At this week’s Open Book Festival in Cape Town, one of South Africa’s many literary events, one of the most anticipated non-fiction writers was Adam Habib. A veteran political scientist, erstwhile Trotskyist, and as of recently, vice chancellor (equal to an American college president) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Habib just released his new book South Africa’s Suspended Revolution.
Struggles over memory are commonplace in contemporary South Africa. The 1980s are an especially contested. That decade witnessed a mass resurgence of popular struggles that picked up a thread of civil opposition going back to the 1976 Soweto uprising. From outside South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) stepped up its armed struggle and sanctions campaigns; inside the country the United Democratic Front (UDF)—a loose federation of women’s, youth, and civic organizations founded in 1983 in Cape Town as a response to tepid government reforms—coordinated rent, service and consumer boycotts; and a new national trade union federation privileged political struggle. The state responded with more “reforms,” states of emergency, proxy wars, assassinations, and mass detentions. Today legal apartheid is a distant memory for most South Africans.