The limits of African nationalism: from anti-apartheid resistance to postcolonial critique

Johnson, David (2018). The limits of African nationalism: from anti-apartheid resistance to postcolonial critique. In: Deckard, Sharae and Varma, Rashmi eds. Marxism, Postcolonial Theory and the Future of Critique: Critical Engagements with Benita Parry. Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures. New York: Routledge, pp. 191–212.



In anecdotal mode, Benita Parry revealed in a lecture in Cape Town shortly after the formal end of apartheid that her time in the city in the early 1950s “was formative of my subsequent intellectual interests” (Parry 1995, 84). Describing a milieu in which “students were able, despite the threat of its illegality, to debate the competing discourses of the Congresses, the Communist Party, and the Unity Movement,” Parry foregrounded “the significance of the theoretical questions rehearsed, if not necessarily initiated, by student groups more than 40 years ago” (Parry 1995, 85). Central in shaping these theoretical questions, Parry argued, was the Unity Movement, an organization that was part of the global anti-colonial movement comprising “theorist-activists engaged in liberation struggles which inaugurated the interrogation of colonialism and imperialism as projects of, and constitutive forces in, western modernity” (Parry 1995, 85). For Parry, this tradition “is a legacy which we can both question and criticize, and prize as a resource for understanding not only colonialism’s past, but also the contemporary oppressions perpetrated and perpetuated by some post-independence regimes on their native soil, and by late imperialism across the globe” (Parry 1995, 86). This chapter accordingly returns to the Unity Movement of 1950s Cape Town, not as an act of rescue, but in a spirit of engagement and critique.

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