South Africa: The New Barbarism


Racial pessimism lies at the heart of the liberal democratic system, with racism embedded in the very order of what is presumed to be freedom.

In his closing keynote address to a conference examining the reverberations of history at Stellenbosch University, historian, political scientist and public intellectual Professor Achille Mbembe addressed the topic: The Trauma of the World, and the World as Trauma.

Introducing his audience to the notion of an African and diasporic archive of history and thinking, Professor Mbembe said the archive, for the most part, was a meditation on trauma... on what it is to live with trauma and how to return to life after trauma. In modern thought, trauma was also "the lens through which struggles for the universal have taken on very specific meaning".

The question of historical trauma-focused on the human, the body and psyche, but what constitutes humanity was often left uninterrogated.

"The human in question has always been a bit less than human," he proposed.

Political histories of trauma were not simply about humans, but also about objects, things and commodities. Professor Mbembe said,...

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