Conference: Re-figuring the South African Empire

Conference: Re-Figuring the South African Empire

Conference organised by the Department of History and Centre for African Studies, University of Basel (Switzerland), in collaboration with the Swiss Society for African Studies) and the Swiss Society for History (SGG)

This conference investigates histories of imperialism, colonialism and nation-building in the Southern African region, in the context of a critical reassessment of South Africa as a state and nation. The overall aim is to understand the region’s history from its margins and to shift perspectives away from the teleological narrative of the emergence and consolidation of a modern South African nation-state throughout the 20th century.

The necessity and relevance of this attempt to bring into question some of the core assumptions of South African historiography is reflected in the debate about the second volume of the new Cambridge History of South Africa on the 20th century, published in 2011. This prestigious volume presents the history of South African society and its state without contextualising its regional legacies of colonialism and hegemony. It makes hardly any mention of South Africa’s de facto seventy-five year-long colonial rule over Namibia. Namibia experienced colonialism for a much more extended period than many other African colonies, while South Africa acted as a colonial power much longer than, for example, Germany or Italy. Yet South Africa is rarely theorised as having been a colonial state attempting to build an empire.

The conference deepens the debate about these crucial issues and situates it in the new scholarship on empires, cultural histories of colonialism and post-colonial critique. These arguments have unsettled the simplistic notion of a centre-periphery dichotomy in relations between Europe and the wider world, and have moved the debate into transnational, entangled or shared histories of all sorts. Yet attention paid to the building of empires in the shadows of European imperialism remains scant. The Southern African example is a striking reminder of the complexities throughout the 20th century of South African regional domination amidst multiple colonialisms as well as nationalisms.

As much as our interests are directed towards a revision of some of the parameters of South African historiography, the conference will likewise explore the production of history, memory and memorialization. South African colonialism, expansion and hegemony resonate in South Africa’s post-apartheid society and in the wider memory landscapes and practices of post-colonial Southern Africa. Here again the conference seeks to engage with a regional perspective, and to explore the ways in which the legacies of South Africa’s imperial history continue to generate a condition of coloniality which affects the socio-political order as much as it engenders the production of knowledge in South Africa itself and throughout the entire region.

Funded by: Swiss National Science Foundation, Carl Schlettwein Foundation, Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, Centre for African Studies Basel, Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel

Venue: Schönes Haus, Nadelberg 6, CH-4051 Basel, see Map
Fees: 100.- CHF/3 days, 50.- CHF/3 days (students + members SSAS), 40.- CHF/day, 20.- CHF/day (students & members SSAS)

Programme

Monday 9 September 2013

8.30-9.00 Registration & Coffee

9.00-9.30 Conference Opening

Giorgio Miescher, Centre for African Studies/Lorena Rizzo, History Department
Veit Arlt, Centre for African Studies & Swiss Society for African Studies

9.30-10.00 Welcome

Patrick Harries, History Department, University of Basel: Decentered Histories (Welcome Address)

10.00-11.00 Panel 1: Biopolitics of Empire
Chairperson: Elisio Macamo, University of Basel

Ciraj Rassool, University of the Western Cape: Re-storing the Skeletons of Empire: return, reburial and rehumanisation in Southern Africa
Lorena Rizzo, University of Basel: Visual Impersonation – population registration, reference books and identification in the Eastern Cape, 1950s-1960s

11.00-11.30 Coffee Break

11.30-13.00 Panel 2: Nation/Empire I
Chairperson: Stephan Miescher, University of California Santa Barbara

Jeremy Silvester, Museums Association of Namibia: Forging the Fifth Province: A Border War
Nedson Pophiwa, University of Pretoria: Regulating the empire’s borderlands: Movement and control across the South Africa-Zimbabwe Border, c. 1881-1994
Napandulwe Shiweda, University of Namibia: The Imperial ‘Expansion’ of South Africa: The Idea of a ‘Greater Ovamboland’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.00 Panel 3: Imperial Knowledge I
Chairperson: Giacomo Loperfido, University of Fort Hare

Robert Heinze, University of Berne: The South West Africa Broadcasting Corporation – an institution of Empire?
Dag Henrichsen, Basler Afrika Bibliographien: “The Whites will eat the veldkos which the Blacks are eating today” Radical thought, millenarian visions and political responsibility in Namibia, late 1940s

15.00-15.30 Coffee Break

15.30-17.00 Panel 4: Imaginaries, Aesthetics and Materialities of Empire I
Chairperson: Susann Baller, University of Basel

Brenton Maart, University of Cape Town: The development of a novel category of monument, termed the inadvertant monument, as evidenced in selected buildings in previous apartheid South African native reserves
Michael Uusiku Akuupa, University of the Western Cape: Colonial ‘Sangfees’ in Kavango, South West Africa during 1970s: The making of South African Empire?
Leslie Witz, University of the Western Cape: Hunting for museums

18.00-19.30 Keynote Address

Premesh Lalu, Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape: The Empire of the Supermarket
Venue: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Klosterberg 23
Welcome by Christian Vandersee and Dag Henrichsen
Buffet & Drinks

Tuesday 10 September 2013

9.30-10.30 Panel 5: Imperial Economies I
Chairperson: Guy Thomas, Mission 21

Tilman Dedering, University of South Africa: Air Power in South Africa, 1914 – 1939
Andrew Byerley, Nordic Africa Institute: Architectures of Empire: The Migrant Labour Compounds at Walvis Bay 1915-1960

10.30-11.00 Coffee Break

11.00-12.00 Panel 6: Nation/Empire II
Chairperson: David William Cohen, University of Michigan

Peter Limb, Michigan State University: The Empire Writes Back: How Africans Articulated and Challenged the Brutish (South African) Empire in the First Decades of the Twentieth Century
Marion Wallace, British Library: Personal circuits: Lord Buxton, South West Africa and the politics of official tours after the First World War

12.00-12.30 Coffee Break

12.30-13.30 Panel 7: Nation/Empire III
Chairperson: Gregor Dobler, University of Freiburg i.B.

Martha Akawa, University of Namibia: Promoting Nationalism in SWAPO Refugee Camps
Arianna Lissoni, University of the Witwatersrand: Rethinking the “Turn to Armed Struggle”: Rural Resistance and the Limits of South African Struggle History

13.30-14.30 Lunch

14.30-16.00 Panel 8: Empire spaces I
Chairperson: Anne Mayor, University of Geneva

Giorgio Miescher, University of Basel: The NE 51 series frontier: The grand narrative and the small town
Noëleen Murray, University of the Western Cape: Empires of South African Design
Andrew MacDonald, University of the Witwatersrand: Border Underworlds and Southern Africa’s Indian Ocean frontier, 1900s-1940s

18.00-19.00 Annual Meeting of the Swiss Society for African Studies
Venue: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Klosterberg 23, Basel

19.30 Conference Dinner

Venue: Restaurant Kornhaus, Kornhausgasse 10, 4051 Basel

Wednesday 11 September 2013

9.00-10.00 Panel 9: Imperial Economies II
Chairperson: Lucy Koechlin, University of Basel

Allen & Barbara Isaacman, University of Minnesota: Cahora Bassa: Extending South Africa’s Tentacles of Empire
Michael Bollig, University of Cologne: Conserving the Margins of Empire: Knowledge Production, Visions and Practices of Species Protection in North-Western Namibia

10.00-10.30 Coffee Break

10.30-12.00 Panel 10: Imaginaries, Aesthetics and Materialities of Empire II
Chairperson: Martin Lengwiler, University of Basel

Naitsikile Iizyenda, Museums Association of Namibia: Defending Suidwes: Paratus and the Power of Persuasion
Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, University of Minnesota & Gary Minkley, University of Fort Hare: The Graves of Dimbaza – re:working peripheries and empire
Nyasha Mboti, University of KwaZulu Natal: 32 “Buffalo” Battalion on Celluloid: Hollywood’s memorial whitewashing of the SADF’s “Total Strategy” in Blood Diamond

12.00-13.00 Lunch

13.00-14.30 Panel 11: Imperial Knowledge II
Chairperson: Patrick Harries, University of Basel

Carlos Fernandes, University of the Western Cape: South Africa’s economic and military hegemony in post-independence Mozambique and the shaping of the Centre for African Studies research work (1976-1990)
Luregn Lenggenhager, University of Zurich: Flora and Fauna in the Caprivi Strip. Researching, Mapping and Protecting Nature 1950-1980
Meredith McKittrick, Georgetown University: An Empire of Rivers: Climate anxiety, imperial ambition, and the hydropolitical imagination in southern Africa, 1919-1950

14.30-15.00 Coffee Break

15.00-16.30 Panel 12: Empire Spaces II
Chairperson: N.N.

Sarah Godsell, University of the Witwatersrand & Anna Voegeli Litelu, University of Basel: Backyards of empire? Reflecting on the role of bantustans in the South African Empire
Memory Biwa, University of the Western Cape: Reconnecting myths of resistance leaders' burials in Trans!Garib and the embedded legacies of Empire
Lieneke Eloff de Vissier, VU University of Amsterdam: South Africa’s Achilles’ Heel: The Strategic Significance of the Eastern Caprivi of Namibia

16.30-17.00 Conference Closing

Giorgio Miescher, Centre for African Studies/Lorena Rizzo, History Department

Further Information & Registration: Conference Office, Centre for African Studies, Petersgraben 11, 4051 Basel, afrika-Tagung-at-unibas.ch
Programme: Download (pdf)

Contacts

Submission of abstracts and registration:
afrika-tagung-at-unibas.ch

Content related information:
Lorena Rizzo: lorena.rizzo-at-unibas.ch
Giorgio Miescher: giorgio.miescher-at-unibas.ch
Dag Henrichsen: dh-at-baslerafrika.ch

Background / Archive

Download: Call for papers
Convenors: Department of History and Centre for African Studies, University of Basel (Switzerland), in collaboration with the Swiss Society for African Studies (SGAS) and the Swiss Society for History (SGG)
Contact: Lorena Rizzo: lorena.rizzo-at-unibas.ch; Giorgio Miescher: giorgio.miescher-at-unibas.ch; Dag Henrichsen: dh-at-baslerafrika.ch on behalf of the South African Empire Research Group

Introduction:

The necessity and relevance of this attempt to bring into question some of the core assumptions of South African historiography is reflected in the debate about the second volume of the new Cambridge History of South Africa on the 20th century, published in 2011. This prestigious volume presents the history of South African society and its state without contextualising its regional legacies of colonialism and hegemony. It makes hardly any mention of South Africa’s de facto seventy-five year-long colonial rule over Namibia. Namibia experienced colonialism for a much more extended period than many other African colonies, while South Africa acted as a colonial power much longer than, for example, Germany or Italy. Yet South Africa is rarely theorised as having been a colonial state attempting to build an empire.

The conference deepens the debate about these crucial issues and situates it in the new scholarship on empires, cultural histories of colonialism and post-colonial critique. These arguments have unsettled the simplistic notion of a centre-periphery dichotomy in relations between Europe and the wider world, and have moved the debate into transnational, entangled or shared histories of all sorts. Yet attention paid to the building of empires in the shadows of European imperialism remains scant. The Southern African example is a striking reminder of the complexities throughout the 20th century of South African regional domination amidst multiple colonialisms as well as nationalisms.

As much as our interests are directed towards a revision of some of the parameters of South African historiography, the conference will likewise explore the production of history, memory and memorialization. South African colonialism, expansion and hegemony resonate in South Africa’s post-apartheid society and in the wider memory landscapes and practices of post-colonial Southern Africa. Here again the conference seeks to engage with a regional perspective, and to explore the ways in which the legacies of South Africa’s imperial history continue to generate a condition of coloniality which affects the socio-political order as much as it engenders the production of knowledge in South Africa itself and throughout the entire region.

Conceptual outline

The conference does not view the South African empire as an empirical entity, let alone as a historical fact. Rather it engages with empire as a theoretical concept which unsettles some of the certainties in South African historiography and opens up productive spaces for the re-figuration of Southern African histories. We thus seek papers and presentations from and on the Southern African region and have therefore identified a number of themes, concepts and lines of inquiry with which the conference aims to engage.

Nation and Empire

New histories of empire have emerged from a critique of historiographies dominated by the category of the nation and narratives of teleological progression from empire to colony and nation-state. South African historiography has uncritically replicated the paradigm of the nation around the subjects of late 19th century British-Boer antagonism, early 20th century unification and nation-building and internal colonialism articulated through segregation and apartheid. In contrast to such self-referential historical narration, this conference seeks out papers which explore the entanglement of the emergence of a distinct idea of the South African nation with its imperialist, developmental and increasingly military outreach into its neighbouring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. On the other hand we invite reflections on various articulations of the nation and nationalism in Southern Africa, which in one way or the other speak to the recurrence of imperialism in its metropolitan as much as regional forms. Marxist historiographies of the 1960s and 1970s articulated strong positions on South Africa’s imperialism in the region, yet their concerns seem to have fallen into oblivion. While the conference panels will link up with these discussions, their arguments will need to be tuned to more recent concerns within Southern African historiography and recent discussions in methodology and theory.

Imperial Economies

The main domain in which South African imperialism has been acknowledged in historical scholarship has been labour migration, which forced hundreds of thousands of men, and to a lesser extent, women from within South Africa itself, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi into South Africa’s urban centres, farming sectors and mining economies, most prominently on the Rand. These histories remain important and powerful in terms of their transnational perspective, yet the conference proposes to expand the discussion, not only to urban areas, mines and other centres of migration outside South Africa, but also beyond the dominant axes of urbanisation and mining and to consider further economies based on the trade of slaves, stock and goods, small industry, specialised skills and diverse commodities. Itinerant traders, commercial hunters, caterers or refined manufacturers as much as printers, publishers, and artisans surface here, disclosing transnational and trans-regional circuits of cloth, furniture, tools and technologies, high-priced merchandise or daily consumer goods. On another level, the large-scale operations of multinational (not only mining) companies, often based in South African metropoles, need to be conceptualised, together with issues of (economic) plunder and capital formation outside their respective areas of operation. The workings of the South African developmental state in the region, for example with regard to large-scale construction projects of dams and hydro-electric power stations, can be added here. The exploration of the complexity of such an imperial economy will enable a qualification of South Africa’s hegemonic position as the centre of economic growth, industry and urbanisation, and yet complicate the directions and vectors of economic activity and practice. In particular, for this section, the conference seeks papers which address the multiple avenues and agencies of economic modernisation and transformation in the empire’s hinterlands, in which migrant labourers and their return investments seem to have acted as crucial agents and brokers.

Empire Spaces

South Africa’s spatial order has conventionally been explained in terms of segregation, legislation, a so-called “security complex”, and changing attitudes towards nature. Indeed, the ways in which urban and rural spaces have been conceptualised, enforced and administered according to the requirements of the mining industries and the system of migrant labour, the demands of a commercial agricultural sector which maintained a privileged community of ‘white’ settlers, and the differences and divisions determined by segregation and apartheid throughout the 20th century, are remarkable and remain visible in the present. Papers assembled here will address a wide range of spaces, among them mining compounds, the architecture of apartheid cities, ‘native townships’, rural African reserves and military zones, borders and boundaries of many sorts. In contrast to conventional scholarship, these issues are to be addressed in a transnational perspective, exploring the proliferation of urban and rural design and planning, the demarcation of nature reserves and the declaration of military buffer zones from the perspective of the constitution of a South African imperial space in the sub-region.

Imperial Knowledge

One of the arenas in which South African nation-building articulated itself prominently was the realm of knowledge production. The South-Africanisation of science and of institutions associated with the production of scientific knowledge, such as universities, archives, libraries, scientific societies and museums, has long been acknowledged. In an almost emancipatory tone, the emergence of South African science has been narrated as a process through which the centres of knowledge production and expertise shifted from their metropolitan locations in Europe to the former South African colony and nation in the making. Less attention has been paid to the political economies and geopolitics of knowledge production within Southern Africa or to the significance of South Africa’s hinterlands and peripheries, among them most importantly the Namibian colony, as resources and laboratories of imperial knowledge production. The conference hence invites contributions which investigate the ways in which the imperial space was constructed by economies of collecting, the operations of field sciences, the development of scientific taxonomies, the birth of scientific institutions, including museums and archives, and the development of professional scientific careers within the framework of a regional history.

Bio-politics of Empire

By the late 19th century, state institutions, metropolitan as much as colonial ones, showed growing interest in the documentation, identification and classification of their subjects. Therein the body of the citizen and/or subject emerged as the matrix around which forms and institutions of governance were enacted and specific kinds of knowledge modelled. Documentation, identification and classification of individuals and social groups in colonial Southern Africa throughout most of the 20th century was firmly grounded in essentialist notions of race and racial segregation, which hierarchically juxtaposed constructions of purified, superior forms of whiteness to the alleged degeneration of blackness and the iconic figure of the native. In as much as the organisation of society along racial lines was the raison d’être of segregation and apartheid in South Africa – and for that matter moved to the core of South African nation-building per se – racism and its underlying archives offered the idiom through which the South African state articulated and legitimised its imperialist project, pushing its frontier of white supremacy far beyond its national borders. The papers assembled here will explore how South Africa’s imperial expansion complicated the problem of racial classification and difference, as much as the inconsistencies, contradictions and interstices within the expanding system of racial classification itself. Ultimately, the dynamics generated by imperial expansion and epistemological instability precisely offered the very few spaces for alternative, at times subaltern subjectivities.

Imperial Materialities, Imaginaries and Aesthetics of Empire

New histories of empire have shifted attention away from politics and economics towards ‘softer’ factors that made up the world of experience, the everyday, and the senses. Empires materialised, and the study of specific artefacts and objects provides a more textured sense of people’s worlds and livelihoods. The conference aims at addressing experience, the everyday and the sensual through the lens of materiality and asks whether, and to what extent, specific objects and designs conveyed a sense of a social and cultural space of empire. Papers concerned with the circulation of ‘small objects’, such as consumer goods, official documents, street signs, uniforms or mass produced print matters, and ‘large objects’, such as cars, buildings and monuments, infrastructure and public transport are invited to investigate the composition of an imperial lexicon that linked people in a shared, cultural and symbolic South African imperial space. Also important in this respect was the enactment and staging of ‘the empire’ through public rituals, celebrations and festivals, as such bridging the realms of the political and popular. The papers assembled here will explore these imperial imaginaries through e.g. various forms of visuality, such as photography, cartography, landscape painting, calendars, or cartoons, and they will likewise investigate diverse forms of popular culture, music, literature and art in order to elaborate on the question of the aesthetics of empire.

Abstract submission

The thematic foci presented above lay the ground for the organisation of the conference. Panels and papers will be organised accordingly. We invite participants to submit abstracts (max 1 page) and short information on authors by 4 February 2013 to afrika-tagung-at-unibas.ch. Acceptance of submitted abstracts will be notified by email by the end of March 2013. Papers need to be submitted to the conference organisers by the end of August 2013. – For all information concerning the conference see our website: www.zasb.unibas.ch/empire.

Funding and Formalities:

Participants can apply for a limited amount of funding covering travel and accommodation costs. The application needs to be submitted together with the abstract submission. We privilege applicants from African countries and colleagues without permanent positions. To qualify for funding a paper has to be submitted by the given date. – Switzerland is part of the EU Schengen Visa agreement. It is the responsibility of the participants to clarify visa arrangements. Kindly approach the conference organisers for the necessary documentation required.

Publication

The organisers plan to publish the conference proceedings, and different options are being considered. A selection of the papers will be included in a special issue on the South African empire of the Journal of Southern African Studies in 2015.