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Watch an interview with Mandla Mathebula, author of The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story

It probably took a fraction of a second from the knock – a single bang – to the opening of the door and the entry of an unexpected visitor into the room. They had just finished their lunch. The unannounced visitor … simply pretended that everything was normal. There he stood – unfazed and somehow gigantic in his presence. The room had suddenly been invaded by a man who was to be a landmark in the lives of the trainees …

The Backroom Boy
opens dramatically in China, 1962. Andrew Mlangeni is one of a small select group undergoing military training there. The unannounced visitor is Mao Tse-Tung or Chairman Mao as he was known, Chairman of the Communist Party of China.

Mlangeni was selected as one of the first-ever six members who received military training in China before the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He seems to have been chosen because he was a dedicated, intelligent and dependable operative, rather than a leader. Even after his release after 25 years on Robben Island, Mlangeni was not given a senior position in the post-apartheid democratic government. ‘I was always the backroom boy,’ says Andrew Mlangeni about himself.

Andrew Mlangeni, is a struggle stalwart, Rivonia Trialist, and Robben Island prisoner 467/64 who was next door inmate to Nelson Mandela’s acclaimed 466/64 prison number. Released after 26 years of incarceration, he served as Member of Parliament, and is Chairman of the ANC’s Integrity Commission and Founder of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation. With the passing of Ahmed Kathrada (March 2017), Mlangeni (91) is one of only two Rivonia Trialist still alive with Denis Goldberg.

While still at school, Andrew Mlangeni joined the Communist Party of South Africa and also the ANC Youth League. These were the organisations that shaped his values. Decades of resourceful activism were to lead to his arrest and life sentence in the Rivonia trial. Mlangeni’s lifelong commitment to the struggle for liberation reverberates with other biographies and memoirs of leading figures, such as Rusty Bernstein’s Memory Against Forgetting and Albie Sachs’ We, the People: Insights of an Activist Judge. This story of an ANC elder is a well-researched historical record overlaid with intensely personal refl ections which intersect with the political narrative. Above all, it is one man’s story, set in the maelstrom of the liberation struggle.

This biographical project has been developed for, and published in conjunction with, the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation.

The Backroom Boy is one of Wits University Press’ bestsellers.

Polity recently conducted an interview with Mandla Mathebula, the author of Backroom Boy. Watch the full clip here:

 

The Backroom Boy

Book details

Sarah Nuttall, Achille Mbembe, and Jean and John Comaroff to discuss the The Truth about Crime at Stellenbosch University

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.

Book details

OR Tambo Centenary Lecture: “What did we achieve?” asks Justice Albie Sachs on the drafting of the Constitution

In a four-part lecture delivered as part of the Oliver Tambo Centenary Series, former Justice Albie Sachs confronts aspects of the Constitution with direct parallels to critical issues faced by the country right now. Read Sachs’ recent piece for the Daily Maverick – “The Constitution as a Framework for Struggle” – here:

I didn’t sleep the night before the actual constitutional negotiations started. It was 1992, and the prospect of spending days on end in the gloomy, sprawling building near the Johannesburg airport grandiosely entitled the World Trade Centre was not enticing, even if it was slightly enlivened by a banner proclaiming CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa). Yet what kept me awake was not the cheerlessness of the venue. It was fear. My deep dread was that, after all the generations of struggle – in my case, working as an advocate by day and in the underground at night, then spending days, weeks and months in solitary confinement, with sleep deprivation thrown in, followed by 24 years of exile, seven as a stateless person, and being blown up by an apartheid bomb, losing my arm and my sight in one eye – my terror was that we would give away in a few weeks at the negotiating table all the gains we had won through strenuous travail over the decades in the trenches. I thought of my close comrades who had been tortured to death or assassinated: Solwandle Looksmart Ngudle, Elijah Loza, Babla Saloojee, Ruth First and Joe Gqabi. Would we betray their memory?

I think back to that time when I hear passionate young activists today speaking about how the Constitution was made. As they see it, at some key moments Mandela got together with certain captains of big business to assure them that, provided everyone got the vote, there would be nothing in the new Constitution to rock the existing economic system or require massive restoration of land to the people. The kinder version is that Mandela’s position was weak and he had no other option. Less generously, he was too naïve and trusting. More critically, he was simply a sell-out. These claims reduce to a simple all-defining chat by a few top personalities what was in fact an arduous, six-year-long violence-beset struggle over the Constitution, with a total breakdown and one severe crisis after the other. The role of millions of people who participated in different ways is simply eliminated.

The actual role that Mandela played at CODESA is completely misrepresented. As I have explained in my first two Oliver Tambo Centenary Lectures [See: here and here] the basic non-racial, democratic design of our Constitution came not from Mandela but from Oliver Tambo. Mandela’s role in negotiations was in fact to be the public face of the ANC and to ensure that the negotiation process remained firmly on track. Those of us who were there have to tell our story. The making of the Constitution was in fact a huge act of decolonisation in South Africa. It tore down the pillars of white domination in the political sphere and provided the instruments for achieving the next stage of liberation, namely, economic and cultural emancipation.

It is surprising that the central drama of the South African constitution-making project is not known. It wasn’t over the economic system, but over who should have the right to determine it. It wasn’t over a unitary state versus federalism – that was important but relatively secondary. It was in fact over an issue that had been raised while we were still in Lusaka and that is almost forgotten today: group rights, as Pretoria had demanded, versus majority rule and a Bill of Rights, as the ANC had insisted on.

As the struggle against apartheid had visibly gathered strength inside South Africa and worldwide denunciation of the system had intensified, proposals for new constitutional arrangements in South Africa had come pouring in from all sides. Invariably they had been based on forms of power-sharing between whites and blacks. The tenet had been that, given the deep historical and cultural cleavages in South Africa, the only way that the white minority could be expected to surrender their monopoly on power was if they were granted secure constitutional protections against a black majority rule.

Continue reading here.
 

We, the People

Book details

Watch: Edward Webster discusses the The Unresolved National Question

The Unresolved National Question in South Africa is an extremely valuable contribution to the decades-long debate on South African nationhood. Its striking feature is its highly professional and balanced approach to the various narratives and traditions that address the National Question.
— Vladimir Shubin, Russian Academy of Sciences

The re-emergence of debates on the decolonisation of knowledge has revived interest in the National Question, which began over a century ago and remains unresolved. Tensions that were suppressed and hidden in the past are now being openly debated. Despite this, the goal of one united nation living prosperously under a constitutional democracy remains elusive.

This edited volume examines the way in which various strands of left thought have addressed the National Question, especially during the apartheid years, and goes on to discuss its relevance for South Africa today and in the future. Instead of imposing a particular understanding of the National Question, the editors identified a number of political traditions and allowed contributors the freedom to define the question as they believed appropriate – in other words, to explain what they thought was the Unresolved National Question. This has resulted in a rich tapestry of interweaving perceptions.

The volume is structured in two parts. The first examines four foundational traditions – Marxism-Leninism (the Colonialism of a Special Type thesis); the Congress tradition; the Trotskyist tradition; and Africanism. The second part explores the various shifts in the debate from the 1960s onwards, and includes chapters on Afrikaner nationalism, ethnic issues, Black Consciousness, feminism, workerism and constitutionalism.

The editors hope that by revisiting the debates not popularly known among the scholarly mainstream, this volume will become a catalyst for an enriched debate on our identity and our future.

Here, co-editor Edward Webster, Professor Emeritus in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits University, discusses the debate surrounding race, gender and class – the unresolved questions our nation is grappling with – on SABC News:

The Unresolved National Question

Book details

Listen: Jean and John Comaroff, authors of The Truth About Crime discuss what crime says of a society

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.

Anna Saldinger recently interviewed the authors on the Californian radio station KPFA. Listen to their conversation here:

 
 
Book details

Watch: Andrew Mlangeni on Morning Live

Backroom Boy is a riveting account of a long life in the struggle for freedom both before and after the attainment of democracy in 1994. It is a living account of the many turns and twists in the life of a cadre in the centre, but backstage of the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
— Siphamandla Zondi, professor and head of the school of Political Science at University of Pretoria

This book is a valuable and dependable source book to ANC and MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe ) history with a lot of factual information that would not be known to the general reader.
— Albie Sachs, retired Constitutional Court judge and author of We, the People: Insights of an activist judge

“It probably took a fraction of a second from the knock – a single bang – to the opening of the door and the entry of an unexpected visitor into the room. They had just finished their lunch. The unannounced visitor … simply pretended that everything was normal. There he stood – unfazed and somehow gigantic in his presence. The room had suddenly been invaded by a man who was to be a landmark in the lives of the trainees …”

The Backroom Boy opens dramatically in China, 1962. Andrew Mlangeni is one of a small select group undergoing military training there. The unannounced visitor is Mao Tse-Tung or Chairman Mao as he was known, Chairman of the Communist Party of China.

Mlangeni was selected as one of the first-ever six members who received military training in China before the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He seems to have been chosen because he was a dedicated, intelligent and dependable operative, rather than a leader. Even after his release after 25 years on Robben Island, Mlangeni was not given a senior position in the post-apartheid democratic government. ‘I was always the backroom boy,’ says Andrew Mlangeni about himself.

Andrew Mlangeni, is a struggle stalwart, Rivonia Trialist, and Robben Island prisoner 467/64 who was next door inmate to Nelson Mandela’s acclaimed 466/64 prison number. Released after 26 years of incarceration, he served as Member of Parliament, and is Chairman of the ANC’s Integrity Commission and Founder of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation. With the passing of Ahmed Kathrada (March 2017), Mlangeni (91) is one of only two Rivonia Trialist still alive with Denis Goldberg.

While still at school, Andrew Mlangeni joined the Communist Party of South Africa and also the ANC Youth League. These were the organisations that shaped his values. Decades of resourceful activism were to lead to his arrest and life sentence in the Rivonia trial. Mlangeni’s lifelong commitment to the struggle for liberation reverberates with other biographies and memoirs of leading figures, such as Rusty Bernstein’s Memory Against Forgetting and Albie Sachs’ We, the People: Insights of an Activist Judge. This story of an ANC elder is a well-researched historical record overlaid with intensely personal reflections which intersect with the political narrative. Above all, it is one man’s story, set in the maelstrom of the liberation struggle.

This biographical project has been developed for, and published in conjunction with, the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation.

Here Mlangeni discusses the book, his critique of the current government, and lack of unity in South Africa on Morning Live with Leanne Manas.


 
 

The Backroom Boy

Book details

“Blackness is indeed consciousness of black experiences” – Gabriel Apata reviews Critique of Black Reason

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness – from the Atlantic slave trade to the present – to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity.

Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations between colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital.

Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion.

With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future.

Here, Dr. Gabriel O Apata reviewed Critique of Black Reason for the journal Theory, Culture & Society:

Kant’s first Critique may be described as an attempt to hoist reason up out of the contamination and impurities of subjectivity and relativity onto to a transcendental plane where alone it can possess objectivity and universality. This then is pure reason, whose critique lays down the law for very basis for human knowledge, its limits and which asks whether metaphysics is at all possible. But Kant’s universality turns out not to be universal after all since it excludes or does not admit of certain groups, in particular black people on the basis that they lack reason. The question is can there be such a thing as black reason? If reason does come in colours could it ever be objective? This is the question that Achille Mbembe in his new six-chaptered book Critique of Black Reason (2017) sets out to explore. Mbembe not only believes there is such a thing as black reason but he thinks he knows what it is and what stuff it is made of.

So what is black reason? According to Mbembe ‘Black reason consists of a collection of voices, pronouncements, discourses, forms of knowledge, commentary and nonsense, whose object is things or people of “African origin” (p.27). He goes on to say that ‘Black reason names not only a collection of discourses but also practices….’ (p.28). But this will not do since this definition of black reason can equally apply to any other group. For instance if we substitute the ‘black’ and ‘African origin’ in his statement for ‘white’ and ‘European origins’ we end up with nothing to distinguish between the two except difference in cultures. But hold that thought, because that is precisely Mbembe’s point. The Western idea of reason is different from black or African idea of reason because both are products of different geographies (Europe and Africa) and also experiences. Mbembe suggests that contact between both worlds has produced two narratives: the Western Consciousness of Blackness and Black Consciousness of Blackness.

With regards to White consciousness of blackness Mbembe takes us on a historical tour, through the vicissitudes of the black experience that have shaped black consciousness, which are the three most important epoch-making events in black history: slavery, colonialism and Apartheid. This is the familiar story of conquest, oppression, subjugation, persecution and so on. Western consciousness of blackness is thus a category construct that is like a prison within which are quartered cellars and doors through which the black man passes or is let through, at will, into rooms, as though on a production line where he is shaped, boxed, stamped and eventually produced, as blackness. Like the slaves in Plato’s cave, blackness is shackled against a wall where it sees only images and not reality and where he is denied not only freedom, but also the light of reason. It cannot attain knowledge of pure forms but only copies of reality, hence it cannot be admitted into Kant’s kingdom of ends. They have no access to the realms above because, as we mentioned, they lack reason. As Mbembe points out, ‘Reason in particular confers on the human a generic identity, a universal essence, from which flows a collection of rights and values. It unites all humans…. The question …was whether blacks were human beings like all others’ (p.85). The answer for many was no. Indeed, Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative that exhorts us to treat humanity not as a means but as an end in himself did not apply to black people. The idea of absolute or intrinsic value, of ‘supreme limiting condition’ that Kant thought is the very measure of humanity also did not apply to the black man for the same reasons as stated above. Hence the justification for their use as instrumental value.

With regards to black consciousness of blackness, Mbembe points out that ‘Black – we must not forget – aspires also to be a color. The color of obscurity. In this view Black is what lives in the night. Night is its original envelope, the tissue out of which its flesh is made. It is a coat of arms, its uniform’ (p.152). Psychologically, Black is like a victim of locked-in syndrome, within a skin that the bearer never chose but within the confines of which the victim is aware of what is happening to him but remains powerless to express thoughts and feelings. In this prison only two options are open to the black man, either to acquiesce and die or struggle and survive. Out of this fight for survival ‘the struggle to the death’ emerges the narrative of black consciousness.

But Mbembe’s idea of two consciousnesses is classic Hegelian master and slave dialect, a co-dependent relationship in which both are trapped, and within which each holds up a mirror to the other and from the ensuing reflection both become conscious (aware) of each other and of themselves.

Continue reading Apata’s review here.

Book details

“Cohesively, this anthology offers a uniquely South African voice” – Robyn Sassen reviews Recognition

Recognition
The woman looked up and wiped her cheek. She saw Sophia watching her. There was a recognition there, just for a moment.
— Mary Watson: Red Shoes

This anthology of short stories is a welcome volume that presents the state of the South African literary field with generosity and imagination.
— Imraan Coovadia, author of Tales of the Metric System (2014) and director of the creative writing programme at the University of Cape Town.

The lives of South Africans have always been interwoven in complex ways. There is a long history of division; but also of profound (and often surprising) instances of mutual recognition.

Recognition is an exciting anthology of short stories in which twenty-two South African writers render these intricate connections.

The writers whose stories have been selected use the transformative power of the imagination and the unique appeal of the short story to illuminate aspects of our past and present.

Cumulatively their stories tell of a history tainted by misrecognition but not, finally, bound by it.

Amongst the twenty-two contributors are some of our best-known short story writers: Pauline Smith, Herman Charles Bosman, H.I. E. Dhlomo, Can Themba, Nadine Gordimer, Alex La Guma, Dan Jacobson, Miriam Tlali, Ahmed Essop, Njabulo Ndebele, Mandla Langa, Chris van Wyk, Damon Galgut, Achmat Dangor and Zoë Wicomb. And there is also a selection of vibrant newer voices: Makhosazana Xaba, Nadia Davids, Mary Watson, Lindiwe Nkutha, Wamuwi Mbao and Kobus Moolman.

Chronologically the collection ranges from the 1920s to the twenty-first century. It builds on its predecessor, Encounters, but devotes significant attention to the transitional and post-apartheid years: almost half the stories were published after 1994.

The anthology includes a generous and detailed introduction, written by David Medalie. It traces the motif of recognition, discusses the general characteristics of short stories and the narrative devices used by writers, and includes a brief analysis of each short story.

Recognition will appeal to teachers and students of literature. It will be enjoyed by all those who love short stories and appreciate the craftsmanship involved in telling a memorable tale.

Robyn Sassen recently reviewed Recognition on her WordPress blog. An excerpt from Robyn’s review reads:

There’s something unmissably effervescent about a beautifully written short story.

It has not only to do with its brevity, but with the way in which its writer crafts a whole universe in a few pages. And with a particularly good short story, it’s a universe replete with everything, a universe that will haunt you forever.

This is the kind of experience you can anticipate with David Medalie’s latest anthology of South African short stories, Recognition.

There is not one of these hand- picked, lovingly formed tales that glares out for being under par or without a voice of its own. Cohesively, this anthology offers a uniquely South African voice.

It is beautifully crafted, in spite of the fact that stories deal with a wide range of issues, from feeling unwanted to being broken, from remembering abuse to articulating violence.

It’s a series of tales which give you insight into the soul of South Africa, from its youngest and most vulnerable to its oldest and most hard done by.

These 22 stories by a range of South African authors – living and dead, contemporary and historical – are powerful testimonies to our ability, as South Africans, to laugh and cry, disparage truths and describe things as they are.

It’s the kind of collection that you must take a breath from, every now and then, so that you can keep the memory of each story pristine in your heart and not allow them to merge.

Continue reading Robyn’s review here.

Book details

Listen to the recording of the launch of Critique of Black Reason

Renown philosopher, political theorist and intellectual, Achille Mbembe, recently launched his latest book, Critique of Black Reason, at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

Moderated by Sarah Nuttall, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at WiSER, Mbembe was in conversation with Bongani Madondo, Candice Jansen, Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Claudia Gastrow, and Rogers Orock.

Nuttall expressly stated that each panelist had 10 minutes to deliver his or her comments on Critique of Black Reason which most of them managed to do.

Mbembe opened the discussion by giving a brief overview of his book and how moving to American made him realise that he had never confronted slavery; this motivated him to write Critique of Black Reason.

The panelists shared their opinions of the book’s content, varying from commenting on black student activists, questioning the absence of black women in the book, and the book’s relevance in relation to the history of slavery and colonialism.

Nuttall’s strict adherence to time-keeping meant that Mbembe was unable to respond to the questions and comments raised by the panel, to which he laughingly replied “Thank you for saving me from flagellation!”

He thanked the panelists for their “subtle, powerful criticism”, after which he elaborated on the translation of the original French title, Critique de la raison nègre.

“‘Nègre,” Mbembe related to the audience, translates to “an object which is bought or sold, or a currency through which the exchange is made.”

After this powerful statement, Nuttall mentioned that WiSER has created a reading group, open to the public, in which books such as Critique of Black Reason will be discussed.

Listen to the recording here:


Critique of Black Reason

Book details

“This book is an attempt to make sense of black life and black history from a continental perspective” – Achille Mbembe at launch of Critique of Black Reason

Renown philosopher, political theorist and intellectual, Achille Mbembe, recently launched his latest book, Critique of Black Reason, at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

Moderated by Sarah Nuttall, associate professor of literary and cultural studies at WiSER, Mbembe was in conversation with Bongani Madondo, Candice Jansen, Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Claudia Gastrow, and Rogers Orock.

Nuttall expressly stated that each panelist had 10 minutes to deliver his or her comments on Critique of Black Reason which most of them managed to do.

Mbembe opened the discussion by giving a brief overview of his book and how moving to American made him realise that he had never confronted slavery; this motivated him to write Critique of Black Reason.

The panelists shared their opinions of the book’s content, varying from commenting on black student activists, questioning the absence of black women in the book, and the book’s relevance in relation to the history of slavery and colonialism.

Nuttall’s strict adherence to time-keeping meant that Mbembe was unable to respond to the questions and comments raised by the panel, to which he laughingly replied “Thank you for saving me from flagellation!”

He thanked the panelists for their “subtle, powerful criticism”, after which he elaborated on the translation of the original French title, Critique de la raison nègre.

“‘Nègre’,” Mbembe related to the audience, translates to “an object which is bought or sold, or a currency through which the exchange is made.”

After this powerful statement, Nuttall mentioned that WiSER has created a reading group, open to the public, in which books such as Critique of Black Reason will be discussed.

A recording of the discussion will be available soon.

Critique of Black Reason

Book details