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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access May 28, 2021

Authoritarian Violence, Public Health, and the Necropolitical State: Engaging the South African Response to COVID-19

Theodore Powers

Abstract

Following COVID-19’s arrival in March 2020, the South African government implemented a restrictive state-led response to the pandemic, limiting infections along with the survival strategies of those at greatest risk of illness. While the country’s aggressive tactics towards the pandemic have been lauded by some, the public health response has taken a violent turn towards the country’s historically marginalized Black urban population. How are we to make sense of the ruling African National Congress’ decision to utilize the South African state’s capacity for violence towards poor and working-class Black urban communities? How can this disease response be contextualized within the broader dynamics of citizenship across South African history? Building on these questions, I analyze South African efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic alongside the state response to an outbreak of bubonic plague during the colonial era. I propose that the South African state carries within it divergent historical continuities, some of which carry forward the necropolitical modalities of the colonial and apartheid eras and others that redistribute resources to safeguard life.

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Received: 2020-10-22
Accepted: 2021-03-26
Published Online: 2021-05-28

© 2021 Theodore Powers, published by Sciendo

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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