Nostalgia after Apartheid
Disillusionment, Youth, and Democracy in South Africa
- AAA/SfAA Margaret Mead Award
In this engaging book, Amber Reed provides a new perspective on South Africa’s democracy by exploring Black residents’ nostalgia for life during apartheid in the rural Eastern Cape. Reed looks at a surprising phenomenon encountered in the post-apartheid nation: despite the Department of Education mandating curricula meant to teach values of civic responsibility and liberal democracy, those who are actually responsible for teaching this material (and the students taking it) often resist what they see as the imposition of “white” values. These teachers and students do not see South African democracy as a type of freedom, but rather as destructive of their own “African culture”—whereas apartheid, at least ostensibly, allowed for cultural expression in the former rural homelands. In the Eastern Cape, Reed observes, resistance to democracy occurs alongside nostalgia for apartheid among the very citizens who were most disenfranchised by the late racist, authoritarian regime. Examining a rural town in the former Transkei homeland and the urban offices of the Sonke Gender Justice Network in Cape Town, Reed argues that nostalgic memories of a time when African culture was not under attack, combined with the socioeconomic failures of the post-apartheid state, set the stage for the current political ambivalence in South Africa. Beyond simply being a case study, however, Nostalgia after Apartheid shows how, in a global context in which nationalism and authoritarianism continue to rise, the threat posed to democracy in South Africa has far wider implications for thinking about enactments of democracy.
Nostalgia after Apartheid offers a unique approach to understanding how the attempted post-apartheid reforms have failed rural Black South Africans, and how this failure has led to a nostalgia for the very conditions that once oppressed them. It will interest scholars of African studies, postcolonial studies, anthropology, and education, as well as general readers interested in South African history and politics.
“Amber Reed’s Nostalgia after Apartheid contributes to important deliberations about a longing for a past that was without doubt oppressive and discriminatory. Yet there is something about ‘order’ and ‘tradition’ that generates nostalgia, and Reed is able to convey this well through her ethnographic work.” —Monique Marks, author of Transforming the Robocops
"In this fascinating and beautifully written ethnography on rural life in post-apartheid South Africa, Amber Reed compellingly reveals how the transition from apartheid to liberal democracy has failed the rural youth who now regard the Mandela miracle of 1994 as a betrayal and have developed a bizarre sense of nostalgia for life under apartheid. Nostalgia after Apartheid delivers a significant contribution to the anthropology of southern Africa and to the understanding of the social, cultural, and political meanings of the post-apartheid transition in South Africa." —Leslie J. Bank, co-editor of Migrant Labour After Apartheid
"In this well-researched monograph, Amber Reed assesses the effectiveness of both nongovernmental and state-sponsored curricular efforts to educate Black youth on the benefits of liberal democracy, gender equality, and human rights." —Choice
"Amber Reed’s Nostalgia After Apartheid examines how the failings of democracy in South Africa are articulated through critiques of cultural liberalism and manifested in debates over culture and tradition. In this nuanced, rigorously researched ethnography, Reed develops a complex set of interlocking arguments that are focused on South Africa but relevant elsewhere." —Anthropology and Education Quarterly
"An ethnography that is theoretically informed and eminently teachable." —American Anthropologist