"Nation Under Siege from Foreigners": Exploring Notions of Belonging and Exclusion in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Kathryn PILLAY , University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
South Africa finally became a democratic country in April 1994 after the first ‘free and fair’ general elections took place. A commitment was made by the ANC led government to ‘non-racialism’ based on a Constitution which was inclusive of all the ‘races’, accepting shared citizenship. In this paper I contend that even though the democratic state acknowledges South Africans of Indian descent as part of the national discourse, and continually affirms ‘their’ part in the national democratic revolution, it nevertheless still perpetuates the notion of essential ‘differences’ between ‘peoples’ which originated in colonialism, was entrenched further after the formation of the Union, and legitimised through various policies during apartheid. Even though the Population Registration Act (PRA) was repealed, the racial categories that were reproduced and legitimised by the Act still exist. ‘Race’ then continues to be an axis around which South African society revolves. I argue that the continuation of ‘race’ classification through legislated and bureaucratic guises perpetuate racialisation and ‘race thinking’, which is evident in self-perceptions and the perceptions of ‘others’. The argument is demonstrated by empirically examining how South Africans of Indian descent are homogenised and labeled as a separate and distinct group, and in addition how they are perceived as ‘a people’ or ‘community’ with fixed and essentialised identities and ultimately ‘belonging’ to another country, to which they could easily ‘return’, as evidenced by calls to ‘go home’ echoed at various points in time during the post-1994 democratic era. Empirical evidence will be provided to reveal how, as a result of this perpetuation of difference based on ‘race’, similar processes of othering and anti-‘Indian’ sentiment, reminiscent of the political eras prior to democracy, persist in public and popular discourse in contemporary South African society, and is exposed at various junctures.