Yo-yo culture: thinking South Africa after Marikana

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Social Dynamics, Volume 45, Number 2, p.175–182 (2019)




cultural imaginary, Marikana, Ramaphoria, South Africa of the present, yo-yo culture, Zuma presidency, \#feesmustfall


The years following the Marikana massacre were tumultuous ones in South Africa, characterized by corruption scandals, economic downgrades, rising unemployment and increasing resistance to Jacob Zuma’s presidency from South Africans across race, class, regional and political lines. The country’s outlook was pessimistic with dystopian predictions circulating widely as the Zuma regime slowly attempted to erode hard-won democratic processes and poverty skyrocketed. As we write this article, South Africa has once again shifted with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president, the removal of Zuma allies from key ministerial posts, the Gupta empire under threat and state capture investigations taking off. The South African cultural imaginary has swiftly shifted again with optimistic narratives emerging and confidence growing amidst the grace and dignity of a new president who once again embodies the liberation movements’ more glorious years after the first elections (despite Ramaphosa’s association with Marikana). This trajectory though is not a new one for South Africa that tends to swing between fear and optimism, pessimism and hope, on a very regular basis. This yo-yo effect is characteristic of the South African cultural imaginary with its consistent peaks and troughs that results in a rather resilient, interesting and highly politicised population despite its differences.


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