November 5-6 2015

Johannesburg, South Africa

2015 marks forty years of Portugal’s imperial withdrawal from Southern Africa. In the aftermath of a lengthy military conflict and a complicated negotiation process, the liberations of Mozambique and Angola in 1975 had a strong impact on neighbouring countries. On the one hand, these events deeply reconfigured power relations in the region. For instance, they had a decisive role in supporting the liberation struggles in Zimbabwe and Namibia and, in so doing, deepening the political deterioration of the apartheid regime, which eventually fell in 1994. On the other hand, decolonization triggered a significant wave of migration towards South Africa, where the community of Portuguese origin came to represent from 10 to 15% of the total white population. Yet, many of these historical entanglements are underrepresented or underdeveloped in the historiography, and their role in shaping past and current histories is frequently obscured under the weight of nationalist representations. When historians and social scientists limit their gaze to the labels of, say, “Portuguese”, “Zimbabwean”, “South African”, “Mozambican”, or “Angolan” histories – as it has commonly been the case –, the shared moments are ignored and, ultimately, lost. This state of affairs is not only intellectually limiting, for it clouds our vision into broader historical processes, but it is also socially unproductive. As pointed out by the UNESCO, shared histories are crucial in developing a “culture of peace” in regions that have been historically torn by conflict. This seems to stand for Southern Africa, where decolonization wars assumed their most violent forms, with implications that survive to this day.

With all that in mind, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) and the French Institute of South Africa are pleased to host the International Conference “A Luta Continua, 40 years later”, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-6 November 2015. The conference will look at the entangled histories of southern Africa and examine the legacies of empire, four decades after Portuguese decolonization took place. We engage with this commonly nationalist moment as a critical gesture and a reminder that much can be gained from looking at this history beyond nations and empires alone. Perhaps nothing represents more powerfully the both regional and transnational dimension of the Southern African (post)colonial question than the emblematic motto of Mozambican liberation: “a luta continua”. From Maputo to Johannesburg or Harare, in the original Portuguese version or in translation – “the struggle continues” – this phrase came to represent solidarities against interconnected forms of oppression: colonialism and apartheid’s racism. But its resonance was not limited to Southern Africa either. The struggle continues also came to represent broader affiliations taking shape in the West and the “Third World” alike. For instance, the pressure networks of the Anti-Apartheid Movement or Cuba’s involvement in Angola. At any rate, a luta (the struggle) was deeply internationalized. In the present, these words still persist in the collective memory of the region (as one can see in the prominent place they occupy on the walls of the Constitutional Hill, in Johannesburg). If anything else, the symbolic resonance of the phrase across national borders reveals how tortuous the routes of Southern African liberation were, crosscutting multiple spaces and shaping political, social and cultural worlds.

*   *   *

Em 2015 celebrar-se-ão os 40 anos da descolonização portuguesa em África. Na esteira de um longo confronto militar e um complicado período de negociações, as independências de Angola e Moçambique, em 1975, tiveram um imenso impacto nos países vizinhos. Por um lado, reconfiguraram profundamente as relações de poder na região, tendo um papel decisivo na libertação do Zimbabué e Namíbia e no desgaste político do regime do apartheid, que viria a cair em 1994. Por outro, a descolonização provocou um expressivo êxodo populacional com destino à África do Sul, onde a comunidade de origem portuguesa passou a representar 15% da população branca. Não obstante a natureza distintamente transnacional e entrelaçada destes processos, perspectivas estritamente nacionais ainda dominam a maior parte dos estudos existentes. Ao nos limitarmos apenas aos rótulos das histórias “portuguesa”, “angolana”, “moçambicana”, ou “sul-africana”, os momentos compartilhados acabam por se diluir e, finalmente, se perder.

Partindo destes pressupostos, a conferência internacional aqui proposta, “A Luta Continua, 40 anos depois”, pretenderá examinar as histórias entrelaçadas da África austral e mapear os legados do império, quatro décadas após o seu fim oficial. Talvez nada represente de maneira mais evidente esta internacionalização da questão colonial portuguesa do que o emblemático lema da libertação moçambicana: “a luta continua”. De Maputo a Joanesburgo ou Harare, no original ou em tradução – the struggle continues -, esta frase veio a representar a solidariedade transnacional – africana e não só – contra formas de opressão interligadas, tais como o colonialismo e o racismo do apartheid. No presente, estas palavras ainda são uma marca indelével na memória regional coletiva (como indica, por exemplo, a sua impressão destacada nas paredes do Constitution Hill, em Joanesburgo). Ademais, a ressonância simbólica da frase, que atravessa as fronteiras nacionais, testemunha como a rota da libertação foi tortuosa, ao passar por múltiplos espaços e marcar diversas esferas da vida política, social e cultural da região

4 thoughts on “ENTANGLED HISTORIES AND LEGACIES OF EMPIRE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

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