“The Soviet Union is for South Africans a Big Crystal Ball” The National Question and the Cold War’s End
This dissertation traces the entangled political and intellectual histories of South Africa and the USSR from the late Cold War, through parallel legitimacy crises and the old regimes’ implosion, and into the construction of a new order in each country in the 1990s. The story follows two conjunctures: first, the creation, evolution, and eventual dissolution of friendship between the USSR and the South African liberation movement; and, second, the unlikely affinity that emerged between elites of post-Soviet Russia and apartheid South Africa. I argue that central to these encounters was the national question: should people live together or apart? After decades of sponsoring what it understood to be decolonization abroad, the Soviet Union collapsed amidst what others frequently described as decolonization at home. By discrediting a socialist version of liberation, the Soviet collapse, in turn, narrowed the range of possibilities for what decolonization might mean in South Africa.