Laughing When It Hurts: The Power of Comedy in Building Community and Opening Dialogue in Post-Apartheid South Africa


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Centre for Leadership Ethics in Africa


In post-apartheid South Africa, a deeply divided society grappling with racial and cultural antagonism and social inequality, humour has significant potential to mediate intolerance, defuse tension, cultivate national healing, and promote social cohesion. This notwithstanding, humour remains relatively under-investigated in South African academia, particularly in relation to how it might contribute to, and shape, wider socio-political dynamics. Drawing on media and cultural studies, philosophy, and political science, and by way of critical interpretive textual analysis of representative comedic pieces (live performances, written texts, visual or graphic phenomena), this study explores the intersection of humour/comedy and peacebuilding in the fractious post-apartheid milieu. In particular, it draws on the political aesthetic theory of Jacques Rancière’s as the basis for thinking about these texts as meaningful political acts that shape the wider assumptions of their social context, with a particular emphasis on how they frame key political questions of equality and reconciliation.