The Question of Freedom: Post-Emancipation South Africa in a Neoliberal Age

Book Section (Chapter)

The history of struggle which culminated in South Africa’s political transition in the early 90s is well known. Yet its official and relatively untroubled face rests on an exquisite contradiction, namely the subsumption of the very political ideals for which people fought during the course of more than four decades in the very form of liberal constitutional democracy itself, moreover, under the sign of neoliberalism. Thus whatever the protections afforded or implied by the constitution—a constitution which by all accounts is the envy of the world for its high level of inclusivity—-many such critical aspects of this document remain unrealizable. To be sure South Africa is not unique in its limited capacity to translate political ideals into concretely experienced outcomes. Yet, coming to freedom so belatedly, South Africa has all too clearly shown the limits of emancipation under late capitalism—-its postcolonial status so deferred that it made the contradictions of its coming into being all the more visible. Imagine then the very concrete paradoxes that follow from a notion of political struggle conceived as radical revolution; whose central charter had long promised the nationalization of everything—-the seizure of land from a landed elite, in sum, the reclaiming of the Commons—but whose achievement came after "actually existing socialism." This new world order had made revolutions and transitions no longer thinkable, speakable, or practicable. It is against the backdrop of such transformations that South African emancipation is conceived in this essay.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Makhulu, A-M

Cited Editors

  • Greenhouse, CJ

Published Date

  • 2010

Book Title

  • Ethnographies of Neoliberalism

Start / End Page

  • 131 - 145

Published By

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 0812241924