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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

“Through a self-conscious engagement we can learn to live our lives in relation to nature without domination.” Jacklyn Cock at the launch of Writing the Ancestral River

By Mila de Villiers

The audience and author at the recent launch Love Books launch of Writing the Ancestral River: A biography of the Kowie.

“Jackie was concerned about the turn-out, but it looks as if the whole of Black Sash is here,” a close friend of author Jacklyn Cock quipped at the launch of Cock’s Writing the Ancestral River.

He did have a point…

Love Books, a gem of an independent book store in Johannesburg, was teeming with acquaintances of the author and bibliophiles alike, eager to hear Cock – a feminist, Marxist, environmental activist and Professor Emeritus at Wits University – discuss her book with fellow activist, socialist and the director of Khanya College, Oupa Lehulere.

Cock emphasised the impact the past continues to have on the present throughout their conversation, drawing on the historical significance of the Kowie River (the subject of her book), in terms of both the colonial history behind the river and its peoples, as well as the current danger the river is facing at the hand of developers. (Whom Cock describes as “irresponsible destroyers of the natural world.” Hear hear!)

Cock informed the audience that she structured her book around three moments which shaped the environmental and social significance of the Kowie: the Battle of Grahamstown (22 April 1819); the development of the Port Alfred harbour; and the destructive impact caused by the construction of the Port Alfred Marina, stressing the ecological damage the river has endured during and after the development thereof.

In her chapter on the Battle of Grahamstown, Cock draws on the parasitic relationship between genocide and ecocide, citing the scorched earth policy employed by the colonial settlers to claim ownership over the riverbanks as detrimental to both the surrounding habitat of the river, and the livelihood of the Xhosa people.

Cock’s relationship with the Kowie stems from more than that of a concerned environmentalist, she told the riveted audience.

Her great-great grandfather, William Cock, was one of the British settlers who helped to consolidate colonial power over the river. Regarded as a visionary amongst her family, Cock vehemently declared that he was a “war monger”. (Followed by a quick “[m]y parents would turn in their graves if they heard me say this out loud!”)

She further described her ancestor as an “instigator of ecocide”.

“The initial title of the book was going to be From genocide to ecocide,” she confined, adding that “I’m not very good at titles…”

The history and legacy of the Kowie River acts as a continuation of deep sociological and environmental injustice, Cock stated. The river is currently under threat; a victim of privileged greed. (The decision to construct the Port Alfred Marina was made by eight white men, of which six were property developers, Cock disclosed.)

“We have to acknowledge our past,” Cock continued.

“Through a self-conscious engagement we can learn to live our lives in relation to nature without domination.”

Unfortunately humanity has, throughout the ages, regarded nature as a separate entity; a mere ‘thing’ which main purpose is to serve us, without giving any heed to the exploitation thereof, or its mortality.

“We have to rethink the ways we produce, in a just and caring way. The notion of a just transition encompasses the links between social and environmental issues,” Cock said, furthering this argument by referring to post-apartheid legislation which didn’t prioritise environmental reform.

The difficulty in shifting our mindsets about producing in an environmentally-conscious way lies with the labour movement, she continued, employing the example of coal factories shutting down in favour of renewable energy sources as a threat to jobs.

Cock criticised the exclusionary nature of discussing environmental (in)justices, attributing this tendency to the remote spaces in which such discussion predominately take place, namely that of universities.

“Academics talk to each other, yet everybody should get involved in the struggle.”

(This proclamation was met with a “Viva!” from an audience member, followed by unanimous applause.)

We have to understand that all sectors of society are under threat, Cock continued, adding that we should have respect for the natural world apart from monetary value, concluding with the following powerful statements:

“We have to move away from the materialistic notion that values are attached to power; this is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking.

All of us are part of one ecological unity.”


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“Few peers, and no superiors” – Jacklyn Cock’s Writing the Ancestral River a lyrical and trenchant biography of the Kowie river

Jacklyn Cock has penned a love letter that is as hopeful as it is elegiac. Drawing on family connections to the Kowie that go back to the 1820 settlers, Cock asks big questions about the relationship between nature and culture, between humans and other forms of life, and about the place of rivers in human history. It is only by rethinking our relationship to nature that we can save ourselves.

Jacklyn Cock has made the story of a small and fairly insignificant river into a metonym of the biological glories of South Africa and the ecological devastation they have endured, and continue to endure. The result is at once lyrical and trenchant. As a history rooted in the landscape of South Africa, it has few peers, and no superiors.

Writing the Ancestral River is an illuminating biography of the Kowie River in the Eastern Cape. This tidal river runs through a formative meeting ground of peoples who have shaped South Africa’s history: Khoikhoi herders, Xhosa pastoralists, Dutch trekboers and British settlers. Their direct descendants in the area still interact in ways that have been decisively shaped by their shared history.

This is also a natural history of the river and its catchment area, where dinosaurs once roamed and cycads still grow. The natural world of the Kowie has felt the effects of human settlement, most strikingly through the development of a harbour at the mouth of the river in the 19th century and a marina in the late 20th century, which have had a decisive and deleterious impact on the Kowie.

People are increasingly reconnecting with nature and justice through rivers. Acknowledging the past, and the inter-generational, racialised privileges, damages and denials it established and perpetuates, is necessary for any shared future. By focusing on this ‘little’ river, the book raises larger questions about colonialism, capitalism, ‘development’ and ecology, and asks us to consider the connections between social and environmental injustice.
Jacklyn Cock is a professor emeritus in the Sociology department at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She has written extensively on environment, gender and militarisation issues and is best known for Maids and Madams: A Study in the Politics of Exploitation (1980).

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The Climate Crisis explores how people and class agency can change this destructive course of history

This volume reminds us that fossil fuel corporations, petro states and ruling elites are the key forces deepening the climate crisis.

Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma have once again demonstrated the ways that extreme weather events disproportionately impact working people, the poor and Black lives. The wealthy, meanwhile, take cover in their wine cellars on private islands. Only systemic change, led from below, holds out the hope for a safe and sturdy future.

This volume features some of the best thinking we have from the climate justice forces who are already mapping the way to that next world.’
— Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough, This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo

Capitalism’s addiction to fossil fuels is heating our planet at a pace and scale never before experienced.

Extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels and accelerating feedback loops are a commonplace feature of our lives. The number of environmental refugees is increasing and several island states and low-lying countries are becoming vulnerable. Corporate-induced climate change has set us on an ecocidal path of species extinction. Governments and their international platforms such as the Paris Climate Agreement deliver too little, too late.

Most states, including South Africa, continue on their carbon-intensive energy paths, with devastating results. Political leaders across the world are failing to provide systemic solutions to the climate crisis.

This is the context in which we must ask ourselves: how can people and class agency change this destructive course of history?

Volume three in the Democratic Marxism series, The Climate Crisis investigates ecosocialist alternatives that are emerging. It presents the thinking of leading climate justice activists, campaigners and social movements advancing systemic alternatives and developing bottom-up, just transitions to sustain life.

Through a combination of theoretical and empirical work, the authors collectively examine the challenges and opportunities inherent in the current moment. This volume builds on the class-struggle focus of Volume 2 by placing ecological issues at the center of democratic Marxism. Most importantly, it explores ways to renew historical socialism with democratic, ecosocialist alternatives to meet current challenges in South Africa and the world.

Vishwas Satgar is a democratic ecosocialist and has been an activist for over three decades. He is an associate professor of International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He edits the Democratic Marxism series for which he received the distinguished contribution award from the World Association of Political Economy.

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  • The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives edited by Vishwas Satgar
    EAN: 978-1-77614-054-1
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Catapulted into the Study of Fossil Man: Phillip Tobias Shares the Story of His Career (Podcast)

Into the PastTobias in ConversationJenny Crwys-Williams recently shared an old interview with Phillip Vallentine Tobias, who sadly has since passed away, on her CapeTalk/ Talk Radio 702 book show. The paleoanthropologist speaks about his memoir Into the Past.

In the interview, Crwys-Williams asks Tobias to share how he made the jump from his interest in genes to paleoanthropology. In response, he says most people who study fossils pay little attention to the genetic aspect, which he regards as very unfortunate because “genes are in fact basic to what we are. He explains that “what we see when we dig up bones is just the by-product of the genes”.

Tobias describes the series of experiences that “catapulted” him into the study of fossil man, when he had been “dead set for working on the living peoples of Africa through genetic insights”. Along the way, he speaks about the significant skulls, like “Dear Boy” and “Mrs Ples”, he has worked on during the course of his career.

Listen to the podcast:


Book details

  • Tobias in Conversation: Genes, Fossils and Anthropology by Phillip Tobias and Goran Strkajl, edited by Jane Dugard
    EAN: 9781868144778
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Mike Perrin Takes a Fascinating Look at Parrots of Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands

Parrots of Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarene IslandsParrots’ colour and charisma, coupled with the fact that they mimic human speech, make them fascinating to many people. They are ancient birds with unique bill and foot structures that enable them to forage on fruits in the canopy of forest trees as well as on seeds in grasslands. Because they depend on fruits and seeds all year round, most species are confined to the tropics or sub-tropics, where the world’s biodiversity is at its greatest. There are over three hundred species of parrots, of which more than one hundred are recognised as rare, endangered, vulnerable or threatened with extinction.

Parrots are largely distributed in tropical areas of developing countries where economies are weak and uncertain, and where there is great dependence on the exploitation of natural resources, particularly hard wood evergreen forests, which are preferred parrot habitats. Unfortunately, high levels of corruption are common to these regions, with much illegal trade in animals and little or no law enforcement. Collectors of parrots in the first world pay huge sums for rare parrots. However, research, education and conservation actions are greatly reducing illegal trade in African parrots.

This book provides complete coverage of all aspects of the biology of extant African, Malagasy and Mascarene parrots, and reviews our knowledge of extinct and fossil parrots from the region. Particular themes include the behavioural and ecological characteristics of parrots, their species characteristics and conservation biology. Current concepts in avian and conservation biology are also discussed.

Parrots of Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands is aimed at ornithologists, conservation biologists, avian ecologists, academics, bird watchers and parrot fans alike. It is well illustrated, with high quality original photographs, and includes distribution maps, figures and tables.

About the author

Mike Perrin obtained his BSc Hons at Royal Holloway College, University of London and his PhD at Exeter University. He undertook a Post-doctoral Research Fellowship in Canada and his first lecturing post was at Makerere University in Uganda. Having then lectured for six years at Rhodes University, he took the Chair of Zoology at the then University of Natal, where he is now Professor Emeritus and Director of the Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation. He has contributed to a dozen books, about 250 scientific publications and supervised many post-graduate students.

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Podcast: Quereshini Naidoo Interviews Leonie Joubert About Biological Invasion in South Africa

ScorchedBoiling PointInvadedLeonie Joubert has written extensively on South Africa’s changing environment and has published three books on the topic: Scorched: South Africa’s Changing Climate, Boiling Point: People in a Changing Climate and Invaded: The Biological Invasion of South Africa.

In an interview with Quereshini Naidoo for Talk Radio 702, Joubert speaks about her book, Invaded:

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Our Ancestors Preferred to Nestle in Tectonic Hot Spots, like the Cradle of Humankind

Caves of the Ape-menScientists from the University of Witwaterstrand as well as the University of York and the Institut de Physique du Globe Paris have found that our earliest ancestors preferred to live in areas at high risk of earthquakes, volcanoes or both.

Studying the remains of Australopithecus africanus (like the “Mrs. Ples” fossil from Sterkfontein) reveals that early hominids were adapted to living in mosaic habitats – places constituting open grassland, forest areas and wetland areas – the type of landscape created by shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates.

Although South Africa is tectonically stable, it is now agreed that there are modest areas of tectonic activity in places like East Africa, and South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, which provided ideal living conditions for our ancestors:

Our earliest ancestors preferred to settle in locations that have something in common with cities such as San Francisco, Naples and Istanbul — they are often on active tectonic faults in areas that have an earthquake risk or volcanoes, or both.

An international team of scientists has established a link between the shape of the landscape and the habitats preferred by our earliest ancestors. The research, by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, the University of York and the Institut de Physique du Globe Paris (IPGP), is published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

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South Africa’s Rich Fossil History

Caves of the Ape-menSouth Africa is a gold mine of paleontological discovery, well-known for being home to some of the oldest fossils in the world. As a result of the discoveries made in the area – such as the remains of “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot” – the Cradle of Humankind site in Maropeng, South Africa was named a world heritage site in 1999.

Bianca Bothma investigates a new display at the Maropeng Visitor Centre titled “Treasures of Our Past”, which offers a glimpse of the vast fossil history of our species, as well as the world’s oldest dinosaur eggs.

To read more about our ancestral heritage, read the recently-published Caves of the Ape-men: South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

From a palaeontological perspective South Africa is one of the most exciting countries to work in, argued Professor Bruce Rubidge, director of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, at the opening of a new fossil display at the Maropeng Visitor Centre recently.

The Treasures of our Past fossil display, opened on December 2, 2010, includes specimens from the Bernard Price Institute and the Institute for Human Evolution, both based at the University of Witwatersrand.

Display items include hominid fossils, the world’s oldest dinosaur eggs, as well as an almost complete skeleton of Tapinocaninus pamelae, considered the oldest land-living reptile and weighing close to one ton.

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Where Humankind First Kicked The Bucket

Caves of the Ape-menNoor-Jehan Yoro Badat has written a “Cradle of Mankind Bucket List” – a list of top places to visit when you venture to the Cradle of Mankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. The site contains one of the largest and oldest numbers of of hominid fossils dating as far back as 3.5 million years ago. Caves of the Ape-Men is a new title from Wits Press that focuses on the caves in the Sterkfontein and Swartkrans region, where the fossils of Australopithecus and Paranthropus were found. Read the bucket list:

1 Maropeng Visitor Centre is an impressive centre jam-packed with informative exhibitions about the journey of mankind. Housed in the Tumulus Building, likened to a giant burial mound, it showcases the evolution of life, fossils, formation of earth’s continent and stone tools. The creative and interactive displays will captivate both young and old.

Call 014 577 9000 or see the website,

2 Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, which is just 40km from Johannesburg, offers game viewing of species such as white rhino, lion, hippo, wild dog, bengal tiger, blue crane as well as a live snake display. At the reserve’s animal creche, the public can touch and take photographs with a lion or tiger cub. For those wanting to stay longer, the reserve also offers accommodation.

Call 011 957 0349/0106 or see the website,

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Digging Up Some Solid Life Lessons from Paleoanthropologist Phillip Tobias


Tobias in ConversationRenowned South African paleoanthropologist Phillip Tobias is a leading authority on human evolution, best known for his pioneering work on South Africa’s hominid fossil sites – such as the Cradle of Humankind in Sterkfontein. He was also actively involved in campaigns against apartheid, having formed the first anti-apartheid movement at Wits University. He talks to Marion Scher about some of the life lessons he’s picked up along the way – on retirement the 85-year old says, “You must not retire unless you’ve got books to write, travels to travel, music to perform or listen to, sports to take part in or to watch”.

For more on Phillip Tobias, get hold of Tobias in Conversation: Genes, Fossils and Anthropology by Wits Press.

Being surrounded by young people who are researching, coming up with new ideas and sharing their work with me is an enormously rejuvenating experience.

Africa still has so much to teach us. Although the area around Sterkfontein has now been named the Cradle of Humankind and there is the Cradle of Mankind in northern Tanzania, in fact Africa is the cradle of mankind. The oldest hominids are from Ethiopia, Chad and Kenya by a few more million years than ours. But it still doesn’t prove where it all started, so we still have to seek out answers.

Book details

  • Tobias in Conversation: Genes, Fossils and Anthropology by Phillip Tobias, Goran Strkajl, edited by Jane Dugard
    EAN: 9781868144778
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Image courtesy TerraeAntiqvae

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