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Contestation at a South African University through the Lens of Democratic Theory

Five Exercises

Daryl Glaser


The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits), has been a prominent site of student protests since 2015. In the midst of the conflicts various Wits actors claimed or implied a special democratic legitimacy. This article examines five exercises at Wits: the election of student representatives, the student protest movement, a student petition, a management-initiated poll and an aborted General Assembly. These exercises are scrutinised and scored along six democratic dimensions: directness, participation, representation, pluralism, equality and deliberation. According to the weak thesis, this dimensional analysis reveals a landscape of democratic complexity that belies the claim of any one actor to a superior democratic model. According to the strong thesis, there is a particular problem with democratic practices that score weakly in terms of representation. The weakness of the ‘fallist’ student movement in the representation dimension undercuts its claim to prefigure a superior form of comprehensive university-wide democracy.

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Contesting Paradigms in Society’s Poverty Alleviation and Development Arena

Theoretical Debates on Agency

Sunday Paul Chinazo Onwuegbuchulam and Khondlo Mtshali


In contemporary development and political studies the Capability Approach as proposed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum has become an alternative analytical framework used to conceptualise the promotion of well-being (‘capabilities’) in society. Notably, an important component of this framework is agency, which underscores the various ‘transformation mechanisms’ towards realising well-being in societies. This study straddles the area of political theory and development studies and seeks to contribute to the literature on the Capability Approach from a fresh perspective of the contest for agency between the different political stakeholders in society’s development arena. The study interrogates the agency roles of different stakeholders in society’s development focusing on the liberal-communitarian and the state-in-society debates on the politics of state from the perspective of the Capability Approach.

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A Critique of Liberal Universalism

The Concept of Secular Philosophical Grounding

Jaan S. Islam


This article examines the two major orientations of cosmopolitanism and offers a philosophical and logical deconstruction of their roots. Firstly, ‘philosophical cosmopolitanism’ is critiqued based on its assumption of universal thought and reason. Secondly, the foundations and assumptions of ‘pluralist cosmopolitanism’ are deconstructed on the basis that it relies upon the abstract validity of philosophical cosmopolitanism. On basis of these evaluations, this article concludes that liberal cosmopolitanism – regardless of its form – bases its validity upon the moral validity of the premises of cosmopolitanism. The primary argument made is that contemporary cosmopolitan scholars, having stripped cosmopolitanism from their metaphysical origins, are unable to defend their philosophies from a metaphysical point of view. A call to reform and reconsider the fundamental tenets of liberal cosmopolitanism is made.

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What’s a Political Theorist to Do?

Rawls, the Fair Value of the Basic Political Liberties, and the Collapse of the Distinction Between ‘Ideal’ and ‘Nonideal’ Theory

Susan Orr and James Johnson


John Rawls famously distinguishes between ideal and nonideal theory, according priority to the former. He depicts his own efforts to articulate the conception of justice as fairness as an instance of ideal theory. Subsequent political theorists have taken Rawls’s distinction as a template for how we should understand the tasks of political theory. Yet they also have struggled to clarify the underlying distinction with notable lack of success. We argue that Rawls himself does not abide by the distinction between ideal and nonideal theory and that this affords a good reason to set the distinction aside as a distraction.

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Whites Cannot Be Black

A Bikoist Challenge to Professor Xolela Mangcu

Keolebogile Mbebe


Professor Xolela Mangcu argues in his article ‘Whites Can Be Black’ that Steve Biko’s philosophy of Black Consciousness would support the thesis that white people can become black. In this article I argue that this thesis is incongruent with the articulation of Black Consciousness in Biko’s book of collected writings, I Write What I Like. I show that, for Biko, Black Consciousness is possible only in the context of a non-white person’s experience of white racism that is not only a material experience but also a psychological experience based on the racist claim that there is a hierarchy of race. I contend that a correct analysis of Biko’s writings would show that white people self-identifying as Politically Black are acting from bad faith that results from a flight from the responsibility that accompanies their facticity.

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The Challenges Faced by Contemporary Pan-African Intelligentsia in the Re-building of Africa

A Nkrumahist Perspective

Ezekiel S. Mkhwanazi


The African intelligentsia played a pivotal role in the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle in Africa. Not only did it provide intellectual resources to the political struggle leaders but also took active part in the political leadership. Since independence, this role has diminished tremendously, as some of the intelligentsia are ‘silenced’ and others become ‘captured’ by the newly independent states. As a result, a wedge is driven between the intelligentsia and the political leadership. However, given that there is a deficit in efforts to reconstruct Africa, the pan-African intelligentsia are called upon to reinvigorate and reposition themselves to assist in developing organisations and institutions to serve African people worldwide. This call challenges them to take a creative, innovative role in the reconstructive task of Africa, thereby bidding farewell to intellectual isolationism. The article draws from Kwame Nkrumah’s ideas, thereby affirming the relevance of his political ideas in contemporary Africa.

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Contested Memory

Retrieving the Africanist (Liberatory) Conception of Non-racialism

Ndumiso Dladla


South Africa since 1994 is widely represented as a society which has broken both historically and politically with white supremacy. One of the central discursive pillars sustaining this representation is the appeal to the most recent South African constitution Act 108 of 1996, the founding provisions of which declare that South Africa is founded on the value of non-racialism. The central argument of this article is that an examination of the philosophical underpinnings of the non-racialism of the constitution can give us a better understanding of why and how South Africa remains a racial polity despite the coming into effect of the constitution. We will conclude the article by considering the ethical and political demands which must be met before the actuality of non-racialism may be experienced.

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Critiquing Sub-Saharan Pan-Africanism through an Appraisal of Postcolonial African Modernity

Lawrence Ogbo Ugwuanyi


What vision directs pan-Africanism and which developmental model does it support and promote? To answer this question, the article evaluates pan-Africanism within the demands of African modernity and locates the extent to which pan-Africanism meets the aspiration of African modernity. It argues that pan-Africanism has what amounts to a north-bound gaze and supports development imperialism, and shows that for this reason it is not properly grounded on African realities, the consequence of which is the weakness of African modernity. The article suggests a re-articulation of pan-Africanism through the ideology of pro-Africanism, which holds that autonomy and self-will are two cardinal principles that are fundamental to African self-definition but which pan-Africanism is not in a position to provide because it amounts to a subordination of African difference. It concludes that a redirection of the African vision in this direction is a worthier ideological alternative to pan-Africanism.

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Some Senses of Pan-Africanism from the South

Christopher Allsobrook

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Traces of Pan Africanism and African Nationalism in Africa Today

Denis Goldberg