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Excerpt from Rethinking the South African Crisis by Gillian Hart

Rethinking the South African CrisisNeoliberalism is the frame through which many critics form an understanding of post-apartheid South Africa, but according to Gillian Hart, it is “inadequate to the task”. In an excerpt from chapter one of her book Rethinking the South African Crisis, shared in the Thinking Africa newsletter, Hart proposes that the concepts of de-nationalisation and re-nationalisation should be used instead to analyse South Africa today.

Hart explains that de-nationalisation refers to the “alliances through which corporate capital defined the terms of reconnection with the global economy” after apartheid sanctions were lifted, “as well as to the forces unleashed in the process”. Re-nationalisation refers to the “rainbow nation” discourse, but also to the ANC’s “latching onto apartheid era immigration legislation premised on control, exclusion and expulsion”, as well as the idea of the National Democratic Revolution.

In Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post Apartheid South Africa (2002a) I argued that local government was emerging as a key site of contractions in the first phase of post-apartheid restructuring (1994 – 2000). Over the decade of the 2000s, I maintain in this book, it has become the key site of contradictions. Broadly speaking, local government has become the impossible terrain of official efforts to manage poverty and deprivation in a racially inflected capitalist society marked by massive inequalities and in creasingly precarious livelihoods for the large majority of the population. Ironically, attempts to render technical that which is inherently political are feeding into and amplifying the proliferation of populist politics.

While local government contradic tions have their own specificities, they cannot be understood simply in local terms. ‘Neoliberalism’ – understood as a class project and manifestation of global economic forces, as well as a rationality of rule – has become the dominant frame for many critical understandings of post-apartheid South Africa, but it is inadequate to the task. In this book I suggest that the turbulent, shifting forces taking shape in the arenas of everyday life need to be situated in relation to simultaneous practices and processes of de-nationalisation and re-nationalisation. Deeply in tension with each other, de-nationalisation and re-nationalisation enable new angles of understanding the transition from apartheid.

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