Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ida Susser

Committee Members

Bianca Williams

Ismael Garcia-Colon

Martin Luethe

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Exile, Cold War, Apartheid, South Africa, Activism, West Berlin


Exile is still an emotionally and politically charged topic and experience in South African history. It evokes emotional and contrasting responses in relation to its role in the struggle for liberation of the Black majority, and reveals tensions along organizational lines in relation to the contributions, influences, and outcomes of the ANC, PAC and the BCM. In this dissertation, I focus on a small group of exiles of various political persuasions in the 1980s, who arrived in West Berlin as exiles in the late 1970s and 1980s, most remaining until the ANC came to power in the first democratic election in 1994. I focus on the ways that local and global processes shaped their experiences as liberation fighters, students, refugees, and workers in a Cold War context. West Berlin offered opportunities for new social relationships, transnational connections, and identity formations. At the same time, their political consciousness and activism contributed to the transformation of the local space. They benefited from support and knowledge of intergenerational anti-colonial fighters and other immigrants in the city, while firmly placing anti-Apartheid protest on the local political agenda. My study provides insight into the commitment to liberation in South Africa through struggle from abroad, that involved social tensions, political compromises and strategic alliances, in a location that in some ways enabled a broad political audience, while subjecting actors to similar forms of marginalization that they experienced at home. Their experiences reveal that South African exile is not typified by easy theoretical or legal distinctions, but poses a challenge to normative understandings of the concept that focus on singular intellectual actors who are metaphorically, temporally and physically dislocated from the space that they call home. Rather, political struggle, continuity, and collectivity was a common strand running through the life experiences of exiles, which I trace from childhood and youth experiences, up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the transition to democracy in South Africa. Situating South African exile actors at the center of the analysis yields new insights into the analytical purchase of exile as a concept, and also challenges hegemonic accounts of the liberation struggle, South African exile histories, and narratives of the Black diaspora in Germany.

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