Call for submissions: The Politics of Armed Struggle in Southern Africa

Arianna Lissoni's picture
Call for Papers
February 29, 2016
South Africa
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Military History, Political History / Studies, Social History / Studies


Conference Date: 23-26 November 2016

Venue: University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg)

Closing date for submission of abstracts: 29 February 2016.


As decolonisation swept across the African continent, in the early 1960s African liberation movements in countries that were still under the grip of colonial occupation, white minority rule and apartheid took up arms to overthrow their oppressors. In South Africa, the last country to become free in southern Africa, the advent of democracy and peace after a violent and protracted struggle for liberation has been accompanied by a renewed effort to write and document the history of the resistance against apartheid and colonialism. While major strides have been made in the historiography thanks to both scholarly and insiders’ narratives, these histories are not being sufficiently popularised and communicated, to the point that we may be facing a crisis in historical memory. Moreover, despite its significance as a central strategy of the liberation movements from the early 1960s until the early 1990s and carrying significant weight in the lives of thousands of people, the armed struggle has proved difficult to document as a subject of research beyond questions of strategy and tactics. The risk is that, as generations of cadres gradually pass on or their memory fades, their knowledge will be lost forever and their stories never recorded.

The Wits History Workshop, the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), the Liliesleaf Trust, and South African History Online (SAHO) – on behalf of a larger consortium working in this field – are organising a conference on the history and politics of the armed struggle in southern Africa in November 2016. The conference seeks to include all armed resistance movements in South Africa and the region. One of its key aims is to provide a space for telling stories about the armed struggle from the perspective of its protagonists. Given that the armies of the exiled or banned liberation movements found shelter and support in African countries, it would be important to reflect on the impact of that solidarity on the host countries and their citizens. Comparative perspectives with armed struggles in other parts of the continent and beyond are also welcome as, in some instances, southern African liberation armies found themselves embroiled in various conflicts and civil wars in foreign lands. In addition to the academic focus, the conference will include a popular component consisting of public discussions, book launches, film screenings, storytelling, poetry readings, and other cultural and artistic expressions of struggle narratives – providing a focal point for the encouragement of a new body of creative work on the liberation struggle in general and the armed struggle in particular.

We invite scholars, military veterans, activists, artists, writers, cultural practitioners, film and theatre-makers, and community members to submit proposals for original research papers (these should be in the form of 300 word abstracts), full panels, personal or autobiographical reflections, theoretical contributions, as well as applications for artistic installations and cultural productions. Given the complexity of the armed struggle, the proposals could canvas any topic related to the topic. However, the organisers would like to encourage participants to engage with one or more of the following themes:

  • Theories and practices of armed resistance
  • Documenting the experiences and life stories of military combatants
  • After the war: the present legacies of the armed struggle
  • Gendering the armed struggle
  • The armed struggle, the underground and mass mobilisation
  • Mapping armed operations, military battles, campaigns and networks
  • State surveillance, repression and counter-insurgency
  • Socialist internationalism and the armed struggle
  • African support for the armed struggle
  • The international solidarity movement and the armed struggle
  • The ‘hot’ cold war and southern Africa
  • War and peace: the armed struggle and negotiations
  • Memorialising and archiving the armed struggle
  • Resistance to military conscription and anti-war movements
  • The art of revolution

Proposals can be submitted online via this link 29 February 2016. If you have any questions you can contact the organisers at