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Constructions of Childhood in Apartheid's Last Decades.

By Monica Eileen Patterson


This dissertation examines constructions of childhood at a time and place in which black children’s lives were defined by tremendous instability. On the one hand, these children are often remembered as the most vulnerable and defenseless of apartheid’s victims. Yet, the history of the struggle for freedom in South Africa reveals that young people were also potent political actors, dangerous and willing to take on a whole government, armed with placards, songs, stones, military training, guns, and other weaponry. They were critical targets of state violence, but also powerful political players and themselves agents of violence. Semantically, socially, intellectually, “childhood” is in its essence constructed in its meanings and usages. The political, cultural, and social work of childhood lies in these conventions. Suffering and violence vex and complicate the constructions of childhood in South Africa, where violence and childhood were structurally and practically linked through the apartheid system. Following the Soweto Uprising of 1976, images of children as victims of state-sponsored violence saturated South Africa and the world. Within the context of the late apartheid period, the complex relationship between childhood and violence fuels new opportunities for additional reflection and debate by reopening questions about agency, responsibility, culpability, and consciousness for reconsideration and revision. It is impossible to settle on one definition of childhood in South Africa, where the child-youth continuum is one that has been especially open to manipulation by various kinds of actors, including children and youth themselves. In exploring these issues I examine the Soweto Uprising of 1976, the Bantu Education System, the languages of Afrikaans and the pidgin known as Fanagalo, the United Nations International Year of the Child in 1979 and its counter version, South Africa’s National “Year of Health,” the historical shifts in the iconography and representative range of images of children in South African political posters from the 1980s, and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Special Hearings on Children and Youth and The Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the Mandela United Football Club

Topics: Childhood, Violence, Apartheid, Memory
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