Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Wits University Press

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Stadler, Robert Thornton, and Sinethemba Makhanya

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing the Exposed Being

Book details


» read article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of Secularism

Book details


» read article

“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


» read article

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


» read article

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!

» read article

Durban launch: 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.

Event Details


» read article

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


» read article

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.

Event Details


» read article

Book launch – The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story by Mandla Mathebula


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Join the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation and Wits University Press for the launch of The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story on Thursday 11 May at Melrose Arch. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe will be in conversation with Mathebula. RSVP by Tuesday 9 May.

Event Details


» read article

Grahamstown launch of The Unresolved National Question: Left Thought Under Apartheid

TheThe Labour Studies Seminar Series, in partnership with Wits University Press, the Institute for Social and Economic Research, and the Research Office, will launch The Unresolved National Question in South Africa: Left Thought under Apartheid edited by Eddie Webster and Karin Pampallis.

THE BOOK: Debates on the decolonisation of knowledge has revived interest in the National Question, which began over a century ago and remains unresolved. What “nation” means in a South Africa riven by race, class, colour, ethnicity and gender forged under capitalism has posed major challenges to progressive nationalist, liberal, socialist and feminist thought for over a century. Tensions suppressed and hidden in the past are now being openly debated again. The goal of one united nation living prosperously under a democracy remains elusive.

SPEAKERS: Mazibuko Jara (discussant), Basil Brown, Mallet Giyose, Nicole Ulrich, Robbie van Niekerk, Lucien van der Walt, Edward Webster

THE EDITORS: Eddie Webster, founder of the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits University, has played a key role in South African labour studies. An award-winning scholar, with eight books and hundreds of papers and reports, he has a long history of work with the unions. He was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by Rhodes University.

Karin Pampallis is an editor and publications manager of the Hidden Voices Project located in the SWOP, supported by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS). She authored Nelson Mandela: They Fought for Freedom (2000) and Lilian Ngoyi: They Fought for Freedom (1996, with Dianne Stewart). She worked at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania in the years of exile.

Event Details


» read article