Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Empathetic Cosmopolitanism: South Africa and the Quest for Global Citizenship

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Empathetic Cosmopolitanism: South Africa and the Quest for Global Citizenship

Article excerpt


One feature of Nelson Mandela's legacy in South Africa is his concept of post-apartheid society as a cosmopolitan space. Sadly, recent developments in the country suggest a return to nativist and bigoted world views and cast a dark shadow over his legacy. There is an urgent necessity to review this aspect of Mandela's vision. In so doing, this paper highlights the ethical advantages of cosmopolitanism, and argues that what sets Mandela's cosmopolitanism apart from others is his emphasis on empathy. I therefore suggest that empathetic cosmopolitanism is a particularly South African worldview. In support of this idea of empathetic cosmopolitanism, I discuss such recent theories as 'incompleteness', 'multiple identity', and 'entanglement', suggested by South African thinkers, as registers of Mandela's global citizenship.

1. Introduction

The world greeted the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa as a unique phenomenon and viewed Mandela as a global icon of morality. Indeed, given its colonial history, the country surprised the world with the peaceful nature of that transition. As Njabulo Ndebele (1999: 153) notes, the anticipated disintegration of the country in a "conflagration of violence did not take place". South Africa provides a valuable case study for the condition of our world as a globalised space, a space in which migration and mixing of people have become normalised. Against a background of centuries of intermixing and entanglement among different ethnicities and races, the country is a microcosm of the global socio-cultural condition. This is so because nearly every society is heterogeneous, that is, each society comprises peoples from diverse races, ethnicities, religions and other markers of identity. This experience could have far-reaching implications not only for Africa, but also for the rest of the world. Indeed, South Africa's political and moral accomplishments have led Phillip-Joseph Salazar (2002: xvii) to the belief that the country could be "a blueprint for the construction of a European nation". Paul Gilroy (2006: 289) hopes that South Africa would provide "a new cosmopolitanism" for the world.

It may be too early to confirm Salazar's bold claim. Indeed, recent socio-political developments in South Africa provide sufficient reason to question the country's development. Among these are the recent cases of corruption and nativist political gestures in Jacob Zuma's government and life, on the one hand, and on the other demonstrations such as #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall, and Arts Must Burn. Some have even suggested #MandelaMustFall (Munusamy 2015). The popular painter Ayanda Mabulu calls Mandela "a dignified bastard, a political slut", arguing that he "was just an image, an idolised black man, a colourful image in so called 'rainbow colours' who gave away property rights to the oppressor. He was a huge sell-out who readily acquired stardom but he forgot about the freedom of his people" (Mabulu 2015). Zama Mthunzi, a third-year mathematical sciences student at the University of Witwatersrand, made a t-shirt with an inscription: "Fuck White People". In explaining that hate slogan he states that he felt excluded when he saw white students paying school fees whereas he did not have money to pay his. He states:

I was feeling hatred, because it was times of financial exclusion ...
and... white people are paying [school fees], they're relaxed, there
are no financial problems so it arose that Black exclusion is so
[rampant] in this institution (Panyna 2016).

Chumani Maxwele began the Rhodes-must-fall movement with his pooprotest. He poured a bucket of human faeces on the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. Maxwele states, "Black pain led me to throw Rhodes poo" (Maxwele 2016).

These demonstrations draw attention to the despicable conditions of the majority of the black population. What is troubling in them, however, is their nearly unanimous singling out of whites as the cause of their existential problems. …

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