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A wide-ranging and interdisciplinary investigation of cultures of fear in South Africa, this book reveals how fear and its various features, particularly risk, anxiety and moral panic, manifest in contemporary media forms and the communities they serve, and how these are impacted by systems and histories of race, class, gender, space and identity. It foregrounds the significance of emotion as a sociopolitical force in South Africa as elsewhere, arguing that we need to take emotion seriously in order to properly account for the way in which feelings and experiences, and powerful narratives about them, impact on politics and daily life. Spanning a range of imagined communities and physical spaces, it investigates four disparate but deeply affective case studies: the far right myth of ‘white genocide’; so-called ‘Satanist’ murders of young women; an urban legend about township crime; and social theories about safety and goodness in the suburbs. The book is intimately interested in the way in which moral panics, mass fears and collective anxieties manifest in circumstances of higher risk, heightened insecurity, deep inequality and accelerated social change. It emphasises South Africa’s imbrication within globalised conditions of anxiety, and thus its fundamental hypermodernity, in contrast to the atavistic, sometimes dismissive portrayals of Africa that are common within global media and scholarship.
In this introduction, Falkof begins by exploring the changes that have come to South Africa in her years abroad. Talk of crime, risk, danger, security and social decay peppers her conversations and leads to queries as to why she would sacrifice a ‘safe’ life in England for the risky, unsettling realities of home. The inherent risk of being a white, middle-class woman tallies with the contradictory notion that moving is risky – but so is staying still. Many of these dramatic tales of risk are overtly racialised – the media and political discourse aimed at them/us make it clear that black men in particular are a threat. For Falkof, her own prejudices are questioned when she finds herself crossing the street or locking her car doors at red lights at the sight of such black men. Coming back to South Africa makes it clear that her politics cannot unsettle the parts of her identity she is uncomfortable with. This chapter introduces the idea that Africa should be recontextualised and not viewed as ‘surplus, derivative, a place of bluff…’ but as a juxtaposition: a place that combines desperate poverty and ostentatious wealth. In this way, the public script becomes suffused with stories of the uncanny, fear and of threat.
Experiences of anxiety, concerns about risk and threat and powerful moral panics make up some of the most significant collective emotional experiences shaping contemporary life in our globalised, mediatised age. This introductory chapter argues that the fast-changing and deeply unequal context of South Africa requires a reconsideration of assumptions about how people and societies process risk and fear and the effect that these states have on how we live. Drawing on the work of theorists like Zygmunt Bauman (2007, 2006), Chas Critcher (2011), David Altheide (2002) and Sara Ahmed (2014), it discusses the idea of the culture of fear and make an argument for the importance of taking emotion seriously as a collective and political practice. It considers how ideas around risk, anxiety (social rather than psychoanalytic) and moral panic, emerging as they do from theorists based in Europe and America, largely fail to take the global south into account. The chapter suggests an outline for a renegotiation of these categories of theory and illustrates the way in which the book’s case studies are part of this new critical agenda. The chapter ends by introducing the four case studies and outlining some of the connections and equivalences between them. The chapter also argues for the relevance of localised cultural analysis as a way of drawing conclusions about the intersection of identity, emotion and politics in South Africa.
This chapter discusses two self-proclaimed ‘civil rights groups’ and their relation to the far right myth of white genocide, which is, in South Africa, expressed within a powerful panic about rural killings that are defined as farm murders. The first is Red October, a populist movement spearheaded in 2013 by Afrikaans pop stars Steve Hofmeyr and Sunette Bridges. The second is AfriForum, a well-funded pressure group that has been the highest profile campaigner about farm murders. The chapter analyses both groups’ websites as well as videos that campaigners, spokespeople and supporters have posted on YouTube. It discusses scholarship on the histories of white victimhood and exceptionalism (Steyn 2001, Willoughby-Herard 2015), using these as a backdrop against which to isolate rhetorical strategies used by these groups to entrench ideas about white victimhood and minority status. The chapter shows how propagators of the myth of white genocide use scapegoating, discourses of rights and minorities, the dehumanisation of black people, the equation of property to personhood and claims over the meanings of words and symbols to entrench anxieties about white people in South Africa being a special category of victim in need of special protections. It shows how Red October and AfriForum weaponise and marketise long-standing white fears to support the ideological project of white supremacy.
This chapter discusses two cases of so-called Satanist murders of young women that have occurred in recent years in South Africa. The first victim, Kirsty Theologo, was set on the fire and left for dead by a group of friends in 2011. The second and third, Thandeka Moganetsi, 15, and Chwayita Rathazayo, 16, were murdered by two male classmates in 2014. Following the lead of feminist media scholars like Marian Meyers (2004, 1997), Cynthia Carter (1998) and Carrie Rentschler (2014), the chapter analyses newspaper coverage of the murders. It argues that press responses to these deaths were framed as part of an ongoing South African moral panic around Satanism, and that this panic served the purpose of deflecting knowledge of gender-based violence. High rates of gender-based violence suggest that South Africa has a social problem that requires serious consideration. We need to ask why it is that young men seem so frequently to enact shocking violence on the bodies of young women whom they know. However, press coverage of the deaths stuck to a familiar rhetorical strategy that placed them within a biblical frame of good and evil. Invoking Hannah Arendt’s formulation of the banality of evil (1963), the chapter argues that this strategy allowed the media narrative to disavow difficult questions about the structural causes of extreme violence in favour of a too-easy story about monstrousness and exceptionalism, as well as ignoring the echoes of apartheid violence that haunt these murders.
This chapter is concerned with the ‘plasma gang’ scare that took place in Alexandra township, in Johannesburg, in 2013. This localised urban legend swirled around gangs of criminals that were allegedly stealing plasma televisions from township homes, often using muti to sedate the inhabitants. The plasma from the screens was then apparently either used as drugs by the thieves themselves or sold to dealers to make nyaope, a street drug that is an object of much concern in South Africa. The chapter uses social and mainstream media material, supplemented by a series of interviews with Alex residents, to follow the process of the scare and isolate its narrative components. It employs Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff’s work on the narrative, mythic and experiential features of crime in South Africa (2016) to reveal the way in which this urban legend coalesced a number of existing anxieties – xenophobia, fears of crime (often perpetrated by acquaintances), fears about drug dealers and police corruption – into one overdetermined folk devil that allowed for the collective expression of local senses of insecurity. Drawing on southern African studies of class and consumption (Alexander et al. 2013, Iqani 2015, Posel 2010), it argues that the plasma gangs story shows the complexity of living a hypermodern, aspirational and urban life within a space that is often coded as high risk, meaning that everyday citizens are caught between the neoliberal desire to own and display high status goods and the fear that doing so in itself leads to increased precarity.
This chapter again considers a set of localised anxieties in Johannesburg. It examines posts on the community Facebook group of the formerly white suburb of Melville, in the west of the city. This is a relatively liminal space: its residents are not homogenous in terms of race, age, class or income and it is geographically closer to the city centre than other suburbs. A magnet for artists, academics and journalists, it is also known for its supposedly bohemian, ‘liberal’ character. The chapter discusses a series of posts on the I Love Melville page, showing the dual injunctions and desires that group members express: firstly, to ensure that they are ‘safe’, and secondly, to actively perform humanitarian ‘goodness’. It uses Richard Ballard’s work on suburbs, race and belonging in South Africa (2005, 2003) to think about what Melville means as a spatial designation, and Lilie Chouliaraki’s ideas about ‘post-humanitarianism’ (2012, 2010) to consider the contradictory nature of these urges, in that the collective desire for safety involves an ongoing low-level anxiety about the presence of poor and black people while the desire to do good usually involves collective actions of providing money or goods to poor and black people. The chapter discusses racialised fears and performative humanitarianism to show how suburban South Africans attempt to construct their identities within intersecting discourses of risk, rights, safety, charity and tolerance.
This chapter sums up the book’s primary arguments: the importance of collective emotion as an element of contemporary life, politics and narrative world-making; the necessity of considering emotion in, not just about, South Africa; the interplay of local conditions of risk and insecurity with anxious global narratives; and the ways in which anxiety, risk and moral panic manifested in the four case studies, intersecting with pressing issues like racism, gender-based violence, consumption, spatial injustice, securitisation, crime. It emphasises the themes of violence, identity and belonging that recur across the book, notwithstanding the very different locations and conditions of the four episodes under discussion. Overall it argues that these stories of moral panic, risk and anxiety reveal something about how it feels to live in South Africa right now. They help to develop a deeper understanding of how people use media, narrative, identity and belonging to locate themselves in society, and how experiences of emotion, particularly collective and amplified emotion, shape perceptions, politics and personal space.
Intimacy and Injury maps the travels of the global #MeToo movement in India and South Africa. Both countries have shared the infamy of being labelled the world’s ‘rape capitals’, with high levels of everyday gender-based and sexual violence. At the same time, they boast long histories of resisting such violence and its location in wider cultures of patriarchy, settler colonialism and class and caste privilege. Northern voices and experiences have dominated debates on #MeToo, which, while originating in the US, had considerable traction elsewhere, including in the global south. In India, #MeToo revitalised longstanding feminist struggles around sexual violence, offering new tactics and repertoires. In South Africa, it drew on new cultures of opposing sexual violence that developed online and in student protest. There were also marked differences in the ways in which #MeToo travelled in both countries, pointing to older histories of power, powerlessness and resistance. The book uses the #MeToo moment to track histories of feminist organising in both countries, while also revealing how newer strategies extended or limited these struggles. Intimacy and Injury is a timely mapping of a shifting political field around gender-based violence in the global south. In proposing comparative, interdisciplinary, ethnographically rich and analytically astute reflections on #MeToo, it provides new and potentially transformative directions to scholarly debates, which are rarely brought into conversation with one another. With contributors located in South Africa and India alone, this book builds transnational feminist knowledge and solidarity in and across the global south.
In a short period of time, we have witnessed both the seismic effects of the #MeToo movement and its ageing. We have felt the optimism that gathered as the hashtag travelled, while being sceptical about this particular wave of ‘clicktivism’. Even as we saw how an individualised ‘me’ gathered and mobilised an ever-widening ‘too’ – exemplifying how a hashtag amalgamates individual experiences into a story of systemic harm and mobilises collective solidarity – worries accumulated. For every Harvey Weinstein who was stripped of power and influence, there was a Brett Kavanaugh who accumulated power and capital in spite of the force of women’s testimony. Alongside the downfall of powerful men, women were implicated as aggressors.