How apartheid continues to shape identity in South Africa

Ditte Krogh Olesen, DGSi student 2017/18

Modern South Africa is a clear example of how the past affects identity in the present. While South Africa has often been described as a ‘rainbow nation’, the racially divided social order can, to this day, not be denied. During apartheid, race was explicitly emphasised by the pass laws which were a form of passport system designed to limit the movements of black and ‘coloured’ citizens. The rules varied for different groups, and, from 1952, it was compulsory for all black people to carry their pass at all times. This was highlighted in the Langa Heritage Museum that we visited. While deliberately manipulating group differences to prevent interracial class solidarity, the policies created a sense of community feeling and ethnic consciousness of groups within all racial communities, rather than one inclusive nationalism. These strong community dynamics were clear during several aspects of our visit, for example, when a guide at the District 6 Museum explained how she learnt the importance of loyalty to her community early on. She described how she and her siblings stuck together against their parents and drew the analogy to the importance of the community during the anti-apartheid movement.


Likewise, it became clear to me how race had – as in most colonies – shaped the way of thinking about people but also how, due to the penetrative apartheid system, these labels continued to be entrenched in society today. As we visited Iziko Slave Lodge, I noted the way in which old texts and documents described ‘the black man’ and ‘black nature’. While this was to be expected in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became a repeated feature in modern day South Africa. For example, in the film ‘Fuck White Tears’, a black protester describes how “black people are caring; loving by nature”. This led me to reflect upon the legacy of colonialism and apartheid and the power balances inherited from these: how the concepts in which to describe identity and perceive the world have not changed despite the formal end of the racist regime and despite formal equality between the racial groups.
To me, it shows how Africa is often perceived as a whole, and how ‘old’ categories or labels of identity remain and shape the present. Two things in particular triggered this reflection. Firstly, I felt frustrated when peers returned from the modern V&A Waterfront shopping arcade complaining that it was not “very authentic”, and how you “could not feel that you were in Africa”. I thought to myself: How does Africa feel? And who are you – as a white European – to judge what Africa should feel like? Is this another type of old entitlement? I entirely agree that there is a problem in the sense that, due to unfair economic differences and a lack of redistribution of wealth, the majority of people visiting the Waterfront are white. But, I wholeheartedly think that we need to stop creating new labels such as the ‘real Africa’ as this continues to reinforce our (colonially-based) perceptions and labels on others.


Secondly, while some people think they might be culturally sensitive by pointing out how Africa has become ‘Westernised’, a professor at UCT made an interesting point: he said African students have the exact same ‘human aspirations’ as other students. A 12-year-old born in South Africa wants an iPhone as any 12-year-old in England does – whether the phone is developed in Africa or the West. It made me reflect on an influential text I read. In ‘How to Write about Africa’, Wainaina (2006) sarcastically writes: “Make sure you show that you are able to eat such [African] food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it – because you care” and continues to mock the anti-neo-imperial stereotype of an African Studies scholar. The aim of labelling Africa as ‘authentic’ can have the opposite effect, namely of staging ‘Africanness’ as an ‘otherness’ different to ‘us’ and thereby forgetting the shared human aspirations and objectives.


Ultimately, we are both creators and products of our communities: the impoverishment created by apartheid has created a mutually reinforcing mechanism between race, identity and economic status. Until the playing field becomes level, this relationship only seems to become stronger as seen during the student movements. While the racial categories should not be reinforced, to ignore how skin colour is linked to status is to ignore the past. The way forward seems to be to sufficiently acknowledge and address the issues created by the past, and thereby create a stronger and more united South Africa based on equality so that communities no longer unite over cleavages based on race but over shared human aspirations and goals. But then again, I am fully aware of the irony: that this is just another white European giving her opinion on the black South African context.

Memory, Land reform and Migration 

Impressions from a field trip to South Africa

Katherine Donovan, DGSi student 2017/18

In late March 2018 I took part in a DGSi fieldtrip to South Africa to learn about conflict resolution, post-conflict recovery, and reconstruction. Before heading to Cape Town, I was genuinely unsure of what to expect. I tried coming up with a mental image of Cape Town by Googling images of the area and using Google Maps, but I do not think I could fully appreciate Cape Town until arriving. I also tried to imagine the socioeconomic inequality that exists in Cape Town as well. Inequality exists where I am from in the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom, but I wondered if it would be more salient.

I tried to keep up-to-date with the current events in Cape Town and South Africa by reading news articles. South Africa appeared to be going through a very interesting period of time during the two months before my arrival. Not only was there an ongoing water crisis, but there was political turmoil as well. The water crisis had me concerned about things like decreasing the time I usually spend taking a shower. The political crisis regarding President Zuma was reported in international news. I learned a bit about the alleged corruption surrounding his presidency as well as the various no-confidence votes that he managed to survive before he stepped down in February. This background research helped to set the tone of my arrival to Cape Town.

The first theme I noted quickly while on the fieldtrip was the idea of art being a part of the national memory and representation of apartheid. It was apparent on our excursion to the District Six Museum. District Six is an area of Cape Town in which approximately 60,000 people were forcibly removed from during the apartheid era due to policies that did not allow whites and non-whites to live in the same area. Residents of District Six were forced to move to townships outside of Cape Town. A former resident of the District led us around District Six and the museum. One of the first things I noticed was the large embroidered cloth that hung in the museum. In the museum, the former resident stood in front of the cloth and told us her story of removal from District Six and explained the meaning of the cloth. Messages from former residents of District Six were hand-stitched in colorful embroidery onto the cloth to preserve their thoughts and feelings regarding their former place of residence and the forced removal.

Another important theme that was prominent through some of our meetings was land reform. I had a difficult time grasping the number of people that were affected by forced removals because I did not witness it. However, I was able to understand the strong emotions surrounding the land issue when we went to a public dialogue regarding land reform in Zimbabwe and South Africa. One of the speakers discussed the concept of expropriation without compensation, which is when the government takes land without compensation to return to those who claim the land is rightfully theirs. The speaker said there were only a few instances in which expropriation is appropriate and contended that it was unlikely that most land would be reclaimed through expropriation. I think many people were frustrated by this opinion and generally seemed to support expropriation, particularly one woman who was sitting behind me. She asked if the land had been stolen in the first place, why should it be paid for in order to acquire it again

The last theme that was discussed extensively throughout our trip was migration. On one of the first few days in South Africa we learned about the refugee/asylum seeker process as the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town. During one of the presentations, we were inundated with information about the various laws and parts of the South African constitution that relate to migration. We also met with the Somali Association of South Africa (SASA), which conducts classes and activities primarily to serve Somali refugees that come to South Africa seeking asylum. We took part in an English lesson with refugees and were able to discuss basic things like our age, where we were from, and whether we were married or had children. Overall, the legal hoops that people had to jump through just to be considered a refugee, let alone become a citizen, surprised and upset me.

This trip to Cape Town opened my eyes to a lot of issues I was not aware of growing up in the United States and attending university in the United Kingdom. Cape Town is a beautiful place, but there were so many issues of inequality I had never considered before. The forced removals that happened still impact citizens today. Refugees face a difficult road to becoming full-fledged citizens. I am glad to have learned about such things as I believe they will be applicable to my life as I find work in the international development/humanitarian assistance field.



CALL FOR PAPERS[No1 of 2 – please scroll down]

Rethinking Peace Mediation

Peace mediation has become an increasingly professionalized field. The number of support actors and the scope of technical assistance has grown tremendously over the last decades.  International and regional organizations along with non-governmental institutions have significantly expanded their capacities to assist conflict parties in the resolution and prevention of armed conflict.  This drive towards professionalization of the field has been coupled with a new emphasis on a normative and principled approach.  Among other issues, it includes broader notions of inclusion and participation, human rights and gender sensitivity, and the focus on systematic and methodology.  These trends profoundly challenge the nature of peace mediation and the way in which it is practiced.

We are inviting paper proposals for workshop on critical approaches to peace mediation. The aim of the workshop is to explore the effects and dilemmas of the professionalization of peace mediation.  It will bring together practitioners and scholars to make sense of the evolution of multi-track peacemaking efforts.  The overall objective is to challenge supposed common notions of peace mediation (e.g., consensus driven; focus on process design; respect for human rights and other normative parameters; principle of inclusivity and gender sensitivity).  In this context, the workshop probes the accuracy of what peace mediation ought to be and its real-life form.  By looking at the ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘who’, the workshop seeks to build a picture of modern peace mediation while offering a critical reflection to new realities in the field.

Among other issues, paper proposals can relate to the following themes:

Why does the professionalization of peace mediation matter?

  • What factors have recently shaped the field of peace mediation in the 21st century?
  • Under which conditions is peace mediation a successful tool to solve inter- or intra-state conflicts?
  • How have conceptual ideas such as conflict sensitivity, the theory of change and inclusive process design influenced peace mediation in practice?
  • What impact has the emergence of a normative framework for assessing peace mediation efforts had on policy directions and practice?

What areas of support have emerged in peace mediation practice?

  • Does the increased professionalization of mediation support actors significantly improve the outcome of mediation processes?
  • How has peacemaking support responded to the interconnectivity between local and insider mediation, national dialogues and international track I efforts?
  • What is the effect of a proliferation of different actors with different mandates on peace mediation efforts?

Who drives peace mediation?

  • How is mediation defined by the different actors, including the conflict parties?
  • Who are the key players and what is there interaction with each other, particularly between international, regional and non-governmental entities?
  • What impact does the proliferation of actors have on the design of mediation processes?

The aim is to publish suitable contributions as an edited collection with a prominent academic publisher. We welcome papers from any disciplinary perspective (conflict resolution studies, law, political science, anthropology, etc.), and those with empirical, comparative or critical perspectives on peace mediation are highly encouraged.

The workshop will take place in New York City in mid-November 2018.

Please submit your abstract (300 words) by 27 July 2018.


Abstract submission online:



Histories and rhythms of urban violence

Erfurt, Germany, December 6-7, 2018

The Durham Global Security Institute together with partners from Germany and Norway is organizing a workshop on “Histories and Rhythms of Urban Violence: Global-Local Encounters in the Nexus of Time and Space”. This interdisciplinary workshop will take place from 6 – 7 December 2018 at the University of Erfurt in Germany. The workshop seeks to explore the generative capacities of violence and how they transform space and time in the city. We invite papers (e.g. empirical case studies, comparative studies, theoretical and conceptual papers) from a wide range of disciplines and a variety of methodological and analytical approaches to the study of spatio-temporal practices of violence in cities.

  1. Spatio-temporal practices of violence: What are spatio-temporal effects of violence on the production and transformation of the urban? How do specific practices of violence shape rhythms of life? How do particular qualities of urban space and city rhythms produce and shape violence and generate different forms of violence?
  2. Memories, narratives, symbolic and visual representations of violence: What role do spatio-temporal practices have in remembering (urban) violence? How are memories of violence embedded in the city’s spatial and temporal configurations? How do visual representations of violence (media, art, monuments, etc.) affect the space-time of the city? How do visual representations of violence transform and rearrange space and time of the city?  What are the peculiarities of sacral space with regard to violence and what role do religious rhythms and cycles or imaginations of time play with regard to urban violence?
  3. Methods to study the space-time of violence and its relation to the city: how we can build on existing time-space “measures” to understand the space-time of violence and its relations to the city?
  4. Theorizing the relation between time-space-violence and the city: How can we understand the ruptures and destructive features of violence and its capacities to initiate and accelerate change? What connection can we draw between abstract (capitalist) time and the very concrete violent enactments that helped to produce abstract time and that continue to shape its execution?

Abstract Submission: For this workshop we invite abstracts of proposed papers of up to 1.500 words. Please submit by 1 September 2018 to  When accepted, participants are expected to submit papers of around 5000 words four weeks prior to the workshop, on 7 November 2018. Workshop presentations should be kept short. Download the call here


⊕Debating Resilience: A Critical Politics workshop

June 8 – 9 – Durham University

Debating resilience was an interdisciplinary workshop, supported by DGSi, the Durham Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience and the department of Anthropology. The workshop attracted 18 international speakers, from the University of Amsterdam, Oxford, Athens, EUI, Essex, Nottingham Portsmouth, Loughborough and Newcastle. The participants debated the relevance of the notion of resilience to a range of subjects including nationalism migration, borders, humanitarian action, homophobia and transphobia, urban gentrification and social movements. You can browse through the themes, programme and abstracts here.




⊕Capstone Exercise • 30 May – 1 June 2018

The DGSI Capstone exercise is a simulation activity  designed to analyse a local setting within the context of a complex political and humanitarian emergency.  This exercise provides an opportunity for students to operationalise learning and knowledge from across the MSc programmes in a simulated conflict setting.   This year’s simulation ran from May 30th to June 1st  where our students’ knowledge was put to the test by dealing with a wide range of complex crises set in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.  Participants adopted a series of roles that required the planning and implementation of local, national and international strategies in order to deal with issues such as massive refugee influx, drought, violence, disease and socio-political instability.   This year’s exercise counted with the support of former DGSI student and current DFID officer Ben Challis as well as Save the Children’s Senior Conflict and Humanitarian Advisor, Catherine Carter.   As part of their process, students reflected on the challenges, dilemmas and contradictions that can often occur when engaging in quite complex and rapidly-changing crises, making the Capstone exercise a dynamic, engaging and comprehensive learning experience.

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