Democracy, Fried Chicken and the Anomic Bomb
Drawing on ethnographic observation in South Africa in 1994, during the first post- apartheid election and the installation of Nelson Mandela as president, this essay reflects critically on the relationship between consumer capitalism, democracy, and nation-building. Democratization promised both a better life for all and the making of a “rainbow, non-racial” nation. But, over time, it yielded little to most South Africans. Instead, it ushered in an era of market-driven, neoliberally-oriented economic policies that, under the imperative of “structural adjustment,” radically deepened inequality, poverty, joblessness, and fears of criminal violence. It also ruptured the dream of a “new” nation, calling into question the very claim of nationhood and the rights of citizenship. This has raised a number of more general questions about the future of democracy under the impact of late capitalism, questions that have been felt increasingly across the world. To put it in the interrogative, is it possible that democracy is dying under the impact of new forms of capitalism, making its promise impossible and rendering it irrelevant? And what does the South African story tell us, more generally, about the unfolding history of the present?