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The Politics of "Non-Political" Activism in Democratic South Africa

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Twenty years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, organizations representing key voting constituencies—youth and the economically marginalized—are becoming major forces of opposition to the ANC-led government while explicitly framing their activities as non-political. They prefer instead to talk in terms of "rights" and "activism." Drawing from fieldwork and online publications of three opposition organizations—#RhodesMustFall, Abahlali baseMjondolo, and Afriforum—this article argues that the abandonment of "politics" is more than rhetorical positioning. By framing their actions as non-political, these groups engage in a deep-seated critique of the possibilities presented by democratic politics and a lack of perceived efficacy or legitimacy of institutionalized contestation. Perhaps more importantly, it means that opposition politics are occurring in an environment without institutional incentives for cooperation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2019

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  • Comparative Politics is an international journal that publishes scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and behavior. It was founded in 1968 to further the development of comparative political theory and the application of comparative theoretical analysis to the empirical investigation of political issues. Comparative Politics communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, and students, and is valued by experts in research organizations, foundations, and consulates throughout the world.
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