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Citation Information

Type Journal Article - South African history online
Title Ethnicity in Post-Apartheid Discourse: Deconstructing South Africa’s Racial Narrative by Joshua Richman
Author(s)
URL http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/ethnicity-post-apartheid-discourse-deconstructing-south-africa​s-racial-narrative-joshua-ric
Abstract
This paper addresses the falsity of the cultural discourse that stresses ethnicity’s salience in post-apartheid South African conflict. It challenges constructivist research and its tendency to be satisfied with simply identifying ethnicity as a social construct. While this interpretation is correct, such readings often continue to approach ethnicity as a viable, albeit socially manufactured cause of violence. To this end, it builds on the structuralist origins of constructivist work by updating the methodology to a post-structural acknowledgement of discourse’s inability to express reality. Through drawing on Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard, it articulates a model that explains the divergence between South Africa’s cultural acceptance of continuing ethnic conflict and empirical evidence suggesting otherwise. It considers the process through which these myths are generated, engaging with examples of cultural contributions to a hyperreal framework.

This essay refutes the thesis that enduring conflict in South Africa can be explained in ethnic terms. Responding to Rogers Brubaker’s observation that recent constructivist research “has grown complacent with success”, this paper answers his call to specify “how ethnicity is constructed” (2002: 175). As such, I expand on Jennifer Todd’s Bourdieusian argument that, although not innate, ethnic identity is a powerful social construct accepted by the public[1]. Recognising her appeal to French structuralist thought as a rare acknowledgement of the movement’s influence over recent constructivist approaches to ethnic identity, the first part of my essay outlines a theoretical model based on the post-structuralist work of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard. Rather than explaining conflict as a natural manifestation of ethnic tension, I will reconcile Barthes’ mistrust of mass culture with Baudrillardian hyperreality in order to deconstruct the misnomer that South Africa’s conflict is a result of ethnicity. Instead, I will draw on evidence that demonstrates such conflict is only perceived as ethnic, incorporating Helen Moffett’s analysis that downplays ethnicity’s salience in sexual violence. My final section considers the process through which such myths are generated. Specifically, I will analyse the language of Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” speech alongside two South African novels that depict black-on-white violence: Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother (1998) and J M Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999). Ultimately, I will show how the cumulative output of post-apartheid rhetoric has constructed a false narrative that has nevertheless been absorbed into South Africa’s cultural lexis.
This paper addresses the falsity of the cultural discourse that stresses ethnicity’s salience in post-apartheid South African conflict. It challenges constructivist research and its tendency to be satisfied with simply identifying ethnicity as a social construct. While this interpretation is correct, such readings often continue to approach ethnicity as a viable, albeit socially manufactured cause of violence. To this end, it builds on the structuralist origins of constructivist work by updating the methodology to a post-structural acknowledgement of discourse’s inability to express reality. Through drawing on Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard, it articulates a model that explains the divergence between South Africa’s cultural acceptance of continuing ethnic conflict and empirical evidence suggesting otherwise. It considers the process through which these myths are generated, engaging with examples of cultural contributions to a hyperreal framework. - See more at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/ethnicity-post-apartheid-discourse-deconstructing-south-africa’s-racial-narrative-joshua-ric#sthash.Wf3tUGef.dpuf

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