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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - Networks of Empire and Imperial Sovereignty


In the Cape Town spring of 1997 one of the twentieth century's greatest heroes and liberators, Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first democratically elected president of South Africa, met with one of the century's greatest tyrants and dictators, General Suharto, President of Indonesia, who came to power after a bloody coup that ushered in over three decades of authoritarian military rule. One official event in Suharto's South African visit involved the two elderly presidents trudging up a steep path of foot-worn stone steps, entourages in tow, leading to an austere white-washed and green-domed shrine where both men paid homage to a shared national hero. Today a plaque on an outside wall of the structure marks the day they stood together on that windy hill overlooking the Cape coast at the tomb of a Muslim saint known locally as Shaykh Yusuf of Makassar, who was exiled from Java by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie – VOC) and died at the Cape of Good Hope in 1699. Through Shaykh Yusuf, Mandela and Suharto implicitly acknowledged a common colonial past in the VOC empire. Shaykh Yusuf had already been claimed by Mandela to be a forefather of the liberation struggle in South Africa. Suharto had also declared Shaykh Yusuf Tajul Khalwati a National Hero of the Republic of Indonesia.

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