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Heribert Adam

Heribert Adam is a sociologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and conducts annual field research in South Africa with Kogila Moodley.

Redeeming Winnie

Heribert Adam, 5 March 2020

Progressive​ intellectuals in South Africa, when asked what they think of Winnie Mandela, most often respond: it’s a complex story. Complexity is sometimes an excuse for avoiding a principled judgment, an uncomfortable truth. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a victim and a perpetrator of violence. These two books draw opposite moral conclusions from the same life story. Sisonke Msimang...

With or without the ANC

Heribert Adam, 13 June 1991

South Africa still holds a morbid fascination for outside observers, despite the competition from more old-fashioned Arab autocracies. An astonishingly smooth experiment in social engineering intrigues neo-conservatives. Left-leaning scepties hold their breath lest Mandela and the ANC allow themselves to be co-opted by the white establishment. A stream of earnest political tourists land at Jan Smuts to make the traditional tour from Cape Town to Durban, to arrange appointments with willing but isolated academic pundits and newspaper editors. Now they can even visit the disorganised ANC headquarters legally or absorb atmosphere on an afternoon bus-tour through Khayelitsha or Alexandra.

Getting together

Heribert Adam, 14 June 1990

The extraordinary spectacle of the South African Government and the African National Congress socialising and bantering with each other for the first time needs to be decoded for its psychological implications. Politics is about the manipulation of symbols as a precondition for the exercise of real power. Not only was the ground laid for irreversible negotiations and compromises between two deadly enemies, but the antagonists also established a cordial relationship during three days of talks at the foot of Table Mountain. They discovered, in Thabo Mbeki’s words, that to their mutual amazement they ‘had no horns’. Members of the dreaded Security Police who guarded the ANC delegation became buddies with their enemies and were soon on a first-name basis. While white and black South Africa wondered about respectable ‘terrorists’ being invited into the official residence of South African prime ministers, a flabbergasted correspondent observed: ‘When Mbeki began to crack jokes, accompanied by some boyish elbow-tugging with General Basie Smit, the chief of the Security Police, the unusual appeared to become elevated to the sublime.’

Pretoria gets ready

Heribert Adam, 9 July 1987

It is a depressing fact that minority rule in a modern developed economy can last a long time provided it is sufficiently ruthless. An unjust regime is not necessarily a faltering one. Lacking legitimacy merely increases costs. Contrary to conventional social science wisdom, even such closed states as Syria, Burundi or Poland demonstrate how hated cliques can cling to power despite the manifest disaffection of the majority. How much more does this apply to South Africa, where the loyalty both of the military and of an ethnic bureaucracy remains unquestioned. Pretoria cannot therefore be equated with Teheran or Manila. As a legally sovereign state, South Africa is neither subject to foreign administrative control nor crucially dependent on outside support. Israel, for example, despite her greater legitimacy, is far more vulnerable to external pressure than the Apartheid order. In the present violent stalemate, the South African state can be undermined – but not overthrown.

Apartheid’s Apocalypse

R.W. Johnson, 3 July 1986

‘South Africa,’ write Adam and Moodley,evokes a morbid fascination. A vast literature of condemnation wallows in moral predicaments. Ambivalent friends of Pretoria respond with ever...

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Apartheid gains a constitution

Keith Kyle, 1 May 1980

The Habsburg monarchy two decades before its total collapse might seem an odd source to go to for contemporary political solutions. But it is to that period, and above all to the writings of the...

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