The politics and aesthetics of commemoration: national days in southern Africa

Heike Becker & Carola Lentz

pages 1-10

The contributions to the special section in this issue study recent independence celebrations and other national days in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They explore the role of national days in state-making and nation-building, and examine the performativity of nationalism and the role of performances in national festivities. Placing the case studies in a broader, comparative perspective, the introduction first discusses the role of the state in national celebrations, highlighting three themes: firstly, the political power-play and contested politics of memory involved in the creation of a country's festive calendar; secondly, the relationship between state control of national days and civic or popular participation or contestation; and thirdly, the complex relationship between regional and ethnic loyalties and national identifications. It then turns to the role of performance and aesthetics in the making of nations in general, and in national celebrations in particular. Finally, we look at the different formats and meanings of national days in the region and address the question whether there is anything specific about national days in southern Africa as compared to other parts of the continent or national celebrations world-wide.

Subjects: Southern Africa, national days, nationalism, national celebrations, performance, aesthetics

Public holidays as lieux de mémoire: nation-building and the politics of public memory in South Africa

Sabine Marschall

pages 11-21

This article engages with public holidays in post-apartheid South Africa as lieux de mémoire, ‘sites of memory’ that preserve particular interpretations of historical events and selected heroes for inscription into the collective memory of the nation. It first traces the legislative process that resulted in the official rearrangement of the festive calendar after the 1994 first general elections, exploring the political and pragmatic considerations that influenced the selection of public holidays. Based on a survey conducted in the Durban area, the paper then engages with the public reception of the new festive calendar and the knowledge that people of different demographic backgrounds appear to have about the historical events commemorated. It is argued that the creation of the post-apartheid festive calendar reflects the spirit of the tense transition period with its concern for tolerance, reconciliation and national unity, but that these national holidays have largely failed as memory sites and instruments of nation-building.

Subjects: South Africa, post-apartheid, public holidays, lieu de mémoire, memory, nation

‘Zimbabwe will never be a colony again’: changing celebratory styles and meanings of independence

Wendy Willemsa

pages 22-33

As part of a revival of cultural nationalism, state-led national-day celebrations intensified in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s through the introduction of popular music events alongside the traditional official, militarised ceremony. Independence Day, in particular, provided ZANU-PF with an excellent opportunity to mediate a narrow version of the ‘party-nation’ that defined ‘Zimbabweanness’ in terms of everything that the growing opposition Movement for Democratic Change was not. The appropriation of national-day celebrations for party-political purposes turned these events into highly controversial and contested ceremonies. In this article, I focus both on the changing aesthetics, modes and styles of Independence Day celebrations in Zimbabwe, and the way in which meanings of independence have been rewritten and contested in recent years. The malleability of national days made it possible for ZANU-PF to adjust both the style and meaning of Independence Day to suit a new context. In the early 1980s, ‘independence’ referred to the struggle to escape from the Rhodesian colonial yoke, but in the early 2000s ZANU-PF began to interpret ‘independence’ primarily as economic freedom and as the continuing battle to remain free from the intervention of external actors such as the MDC—a party it considered to be driven by the interests of the United States, Europe and white farmers. While the protocol of the official Independence Day ceremony was tightly controlled, a number of spaces opened up in the early 2000s that enabled Zimbabweans to debate their history and heritage via alternative channels, such as political party websites and in private newspapers, which underlines the crucial role of both old and new media in collective memory.

Subjects: Africa, Zimbabwe, national days, cultural nationalism, independence, new media

From ‘One Namibia, one Nation’ towards ‘Unity in Diversity’? Shifting representations of culture and nationhood in Namibian Independence Day celebrations, 1990–2010

Michael Uusiku Akuupa & Godwin Kornes

pages 34-46

In 2010 Namibia celebrated its twentieth anniversary of independence from South African rule. The main celebrations in the country's capital Windhoek became the stage for an impressively orchestrated demonstration of maturing nationhood, symbolically embracing postcolonial policy concepts such as ‘national reconciliation’, ‘unity’ and ‘diversity’. At the same time, nation building in post-apartheid Namibia is characterised by a high degree of social and political fragmentation that manifests itself in cultural and/or ethnic discourses of belonging. Taking the highly significant independence jubilee as our vantage point, we map out a shift of cultural representations of the nation in Independence Day celebrations since 1990, embodied by the two prominent slogans of ‘One Namibia, one Nation’ and ‘Unity in Diversity’. As we will argue, the difficult and at times highly fragile postcolonial disposition made it necessary for the SWAPO government, as primary nation builder, to accommodate the demands of regions and local communities in its policy frameworks. This negotiation of local identifications and national belonging in turn shaped, and continues to shape, the performative dimension of Independence Day celebrations in Namibia.

Subjects: Namibia, Swapo, national day, Independence Day, national commemoration, cultural nationalism, unity in diversity, Kavango, Omaheke

National days between commemoration and celebration: remembering 1947 and 1960 in Madagascar

Mareike Späth & Helihanta Rajaonarison

pages 47-57

Today Madagascar officially celebrates two national holidays. 29 March is dedicated to the memory of anticolonial resistance in 1947, the commemoration of the dead and the decoration of surviving combatants. 26 June in contrast is celebrated as Madagascar's return to independence in 1960 with parades, cultural performances, singing and dancing. But consecutive governments have altered state politics of commemoration and non-state actors have influenced the way in which 1947 and 1960 are remembered.
This study of national days in Madagascar offers an interpretation of the different ways the two key events of national history have been remembered within the fifty years since Independence. Looking into complexities of commemorative practices we question the juxtaposition of commemorating sad events and celebrating joyful ones. Commemoration and celebration make up two poles of a continuum on which the valence memory-making can be placed. We notice that both ends are manifest in nationwide commemorative activities and thus allow for diverging narratives and keep the nation's sentiments between mourning and rejoicing in balance. To illustrate this argument we explore the interrelationship and interdependency of the said national days in Madagascar.
To consider different activities between celebration and commemoration to remember 1947 and 1960 we analyse historical and anthropological data of official and private Malagasy commemorative practises with respect to their polyvalence, flexibility and versatility.

Subjects: Madagascar, national holiday, insurrection of 1947, independence, memory, commemoration, celebration

The drama(s) of Independence Day: reflections on political affects and aesthetics in Kinshasa (2010)

Katrien Pype

pages 58-67

On June 30 2010, in Kinshasa, a “drama” unfolded as the military march was abruptly interrupted by street children intermingling and enacting ndombolo-inspired dances in front of the president. Police and soldiers started beating up people; the state radio and television channels aborted the live broadcasts; and people were urged to return home. The order and discipline that the military march had expressed, had in a few seconds given way to chaos.
I take this “drama” as a case to study political sensibilities in contemporary Kinshasa. The main premise is that performances are not merely ‘representations’, but are also crucial events within the circulation of feelings and affects. Therefore, both political aesthetics and affects involved in this ‘drama of Independence Day’ will be studied. I first juxtapose the various aesthetics at play in the independence festivities, both performed in the défilé (military-inspired aesthetics) and afterwards (the ‘popular’, sexually explicit dances); and then analyse the ways in which these performances and reactions express different senses of ‘nationhood’ and different relations to the state.

Subjects: DR Congo, youth, dance, media, resistance, propaganda, public ritual

Beyond ethical imperatives in South African anthropology: morally repugnant and unlikeable subjects

Ilana van Wyk

pages 68-79

In this article, I argue that anthropologists' dislike of their subjects in the field poses both epistemological and ethical questions that go beyond concerns about harming or exploiting those we study, about maintaining human relationships, or about the self-reflexivity and competence of individual anthropologists. While dislike threatens the very basis of our claims to know and to engage in proper ethical relationships with those we study, I argue that acknowledged and interrogated, dislike need not prevent research among ‘unlikeable’ or morally ‘repugnant’ Others. Indeed, as South African anthropologists move away from theoretical concerns with structure, the question of dislike could become more common.

Subjects: South African anthropology, fieldwork methodology, ethics, moral repugnance, self-reflexivity, Christian Fundamentalism

Leading while being led: developing the developer at a Catholic NGO in Cape Town

Grant A. Fore

pages 80-90

The paper uses ethnographic data about the religious ethics undergirding the discourse and practices of development agents at Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD), a faith-based NGO in Cape Town, South Africa. It explores how the dynamic interrelation between faith and ethics permeated the development encounter and produced particular modalities for the ethical/moral development of the subjectivities of CWD's developers. Informed by their own experiences of development, developers attempted to ‘develop’ those they considered to be beneficiaries. The paper argues, and provides evidence to demonstrate that, through the shared experience of development as an interpersonal and intersubjective encounter, both developers and beneficiaries were developed, while they also developed each other. It goes on to suggest that this finding challenges the binary representation of development relationships (developer/beneficiary) and that-despite the asymmetry of the reciprocities involved-it is misleading to think in such dichotomous terms, precisely because doing that misrepresents the power and agency wielded by each subject position in every development encounter.

Subjects: Development, religion, ethics, intersubjectivity, agency, empowerment, participation

Book Reviews

Justin Dixon, Ilana van Wyk, Heike Becker & Denver Davids

pages 91-97