Rethinking the South African Crisis
Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony

Gillian Hart

An incisive study of the ongoing social, political, and economic struggles in post-apartheid South Africa


"In the imagination of many, Mandela’s South Africa sits between nostalgia and fantasy, a place where Hollywood – and the ANC – has painted a story of happily ever after. Peeling away the veneer, Gill Hart brings her considerable scholarly talents, and a relentless curiosity, to understand today’s South Africa. Not only is it required reading, it’s very readable. Dive into this book, and you’ll find pictures, conversations, clippings and memoir, all in the service of explaining what South Africa is now and, using cutting edge theory, what it might become. Better yet, Rethinking the South African Crisis shows how African theory can matter to the rest of the world. It’s a terrific analytical model for pulling apart nationalism in its neoliberal forms, for understanding what happens when people get together and chant under the sign of Nike: USA! USA! USA!"
—Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing

“A book of this calibre recasts how we think about what has been happening in South Africa. Hart has conjured an exceptional work that might just help the left begin figuring out how to stop spinning its wheels.”
—Hein Marais, author of South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change

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Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has become an extreme yet unexceptional embodiment of forces at play in many other regions of the world: intensifying inequality alongside “wageless life,” proliferating forms of protest and populist politics that move in different directions, and official efforts at containment ranging from liberal interventions targeting specific populations to increasingly common police brutality.

Rethinking the South African Crisis revisits long-standing debates to shed new light on the transition from apartheid. Drawing on nearly twenty years of ethnographic research, Hart argues that local government has become the key site of contradictions. Local practices, conflicts, and struggles in the arenas of everyday life feed into and are shaped by simultaneous processes of de-nationalization and re-nationalization. Together they are key to understanding the erosion of African National Congress hegemony and the proliferation of populist politics.

This book provides an innovative analysis of the ongoing, unstable, and unresolved crisis in South Africa today. It also suggests how Antonio Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution, adapted and translated for present circumstances with the help of philosopher and liberation activist Frantz Fanon, can do useful analytical and political work in South Africa and beyond.

Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation

Page count: 280
5 b&w photos, 1 map
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Gillian Hart is a professor of geography and cochair of Development Studies, University of California, Berkeley, and Honorary Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. She is the author of Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa and coeditor of Gramsci: Space, Nature, Politics.