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The book is about youth fighting for freedom and a state's retaliation. It is about the young not consenting to the kind of adulthood on offer under a particular political dispensation. It is about the character of revolt under conditions of tight surveillance. It is about negative forms of governance of children and about the violence of the state. It is about government-sanctioned cruelty. It is about the labour of youth in the work of war and about their reach for ethics despite experiences of pain and betrayal. It is, in part, about the attempts by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ( ... More
The book is about youth fighting for freedom and a state's retaliation. It is about the young not consenting to the kind of adulthood on offer under a particular political dispensation. It is about the character of revolt under conditions of tight surveillance. It is about negative forms of governance of children and about the violence of the state. It is about government-sanctioned cruelty. It is about the labour of youth in the work of war and about their reach for ethics despite experiences of pain and betrayal. It is, in part, about the attempts by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (henceforth, the Commission or the TRC) to document the past and its shortcomings in recording the role of the young and in securing a fair dispensation for them. Finally, it is a description of the relationships between young men of Zwelethemba, a suburb of Worcester in the Western Cape, who were brought together as local leaders during the struggle, who led the fight together, and who, in retrospect, examined it microscopically once it had ended. It represents an anthropology that takes on the intimacies of warfare. I set out to do an ethnographic study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an institution. My focus was on learning more about the part the young had played in securing the end of oppression. I sought to discover from the Commission's deliberations more about young activists’ commitment over time, their political consciousness, their development, their ethics, their actions and the consequences of their involvement. I was interested in the character of urban conflict and the relationships between commanders and foot soldiers (or leaders and protesters) and whether those ties held up over time and whether they were forged around rhetoric, contact, action, accountability, or responsibility. I was interested in a particular layer of leadership among the young - those recognized within communities as local leaders. I anticipated that the Commission would document the activities of those who, while still at school, had begun to protest against their oppressors and who, through processes of self-selection and induction, had become leaders. My ambition in this ethnography was to account for the fullness of some young men's experiences in standing against the apartheid state to the extent that that is possible and that I am able to achieve it within the loose confines of the discipline of anthropology. After the first few months of acting like a peripatetic groupie of the Commission, it became clear to me that its deliberations were not plumbing the experiences of young activists and that there was more to be learned through a different kind of ethnographic exploration. Therefore, I worked in Zwelethemba with fourteen young men who had stood against the state during the struggle for liberation. I sought to depict their fight as they described it in retrospect. The scene was a request to remember. The invitation to remember in conjunction with others was an invitation to each of the men to examine his life. In the process of our meetings, the men seemed to be engaged in a retrieval of the condition of being wounded, so that a certain balance of reason and emotion could be achieved in the service of remembering. Thereafter, I studied both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the community of black African activists in Zwelethemba: the former a multi-sited project and the latter firmly situated in a single community. The South African Government gave the young who joined the struggle inside the country no quarter; indeed, they targeted them (in this book, I write about children and youth identified by the apartheid system as African although those who joined the fight and who fell under other categories defined according to set notions of racial difference were met with the same wrath). The Government's Security Forces meted out cruel treatment to them; incarcerated even the very young under dreadful conditions; and used torture frequently, over long periods of time. Many of the local leaders among the young were imprisoned again and again and ill treated even before any formal charges or court appearances were made. All of this is well known. However, little is known about the efforts the young made to sustain the momentum of the fight or about the stretches of time during which many were active; what they endured on an everyday basis; the nature of the battlefield; how much they depended on relationships with families, peers and community members; how their commitment was tried; what the stakes were of success and failure; and what was achieved in terms of growth and what paid in terms of harm. These matters are examined in the book.
Keywords: South Africa, Western Cape, Worcester, Zwelethemba, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, war, youth, violence, revolt, struggle, apartheid, governance, Anthropology, Ethnography, liberation, past, memory, oppression, prison, victim, perpetrator, amnesty, reparation, African National Congress (ANC), urban conflict, local leaders, leadership, human rights violations
|Print publication date: 2012||Print ISBN-13: 9780823243099|
|Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013||DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823243099.001.0001|
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