About the Author(s)

Sepetla Molapo Email symbol
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Molapo, S., 2022, ‘Sovereign responsibility: An impossible solidarity’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 78(2), a7743. https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i2.7743

Note: Special Collection: The Contemporary Study of Religion: Philosophical Perspective, sub-edited by Mohammed (Auwais) Rafudeen (University of South Africa).

Original Research

Sovereign responsibility: An impossible solidarity

Sepetla Molapo

Received: 13 May 2022; Accepted: 15 July 2022; Published: 09 Sept. 2022

Copyright: © 2022. The Author. Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This article takes interest in solidarity as sovereign responsibility. Sovereign responsibility is a nonproductive form of care that emerges at the interface of order defined by a privileging of economy and a general economy defined by a return to order of life lost to death. It is this return that unveils the existence and operations of a general economy that order presupposes. The article locates its discussion of sovereign responsibility at two levels of relationality. Firstly, it situates its deliberations concerning sovereign responsibility in the family and among kin. Here it argues that as a form of solidarity, sovereign responsibility positions relations among kin as those of neighbours. Secondly, it shows that the question of the neighbour extends beyond kinship relations and into the realm of extra-kinship relations where others and strangers appear as neighbours. The overall argument of the article is that sovereign responsibility holds potential to facilitate an Afrocentred and counter-hegemonic response to the modern experience of alienation.

Contribution: The modern experience of alienation, as well as how it can be challenged, are of interest to this article. The article recognises that numerous attempts have been made to try and address this problematic of alienation in modernity. What it claims has not been done is to engage that problem by taking Africa as an idea, and not just geography, seriously.

Keywords: solidarity; sovereign responsibility; death; neighbour; order; general economy.


This article reads death as it manifests in indigenous African thought in order to construct its own conception of solidarity. The key claim of the article is that a reading of death as a species of indigenous African thought constitutes solidarity as sovereign responsibility. That is, death constructs sovereignty as a nonproductive form of care administered to people and things who are sovereign because the care they demand requires transgression of the boundaries and conventions that ordinarily define the limits of order. This form of care is nonproductive because it transcends care as a construct of the logics of both cognition and reason that generally define the modern expression of order. Consequently, as a nonproductive form of care, sovereign responsibility unveils a different and primordial form of utility geared towards the facilitation of the experience of the fullness of life, a life lived outside the concerns of economistic relationships of means and ends. This nonproductive form of care assumes the form of a miracle precisely because it arises from beyond the limits of an economistic-oriented form of order. Sovereign responsibility therefore must be distinguished from productive forms of care born out of systems of means and ends. This is because in the final analysis, it disrupts and takes care beyond an order constricted by the logics of cognition and reason.

The article reads death in order to construct its notion of solidarity against the backdrop of wicked problems because of, among several other issues, the alienation brought about by global capitalism. Its reading of death consequently attempts to speak back to the contemporary problematic of alienation. It recognises that this problematic and the attempts to deal with it are not new but have been the subjects of numerous discussions (Du Bois 1903; Durkheim 1951; Fanon 1967; Marx 1887). What this article finds problematic, however, is that such discussions proceed by assuming a separation between life and death – a separation that assumes the priority of the former over the latter and that consequently fails to imagine solidarity beyond binary thought. This appears to hold true even for contemporary critics of the modern experience of alienation (Calhoun 2002; Juul 2010). This relegation of death and its reduction to what is secondary to life has generated a focus on order when dealing with the problem of alienation in modernity. The significance of a general economy to the problem of alienation that manifests in the terrain of order is often ignored. When death appears, the modern episteme tends to institutionalise and surrender it to the technologies of life in health care institutions (Elias 2001). Alternatively, death appears in its political meaning, in which case it denotes the extrajudicial application of power to populations deemed disposable (Agamben 1995; Mbembe 2003). It does also appear in existentialist versions as a catalyst and as what propels individuals to freedom (Sartre 1956). This general relegation of death has had the consequence of neglecting death as a metaphysical category and as a crucial concept in attempts to engage the alienation of modernity, where the understanding of the latter tends to be restricted to capitalism. By focusing on sovereign responsibility, this article tries to recover the metaphysical sense of death so that it can grapple with the question of alienation in modernity. Its argument is that precisely because sovereign responsibility offers the experience of life beyond the limit of order, it has the potential to deal with the modern sense of alienation.

In deliberating on death in order to arrive at what this article calls sovereign responsibility, this article draws insights from Africanity as a general body of knowledge that became marginal with the advent of the modern experience of life in Africa, beginning with colonialism. It is consequently inspired by the knowledge that the modern episteme despises. The article is conceptual in its thrust and draws from the episteme of Africanity as it expresses itself in the world today. Consequently, it is not trying to develop its own insights by drawing from the knowledge that was lost due to colonisation. Rather, it is inspired by the contemporary, stubborn and resilient manifestation and expressions of this knowledge. The article begins by teasing out what it means by sovereign responsibility and then proceeds to furnish ways by which it may find concrete expressions in the world. It demonstrates that sovereign responsibility finds primary expression in the family and among kin. By so doing, it seeks to argue that the family and kinship relations constitute the first line of defence against the modern experience of alienation. It then proceeds to show that extra-kinship relations are the destination of sovereign responsibility. The key point that the article tries to make here is that an outward movement towards others in general chiefly defines the character of sovereign responsibility.

On sovereign responsibility

As a nonproductive form of care, sovereign responsibility is a form of solidarity that emerges at the interplay of order (or a restricted and restrictive economy1) and a general economy2 that the existence of order presupposes. The location of this form of solidarity at the interface of order and a general economy renders it into a form of the violation of the limit imposed by order. This is because this form of solidarity results primarily from the return to order of life lost to death. It is a consequence of the inability of life to diminish both the body and the person in death evident in the return to kin of deceased family members who now act as messengers of the ancestors. This failure, and the subsequent return of lost life to order, opens order (the restricted and restrictive economy) to what transcends it, namely a general economy that the existence of order (the restricted and restrictive economy) presupposes. Sovereign responsibility, therefore, as the name suggests, denotes the form of solidarity that arises and is informed by the location of order in a general economy. Consequently, it must be distinguished from the modern expressions of solidarity found, among others, in Durkheim (1969). This is because such expressions of solidarity already assume the separation of life and death.

Now, because sovereign responsibility arises out of the location of order within a general economy, it finds expression in the mode of a gift. That is, precisely because sovereign responsibility concerns itself with life beyond the limits of order, it implies exchange. This is the exchange of what is of order with what resides beyond the boundaries of order and in a general economy, namely lost life, which now takes the form of the ancestors. The centrality of death to this noneconomistic form of exchange returns what is impossible (by virtue of location in a general economy) to the domain of order, where it appears as a gift to the possible. Death makes it possible to encounter the impossible as the very ingredient that order and the realm of the possible require for its recalibration. The exchange of obligatory but nonproductive forms of care among kin exemplifies this. Without death, this revitalising energy is simply lost, and all that is left is the fiction of the self and the social as self-instituting entities. Death constantly retrieves it and makes it available to circulation and exchange experienced in the realm of order. The location of order within a general economy also distinguishes this gift from any other gift. It makes this gift a gift in a manner different from the socially derived gifts that are given as possessions, found among others in Mauss (1954). As a gift, sovereign responsibility can never be given as a possession. It can only be received thankfully and passed with gratitude, because it is not a commodity. Consequently, as a gift emanating from the interaction of order with a general economy, it can only be but an interruption of the present sense of time that defines the location of order.

The location of order within a general economy, furthermore, presents sovereign responsibility as a gift that cannot be received without a measure of anguish. This is because the intimacy of order and what lies beyond it (i.e. a general economy) suggest that sovereign responsibility is a form of violence. It is a form of the opening of order to what is purportedly external to it and what it may want to resist. This opening of order performs the work of violence because it opens the status quo (via the mediation of sovereign responsibility as gift) to what has potential to change it. Sovereign responsibility therefore opposes the understanding of order in terms of the external that is its threat. It rejects the perception that what is external to order constitutes a threat that must be tamed and contained in order for order to realise itself. Rather, it seems to promote the idea that the revitalisation of order depends entirely on corporation with the radical potency of what purportedly is external to order, namely a general economy. Indeed, this externality is not order and must of necessity confront order with what is not of order. It must present order with the possibility of radical renewal – a renewal that can, of course, be rejected as in parochial forms of nationalism or racism. The location of order within a general economy therefore opens those inhabiting order to new and radical ways of being and seeing. Take, for instance, the radical and anti-establishment thought associated with Mohlomi (Ellenberger 1917; Guma 1960). This new and radical way of being and seeing, with consequences for culture and politics, emerges out of a deeper concern with sovereign responsibility.

As both gift and a form of violence (because it is an opening of relationality and the world), sovereign responsibility arises out of and revolves around the centrality of the face of the other to relationality and relationships. This, however, is the face of the impossible other who is not readily available for encounter and communication in the world because he or she is lost. In other words, this is the face of the one who always comes first by virtue of death (i.e. the one who now is part of a general economy). This face of the impossible other carries a command that demands ethical conduct from relationality and relationships. This should come as no surprise because death itself is a form of emptying, a kind of casting out and a movement that is outward bound. This outward bound movement is what is inscribed on the face of the impossible other and comes to the possible face in the form of a demand to recognise the other and others as what comes first. The face of the impossible other takes centre stage because Africanity does not presuppose union with the divine nor does it assume revelation of the One divine as we see in Levinas (1969). This absence of communion3 and revelation leaves death as the only route towards encountering others, whether they be lost or alive. Death, in other words, is what unites order with what is lost to it. It is the very basis of sovereignty. Consequently, this absence of communion and revelation accords priority to the face of the one who is lost and sees that face as the face worthy of carrying the command to love the other in the world. Interestingly, this form of ethical love appears to issue from a general economy and must therefore be understood to transcend mundane forms of love.

Sovereign responsibility can be articulated against a backdrop of the end of apartheid. This is to say that belonging or community (which is what sovereign responsibility is about) can be imagined against a background of colonially constituted relations between the self and other in which the self-constituting self of colonial modernity serves as the prism for understanding and relating with colonised subjects. This relationship has, among others, been captured by Fanon (1967). Fanon sees the composition of colonial society as furnishing the conditions that make it difficult for colonised persons to achieve a healthy sense of self-concept. This is because colonialism distorts their sense of self-concept by elevating Europeanness (or whiteness) as the desired form of identity. So instead of developing a sense of self-concept that affirms who they are, colonised persons live in a state of constant desire to become Europeans (or white people). This elevation of Europeanness (or whiteness) is a consequence of the loss of sovereignty on the part of colonised persons. It results in colonised persons seeing themselves in relation to failure, the failure they can overcome by becoming Europeans (or white people). In some ways, this interpretation remains dominant in understanding the relations between white and black people even after formal colonisation and apartheid (see, for instance, Gqibitole 2019).

It is also common to see the self-concept of Africans under colonisation as deriving from the disruption of their religion. It is claimed, in this case, that African self-concept derives from a connection between land and the ancestors. This connection becomes severed under colonisation, leading African self-concept down a path of invisibility or facelessness. This is because colonisation defines itself via the conquest of African lands, which mediate connection to the ancestors. Consequently, if returning to the past (to those who are lost) furnishes African self-concept with its own condition of possibility, then the conquest of land shuts that route, thereby throwing African self-concept into a crisis (Chidester 2014:111–123). This is the crisis of invisibility or facelessness in the face of colonisation. The version of invisibility or facelessness that arises from this account differs from that outlined by Fanon in that it takes religion seriously. It does point, in addition, to the possibility of the existence of a number of sources of invisibility or facelessness that accrue around African self-concept, beginning with colonisation.

While both Fanon and Chidester’s insights and observations concerning African self-concept are useful and illuminating about contemporary challenges around African self-concept, it can be argued that these insights and observations derive from economistic worldviews that assume separation of life and death. That is, they arise from an observation of mechanisms and factors within order and how these are brought to bear on African self-concept. This emphasis on order as well as the mechanisms and factors that cohere within it lead to a failure to see the intimacy order has with what lies beyond its administrative boundaries, namely a general economy that order presupposes. Consequently, they work with a very narrow conception of loss that is blind to what this article calls sovereign responsibility. The narrow conception of loss deriving from economistic ways of understanding the world casts African self-concept in relation to victimhood and overlooks sovereignty as a central feature of the expression of that self-concept. It is precisely this notion of sovereignty that this article tries to point to in its reflection on sovereign responsibility. Discourse concerning sovereign responsibility tries to rescue African self-concept from the relations between black people and white people and give it its own autonomy.

The making of kin as neighbours

At its most basic level, sovereign responsibility manifests in the form of solidarity among kin. This solidarity expresses itself via a network of relationships of obligation (or the infrastructure of care), which define relationality among kin. Obligation as such is terrain for the expression of kinship solidarity. However, because this obligation assumes the priority of a general economy, it can only express itself via the mode of death. This is to say that obligation positions solidarity among kin as an outward movement that has the interests of others (kin in this case) as its primary concern. It makes solidarity something to be received and passed with thanksgiving and gratitude. This is because this form of solidarity is not meant to be the expression of one’s generosity and kindness that one can use as a form of investment one can later claim on. This solidarity, expressing itself via the mode of death, is an impossible gift that one cannot claim to own as one’s possession or quality. It cannot be given, as a consequence, in the manner of ordinary gifts that are given as possessions. Thus, while this solidarity engenders exchange, it is important to realise that this exchange cannot take the form of an economic exchange.

It must be further noted that this solidarity seeks to position kin as neighbours. This is precisely because such solidarity arises out of obligation as a construct of the priority of a general economy over a restricted and restrictive one. Consequently, the priority of a general economy positions sovereignty as a characteristic feature of relations among kin. That is, it configures relations among kin such that the interests of others come before those of the self. Kin relate to each other as sovereigns with moral and ethical demands that must be fulfilled. The sovereign character of this relationship orients individual kin outwards towards others and their needs. These sovereign relations entail what being neighbours is all about. The neighbour is the one who sees in others (one’s kin in this case) a call for the performance of moral and ethical responsibility. Therefore, the question of sovereign responsibility cannot proceed without that of the neighbour, because it finds articulation in a relationship of others who always come first. The understanding of sovereignty accompanying sovereign responsibility therefore differs from that of Bataille’s existentialism, which directs attention to the violation of norms and conventions as the path to the realisation of freedom (Hegarty 2000). Sovereignty as a species of sovereign responsibility directs attention to the building of collective life, viz., the building of belonging or community.

Evidently, the making of kin as neighbours finds primary expression in the family. It is within this domain that relationality is imagined in line with the sovereign others who come with demands that must be fulfilled. This is evident in the elaborate set of rituals of obligation tying kin to one another. These rituals of obligation position each individual within kinship relations as a sovereign who is entitled to make moral and ethical demands. Being uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather or cousin positions one within a network of kinship relations that allow one to make demands. One’s location within these networks is not just mundane. It has moral and ethical implications. This is because such a position always already presupposes sovereign relations. Of course, obligation, when it is returned, constitutes a form of gratitude. To refuse the demand of one’s kin is equal to a rejection of the grace that is a channel for the passage of obligation and gratitude. It is to fall into immorality and the embrace of unethical conduct. This choice of refusal of the demand of the sovereign has, of course, its own consequences. It can never go without rebuke, because the rejection of the sovereign excludes oneself from future reception of others in their obligation and gratitude.

The significance and priority of the sovereign other as the defining feature of kinship relations finds codification in the ancestral meal.4 This meal serves as a reminder that kinship relations, while always also bound to be mundane and inclined to productive ends, also possess a transcendental element that open them up to possible and potential renewal. This renewal which comes in the form of the experience of solidarity with those whom one has immediate connections is meant to reassure and safeguard the experience of humanity within localised and microscopic social relations. They are meant to cushion against the alienation brought about by giving priority to mundane social relations that define life as being about taking care of oneself. But this meal must also be seen as continuous invitation to the understanding that the fullness of life, exhibited by sovereign responsibility, is one in which one’s kin stands for the figure of the sovereign. Although repetition is the most obvious feature of this meal, in the ultimate end, the point is to see others with their demands beyond that repetition. At that level, one sees one’s neighbours as one should.

The neighbour in the case above, therefore, is not necessarily the one with whom one shares spatial proximity, as we find in the story of the good Samaritan (Lk 10:25–37) and in the Western traditions of thought this story inspires. Rather, what answers the question of the neighbour in this regard concerns the proximity that comes with law. The neighbour is the one who stands in closer proximity to the self on account of the relationships that assume the law. It is the one whose position within a network of kinship relations has a basis in law. Yet, as we have already seen, the law alone is not sufficient to position one as neighbour. This is because the proximity that comes with law must be understood in relation to the association of obligation with a general economy. That is, it must be understood in relation to the priority others have in relation to the self in kinship relations. The sovereign character of these relations, however, suggests that the self is also sovereign, because the self is entitled to make demands on others. The self can encounter others with obligation and is therefore always in relationships of reciprocity.

It is true, nonetheless, that even in their sovereign character, kinship relations are not immune to the problems associated with gender and age. Kin express and experience their sovereignty in contexts of unequal power relations between men and women, as well as the elderly and youth. This means that the sense of renewal that comes with sovereign responsibility targeted at kinship relations still must contend with the often conservative character of the social order inclined to productive ends. Kinship relations find expression as a result within a broader context characterised by potential inclination to refuse sovereign responsibility. It is incorrect as a consequence to see the ancestors as reinforcing inequality and reproducing hierarchies between women and men and youth and the elderly, as is generally perceived. Where ancestors become a source of inequality and oppression, it is because they are understood apart from the location of order within a general economy. If anything, the ancestors, as what denotes the relationship of life to transcendence, seek freedom – which is what regressive social forces refuse. Take for instance, the common tendency to dismiss queer Africans by marshalling belief in the ancestors, which in recent times some have come to challenge (see Mnyadi 2020; Nkunzi & Morgan 2006).

Others and strangers as neighbours

If, concerning kin, the relationship of order and a general economy directs our attention to solidarity as a feature of the relationship between law and biology (i.e. life) evidenced by obligation, then such expression of solidarity is limited where extra-kinship relations are concerned. This is because the centrality of law to such relationships maintains a binary between insiders (kin) and outsiders (strangers to kinship relations). Consequently, solidarity as a feature of the relationship between law and biology partially addresses the problem of alienation, because it neglects outsiders. It leaves marginal those who may take the form of others and strangers. The ultimate task, therefore, of sovereign responsibility concerns transcending solidarity as a feature of the relationship between law and biology so as to fully arrive at the problem of the neighbour. It is to extend the problem of the neighbour to those behind the walls of solidarity as a feature of obligation. These walls may be religious, cultural or even ideological. The existence of others and strangers therefore extends conversation about sovereign responsibility beyond obligation, law and blood. It takes it to others and strangers as a site for moral and ethical conduct.

The sheer presence of outsiders (constituted as such by solidarity as a feature of the relationship of law and biology) suggests that kinship relations presuppose difference. They are always in a relationship with what is other by virtue of difference. At its most basic level, the relationship with what is other does not necessarily have to imply judgement. The other and different appear from this form of solidarity as what is necessary for such relations to make sense in the first place. Otherwise, the necessity of obligation in constituting an ‘us’ would not be required. The other and different as such give validity to the existence of insiders. At another level, however, the presence and existence of others outside kinship relations can become a source of anxiety. This may be the case in circumstances where the other’s presence in the world is deemed a threat. The other may be a political, ideological or cultural threat. This points to how the presence of others behind the walls has a hermeneutical dimension. Others do not only give validity to solidarity as a construct of obligation, but their presence also accords insiders with a hermeneutic which cannot be understood apart from law and its tendency to secure insiders from outsiders.

It is as a source of a hermeneutic of insiders that others and strangers implicate sovereign responsibility. This is to say that others and strangers stand outside the walls as invitation to the insiders’ hermeneutic. Of course, they stand with their demand. This demand is for the hermeneutic of insiders to recognise their difference. After all, it is in their difference that outsiders are known or make themselves known. The demand for the recognition of difference is of paramount importance, because it suggests that difference is the foundation informing the interaction between insiders and outsiders. Difference is the demand and call of the other; it is what any hermeneutic of insiders must respond to so as to forestall the possibility of closure. The hermeneutic of insiders must move outward in order to avoid closure. Failure to do so risks rendering itself parochial. Racism and a variety of ethno-forms of nationalisms illustrate precisely this point. The point therefore is not to dismantle walls put in place by solidarity as a construct of obligation. Rather, it is to extend solidarity beyond these walls. It is to take the problem of the neighbour beyond extra-kinship relations. The walls that must come down are those built by capitalism that are a result of the fear of outsiders.5 These walls – evident in fortress South Africa’s gated communities – are oblivious to the interconnection of order and a general economy.

If, in the ultimate end, the question of the neighbour demands going beyond the walls constructed as such by solidarity as a construct of obligation, then imaginations of the question of the neighbour cannot proceed without the notion of democracy. In order to fully concern ourselves with the problem of the neighbour, we must take democracy seriously. This is because outside of the walls of solidarity constituted by obligation, difference becomes the law that determines relationality. Consequently, the proximity that matters here is that brought about by difference and no longer by the law. In fact, it could be argued that difference itself becomes the law, because solidarity here implies the safeguarding of what defines human beings as different in their sociopolitical and economic interactions. The recognition of difference and its defence is what makes solidarity possible outside the walls of solidarity as a construct of obligation. The sense that democratically constituted forms of solidarity should be defined by the recognition and defence of difference and that such solidarity furnishes the possibility of the experience of community has, in recent times, been outlined by, among others, Nancy (1991). However, this article points to Mohlomi as an example of how Africanity has dealt with sovereign responsibility at the cultural and political level and therefore beyond a concern with relations among kin (Ellenberger 1917; Guma 1960).

Indeed, there are broader implications to the suggestion that outside the walls of solidarity as a feature of obligation, difference itself is the law. It implies that democratic imaginations of solidarity must be about letting others in and not pushing them away. They must be about invitation to those who regressive social forces have labelled, othered and pushed away. Consequently, such imaginations of solidarity must anticipate the recognition and inclusion of others and strangers in their visions of belonging or community. Thus, dis-enclosure, or the democracy that is oblivious to enclosures and borders, must inform our imaginations of solidarity, even as we admit the existence of solidarity as a feature of obligation among kin (Mbembe 2019). Such solidarity, as we have seen so far, is not antithetical to forms of solidarity that take difference seriously. In fact, both expressions of solidarity can complement each other in a broader struggle against the alienation brought about by the modern experience of life.


This article has concerned itself with what it calls sovereign responsibility and has argued that sovereign responsibility is a form of solidarity arising from the interface of order and a general economy that order presupposes. This interplay of order and a general economy is apparent in the return to order of life lost to death. This return of life lost to death points to the presence of a metaphysics that is unable or not interested in diminishing both the body and the person in death, thus leaving death to play a central role in the imagination of life. The article has shown that as a form of solidarity, sovereign responsibility finds articulation at a micro and macro level of relationality. With regard to the former, it finds articulation in the family and among kin, where obligation directs relations among kin to the experience of sovereignty. In this case, one’s kin appear as one’s sovereigns whose moral and ethical demands must be met. Concerning the latter, sovereign responsibility expresses itself via extra-kinship relations where its objective is the building of solidarity beyond solidarity as a feature of the relationship between law and biology. The most important thing in both instances is to situate kin and extra-kinship relations as relations among neighbours. The neighbour, in this case, arises from a general economy and is therefore always already beyond the limits of order.

The article concerns itself with sovereign responsibility against a backdrop of the predominance of capitalist relations of production, which continue to diminish belonging or community in South Africa, even after apartheid. They diminish belonging or community because of the privilege they give to the commodity over the gift. This privileging of the commodity elevates formal and abstract relations that have the consequence of dissolving the different expressions of solidarity. It is in the face of this growing sense of disconnection, facilitated by the market mechanism, that it grapples with sovereign responsibility. The article’s claim is that while reflection around solidarity in the face of the alienating experience of modernity is not new, what is new is the attempt to deliberate on that question by taking Africa as an idea seriously. The result of that deliberation, as has been demonstrated, is the uncovering of a general economy that is always prior to the strict modern sense of order, which knows nothing but itself. It knows nothing but itself because the modern episteme assumes a divorce between life and death and deprives the latter of any metaphysical significance. The consequence of this is that in modernity, death only plays a secondary role in the imaginations of life. When it is taken seriously, such as is the case in this article, it leads to the unveiling of solidarity as primarily opposed to the underlying assumption of the modern episteme concerning life.


Competing interests

The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article.

Author’s contributions

S.M. is the sole author of this research article.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.


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1. A restricted and restrictive economy denotes a form of production that is self-referential and knows nothing apart from itself, as is the case with the modern form of economy. See Bataille (1989) for details.

2. The usage of the notion of a general economy found in this essay must, however, be distinguished from that of Bataille that challenges order via a process that foregrounds base pleasures and having roots in the accursed share that must be taken from production and dispensed with (Bataille 1989). In this article, a general economy is used to denote the return to order of life lost to death. Consequently, it denotes the relationship of life to transcendence in the form of ancestors. It undermines order in order to renew it, because its key concern is community.

3. By communion is meant here desire for unity with the divine. In his conception of community under modern conditions, Nancy (1991) provides a scathing critique of communion in western traditions of thought and shows how it is one of the bases of nostalgia in western political thought, a nostalgia that generates retreat from a cosmopolitan experience of life.

4. For some description of ancestral meals, see Setiloane (1976:64–72).

5. Murray (2011) and Hook and Vrdoljak (2002) write about these walls with regard to South Africa after apartheid.

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