SOU's Amber Reed publishes book on apartheid

SOU anthropologist’s book: Black South Africans wary of apartheid reforms

(Ashland, Ore.) — Post-apartheid reforms in South Africa have failed the country’s rural Black citizens and led to a longing for some aspects of life under the system that once oppressed them, according to a newly published book by Southern Oregon University anthropologist Amber Reed.

“Nostalgia After Apartheid” examines the reluctance of teachers and students in the Eastern Cape province to embrace South African democracy, which they see as restricting their cultural practices. Democracy has imposed a brand of freedom whose liberal standards clash with the customs and traditions favored in the former rural homelands.

“When I started research in this region, I was interested in the role non-governmental organizations were playing in youth political activism,” said Reed, who has done fieldwork in the country off-and-on over the past 11 years.

“The project took on a life of its own, however, as people kept steering our conversations away from the future of politics and back to nostalgic renderings of the past,” she said. “Why would Black South Africans wax nostalgic for life during one of history’s most racist and repressive regimes?”

Reed’s book answers that question by showing that many Black South Africans embrace conservative ideologies and are opposed to reforms that don’t align with their beliefs, such as the right to abortions and a ban on corporal punishment. The country’s Department of Education requires the teaching of ideals that include civic responsibility and liberal democracy, but both teachers and students often see it as the imposition of “white” values.

“’Freedom, it turned out, did not feel so free; instead, it rested on Western ideas of personhood and subjectivity that felt confining, imposing and alien,” Reed writes in the preface to her book.

“Nostalgia After Apartheid” was published last month by University of Notre Dame Press as part of the Kellogg Institute Series on Democracy and Development. It is available in hardcover or as an eBook.

The book has been praised by other authors and researchers of South Africa and apartheid.

“Amber Reed compellingly reveals how the transition from apartheid to liberal democracy has failed the rural youth who now regard the Mandela miracle of 1994 as a betrayal and have developed a bizarre sense of nostalgia for life under apartheid,” said Leslie J. Bank, co-editor of the book, “Migrant Labour Under Apartheid.”

Reed has been a professor of anthropology at SOU since 2017, and has taught a variety of anthropology and African studies courses. She received her bachelor’s degree from New York’s Barnard College, and her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Los Angeles.