This essay reads the South African student movement’s insistence on “decolonizing” historically white universities not as any simple identity politicking or refusalism, but, as a politics of antiassimilation into a society stuck in a presiding racial capitalism that postapartheid has been unable to overcome. The antiapartheid generation now in political power in South Africa came of age on Cold War–era formulations of revolutionary time in which the future was parsed in stages toward socialism. In particular, a Marxist-Leninist analysis was formulated for South Africa in which a “two-stage” theory of revolution was imagined to be the correct path out of apartheid: first, an overcoming of the political condition of white rule; second, the redistribution of wealth to the majority. But the future went cold after the first stage, leaving the country stuck in the project of assimilating black lives into colonial and apartheid institutions that maintain one of the most unequal and racially toxic societies in the world. We understand the scene of black subjectivity that the students made at the site of the university as a venue for broad political critique. Students’ work on their own subjectivities in relation to inherited institutions was a way to work out their objection to their insertion into the deep structures of racial capitalism and its maintenance. Demanding a reopening of the archive of South African politics, students have reclaimed alternative political histories and their associated propositions of the future as a vehicle for defining trajectories away from the impasses of the present.

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