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Raphaël Botiveau provides a compelling narrative of NUM’s powerful history and the legacy of its leadership in Organise or Die?

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.

Book details

  • Organise or Die? Democracy and Leadership in South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers by Raphaël Botiveau
    EAN: 9781776142040
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Launch: The Climate Crisis edited by Vishwas Satgar (15 March)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics a “marvelous work of political psychology”

The historical nuance and meticulous analysis make Gibson and Beneduce’s Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics more than a work on Fanon’s psychiatric thought. It’s a political history of psychiatry both as a colonial and anti-colonial practice. The former is its unfolding under colonial conditions. The latter is the fact of agency among psychiatrists and psychologists from below … It’s a marvelous work (in its own right) of political psychology and even better: it addresses the lacunae in other works – namely, their failure to address colonization, race, and sexuality.
— Lewis R. Gordon, Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies, University of Connecticut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book details

  • The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives edited by Vishwas Satgar
    EAN: 978-1-77614-054-1
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

“An illuminating and brilliant addition to Mbembe’s corpus” – The Conversation reviews Achille Mbembe’s Critique of Black Reason

Critique of Black Reason

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.

Manosa Nthunya recently reviewed Critique of Black Reason for The Conversation:

African philosopher, Achille Mbembe, has gained an enviable reputation as a scholar that challenges the tenets of modernity. Some aspects of modernity Mbembe is known to challenge are characterised by the move towards more capitalistic economies, an increase in social stratifications and the universalisation of Western European thought. From On Private Indirect Government (2000) to his recent book, Critique of Black Reason (2017), his interest has always been on how the world can account for the construction and consequences of race and racism.

In “Critique of Black Reason” Mbembe challenges us to rethink the present with the view of charting a future that, according to Mbembe, will differ from the past and the present.

A key interest of the book is on how race and racism have played a role in how the modern world is organised. However much the world might have benefited from modernity, what is unavoidable is the integral role of race and racism in the construction of modernity. This is why for Mbembe it is of utmost importance that we examine this aspect of modernity as it continues to exclude subjects and create new and old victims that are “the wretched of the earth”.

He writes:

race, operating over the past centuries as a fundamental category that is at once material and phantasmic, has been at the root of catastrophe, the cause of extraordinary psychic destruction and of innumerable crimes and massacres.

For Mbembe, the construction of race emanates from the symbolic. It accounts for the ways in which subjects live and where they live. It explains the kinds of debates that prohibit – or allow them – to lead meaningful lives.

The book focuses more on how discourses of race and other differences emerged in the eighteenth century during what is popularly known as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment.

This was a period in which science, philosophy and other disciplines, and social debates, constructed differences between people.This was driven by two factors: material interests and an unwillingness to live with the unfamiliar. Mbembe’s book takes to task this idea of Enlightenment to show how it is responsible for the construction of race and racism:

The Black Man is the one (or the thing) that one sees when one sees nothing, when one understands nothing, and above all, when one wishes to understand nothing.

This, for Mbembe, is not coincidental.

Continue reading Nthunya’s review here.

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“The knowledge practice of bungoma is a deep knowledge” – Robert Thornton at the launch of Healing the Exposed Being

Think ‘sangoma’. Images of ‘primitive’ practices, promises of solving money issues plastered on lamp posts, and pseudo-science medicinal practices most likely come to mind.

This is exactly what Robert Thornton, author of Healing the Exposed Being, writes against.

Addressing the audience at the recent launch of his book at Wits’ Institute for Social and Economic Research, Thornton emphasised that a Western perspective of the practice of bungoma, the knowledge and practice of ‘traditional’ healing, is a warped one, shrouded in ignorance.

Jonathan Stadler, Robert Thornton, and Sinethemba Makhanya

 

According to Thornton, bungoma is not a Christian influenced discourse, but an autonomous, consistent, intellectual practice. He also refrained from using Christian vocabulary to describe the practice of bungoma in the book.

“It’s not a primitive religion at all,” Thornton stated, neither is it pre-proto science; he refers to the practice as “medicinal parallelism” – it extends into various branches of medicine, as well as religion (religious parallelism), thus the practice of bungoma is not restricted to a certain religion, as the core beliefs thereof doesn’t stand in direct contradiction to other religious practices.

One has to respect bungoma as a tradition, Thornton continued, and he aims to do so by decolonising knowledge and knowledge practices attached to the practice, and describes the healer as an ethnographer; they attach personal identities to earth, minerals, plants and animals and are thus fully engaged with their environment and surrounds.

“The knowledge practice of bungoma is a deep knowledge.”

“We are all essentially exposed to another,” says Thornton, “and the focus of my book is the person as an exposed being.”

Exposure and recognition of the other creates conditions for the possibility of healing, yet it can also cause harm. Thornton cites exposure to illness, misfortune, and death as harmful aspects of exposure.

The healer protects via apotropiac magic (a type of magic focused on turning away harm or misfortune), which augments the person. The art of crafts and creating is pivotal in bungoma tradition, Thornton explained, as this embodies a sense of professionalism. Sangomas are thus contemporary professional persons, and should be respected as such.

Thornton’s interest in and introduction to healing stems from his great-grandmother, an Appalachian healer.

“I was teachable and had access to my ancestors.”

He was a potential candidate to practice as sangoma, yet his healer died and he didn’t go through the initiation process.

Respondent Sinethemba Makhanya praised Thornton for expanding the notion of what it means to be human – that it extends beyond the body.

She was curious about the notion of evil; whether one can co-opt it with Christianity, and what one loses or gains when writing about notions of evil. She also mentioned her concern with Thornton referring to Western philosophers, including Plato and Socrates, to explain the tradition of bungoma.

Thornton responded by saying that one shouldn’t co-opt the practice of bungoma with Christianity, as it isn’t a hierarchical practice. The philosophers described by Makhanya, according to Thornton, shouldn’t be described as ‘Western’ philosophers, but Mediterranean thinkers “at the threshold of radical analytical thought.”

Second respondent Jonathan Stadler described Healing the Exposed Being as an important contribution to South African ethnography and anthropology, and asked Thornton to elaborate on the similarities between his previous book (Unimagined Community: Sex, networks and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa) and Healing the Exposed Being regarding the necessity of exposure. He also touched upon traditional healing being pulled into the health bureaucracy and enquired about the entrepreneurial opportunities of sangomas.

Healing the Exposed Being is the second book in a trilogy about the history of sangomas, Thornton replied, and stressed the importance of exposing South Africans to others and other knowledge pools as method of gaining insights on the spreading of sexually transmitted disease, and how to prevent it.

Regarding sangomas as entrepreneurs, Thornton asserted that the traditional crafts created by sangomas are intellectual objects and as such sangomas are automatically included in the sphere of entrepreneurs.

(And, no, as one audience member enquired, sangomas are NOT zombies.)

Healing the Exposed Being

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Cape Town launch: Race Otherwise by Zimitri Erasmus (20 November)

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

‘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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Linda Chisholm’s Between Worlds shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless

Between Worlds
In Between Worlds Linda Chisholm meticulously and with great sensitivity dissects how one mission society, the German Hermannsburg Mission Society, parleyed its decision to remain within the state system in the shift from mission to Bantu Education, in creative and important ways. The book is a detailed portrait of the Hermannsburg Mission’s education work, but also a critical and insightful commentary on a set of broader questions, reflecting off the current political moment in South Africa.
- Professor Natasha Erlank, Historical Studies, University of Johannesburg

Linda Chisholm’s account of German Lutheran missionaries’ school and teacher education work in South Africa disrupts conventional understandings of the role of missionaries in the development of South Africa’s education system. Drawing on extensive archival research in South Africa and Germany, the history of the largely ignored Hermannsburg Mission reveals the ambiguities and contradictions which marked their complex relationships with local communities and the colonial and apartheid state.
- Volker Wedekind, University of Nottingham

The transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid era has highlighted questions about the past and the persistence of its influence in present-day South Africa. This is particularly so in education, where the past continues to play a decisive role in relation to inequality. Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa scrutinises the experience of a hitherto unexplored German mission society, probing the complexities and paradoxes of social change in education. It raises challenging questions about the nature of mission education legacies.

Linda Chisholm shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless. Instead, past and present interpenetrated one another, with resistance and compliance cohabiting in a complex new social order. At the same time as missionaries complied with the new Bantu Education dictates, they sought to secure a role for themselves in the face of demands of local communities for secular statecontrolled education. When the latter was implemented in a perverted form from the mid-1950s, one of its tools was textbooks in local languages developed by mission societies as part of a transnational project, with African participation. Introduced under the guise of expunging European control, Bantu Education merely served to reinforce such control.

The response of local communities was an attempt to domesticate – and master – the ‘foreign’ body of the mission so as to create access to a larger world. This book focuses on the ensuing struggle, fought on many fronts, including medium of instruction and textbook content, with concomitant sub-texts relating to gender roles and sexuality.

South Africa’s educational history is to this day informed by networks of people and ideas crossing geographic and racial boundaries. The colonial legacy has inevitably involved cultural mixing and hybridisation – with, paradoxically, parallel pleas for purity. Chisholm explores how these ideas found expression in colliding and coalescing worlds, one African, the other European, caught between mission and apartheid education.

Book details

  • Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa by Linda Chisholm
    EAN: 978-1-77614-174-6
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“Everything your ever wanted to know about crime but were too afraid to ask” – Robyn Sassen reviews The Truth About Crime

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Artist, academic, and visual artist Robyn Sassen recently reviewed the book:

It infiltrates our very existence – from the way in which we conduct ourselves in life, to the literature we read, the misconceptions of others we indulge in and the sensationalism that it smears across a world of broken dreams.

The concept and reality of crime, that is. And with this reflection on the all-pervasiveness of it, the Comaroffs’ latest publication The Truth About Crime is unputdownable, but not for the conventional reasons.

This foray into the complexities of crime, particularly in a South African context comes under the intense focus of quintessential seasoned sociologists Jean and John Comaroff; while you will not emerge with one gleaming “truth” which reflects “solution”, you will have a rollercoaster of a read.

Academic writing is a curious thing. Fraught with many rules of accreditation and checks and balances, it can be immensely dry and formulaic. Combined with old-fashioned hard work and rigorous intelligence, it can surpass the value of any bit of fiction, even yarns well-written.

And this is what you get here: an intense, oft witty, detailed and wise explication on stories that go bump in the night, about real people. The text is dense but it flows with a mellifluousness that makes you want to read it out aloud. The Comaroffs play with sounds and idioms, with parables and metaphors as they knit together associations and perceptions, book research and field work.

Continue reading Sassen’s review here.

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