by Michael Neocosmos, Interface, 2011
Rather than seeing the prevalence of systemic political violence in Africa as resulting from a purportedly difficult “transition to democracy”, this article insists that accounts of such violence must be sought within the modes of rule of the democratic state itself. In particular, the manifestation of a contradiction between democracy and nationalism in a neo-colonial context, takes many different forms which cannot be resolved consensually given
existing modes of rule and the enrichment of the oligarchy at the expense of the nation. Xenophobic violence in South Africa is used to illustrate the argument. It is shown that a distinction between domains of politics (including modes of rule) must be drawn. In particular, this means distinguishing between a domain of “civil society” and one of “uncivil society”. It is within the latter that most people relate and respond to state power. Within that domain, the state does not rule people as citizens with legally enforceable rights, but simply as a population with various entitlements. In this domain, violent political practices by the state tend to be the norm rather than the exception, so that violence acquires a certain amount of legitimacy for resolving contradictions among people. The overcoming of systemic violence (itself a political choice) can only begin to be conceived via a different thought of politics as subjective practice.
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