Rule and Resistance in Contemporary Southern Africa

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

This module looks at four countries in Southern Africa which saw bitter struggles against settler-colonialism won by avowedly radical popular movements (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique) and four of their neighbours which won independence earlier and without fighting (Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania). This course seeks to understand both where the politics of rule and resistance come from historically (thinking about 'post-socialism' and the effects of organising revolutionary guerrilla warfare on the political culture of movements that win their wars) and contemporary developments in these political systems considering: the nature and extent of 'democratisation'; where and how women's, students', landless people's and slum-dwellers' movements have organised; the emergence of 'left populism' and the successful and unsuccessful mobilisation strategies of opposition political parties; and authoritarian and nationalist strategies to sustain rule in some of the world's most unequal and most politically mobilised societies. By keeping the range of cases small (and encouraging students to specialise even within them) the course prepares students to carry out original research of their own design, with dissertations and doctoral study in mind. The course introduces theories and concepts from sociology, political economy and comparative politics, from Max Weber to Antonio Gramsci, many of which originate from cases in Europe and North America. By assessing their applicability in Southern Africa, the course opens up the possibility that, through comparison, we might see the weaknesses of dominant constructs, even as ways of understanding Western society and politics, and might develop theories and categories from the South.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate central concepts of sociology, political economy and comparative politics and be able to demonstrate their uses and limits in relation to cases from Southern Africa.
  • Discuss the broad similarities and differences in the socio-political trajectories of a small set of cases from Southern Africa.
  • Appreciate the relevance of these cases to developments in systems of rule and strategies of resistance internationally.
  • Make clear-headed arguments about contemporary socio-political dynamics in their chosen specialist cases.
  • Acquire a body of knowledge applicable in both academic and policy/practitioner roles.


2 hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Settler colonialism in Southern Africa: racism, displacement and resistance;
  2. The political economy of apartheid: mining, class and urban-rural relations;
  3. Comparing the legacies of negotiated decolonisations and liberation wars;
  4. Democratisation in former one-party systems;
  5. Trade unionism in neoliberal contexts
  6. Protest Movements and Popular Struggle
  7. Dominance and disillusion: Liberation movements in power
  8. Competitive, chaotic and post-ideological party political systems
  9. Populism and technocracy in opposition and ruling parties
  10. Crises, coups and ruling party renewal

Method of assessment

Assessment is 90% coursework (one 4500 word essay) and 10% oral presentation.

Suggested reading

John Iliffe, ‘Colonising Society in Eastern and Southern Africa’ in Africans: the history of a continent, Cambridge University Press, 1996. Ch. 6: 100-130. Ebook:

Frederick Cooper, ‘The late decolonizations: Southern Africa 1975, 1979, 1994’. In Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002: 133-155.

Patrick Chabal (1983), ‘People's War, State Formation and Revolution in Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Angola’, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 21: 104 – 25

Roger Southall, Liberation Movements in Power. Party and State in Southern Africa, James Currey, 2013. SOAS Library:

M. Anne Pitcher (2007), ‘What Has Happened to Organized Labor in Southern Africa?’ International Labor and Working-Class History, 72: 134-160.

Patrick Bond, Ashwin Desai and Trevor Ngwane. (2013). "6. Uneven and Combined Marxism within South Africa’s Urban Social Movements". In Barker, C., Cox, L., Krinsky, J., & Nilsen, A. (Eds.). (2013). Marxism and Social Movements.The Netherlands: Brill. doi: (Free via SOAS Library login)

Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. (2012). ‘Beyond Patronage: Violent Struggle, Ruling Party Cohesion, and Authoritarian Durability’. Perspectives on Politics, 10(4), 869-889.

Monageng Mogalakwe, Francis Nyamnjoh. (2017) Botswana at 50: democratic deficit, elite corruption and poverty in the midst of plenty. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 35:1, pages 1-14.

Brian Raftopoulos (2007), ‘Nation, Race And History In Zimbabwean Politics’, in Making Nations, Creating Strangers. States and Citizenship in Africa, Paul Nugent, Daniel Hammett and Sara Dorman (eds), Brill: pp 181-194. Free via SOAS Library login.

Adrienne LeBas (2006). ‘Polarization as craft: party formation and state violence in Zimbabwe’, Comparative Politics, 38/4: 419-438


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules