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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

In Dress as Social Relations Vibeke Maria Viestad challenges the myth of the nearly naked Bushman

To dress is a uniquely human experience, but practices and meanings of dress vary greatly among people.

In a Western cultural tradition, the practice of dressing ‘properly’ has for centuries distinguished ‘civilised’ people from ‘savages’.

Through travel literature and historical ethnographic descriptions of the Bushmen of southern Africa, such perceptions and prejudices have made their mark also on the modern research tradition. Because Bushmen were widely considered to be ‘nearly naked’ the study of dress has played a limited part in academic writings on Bushman culture.

In Dress as Social Relations Vibeke Maria Viestad challenges this myth of the nearly naked Bushman and provides an interdisciplinary study of Bushman dress, as it is represented in the archives and material culture of historical Bushman communities.

Maintaining a critical perspective, Viestad provides an interpretation of the significance of dress for historical Bushman people.

Dress, she argues, formed an embodied practice of social relations between humans, animals and other powerful beings of the Bushman world; moreover, this complex and meaningful practice was intimately related to subsistence strategies and social identity.

The historical collections under scrutiny present a wide variety of research material representing different aspects of the bodily practice of dress. Whereas the Bleek & Lloyd archive of oral myths and narratives has become renowned for its great research potential, the artefact collections of Dorothea Bleek and Louis Fourie are much less known and have not earlier been published in a richly illustrated and comprehensive way.

Dress as Social Relations is aimed at scholars and students of archaeology, anthropology, material culture studies, dress studies, ethnographic studies, museology, culture historical studies and African studies, but will also be of interest to people of descendant communities.

Vibeke Maria Viestad is a Norwegian archaeologist and Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Rock Art Research Institute, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

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Launch: The Politics of Custom edited by John and Jean Comaroff (15 August)

These compelling and wide-ranging studies explore the staying power and apparently counter-intuitive resurgence of chiefship in Africa … Chiefs have clout because their role draws on sources of sovereignty that go beyond the conventional realm of politics to encompass kinship networks, ritual, business, and the global economy. This book shines new light on the interplay of tradition and modernity, showing that chiefship is neither wholly of the state nor of the customary, but always entangled with both. Deborah James, London School of Economics

How are we to explain the resurgence of customary chiefs in contemporary Africa? Rather than disappearing with the tide of modernity, as many expected, indigenous sovereigns are instead a rising force, often wielding substantial power and legitimacy despite major changes in the workings of the global political economy in the post-Cold War era – changes in which they are themselves deeply implicated.

This pathbreaking volume, edited by anthropologists John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, explores the reasons behind the increasingly assertive politics of custom in many corners of Africa. Chiefs come in countless guises – from university professors through cosmopolitan businessmen to subsistence farmers – but, whatever else they do, they are a critical key to understanding the tenacious hold that ‘traditional’ authority enjoys in the late modern world. Together the contributors explore this counterintuitive chapter in Africa’s history and, in so doing, place it within the broader world-making processes of the twenty-first century.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 15 August 2018
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research, WiSER seminar room, 6th floor, Richard Ward Building, University of the Witwatersrand
     
    It is generally easiest to Uber onto campus because parking is often difficult. Ask to be dropped at the Origins Museum at the top of Yale Road. WiSER is about 100 metres east in the Richard Ward building.
     
    | Map
  • Guest Speakers: Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Dineo Skosana, Rogers Orock
  • RSVP: info.witspress@wits.ac.za
     

    Book Details

    • The Politics of Custom: Chiefship, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa edited by Jean Comaroff, John Comaroff
      EAN: 9781776143207
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Launch: Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics by Nigel C. Gibson & Roberto Beneduce (30 July)

The revolutionary and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon was a foundational figure in postcolonial and decolonial thought and practice, yet his psychiatric work still has only been studied peripherally. That is in part because most of his psychiatric writings have remained untranslated.

With a focus on Fanon’s key psychiatry texts, Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics considers Fanon’s psychiatric writings as materials anticipating as well as accompanying Fanon’s better known works, written between 1952 and 1961 (Black Skin, White Masks; A Dying Colonialism, Toward the African Revolution, The Wretched of the Earth).

Both clinical and political, they draw on another notion of psychiatry that intersects history, ethnology, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. The authors argue that Fanon’s work inaugurates a critical ethnopsychiatry based on a new concept of culture (anchored to historical events, particular situations, and lived experience) and on the relationship between the psychological and the cultural. Thus, Gibson and Beneduce contend that Fanon’s psychiatric writings also express Fanon’s wish, as he puts it in The Wretched of the Earth, to “develop a new way of thinking, not only for us but for humanity.”

Nigel C. Gibson is Associate Professor of Postcolonial Studies at Emerson College. He is author of Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination (2003) and Fanonian Practices in South Africa (2014), and the editor of Rethinking Fanon (1999) and Living Fanon (2011). He is the editor of the Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Roberto Beneduce is Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of Turin. He is the founding director of the Frantz Fanon Center in Turin. His recent publications include a collection of Fanon’s psychiatric writings in Italian, Decolonizzare la follia, Scritti sulla psichiatria coloniale (2011), and L’histoire au corps (Embodying History) (2016).

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Watch: Vishwas Satgar discusses The Climate Crisis

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.

Satgar recently discussed the impact capitalist industrialisation, among others, has on the planet’s ecosystem during an evening hosted by Tshisimani. Watch in full:

Vishwas Satgar: The climate crisis and democratic eco-socialist alternatives from Tshisimani on Vimeo.

The Climate Crisis

Book details

  • 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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Anna Dahlqvist’s It’s Only Blood shatters enduring taboos surrounding menstruation


‘Only when we call out the unnecessary shame and stigma that surrounds periods can we demand meaningful change. Dahlqvist’s deft, compassionate storytelling, and her critical global perspective, are a tremendous contribution to the movement for menstrual equity.’
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity

‘A lushly detailed and often intimate portrait of a global social movement. What’s more, Dahlqvist’s perceptive account reveals the insidious power of stigma to limit lives.’
Chris Bobel, author of New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation

‘A wide-ranging exploration of the enduring taboos surrounding menstruation, taking the author around the globe. What she uncovers in this provocative and insightful book will make us forever rethink our “first world problems” by putting periods in a global context.’
Karen Houppert, author of The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo

Across the world, 2 billion experience menstruation, yet menstruation is seen as a mark of shame. We are told not to discuss it in public, that tampons and sanitary pads should be hidden away, the blood rendered invisible. In many parts of the world, poverty, culture and religion collide causing the taboo around menstruation to have grave consequences.

Younger people who menstruate are deterred from going to school, adults from work, infections are left untreated. The shame is universal and the silence a global rule.

In It’s Only Blood Anna Dahlqvist tells the shocking but always moving stories of why and how people from Sweden to Bangladesh, from the United States to Uganda, are fighting back against the shame.

Anna Dahlqvist is a journalist specialising in gender, sexuality and human rights. She is editor-in-chief of Ottar, a Swedish magazine focusing on sexual politics and has previously published a book on illegal abortion and abortion rights in Europe.

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Launch: Organise or Die? by Raphaël Botiveau (5 June)


This is a vivid, lively account … focusing on the agency of real human actors and the events impacting on the South African labour landscape post Marikana. It will both deepen scholarship and provoke much debate.
- Andries Bezuidenhout, associate professor, Department of Sociology, University of Pretoria

A splendid effort, Organise or Die? is a path-breaking new account of the history of NUM. No-one will be able to write about unionisation in South Africa, especially in the mining sector, without engaging with Botiveau’s thoughtful insights and provocative argument.
- T. Dunbar Moodie, author of Going for Gold: Men, Mines and Migration

Organise or Die? Democracy and Leadership in South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers is the first in-depth study of one of the leading trade unions in the country. Founded in 1982, the trade union played a key role in the struggle against white minority rule, before turning into a central protagonist of the ruling Tripartite Alliance after apartheid. Deftly navigating through workerist, social movement and political terrains that shape the South African labour landscape, this book sheds light on the path that led to the unprecedented 2012 Marikana massacre, the dissolution of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) federation and to fractures within the African National Congress (ANC) itself.

Working with the notions of organisational agency and strategic bureaucratisation, Raphaël Botiveau shows how the founding leadership of NUM built their union’s structures with a view to mirror those of the multinational mining companies NUM faced. Good leadership proved key to the union’s success in recruiting and uniting mineworkers and NUM became an impressive school for union and political cadres, producing a number of South Africa’s top post-apartheid leaders. An incisive analysis of leadership styles and strategies shows how the fragile balance between an increasingly distant leadership and an increasingly militant membership gradually broke down.

Botiveau provides a compelling narrative of NUM’s powerful history and the legacy of its leadership. It will appeal to a broad readership – including journalists, students and social sciences scholars – interested in South Africa’s contemporary politics and labour history.

Author bio

Trained in the social sciences (political sociology, African and postcolonial studies) in four countries (France, South Africa, the United States and Italy), Botiveau first worked as a journalist before devoting himself to research and teaching. He received his PhD from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (France) and La Sapienza Università di Roma (Italy) focusing on trade unionism and negotiation in South Africa’s post-apartheid gold and platinum mining industries.

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Laura Foster’s Reinventing Hoodia makes significant contributions to feminist legal studies and the philosophy of science

Reinventing Hoodia provides a well-researched, critically engaged account of a fascinating contested object of indigenous knowledge and intellectual property. Its illuminating account of hoodia across a range of scales makes significant conceptual and empirical contributions to feminist legal studies and to the history and philosophy of science.”
— Anne Pollock, author of Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference

“Foster’s interdisciplinary work on Hoodia is both novel and timely. She offers a valuable analysis of science and its relationship to indigeneity.”
— Jennifer A. Hamilton, author of Indigeneity in the Courtroom: Law, Culture, and the Production of Difference in North American Courts

“Foster’s fascinating account of complex negotiations between the indigenous San peoples, South African scientists, lawyers, and Big Pharma makes a valuable text for classes in law, the history, philosophy, and social studies of science, women’s studies, and anti-colonial studies. It also expands the horizon of fruitful research projects in these fields.”
— Sandra Harding, author of Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research

Native to the Kalahari Desert, Hoodia gordonii is a succulent plant known by generations of indigenous San peoples to have a variety of uses: to reduce hunger, increase energy, and ease breastfeeding. In the global North, it is known as a natural appetite suppressant, a former star of the booming diet industry. In Reinventing Hoodia, Laura Foster explores how the plant was reinvented through patent ownership, pharmaceutical research, the self-determination efforts of indigenous San peoples, contractual benefit sharing, commercial development as an herbal supplement, and bioprospecting legislation.

Using a feminist decolonial technoscience approach, Foster argues that although patent law is inherently racialized, gendered, and Western, it offered opportunities for indigenous San peoples, South African scientists, and Hoodia growers to make claims for belonging within the shifting politics of South Africa. This radical interdisciplinary and intersectional account of the multiple materialities of Hoodia illuminates the connections between law, science, and the marketplace, while demonstrating how these domains value certain forms of knowledge and matter differently.
 
 
Laura A. Foster is an assistant professor of gender studies at Indiana University-Bloomington with affiliations in African studies and the Maurer School of Law. She is also a senior researcher with the Intellectual Property Unit at the University of Cape Town Faculty of Law.

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To which extent is South Africa becoming a surveillance society governed by a surveillance state? asks Jane Duncan in Stopping the Spies

This book makes a timely contribution to the study of surveillance in the South African context. It is important reading not only because of the detailed information it provides about threats to citizen freedoms in post-apartheid South Africa, but also for its constructive suggestions for public agency and resistance.
— Herman Wasserman, Professor of Media Studies and Director: Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

In 2013, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked secret documents revealing that state agencies like the NSA had spied on the communications of millions of innocent citizens.

International outrage resulted, but the Snowden documents revealed only the tip of the surveillance iceberg.

Apart from insisting on their rights to tap into communications, more and more states are placing citizens under surveillance, tracking their movements and transactions with public and private institutions.

The state is becoming like a one-way mirror, where it can see more of what its citizens do and say, while citizens see less and less of what the state does, owing to high levels of secrecy around surveillance. In this book, Jane Duncan assesses the relevance of Snowden’s revelations for South Africa.

In doing so she questions the extent to which South Africa is becoming a surveillance society governed by a surveillance state.
 

Duncan challenges members of civil society to be concerned about and to act on the ever-expanding surveillance capacities of the South African state.

Is surveillance used for the democratic purpose of making people safer, or is it being used for the repressive purpose of social control, especially of those considered to be politically threatening to ruling interests? She explores the forms of collective action needed to ensure that unaccountable surveillance does not take place and examines what does and does not work when it comes to developing organised responses.

This book is aimed at South African citizens, academics as well as the general reader, who care about our democracy and the direction it is taking.

Jane Duncan is a professor in the Department of Journalism, Film and Television, at the University of Johannesburg. Before that, she held a chair in Media and the Information Society at Rhodes University, and was the Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression Institute. She is author of The Rise of the Securocrats: The Case of South Africa (2014) and Protest Nation: The Right to Protest in South Africa (2016).

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“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.”

Amen.

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Launch: Writing the Ancestral River by Jacklyn Cock (8 May)

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.
JACOB DLAMINI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

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.
ROBERT ROSS, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF AFRICAN STUDIES, LEIDEN UNIVERSITY

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).
 

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 08 May 2018
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Love Books, The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre, 53 Rustenburg Rd, Melville, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Oupa Lehulere
  • RSVP: info.witspress@wits.ac.za
     

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