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ON 19-20 JANUARY 2017, Prof Peter Vale, director of JIAS, and Ronit Frenkel, associate professor in the Faculty of Humanities at UJ, hosted a transdisciplinary conference on ‘South Africa after Marikana’. The conference was held at JIAS in Westdene, Johannesburg. Participation was by invitation only.

Ronit Frenkel commented as follows on the rationale behind the conference, and the framework for the discussions:

‘We invited scholars focusing on various aspects of South Africa after Marikana from literature to politics, sociology to history, cultural formations to philosophical configurations, to the two-day conference devoted to understanding South Africa through a variety of disciplinary lenses.
SA on cusp of new shift

‘The South Africa of the present is on the cusp of another major shift. Xenophobic violence, service delivery protests, new versions of student activism, racialised discourse, predatory capitalism, waning support for the ANC, and extraordinary levels of violence and poverty mark a country which is also circumscribed by a post-liberation imaginary that things can be fought over and changed.

‘New undercurrents are flowing through South African cultural formations, with the very tenets of the negotiated settlement for a new South Africa being questioned as a born-free generation finds its voice, red berets form a vocal opposition to government hegemonies, and trust in post-apartheid institutions wane.

‘While South Africa may not have fulfilled the dreams of a post-independence good life for all, a post-liberation belief in the ability to change things remains and seems to be taking on new forms in the present: from the use of excrement as political protest to the EFF’s violent removal from parliament, the #Rhodesmustfall movement, the #Open Stellenbosch movement and the (trans)national #Feesmustfall movement, escalating corruption scandals and constitutional crises, the transcendent ideologies of the struggle era past are changing in this new context of escalating risk post-Marikana.

The question is, then, what kinds of narratives are shaping South Africa post-2012 after the first major government-involved massacre after liberation irrevocably shifted the terms of South African life.

Shifting global signifier

‘These changing ideas are also tied to South Africa as a shifting global signifier. Post-1994, South Africa lost its image as a signifier of racial oppression and became one of how suffering and oppression could be overcome, partially through a transnational circulation of cultural production and reception dominated by certain kinds of narratives (such the Rainbow Nation). But this image of South Africa shifted fundamentally again after the Marikana massacre; coupled with changes in South African public cultures, a more sinister narrative is ascending in the global imaginary, and South African politics is recalibrating internally.

‘What terms and narratives do we currently have that can adequately make sense of this shifting context where old nomenclature is inadequate? Can we think through understandings and terms that reflect the nuances of the present better? The transdisciplinary discussions at this event were aimed at investigating these issues in an attempt to expand our understanding of the present.’

Participants included Achille Mbembe, Sarah Nuttall, Thad Metz, Michael Neocosmos, Pamila Gupta, Jacob Dlamini, Liz Gunner, Imraan Coovadia, Helene Straus, Ashraf Jamal, Andy Carolin, Keyan Tomaselli, Khwezi Mhkize, Andrea Spain, Tim Wright, Melissa Myambo, Kirk Sides, Johnny Semelani, Peter Vale and Ronit Frenkel.

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