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“Race as biology was created to justify politics of colonialism” – Zimitri Erasmus at the launch of Race Otherwise

The launch of the academic and author Zimitri Erasmus’s new book Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa recently took place at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre. Zimitri was in conversation with Angelo Fick, an old friend of hers, self-proclaimed “recovering academic”, and news analyst for eNCA. Hugo Canham, senior lecturer in Wits’ psychology department, introduced the speakers and described Race Otherwise an ‘unsettling’ read, as it challenges the way we think about race.

Angelo opened the conversation by commenting on Zimitri’s decision to include her own lived experiences in her publications, to which she responded that “so much of academic writing is bereft of soul … I aimed to create a book which was both intellectually sound, and soulful.”

She stressed the importance of lived experiences, as these are shaped by history and as such are wider and larger than the individual and/or the present. Zimitri added that it’s difficult to find one self in academic writing, and drawing on personal experiences is “welcome to the style.”

Angelo raised the issue of the symbiotic relationship between power and racism, where after he asked Zimitri to distinguish between the concepts of anti-racialism and anti-racism, and what an anti-colonial critique of racism entails.

“The book is not about racism as structure of power,” Zimitri responded. “It’s about racism.”

“Anti-racialism is being against the talk a racialised society relies on; and that’s what I want to write against.”

Anti-racism signifies being against the notion that racial being gets preference; “When what you look like becomes more important than what you do … Anti-racism is challenging structures we’re confronted with everyday – be it in the supermarket, university corridors, or taxi ranks.”

An anti-colonial critique of racism refers to “a legacy which is not bio-scientific; it lifts it [the legacy], and locates it to the 15th century, and not as a legacy of race as biological concept or phenotype. Race as biology was created to justify politics of colonialism.”

As Zimitri was stating that particular ways of learning race has been taking place for generations, a young man from the audience left the theatre, to which Zimitri responded by asking “Did I upset you?” After a hearty laugh was enjoyed by all, she added “I just wanted to lighten things up…”

Expanding on her comment about the way we have been learning race, she questioned why race has to serve as “the distinction between you and me.”

“Why is ‘race’ the point around which we create solidarity? Why don’t we create solidarity around reading the same books, or playing the same instruments? Why does solidarity depend on the genetic ancestry test? Our perceptions around ‘race’ is sedimented knowledge. This is how the world works; I want to unsettle the way the world works — profoundly.”

Zimitri draws upon the concepts of Eros (love/the life drive) and Thanatos (the death drive) in Race Otherwise as modes of explaining South Africa’s racialised society. (And, no, by Eros, she does not mean the “fluffy kind of love the missionaries brought with them”). Angelo asked her how (if at all) we can accommodate Eros in South Africa, with it’s current political climate.

“We have to let our guard down, but we have to be discerning about with whom we allow ourselves to let our guards down. South Africans should have a relationship based on integrity; we have to be warm … We have to be civil.”

Zimitri is a staunch believer in “if this is what you think, live it … Attempt to live your life according to that which you truly believe in, which radiates resistance to the sediment.”

She shared an anecdote involving her experience of being racialised in a bottle store in Melville, when a stranger queuing behind her asked her what “tribe” she’s from. This, Zimitri said, is indicative of the language which is still left behind when it comes to talking about race; a language which is embedded in phenotypes. “Go down south,” Zimitri quipped, “there are lots of people who look like me!”

“Working with Eros is not always successful,” Zimitri added. “It’s hard work trying to do life differently in the space of South Africa where life has so little value … Am I going on a tangent?” she laughed

“No,” Angelo replied, “tangents are good.”

“It’s only because I’m finally relaxing!” She jovially replied.

Angelo continued their conversation by stating that “[s]ome of us live in protected spaces, some don’t. This denies those who do not live in protected spaces their full humanity.

“How does love (Eros) work in spaces of supreme dehumanisation?”

After a moment of deliberation Zimitri responded by referring to her chapter on the Fallist movement of 2016.

“Love, in its political sense, was far more present at [the] Concourse [of Senate House, Wits University] than the eleventh floor of Wits. Students were supporting each other; arguing with each other; grappling with the complexity of the issue.”

A critical question she posed to the audience as a whole was “Where do you stand when matters of social justice are on your doorstep?”

“We should show empathy – not sympathy – for the devalued life,” Zimitri added. “Eros is absent in spaces of power … the realm of feeling escapes…” Expanding on one particular Fees Must Fall protest which took place at Wits she commented on her impression of the students present at thE protest: “Just because they were there does not mean they embody the texture of what’s going on … they were quite distant from the texture.”

Class plays a significant role in Zimtiri’s work, and she addressed the issue of class divides and attitudes towards race, citing that “poor people are far more open to connections across race,” as opposed to racial attitudes in protected spaces. “Protected spaces are not where real work happens; the real work happens in hard, unprotected spaces where poverty is grinding.” She added that poor people “cultivate empathy in a much more real way.”

Monolingual (English-speaking) South Africans were criticised by an audience member in that they don’t contribute to a more inclusive South Africa, to which Zimitri responded that “non-English speakers do the work”, using monolingual registrars in hospital words who have to ask fellow registrars to translate patients’ requests as they don’t understand any South African language besides English as an example. If the majority of South Africans were able to speak more than one of our official languages, “structures of power might begin to shift.”

Another audience member had a query about the relationship between kinship, affinity, and race.

“I want the politics of politics, not the politics of blood,” Zimitri powerfully concluded before imploring the audience whether they could finish there because “I’m so hungry!”

Thank you for feeding our minds, Zimitri.

Mila de Villiers, @mila_se_kind

Race Otherwise

Book details

Launch: The Unresolved National Question (21 September)

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

 
Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 21 September 2017
  • Time: 4:00 PM for 4:30 PM
  • Venue: WiSER Seminar Room, 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Firoz Cachalia
  • Chair: Karl von Holdt
  • RSVP: Najibha.Deshmukh@wits.ac.za
     
    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.

    Book Details

Launch: Race Otherwise by Zimitri Erasmus (18 September)

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

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.

Race Otherwise

Book details

Launch: Labour Beyond Cosatu (6 September)

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

Labour Beyond Cosatu

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 9781776140534
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Has South Africa’s labour movement become a middle class movement? An extract from Labour Beyond Cosatu

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

This article, written for The Conversation, is based on an extract from a chapter by Andries Bezuidenhout, Christine Bischoff and Ntsehiseng Nthejane:

Do South African trade unions still represent the working class?

The South African labour landscape has undergone massive changes in the past few years that have left the country’s trade union movement almost unrecognisable from yesteryear.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, still the country’s largest trade union federation, has been bleeding members for a while and has been shaken to the core by the exit of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. This exit has led to a new formation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions. Both labour federations still claim to represent the interests of the working class.

Something else, perhaps more fundamental has been changing within South Africa’s trade union movement. The membership base has shifted significantly from one dominated by unskilled and semiskilled workers to one that shows bias towards skilled and professional workers. This is captured in a series of surveys undertaken between 1994 and 2014, before the National Union of Metal Workers’s exit.

The data shows that less than 1% of members within the trade union movement classified themselves as professional in early years of democracy. The picture had changed radically by 2008 with 20% of the respondents classifying themselves as professional. It would therefore seem that South Africa’s trade union federation had become a home for middle class civil servants, rather than a working class federation.

The evolution

A group of labour scholars has been conducting surveys of Congress of South African Trade Unions members before every parliamentary election since 1994. The intention of the survey, titled Taking Democracy Seriously, was to study the impact of union democracy on parliamentary democracy.

The data set (drawn from five surveys, with the last conducted in 2014 just before National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa was expelled) tell us much more than just what union members’ attitudes towards democracy is. It paints a complex picture of who trade unions actually represent.

At its high point, the federation had a membership of 2.2 million. This was the result of three waves of unionisation.

The first wave of members comprised of workers who were organised into the initial manufacturing unions that resulted from the militancy of the 1973 strikes.

The second wave started in 1985 with the National Union of Mineworkers – the first to organise black miners and what was to become the largest union in the country – joining the Federation of South African Trade Unions in 1985.

The third wave came with the public sector unions that emerged after 1990. This wave benefited from the Labour Relations Act of 1995 which brought public sector employees under the same dispensation as the private sector in terms of collective bargaining and organisational rights.

In the early years of democracy public sector unions were so marginal to the federation and debates in labour studies that the researchers did not even include any unions from the public sector.

The professional factor

From 1994 union members were asked to classify themselves as being professional, clerical, supervisors, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Less than 1% classified themselves as professional in 1994, 1998 and 2004.

The data reflects a major shift in the last two surveys conducted after the inclusion of public sector unions in the sample. 20% of respondents classified themselves as professional in 2008, and 19% in 2014. This constituted a fifth of federation membership base, certainly a massive shift from the early 1990s.

Those members who classified themselves as clerical remained more or less constant, with those classifying themselves as supervisors increasing slightly from 4% in 1994 to 6% in 2014.

What is interesting though, is an increase of those who classify themselves as skilled increasing from 21% in 1994 to 37% in 2014.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 978-1-77614-053-4
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

In Race Otherwise Zimitri Erasmus questions the notion that one can know race with one’s eyes, with racial categories and with genetic ancestry tests

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

Race Otherwise

‘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.

Book details

“It covers all the issues of our country” – Paul Slabolepszy on his award-winning play Suddenly the Storm

Paul Slabolepszy’s Suddenly the Storm set in Johannesburg’s East Rand at the home of an ageing former police officer Dwayne Combrink and his much younger wife Shanell, poses the question of whether the wounds of the past can ever truly be healed.

Combative, volatile, constantly on the verge of exploding, Dwayne and Shanell Combrink are two halves of a white South African workingclass couple, living an uneasy truce as they struggle with the day-to-day trials of scraping together a living and dreaming competing dreams.

But beneath Dwayne’s angry, violent exterior lies the heartbreak that governs his attitude to life. Dwayne is a man in mourning. Shanell believes his current level of despair was sparked by the death of his childhood friend and recent work partner, Jonas, but the source of his mourning and anger lies much further back. When the elegant and self-contained Namhla Gumede, born on 16 June 1976, arrives on their doorstep seeking answers to questions that have remained buried for 40 years, Dwayne and Shanell finally find out the truth.

What starts as a smouldering dark comedy suddenly turns into a roller-coaster ride of startling revelations, rage and recrimination … before the storm finally breaks.

Here Paul discusses his Naledi award-winning play on SABC:


 

Suddenly the Storm

Book details

Paul Slabolepszy’s new play, Suddenly the Storm, wins coveted award for Best New South African Script

Paul Slabolepszy’s new play, Suddenly the Storm has won the coveted Naledi award for Best New South African Script. The play script was recently published by Wits University Press. Zakes Mda, award-winning playwright and novelist said of the play, “Slabolepszy is a master of dialect which makes his East Rand characters so authentic you could be sitting in a bar in one of these Ekurhuleni towns listening to their real-life equivalents and laughing at their jokes.”

Apart from winning the award for Best New South African Script for Slabolepszy, the play won two more awards from its six nominations at the Naledi Theatre Awards in Johannesburg, winning Best Theatre Set Design and Best Lighting Design.

Slabolepszy is an acclaimed playwright, as well as radio, television and screenwriter of more than thirty plays. A selection of his play scripts have been published by Wits University Press as Mooi Street and Other Moves. The book, a collection of six plays written between 1984 and 1993 was recently reprinted.

Veronica Klipp, publisher at Wits University Press expressed her delight in the play winning these accolades and added that Slabolepszy’s play scripts had been used by high schools learners as well as university students for many years.

Suddenly the Storm is Slabolepszy’s first new play since 2009 and marks his first return to the stage as an actor in nearly two decades.

The play will be performed with Slabolepszy in the lead role in Durban from 10 to 12 August 2017 at the Playhouse Loft Theatre.

Slabolepszy is a master of dialect which makes his East Rand characters so authentic you could be sitting in a bar in one of these Ekurhuleni towns listening to their real-life equivalents and laughing at their jokes. Through his dialect he is able to elicit real pathos in all his characters … With Slabolepszy you are always waiting for something menacing to happen, and it does in this play.
– Zakes Mda, award-winning playwright and novelist

Paul Slabolepszy’s Suddenly the Storm set in Johannesburg’s East Rand at the home of an ageing former police officer Dwayne Combrink and his much younger wife Shanell, poses the question of whether the wounds of the past can ever truly be healed.

Combative, volatile, constantly on the verge of exploding, Dwayne and Shanell Combrink are two halves of a white South African workingclass couple, living an uneasy truce as they struggle with the day-to-day trials of scraping together a living and dreaming competing dreams.

But beneath Dwayne’s angry, violent exterior lies the heartbreak that governs his attitude to life. Dwayne is a man in mourning. Shanell believes his current level of despair was sparked by the death of his childhood friend and recent work partner, Jonas, but the source of his mourning and anger lies much further back. When the elegant and self-contained Namhla Gumede, born on 16 June 1976, arrives on their doorstep seeking answers to questions that have remained buried for 40 years, Dwayne and Shanell finally find out the truth.

What starts as a smouldering dark comedy suddenly turns into a roller-coaster ride of startling revelations, rage and recrimination … before the storm finally breaks.

Suddenly the Storm

Book details

 
 

Mooi Street and Other Moves

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