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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

“I Didn’t Join the Revolution to be Poor” – Deborah James Examines the Freedom to Engage in Consumption

Money from NothingStanford University Press has shared an excerpt from Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa by Deborah James.

In Money from Nothing, James explores the “national project of financial inclusion”, which “aims to extend credit to black South Africans as a critical aspect of abolishing apartheid’s legacy”, and the contradictions inherent in the project.

The book highlights the lived experiences of the millions of indebted South Africans, and shows how access to credit is linked to identity and status.

Read the excerpt, taken from the introduction:

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Violence, Condemnation, and the Meaning of Living in South Africa – An Excerpt from Go Home or Die Here

Go Home or Die HereGo Home or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia and the Reinvention of Difference in South Africa, edited by Tawana Kupe, Eric Worby and Shireen Hassim, was published in 2008 after the eruption of xenophobic violence in South Africa. However, the publication remains as relevant today as it was then.

Ruth Bhengu, chair of the parliamentary committee set up to probe violence against foreigners, recently questioned the use of the word “xenophobia” to describe the attitudes of many South Africans to immigrants and refugees from the rest of Africa.

“As journalists, you must refrain from using xenophobia because it means having extreme hatred which we don’t have as South Africans,” she said, continuing:

“We must move away from this xenophobic word because it brings us to the wars and makes it seem like South Africans hate foreigners when we have lived with whites and Indians who we don’t know where they come from. We are proudly South African and we accommodated those who came from all over, therefore it is not correct to judge and say South Africans are xenophobic and prevents us from moving forward. Media must report that it’s just attacks, not xenophobic attacks, which shifts the focus from the real issues.”

Although in agreement that Bhengu “was right to ask whether this phrase was accurate and helpful”, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University Anton Harber argues that her view “sounds like denialism rather than trying to avoid harmful labelling”:

One does not have to go far to hear anger expressed by many South Africans against immigrants, legal or illegal, who are competing for jobs and trade. This needs to be dealt with head-on. While it is true some violence is the result of criminal opportunism, I have little doubt that one of the results of our many years of isolation and the lingering belief in our exceptionalism in Africa, is a suspicion, or even hostility, towards outsiders.

In a piece from Go Home or Die Here titled “Violence, condemnation, and the meaning of living in South Africa”, Loren B Landau says: “The divisions among self-exclusion, cosmopolitan citizenship and ethnic nationalism are dangerous ones – not only as differences in values, but because they map so closely with class, race and nationality.

“As such, they provide tectonic faults that may result in far greater disruptions. With an increasingly centralised and unpopular political party mandated to span the divides, it may not be long before we hear more than the distant roar of battle.”

Read the chapter:

Violence, condemnation, and the meaning of living in South Africa by Loren B Landau

Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, illegals, border jumpers, displacees, Nigerians, aliens, amakwerekwere have long been on South Africans’ minds. For many they are primarily groups to be feared, disdained, occasionally pitied, often exploited and seen as a threat to the country’s wealth and health. The country’s government and much of its civil society has long turned a blind eye to foreigners’ systematic marginalisation, mass deportation (close to 300 000 people in 2007) and the ever more rapid and rabid murders at the hands of the country’s citizenry.

When the government did react to violence against foreigners, its responses were two-faced: chastising communities for their intolerance while accelerating arrests and removals.[1] In a nationally broadcast speech on 25 May, President Thabo Mbeki encouraged South Africans to ‘… build on the tradition of many decades of integrating our foreign guests within our communities’.[2] Given the history of exploitation, alienation, and expulsion, it is hard to imagine where he (or anyone else) got the idea that government or citizens have ever promoted the peaceful integration of migrants into South African society.

But my concern here is not with the long-term disregard for migrants’ rights and welfare. Nor is it to condemn the initial denialism of crisis or the tardy and ineffective efforts to help those who were violently displaced.[3] Rather, this piece considers what the responses by South African citizens and institutions reveal about being from and living in South Africa.


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Katarina Hedren: African Filmmakers Spend Most of Their Time Trying to Find Money (Gaze Regimes Excerpt)

Gaze RegimesRead an excerpt from Gaze Regimes: Film and Feminisms in Africa, in which editors Antje Schuhmann and Jyoti Mistry interview Katarina Hedrén about the challenges of filmmaking in Africa.

Gaze Regimes is described as a “bricolage of essays and interviews”, focusing on the experiences of women working in film on the continent.

Hedrén, who describes herself as “a Swede of Ethiopian origin based in South Africa”, is a film programmer, festival organiser, writer and translator. In the interview, she refers to some of the difficulties faced by African filmmakers, who she says “often spend more time trying to find money than focusing on aesthetics and storytelling concerns”.

She also refers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s theory of the danger of the “single story”, which the Nigerian author – who’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun was adapted into film - explained in an excellent TED Talk a few years ago.

“That story is one that portrays Africa as a place of misery without nuance or subtlety,” Hedrén says. “Films like The Constant Gardener (2005) by Fernando Meirelles or Susanne Bier’s Oscar-winning film In a Better World (2010), both made by accomplished filmmakers, illustrate this danger.

“This single story is a threat both to Africans who are reduced to tired stereotypes, and filmmakers, who become so distracted by fantasies that they lose the capacity to skilfully portray countries and human beings who happen to be African in nuanced and complex ways.”

Read the excerpt:

Women, use the gaze to change reality by Books LIVE

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Preview of Leon de Kock’s Forthcoming Book, Losing the Plot: Crime, Reality and Fiction in Postapartheid Writing

Leon de KockLeon de Kock’s forthcoming book, Losing the Plot: Crime, Reality, and Fiction in Postapartheid Writing (Wits University Press) places South African writing since 1994 under the microscope, comparing it to the literature of the past.

Mail & Guardian has shared an edited extract from Losing the Plot, in which De Kock observes trends in local literature since the start of democracy.

De Kock notes that realist fiction, as written by JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, was the literary mode of choice before 1994, while the post-1994 era has seen a surge in and a preference for non-fiction titles to tell the story of South Africa.

De Kock analyses this “sea change” in South African writing, and attributes the transformed literary landscape to shifts in modes of writing and new media. He also takes a look at the trends in postapartheid fiction, with reference to the works of K Sello Duiker, Lauren Beukes, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Imraan Coovadia and Zakes Mda.

Read a preview of the book:

Postapartheid fiction

In Duiker’s novel, the groundwork, or everyday “data”, of the fictively documented “real” is unembellished pathology and madness (as witnessed in Tshepo’s Valkenberg period), occasioned partly by rape and slaying (events instituted by Tshepo’s father against his mother).

Such documentary tendencies in the novel, drawing much of its discursive force from similar currents in testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are confirmed in another signal postapartheid fiction in which killer cities overwhelm their subjects, Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow.

Both these works, in different ways, build on the foundation of Zakes Mda’s early transition novel, Ways of Dying, where the struggle between death and creative imagination is staged as the definitive challenge of postapartheid.

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The “Positively Meteoric Rise” of a Young Black Professional: An Excerpt from Money from Nothing by Deborah James

Money from NothingIn Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa, Deborah James presents her in-depth investigation of indebtedness in South Africa since 1994.

In the excerpt below, featured in City Press, James writes about her interview with Abigail Mlate. Although the success Mlate has achieved can be attributed in part to the opportunities availed to young black South Africans after the end of apartheid, her family background also played a big role in the senior government worker’s upward mobility.

“Compared to the career trajectory of her own mother,” James says of Mlate, “her own rise was positively meteoric”. But Mlate’s successful career is also in many ways a mirror of her mother’s striving for a better life, and Mlate’s attitude towards wealth and “delayed gratification” is in turn setting her daughter up to make wise decisions.

Read the excerpt:

The new professionals: frugal or fragile?

In the course of my search for those who might be considered as representatives of the new middle class, I find myself sitting in the smartly-apportioned and air-conditioned office of Abigail Mlate, on the 5th floor of an office block in central Pretoria. Our conversation ranges across a variety of topics: her upbringing and education, her family, her plans for her daughter’s future. We also talk about the differences between her mother’s generation and her own. The daughter of a policeman and a schoolteacher, she was raised in a single-parent family by her mother who paid for her education in its entirety. The private school she attended, in one of South Africa’s former bantustans, Bophutatswana, a little way to the north, gave her a good educational grounding and paved the way for her to attend university. For a while she worked in a middle-range job in social welfare, but soon afterwards she did a post-graduate degree, and shortly after that was appointed to a senior position in a government department in Pretoria.

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Read an Excerpt from Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa by Deborah James

Money from NothingMail & Guardian has shared an excerpt from Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa by Deborah James in which the author discusses the Black Sash in Knysna.

James visited a small branch of South Africa’s premier human rights organisation in order to find out about how debt impacts impoverished people. She spoke to Xolela May, a lawyer who set up a help desk for people who are struggling with debt.

Read the excerpt:

I am in the small Knysna office of the Black Sash, South Africa’s premier human rights organisation. I am talking to Xolela May, a consumer rights activist and lawyer.

He is one of a small network of people spread across South Africa whose indignation about the credit conundrum, and whose commitment to the cause of the indebted, have driven him to play a key role in designing and implementing arrangements to help alleviate their plight and to regulate the activities of creditors.

He gives me some of the background, recalling the origins of his activism. He grew up in the black township of Langa and it was a daily occurrence for neighbours, having got themselves into debt, to be taken to court by their creditors. He would observe the sheriff of the court arriving and doing an inventory of the family’s possessions prior to confiscating them, while they stood by helplessly.

Although Cape Town was host to several law clinics and human rights law organisations, Langa residents had no idea how to contact them: their plight was an “issue of powerlessness”.

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“The Value of Africa’s Aesthetics”: Read an Excerpt from the Updated Edition of Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony

On the PostcolonyAchille Mbembe, professor of philosophy and political science based at WiSER, is regarded one of the country’s most respected public intellectuals. His landmark book On the Postcolony contests diehard Africanist and nativist perspectives as well as some of the key assumptions of postcolonial theory.

This book is considered one of the most important texts in the contemporary African context, addressing the way Africa is imagined not only by itself, but by those who relate to it.

The Mail and Guardian has shared an excerpt from the recently released updated edition of this 2001 publication, which includes a foreword by Professor of African Literature Isabel Hofmeyr.

The excerpt, a preface by Mbembe himself added to the new edition, is entitled “The value of Africa’s aesthetics”. In it, Mbembe writes about his process in creating this seminal text, what and who inspired him and his experiences after its publication.

Read the excerpt:

I wrote most of On the Postcolony at night. It was in the early 1990s, as the deep shadow of Afro-Marxism was receding. Then, it seemed as if the study of Africa was caught in a dramatic analytical gridlock. Many scholars were peddling increasingly unhelpful maps of the present at the very moment that new dramas were taking shape.

As the crisis in the social sciences was intensifying, innovative trends, even a new kind of thinking, were emerging in fields as disparate as design, fiction, fashion, painting, dance and the domain of aesthetics in general. In all these disciplines of the imagination, something of a reconciliation between so-called African identity and a certain idea of worldliness, if not cosmopolitanism, was in the making.

But a proper biography of On the Postcolony would be impossible without a direct reference to African music. I discovered Congolese music in the late 1980s – a time of structural adjustment programmes, wars of predation, cruelty and stupidity parading as leadership, military coups and deferred social ­revolutions. The emotional sublimity of the Congolese musical ­imagination taught me how indispensable it was to think with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh.

Related links:

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Photo courtesy of PEN American Centre

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Excerpt: “Who are the Somalis in South Africa?” Samadia Sadouni Looks at Stratified Identities

Changing Space, Changing CityThe Mail & Guardian has shared an essay by Samadia Sadouni excerpted from Changing Space, Changing City: Johannesburg after Apartheid, edited by Philip Harrison, Graeme Gotz, Alison Todes and Chris Wray.

In the essay, Sadouni, associate professor of politics at Sciences Po Lyon in France, discusses the diaspora of Somali people. She says that there is significant stratification among present-day Somali communities in South Africa, and outlines the ways that social stratification came to be as well as how it reveals itself in Johannesburg.

Read the excerpt:

Who are the Somalis in South Africa? They come from different parts of Somalia, including the self-declared states of Somaliland and Puntland. Some are originally from Ogaden in Ethiopia or from Kenya but were settled in Somalia for generations.

Somalis in South Africa represent different categories of transnational migrants who have crossed different borders at different times and in different ways; Somali migrants are not the same in terms of journey experiences or trajectories. This plurality of migrant routes plays a role in differentiating Somali subgroups, who have different approaches to dealing with uncertainty in their new country, and particularly in Johannesburg.

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Mpumalanga Mystery: An Excerpt from Forgotten World by Alex Schoeman, Peter Delius and Tim Maggs

Forgotten WorldForgotten World: The Stone Walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment by Alex Schoeman, Peter Delius and Tim Maggs is about the process of recovering the forgotten history of the Bokoni people in Mpumalanga.

In the preface to the book, each of the authors explain how their interest in the Bokoni project came about. As each of the authors came at the subject from different angles, the book is interdisciplinary and multi-faceted.

The introduction details the appeal of the stone ruins in Mpumalanga, and includes evocative pictures of a number of them. To travellers these ruins are as intriguing as they are bewildering. This has resulted in a buzz of exotic, esoteric accounts of how they got there, as well as academic investigation. This book builds on and reconciles earlier accounts.

Read the excerpt:

Forgotten World prelims by WitsPress

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The Personal and the Political Irretrievably Intertwined: Excerpt from Penny Siopis: Time and Again

Penny SiopisIn his introduction to Penny Siopis: Time and Again, editor Gerrit Olivier says that while the art of Penny Siopis “evokes complex thought and reflection”, more memorable is the “visceral impact made by the first moment of seeing”.

In the introduction, which is excerpted below, Olivier describes Siopis’ technical style and thematic concerns, and says she is as interested in the material form stories and ideas take as she is in the content itself.

“In her work,” Olivier says, “the personal is not divorced from the political. Instead, the use of her own body and that of her child, and the references to the family in, amongst other works, My Lovely Day, show how the personal and the political are irretrievably intertwined.”

Read the excerpt:

Penny Siopis – Tiime and Again by WitsPress

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