In Conversation with Achille Mbembe

In October 2009, the Perpetual Peace Project invited Achille Mbembe to speak about the topic at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia. Directors Alexandra Lerman, Laura Hanna, and Aaron Levy selected this historic site as the backdrop for the segment because of its resonance with sites of political deprivation and incarceration. Mbembe touched upon one of these in his account of the headquarters of the constitutional court in Johannesburg, which originally was a historical fort that the British used in their struggle against the Boers. Beginning in 1948, it was used by the Afrikaans nationalist party as a prison in their war against the African National Congress, where they imprisoned, amongst others, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. The prison was closed in 1983, and reopened in 1994 as the constitutional court of South Africa.

At one point Mbembe remarked to us that "Not that South Africa has achieved peace, even less so perpetual peace, but in going from the fort to the court we have opened an imaginary. We have set up a new horizon against which we can measure the path that remains to be crossed." For him the very journey from fort to court, from a place of war and incarceration to a place of justice and law, represents the long struggle for equality in post-Apartheid South Africa, and signals one possible instantiation of Kant's project of perpetual peace.

The film is directed by Laura Hanna of Hidden Driver Productions, Alexandra Lerman of ScibeMedia Arts Culture, and Aaron Levy of the Slought Foundation. The Executive Producer is Gregg Lambert of the Syracuse University Humanities Center. Technology and technical assistance has been generously provided by ScribeLabs.

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