In 2012, I began a research project in the eastern Free State, which is now coming to an end. It turned out to have been the most fortuitous five-year period in which to get to know a region. For during this time, the world views of the people I met were turned upside down. The sharpest symptom of this change was evident in what people thought of wealth. Back in 2012, the spectacle of black people driving luxury cars through the streets of Ficksburg might still reasonably have instilled hope. For the wealth on display was a product of upward mobility made possible by the advent of democracy. Ordinary people could still go for a vicarious ride on the coat-tails of the rich ones. They were black, my interlocutors were black; they were similar enough to make identification possible. That tale is now looking frayed. Though these matters are not cut and dried with grey areas, wealth in a region such as the eastern Free State now signifies corruption. A person in an SUV is somebody who ha...

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