Premesh Lalu


30 May 2023

Post-apartheid South Africa still struggles to overcome the past, not just because the material conditions of apartheid linger but because the intellectual conditions it created have not been thoroughly dismantled. The system of ‘petty apartheid’, which controlled the minutia of everyday life, became a means of dragooning human beings into adapting to increasingly mechanized forms of life that stifle desire and creative endeavour. As a result, apartheid is incessantly repeated in the struggle to move beyond it.

In Undoing Apartheid, Premesh Lalu argues that only an aesthetic education can lead to a future beyond apartheid. To find ways to escape the vicious cycle, he traces the patterns created by three theatrical works by William Kentridge, Jane Taylor, and the Handspring Puppet Company – Faustus in Africa, Woyzeck on the Highveld, and Ubu and the Truth Commission – which coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid. Through the analysis of these works, Lalu uncovers the roots of modern thinking about race and affirms the need to revitalize a post-apartheid reconciliation endowed with truth – if only to keep alive the rhyme of hope and history.

Professor Premesh Lalu is the former Director of the DSI-NRF Flagship on Critical Thought in African Humanities of the Centre for Humanities Research. Following an MA from the University of the Western Cape, he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Doctoral Fellowship to read towards a doctorate in History at the University of Minnesota. In 2003 he successfully defended a doctoral dissertation titled “In the Event of History”. After sixteen years in the Department of History as an Associate Professor, Lalu was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to convene a fellowship programme on the Study of the Humanities in Africa. He was promoted to full professor upon being appointed as Director of the Centre for Humanities Research in 2008. In 2019, Lalu was awarded a writing fellowship at the Humanities Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin. In 2022, Lalu was seconded to take up a post at The Africa Institute in Sharjah, UAE. 

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