This article opens with the 2015 Rhodes Must Fall protests at the University of Cape Town, when a student poured feces on a statue of Cecil Rhodes. This moment exemplifies the ambivalent relationship between symbolic politics and demands for institutional transformation in postapartheid South Africa. The essay considers two sites of tension: the appropriation of this antiapartheid, decolonial rhetoric outside of South Africa (as in the Rhodes Must Fall campaigns at the University of Oxford) and the borrowing of US discourses of racial identity in South African universities. In both cases, specific social and political contexts and their attendant challenges tend to disappear. In South African universities, this has the effect of occluding class, class inequality, and class struggle. To address the South African context, the essay suggests that the writing of Antonio Gramsci, whose work spans literature as cultural production and practical political mobilization, might provide a more useful politics of reading and writing.

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