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Rethinking militarism in post-apartheid South Africa

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This paper argues that contemporary South Africa is marked by a co-existence of both old and new forms of militarism. It tries to move beyond the statist conception of militarism in much of the scholarly literature in order to examine social relations more broadly, and the appropriation of the means and instruments of violence by non-state groups. The paper argues that a shallow and uneven process of state demilitarisation was underway in South Africa from 1990 in the form of reductions in military expenditure, weapons holdings, force levels, demobilisation, employment in arms production and base closures. However, this has had contradictory consequences. The failure to provide for the effective social integration of ex-combatants throughout the Southern African region, as well as ineffective disarmament in post-conflict peace building, has provided an impetus to a 'privatised militarism'. This is evident in three related processes: new forms of violence, the commoditisation of security, through the growth of private security firms and, most importantly, the proliferation of small arms. It is argued that small arms are highly racialised and linked to a militarised conception of citizenship. This feeds into a militarist nationalism, which claims a powerful army as an indicator of state power, which helps to explain a process of re-militarisation - evident in the R60 billion re-armament programme and increasing reliance on the military as an instrument of foreign policy since 1998. The paper concludes by emphasizing the need for a regional approach to security as a further corrective to a narrow, statist focus on the South African National Defence Force.

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