“Quite simply – and this is what I wish to discuss tonight in relation to the question of rage and violence – we are living in different times. Or at least, our time is disjointed, out of sync, plagued by a generational fault line that scrambles historicity.
“The spectre of revolution, of radical change, is in young peoples’ minds and politics, and it is almost nowhere in the politics of the anti-apartheid generation. In fact, even as they criticised young people just five years earlier for being apathetic and depoliticized, they have now thought student activists misguided, uninformed, and mad.
“You would think that it might be possible to resolve this difference in time by means of a careful reading of what is called the ‘objective conditions for revolution’: are we in fact in a time in which revolution is immanent? No matter the subjective experience of time – there must be a way of determining who has the better bearing on history, who can tell the time. What time is it? Yet to tell the time is a complex matter in this society.
“We are, to some degree, post-apartheid, but in many ways not at all. We are living in a democracy that is at the same time violently, pathologically unequal. Protest action against the government – huge amounts of it, what in most other places would signal the beginning of radical change – often flips into a clamour for favour from that very government. Our vacillations, contradictions and anachronisms are indication that what time it is, is open to interpretation.
“I want to argue that the comrades I have worked with in the student movement are not so much mad as they are time-travellers. Or rather, that their particular, beautiful madness is to have recognised and exploited the ambivalence of our historical moment to push into the future. They have been working on the project of historical dissonance, of clarifying the untenable status quo of the present by forcing an awareness of a time when things are not this way. They have seen things many have yet to see. They have been experimenting with hallucinating a new time…”
Read the rest of this paper, delivered at the 13th annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture at Wits University in Johannesburg last night.