Detours: Experimenting at the borders of the former South African homelands

Authors: Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary*, Grenoble-Alpes University, France, Myriam Houssay-Holzschuch*, Université Grenoble Alpes
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Africa
Keywords: South Africa; borders; boundaries; memory; postcolonial; experimental geography; expedition; art; aesthetics;
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Apartheid South Africa self-partitioned into a main space for whites and ten, territorially fragmented, ethnically homogeneous, “homelands”, designed to exclude and exploit the African majority. Homelands pseudoborders, messy and almost fractal, marked the excision of the African population from citizenship, but were crossed daily by a commuting, exploited, workforce.
On April 27, 1994, these lines were erased from the map, as the homelands ceased to exist officially.
Almost 25 years after, what is left of them?
That was the question that drew our multidisciplinary team of geographers, historians, a photographer and a comics artist together and to South Africa. In line with recent science/art experiments (Caduff and al., 2010, Stévance, 2012) and with current attempts at assessing whether the scientific expedition can be salvaged from its colonial past (see Leshem & Pinkerton, “Into No Man’s Land”), we tried to locate, follow and cross these lines. Using old maps, GPS technology, Google Earth and cellphones, we experienced borders that were both self-evident and invisible.
The outcome of our experiment is that, for our expedition not to reproduce colonial tropes, our gaze had to turn inwards: towards our collective incongruity, our embodied relations to the places we visited and the people we met, however briefly. We developed photographic dispositifs of collective portraits and reflexive games, tracked specific objects from Bophuthatswana to Lebowa.
Our paper will analyze this experiment at the former borders of the absurd territories that the homelands were, through the joint lenses of border studies, science/art methodologies and post-apartheid studies.

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