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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Watch: Edward Webster discusses the The Unresolved National Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unresolved National Question

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Watch: Andrew Mlangeni on Morning Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

The Backroom Boy

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Remains of the Social explores the post-apartheid condition

Remains of the Social is an interdisciplinary volume of essays that engages with what ‘the social’ might mean after apartheid; a condition referred to as ‘the post-apartheid social’.

The volume grapples with apartheid as a global phenomenon that extends beyond the borders of South Africa between 1948 and 1994 and foregrounds the tension between the weight of lived experience that was and is apartheid, the structures that condition that experience, and a desire for a ‘post-apartheid social’ (think unity through difference).

Collectively, the contributors argue for a recognition of the ‘the post-apartheid’ as a condition that names the labour of coming to terms with the ordering principles that apartheid both set in place and foreclosed.

The volume seeks to provide a sense of the terrain on which ‘the post-apartheid’ – as a desire for a difference that is not apartheid’s difference – unfolds, falters and is worked through.

Remains of the Social is nothing less than a kaleidoscopic critical philosophy of postapartheid as it took shape in South Africa and as it reverberated across the globe. The collection features a splendid ensemble of thinkers drawing upon a brilliant intellectual palate, including continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, contemporary critical theory, literary theory and poetics. This is political theory for the 21st century — crossing hemispheres with ease, promiscuous in its scholarly touchstones, yet disciplined and pedagogical.
– Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley

Gayatri Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University on Remains of the Social:

To translate apartheid into globality shares the problem of all translation: it is necessary yet impossible. Remains of the Social inhabits this problem brilliantly, moving from high theory to punk in Afrikaans, from the grand staging of the Moses of Michelangelo to the Moses Twebe Great Hall in subaltern Dimbaza. Again and again, I was transported into ‘a memory of the future’. In this brief comment I will mention three: the careful unpeeling of ‘empathy’, a word that plagues top-down philanthropy; the anguish of the last letters from Dimbaza to the International Defense and Aid Fund; and the murder of education as ‘the desire to learn’ recounted in the very last chapter. A witnessing book, moving and instructive.

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  • Remains of the Social: Desiring the Post-Apartheid edited by Gary Minkley, Maurits van Bever Donker, Premesh Lamu, Ross Truscott
    EAN: 9781776140305
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Nigel Gibson on Lenin, Workers’ Day and national liberation

In the light of Workers’ Day, Nigel Gibson, the author of Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo, wrote an opinion piece on communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin for online publication, The Con Mag.

An extract from Gibson’s article reads:

The centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917 is being marked in the dark days of a seemingly global counter-revolution. In the time of Recep Erdoğan, Theresa May, Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, Michel Temer, Donald Trump, Jacob Zuma, and all the rest, communist confidence in the future often appears as a form of faith unhinged from reality.

The philosophical foundations of that confidence lie in a reading of Hegelian dialectics considered as a triadic system of thesis-antithesis-synthesis moving toward a definite end. Marxism, it is often said, repeats the logic of this abstract system in the material realm with each epoch of production understood to be laying the basis for its negation on the march to communism.

But if there is a general sense of movement in 2017 it is in a very different direction. Amid the gloom of the present it is perhaps a propos to return to the bleak period when Lenin faced the holocaust of the First World War, and the betrayal of European social democracy. In 1914, after the Marxist parties across Europe voted in support of the imperialist war, Vladmir Lenin spent a year reading Hegel in the public library in Bern.

He discovered a critical conception of dialectic that had appealed to Marx. Rather than a synthesis of opposites, Lenin now underscored the transformation into opposite as a moving principle. He emphasized that dualities within every social formation were not only products of external pressures but also, and more importantly, internal contradictions.

Lenin wanted to understand how radical political movements and parties transform into their opposites and become chauvinist, conservative and authoritarian. The Russian revolution is not the only moment of rupture with oppression that transformed into a totalitarian society. On the contrary counter-revolution from within the revolution has been so commonplace that it almost seems like an iron law of history.

Yet we are shocked every time.

Critique is often little more than new cycles of denunciation of ‘the treason’ of new parties of liberation. There is an urgent imperative to move beyond this moralism and develop a properly philosophical-political critique of why revolution after revolution has come to mirror much of what it initially set out to oppose.

April Days

On 3 April 1917, Lenin stepped off a train, sealed by the Germans who did not want him fermenting revolution on the way, and gave a speech at the Finland Station in St Petersburg. Standing on top of an armoured car, and illuminated by a searchlight, Lenin greeted the revolutionary Russian proletariat, and the revolutionary Russian army, commending them on starting a social revolution.

He added that the proletariat of the whole world needed to turn the imperialist war into civil war.

The next day he presented what came to be called the April Theses at two meetings of the All-Russia Conference of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Some members of his party thought he had become an anarchist. Apparently his wife thought he had succumbed to madness. But he continued to dismiss the mentality of the ‘old Bolsheviks’ and to upset vanguardist assumptions and dogmatic concepts. Lenin underscored the revolutionary role of the peasantry.

He insisted that the workers and peasants were vastly more revolutionary than the Marxists in the party. This was, in Marcel Liebman’s arresting phrase, the time of ‘libertarian Leninism’. Lenin insisted that the revolution could only be the product of mass insurrection and certainly not the work of a self-appointed vanguard: “we don’t want the masses to take our word for it,” Lenin argued, “we want the masses to overcome their mistakes through experience.

Continue reading ‘The Libertarian Lenin’ 100 Years On: A May Day Reflection here.

Gibson’s latest book, Fanon: Psychiatry and Politics, co-authored with Roberto Beneduce, will be published by Wits University Press later this year.


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Wits University Press pays tribute to Martin Legassick

Hamba Kahle Martin Legassick (1940 – 2016)

It is never pleasant to receive news of an author’s passing; the fact that his book is still in its final stages of completion makes it even less so. Hidden Histories of Gordonia: Land dispossession and resistance in the Northern Cape, 1800 – 1990 is without a doubt Martin Legassick’s “magnum opus”, to borrow the description used by historians Neil Parsons and Robert Ross.

The book will be published in May 2016. It is a great sadness that Martin will not get to hold a physical copy in his hands. He worked on it, between all the other writing, peer reviewing, activism and lectures, for close on 25 years, and we hope it’s a book he would have been proud of.

Martin had a remarkable gift for storytelling and in this final work he brings to life the craggy, desert-like landscape of the Northern Cape and its histories of the “black” and “brown” people, who are often rendered mute or to mere footnotes in mainstream narratives. It is a fascinating and deeply moving work with a historian’s eye for detail and the long view.

While working with Wits University Press on this manuscript, he did not mention his illness. He cooperated with Karen Press on getting the manuscript polished and ready for publication. He remained committed throughout the process to ensure a work of profound quality, even when some of our queries tested his patience!

When we shared the book cover with him, his spirits lifted. He wrote: “It is fantastic, much superior to anything I could have expected”.

Covers always test the author/publisher relationship and his approval and delight are even more poignant in this moment. At least he could imagine the book as a tangible object and we’d like to think it brought him joy during a time of physical pain.

Martin contributed chapters to many Wits Press publications and peer reviewed a number of manuscripts. He was a tough but fair reviewer – much like he was in life. The scholarly community has lost a gem.

It is a great pity that he missed seeing the publication by two short months, but we believe it will stand as a testimony to the intellectual legacy he has left behind.

Rest in peace, Martin Legassick.

Hidden HistoriesHidden Histories of Gordonia: Land dispossession and resistance in the Northern Cape, 1800 – 1990 will be published in May 2016 by Wits University Press.


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Listen to Alex Schoeman Narrate the Rise and Fall of the Great Farming Civilisation at Bokoni in Mpumalanga

Forgotten WorldAlex Schoeman, one of the authors of Forgotten World: The Stone Walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment, was recently featured on Lawrence Tlhabane’s radio show Power Perspective on Power FM.

In the interview, Schoeman tells Tlhabane about the story of the Bokoni civilisation, which is the subject of his book. He has been working on the Bokoni project since 2010.

Schoeman’s research has revealed fascinating artifacts and evidence of sophisticated farming methods. This flies in the face of assumptions that African farming practices are usually erosive and destructive. He says these methods were “developed in situations to make things work in that place”. There was an intense focus on being able to “excel as farmers”. But, the civilisation met an unfortunate area.

Listen to the podcast:

 

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“Music, Like the Truth, Will Out” – African Music Authority Percival Kirby Remembered

Instruments of The Kirby Collection

The launch of Musical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa by Percival Kirby at UCT’s South African College of Music recently was a remarkable evening with many high points, including a recital by lecturers and students playing the instruments featured on the pages of the book.

We previously reported on the launch of this important piece of African music history – Drums, Rattles and Mbiras at the Launch of Musical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa – giving an account of the many diverse aspects of the evening.

Anthea van WieringenMusical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa
Another highlight of the event was the personal reflection of the author’s granddaughter, Anthea van Wieringen, who played an integral part of the reissue of the book.

Her presentation revealed a tender recollection from a child’s point of reference, of a jovial character with a multiplicity of talents. Kirby’s vision well exceeded his time and yet it is important to see the context in which the book was originally written.

Kirby loved life and was inexhaustible in his quest to record and save the instruments he saw vanishing before his eyes. Kirby left his mark on the country’s musicians and musicologists and the collection of musical instruments now housed at UCT is an incalculable gift to the nation.

Van Wieringen offers readers a fuller sense of the enormity of the task Percival Kirby undertook:


 
Percival Kirby was my grandfather. I have been asked for reminiscences about him but he died 45 years ago, so while I remember him very well, my actual memories are mainly those of a child.

I remember that he was very funny – he had a wonderful sense of humour and loved jokes, word play and limericks. If he was here this evening, I imagine that he would be showing off his famous party trick, which was to sing and whistle at the same time. He was short and rotund with a broad Scottish accent and a shock of white hair. I remember him as a kindly grandfather who loved to talk.

After his death, my mother spent many years of her life sorting out his incredible library and ongoing correspondence. Finding a home for the Kirby Collection of Instruments was just one of the multitude of issues she had to deal with. I have continued dealing with his legacy. Kirby has been described to me in various ways – “a character”, “a legend” – and I believe that he was a household name during his years in Johannesburg. Certainly the huge number of newspaper articles about him testify to this.

Percival Kirby was born in 1887 in Aberdeen, in Scotland. He came from a musical and academic family. His father was an organist and choir trainer and his mother a teacher. His early musical education started like many Celtic boys, with the tin whistle and a set of homemade drums. After training as a primary school teacher and gaining a Master of Arts in Aberdeen, he went to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied the flute and the piano, and composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. He was by then a professional timpanist having spent a lot of time playing in various orchestras in Aberdeen and having devised a new method for tuning the timpani.

He came to the Natal Colony in 1914 as the Inspector of Music in Schools. In 1921 he was appointed to Wits University to start the music department and he remained there until his retirement in 1952.

Kirby was an extraordinarily dynamic, energetic and inexhaustible person. He only needed about four hours of sleep per night and he filled up the rest of the time with his many pursuits. He was fascinated by so many things, incredibly brilliant and throughout his life he pursued a huge variety of research subjects in a meticulous and detailed way. His life in Johannesburg was filled with developing the music department at Wits, teaching and examining all around the country, conducting, performing, composing incidental music and producing plays and operas almost annually. He was President of the Museums Association and of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and he was co-founder and co-conductor of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra.

His research topics were extensive and in no way restricted to music. Articles and books were written on “The Kettledrums”, “The Trumpets of Tutankhamen”, “Sir Andrew Smith”, “Le Vaillant”, “Saartjie Baartman”, “Dr James Barry”, “Captain Gordon, the Flute-Maker”, and “The Wreck of the Grosvenor”. His interest in indigenous music which started when he was in Natal, continued at Wits. He undertook many trips to Venda land, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, the Northern Transvaal and Bloemhof in his Model T-Ford in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The book, the culmination of this research, was written in three months in 1933.

He was widely acknowledged during his lifetime as an authority on African Music and had many honours conferred upon him. Some of these were; The South African Medal for his outstanding scientific research; the Dvorak Medal from the Society of Composers of Czechoslovakia in Prague. He had an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Rhodes, and of Music from Wits conferred upon him. He was also elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

He loved collecting – manuscripts, books and musical instruments. His library was a phenomenal collection of books on a diverse variety of topics, manuscripts, scores and first editions of many precious books. The instrument collection was primarily of the instruments that he heard, learned to play and were either given to him or bought from the local chiefs. There are about 600 African instruments, making this collection the most comprehensive and compete collection of instruments from Southern Africa, in the world. Over the years, he acquired all sorts of instruments from Europe as well and they too form part of the collection.

He had a couple of sayings that he loved. One was “Music will out”. He was a firm believer that musical talent could not be suppressed. And then I found a variation “Music, like the truth, will out” and yet another, “Music, like murder, will out”. While he was an academic, Kirby was also an excellent practical musician. In his autobiography Wits End he writes that, “A practical musician is rather like a man-eating tiger, who, having once tasted human blood, cannot do without it.” He continued to play the flute well into his late 70s, playing in ad hoc orchestras in Grahamstown where he had retired. It seems that he could play anything and in Wits End I found a passage where he writes about playing the viola part in a Mozart string quartet.

Most importantly Kirby loved life – he had fun researching, writing, composing, teaching, conducting, performing as a flautist and timpanist, producing plays, musicals and operas, telling jokes, building his houses, making chairs and icing cakes. As he writes in Wits End, “My many interests have enabled me to get a great kick out of life.” In writing about the dangers of superficiality from having too many interests, he states that “I hope that I may have succeeded in completing some investigations which are of some permanent value”. I think that he would be pleased to know that this is indeed true.

The Musical Instruments of the Indigenous People of South Africa was first published in 1934 – 81 years ago. Some years ago, thanks to comments made by Carol Muller of the University of Pennsylvania and Tracey Wheeler of Solms-Delta, I realised that a new edition of this timeless and irreplaceable book was necessary. It had been out of print for many years and because of the changing shape of South African society, this incredible document of life and music in South Africa before 1933, remains the definitive work on the topic.

A lot of time was spent sourcing the correct photographic negatives (my thanks to Leslie Hart for her help) and rescanning them, as the original plates were destroyed. The photographs have been moved from being plates at the back of the book, to within the text. The musical examples had to be reset using Sibelius and the text scanned. The text has remained unchanged.

It has been a great honour and a privilege to bring this extraordinary work to light again and I would like to thank Veronica Klipp and Melanie Pequeux of Wits Press for making this publication possible and to Karen Lilje for the text design and layout.

My thanks also go to Michael Nixon for being such a meticulous curator of the precious and irreplaceable collection and to Rebekkah Sandmeier for helping to host and organize this event.

Finally, Kirby had a son and a daughter, and I am glad to say, that of his descendants, two grandchildren, four great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren are here today.

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Image of Percival Kirby courtesy of The Archival Platform


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