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The courtroom as a site of epistemic resistance: Mandela at Rivonia

Allo, Awol (2016) The courtroom as a site of epistemic resistance: Mandela at Rivonia. Law, Culture and the Humanities. ISSN 1743-8721

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Identification Number: 10.1177/1743872116643274


The 1963–64 trial of Nelson Mandela and other leading members of the liberation movement was a political trial par excellence. In the courtroom, the Apartheid government was trying the accused for the crime of sabotage but in the court of public opinion, it was using the event of the trial to produce images and ideas aimed at slandering and discrediting the African National Congress (ANC) and the movement for a free and democratic South Africa. The defendants, on their part, used their trial to denounce the racist policies of Apartheid and to outline their vision of a post-Apartheid society. In this article, I want to read Nelson Mandela’s counter-historical mobilization of lived experiences and memories of Africans – the scars, chains, the rage and Apartheid’s unlivable juridical bind – as an act of epistemic resistance that re-opened epistemic battles and effected epistemic renegotiations. By submitting himself to the very law he denounces, strategically positioning himself at law’s aporetic sites and moments – those most fragile frontiers that are so heavily policed from transformative interventions – he bears witness to Apartheid’s rotten foundation. Drawing on modes of critique that are performative and genealogical, those that are possible within law’s frameworks and categories, Mandela both obeys and defies the law, uses and critiques it, resists and claims authority, at the very site he is called to account for charges of sabotage. The article will show, how, by attending to contradictions, discursive dynamics, and points of tension, Mandela the accused creates conditions of possibility for forms of critique that register without being co-opted or domesticated by the discourse and the system it resists.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2016 by Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities
Divisions: Sociology
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2016 10:33
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2023 20:48

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