n African Journal on Conflict Resolution - The radical imagination of peace : belonging and violence in South Africa's past and future

Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1562-6997


Conceptions of race and belonging are central both to the violence of South Africa's past, and the relative peace of South Africa's present. In the colonial world the question of belonging was related to the distinction between Settler and Native, a distinction that came to be racialised as settlers became natives, and natives became foreigners. If there was an enduring question that split the anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, then this was it: what would be the fate of the white settlers in a South Africa without apartheid: where would they belong? This paper argues, through a discussion of two shifts in the conception of belonging in South African political thought, that if South Africa represents a peaceful transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, then it was the answer to the question of 'who belonged' that probably swayed the forces of social change in one direction, rather than another.

The history of South Africa, viewed from inside and outside, is marked by the question of how race has facilitated domination. I want in this paper to speak about Race in South Africa and its connection to violence and peace. But we cannot talk about peace processes without talking about violent processes first. Solutions are defined by their problems. But I will talk about the problem not by recounting the thousands who died resisting apartheid, or the thousands who died defending apartheid, or the hundreds of thousands who were annihilated by the colonial settlers of British, Dutch and French ancestry. Nor of hundreds of thousands whose lives were intangibly violated by the experience of forced land removals, of disrupted and denied futures, or of families dislocated by the experience of migrant labour. Or of the legions of anonymous fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, whose experiences and trauma could not be recounted at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where we were battered by gut-wrenching stories and choked by graphic accounts of sensational violence, a violence that resists comprehension. But this violence, the grisly gore of it, can by its sheer veracity, its sheer scale, its sheer brutality, become an object of awe in and of itself. Because from where we stand, its mere existence, its mere translation from thought into deed astounds us. I want therefore to resist the temptation to recount the details of this manifest violence because it might be more useful to think about the mundane than the sensational. It is often in the mundane, or as Hannah Arendt found, in the banal, that violence, and perhaps peace, resides. I want therefore to connect the innocent word and the violent deed into a single economy of meaning to make some of the violence intelligible and some of the peace intelligible. And I want to do that, by telling two tales about race and belonging in South Africa.
Conceptions of belonging are both central to the violence of South Africa's past, and the relative peace of South Africa's present. Who belonged? Who had a right to belong? In the colonial world the question of belonging was related to the distinction between Native and Settler, as the noted Ugandan scholar, Mahmood Mamdani, has observed when he asked: 'When does the Settler become a Native?' (Mamdani 1996)

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