Democracy & Sabotage

Hickel, Jason, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Bashkow, Ira, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Mentore, George, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Miller, Joseph, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the historical genesis and cultural underpinnings of the civil warfare that erupted in KwaZulu-Natal province during the decade prior to South Africa's democratic transition in 1994. The conflict began as antagonism between rural Zulus and urban Zulus in the labor movement, as rural migrants who were affiliated with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) sought to sabotage the revolution that was being led by the urban, township-based African National Congress (ANC) and its affiliated trade unions. This dissertation argues that rural Zulu vigilantes were motivated by a deep aversion to the rights-based democratic project of the ANC, which they regarded as an affront to the moral values of respect and hierarchy so crucial to their conceptions of collective well-being. Today, many rural Zulus continue to perceive "democracy" as culturally retrograde: it undoes the ritual work of differentiating persons and dismantles the structures of encompassment that organize kinship. By equalizing all individuals across boundaries of gender and generation, "democracy" flattens the re/productive differences essential to fertility and reduces the world to a primordial state of sterile sameness. Taking a historical approach, this dissertation contends that the seeds of the IFP/ANC conflict were sown largely by the "Native Administration" policies of late colonialism, which entrenched deep distinctions between rural and urban areas and governed each with different techniques. In rural areas, Africans were governed through a system of indirect rule that bolstered patriarchal authority in hierarchical homesteads under a codified form of "customary law." In urban areas, by contrast, Africans were governed through planned townships intended to enforce docility through modernist ii social engineering of the nuclear family. This bifurcated strategy of colonial rule created the conditions for the emergence of two radically disparate moral orders, which came into dramatic conflict toward the end of apartheid. This dissertation explores how, in a context of endemic poverty and joblessness, rural Zulus seek to mitigate the infertility induced by "democracy" through elaborate sacrificial rituals intended to heal their homesteads. These ceremonies reorganize kinship and reassert the principles of taboo and respect that underwrite social hierarchy as a way of confronting the abjection that defines life in neoliberal South Africa.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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