Seminar: High Apartheid as Nihilism: Charisma and Bureaucracy in the Leadership of H.F. Verwoerd

H.F. VerwoerdThis seminar explores the nature of H.F. Verwoerd’s leadership of South Africa during the high apartheid era. More especially, Jonny Steinberg examines how Verwoerd took command of a dubious conception of the future to accrue power in the present. Steinberg engages with two ongoing scholarly debates, the first on the nature of apartheid and the second on the connections between charisma and bureaucracy in the Weberian literature on leadership. He paints a portrait of Verwoerd as an agent of a species of mystification made possible by the ascending authority of technocratic expertise. There is some irony in this. Verwoerd accrued rhetorical power by cashing in on widespread anxiety about the future. And yet his political agenda had alarmingly little interest in posterity. According to Steinberg, this type of leadership was made possible by a paradox in white South African thinking and feeling at that time: an obsession with the future coupled with an inability to think much about it.

Portrait Jonny Steinberg

Jonny Steinberg is Professor of African Studies at Oxford University. Much of his works explores South African people and institutions in the wake of the transition to democracy. Two of his books, Midlands, which examines the circumstances surrounding the murder of white farmer's son by his black tenants, and The Number, which explores South Africa's century-old prison gangs, won South Africa's premier non-fiction award, the Alan Paton Prize.  His latest book, A Man of Good Hope, published in 2015, traces the journey of Asad Abdullahi, born in Somalia and orphaned as a boy, who trekked to South Africa only to face violence there.

Date, time and location

12 October 2017
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room SA41 (basement)

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