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Homelands as frontiers: apartheid's loose ends - an introduction

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2015
Author Jensen Steffen, Zenker Olaf,
Project Land restitution and the moral modernity of the new South African state
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Southern African Studies
Volume (Issue) 41(5)
Page(s) 937 - 952
Title of proceedings Journal of Southern African Studies


In this Introduction we discuss the apparent erasure of the homelands from the social imagination of post-apartheid South Africa. We ask what has become of the homelands and reflect on the lives of those millions that still inhabit former homeland areas. In order to explore this, we tentatively evoke and develop the terms ‘frontier’ and ‘the loose ends of apartheid’. We understand the concept of the frontier not as margin or the end; rather the homelands as frontier should be understood not as a stage of the past, but as intense zones of contestation, where the future of post-apartheid South Africa will, in part, be determined. ‘Loose ends’ refers to the many unresolved questions that are being negotiated in these zones of contestation. This Introduction falls into three parts. First, through a brief historical analysis, we depart from what we, drawing on Cherryl Walker, call the master narrative of loss and restoration, in which ‘homelands’ signalled loss and ‘post-apartheid’ a restoration. Secondly, we turn to some of the policy initiatives taken to erase the homeland past, which, ironically, often reproduced them. Third, through the different contributions, we account for the great variety of life and loose ends in the homelands today. It is our contention that only through addressing the loose ends in their complexity and ambiguity can we hope to address the legacies of the homelands in a way that may pave the way to different futures.