractured by internal conflict. Migrant workers from rural Zululand rejected many of the egalitarian values and policies fundamental to the ANC's liberal democratic platform and organized themselves in an attempt to sabotage the movement. This anti-democracy stance, which persists today as a direct critique of "freedom" in neoliberal South Africa, hinges on an idealized vision of the rural home and a hierarchical social order crafted in part by the technologies of colonial governance over the past century.In analyzing this conflict, Jason Hickel contributes to broad theoretical debates about liberalism and democratization in the postcolonial world.Democracy as Deathinterrogates the Western ideals of individual freedom and agency from the perspective of those who oppose such ideals, and questions the assumptions underpinning theories of anti-liberal movements. The book argues that both democracy and the political science that attempts to explain resistance to it presuppose a model of personhood native to Western capitalism, which may not operate cross-culturally.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95986-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. A Note on Translation and Transcription
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. INTRODUCTION: The Question of Freedom
    (pp. 1-28)

    The revolution in South Africa that put an end to apartheid is widely celebrated as a triumph of liberal democracy. The images that captured the world’s attention in 1994 tell a set-piece tale: after decades of difficult struggle, the black majority queued up in long, snaking lines to cast their ballots in defiance of the minority white administration, elected Nelson Mandela to the presidency of the country’s first democratic government, and enshrined a constitution so progressive that it remains a model even for western European countries. When most people think about the liberation movement that preceded this moment, they tend...

  8. 1 A Divided Revolution
    (pp. 29-57)

    I sat with Sicelo in a café above Essenwood Road at midmorning on a sunny weekday. From our table by the window we could hear Durban bustling below, and the noise provided welcome relief during the silences that occasionally cut through our conversation. It was an emotionally exhausting exchange, for me almost as much as for him. I had been surprised a few days earlier when he agreed to share his story of growing up in the Natal Midlands in the 1980s and 1990s, when the region was torn apart by civil war. Getting firsthand accounts of that period of...

  9. 2 The Habitus of the Homestead
    (pp. 58-88)

    When migrant workers from Zululand criticize liberal democracy in South Africa, they often illustrate their discontent by contrasting the culture of urban townships—from where the ANC draws the bulk of its support—with the rural homesteads from which they hail. Most of the migrants I interviewed claimed that the ANC was slowly destroying theamasiko(“customs”) andimithetho(“rules”) that order social hierarchies and structure everyday behavior within the homestead.

    In 2009 I had a long conversation with a migrant worker in Eston—I’ll call him Sipho—who made this point in a particularly compelling way. “The ANC has...

  10. 3 Urban Social Engineering and Revolutionary Consciousness
    (pp. 89-116)

    Popular resistance to colonial rule in South Africa had a varied geography. Much of it was mobilized in rural areas, as in the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906, the Sekhukhuneland Revolt of 1958, and the Pondo Revolt of the 1960s.¹ But the mass movement that finally brought the apartheid government to its knees in the 1980s and 1990s was based largely—indeed, almost exclusively—in the country’s urban townships. What accounts for this particular geography of struggle? If IsiZuluspeaking Africans in Natal’s rural areas were so resistant to the values of the National Democratic Revolution, why were their urban counterparts, who...

  11. 4 Neoliberalism as Misfortune
    (pp. 117-145)

    The two preceding chapters explored the operation of colonial power in rural and urban spaces, respectively, illustrating the bifurcated technologies that the state deployed to control and manage the African population. The dual nature of colonial governance in South Africa has long been the subject of academic commentary, most famously in Mahmood Mamdani’s seminal textCitizen and Subject(1996). Mamdani argues that—like elsewhere in colonial Africa—the apartheid state employed two distinct modes of controlling Africans: indirect rule and direct rule. Indirect rule (“decentralized despotism”) costumed colonial hegemony in the form of customary law and was employed to control...

  12. 6 Death in an Age of Wild Ghosts
    (pp. 146-174)

    Many rural migrants view the past two decades of South Africa’s history according to a narrative of decay. They see the project of liberal democracy as a moral hazard, a disease that infects their families and threatens their already-precarious well-being. In the run-up to the democratic transition in 1994, many reacted to this project with violence. But today, while the conditions for violence endure, people respond primarily by ritual means. They invest a considerable amount of money and energy into restoring their homesteads as privileged domains of moral life, shoring up the fragile institutions of respect, taboo, and hierarchy that...

  13. 6 Colonial Nostalgias and the Reinvention of Culture
    (pp. 175-202)

    Thus far I have represented urban township residents as devotedly modern, firmly rooted in the liberal tradition that guided the ANC through much of the twentieth century. But this is not exactly accurate. Returning once again to the Durban-area townships that I discussed at length in chapter 3, this chapter examines a set of interesting and unexpected cultural developments since the democratic transition in 1994. Beleaguered by a neoliberal economy that has rendered social reproduction increasingly precarious, township residents express a curious longing to return to the “traditions” of their ancestors—the very traditions that they once considered backward and...

  14. CONCLUSION: On the Politics of Culture
    (pp. 203-216)

    I opened this book with a set of uncomfortable questions: How do we explain the opposition that so many rural Zulu migrants articulate against the principles of liberal democracy? How can we understand migrants’ assertions that democracy is ruining families and bringing about deadly misfortunes? I have argued that this political stance makes sense according to the logic of a moral order that is rooted in the rural homesteads to which migrants are tied. Homesteads inscribe in their spatial layouts a rigorous system of social differentiation through hierarchies arranged according to principles of opposition and encompassment. These hierarchies are considered...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 217-230)
  16. Glossary of IsiZulu Words
    (pp. 231-232)
  17. References
    (pp. 233-258)
  18. Index
    (pp. 259-263)