Managing Vulnerability: South Africa's Struggle for a Democratic Rhetoric

Managing Vulnerability: South Africa's Struggle for a Democratic Rhetoric

Managing Vulnerability: South Africa's Struggle for a Democratic Rhetoric

Managing Vulnerability: South Africa's Struggle for a Democratic Rhetoric

Synopsis

A detailed account of the struggle to cultivate connectedness out of the divisiveness of apartheid In Managing Vulnerability, Richard C. Marback analyzes the tension surrounding the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa through a rhetorical lens. Marback studies the heart of South Africa's desire for reconciliation and contends that this goal could be achieved only through the creation of a language of vulnerability in which former enemies become open to the influence of each other, to the constraints of their respective circumstances, and to the prospects of a shared future. Through a series of informative case studies, Marback illustrates how the cultivation of openness and the management of vulnerability take shape through the circulation of artifacts, symbols, and texts that give empowering expression to virtues of connectedness over the temptations of individual autonomy. Marback discusses the construction and impact of the narrative tours of Robben Island, the silencing of Robert Sobukwe, the debates over a proposed Freedom Monument, a brief gesture of ubuntu from Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela to Eugene de Kock, and the transformation of the title character in the film adaptation of the 1980 novel Tsotsi. Ultimately, Marback contends, finding a means to manage vulnerability is both the immediate success of and the ongoing challenge to South African democracy and is indicative of the nature of rhetoric in democracies in general and in contemporary civic life.

Excerpt

In Managing Vulnerability: South Africa’s Struggle for a Democratic Rhetoric, Richard C. Marback argues that in the struggle for South African freedom, democracy, and reconciliation, the reciprocal questions of vulnerability and sovereignty of the people and groups engaged in the long struggle shapes the rhetoric and response of all participants. Marback acknowledges the affirmative force of claims by scholars such as Eric Doxtader and Philippe-Joseph Salazar that the mostly peaceful South African transition from apartheid to democracy—entailing rhetorical occasions of inclusive deliberation and reconciliation—demonstrates the efficacy of rhetoric and the potential of South African democracy. At the same time, Marback acknowledges the competing claim that Western rhetoric may be an alien importation to the South African scene, as well as the objection that while the democratic transition may have witnessed widespread participation and inclusion, material injustices remain.

In a series of case studies, Marback explores how the natural human impulse to guard ourselves from material or emotional vulnerability, aspiring to a personal, and perhaps rhetorical, sovereignty, makes it harder for us and others to appeal and attend to each other honestly, since one person’s sovereignty may seem another person’s vulnerability. The South African freedom struggle found ways to transcend the raw divisions created by the Afrikaner “ambitions for invulnerability.” In doing so the freedom movement moved beyond simply challenging the language of Afrikaner invulnerable sovereignty through a struggle “to give expression to … sovereign vulnerability—a capacity for rhetorical agency grounded in openness to the anger and antagonism, frailty and suffering, hope and joy of others.” The model for such shared, sovereign vulnerability that Marback finds especially in Robert Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu is not, Marback argues, guaranteed, though he sees prospects for hope of a rhetoric of common good in the face of ongoing challenges of HIV/AIDS, poverty, violence, and other legacies of the apartheid regime.

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