The Unresolved National Question in South Africa: Left Thought under Apartheid

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A book launch was held for Eddie Webster and Karin Pampallis’s "The Unresolved National Question in South Africa: Left Thought under Apartheid" on 3rd May 2017, in partnership with Wits University Press, the Institute for Social and Economic Research, and the Research Office as part of the Labour Studies Seminar Series. The series is jointly co-ordinated by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.

Eddie Webster, founder of the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits University, has played a key role in South African labour studies. An award-winning scholar, with eight books and hundreds of papers and reports, he has a long history of work with the unions. He was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by Rhodes University.

Karin Pampallis is an editor and publications manager of the Hidden Voices Project located in the SWOP, supported by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS).  She authored “Nelson Mandela: They Fought for Freedom” (2000) and “Lilian Ngoyi: They Fought for Freedom” (1996, with Dianne Stewart). She worked at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania in the years of exile.


Debates on the decolonisation of knowledge has revived interest in the National Question, which began over a century ago and remains unresolved. What "nation" means in a South Africa riven by race, class, colour, ethnicity and gender forged under capitalism has posed major challenges to progressive nationalist, liberal, socialist and feminist thought for over a century. Tensions suppressed and hidden in the past are now being openly debated again. The goal of one united nation living prosperously under a democracy remains elusive.   

This edited volume draws together studies of different strands of progressive thought have addressed the unresolved National Question: Marxism-Leninism (the Colonialism of a Special Type thesis); the Congress tradition; the Trotskyist tradition; Africanism; Afrikaner nationalism; Zulu nationalism; Black Consciousness; feminism; "workerism" / syndicalism; and constitutionalism. Contributors include Basil Brown, Sian Byrne, Luli Callinicos, Jeremy Cronin, Alec Erwin, Mallet Giyose, Daryl Glaser, Shireen Hassim, Martin Legassick, Xolela Mangcu, Gerhard Maré, Alex Mashilo, John Mawbey, Dunbar Moodie, Enver Motala, Karin Pampallis, Hamilton Petersen, Ari Sitas, Charles Thomas, Nicole Ulrich, Salim Vally, Lucien van der Walt, Robert van Niekerk, Edward Webster, Allan Zinn and Siphamandla Zondi. Revisiting the debates will help catalyse an enriched debate on our identity and our future, and the preconditions for unity and justice.