Article: Know thy Systemic Enemies – Mechanisms that Prevent Transformation

Published in the journal Politikon in July 2019.


Despite the hopes and political promises of the 1990s that socio-economic transformation would occur in South Africa, the country continues to be plagued by high levels of poverty and inequality. The question of why this transformation deficit exists arises, often with debate surrounding answers where forms of binary logic are foregrounded, for example, coloniality/decoloniality and Eurocentrism/Afrocentrism, among others. I depart from binaries-based approaches and instead focus on analyses revealing mechanisms that prevent transformation. These mechanisms are evident in Mill’s analysis of the development of democracy, Marcuse’s critique of advanced industrial society, Deleuze’s commentary on disciplinary and control societies, and Princen’s descriptions of traffic control measures. Outlines of these analyses are offered in the spirit of ‘knowing the enemy’ that is a mix of structural mechanisms, identifiable without over-reliance on binary relationships, oppositions and tensions. Oppositions and tensions of this binary nature have been prominent in transformation rhetoric in South Africa, but the country’s transformation deficit indicates that a new language (Wallerstein, Princen) might still be helpful in dealing with various conceptual and practical challenges. Adopting a manner of expression less inclined towards emphasis on binaries may be a step in the direction of the new language.

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