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Inkululeko: Youth, Non-Governmental Organizations, and Discourses of Democracy in Post-Apartheid South Africa


For Xhosa-speaking South Africans, the word Inkululeko means "democracy," as no word for this idea previously existed in the language. The direct translation, however, is "freedom" - a gloss for the end of apartheid and a marker of the great hopes for equality that accompanied the country's transition in 1994. This dissertation demonstrates that a plethora of educational programs espousing the merits of democracy exist alongside an undercurrent of disappointment with democratic values and nostalgia for apartheid within historically oppressed communities. I examine the influx of democratic ideologies through local practices in the predominantly Xhosa-speaking Eastern Cape, particularly in schools and in non-governmental organization (NGO) interventions. I focus specifically on youth as a site of both political agency and subjectivity, asking how local cultural forms act as a filter for Western-based notions of democracy and human rights. My research data, based on a year of participant observation and semi-structured interviews, demonstrate significant backlash to the tenets of democracy as well as widespread nostalgia for elements of the apartheid regime. I understand these phenomena in part through a materialist perspective on the global turn towards neoliberal capitalism, which exacerbates wealth inequality and privatization in ways that my research participants often conflate with the principles of democracy. I illuminate that negative reactions to Western-based rights discourses are deeply rooted in Xhosa cultural ideologies on social reproduction, leading to locally-situated negotiations of democracy that differ from official state discourses and have the potential to radically transform citizenship production into the next generation.

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