Decoding Apartheid's Legacy: Insights from Dr Christopher Gevers' Seminar

Posted on May 14, 2024

The Department of Jurisprudence at the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Law recently hosted a thought-provoking research seminar led by Dr Christopher Gevers. He explored the intricate connections between apartheid, international law, and the domestication of race. By contrast, he challenged the notion that the demise of apartheid in the 1990s represented a triumph of international law over white supremacy. Drawing on Cedric Robinson's insights, Dr Gevers cautioned against simplistic narratives that portrayed apartheid as a unique, localized aberration, emphasizing the dangers of narratives that merely served to maintain the existing international order by defining sacrificial lambs.

Dr Gevers teaches International law, Jurisprudence/legal theory and foundations of law at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, School of Law. His research focusses on Pan-Africanism, International law & ‘decolonisation’, Third World Approaches to International Law, Critical Race Theory, and Law & Literature. He is also a member of the Institute for Global Law & Policy at Harvard Law School since 2015, and a has held a visiting fellowships at the University of Oxford and Harvard Law School. His most recent publications appear in the Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law (2020), the London Review of International Law and Alternation.

Dr Gevers examined how apartheid South Africa was strategically utilized by Western states and international lawyers to "domesticate" racial domination. This process involved not only localizing racial oppression within a statist framework but also metaphorically depoliticising it. By disconnecting racism from broader structures of domination such as settler colonialism and transnational power dynamics, and by dehistoricising it as eternal and universal. Apartheid was portrayed as an isolated phenomenon rather than a symptom of deeper systemic issues.

Furthermore, Dr Gevers highlighted how this framing facilitated the persistence of white supremacist legal orders, both domestically in South Africa and internationally. Despite appearing non-racial on the surface, these legal systems continued to perpetuate white supremacy by evading discussions of race and perpetuating an impression of equality.

His seminar encouraged attendees to critically analyse the ways in which race, power, and law intersect, both historically and in contemporary contexts. Dr Gevers' call for a reconceptualisation of racial injustice as a global issue resonated deeply with attendees, prompting reflections on the role of law in perpetuating or dismantling systems of oppression.

Dr Gevers proposed a reconceptualization of racial injustice and domination as a "world problem." This approach seeks to challenge the evasions and domestications present in both domestic and international law by confronting the systemic roots of racial oppression. By challenging conventional narratives and advocating for a more nuanced understanding of racial oppression, his presentation inspires a new wave of critical inquiry and activism within the legal community compelling a more critical examination of its implications for contemporary legal frameworks.


- Author Palesa Mbonde

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