'A Better Life for All': Prefigurative and Strategic Politics in Southern Africa


  • Larry A. Swatuk
  • Peter Vale


Prefigurative politics is a resurgent concept, seeking to explain a diverse array of social phenomena, from Occupy Wall Street to car-sharing cooperatives. The driving force behind these activities is said to be a combination of dashed hopes for a better post-Cold War world and the widespread negative social impacts of neoliberal globalization. Although located in the Global South, Southern Africa is not immune to these pressures and processes. Indeed, the region is rife with a number of activities and organisations demonstrating features of prefigurative politics. Taken together, however, it is unlikely that these activities constitute a ‘prefigurative moment’ in the region’s politics. So ubiquitous in theory and practice is the idea of the modern Western state as locus of ‘a better life for all’ that prefigurative impulses are quickly colonized by state-centered, mainstream actors, forces and factors. At present, significant student movements are underway in South Africa, #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall, suggesting possibilities for meaningful change not through disengagement from the state, but by directly confronting it in deliberate and coordinated ways. This demonstration of what A.O. Hirschman calls ‘voice’ is dissimilar to the general trends of ‘exit’ or ‘loyalty’ among individuals, groups and communities across the region. While all of these activities are indicative of a strong desire for a better life for all, transformational change in southern Africa requires strategic political thinking and action. Only the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall student protests suggest movement, albeit nascent, in this direction.