Amber Reed (Penn)
What would make rural, black South Africans nostalgic for the days of apartheid? While this nascent democracy is celebrated worldwide for its “progressive” constitution and relatively peaceful transition from an oppressive government in 1994, today a growing tide of disappointment with the democratic state is emerging across the country – as evidenced in recent service delivery protests and new competitor political parties to the ruling African National Congress. Ethnographic encounters in the rural Eastern Cape Province go beyond these frustrations with the status quo, revealing widespread sentiments of nostalgia for the perceived stability and order of the apartheid regime among those who ostensibly suffered most under its rule. In this paper, I argue that nostalgic discourses for apartheid can be read as reactions to the increasing inequalities of neoliberal capitalism that have become conflated with democracy as a political system. Furthermore, many local cultural ideologies in rural South Africa aligned more closely with the hierarchical structures of apartheid than they do with contemporary Western-based human rights legislation on equality. On a broader level, I show how Eastern Cape residents are using competing epistemologies from that of the state to understand why democracy is ultimately understood as failing to create happier lives for rural South Africans.