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  • South Africa and India: shaping the global south ed. by Isabel Hofmeyr and Michelle Williams
  • Thembisa Waetjen (bio)
Isabel Hofmeyr and Michelle Williams (eds) (2011) South Africa and India: shaping the global south. Johannesburg: Wits University Press

South Africa's ongoing story of itself is a part of what continually reproduces its nationhood and institutional hegemony. The story has mostly looked inward from formal state boundaries, which are thought to define and contain its history, economy, politics and demography. Since 1910, ruling parties have often laboured to narrow the story further, to conflate nationhood with a particular classification of peoplehood and peoplehood with Party. Such narratives have sometimes remapped the political geography, revising territory and citizenship statuses according to ideologies of racial or ethnic belonging. In recent years, too, zones of xenophobic purge and regulation have been drawn in relation to party affiliation, citizenship status and economic class. Grand pronouncements about tradition and modernity are racialised and gendered, and pitted as oppositional codes of honour and purity. Yet, these impulses, which have simultaneously regimented exclusions and invented foreignness, have been waged against a backdrop of ongoing global and regional fluidity, connection and movement. Positioned between two oceans, at the foot of a vast continent, South Africa's history has been shaped fundamentally by crossings of many kinds, by sea and land, by movements of arrival, migration, exchange, transgression, assimilation, conflict, alchemy.

How can these realities be adequately accounted for? Eric Warby, one of authors contributing to South Africa and India: shaping the global south, quips that readers of this volume 'might be excused for wondering why [it's diverse chapters] ought to be considered part of a common scholarly undertaking', and cites some of the enormous difficulties in making [End Page 317] comparisons and connections between two very different Indian Ocean subcontinents. 'Have we inflated - or, worse - merely invented - a scholarly agenda out of relatively thin air?' he asks. In fact, the proliferation of scholarship exploring connections and flows in various regions of the world has posed an important challenge to national and 'area studies' traditions. More than seeking merely to broaden the analytic lens or to identify new frameworks for social analysis, however, the best of this scholarship is also able to reflect critically back onto the processes through which modern national and regional power is constituted and negotiated. Understanding these processes is perhaps especially important in the current context of shifting relations of global dominance and as the much-heralded decline of the nation-state opens possibilities for asserting of new and creative forms of political identity.

This volume brings together in book form a set of previously published papers that address these important concerns in relation to South Africa and India. This dyad constitutes a 'regional unit within the international' that 'acquire[d] its coherence and interconnectedness from being part of the same [British] empire', as Datta writes (57). Empire facilitated the movement of people - for example, indentured Indians to Natal - and furnished political infrastructure, navigational technologies and media syndicates that also transported cultural forms and ideas across a shared ocean. How these connections shaped local histories and local cosmopolitanisms, and how these then circulate back into the development of a regional and political 'South', is explored in fascinating ways through this collection of chapters.

The book is organised in two methodological parts, with five chapters tracing historical connections and six chapters exploring socio-political comparisons. Although each chapter pursues a different empirical and analytical concern, there are numerous points that suggest the broader questions being asked. A major theme explored by all authors is the continual and creative (re)making of civic possibilities. One part of this revolves around the nature of the universalisms that were historically produced through trans-oceanic encounters, and the extent to which the 'Africa' side of the India-Africa question has been integrated into the various solitaries that have been celebrated. Another part of this is concerned with the histories and social formulations India and Africa may draw upon as resources in their respective re-makings of regional 'selfhood' in the twenty-first century. [End Page 318]

Not surprisingly, the figure of Gandhi - in his multiple manifestations as printer...


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pp. 317-322
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