The limits of existential freedom: a decolonial perspective

Hamilton, Lauren Maresa
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This research project uses Zakes Mda’s narrative of post apartheid South Africa in Sometimes there is a Void ( 2011), and the philosophical and theoretical framework of to unmask the limits of Sartrean existential freedom. The research problem is approached from the philosophical and theoretical framework of decoloniality in order to unmask unfreedoms and historical dehumanisations as limits to existential freedom fundamental to colonial control. This project is a meeting of existential theory, as pertaining to existential freedom, and decolonial theory, particularly questioning the limits of existential freedom in a post colonial and post apartheid South African context. This testing of limits of Sartrean freedom may question the viability of a Western discourse in the African context. The South African historical context entails violent racial categorizations and injustice, notably through the apartheid regime, which echoes through the unfreedoms of the post apartheid context. This unfree context is conditioned by its own absurdity and existential disillusionment. As this study is guided by the research problem in theory and literature, qualitative methodology enabled conceptual, interpretive, and philosophical engagement of the content, text, and literature. The scholarly voices of decolonial philosophers such as Fanon and Cesaire are used to contrastively illuminate Sartre’s well meaning but otherwise limited take on freedom ,thereby presenting a dialogue of the decolonial perspective with Sartre’s ideas in order to test applicability outside of an inaccessible space of conceptuality. The project aims to dissect how existential freedom may be the product and property of power and privilege. This is problematized in terms of the narratives of the African Liberation Struggle (Mda, thus unmasking how the colonized, in this case segregated and oppressed, do not have access to positive freedom the ‘freedom to be free’ (Arendt, 1961). The research addresses the power dichotomies at play in the accessibility of freed om, which is existentially theorised in terms of Sartre’s ‘The Look’ (1943), along with the decolonial dichotomy of the colonized and the colonizer. As Sartre’s freedom seems accessible only through universalized privilege, the concept of existential freedom may be posed as idealist within collectively unfree contexts. Using decoloniality as the theoretical framework the dominating tendencies of coloniality are unmasked through the colonial matrix of power as contextualized in the South African post apartheid context . This frames unfreedoms and limits of existential freedom as: racism, coloniality, social inequalities, state corruption, and political and existential disillusionment. The South African context of collective unfreedom may be understood as framed b y the colonial matrix of power (Mignolo, 2008), in its various controls. These systemic unfreedoms reinforce inaccessible freedom as a privilege within a hierarchy of freedom, particularly in terms of poverty and revolution (Arendt, 2018). As such, existential freedom may be considered as an ideal to be valued within unfree contexts in its principle of self determination, rather than continuing hoarded freedoms through perpetuations of poverty and collective unfreedom.
A research report submitted to the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Master of Arts (in the Field of Critical Diversity Studies)