Riding “Staff” Along the Train of Thought: Resistance and Critique in the Space of Apartheid

Author: Maggie Fitzgerald
Major: History
Approved: Fall 2016
Status: Completed

Drawing on the recent work of Premesh Lalu, my research focuses on the magazine, Staffrider, as a unique form of resistance and critique in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s of apartheid. Lalu considers a major dilemma in the historic account of transition in South Africa, as it paints the postapartheid present in the temporal sense and falsely indicates a clean rupture with the past. It assumes apartheid as an event when, in actuality, it is a condition. The apartheid, he argues, is a manifestation of Foucault’s notion of bio-power; that is, a power that is not merely repressive, but productive. In directly working with Premesh Lalu at the Centre for Humanities Research at the Western Cape, as well as working in the Mayibuye Archives and the Community Arts Project Collection, I will apply his thoughts and ideas to projects of resistance in South Africa. Through the lens of Staffrider, this project grapples with notions of power, desire, and aesthetics in spaces of resistance. I argue that collective movements of resistance, such as the predominant African National Congress and numerous youth programs, suppressed ambiguity and diminished human agency in order to assure the illusion of unity. In doing so, these resistance movements participated in the fixity of the binary opposition established between apartheid and postapartheid. They defined themselves in opposition- and therefore, in relation- to apartheid. Ultimately, as Lalu argues, they carved a postapartheid future that is unable to define itself without apartheid, rendering it not truly postapartheid in the first place. I believe Staffrider serves as a form of resistance to both repressive and productive notions of power, as it is a hybrid in the face of oppression. It emphasizes consciousness and ambiguity, allowing room for contradiction and individualism, and manages not only to resist, but to critique.