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Rumours of War: Fear, Violence and the Politics of Belonging in Late Apartheid South Africa

Applicant Rueedi Franziska
Number 186639
Funding scheme Return CH Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Historisches Seminar Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.05.2020 - 31.10.2021
Approved amount 133'651.00
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Keywords (18)

South Africa ; collective action; migration; KwaZulu/Natal; collective identity; hostels; networks; African National Congress; transition period; cultural memory; political violence; speech; traditional authority; emotions; rumour; Pretoria - Witwatersrand - Vereeniging; Inkatha Freedom Party; subjectivity

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Basierend auf rund sechzig Interviews und einer Vielfalt an Archivquellen werden in diesem Projekt die Rolle von Sprache und Emotionen in gewalttätigen Konflikten in den frühen 1990er Jahren in Südafrika untersucht. Das Projekt untersucht die Frage, was Menschen zu gewalttätigen Aktionen mobilisiert hat, und welche Bedeutungen und Formen die Gewalt annahm.
Lay summary

In diesem Projekt wird die Rolle von Sprache und Emotionen in gewalttätigen Konflikten während des letzten Jahrzehnts der Herrschaft der weißen Minderheit in Südafrika untersucht. Im Zentrum des Projekts stehen die Erfahrungen von Gemeinschaften, die unter dem Banner des African National Congress (ANC) und der Zulu-Nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) an der eskalierenden Gewalt beteiligt waren. Geografisch konzentriert sich das Projekt auf den Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging-Komplex (PWV), der heutigen Provinz Gauteng. Im Fokus des Projekts stehen die Verbindungen dieser Region mit KwaZulu und Natal, die zusammen mit dem PWV das Epizentrum der Gewalt waren. Es wird untersucht, wie Netzwerke von Migration, Kommunikation und Wissen sowie überregionale Loyalität (ukhonza), die in Systemen traditioneller Autorität und Hierarchie verwurzelt sind, die beiden Regionen zeitlich und räumlich miteinander verbanden und als „Vehikel für den Transport von Konflikten“ dienten.

Basierend auf rund sechzig Interviews mit Konfliktteilnehmern und einer Vielzahl von Archivquellen werden die Bedeutungen und Formen von Gewalt sowie die Frage untersucht, was Menschen zu gewalttätigen Aktionen mobilisiert hat. Die Beziehungen zwischen Sprache, Emotion und Gewalt stehen im Mittelpunkt der Analyse, aufkommende gewalttätige Subjektivitäten werden an der Schnittstelle zwischen alltäglichen und aussergewöhnlichen Momenten kollektiven Handelns verortet. Eine Analyse von Propaganda, Gerüchten und anderen Formen der Sprache enthüllt die Zusammenhänge zwischen Überzeugungen, Vorurteilen und Ängsten und der Entstehung von Kategorien von Insidern und Outsidern. Das Projekt zeigt auf, wie die Befürchtung, vertrieben oder angegriffen zu werden, präventive Gewalt und Gegengewalt schürten. 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 15.04.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
The hostel wars in apartheid South Africa: rumour, violence and the discourse of victimhood
Rueedi Franziska (2020), The hostel wars in apartheid South Africa: rumour, violence and the discourse of victimhood, in Social Identities, 26(6), 756-773.
‘Our Bushes Are the Houses’: People’s War and the Underground during the Insurrectionary Period in the Vaal Triangle, South Africa
Rueedi Franziska (2020), ‘Our Bushes Are the Houses’: People’s War and the Underground during the Insurrectionary Period in the Vaal Triangle, South Africa, in Journal of Southern African Studies, 46(4), 615-633.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
History from Below: Between Populism and Democratisation Poster Everyday Life and Political Violence in South Africa 18.10.2021 Bad Homburg, Germany Rueedi Franziska;
Geschichtskontor Individual talk Rumour and the Everyday in South Africa, c.1990–1994 12.10.2021 Zürich, Switzerland Rueedi Franziska;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Der Traum von Freiheit Geschichte der Gegenwart International 2021
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Freedom and the Struggle for Dignity in South Africa Africa is a Country International 2021

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
161682 Uncertain Times: The Role of Rumour in Political Violence and Conflict during the Transition Period in South Africa, c.1990 - 1994 01.01.2016 Early Postdoc.Mobility
174427 Amahem-hem: Rumour and the Social Production of Violent Conflict during the Transition Period in South Africa, c.1985 - 1994 01.03.2018 Advanced Postdoc.Mobility

Abstract

This project focuses on the role of speech and emotion in violent conflict during the final decade of white minority rule in South Africa. At the centre of the project are the lived experiences of communities who were involved in the escalating violence between Charterist groups under the banner of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Geographically, the project focuses on the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging (PWV) complex of present-day Gauteng, with particular attention being paid to the Vaal Triangle, the East Rand (Ekurhuleni), Alexandra and Soweto. While the PWV is at the centre of the project, the connections between this region and KwaZulu and Natal, which together with the PWV formed the epicentre of violence, are a key focus of this project. The project explores how networks of migration, communication and knowledge, and cross-regional allegiance (ukhonza), rooted in systems of traditional authority and hierarchy, connected the two regions across time and space and served as a ‘vehicle for the transportation of conflict’. Scholarship on the transition period in South Africa has produced rich analyses of the roots and causes of conflict. Violence, however, has often been treated as either epiphenomenal or as an instrument of power to achieve political hegemony and its affective, subjective, enunciative, performative, moral and embodied aspects have been demoted in analysis. Based on approximately sixty life history interviews with participants in the conflict and a wide range of archival records, this project examines the meanings and forms of violence and interrogates what mobilised people into violent action. Placing the relationships between speech, emotion and violence at the centre of analysis locates emerging violent subjectivities at the intersection of the everyday and spectacular moments of collective action. An analysis of propaganda, rumours and other forms of speech exposes the links between beliefs, prejudices and fears and the crystallisation of categories of insiders and outsiders. As this research demonstrates, the discourse of being ‘under attack’ significantly shaped the way people understood the conflict and the responses they deemed necessary and legitimate. This approach allows for three key interventions. Firstly, by examining the complex interplay between speech (rumours, propaganda, myths, fake news, etc.) and emotion (anxiety, suspicion, fear, exhilaration, intimacy), the project takes seriously the subjectivity of violence and contributes towards an understanding of how violence became ‘thinkable’ and ‘doable’. It therefore complicates instrumentalist analyses that regard violence as purely physical and as a mere means to achieve political hegemony. Secondly, by examining the role of cultural memory in creating prejudices, fears and expectations of violence, the project situates the violence of the transition period within the longer durée of conflict and change. Thirdly, by considering violence as a ‘dynamic process’ that connected different regions across time and space, the project contributes towards an understanding of the geography of violence. It provides new insights into the rural-urban nexus and the way rural allegiance to Zulu traditional authorities, namely iSilo (the king), the amakhosi (chiefs) and the izinduna (headmen) played itself out in the urban areas.
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