The graves of dimbaza and the empire of liberation

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This paper focuses on the ambiguous, contradictory and montaged space of Dimbaza in the former Ciskei bantustan of the Eastern Cape, figured simultaneously as homeland resettlement village, betterment rural township, decentralised industrialisation showcase, site of political banishment, international symbol of apartheid difference and as graveyard of the racially discarded, among others. Drawing on empire as the dependent space to command sovereignty, the paper considers Dimbaza in terms of South African empire. While it is suggested that as a means to re-figure the South African political, the bantustan may be read as a mark of a South African empire ‘project’, the paper is more concerned to ‘think with empire as a theoretical concept’. The paper draws on the elements of knowledge susceptible to being assembled by historical imagination – written documents, letters in the International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) Collection, contemporary testimonies, and visual sources (including the important film documentary Last Grave at Dimbaza) – and which constitute or resist the native/racial/ethnic/ African subject (and thus are seen to exemplify the racial spatial command of the sovereign). We assemble these in relation to seemingly antagonistic historical formulations, particularly ‘colonialism of a special type’ and the politics of exile and liberation. We propose that, rather than returning us to South African ‘empire’ as a totality, the term offers us multiple singularities that allow us to consider the imaginative formulation of the ‘empire of liberation’ as a dependent space that continues to command sovereignty within the ‘native question’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-634
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2015

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