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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

These Oppressions Won’t Cease not a mere ‘collection of documents’ but a powerful statement of the adaptation of indigenous thought and knowledge to colonialism

Internationally renowned Robert Ross is arguably the pre-eminent historian of the preindustrial Cape, acclaimed for the meticulousness of his archival research and the expressive clarity of his prose … this is a highly pioneering study; there is really nothing like it in the field …
- Bill Nasson, distinguished professor at the University of Stellenbosch, historian and author of History Matters: Selected Writings 1970-2016 (2016).

This is the first book to allow indigenous inhabitants of the Cape to express their own voices … it unearths material little known both to specialists and to the general public. It is thus not a mere ‘collection of documents’ but a powerful statement of the adaptation of indigenous thought and knowledge to colonialism … This book will swiftly become a classic.
- Nigel Worden, professor in the Department of Historical Studies, University of Cape Town and author of The Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Apartheid and Democracy.

The Khoesan were the first people in Africa to undergo the full rigours of European colonisation. By the early nineteenth century, they had largely been brought under colonial rule, dispossessed of their land and stock, and forced to work as labourers for farmers of European descent.

Nevertheless, a portion of them were able to regain a degree of freedom and maintain their independence by taking refuge in the mission stations of the Western and Eastern Cape, most notably in the Kat River valley. For much of the nineteenth century, these Khoesan people kept up a steady commentary on, and intervention in, the course of politics in the Cape Colony.

Through petitions, speeches at meetings, letters to the newspapers and correspondence between themselves, the Cape Khoesan articulated a continuous critique of the oppressions of colonialism, always stressing the need for equality before the law, as well as their opposition to attempts to limit their freedom of movement through vagrancy legislation and related measures.

This was accompanied by a well-grounded distrust, in particular, of the British settlers of the Eastern Cape and a concomitant hope, rarely realised, in the benevolence of the British government in London. Comprising 98 of these texts, These Oppressions Won’t Cease – an utterance expressed by Willem Uithaalder, commander of Khoe rebel forces in the war of 1850-3 – contains the essential documents of Khoesan political thought in the nineteenth century.

These texts of the Khoesan provide a history of resistance to colonial oppression which has largely faded from view. Robert Ross, the eminent historian of precolonial South Africa, brings back their voices from the annals of the archive, voices which were formative in the establishment of black nationalism in South Africa, but which have long been silenced.

Book details

  • These Oppressions Won’t Cease: The Political Thought of the Cape Khoesan, 1777-1879 An Anthology by Robert Ross
    EAN: 978-1-77614-180-7
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Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics a “marvelous work of political psychology”

The historical nuance and meticulous analysis make Gibson and Beneduce’s Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics more than a work on Fanon’s psychiatric thought. It’s a political history of psychiatry both as a colonial and anti-colonial practice. The former is its unfolding under colonial conditions. The latter is the fact of agency among psychiatrists and psychologists from below … It’s a marvelous work (in its own right) of political psychology and even better: it addresses the lacunae in other works – namely, their failure to address colonization, race, and sexuality.
— Lewis R. Gordon, Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies, University of Connecticut

The revolutionary and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon was a foundational figure in postcolonial and decolonial thought and practice, yet his psychiatric work still has only been studied peripherally. That is in part because most of his psychiatric writings have remained untranslated.

With a focus on Fanon’s key psychiatry texts, Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics considers Fanon’s psychiatric writings as materials anticipating as well as accompanying Fanon’s better known works, written between 1952 and 1961 (Black Skin, White Masks; A Dying Colonialism, Toward the African Revolution, The Wretched of the Earth).

Both clinical and political, they draw on another notion of psychiatry that intersects history, ethnology, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. The authors argue that Fanon’s work inaugurates a critical ethnopsychiatry based on a new concept of culture (anchored to historical events, particular situations, and lived experience) and on the relationship between the psychological and the cultural. Thus, Gibson and Beneduce contend that Fanon’s psychiatric writings also express Fanon’s wish, as he puts it in The Wretched of the Earth, to “develop a new way of thinking, not only for us but for humanity.”

Nigel C. Gibson is Associate Professor of Postcolonial Studies at Emerson College. He is author of Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (2003) and Fanonian Practices in South Africa (2014), and the editor of Rethinking Fanon (1999) and Living Fanon (2011). He is the editor of the Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Roberto Beneduce is Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of Turin. He is the founding director of the Frantz Fanon Center in Turin. His recent publications include a collection of Fanon’s psychiatric writings in Italian, Decolonizzare la follia, Scritti sulla psichiatria coloniale (2011), and L’histoire au corps (Embodying History) (2016).

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Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp on the costs of losing local research to global publishers

Writing in the University World News, Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp says local scholarly publishing faces the challenges of the small local market and that the costs of losing local research to global publishers is high.

South Africa boasts an impressive pedigree of scholarly publishing, beginning with the establishment of the University of the Witwatersrand Press, now known simply as Wits University Press or WUP, in 1922, the same year the university was formed.

Presses were later established at the University of Natal, now the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN Press) and the University of South Africa (Unisa Press) in the 1950s, and most recently at the University of Cape Town (UCT Press) in the early 1990s.

In addition to university presses there are scholarly publishers at research institutes such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC Press) and the Africa Institute of South Africa – AISA, which publishes mainly journals – as well as commercial publishers with agendas that at least partially overlap with those of university presses, such as SUN Media based at Stellenbosch, among others.

These presses are mostly located in the research arms of their institutions, and most publish in the humanities and social sciences. They are meticulous about peer review, adhering to international ‘best practice’ standards, and are known for the quality of their publications.

In recent years, book publication by local academics has been incentivised after the Academy of Science of South Africa or ASSAf lobbied for an increase in the subsidies for books provided by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

This has doubled the ‘points’ a book can earn, up to an equivalent of 10 journal articles. The funds are paid to the universities where authors are based, which have different policies on how they are allocated; usually they go to the authors’ faculties with a percentage allocated to authors’ research accounts.

It is estimated that the scholarly publishing sector produces 60 to 70 books per annum – more or less equivalent to the output of one small to medium publisher in the United Kingdom or United States.

Turnover from these books is less than half a percent of that of the entire publishing industry, which is dominated by educational publishing (65% of turnover). The general trade sector accounts for around 25%, the academic sector (including scholarly books) for 10%.

The state of play

The overarching mission of the university presses is to publish research for the public good and to grow the knowledge base of the country – a particularly important aim in a young democracy.

Yet this mission has had to be responsive to the increasing financial austerity universities operate in. What works in the presses’ favour is the fact that scholarly publishing here is hybrid: books are often aimed at general readers as well, and there is a huge appetite in South Africa for titles in the areas of politics, history and other cross-over non-fiction.

The early 2000s saw a publishing boom in South Africa, which resulted in greater market reach also for scholarly books. At this time our economy was growing and university presses benefited: print runs often exceeded 1,000 units and many bookshops offered an extensive range with serious scholarly work displayed alongside general trade books.

More recently, our records show that scholarly books sell on average 650 units (many sell less) over a number of years and the concept of the ‘long tail’ of small sales over an extended period also applies locally.

While the relatively small size of the local academy may be one reason for low sales, the fact that most local presses only publish on South African or Southern African subject matter limits the potential audience.

In this context it is also relevant that dissemination on the continent remains a challenge, though some co-publication partnerships have been established. Simply raising prices to international levels (which are geared towards library sales) won’t work in our price-sensitive local market.

Adjusting to a new world

To overcome the challenges of the small local market, presses have tried to maximise international sales through print distribution and export, and engaged in co-publications.

The establishment of digital publishing and distribution networks has, of course, radically altered business models and the possibilities for global distribution of content.

Digital aggregators, print-on-demand models and creation of ONIX metadata for greater visibility are the new dissemination tools developed by international commercial operations, yet many local presses seem not to have taken advantage of them.

It is important to try to understand what is holding them back, and it may have something to do with not being able to visualise the advantages offered by new technologies, especially as the local market has not taken them up.

However, there may a bigger structural problem at play.

University presses here function in a context of extreme austerity with little support from their parent institutions.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: in an attempt to save costs, presses are not capacitated in terms of staff or technology; but working in this environment means that its staff members have their noses to the production grindstone, they don’t get to travel, and their access to the global scholarly industry – with the potential to upskill technologically – is compromised.

Academics opt for international publishers

Perhaps this is one of the reasons many academics prefer to publish with international publishers – their reach and impact in the territories that dominate the knowledge economy is just greater.

The South African sector is, in fact, dominated by global North players, especially large commercial publishers.

The origins lie to some extent in our colonial history, but also in the managerialism that began to influence the academy in the early 1990s in an era of rapid globalisation, which saw a sell-off of journals to global companies and even of presses, such as UCT Press to Juta.

As a result, the overwhelming proportion of South African research is published by international publishers, and the academy is forced to buy back its own knowledge, often at exorbitant prices.

ASSAf has conducted research on the publishing patterns of local academics which is to be released soon. In the meantime, statistics for 2013 and 2014 from Wits’ research office show that only 30% to 40% of research published in books or book chapters was published by local publishers.

What needs to be done

As research output across the continent continues to grow, we will have to radically improve the capacities of local university presses if we want to have any chance of controlling our own outputs in the global knowledge economy.

Perhaps the first step universities should take is to value the contributions of local presses to their research missions. This would need to go hand in hand with capacitation, for example through the allocation of a percentage of state research output subsidies to the presses.

The presses, on the other hand, need to demonstrate their ability to disseminate and create impact in the global knowledge economy. In this way they can contribute to the prestige of the local academy, which must have been a key reason for establishing the first university press in the early 20th century.

In many ways, the contribution made by university presses since that time has remained unchanged – namely to disseminate important research from the global South, thereby contributing to international research agendas.


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“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.

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“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

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Book launch: Critique of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe


 
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.

Event Details


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Healing the Exposed Being presents a new vocabulary and ontology for understanding the Ngoma healing tradition

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.

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Joint book launch – Urban Revolt & Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective

Join the University of Johannesburg Library and the Centre for Social Change for the launch of two books focused on protests and resistance in the Global South: Urban Revolt and Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective.

Speakers will include contributors to the books: Trevor Ngwane, Immanuel Ness and Marcel Parett.

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Read an excerpt from Michael Neocosmos’s Thinking Freedom in Africa

Thinking Freedom in Africa The Mail & Guardian has shared an excerpt from Thinking Freedom in Africa: Toward a theory of emancipatory politics by Michael Neocosmos.

The book, published by Wits University Press and the recipient of the 2017 Frantz Fanon Outstanding Book Award, explores the politics of emancipation via the study of the global history of African peoples’ struggles for liberation.

The excerpt reads:

How are we to begin to think about emancipation in Africa today after the collapse of the Marxist, the Third World nationalist and the neoliberal visions of freedom?

How are we to conceptualise an emancipatory future governed by a fidelity to the idea of a universal humanity in a context where humanity no longer features in our ambit of thought and when previous ways of thinking emancipation have become obsolete?

In the formulation made famous by Frantz Fanon on the last page of The Wretched of the Earth, how are we to “work out new concepts” for a new humanism?

Thinking Freedom in Africa: Toward a Theory of Emancipatory Politics seeks answers to these questions in the light of what has become apparent, namely the absence of a thought of politics in all three of these conceptions of universal history today.

You can read the coverage of the launch of Thinking Freedom in Africa here.
 
 

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Don’t miss the launch of Zimbabwe’s Migrants and South Africa’s Border Farms by Maxim Bolt at Wits

Zimbabwe's Migrants and South Africa's Border Farms: The Roots of ImpermanenceWits University Press and WiSER invite you to the launch of Maxim Bolt’s award-winning book Zimbabwe’s Migrants and South Africa’s Border Farms: The Roots of Impermanence.

How do people create homes and stability in times of mass unemployment and uncertainty?

During the Zimbabwean crisis, millions crossed through the border fence to South Africa, searching for work as farm labourers. In a time of intensified pressures on commercial agriculture in South Africa following market liberalisation and post-apartheid land reform, Bolt explores the lives of migrant labourers and settled black farm workers and their dependants as they intersect with those of white farmers and managers on the Zimbabwean-South African border.

Join us for a conversation with Bolt as he discusses, with Tara Polzer (research director at Social Surveys Africa) and Eric Worby (Professor of Anthropology at Wits), the role of wage labour in a place of crisis.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 11 May 2016
  • Time: 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
  • Venue: WiSER Seminar Room
    6th Floor Richard Ward Building
    East Campus, Wits University | Map
  • Panel: Tara Polzer and Eric Worby
  • Refreshments: Wine and juices will be served
  • RSVP: info.witspress@wits.ac.za

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