Revisiting Harold Wolpe in Post-Apartheid South Africa

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Harold Wolpe Stamp
Harold Wolpe Stamp

Speaker: Dr John Reynolds

Date: Wednesday, 24th April 2019

Time: 4:15pm

Venue: Eden Grove Seminar Room 2


The series is run by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology and Industrial Sociology, History, and Economics & Economic History.

THE PAPER: This paper engages the work of the late Harold Wolpe, a South African revolutionary and Marxist theorist active in the liberation movement. It considers, using Wolpe, the trajectory of the post-apartheid period and the limits of transformation, the contrast between the current situation and the more revolutionary post-apartheid society that Wolpe and others had sought, and the implications of these failed ambitions for progressive politics. What can be learnt about social theory, the linkages between capitalism, race and class, and the nature of the state, including in the current period of globalisation?

In revisiting Wolpe, was arguably one of the most important South African social scientists since 1945, this paper is also a contribution to the recovery of African and South African intellectual traditions. A Marxist active in student politics, the mass campaigns of the 1950s, and the 1960s underground, Wolpe was both lawyer for jailed activists and part of the armed struggle. Jailed by the apartheid state in 1963, he was part of a remarkable jail break and spent the next decades in exile, before coming home after the liberation movements were unbanned in 1990. Wolpe’s work on the relationship between the capitalist mode of production and the homeland system – and, more generally, on how apartheid involved a racist form of cheap labour – helped revolutionise African studies. His papers on internal colonialism, the state, the articulation of modes of production, and on Marxist theory more generally, made inestimable contributions which provide key insights into today’s unequal, racially-divided present. His later work on the state and in education policy remains extremely compelling.

THE SPEAKER: Dr John Reynolds is the founding head of the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) at Rhodes University. His extensive experience in the Eastern Cape has included work for the United Nations Development Programme, the Eastern Cape Provincial Government, and on development programmes financed by the European Union. In 2018, his monograph “Development planning in South Africa: Provincial policy and state power in the Eastern Cape” was published by Zed Books, and, this year, "Race, class and the post-apartheid democratic state" (Reynolds, Fine & Van Niekerk) was published by UKZN Press.



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