Troubles at the Top: South African protests and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit

Carl Death

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15 Citations (SciVal)


Political protests have visibly increased in frequency and intensity in South Africa in recent years, and they seem to indicate a more adversarial relationship between the post-apartheid state and civil society. This article uses the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the protests which accompanied it, to illuminate these broader trends. It analyses the legacy of the Summit as a ‘mega-event’, and highlights the importance of the ‘mega-protests’ in 2002. The most important effects are shown to be the disruption of South African extraversion; the marginalization and repression of particular social movements; and the exacerbation of broader trends toward a more polarized political landscape in South Africa. Importantly, however, the article concludes that such developments are not evidence of growing distance between the state and civil society, but rather between those considered legitimate and responsible partners, and those who are excluded from ‘normal’ politics. Thus the Johannesburg Summit illuminates broader trends toward the governmentalization and transnationalization of politics in South Africa, and destabilizes conventional understandings of what and where ‘South African politics’ actually is, as well as raising important questions regarding the impacts of such mega-events in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-574
Number of pages20
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number437
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2010


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