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Violence, Inequality and Transformation

- Beth Shirley

The DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development is pleased to announce the publication of a new book

The DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development is pleased to announce the publication of a new book Violence, Inequality and Transformation: Apartheid Survivors on South Africa’s Ongoing Transition by Jasmina Brankovic, Brian Mphahlele, Sindiswa Nunu, Agnes Ngxukuma, Nompumelelo Njana and Yanelisa Sishuba.

Despite its lauded political transition in 1994, South Africa continues to have among the highest levels of violence and inequality in the world. Organised survivors of apartheid violations have long maintained that we cannot adequately address violence in the country, let alone achieve full democracy, without addressing inequality.

This book is built around extensive quotes from members of Khulumani Support Group, the apartheid survivors’ social movement, and young people growing up in Khulumani families. It shows how these survivors, who bridge the past and the present through their activism, understand and respond to socioeconomic drivers of violence.

Pointing to the continuities between apartheid oppression and post-apartheid marginalisation in everyday life, the narratives detail ways in which the democratic dispensation has strengthened barriers to social transformation and helped enable violence. They also present strategies for effecting change through collaboration, dialogue and mutual training and through partnerships with diverse stakeholders that build on local-level knowledge and community-based initiatives. 

The lens of violence offers new and manageable ways to think about reducing inequality, while the lens of inequality shows that violence is a complex web of causes, pathways and effects that requires a big-picture approach to unravel. The survivors’ narratives suggest innovative strategies for promoting a just transition through people-driven transformation that go well beyond the constraints of South Africa’s transitional justice practice to date. 

A result of participatory research conducted in collaboration with and by Khulumani members, this open-access book will be of interest to activists, students, researchers and policy makers working on issues of transitional justice, inequality and violence.

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“In this timely book, apartheid’s survivors illustrate how the capitalist system that drove apartheid continues to drive inequality, poverty and violence in democratic South Africa and how the denial of socioeconomic rights undermines civil, political and cultural rights. All human beings have the right to social, economic, political, civil and cultural rights – human rights are universal, inter-related and inter-dependent. Those in power need to listen to these critical voices: the old fault lines, including race, class, gender and geography, must be urgently dismantled so South Africa can transition to a peaceful, just and equal society.” – Pregs Govender, activist and author of ‘Love and Courage: A Story of Insubordination’

“This book sketches the important links between inequality and violence through the narrative accounts of Khulumani Support Group participants. Through their voices we see their continued marginalisation in post-apartheid South Africa and how it continues to shape present-day experiences, including violence. The authors make an important contribution. They show the need to tackle socioeconomic factors that drive violence in order to address the ‘why’ of violence and reduce both inequality and violence.” – Shanaaz Mathews, director of the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town

“This volume represents an innovative and desperately needed rethink of approaches to structural violence and the idea of justice in political transitions. … The Participatory Action Research modality that drives the contents of this book articulates the empowerment of the social transformation that Khulumani demands and highlights this as a grassroots effort, incarnated in Khulumani as a social movement, to drive a transformative justice. As such, it represents an empirical case study that both challenges conventional wisdom of the South African transitional justice process as a model and shares the valuable and impressive experience of Khulumani as a tool to understand, make visible and challenge ongoing injustice. Global efforts to build a new practice of transformative justice demand such examples and this volume represents one important step on the path to constructing such a practice.” – Simon Robins, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York.

About the Authors

Jasmina Brankovic is a senior researcher with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and associate editor of the International Journal of Transitional Justice. She conducts research on transitional justice, inequality and civil society strategies, with a focus on participatory methods. She is co-author of The Global Climate Regime and Transitional Justice (Routledge 2018).

Brian Mkhululi Mphahlele has been a member of Khulumani Support Group in the Western Cape since its founding and currently serves as the secretary of the provincial executive committee. A former political prisoner and torture survivor, he provided testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and continues to fight for redress for apartheid survivors.

Sindiswa Mirriam Nunu is the field worker for Khulumani Support Group in the Western Cape, organising and mobilising members in cooperation with area committees across the province. She served as a councillor for the City of Cape Town from 1998 to 2000. She is an active member of her community on women’s issues and in the struggle for land rights. 

Agnes Ngxukuma is a member of the executive committee of Khulumani Support Group in the Western Cape. She is also an organiser in the African National Congress Women’s League. A mother and grandmother, she runs Eggie’s Soup Kitchen in Khayelitsha and volunteers as a caregiver to those in need in her community. 

Nompumelelo Njana is an apartheid survivor and long-time member of Khulumani Support Group in the Western Cape. She is the founder of a waste picking and recycling initiative in Khayelitsha and an activist in the Waste Pickers Movement of the Western Cape and the South African Waste Pickers Association.

Yanelisa Sishuba is the daughter of a Khulumani Support Group member. She is a youth activist, currently working as a Democratic Alliance youth leader in Cape Town Metro.