Crisis and catastrophe: the motor of South African history?

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Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
Annual Humanities Lecture Webinar hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) on 5 October 2021. Presented by Assistant Prof Jacob Dlamini, Princeton University, United States of America. In 1977, R.W. Johnson published How Long will South Africa Survive?, a book that sought to examine the resilience of what the author called South Africa’s ‘White Establishment.’ Johnson challenged the tendency among left-wing thinkers and Afrikaner nationalists to see change in South Africa as being driven solely by the internal dynamics of the country’s history. As Johnson elaborated in a 2015 sequel to How Long will South Africa Survive?the ‘iron law’ of South African history was that international developments have always been more responsible for change in the country; that crises generated by South Africa’s position in the global economy have always been the key driver of political transformation in the country. In my presentation, the presenter built on Johnson’s claim that crisis (and catastrophe) is the motor of South African history. He used his claim to position South Africa as a vantage point from which to imagine a national history not burdened by race, and to tell a South African story that is at the same time a global history of the 20th-century. What happens to conventional accounts of South African history (not to mention global history) when we treat the country as the standpoint from which to examine some of the major crises and catastrophes of the 20th century? That is the question at the centre of this presentation.
MP4 Video; Size: 3.34GB; Duration: 1:05
Please cite as: Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), (2021). Crisis and Catastrophe: The Motor of South African History?. [Online] Available at:
Contributor ORCIDs
Dlamini, Jacob ; Jansen, Jonathan ; Soodyall, Himla
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Non-Peer Reviewed