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LSE literature blog reviews Ties that Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa

Ties that BindTies that Bind is an intriguing and long overdue book about race and friendship. It marks a time worldwide when virtual friendships are fast becoming the norm. And yet, after reading the chapters, one is left with a clearer sense of what it takes – or might take in the future – to actually be friends across race. Sarah Nuttall, author of Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-apartheid

What does friendship have to do with racial difference, settler colonialism and post-apartheid South Africa? While histories of apartheid and colonialism in South Africa have often focused on the ideologies of segregation and white supremacy, Ties that Bind explores how the intimacies of friendship create vital spaces for practices of power and resistance.

Combining interviews, history, poetry, visual arts, memoir and academic essay, the collection keeps alive the promise of friendship and its possibilities while investigating how affective relations are essential to the social reproduction of power. From the intimacy of personal relationships to the organising ideology of liberal colonial governance, the contributors explore the intersection of race and friendship from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints and scales.

Insisting on a timeline that originates in settler colonialism, Ties that Bind uncovers the implication of anti-Blackness within nonracialism, and powerfully challenges a simple reading of the Mandela moment and the rainbow nation. In the wake of countrywide student protests calling for decolonization of the university, and reignited debates around racial inequality, this timely volume insists that the history of South African politics has always already been about friendship.

Written in an accessible and engaging style, Ties that Bind will interest a wide audience of scholars, students, and activists, as well as general readers curious about contemporary South African debates around race and intimacy.

Mantė Vertelytė and Sarita Fae Jarmack recently reviewed Walsh and Soske’s work for The London School of Economics’ Review of Books:

As an analytical concept, friendship, in contrast to kinship, has taken a marginal position in anthropological and sociological studies, while in philosophical thought it has been a central concern in discussions of the nature of the political order, solidarity as well as human life and relations since the times of Aristotle. Ties That Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa, edited by Shannon Walsh and Jon Soske, therefore marks a notable growing interdisciplinary scholarly interest in the topic of friendship.

The particular Aristotelean notion of friendship inscribed in his quote o philoi oudeis philos (‘O friends, there are no friends’), and later brought up in Jacques Derrida’s writings in The Politics of Friendship, perfectly describes the paradoxical understanding of friendship replicated in this edited volume. In Ties That Bind, friendship appears as a simultaneously inclusionary and exclusionary relationship: it is as material as it is sublime; mundane as it is extraordinary; emotional as it is political. As noted in the introduction:

Friendship can crystallize almost instantly both practices that resist structures of oppression and those that enable them: intimacies and complicities. Perhaps the blurry boundaries of friendship become even more in flux when it crosses the different paths inscribed in bodily power relations and structural inequalities, such as the marked race relations in South Africa given the country’s histories of colonial power and apartheid. As Walsh and Soske state: ‘a history of colonial power in South Africa must therefore incorporate a genealogy of the language and practices of friendship’. Within this context, the ambition of this anthology is to bring friendship to the centre of attention, enabling an explanation as to how dimensions of power are manifested within everyday social relationships. As such, the book’s emphasis is on friendship and ‘difference’, as summarised by the editors: ‘Rather than assume that cultural entanglement necessarily disrupts or diminishes difference, we are interested in the inverse: how intimacies expressed through friendship produce and structure difference’.

To do so, Walsh and Soske, with a history of bridging their scholarly disciplines with visual approaches, bring together methodologically varied work, identifying three main avenues to approach an exploration of friendships within a South African context: namely, ‘structure of settlement’; ‘operations of power’; and ‘critique of solidarity’.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Ties that Bind: Race and the Politics of Friendship in South Africa edited by Jon Soske, Shannon Walsh
    EAN: 978-1-86814-968-1
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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.

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.

“Race as biology was created to justify politics of colonialism” – Zimitri Erasmus at the launch of Race Otherwise

The launch of the academic and author Zimitri Erasmus’s new book Race Otherwise: Forging a New Humanism for South Africa recently took place at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre. Zimitri was in conversation with Angelo Fick, an old friend of hers, self-proclaimed “recovering academic”, and news analyst for eNCA. Hugo Canham, senior lecturer in Wits’ psychology department, introduced the speakers and described Race Otherwise an ‘unsettling’ read, as it challenges the way we think about race.

Angelo opened the conversation by commenting on Zimitri’s decision to include her own lived experiences in her publications, to which she responded that “so much of academic writing is bereft of soul … I aimed to create a book which was both intellectually sound, and soulful.”

She stressed the importance of lived experiences, as these are shaped by history and as such are wider and larger than the individual and/or the present. Zimitri added that it’s difficult to find one self in academic writing, and drawing on personal experiences is “welcome to the style.”

Angelo raised the issue of the symbiotic relationship between power and racism, where after he asked Zimitri to distinguish between the concepts of anti-racialism and anti-racism, and what an anti-colonial critique of racism entails.

“The book is not about racism as structure of power,” Zimitri responded. “It’s about racism.”

“Anti-racialism is being against the talk a racialised society relies on; and that’s what I want to write against.”

Anti-racism signifies being against the notion that racial being gets preference; “When what you look like becomes more important than what you do … Anti-racism is challenging structures we’re confronted with everyday – be it in the supermarket, university corridors, or taxi ranks.”

An anti-colonial critique of racism refers to “a legacy which is not bio-scientific; it lifts it [the legacy], and locates it to the 15th century, and not as a legacy of race as biological concept or phenotype. Race as biology was created to justify politics of colonialism.”

As Zimitri was stating that particular ways of learning race has been taking place for generations, a young man from the audience left the theatre, to which Zimitri responded by asking “Did I upset you?” After a hearty laugh was enjoyed by all, she added “I just wanted to lighten things up…”

Expanding on her comment about the way we have been learning race, she questioned why race has to serve as “the distinction between you and me.”

“Why is ‘race’ the point around which we create solidarity? Why don’t we create solidarity around reading the same books, or playing the same instruments? Why does solidarity depend on the genetic ancestry test? Our perceptions around ‘race’ is sedimented knowledge. This is how the world works; I want to unsettle the way the world works — profoundly.”

Zimitri draws upon the concepts of Eros (love/the life drive) and Thanatos (the death drive) in Race Otherwise as modes of explaining South Africa’s racialised society. (And, no, by Eros, she does not mean the “fluffy kind of love the missionaries brought with them”). Angelo asked her how (if at all) we can accommodate Eros in South Africa, with it’s current political climate.

“We have to let our guard down, but we have to be discerning about with whom we allow ourselves to let our guards down. South Africans should have a relationship based on integrity; we have to be warm … We have to be civil.”

Zimitri is a staunch believer in “if this is what you think, live it … Attempt to live your life according to that which you truly believe in, which radiates resistance to the sediment.”

She shared an anecdote involving her experience of being racialised in a bottle store in Melville, when a stranger queuing behind her asked her what “tribe” she’s from. This, Zimitri said, is indicative of the language which is still left behind when it comes to talking about race; a language which is embedded in phenotypes. “Go down south,” Zimitri quipped, “there are lots of people who look like me!”

“Working with Eros is not always successful,” Zimitri added. “It’s hard work trying to do life differently in the space of South Africa where life has so little value … Am I going on a tangent?” she laughed

“No,” Angelo replied, “tangents are good.”

“It’s only because I’m finally relaxing!” She jovially replied.

Angelo continued their conversation by stating that “[s]ome of us live in protected spaces, some don’t. This denies those who do not live in protected spaces their full humanity.

“How does love (Eros) work in spaces of supreme dehumanisation?”

After a moment of deliberation Zimitri responded by referring to her chapter on the Fallist movement of 2016.

“Love, in its political sense, was far more present at [the] Concourse [of Senate House, Wits University] than the eleventh floor of Wits. Students were supporting each other; arguing with each other; grappling with the complexity of the issue.”

A critical question she posed to the audience as a whole was “Where do you stand when matters of social justice are on your doorstep?”

“We should show empathy – not sympathy – for the devalued life,” Zimitri added. “Eros is absent in spaces of power … the realm of feeling escapes…” Expanding on one particular Fees Must Fall protest which took place at Wits she commented on her impression of the students present at the protest: “Just because they were there does not mean they embody the texture of what’s going on … they were quite distant from the texture.”

Class plays a significant role in Zimtiri’s work, and she addressed the issue of class divides and attitudes towards race, citing that “poor people are far more open to connections across race,” as opposed to racial attitudes in protected spaces. “Protected spaces are not where real work happens; the real work happens in hard, unprotected spaces where poverty is grinding.” She added that poor people “cultivate empathy in a much more real way.”

Monolingual (English-speaking) South Africans were criticised by an audience member in that they don’t contribute to a more inclusive South Africa, to which Zimitri responded that “non-English speakers do the work”, using monolingual registrars in hospital words who have to ask fellow registrars to translate patients’ requests as they don’t understand any South African language besides English as an example. If the majority of South Africans were able to speak more than one of our official languages, “structures of power might begin to shift.”

Another audience member had a query about the relationship between kinship, affinity, and race.

“I want the politics of politics, not the politics of blood,” Zimitri powerfully concluded before imploring the audience whether they could finish there because “I’m so hungry!”

Thank you for feeding our minds, Zimitri.

Mila de Villiers, @mila_se_kind

Race Otherwise

Book details

Launch: The Unresolved National Question (21 September)

The Unresolved National Question in South Africa is an extremely valuable contribution to the decades-long debate on South African nationhood. Its striking feature is its highly professional and balanced approach to the various narratives and traditions that address the National Question.
- Vladimir Shubin, Russian Academy of Sciences

 
Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 21 September 2017
  • Time: 4:00 PM for 4:30 PM
  • Venue: WiSER Seminar Room, 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Firoz Cachalia
  • Chair: Karl von Holdt
  • RSVP: Najibha.Deshmukh@wits.ac.za
     
    The re-emergence of debates on the decolonisation of knowledge has revived interest in the National Question, which began over a century ago and remains unresolved. Tensions that were suppressed and hidden in the past are now being openly debated. Despite this, the goal of one united nation living prosperously under a constitutional democracy remains elusive.

    This edited volume examines the way in which various strands of left thought have addressed the National Question, especially during the apartheid years, and goes on to discuss its relevance for South Africa today and in the future. Instead of imposing a particular understanding of the National Question, the editors identified a number of political traditions and allowed contributors the freedom to define the question as they believed appropriate – in other words, to explain what they thought was the Unresolved National Question. This has resulted in a rich tapestry of interweaving perceptions.

    The volume is structured in two parts. The first examines four foundational traditions – Marxism-Leninism (the Colonialism of a Special Type thesis); the Congress tradition; the Trotskyist tradition; and Africanism. The second part explores the various shifts in the debate from the 1960s onwards, and includes chapters on Afrikaner nationalism, ethnic issues, Black Consciousness, feminism, workerism and constitutionalism.

    The editors hope that by revisiting the debates not popularly known among the scholarly mainstream, this volume will become a catalyst for an enriched debate on our identity and our future.

    Book Details

Launch: Race Otherwise by Zimitri Erasmus (18 September)

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

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.

Race Otherwise

Book details

Launch: Labour Beyond Cosatu (6 September)

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

Labour Beyond Cosatu

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 9781776140534
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Has South Africa’s labour movement become a middle class movement? An extract from Labour Beyond Cosatu

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

This article, written for The Conversation, is based on an extract from a chapter by Andries Bezuidenhout, Christine Bischoff and Ntsehiseng Nthejane:

Do South African trade unions still represent the working class?

The South African labour landscape has undergone massive changes in the past few years that have left the country’s trade union movement almost unrecognisable from yesteryear.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, still the country’s largest trade union federation, has been bleeding members for a while and has been shaken to the core by the exit of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. This exit has led to a new formation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions. Both labour federations still claim to represent the interests of the working class.

Something else, perhaps more fundamental has been changing within South Africa’s trade union movement. The membership base has shifted significantly from one dominated by unskilled and semiskilled workers to one that shows bias towards skilled and professional workers. This is captured in a series of surveys undertaken between 1994 and 2014, before the National Union of Metal Workers’s exit.

The data shows that less than 1% of members within the trade union movement classified themselves as professional in early years of democracy. The picture had changed radically by 2008 with 20% of the respondents classifying themselves as professional. It would therefore seem that South Africa’s trade union federation had become a home for middle class civil servants, rather than a working class federation.

The evolution

A group of labour scholars has been conducting surveys of Congress of South African Trade Unions members before every parliamentary election since 1994. The intention of the survey, titled Taking Democracy Seriously, was to study the impact of union democracy on parliamentary democracy.

The data set (drawn from five surveys, with the last conducted in 2014 just before National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa was expelled) tell us much more than just what union members’ attitudes towards democracy is. It paints a complex picture of who trade unions actually represent.

At its high point, the federation had a membership of 2.2 million. This was the result of three waves of unionisation.

The first wave of members comprised of workers who were organised into the initial manufacturing unions that resulted from the militancy of the 1973 strikes.

The second wave started in 1985 with the National Union of Mineworkers – the first to organise black miners and what was to become the largest union in the country – joining the Federation of South African Trade Unions in 1985.

The third wave came with the public sector unions that emerged after 1990. This wave benefited from the Labour Relations Act of 1995 which brought public sector employees under the same dispensation as the private sector in terms of collective bargaining and organisational rights.

In the early years of democracy public sector unions were so marginal to the federation and debates in labour studies that the researchers did not even include any unions from the public sector.

The professional factor

From 1994 union members were asked to classify themselves as being professional, clerical, supervisors, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Less than 1% classified themselves as professional in 1994, 1998 and 2004.

The data reflects a major shift in the last two surveys conducted after the inclusion of public sector unions in the sample. 20% of respondents classified themselves as professional in 2008, and 19% in 2014. This constituted a fifth of federation membership base, certainly a massive shift from the early 1990s.

Those members who classified themselves as clerical remained more or less constant, with those classifying themselves as supervisors increasing slightly from 4% in 1994 to 6% in 2014.

What is interesting though, is an increase of those who classify themselves as skilled increasing from 21% in 1994 to 37% in 2014.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 978-1-77614-053-4
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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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“It covers all the issues of our country” – Paul Slabolepszy on his award-winning play Suddenly the Storm

Paul Slabolepszy’s Suddenly the Storm set in Johannesburg’s East Rand at the home of an ageing former police officer Dwayne Combrink and his much younger wife Shanell, poses the question of whether the wounds of the past can ever truly be healed.

Combative, volatile, constantly on the verge of exploding, Dwayne and Shanell Combrink are two halves of a white South African workingclass couple, living an uneasy truce as they struggle with the day-to-day trials of scraping together a living and dreaming competing dreams.

But beneath Dwayne’s angry, violent exterior lies the heartbreak that governs his attitude to life. Dwayne is a man in mourning. Shanell believes his current level of despair was sparked by the death of his childhood friend and recent work partner, Jonas, but the source of his mourning and anger lies much further back. When the elegant and self-contained Namhla Gumede, born on 16 June 1976, arrives on their doorstep seeking answers to questions that have remained buried for 40 years, Dwayne and Shanell finally find out the truth.

What starts as a smouldering dark comedy suddenly turns into a roller-coaster ride of startling revelations, rage and recrimination … before the storm finally breaks.

Here Paul discusses his Naledi award-winning play on SABC:


 

Suddenly the Storm

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