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“The knowledge practice of bungoma is a deep knowledge” – Robert Thornton at the launch of Healing the Exposed Being

Think ‘sangoma’. Images of ‘primitive’ practices, promises of solving money issues plastered on lamp posts, and pseudo-science medicinal practices most likely come to mind.

This is exactly what Robert Thornton, author of Healing the Exposed Being, writes against.

Addressing the audience at the recent launch of his book at Wits’ Institute for Social and Economic Research, Thornton emphasised that a Western perspective of the practice of bungoma, the knowledge and practice of ‘traditional’ healing, is a warped one, shrouded in ignorance.

Jonathan Stadler, Robert Thornton, and Sinethemba Makhanya

 

According to Thornton, bungoma is not a Christian influenced discourse, but an autonomous, consistent, intellectual practice. He also refrained from using Christian vocabulary to describe the practice of bungoma in the book.

“It’s not a primitive religion at all,” Thornton stated, neither is it pre-proto science; he refers to the practice as “medicinal parallelism” – it extends into various branches of medicine, as well as religion (religious parallelism), thus the practice of bungoma is not restricted to a certain religion, as the core beliefs thereof doesn’t stand in direct contradiction to other religious practices.

One has to respect bungoma as a tradition, Thornton continued, and he aims to do so by decolonising knowledge and knowledge practices attached to the practice, and describes the healer as an ethnographer; they attach personal identities to earth, minerals, plants and animals and are thus fully engaged with their environment and surrounds.

“The knowledge practice of bungoma is a deep knowledge.”

“We are all essentially exposed to another,” says Thornton, “and the focus of my book is the person as an exposed being.”

Exposure and recognition of the other creates conditions for the possibility of healing, yet it can also cause harm. Thornton cites exposure to illness, misfortune, and death as harmful aspects of exposure.

The healer protects via apotropiac magic (a type of magic focused on turning away harm or misfortune), which augments the person. The art of crafts and creating is pivotal in bungoma tradition, Thornton explained, as this embodies a sense of professionalism. Sangomas are thus contemporary professional persons, and should be respected as such.

Thornton’s interest in and introduction to healing stems from his great-grandmother, an Appalachian healer.

“I was teachable and had access to my ancestors.”

He was a potential candidate to practice as sangoma, yet his healer died and he didn’t go through the initiation process.

Respondent Sinethemba Makhanya praised Thornton for expanding the notion of what it means to be human – that it extends beyond the body.

She was curious about the notion of evil; whether one can co-opt it with Christianity, and what one loses or gains when writing about notions of evil. She also mentioned her concern with Thornton referring to Western philosophers, including Plato and Socrates, to explain the tradition of bungoma.

Thornton responded by saying that one shouldn’t co-opt the practice of bungoma with Christianity, as it isn’t a hierarchical practice. The philosophers described by Makhanya, according to Thornton, shouldn’t be described as ‘Western’ philosophers, but Mediterranean thinkers “at the threshold of radical analytical thought.”

Second respondent Jonathan Stadler described Healing the Exposed Being as an important contribution to South African ethnography and anthropology, and asked Thornton to elaborate on the similarities between his previous book (Unimagined Community: Sex, networks and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa) and Healing the Exposed Being regarding the necessity of exposure. He also touched upon traditional healing being pulled into the health bureaucracy and enquired about the entrepreneurial opportunities of sangomas.

Healing the Exposed Being is the second book in a trilogy about the history of sangomas, Thornton replied, and stressed the importance of exposing South Africans to others and other knowledge pools as method of gaining insights on the spreading of sexually transmitted disease, and how to prevent it.

Regarding sangomas as entrepreneurs, Thornton asserted that the traditional crafts created by sangomas are intellectual objects and as such sangomas are automatically included in the sphere of entrepreneurs.

(And, no, as one audience member enquired, sangomas are NOT zombies.)

Healing the Exposed Being

Book details

Cape Town launch: Race Otherwise by Zimitri Erasmus (20 November)

Race Otherwise brings together the full amplitude of Zimitri Erasmus’s thinking about how race works. It tunes into registers both personal and social. It is not without indignation, and not … insensitive to emotion and … the anger inside South Africa. It is a book that is not afraid of questions of affect. Eros and love, Erasmus urges, are not separable from the hard work of thinking.’ – Crain Soudien, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

‘People from different parts of the world ask ‘what mix’ I am. Which would you prefer? Salt and vinegar or cinnamon and sugar? Neither one of my parents was black Black. Neither one of them was white White. I am not half-and-half.’
(from Chapter 1, ‘This Blackness’)

How is ‘race’ determined? Is it your DNA? The community that you were raised in? The way others see you or the way you see yourself?

In Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa Zimitri Erasmus questions the notion that one can know race with one’s eyes, with racial categories and with genetic ancestry tests. She moves between the intimate probing of racial identities as we experience them individually, and analysis of the global historical forces that have created these identities and woven them into our thinking about what it means to be ‘human’.

Starting from her own family’s journeys through regions of the world and ascribed racial identities, she develops her argument about how it is possible to recognise the pervasiveness of race thinking without submitting to its power. Drawing on the theoretical work of Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter and others, Erasmus argues for a new way of ‘coming to know otherwise’, of seeing the boundaries between racial identities as thresholds to be crossed, through politically charged acts of imagination and love.

Zimitri Erasmus is a professor of Sociology in the department of Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She is the editor of the seminal volume Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town (2001) and in 2010 she was a UCT-Harvard Mandela Mellon Fellow. Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa is her first monograph.

 
Event Details

Linda Chisholm’s Between Worlds shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless

Between Worlds
In Between Worlds Linda Chisholm meticulously and with great sensitivity dissects how one mission society, the German Hermannsburg Mission Society, parleyed its decision to remain within the state system in the shift from mission to Bantu Education, in creative and important ways. The book is a detailed portrait of the Hermannsburg Mission’s education work, but also a critical and insightful commentary on a set of broader questions, reflecting off the current political moment in South Africa.
- Professor Natasha Erlank, Historical Studies, University of Johannesburg

Linda Chisholm’s account of German Lutheran missionaries’ school and teacher education work in South Africa disrupts conventional understandings of the role of missionaries in the development of South Africa’s education system. Drawing on extensive archival research in South Africa and Germany, the history of the largely ignored Hermannsburg Mission reveals the ambiguities and contradictions which marked their complex relationships with local communities and the colonial and apartheid state.
- Volker Wedekind, University of Nottingham

The transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid era has highlighted questions about the past and the persistence of its influence in present-day South Africa. This is particularly so in education, where the past continues to play a decisive role in relation to inequality. Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa scrutinises the experience of a hitherto unexplored German mission society, probing the complexities and paradoxes of social change in education. It raises challenging questions about the nature of mission education legacies.

Linda Chisholm shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless. Instead, past and present interpenetrated one another, with resistance and compliance cohabiting in a complex new social order. At the same time as missionaries complied with the new Bantu Education dictates, they sought to secure a role for themselves in the face of demands of local communities for secular statecontrolled education. When the latter was implemented in a perverted form from the mid-1950s, one of its tools was textbooks in local languages developed by mission societies as part of a transnational project, with African participation. Introduced under the guise of expunging European control, Bantu Education merely served to reinforce such control.

The response of local communities was an attempt to domesticate – and master – the ‘foreign’ body of the mission so as to create access to a larger world. This book focuses on the ensuing struggle, fought on many fronts, including medium of instruction and textbook content, with concomitant sub-texts relating to gender roles and sexuality.

South Africa’s educational history is to this day informed by networks of people and ideas crossing geographic and racial boundaries. The colonial legacy has inevitably involved cultural mixing and hybridisation – with, paradoxically, parallel pleas for purity. Chisholm explores how these ideas found expression in colliding and coalescing worlds, one African, the other European, caught between mission and apartheid education.

Book details

  • Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa by Linda Chisholm
    EAN: 978-1-77614-174-6
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

“Everything your ever wanted to know about crime but were too afraid to ask” – Robyn Sassen reviews The Truth About Crime

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Artist, academic, and visual artist Robyn Sassen recently reviewed the book:

It infiltrates our very existence – from the way in which we conduct ourselves in life, to the literature we read, the misconceptions of others we indulge in and the sensationalism that it smears across a world of broken dreams.

The concept and reality of crime, that is. And with this reflection on the all-pervasiveness of it, the Comaroffs’ latest publication The Truth About Crime is unputdownable, but not for the conventional reasons.

This foray into the complexities of crime, particularly in a South African context comes under the intense focus of quintessential seasoned sociologists Jean and John Comaroff; while you will not emerge with one gleaming “truth” which reflects “solution”, you will have a rollercoaster of a read.

Academic writing is a curious thing. Fraught with many rules of accreditation and checks and balances, it can be immensely dry and formulaic. Combined with old-fashioned hard work and rigorous intelligence, it can surpass the value of any bit of fiction, even yarns well-written.

And this is what you get here: an intense, oft witty, detailed and wise explication on stories that go bump in the night, about real people. The text is dense but it flows with a mellifluousness that makes you want to read it out aloud. The Comaroffs play with sounds and idioms, with parables and metaphors as they knit together associations and perceptions, book research and field work.

Continue reading Sassen’s review here.

Book details

Launch: Memory Against Forgetting by Rusty Bernstein (30 October)

The memory so eloquently contained in this book tells especially the younger generations of South Africans who live in freedom that they should never forget that, indeed, that freedom was not free.
Thabo Mbeki, anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, 1994–2008

‘The silence of the cell is less disturbing than the deliberate silence of the human beings who come and go. I know that it is part of the process, designed to break my morale, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I calculate that I am speaking less than twenty words a day, and begin to wonder whether my vocal chords will dry up and wither if this goes on … I have never been very talkative, but now I begin to hunger after talk more strongly than for either food or drink.’

Lionel ‘Rusty’ Bernstein was arrested at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, on 11 July 1963 and tried for sabotage, alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other leaders of the African National Congress and Umkhonto we Sizwe in what came to be known as the Rivonia Trial.

He was acquitted in June 1964, but was immediately rearrested. After being released on bail, he fled with his wife Hilda into exile, followed soon afterwards by their family.

This classic text, first published in 1999, is a remarkable man’s personal memoir of a life in South African resistance politics from the late 1930s to the 1960s.

In recalling the events in which he participated, and the way in which the apartheid regime affected the lives of those involved in the opposition movements, Rusty Bernstein provides valuable insights into the social and political history of the era.

Book details

  • Memory Against Forgetting: Memoir of a Time in South African Politics 1938-1964 Second edition by Rusty Bernstein
    EAN: 978-1-77614-154-8
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Launch: Healing the Exposed Being by Robert Thornton (31 October)

Healing the Exposed Being is a scholarly, rich and engaging account of the complex and individualised knowledge systems and passages of influence that shape sangoma practices in South Africa. Thornton’s descriptions of and insight into the philosophies, rituals, and objects of the sangoma, and the ancestors, spirits and others beings with whom they work, change our view of these healers as custodians of the living, advisers, philosophers and guardians. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in health and illness in the region.” – Lenore Manderson, Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand

In Healing the Exposed Being, Robert Thornton presents a new vocabulary and ontology for understanding fundamental concepts of a regional version of the Ngoma cult, found throughout the Bantu language-speaking areas of Africa.

He is thus able to provide a more integrated anthropological account of beliefs and practices that have survived from pre-colonial to postcolonial times, describing them in their own terms rather than presenting them as a reflex of modernity or reaction to colonialism, or as a consequence of neoliberalism or other social, political, economic or historical factors.

Bungoma, the knowledge and practice of ‘traditional healing’ in eastern Mpumalanga, is built on the fundamental premise that all persons are exposed to each other and to other person-like agents, including ancestors and witches, among others.

This mutual and inescapable exposure is the condition for the possibility of healing, but also ultimately the cause of all illness, misfortune and death. Against this, the sangoma as healer attempts to augment the self of the exposed being through protective magic and by exposing relations between tangible (living human) and intangible (spiritual) agents or persons.

Bungoma comprises multiple modalities including trance, music and rhythm, divination, herbal lore, teaching and learning, craftsmanship and healing. The aim of bungoma is to enable patients to heal themselves by transforming their personal narratives of self.

Thornton brings this local anthropology and its therapeutic applications into relation with global academic anthropology by exploring it through political, economic, interpretive and ecological-environmentalist lenses.

Book details

“The white elites in SA are used to controlling their worlds” – a Q&A with Jean and John Comaroff

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Phys.Org, a website concerned with science, research and technology, recently conducted an interview with the authors:

Q: Wasn’t there an empirical rise in crime just after the transition of power in South Africa in 1994?

JEAN: Crime rates, particularly in places where there has been radical transition – such as post-Soviet Russia and Latin America – have tended to increase in the wake of such change. In South Africa, after the 1994 transition there was said to be an uptick in crime, then a tailing off, a plateau, and then a diminishing in many categories of felony. However, most people would simply not believe this; the most adamant being those who were least vulnerable because they could afford private protection.

JOHN: For us, then, the question became: Why do those who are least affected by crime panic most about it?

JEAN: Ironically, the populations most affected by crime – the poor, black South Africans, especially women – obsessed about it least. They suffered massive unemployment, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and domestic violence against women and children. They were the ones who victimized each other in a state of desperation; these communities had so much to worry about that they did not obsess nearly as much about crime, which had long been a fact of their everyday lives.

JOHN: Globally speaking, criminologists debate whether crime rates have gone up or down. And that is a complex question, largely depending on what and how we count. But the question for us is: What do we actually talk about, what do we actually mean, when we talk obsessively about crime? Like Americans these days, South Africans have a lot to panic about. We ought to panic here in South Africa about accidents – or at least what appear to be accidents, the rates of which are extremely high – and about rising poverty and inequality; just as in North America we ought to worry about the disappearance of security nets at the behest of conservative ideology, which is putting more and more people in deeply desperate conditions. But we seem not to panic too much about these things. Or, at least, not for long or in any systemic way. When it comes to crime here in South Africa, we all have stories, bad stories, but these do not necessarily add up to statistically significant phenomena – which figures on poverty and inequality do. Ironically, it is only the poorest, the most destitute, who actually suffer criminal violence with the kind of frequency that is statistically significant. Ironic, because it is those populations who are more often accused of crime, rather than seen as its usual victims. One of the objectives of the book is to explain all this, to make sense of the phenomenology of fear – and why it is that we invest so much attention away from things that should worry us toward those that, while certainly a cause for concern, are hardly cause for panic. And yet elections across the world are fought in the name of law and order, of being tough on crime. Not poverty or inequality.

Q: You say the white elites in South Africa have the highest anxiety about crime, yet they experience the fewest incidents. What accounts for the disconnect in their reaction?

JEAN: They are used to controlling their worlds. So, if they suffer a domestic robbery or a carjacking, it feels momentous, life-threatening – which it sometimes is, although less often than South African whites believe – because life is meant to be safe for people like them. Or so they assume. They buy insurance. They live in well protected homes. They believe that the state ought to protect them. Those who live on the South Side of Chicago or in black townships – or, for that matter, in US inner cities – are not in control of their worlds in the same way. And do not have the same expectations.

Q: Do you both feel safe living in Cape Town?

JEAN: We feel no less safe living in Cape Town than we did when we lived on the South Side of Chicago, where affluent and deprived communities live in close proximity. In both, crime rates vary enormously across the urban scape. If one knows the social geography and crime maps of the city in which one lives – and one has the means, the capital – one can avoid dangerous areas to a significant degree.

Continue reading here.

Book details

Second edition of Rusty Bernstein’s Memory Against Forgetting provides valuable insights into the socio-political history of apartheid-era SA

The memory so eloquently contained in this book tells especially the younger generations of South Africans who live in freedom that they should never forget that, indeed, that freedom was not free.
Thabo Mbeki, anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, 1994–2008

‘The silence of the cell is less disturbing than the deliberate silence of the human beings who come and go. I know that it is part of the process, designed to break my morale, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I calculate that I am speaking less than twenty words a day, and begin to wonder whether my vocal chords will dry up and wither if this goes on … I have never been very talkative, but now I begin to hunger after talk more strongly than for either food or drink.’

Lionel ‘Rusty’ Bernstein was arrested at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, on 11 July 1963 and tried for sabotage, alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other leaders of the African National Congress and Umkhonto we Sizwe in what came to be known as the Rivonia Trial.

He was acquitted in June 1964, but was immediately rearrested. After being released on bail, he fled with his wife Hilda into exile, followed soon afterwards by their family.

This classic text, first published in 1999, is a remarkable man’s personal memoir of a life in South African resistance politics from the late 1930s to the 1960s.
 
 
In recalling the events in which he participated, and the way in which the apartheid regime affected the lives of those involved in the opposition movements, Rusty Bernstein provides valuable insights into the social and political history of the era.

Book details

  • Memory Against Forgetting: Memoir of a Time in South African Politics 1938-1964 Second edition by Rusty Bernstein
    EAN: 978-1-77614-154-8
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Launch: The State of Secularism by Dhammamegha Annie Leatt (11 October)

The author deftly guides the reader through various committees, negotiation forums, interest groups, political parties and legal wrangles to uncover the often-surprising developments, alliances and political about-turns in the process of Constitution-making. This is not just politics as the search for power, or the politics of big men … but a thoroughly human affair with its attendant messiness, idealism, complexities and ambiguities. — Ilana van Wyk, author of A Church of Strangers: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa.

The Dutch Reformed Church, it was said in apartheid South Africa, was the National Party at prayer, and indeed, given that the Bible was so fundamental to much of the legislation that governed the apartheid state, that apparently satirical description had the ring of truth.

‘Religion in South Africa’s past’, writes Dhammamegha Annie Leatt, has been ‘saturated by politics’ and politics ‘saturated by religion’. So how, she asks, was it possible for a new state to found itself without religious authority? Why did the churches give up so much of their political role in the transition? How can we think about tradition and the customary in relation to secularism? How can we not?

In The State of Secularism Leatt guides the reader from a history of global political secularism through an exploration of the roles played by religion and traditional authority in apartheid South Africa to the position of religion in the post-apartheid state. She analyses the negotiations relating to religion in the constitution-making process, arguing that South Africa is both secular in its Constitution and judicial foundations and increasingly non-secular in its embrace of traditional authorities and customary law.

In the final chapter Leatt turns her attention to post-apartheid South Africa, examining changing relationships between churches and the ruling African National Congress and the increasing influence of traditional leaders and evangelical Christians in an anti-liberal alliance.

This book makes a tremendous contribution to the literature on postcolonial politics on the African continent. It has wonderful insights into the founding of a constitutional democracy in South Africa and will appeal to students in history, politics, sociology, anthropology and constitutional law.

The State of Secularism

Book details

“Religion in South Africa’s past has been saturated by politics and politics saturated by religion”

The author deftly guides the reader through various committees, negotiation forums, interest groups, political parties and legal wrangles to uncover the often-surprising developments, alliances and political about-turns in the process of Constitution-making. This is not just politics as the search for power, or the politics of big men … but a thoroughly human affair with its attendant messiness, idealism, complexities and ambiguities. — Ilana van Wyk, author of A Church of Strangers: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa.

The Dutch Reformed Church, it was said in apartheid South Africa, was the National Party at prayer, and indeed, given that the Bible was so fundamental to much of the legislation that governed the apartheid state, that apparently satirical description had the ring of truth.

‘Religion in South Africa’s past’, writes Dhammamegha Annie Leatt, has been ‘saturated by politics’ and politics ‘saturated by religion’. So how, she asks, was it possible for a new state to found itself without religious authority? Why did the churches give up so much of their political role in the transition? How can we think about tradition and the customary in relation to secularism? How can we not?

In The State of Secularism Leatt guides the reader from a history of global political secularism through an exploration of the roles played by religion and traditional authority in apartheid South Africa to the position of religion in the post-apartheid state. She analyses the negotiations relating to religion in the constitution-making process, arguing that South Africa is both secular in its Constitution and judicial foundations and increasingly non-secular in its embrace of traditional authorities and customary law.

In the final chapter Leatt turns her attention to post-apartheid South Africa, examining changing relationships between churches and the ruling African National Congress and the increasing influence of traditional leaders and evangelical Christians in an anti-liberal alliance.

This book makes a tremendous contribution to the literature on postcolonial politics on the African continent. It has wonderful insights into the founding of a constitutional democracy in South Africa and will appeal to students in history, politics, sociology, anthropology and constitutional law.

Book details