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This chapter provides historical contextualization for the larger story told in the chapters to follow. It shows that the mid-twentieth-century constructions of “the social” that underlay the creation of the great social welfare systems in the rich countries of the global North never had much purchase in most of Africa, allowing for a common but mistaken view that “welfare states” simply bypassed the continent. This chapter shows, however, that the welfare state had its own distinctive history in Africa, especially in the settler-colonial societies of southern Africa, and it is only out of that peculiar and highly racialized history that a new kind of social protection has emerged. It concludes by reviewing the question of future “techniques of the social” in the region, including the question of biometric identification.

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