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Archive for the ‘Wits University Press’ Category

Launch – Writing the Ancestral River: A biography of the Kowie by Jacklyn Cock (23 April)

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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Eminent historian and author, Professor Phil Bonner has passed away

It is with great sadness that Wits University Press announces the passing of eminent historian and author of various urban histories and histories of black resistance, Professor Phil Bonner.

Phil Bonner (1945-2017), an academic who has been associated with the University of the Witwatersrand for over four decades, leaves a significant body of research and writing. He published many scholarly books and contributed chapters to publications of Wits University Press.

Amongst the books that he co-edited or contributed to are:

Ekurhuleni: The Making of an Urban Region

Alexandra: A History

Five Hundred Years Rediscovered: Southern Africa Precedents and Prospects

A Search for Origins: Science, History and South Africa’s Cradle of Mankind

South Africa and India: Shaping the Global South

One Hundred Years of the ANC: Debating Liberation Histories Today

Emeritus Professor Phil Bonner joined the Wits History Department in 1971 and played a leading role in the development of African History at the University and nationally. He was part of a cohort of young revisionist and Africanist scholars who challenged liberal orthodoxies in the academy and produced new histories that emphasised the experiences of the black majority. His book on the Swazi kingdom, Kings, Commoners and Concessionaires, exemplified this scholarship.

Professor Bonner was also heavily involved in the development of independent black trade unions from the 1970s and in the early 1980s served as FOSATU’s Education Officer. In the late 1980s he offered workers’ education to a number of COSATU’s affiliates. At the same time, he wrote various histories of labour struggles and was a member of the editorial board of the South African Labour Bulletin for nearly thirty years. His involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle led to his detention and threat of deportation.

Professor Bonner was a founding member in 1977 of the History Workshop and was its head from the late 1980s until his retirement in 2012. The History Workshop pioneered Social History – history from below – in South Africa and under his supervision numerous postgraduate students undertook original research on the lives and struggles of black workers, women, youth and migrants in locations, mines, factories and villages. His own research focused on squatter movements, the complexities of urbanisation and histories of black resistance. Oral history was central to the endeavour of uncovering these hidden histories and Professor Bonner was a leading exponent of recording the life histories of ordinary and extraordinary people. He was widely acknowledged as one of the country’s leading historians and his expertise was called on in the production of liberation histories and the development of museums (including the Apartheid Museum).

Under his leadership, the History Workshop became more actively involved in public history and heritage. From the late 1990s he collaborated in projects that produced histories of Soweto, Ekurhuleni and Alexandra. Professor Bonner was the head of the History Department from 1998 to 2003 and served on numerous committees in the University. In 2007 he was awarded a South African Research Chair in Local Histories, Present Realities. In the last few years he was involved in a major project on underground struggles and was completing two books on this subject.

Our deepest sympathies are extended to the family, colleagues, friends and students of Professor Bonner, and those who knew him well. He is survived by his wife, Sally Gaule.

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Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp on the costs of losing local research to global publishers

Writing in the University World News, Wits University Press publisher, Veronica Klipp says local scholarly publishing faces the challenges of the small local market and that the costs of losing local research to global publishers is high.

South Africa boasts an impressive pedigree of scholarly publishing, beginning with the establishment of the University of the Witwatersrand Press, now known simply as Wits University Press or WUP, in 1922, the same year the university was formed.

Presses were later established at the University of Natal, now the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN Press) and the University of South Africa (Unisa Press) in the 1950s, and most recently at the University of Cape Town (UCT Press) in the early 1990s.

In addition to university presses there are scholarly publishers at research institutes such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC Press) and the Africa Institute of South Africa – AISA, which publishes mainly journals – as well as commercial publishers with agendas that at least partially overlap with those of university presses, such as SUN Media based at Stellenbosch, among others.

These presses are mostly located in the research arms of their institutions, and most publish in the humanities and social sciences. They are meticulous about peer review, adhering to international ‘best practice’ standards, and are known for the quality of their publications.

In recent years, book publication by local academics has been incentivised after the Academy of Science of South Africa or ASSAf lobbied for an increase in the subsidies for books provided by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

This has doubled the ‘points’ a book can earn, up to an equivalent of 10 journal articles. The funds are paid to the universities where authors are based, which have different policies on how they are allocated; usually they go to the authors’ faculties with a percentage allocated to authors’ research accounts.

It is estimated that the scholarly publishing sector produces 60 to 70 books per annum – more or less equivalent to the output of one small to medium publisher in the United Kingdom or United States.

Turnover from these books is less than half a percent of that of the entire publishing industry, which is dominated by educational publishing (65% of turnover). The general trade sector accounts for around 25%, the academic sector (including scholarly books) for 10%.

The state of play

The overarching mission of the university presses is to publish research for the public good and to grow the knowledge base of the country – a particularly important aim in a young democracy.

Yet this mission has had to be responsive to the increasing financial austerity universities operate in. What works in the presses’ favour is the fact that scholarly publishing here is hybrid: books are often aimed at general readers as well, and there is a huge appetite in South Africa for titles in the areas of politics, history and other cross-over non-fiction.

The early 2000s saw a publishing boom in South Africa, which resulted in greater market reach also for scholarly books. At this time our economy was growing and university presses benefited: print runs often exceeded 1,000 units and many bookshops offered an extensive range with serious scholarly work displayed alongside general trade books.

More recently, our records show that scholarly books sell on average 650 units (many sell less) over a number of years and the concept of the ‘long tail’ of small sales over an extended period also applies locally.

While the relatively small size of the local academy may be one reason for low sales, the fact that most local presses only publish on South African or Southern African subject matter limits the potential audience.

In this context it is also relevant that dissemination on the continent remains a challenge, though some co-publication partnerships have been established. Simply raising prices to international levels (which are geared towards library sales) won’t work in our price-sensitive local market.

Adjusting to a new world

To overcome the challenges of the small local market, presses have tried to maximise international sales through print distribution and export, and engaged in co-publications.

The establishment of digital publishing and distribution networks has, of course, radically altered business models and the possibilities for global distribution of content.

Digital aggregators, print-on-demand models and creation of ONIX metadata for greater visibility are the new dissemination tools developed by international commercial operations, yet many local presses seem not to have taken advantage of them.

It is important to try to understand what is holding them back, and it may have something to do with not being able to visualise the advantages offered by new technologies, especially as the local market has not taken them up.

However, there may a bigger structural problem at play.

University presses here function in a context of extreme austerity with little support from their parent institutions.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: in an attempt to save costs, presses are not capacitated in terms of staff or technology; but working in this environment means that its staff members have their noses to the production grindstone, they don’t get to travel, and their access to the global scholarly industry – with the potential to upskill technologically – is compromised.

Academics opt for international publishers

Perhaps this is one of the reasons many academics prefer to publish with international publishers – their reach and impact in the territories that dominate the knowledge economy is just greater.

The South African sector is, in fact, dominated by global North players, especially large commercial publishers.

The origins lie to some extent in our colonial history, but also in the managerialism that began to influence the academy in the early 1990s in an era of rapid globalisation, which saw a sell-off of journals to global companies and even of presses, such as UCT Press to Juta.

As a result, the overwhelming proportion of South African research is published by international publishers, and the academy is forced to buy back its own knowledge, often at exorbitant prices.

ASSAf has conducted research on the publishing patterns of local academics which is to be released soon. In the meantime, statistics for 2013 and 2014 from Wits’ research office show that only 30% to 40% of research published in books or book chapters was published by local publishers.

What needs to be done

As research output across the continent continues to grow, we will have to radically improve the capacities of local university presses if we want to have any chance of controlling our own outputs in the global knowledge economy.

Perhaps the first step universities should take is to value the contributions of local presses to their research missions. This would need to go hand in hand with capacitation, for example through the allocation of a percentage of state research output subsidies to the presses.

The presses, on the other hand, need to demonstrate their ability to disseminate and create impact in the global knowledge economy. In this way they can contribute to the prestige of the local academy, which must have been a key reason for establishing the first university press in the early 20th century.

In many ways, the contribution made by university presses since that time has remained unchanged – namely to disseminate important research from the global South, thereby contributing to international research agendas.

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In Race Otherwise Zimitri Erasmus questions the notion that one can know race with one’s eyes, with racial categories and with genetic ancestry tests

Race Otherwise brings together the full amplitude of Zimitri Erasmus’s thinking about how race works. It tunes into registers both personal and social. It is not without indignation, and not … insensitive to emotion and … the anger inside South Africa. It is a book that is not afraid of questions of affect. Eros and love, Erasmus urges, are not separable from the hard work of thinking.’ – Crain Soudien, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

Race Otherwise

‘People from different parts of the world ask ‘what mix’ I am. Which would you prefer? Salt and vinegar or cinnamon and sugar? Neither one of my parents was black Black. Neither one of them was white White. I am not half-and-half.’
(from Chapter 1, ‘This Blackness’)

How is ‘race’ determined? Is it your DNA? The community that you were raised in? The way others see you or the way you see yourself?

In Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa Zimitri Erasmus questions the notion that one can know race with one’s eyes, with racial categories and with genetic ancestry tests. She moves between the intimate probing of racial identities as we experience them individually, and analysis of the global historical forces that have created these identities and woven them into our thinking about what it means to be ‘human’.

Starting from her own family’s journeys through regions of the world and ascribed racial identities, she develops her argument about how it is possible to recognise the pervasiveness of race thinking without submitting to its power. Drawing on the theoretical work of Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter and others, Erasmus argues for a new way of ‘coming to know otherwise’, of seeing the boundaries between racial identities as thresholds to be crossed, through politically charged acts of imagination and love.

Zimitri Erasmus is a professor of Sociology in the department of Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She is the editor of the seminal volume Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town (2001) and in 2010 she was a UCT-Harvard Mandela Mellon Fellow. Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa is her first monograph.

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Book launch: Critique of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness – from the Atlantic slave trade to the present – to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity.

Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations between colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital.

Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion.

With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future.

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Joint book launch – Urban Revolt & Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective

Join the University of Johannesburg Library and the Centre for Social Change for the launch of two books focused on protests and resistance in the Global South: Urban Revolt and Southern Resistance in Critical Perspective.

Speakers will include contributors to the books: Trevor Ngwane, Immanuel Ness and Marcel Parett.

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Podcast: How Much Should Actors Earn? John Kani Comments on Generations Strike

Nothing But the TruthVeteran actor, playwright, and author of Nothing But the Truth John Kani lends his voice of support to the Generations actors who have been fired after they went on strike for higher salaries.

Kani speaks to John Robbie on Talk Radio 702 about how actors in South Africa continue to be underpaid.

Kani says the idea that the Generations actors are easily replaceable is a myth. These actors have earned their stripes through “true experience, academic training and hard work”.

Listen to the podcast:

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Glenda Daniels on the New Press Code and Why the Media Should Take Note

Fight for DemocracyIn her latest column for the Mail & Guardian Glenda Daniels revels in the brand new press code.

Daniels, author of Fight for Democracy: The ANC and the Media in South Africa, writes that this new code of ethics presents South African journalists with a golden opportunity and she chides media houses for not paying attention to it:

Earlier this month, at a Press Council event in the Constitutional Court precinct, a new regulatory regime for the press was announced, giving us an opportunity to make our journalism truly excellent.

Rather than go into the details of how independent co-regulation replaces self-regulation, or how there will be more members of the public on the Press Council, or how sanctions and space fines will be implemented against recalcitrant newspapers, or that a public advocate and a retired judge will now be involved in the new regulatory gig, I want to ask whether we can grasp this opportunity.

It can only be embraced if all of us in the industry become au fait with the new code. We should be seeing copies of the code on the walls and notice boards of media offices so that internalisation can take place.

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Skotnes and Keene’s “Made in Translation” Rock Art Exhibition at the South African Museum, Cape Town

Made in Translation Invite Image

“Made in Translation: Images from and of the Landscape,” is an exhibition at the Iziko South African Museum showcasing the varying ways in which landscapes have been “translated” or transformed via rock art. Copies/translations of rock art paintings are central features of the exhibition, illustrating the place and function of rock art amongst other forms of translation.

Pippa Skotnes, director of the Centre for Curating the Archive, Michaelis School of Fine Art UCT, and Petro Keene of Iziko Social History are the curators of the exhibition. “Made in Translation” opened to the public on the 21st of November and will run until September 2011:

Paintings and engravings are everywhere in the southern African landscape. They are the creative expressions of ideas that were once alive in the conversations around the campfire and in the rites of passage that marked the milestones of human life. Today these paintings and engravings have become sources of great longing, their meanings elusive; the impulses that gave rise to them often hotly debated.

For more about how we see and understand San rock art, pick up Seeing and Knowing: Rock Art with and without Ethnography edited by Geoffrey Blundell, Christopher Chippindale and Benjamin Smith.

Seeing and Knowing

Book details

  • Seeing and Knowing: Rock Art with and without Ethnography edited by Geoffrey Blundell, Christopher Chippindale, Benjamin Smith
    EAN: 9781868145133
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Image courtesy Artlink

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Sandra Swart on the Significance of Animals in History at the Launch of Riding High

prof Anton van Niekerk - dr Sandra Swart

Riding HighNot every academic publication can be launched in a outdoor setting in Stellenbosch’s historic Dorp Street.Sandra Swart’s dynamic account of her research, in combination with the genial atmosphere at Verbatim bookstore, added a fittingly distinctive flavour to the launch of Riding High: Horses, Humans and History in South Africa.

As a horse-lover, Swart tried to give a voice to “those who cannot speak for themselves”. She emphasised that, although it isn’t necessarily possible to speak for animals, it is possible to make the once invisible become visible. And although, according to Swart, “writing history is harder than it looks”, she found the topic of the significance of animals in human history rewarding in many ways. Swart jokingly commented that her book has been some time coming, but that now she can “feel it, it is here”.

During her field work, Swart was not only able to spend time with horses, but also to get close to nature and share other people’s experiences with animals. Her book emphasises the dangers and difficulties the animals faced in various settings from South Africa’s post, but also reflects on nature and nature as an historical agency.

Swart said she was also “telling stories” about the relationship between humans and their animal companions. Her book speaks to many audiences – not only horse-lovers and historians, but also to anyone with a love for nature and man’s occasionally tempestuous relationship with nature and her creatures.

The audience responded to a striking comment in Swart’s account, namely “as the horse leaves agricultural fields, it gallops into the imagination”. This not only aptly describes the role of horses in history, but also gives a glimpse of the remarkable theme of this book.

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