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  • on 09.07.2013
  • at 05:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Nelson Mandela is around like never before 0

If one believes media reports, Nelson Mandela is no longer with us. Yet, in more ways than one, he is. In the midst of the frenzy of soundbites and images that now circulate through the space left by his anticipated absence, there is danger that Mandela will be honored, even monumentalized, but not meaningfully remembered.

Part of the problem it seems is that the anti-apartheid struggle to which Mandela contributed so substantially has been recalled as an event, as a passing phase, not a sustained development of a thought that opened onto a concept of the post-apartheid.

Thankfully, Mandela is not yet and not quite comparable to a Mahatma, not at least in the shape that the Indian historian Shahid Amin (1984) recalls in the figure of Gandhi with his saintly aura (in a chapter of the Ranajit Guha edited Subaltern Studies III). Thankfully so too, in part because such a status would not be a product of a subaltern imaginary in South Africa, but of the mediated neoliberal imagery that gives you a quick fix. Rather than seek out Saint Mandela, we would do better to pay tribute to his legacy of dedicated struggle against apartheid by placing his thinking in a longer genealogy of anti-apartheid thought.

In the years to come, the struggle will surely be one that seeks to recuperate Mandela for the project of thinking our way out of the predicaments of apartheid, against the hype and hypocrisy of an apparatus that has reduced every principle and every thought to either ridicule or banality, if not pathos. Against the hollowing out of meaning, we may ask what continuities and disjunctures of thought were enabled by Mandela, so that we are compelled to rethink the concept of the post-apartheid. What might Mandela offer us as a resource for elaborating a concept of the post-apartheid that will also inflect our desire for the postcolonial in ways that exceed apartheid’s construction of difference?

Mandela’s significance can be understood in part through his ability to concede that the concept of the post-apartheid, like the critique of apartheid, could not be entrusted to messianism or figureheads. It required more sustained effort at unraveling the legacies of authoritarianism and racism. The demand for an expanded effort to understand and overcome apartheid flowed from recognition that apartheid represented something that anti-colonial nationalism had not foreseen, let alone imagined possible.

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