PhD research: White Activists in South Africa’s pre- and post-’94 Liberation Movements: Theorising the Problem of White Settler Action

November 2019 to October 2023
liberation movements
South Africa
University of the Western Cape (South Africa)
Research fields
Law and Political Science
In recent years, mass protests by South Africa’s ‘born free’ generation have shattered the reconciliatory post-apartheid consensus and re-centred old revolutionary questions concerning the ownership of land and the 'place' of whites in the country. The white activists who have joined the new movements have found themselves, in this context, confronted with a paralysing ethical-political problem: “How can white settlers contribute to a dismantling of their 'own' systems of oppression?”
Scholars in the fields of Critical Whiteness and Settler Colonial Studies have grappled with this same question and although many have maintained that whites/settlers do have a role to play in the project of decolonisation and the fight against systemic racism, no systematic analysis of what such engagement can or should look like has yet emerged.
To address this gap and analyse the 'Problem of White Settler Action', this project will draw on the experiences of different generations of white South African activists. It will record the ways in which they were and are confronted with the ethical-political problem in their engagement with different liberation movements and analyse how the perception of the problem has changed over time as well as the strategies that have been developed in response.