The Limits of Multiculturalism: Agamben and the Post-Colony
Amanda Gouws (Stellenbosch University, South Africa)

South Africa can be considered a multicultural society that evolved out of settler colonialism and apartheid segregation.  It is often hailed as a success story – a country that avoided a fullscale civil war or revolution to become the “rainbow nation”.  Twenty-seven years into democracy the rainbow has lost its shine due to one party dominance the undermines the benefits of multipartyism, rampant corruption, troubling political divisions between nationalist, liberal and populist political parties, racial polarization, continuing landlessness for a majority of the population and some of the highest levels of gender-based violence globally. Forging multicultural societies out of territorially segregated communities, plural legal systems (civil and customary law) and uniting colonially imposed identity groups in a bounded territory also entailed a re-determination of who are considered minorities and majorities and who are included as citizens and subjects, settlers and natives. In this regard processes of decolonization have to address the challenges of embodiment – or racialization  – the construction of colonial subjects as backward, barbaric and uncivilized that informs identity formation of the settler and the subject, since identities exist in relation to each other.  Embodiment also determines gender identities and gender relations that were made more static and immutable through the codification of customs and tradition. The particularity of codified customs and oral traditions becomes a point of contention when they come into conflict with the universalism of human rights of multicultural societies that would consider them (customs) illiberal and harmful, especially in relation to women and LGBTIQ communities. Sovereignty, land and embodiment are therefore crucial to understand the limits of multiculturalism in the post-colony. In this paper I will show how the issue of territory or land is a crucial dimension of sovereignty without which citizens are still excluded from citizenship as rights bearers.  In South Africa the slow processes of land reform have contributed to the precarious lives of rural farm dwellers and rural landless people, resulting in what Agamben calls “bare life”. Drawing on Agamben’s theory of the homo sacer, I analyse post-colonial sovereignty through the state of exception and bare life which are the antithesis of multicultural sovereignty, to show how processes of marginalization and exclusion continue despite post-colonial sovereignty. I will also show how the shift from majority to minority status, allow white farmers, who own the biggest portion of agricultural land, to now claim that they have become the victims of a white genocide due to the murders of white farmers. These claims of genocide echoes Mahmood Mamdani’s analysis of the genocide in Rwanda of “victims [in this case those oppressed under apartheid] who have become killers”.  The violent operations of power and land dispossession are also deeply raced and gendered.