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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

A fascinating new insight into the Bleek and Lloyd archive in Dorothea Bleek: A Life of Scholarship

Dorothea BleekWits Press is proud to present Jill Weintroub’s investigative biography of an important South African researcher and scholar, Dorothea Bleek: A Life of Scholarship:

Dorothea Bleek (1873 to 1948) devoted her life to completing the ‘bushman researches’ that her father and aunt had begun in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. This research was partly a labour of familial loyalty to Wilhelm, the acclaimed linguist and language scholar of nineteenth-century Germany and later of the Cape Colony, and to Lucy Lloyd, a self-taught linguist and scholar of bushman languages and folklore; but it was also an expression of Dorothea’s commitment to a particular kind of scholarship and an intellectual milieu that saw her spending her entire adult life in the study of the people she called ‘bushmen’.

How has history treated Dorothea Bleek? Has she been recognised as a scholar in her own right, or as someone who merely followed in the footsteps of her famous father and aunt? Was she an adventurer, a woman who travelled across southern Africa driven by intellectual curiosity to learn all she could about the bushmen? Or was she conservative, a researcher who belittled the people she studied and
dismissed them as lazy and improvident? These are some of the questions with which Jill Weintroub starts her thoughtful biography of Dorothea Bleek.

The book examines Dorothea Bleek’s life story and family legacy, her rock art research and her fieldwork in southern Africa, and, in light of these, evaluates her scholarship and contribution to the history of ideas in South Africa. The compelling and surprising narrative reveals an intellectual inheritance intertwined with the story of a woman’s life, and argues that Dorothea’s life work – her study of the bushmen – was also a sometimes surprising emotional quest.

The book makes for fascinating reading. It eschews academic jargon, reads well and will be of interest to a general educated readership. – Michael Wessels, author of Bushman Letters: Interpreting /Xam Narratives (2010)

A magnificent contribution to the broader understanding of the Bleek and Lloyd archive, both in so far as Dorothea’s own work is a part of it, and as she shepherded her father and her aunt’s work into the future in which it has become so valued. – Pippa Skotnes, artist, curator and author of Claim to the Country: The archive of Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek (2007)

About the author

Dr Jill Weintroub has spent the past decade focusing on the biography and scholarship of Dorothea Bleek. She is Research Fellow at the Rock Art Research Institute at Wits University.

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Don’t miss the Wits Origins Centre talk on Climate Change by Mary Scholes, Mike Lucas and Robert Scholes

Climate Change: Briefings from Southern AfricaWits University Press and the Origins Centre invite you to a public lecture on climate change with Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa co-authors Mary Scholes, Mike Lucas and Robert Scholes.

The lecture will focus on the projected impacts of human-caused climate change on South Africa, and how we may be affected by the greenhouse gas reduction agreement reached in Paris in December 2015.

This lecture accompanies the book, published by Wits University Press, and the current exhibition at the Origins Centre.

The lecture takes place on Tuesday, 2 February at 6 for 6:30 PM. Tickets cost R60 for adults, R48 for Wits staff and R30 for students and can be purchased on Webtickets.

Question you can expect to be answered include:

How hot will it get?
Will South Africa run out of water?
Are South Africa’s birds taking flight?
Do cow-farts really cause global warming?
Can solar and wind power meet our energy needs?
How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

See you there!
 

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‘You can de-whiten a language’ – Achille Mbembe comments on new politics of the South African student

 
On the PostcolonyLitNet is currently hosting an ongoing online conversation on education, access, transformation, language and the Constitution. One of the voices featured is On the Postcolony author Achille Mbembe – philosopher, political scientist and public intellectual, based at WiSER.

In an interview with journalist and writer Hans Pienaar, Mbembe commented on the new politics of the South African student with regards to #FeesMustFall. He shares his prognosis of the situation, shares his view on how the movement will pan out and the criticism that the protests are sprouting from humanities students.

Mbembe also comments on the ANC, possible coalitions and the deeper issues related to the governing party. Pienaar asks him about the concept of whiteness, which he breaks down, and leads the conversation to one of the most pressing topics in the current university debate: the question of language and the hegemony of Afrikaans.

Read the article, a transcript of the interview, to see what Mbembe says on this topic:

But I just see a contradiction somewhere. I mean surely there are many contradictions, because it is an evolving debate obviously, but fighting whiteness with English as the lingua franca …? Do you think I’m right in seeing a contradiction there?

Yes and no. No if one assumes that English is just like French. I mean, this morning I was having an interview with … because I speak French – English is not my first language … I had an interview on the question of French. You see, French, English, Portuguese have become African languages. They are no longer, they can no longer, they are Asian languages, they are African languages … We have to start from that position. There is no way that they are going away. They will not go away. They have become part and parcel of the African linguistic archive. So we cannot think of them as belonging … I mean in fact, most speakers of French are outside of France. The future of French no longer resides in the hands of the French. So I don’t buy into that dichotomy. Languages are domesticated and appropriated and put to use in ways that are usually very different from their place of origin and in that process they become indigenous. So the contradiction is that indeed, these students manipulate English very well and yet they think that English is foreign to them. That is where the contradiction lies – it’s not at all … they still believe that it’s a foreign language, although they have mastered it. I mean, you even listen to them, they speak it very very well, they … but they still somewhere in their mind believe that it is the tool of the oppressor. But it is not simply the tool of the oppressor …. There is no language that is only the tool of the oppressor. Every single language … what defines languages, living languages, is their plasticity, the fact that they can be … I mean … can be appropriated, they can be used, they can be domesticated, they can be repurposed, provided those who are implicated in those processes are just a little bit creative.

But isn’t it the case that they will always stay imbued with whiteness, because they –

No, I don’t believe that. You can (laughs) dewhiten a language. I mean, look, we see it among the writers, but just forget about the writers, the way in which for instance French is spoken by common people in a big city that is a huge city like Abidjan … I mean, it’s nothing to do with whiteness, or the way in which English, or pidgin English, is spoken on the streets of Lagos, 20 million people – that has nothing to do with whiteness as understood as Englishness, it is something entirely different, a new linguistic formation that borrows from all kinds of sources, and is characterised by mixture, hybridity, and an amazing dynamism. There is nothing like pure language, and this is valid for Afrikaans too, by the way …

I was going to ask you (laughs) …

Yah, I mean the people who believe that Afrikaans is some pure thing that has to be protected and … it’s ridiculous. It’s completely ridiculous.

Related links:

 

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Join Mary and Bob Scholes for cocktails and Climate Change conversation at The Orbit, Braamfontein

Wits Press would like to invite you to an exciting event with Mary and Bob Scholes, co-authors of Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa.

Climate Change: Briefings from Southern AfricaWhat is the fingerprint of human-caused climate change? Is today’s climate system outside the zone in which advanced human societies developed? Can we blame climate change for the extreme weather in South Africa in 2015/2016? What is the feasible range to which future climate change can be limited? And, most importantly, how does one distinguish science from non-science in the climate space?

Climate change is higher in the public attention than ever before, because of the historic agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reached in Paris in December 2015, as well as the current drought and heatwave affecting large parts of southern Africa. Nonetheless, there are persistent denialist voices in the media, claiming that this is all just natural variability; or that it doesn’t matter; or that it is a plot to thwart development; or that there is nothing we can do about climate change anyway.

Professors Bob and Mary Scholes from Wits, who, together with Professor Mike Lucas of UCT, are co-authors of Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa, will present the science that underpins global concerns about climate change, and give guidance on how to distinguish the valid evidence from the deliberate obfuscation.

Afterwards, some of the coldest cocktails on the planet will counterbalance the effects of global warming, while Janus van der Merwe’s Donkey plays grimy (but environmentally friendly) nu jazz.

Entrance to the event costs R20. Doors open at 6:30 PM, no admittance after 8:00 PM. No registration is necessary but guests are strongly encouraged to arrive early. Dinner is served from 6:00 PM. Guests wishing to have dinner before the event should book in advance with The Orbit and arrive by 6:30 PM.

See you there!

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 26 January 2016
  • Time: 6:30 for dinner and drinks, talk starts at 8 PM
  • Venue: The Orbit,
    81 De Korte Street
    Braamfontein
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Speakers: Bob and Mary Scholes
  • Refreshments will be served
  • Cover charge: R20
  • Book for dinner: The Orbit
  • More info: Science and Cocktails

 

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Leon de Kock considers Marikana in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Losing the Plot

SLiPnet has shared an excerpt from Leon de Kock’s forthcoming book, Losing the Plot: Crime, Reality, and Fiction in Postapartheid Writing, to be published by Wits Press this year.

In the excerpt, De Kock considers how the Marikana massacre has been covered in the media, underlining the prominence of what he calls “‘true’ writing about perceived ‘crime’” in South Africa.

In addition, he suggests that the Marikana massacre demonstrates the country’s “routinely pathological public sphere”, and that the media representations of “ruptured and broken bodies” come to stand in for a “shocked” public sphere. As such, De Kock says, Marikana “blurs the line between the private and the public, bringing otherwise nonpublic and unknowable agony, something that threatens the ‘body public’ as much as it hurts private bodies, into affective general view”.

However, a brief synopsis does not do the excerpt justice. Read it in full:

If there is one event in postapartheid history that concentrates all the elements of a pathological public sphere, and suggests that the country is as much in the grip of a wound culture as it is a (mal)functioning democracy, then it is the event known as the Marikana massacre.1 The salient details of this event, as extensively reported in the media (and narrated in at least one full-length documentary, by Aryan Kaganof, as well as a multi-tiered, multimedia Mail & Guardian online “project”2), are the following: 34 people, most of them striking rock-drillers at Lonmin platinum mines near Rustenburg in the North West Province, were shot dead by members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) on 16 August 2012; in the preceding week, 10 people had been killed in strike-related “unrest” (to use a peculiarly South African euphemism for uprising), including two policemen and two Lonmin security guards; the Farlam Commission of Inquiry set up by government to investigate the incident and report on its causes saw evidence that suggests the police/state used a key witness, Mr X (real name withheld by the commission) to testify falsely in its favour as part of what appears to be a cover-up, as this witness’s evidence was shown, during cross-examination by advocate Dali Mpofu and others, to contain what appear to be irreconcilable contradictions and plain lies.3

Well-credentialed commentators on the killings, including Pullitzer-prizewinning photojournalist Greg Marinovich, writer/filmmaker Kaganof, sociologist Sakhela Buhlungu and others detect in this event the combination of a neoliberal ruling elite and big capitalism setting its amalgamated face against exploited underground mineworkers earning as little as R5000 a month. For many commentators, including family members of the slain miners, Marikana recalls the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 in which 69 people were gunned down by the South African Police (SAP), as well as the killings associated with the Soweto uprisings in June 1976, and the Bhisho massacre in 1992.4

 
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Adam Habib explains why Wits invited private security onto campus after last week’s protests

South Africa's Suspended RevolutionInguqukombuso YeNingizimu Afrika Eyabondwa YashiywaNtwa ya Boitseko e Fanyehuweng ya Afrika BorwaRewolusie op ys

 

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits University and author of South Africa’s Suspended Revolution, has released a statement on the Wits Senior Executive Team’s decision to bring private security onto campus.

Last week, members of the “Fees Must Fall” movement interrupted registration for first-year students, leading to face-to-face registration being called off and students being urged to register online.

Habib says the use of private security was preferable to public order policing for a number of reasons. The use of public order police would have required a court order, he says, adding that in addition “once they are invited onto campus, one is not allowed to limit their operations or influence their tactics and strategies”.

Habib says that with private security, Wits has the power to impose limits on operations, including banning the use of guns.

Read the statement in full:

Response to critique of campus safety and security arrangements
18 January 2016 – Adam Habib

Open letter by Professor Adam Habib on behalf of the Senior Executive Team:

I write to you in my capacity as Vice-Chancellor and Principal, with the full support of the Senior Executive Team (SET).

In the past week, some of you have bluntly expressed concerns in public and directly to me about the decision of the Senior Executive Team to bring private security onto campus. For those of you who have raised these concerns, please allow me the privilege of being as bold and blunt in my response, in the interests of identifying the options that are available to us as a university community. Please also forgive me for the length of my reply, but I do think that it is necessary for everyone to comprehensively understand from where we are coming.

One of you has suggested that you cannot understand why we would have brought private security and police to the university. It would have been useful – perhaps even necessary – for this person to have determined this before pronouncing so categorically on our decision, and attempting to begin a global campaign on the issue. Nevertheless, let me provide some details. On Monday this past week a small group of students were not simply peacefully protesting and dissenting. Instead, they were actively preventing registration from taking place. They were abusive of people, threatening them, and in some cases people were locked up in their offices. There was one male protester who told a female staff member that he knows where she lives and will take her out. In addition, I received a number of written requests, including one from a student leader expressing fear about being violently targeted by the protesters. These actions represented ‘violations of rights’ and the abuse of other members of our university community. These actions and countless others by the protesters forced us to bring an end to face-to-face registration.

Consequences of postponement of registration

Let me explain the net effect of stopping the registration process. We have two forms of registration, online and face-to-face, with telephone registration as a back-up to be instituted when required. Forcing us to cancel face-to-face registration adversely affected the poorest of those who wanted to register. Online registration enabled the middle and upper middle classes to continue with the process. They have online facilities and they have credit cards. They were not adversely affected, even if some may have been slightly inconvenienced. But the old man from Limpopo, who scraped whatever monies he could raise from family, friends and his community to ensure that his grandson registered, was severely impacted. He and his grandson travelled for hours, only to be told that he could not register because some group of activists had decided that they would shut down registration unless all historic debt had been cancelled and free education immediately granted. There were many such people on that day, and there were many more throughout the week. All attempts to get protesters to allow the registration to proceed came to naught.

Protecting the rights of all

Were this grandfather and his grandson, as well as the countless others, not victims? Do they not require our sympathy and outrage? Do they not require our best institutional support to register and embark on an academic career? I have heard some academics express unhappiness at our use of private security both now and at the end of last year, but I have never heard any of these same academics express public outrage at the violation of the rights of others – whether those be the staff member whose life is threatened, the ill staff member who could not make a doctor’s appointment to obtain medication for a life threatening disease, or other student leaders who have been threatened and now feel silenced and unsafe. Are these not also members of our University community? Do we decide to ignore them simply because they do not carry the correct ideological line? Maybe it has to do with the fact that these individuals do not figure prominently within our networks or community, from whom we draw political affirmation. Is this why some of us are not concerned about their rights?

For those who have raised the security concerns, the challenge that we believe you need to consider is: how would you have enabled the grandfather from Limpopo to register his grandson? How else would you have protected the staff members and students that were being harassed and threatened? In fact, we are aware that some concluded in private conversations that took place regarding the security arrangements that they did not know what should be done and had no alternatives to suggest. Nevertheless, they still remain opposed to the security arrangements that have been made. The net effect of this position is that the poor student must be denied the right to register, and that the interests of staff and students who have been threatened should be ignored.

We are aware that this view is reflected by a minority of our academic colleagues only. The vast majority of our academic and professional and administrative staff have expressed support for our actions and we have the emails and correspondence to prove this. We know the typical response to this: they are seen as conservatives, opposed to the transformation of the University. Is this response not a tad arrogant? Should we allocate ourselves the right to label all those we disagree with as conservatives? And even if they are conservatives, why should their rights not be protected by the university like those of all others?

Decisions around security arrangements

I want to assure you that we did not make the security arrangements lightly. I understand the disempowerment that one experiences from security arrangements that are outside of one’s control. I probably understand this more than many colleagues because I personally experienced what it meant to be imprisoned under state of emergency conditions. I experienced what it meant to be in solitary confinement, to be interrogated and to feel the fear that you may not see your loved ones again. I understand what it means to be deported by a foreign government without any just cause, or to be strip-searched in an airport in another country. I understand about being disempowered by arbitrary security actions. Other colleagues on the executive have had similar harsh experiences. Professor Tawana Kupe lived in Zimbabwe and has an acute understanding of the arbitrary use of power. Professor Zeblon Vilakazi grew up in Katlehong and has very real personal experiences of arbitrary violence. This is why we collectively would not make decisions like this lightly.

I also want to assure those who are concerned that claims that security assaulted students are untrue. We have viewed the video footage of last week’s events and we have not found anything that supports these claims. On the contrary, there is video footage in which students can be seen to be engaging in threatening activities against security.

Many have asked why private security was brought in and not public order policing? The answer is simple: public order police would have immediately required a court order to become operational on campus. More importantly, once they are invited onto campus, one is not allowed to limit their operations or influence their tactics and strategies. With private security, such limitations can be imposed. We have insisted that no guns must be used in any operations. We therefore decided to deploy private security on campus, with public order police on standby. For those who were worried about this arrangement, would they have preferred that we brought the public order police onto campus immediately? Would that not have allowed for the use of rubber bullets and other actions as have happened in other university settings in recent weeks? Or would they have preferred that we simply have no one, and deny protection to both the staff members and students who were threatened and the grandfather from Limpopo who wanted to register his grandson?

Some may ask why we did not use our own campus security? This answer is also simple: they are not sufficiently trained for this scale of protest. We could bring in a more adequately trained campus security team but do we truly want a ‘militarised’ campus all year round when this scale of security and protection is not required? Does it not make sense to use the campus security that we have – perhaps more efficient and better trained – and bring in the enhanced security arrangements as and when they are required? This was the case this week and given this, we simply cannot accede to the request of some to remove our security arrangements, at least until we are guaranteed that registration will continue without disruption and that the safety and security of all staff and students will not be threatened.

Some of you have also requested that we should publish the contracts with the security companies, including the associated financial costs. We are not averse to making these contracts available at the appropriate time given that we are a public university. This information should be received bearing in mind that we have to balance our expenses on security with the academic, financial and reputational consequences of not having had any. It is also worth noting that a significant portion of the associated costs of our security arrangements may be covered by our insurance cover

Complacency around violence

I should perhaps sign off now that I have responded to the immediate issues, but I beg your indulgence to also raise some related matters. Many academics, now and before, have been involved in solidarity actions around the student and worker protests. This is legitimate and should be respected and valued at a university such as Wits. All of these individuals have also been critical of the executive’s decisions around the management of this protest and our willingness to accede to the demands. Again this is their right. At some point we need to engage on how we understand social action and how social outcomes are realised; the balance to be struck between protest and institutional engagement; the necessity of trade-offs and who should be responsible for these; and our response on the rise of racial essentialism within the midst of the protesting community. But those are debates for another time

More immediately, I want to engage all of you on the complacency of some regarding violence or the threat of it within our protesting communities, and the political project of some actors to delegitimise institutional structures and replace them with revolutionary alternatives.

Many have stood firm against the presence of private security and public order police on campus, but have been shockingly sanguine about violence within the community of protesters. Many have simply turned a blind eye to violence or threats thereof, and some have even advocated violence as a legitimate means in a revolutionary moment. Really? At a university? In this moment, in a democratic era, whatever our criticisms of it? Is there not a romanticising of violence by middle class activists and academics? Have we truly considered the consequences of allowing violence to prevail within our community? I worked in the townships around Pietermaritzburg – Mpophomeni, Sobantu, Imbali and Edendale – at the height of the ANC-Inkatha wars in the 1980s. The near civil war decimated the communities and undermined the possibility of any egalitarian project. If this is true of communities under economic pressure, how much more is it true of the University itself which is meant to be a free and safe space for all ideas? Can we truly extrapolate that because of the presence of structural violence as a result of neoliberalism and racial exclusion, personal violence can now be justified both within and outside of a university community? Even if one holds this view, is one not in violation of one’s implicit and explicit social compact with the University community to protect all within it, and its broader project of learning?

For many, these protests are a struggle for free education for the poor. This is a legitimate struggle, as I and many of the Wits executive have so often argued. But many are also aware that for some, this struggle is more than that. It is a means to achieve other political ends, whether those are constructed around the upcoming elections, or to create a systemic crisis that collapses the Zuma administration. Again, those agendas are legitimate and allowed in a democratic environment dependent on how they are undertaken

I have personally also been publicly critical of this government, probably more than most have. However, as Vice-Chancellor of this institution, it is my responsibility to ensure that this University survives intellectually and is not a casualty in a broader political struggle within the society. Our individual social contracts with the University and with the broader academy are to protect the academic community and the learning project itself, whatever our other political agendas. We cannot sacrifice this institution or this academic project to the vagaries of our other political agendas. This is what governs our actions as an executive.

The need to learn from past mistakes

Some may know that I worked at UDW in the 1990s. I was a general secretary of the union movement and an integral member of the concerned academic group. I, like some of you today, took positions against private security on campus, and to be fair, I too was sanguine about the violence perpetrated by the protesters and dissidents with whom I associated. Then too, a moment emerged when some believed that they could replace the university structures with revolutionary alternatives, where non-violence was a bourgeois distraction, and where the university could be sacrificed to the broader political project for egalitarianism. Then too, colleagues ignored the capability and legitimacy of the state to respond. I did not believe in and was not comfortable with the tactics used, although I must say that I did share (and still do) the commitment to the broader project of egalitarianism and free education for the poor. However, even though I was uncomfortable with the strategies and tactics, I was complacent about the violence and did not firmly enough register my opposition. Eventually the protesters did bring the university to a standstill through violence or the threat thereof. They did try to replace its statutory structures – the SRC, management, Senate and Council – with revolutionary alternatives. In the end, the state did move in, acted against the protesters and brought back stability to the campus. But the damage had been done. The university was intellectually decimated as its top students and academics had abandoned it. The middle and upper middle class student and academic activists, some with trust funds, slunk away. Some of the academics with second passports simply moved back to their home countries. By the time I left, the Faculty of Humanities had a single professor, who served as dean. The real casualties of this experiment were not the activists and academics who had romanticised violence, even though some of them individually suffered. It was the poor black students who had no other alternative but to continue to go to that university.

This is the real fear I have. I vowed then never to repeat that mistake. I will never remain silent and allow a culture of violence and ungovernability to prevail within an institution of learning. I will never remain silent when a university and its learning project is being sacrificed to broader political goals, however attractive they may be. I learnt then, through hard experience, the real responsibility of the academic in a transforming university.

Preventing an egalitarianism of poverty

I urge you to consider one other point. Many of us had the privilege to study in the universities of North America or Western Europe, some even in the Ivy leagues like Chicago and Yale. But if we are to address the inequalities of our world, including those in the academy, then it is essential that we establish our own research intensive universities. Wits should be one of these, not only because of our strong intellectual legacy, but also because of the fact that we are far more demographically representative than any of our research intensive peers. For us to succeed in our research intensive goals, however, we need to protect this institution as we navigate the current turbulent political times. We need to ensure that we make decisions and undertake trade-offs that do not unravel the foundations of our research intensive capabilities. We must not pursue a strategy of realising an egalitarianism of poverty for it would reinforce the very inequalities of our world. To avoid this, it is important to know our history, especially in higher education. It is important to learn about our experiments, failed and successful, at transformation and institutional reform. It is important to know this simply so that we can collectively learn from the mistakes of our past. I have seen some of the proposals recommending institutional reform, and I was struck by how often they seemed ignorant of our past experiments and de-contextualized from our realities.

Finally, the issues facing the entire university system are access and funding. These cannot be resolved immediately and independently by Wits as an institution. We do not have the resources to do so. The issue needs to be dealt with in a coordinated way – involving students and management and other actors in the national system. The current strategy of shutting down the University is, in our view, detrimental to the task of building a transformed and academically excellent institution. While we support the overall aims and want to build a powerful alliance, the current strategy is not one that the University management can support. While we respect and will protect the right to protest, at the same time we have to ensure that the University is able to continue with its core activities. This is our responsibility. There will be times when protesters embark on actions that challenge the functioning of the University in ways that have far-reaching effects. We then have the unenviable task of making difficult decisions in order to protect the rights of all students but particularly the poorest students who cannot afford the loss of the academic calendar. We have to facilitate access of all students to the University, even while protest unfolds.

I urge you to think through some of these issues, and I would be happy to engage further with any of you should you want to do so.

Professor Adam Habib on behalf of the Senior Executive Team of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

17 January 2016

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“I think Zuma is going to be with us long after he has left office” – Susan Booysen in The Economist

Dominance and DeclineThe Economist refers to Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma by Susan Booysen in an article speculating on the next president of South Africa.

The Economist names Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa as likely successors to Zuma’s throne.

Ramaphosa is described as having “a sober, Mr Fix-It reputation”, but The Economist believes he would have to build support “softly-softly”.

Dlamini-Zuma, on the other hand, is criticised for her record in government, as health minister, foreign minister and home minister.

The Economist quotes Booysen’s opinion on the tenacity of Zuma’s presidential legacy:

Ms Dlamini-Zuma has said nothing publicly about what she might do if she becomes president. Susan Booysen, author of the book “Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma”, predicts that she would be much like her ex-husband. That worries liberals, who fret that Mr Zuma has undermined institutions that check presidential power and tolerated widespread corruption. “I think Zuma is going to be with us long after he has actually left office,” says Ms Booysen.

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“The ANC is Not at the Point of Collapsing” – Susan Booysen at the Launch of Dominance and Decline

Susan Booysen

The launch of Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma by Susan Booysen, political analyst, media commentator and academic in the Wits School of Governance, was another excellent event held at The Book Lounge in November. The author was joined by Judith February, a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies, in an insightful discussion on the contemporary political scenario.

February reflected on Booysen’s first book, The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power, and wondered whether Booysen seemed a little less upbeat in her latest publication about the ANC’s prospects for regenerating itself.

Susan BooysenDominance and DeclineBooysen started writing her first book in 2009 shortly after the election that brought Jacob Zuma to power. She had been taken up with the promise of regeneration, the need to reconnect with the people of the ANC that had been lost under Thabo Mbeki. Yet, as the first drafts of that book took shape, she found herself revising substantially and taking stock of what was materialising.

Dominance and Decline was initially going to be a second edition of Booysen’s first book, to be completed during a sabbatical, but it became a sequel. Booysen says she realised that this period of Zuma’s dominance over the ANC was becoming very tangible with multiple effects on the ruling party and on the citizens of the country. “The trends were there. Little details were continuously being filled in. As I finalised this book I was holding my breath, wondering if there was going to be some definitive event that would change my analysis.”

February articulated the inherent contradiction of the ANC which is both dominant and in decline. She invited Booysen to comment on the paradoxical fragility and strength.

Booysen observed that one cannot get away from the ultimate electoral verdicts and the immense power of its electoral campaigns. “Courtesy of those elections it still maintains – despite the decline and the damage it has sustained to its fibre – very close to a 40 percent point edge over its closest opposition, and that is immense. It is incredibly dominant. It is so well entrenched in state power, to the extent that it will be difficult if the ANC loses electoral power, even if it is 40 percentage points away at last count, to dislodge it from power,” she said.

Booysen continued: “So much happens in the student revolts around us. Each time one of these events happens, like when the EFF forms, there’s a little chip that falls off the sturdy ANC block. But the block remains even though the block has feet of clay. It is not at a point of collapsing.”

 

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) live tweeted the event using #livebooks:


 

 

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“Oh We Had Fun”: Pioneering Documentary Photographer Omar Badsha Chats About His Life’s Work

One Hundred Years of the ANCEarlier this year, Omar Badsha, co-editor of One Hundred Years of the ANC: Liberation Histories and Democracy Today and one of South Africa’s most celebrated documentary photographers, sat down with Linda Fekisi to talk about his life’s work.

“Inyathi ibuzwa kwabaphambili! This Xhosa proverbs that means wisdom and knowledge is learnt from the elders, comes to mind as we speak. Omar Badsha, is a goldmine of an elder,” Fekisi writes in her article for The Journalist. During the interview they spoke about the photos he has taken, the meanings they have taken on (to him and others) and the things he has learned along the way.

“All photographs have different meanings to different people because you bring your own experiences to the image and you then read it. Firstly, from your standpoint and secondly you read it from the caption or vice versa. Then you react to the picture,” Badsha says.

Towards the end of the conversation Fekisi asks a poignant question: “What did the Struggle Generations do when they were not plotting to overthrow the apartheid government?” To which Badsha replies: “Oh we had fun.”

Read the article for more about this remarkable man:

He is a member of the post-Sharpeville generation of activist artists who, together with his close friend Dumile Feni, wrestled with the challenges that black artists and academics faced in a period of intensive repression during apartheid. Badsha rediscovered many of the works for the Seedtime exhibition, including a collection by Dumile Feni, in his father’s tiny flat after his death in 2003.

I am humbled as I sit down to talk with a man whose work exudes our recent history. I am worried because he is sharp. Has a critical eye for detail. I toy with comparing him with artistic greats but I dump the idea. He is iconic. Individualistic. Stands alone.

I leave his Woodstock apartment on a sunny winter afternoon with a tank full of knowledge. He has shared with me his new narrative for photography and has given me a glimpse into the frivolous activities of freedom fighters when they were not opposing apartheid. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Watch a video by SABC2 Eastern-angled lifestyle programme Mela about Badsha’s photography and life:

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Book details

  • One Hundred Years of the ANC: Liberation Histories and Democracy Today edited by Arianna Lissoni, Jon Soske, Natasha Erlank, Noor Nieftagodien and Omar Badsha
    Book homepage
    EAN: 9781868145737
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“Is the World Coming to an End?” – Vishwas Satgar Launches Capitalism’s Crises

Vishwas Satgar

 
Vishwas Satgar was joined in conversation by fellow public intellectuals Dinga Sikwebu (the national coordinator of the United Front) and Saliem Fakir (of the WWF’s Living Planet Unit) at The Book Lounge recently for the launch of his latest book, Capitalism’s Crises: Class Struggles in South Africa and the World.

Dinga Sikwebu, Vishwas Satgar and Saliem FakirCapitalism’s CrisesCapitalism’s Crises is the second book in a series on Marxism, the first being Marxisms in the 21st Century: Crisis, Critique and Struggle, co-edited with Michelle Williams.

Earlier this year, Satgar received the 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award from the World Association of Political Economy for initiating and editing this series.

Satgar, who is a senior lecturer in International Relations at Wits University, describes himself as “an activist supporting the solidarity economy movement, food sovereignty campaign, climate jobs campaign and defending popular democracy”.

After paying tribute to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation who funded and supported the project, Satgar acknowledged his interlocutors and welcomed their forthcoming “provocations”. He kicked off the formal part of his presentation by commending the student activists that are “making history and have rocked this country to its core”.

Satgar said the expression of struggle in South Africa punctuates a global cycle of resistance and in that sense it was of world historical significance. He senses the importance of bringing back Marxism as a way of understanding this, even though Marxism coming out of the 20th century has been discredited, because it’s been associated with tyrannical and failed regimes.

“But Marxism as a resource of radical thought is very important. It has a methodological capacity for thinking about big questions, processes and phenomena. It works with an idea of historical materialism and the complexities of social relations. Additionally, it has an ability to think about collective struggle,” Satgar said.

“Typically, when we think about crises of capitalism, we think about booms and busts. But Marxism explains this as overproduction. Over time, we’ve come to realise that crisis has punctuated the history of capitalism. There have been general crises of capitalism. Marxists have understood this as an inherent tendency of capitalism.”

Satgar cited the crash of of the interwar years, the crash of the New York Stock Exchange, as well as the “stagflation” of the ’70s, which calls into question issues of the ruling class and power structures. He reflected on the crisis of 2007, the crash of the US housing market. “It’s a crisis we can’t understand in the singular. We tend to talk about it as the ‘Great Recession’, but I would argue that this is narrow understanding. It has to be appreciated in the plural. There’s a historical convergence of systemic contradictions, dangerous contradictions that imperil everything, that call the entire system into question.

“This is ultimately the crises of capitalist civilisations, the inbuilt financialised chaos that sees trillions of dollars. Since 2007, $2.3 trillion of derivatives have been floating around the global economy. It’s not as if the genie is back in the bottle! Structural chaos is now built into the financial system.

“The second systemic damage is the climate crisis which existentially questions everything. We know that the marketised solutions are not up to the task. The other systemic question is the food system crisis. The logic is not just ecocidal, it’s genocidal. A billion people are hungry, two billion people are food insecure, 2.2 billion are obese. It’s a toxic industrial food system with a very destructive logic at its heart.

“The securitisation and narrowing out of democracy, the hollowing out of it in which risk to capital becomes more important than the mandates of citizens. On the other hand, the authoritarian thrust within democracies become more salient. These are the systemic dimensions of the crises of capitalist civilisation coming together today.”

Satgar said an analysis of this was needed before we fell into the disabling trap of catastrophism. “Is the world coming to an end? That’s the big question beating in the heart of all of this. Or is it capitalism coming to an end?”

The panel talked across this phenomenal range of questions, and a remarkable discussion followed with fellow academics, activists and students in the audience engaging in the questions and critiques that were raised. What is indisputable is that climate crisis, global dissent and monumental financial instability are at the core of a radical and inevitable transformation. The significance of the change in South Africa in light of new activism gave pause for thought and all present were given much to contemplate in light of this publication.
 

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


 

 

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