Philippe Guillaume, Nicolas PÖÂ©jout, AurÖÂ©lia Wa Kabwe-Segatti, eds. L'Afrique du Sud dix ans aprÖÂ¨s, transition accomplie? Paris and Johannesburg: Karthala/IFAS, 2004. 361 pp. EUR 28.00 (paper), ISBN 978-2-84586-529-7.
Reviewed by Estienne Rodary (Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement, Orleans, France)
Published on H-SAfrica (March, 2006)
Since the mid-1990s, the so-called transition has constituted a central question in South African studies. It recently became more important as we celebrated the first decade of the democratization in South Africa. The book coordinated by Philippe Guillaume, Nicolas Péjout and Aurelia Wa Kabwe-Segatti, L'Afrique du Sud dix ans après, transition accomplie ? (South Africa Ten Years Later: Transition Accomplished?), is explicitly positioned in this research field. It presents a set of contributions which both assess the difficulties faced by the "transition" problematic when used in social transformation, and offer interesting answers.
To speak about transition assumes knowledge of both where one is coming from and going to. In the South African case, the origin of transition is now correctly documented. All the articles in the book appreciate the apartheid period as necessary context for understanding contemporary social dynamics. But the question of knowing in what direction South Africa is moving is definitely more complex. Furthermore, evaluating whether this transition has been achieved, as suggested in the title, proves to be a perilous exercise.
The editors' approach to this difficulty is explicit in their introduction, which insists that history is an important factor in political and social contemporary problems, and points out the fact that social processes always carry innovation. Thus, the work is framed in an "innovation/continuity" dialectic, which--as we will see--proves to be fundamental to understand ongoing South African social dynamics. With this stance, the authors release themselves from old theories, in particular Marxist analyses that dominated apartheid studies some years ago, and development theories that more recently accompanied a number of political and cultural studies on this country. According to the editors, the objective of the book is to "normalize" the view on South Africa. This normalization is done through methodological approaches, and echoes the "standardization" of South Africa, as the country moves away from the exceptionality of the apartheid system and the so-called miracle of Nelson Mandela's era.
Nevertheless, the tandem "transition/normalization" does not erase all the ambiguities of previous theories. What does it mean to standardize and normalize South Africa? Even if the problem is not articulated in formal terms in the book, one can identify two sets of question brought by such a problematic. The first should evaluate the model towards which South Africa is being "normalized," and in particular whether this normalization must be compared to "African" or "global" trajectories. The second question, more fundamental and subsumed under the former, relates to the desegregation of South Africa. In other words, the central problem of the book is to assess whether the transition from apartheid to a liberal political and economic system is likely to build new forms of social cohesion, despite past or future segregation.
The book offers very rich and documented data on South Africa (a glossary, a short biography of ANC politicians, a list of relevant Internet sites, maps, statistics, etc.). It is organized in four parts, all dealing with dynamic of reconfiguration but from different angles: power, territories, knowledge, identities. This structure enables the book to address the complexity of the transformations that currently affect South African society.
The question of normalization implicitly raises the question of comparing South Africa's trajectory with that of its African neighbors. Both the segregationist heritage and the political agreement that led to the first elections in 1994, limiting the possibilities of economic reconfiguration (see for example the land reforms described by Ward Anseeuw), lead critical observers to predict a difficult future for Pretoria, following Zimbabwean recent history that became a negative "ideal-type" in that matter. With this kind of reasoning, the article by Marianne Severin and Pierre Aycard on the new South African elite, which focuses on corruption, seems rather more interested in finding supposed African political "characters" than in correctly evaluating the actual level of corruption in South Africa (which is one of the lowest in Africa). Nevertheless, one cannot say that the whole book suffers from an exaggerated commitment to comparative Afro-pessimism. On the contrary, a closer look at the legacy of apartheid would undoubtedly have deepened the problematic of apartheid as "normal" system of African colonialism and would therefore have enriched the "innovation/continuity" theme.
But the work presented here concentrates more on connections between the new South Africa and the so-called liberal economic system spreading at the global scale. The aim is clear when Nicolas Péjout documents the potential drift of the new South African democracy towards a state-controlled society through the use of new technologies. It is also manifest when Marianne Morange notes that the significant development of social housing in South Africa presents obvious connections with the great building programs initiated in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s by focusing on homeownership and by neglecting coordinated urban development policies. Ward Anseeuw shows that the delays in the South African land reform process are not only related to the political and economic agreements of the end of apartheid, but also to agricultural liberalization, which can hardly be combined with the multiplication of peasant farming and, to the contrary, perpetuates existing big commercial farms. The public policies in favor of linguistic diversity described by Michel Lafon also come up against this contradiction between the will to correct previous inequalities and an economic logic of efficiency in a context of globalization. The structural importance of English, which constitutes a tool for linguistic exchange, but also an element of discrimination when only 38 percent of South African actually speak this language, shows the proximity between old laws imposing Afrikaans as national language and the rationalization that takes place with the current diffusion of English.
In the context of a "globalization" of South Africa, the abovementioned articles are obviously important. One can nevertheless wonder why the question of the inscription of South African society within a globalized liberal framework tackles only indirectly the role of economic structures and of social movements. On this point, the approaches in the book are particularly poor. Marianne Severin and Pierre Aycard's article on the South African elite is certainly right to give a large place to ANC leaders, but it would have been interesting to look at transnational and national industrial groups since they definitely carry weight in public policies. Aurelia Wa Kabwe-Segatti's piece shows well, if negatively, how the weight of the economic sector (especially mines and agriculture) led the ANC government to basically extend the immigration policies of the National Party with only minor changes. Because of this kind of situation, the studies carried out by Michel Brookes and Timothy Hinks on employment access seem to be confined to quite anecdotal data compared to the huge challenge of economic equality. The persistent inequalities between recruitment of "blacks" and "coloreds" on the one hand and "whites" on the other hand is obviously a fact to document, but one could expect a sharper approach to explanatory factors, in particular through the problem of access to education (which merits only a conclusive remark in the article).
More attention both to the structural effects of economic imbalance and the contemporary focus on liberal solutions would have facilitated the assessment of the dilemma facing contemporary South Africa on its way out from the bifurcated state: that is, the potential of economic and political liberalization to produce other types of segregation. Admittedly these new forms of exclusion are less systematic than those that existed at the time of apartheid, but they are no less real and deserve great attention precisely because South Africa still is in a transitional state, with its shifting social boundaries a political issue. Thus, the question of the social acceptance of these new forms of exclusion is fundamental. It is fundamental for South Africa itself, but it is important more generally as a historical example informing other situations. As pointed out by Donald Moerdijk, "Shall the country that brought itself into the most segregationist system, institutionalized in apartheid, be the first to emerge from it, whereas segregation spreads on a worldwide scale?" (p. 174).
It is necessary to go to the core of this book to find partial answers to these questions. If the specific approach of several articles misses the objective of assessing social transformations in all their complexity, the collection as a whole nevertheless offers tentative steps toward a real political anthropology of social change in South Africa. Furthermore, some contributions explicitly deal with this issue. Donald Moerdijk's contribution paints the contours of South African literature departing from its historical borders and building a national conscience that transcends both "African" culture and "Western" models. It shows thus that it is necessary to overcome the alternative between "African-ity" and modernity to understand South African "reconciliation," in spite of the segregation that the standardization process seems likely to impose. Also, Judith Hayem, while looking at the question of AIDS, sheds fundamental light on these problems. She describes how the political and social treatment of the disease proceeds from two different logics. On the one hand, she identifies a temporal logic of social transformation, in the sense that government reluctance to deal with AIDS question (exemplified by Thabo Mbeki questioning the link between HIV and AIDS) must be replaced in a post-apartheid context in which society was not ready to hear speeches heralding new catastrophes. A reading limited to a rational understanding of AIDS medical treatment misses the specific dimensions of the South African context. On the other hand, the article exposes the links between AIDS and apartheid, not only in their obvious violence and injustice, but also as elements of mobilization for South African civil society, finding in the mobilization against AIDS methods of resistance dating back to the struggle against the racist regime. No fated patterns in this connection, but a clear demonstration of South African society's own resources at work, in which the innovation/continuity dialectic finally makes it possible to assess the historicity of this singular country.
. See for example Grace Davie, "Review of Allister Sparks, Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa," H-SAfrica, H-Net Reviews, March 2005. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=315981128698657.
. David Chidester, Philip Dexter and James Wilmot, eds., What Holds Us Together: Social Cohesion in South Africa (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2003).
. South Africa is ranked third in Africa in the last Transparency International report on corruption. See http://www.transparency.org.
. Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).
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Estienne Rodary. Review of Guillaume, Philippe; PÖÂ©jout, Nicolas; Kabwe-Segatti, AurÖÂ©lia Wa, eds., L'Afrique du Sud dix ans aprÖÂ¨s, transition accomplie?.
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