Cultures of Resistance: Ending Apartheid

Through examining the role of global attitudes towards apartheid, a Hebrew University scholar has constructed an entirely novel research agenda

For decades, the apartheid government in South Africa exiled political activists, intellectuals, writers, photographers and musicians. Despite massive state repression, texts depicting racial oppression circulated within transnational networks; images were disseminated by the mass media; and sounds travelled, whether as the radio broadcasts of displaced writers or as the jazz performances of exiled musicians.

This cultural mediation allowed dissidents and intellectuals to develop and maintain a domestic as well as a global discourse around social injustice and racial inequality under apartheid. Dr. Louise Bethlehem of the Department of English and the Programme in Cultural Studies at the Hebrew University has hypothesized that global circulation of South African culture may be used to provide researchers with a novel historiographic interpretation of apartheid.

In her study, Dr. Bethlehem recasts the regime as an apparatus of transnational cultural production. Thus, she seeks to explore how the global contest over the meaning of apartheid and of opposition to it occurred on the cultural terrain; and how and why it impacted global politics and history.

Over the course of the first year of the research project, Dr. Bethlehem and her team have uncovered a previously untapped archive involving the political and musical activities of the exiled South African jazz legend, Miriam Makeba who lived in Guinea for over a decade. By examining how Guinea responded to Makeba as the preeminent symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle, the researchers have been able to trace a complex set of interactions involving rival pan-Africanist ideologies. These findings shed light on broader social movements, including the civil rights struggle and alternatives to the philosophy of Négritude, the dominant anticolonial ideology of decolonizing Francophone Africa.

In line with the hypothesis of “thick convergence” which Dr. Bethlehem’s project proposes, she has been able to restore to view some of the consequences of Cold War dynamics affecting the anti-apartheid struggle in decolonizing Africa.

Dr. Louise Bethlehem of the Department of English and the Programme in Cultural Studies was granted 1.86 Million Euros for her project on “Apartheid -- The Global Itinerary: South African Cultural Formations in Transnational Circulation, 1948-1990.”

Dr. Louise Bethlehem