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Unisa Press

The Mandela Decade 1990-2000: Labour, Culture and Society in Post-Apartheid South Africa

The Mandela Decade 1990-2000: Labour, Culture and Society in Post – Apartheid South Africa


Ari Sitas





Number of pages:

212 + 6pp softcover


South Africa: R240 (incl VAT) | Africa: R247 (airmail incl) | USD: 32| GBP: 23| Euro: 27


Laetitia Theart:

About the book

‘The Mandela Decade, the period of the 1990s, will be for generations to come a haunting turning point. It has been a privilege to have lived, thought and struggled through it,’ says author Ari Sitas

Sitas was a participant observer of the social changes addressed in this book. On 25 February 1990, hardly a week after Nelson Rolihlala Mandela’s release from prison, Sitas was there when Mandela told the 200 000-strong crowd at King’s Park Stadium in Durban to throw their guns into the sea. After five years of extreme violence and civil war in the province, what the majority expected was the arrival of a decisive and avenging Mandela. In thepopular story-telling tradition, the release of the hero was to make the homesteads whole again, wrong would be made right, the shredded would be stitched again and the enemy, routed.

Sitas continued to have direct access to the intimate experiences of alienation by the ‘non-winners’, ‘non-mobiles’ and ‘losers’ of the transition. These were working-class poets and cultural activists who were themselves heroes during the resistance period but who were now lost in the world of hardship, rainbows and freedoms. Qabula, Max Masango, Martha Mkhize and others grappled with the contradictions of the changes around them and their daily black working-class experience.

Going beyond poetry, Sita addresses Mandela’s charisma, of reconciliation, of the ‘new’ forms of thinking about the South African nation and its meanings. He goes about this by interrogating four separable, but interlinked themes.

The first theme is about the nation and nationalism and seeks to answer why the black working-class vested their hope in Mandela’s leadership and how a new national ontology has created the conditions for a ‘grand compromise’, which in turn defined the national democratic terrain of the transition.

The second theme deals with how the globalisation of the country re-defined the conditions of existence of its working population, while the third theme is about how the elastic band that held together the comradeship of the labour movement has not snapped, given the radical inequalities and sharp forms of differentiation and stratification that have been experienced.

The fourth theme looks at the theorising aspects of this process, away from disembodied and disembedded theories of society The poor are embedded and governed by laws of gravity with their own patterns of a politics of encroachment and defiance. Without such contextual analyses, social systems, states and civil societies or networks cannot be understood.



Chapter 1: Symbolic Figurations
1.1 The Mandela Decade (1990–2000): The Discipline of Sociological Charisma in South Africa
1.2 Of Land, Bones and Money

Chapter 2: Structural Adjustments
2.1 The Logic of Fragmentation and Reconstruction
2.2 Globalisation and Participation

Chapter 3: Symbolic Figurations From Below

3.1 The Autobiography of a Movement
3.2 Thirty Years since the Durban Strikes: Black Working Class Leadership and the South African Transition

Chapter 4: The Poor
The New Poor and Livelihoods in Durban
4.2 Productive Networks and Civic Activism: From People’s Skills to People’s Jobs            
4.3 Love in the Time of Cholera?

Chapter 5: Theorising Patterns of Change
5.1 The Bonds that Shape, the Bonds that Bind, the Bonds that Break:
5.2 Disabled Systems and Disabling Social Actions

Chapter 6: Postscripts
6.1 Seasons of Drought Have no Rainbows:
6.2 The Road to Polokwane