Race and “the Animal” in the Post-Apartheid ‘National Symbolic’

  • Benita de Robillard Interdisciplinary Arts and Culture Studies, Wits School of Arts University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
  • Ruth Lipschitz Department of Multimedia, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg
Keywords: race, the animal, non-human, South Africa, nation, post/apartheid


This article addresses cultural formations of race and “the animal” within the contemporary post/apartheid setting. In opening up this question, we have in our sights the domain of the nationscape that Lauren Berlant (1997:26) terms the ‘National Symbolic’: namely, ‘an imaginary, chimerical, and affect-laden screen projection through which citizens venture to “grasp the nation in its totality”’ (de Robillard 2014:84). Our contention is that anti-racist politics in South Africa must confront the primal scene of the constitution of race through species and the ‘zoologo-racial order’ it installs (Kim 2016:17). By putting what is called the “animal” into question, we outline how the politics of animalisation intersects with what Claire Jean Kim (2016:20) terms ‘race-species meanings’. We draw on scholars whose work has shown that what is construed as “human” and what the human constructs as “animal” produces a ‘necropolitical’ (Mbembe 2003:14) zone with fatal consequences for those who are animalised (Mbembe 2001:2; Wolfe 2012; Derrida 1988; Haraway 2007; Braidotti 2013). Our paper is predicated on Jacques Derrida’s observation that a distinction is made in law between criminal forms of ‘putting to death’ and ‘non-criminal putting to death’ (Derrida 1988:278). Species difference, as we show, conditions this distinction. This process effects a politics of animalisation that functions as a racialising technology that can be transferred to any species, as the examples from the post/apartheid setting that we analyse attest. We conclude by using Donna Haraway’s and Rosi Braidotti’s interventions to speculate on a futureoriented path for rethinking the question of race in its relation to “the animal”.