User account

Gareth A. Jones: Strangers, Zombies and Disoriented Identity  in the Post-Apartheid City
Strangers, Zombies and Disoriented Identity in the Post-Apartheid City
(p. 117 – 127)

Multiculturalism and the Embodiment of Fear

Gareth A. Jones

Strangers, Zombies and Disoriented Identity in the Post-Apartheid City

PDF, 11 pages


This chapter reflects on research that I have been conducting in South Africa in recent years with my colleague at University of KwaZulu-Natal, Richard Ballard. It was written just days after the death of Nelson Mandela was announced on 5 December 2013, an event that has produced considerable reflection on his political mission and achievements. His death has raised questions of how South Africa will now speak of apartheid’s past and its legacy after 20 years of African National Congress (ANC) rule which has witnessed stubbornly high levels of poverty and possibly worsening levels of inequality.Yet, the television images after Mandela’s death showed numerous signs that South Africa was – in ways unimaginable 25 years ago – a multicultural society, as white people wept at the passing of Madiba and sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. The South Africa ‘celebrating’ on the streets seemed to be at peace with itself. Was this the same country that only a few months before had recoiled against Jacob Zuma, now national president, and Julius Malema, the ‘commander-in-chief’ of the Economic Freedom Fighters, singing “kill the boer” at rallies? Mandela’s death laid some metaphorical ghosts to rest but for how long?

This chapter offers some thoughts about how people act where tolerance for others is fragile. I forward my analysis from the perspective of white elites, and consider how their identities are constructed and grounded in urban space. My argument is that apartheid allowed white identity to go unmarked (invisible) as it represented the urban norm, whereas democracy brought a threat of disorientation to race identities. The resolution to this disorientation has been a careful negotiation of how far white identities can be projected in political and social space. The Mandela project of multiculturalism offered a space to preserve an identity of whiteness so long as this was kept discrete from the public sphere. But this idea of multiculturalism was, and is, up for grabs and can seem uncertain. Nevertheless, multiculturalism, and in particular the ways that it imagined the post-apartheid city, allowed whites the chance to domesticate identities within certain spaces and especially the gated estate. In so doing, whiteness has become constructed as a matter of class (status), to which Black Diamonds and others should aspire. The conceit is that the estates offer a form of multiculturalism-lite, where differences are tolerated so long as similarities of class are in place. In practice, within...

  • crime
  • violence
  • contemporary history
  • multiculturalism
  • South Africa

My language

Selected content

Gareth A. Jones

is Professor in Urban Geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was educated at the universities of London and Cambridge, and teaches worldwide, amongst other institutions at the University of Wales, University of Texas in Austin and the Universidad IberoAmericana, Mexico City. His early research considered how the urban poor gained access to land, housing and finance, before becoming interested in debates on contestation of urban space, violence and security, and of elite identity and architecture. He has conducted ethnographic work with street youth in Mexico, which resulted in the volume Youth Violence in Latin America, which he co-edited with Dennis Rodgers (Palgrave, 2009). He is currently completing a monograph from this research. In 2014 Jones was awarded European and national grants with colleagues at the University of Amsterdam and Ludwig Maximilians University Munich for research on the representations and commodification of poverty and violence in Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico and the USA.
Other texts by Gareth A. Jones for DIAPHANES
Kerstin Stakemeier (ed.), Susanne Witzgall (ed.): Fragile Identities

What is the current state of the subject and what about the status of its self-image? In contemporary discourses we encounter more and more “fragile identities,” in artistic works as well as in scientific theories, and those are today much less referring to a critique of the concept of identity, but much rather to the relationship those concepts of identity entertain with the overall precarious state of the subject in current social conditions that are characterized by political upheaval and change.
The book Fragile Identities investigates among other things the chances and also the possible endangerments of such a fragile self and asks for the resurging urgency of a contemporary concept of subjectivity. The publication combines international artistic and scholarly contributions, discussions and project documentations in relation to the second annual theme of the cx centre for interdisciplinary studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich.