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Book launch: The Art of Life in South Africa by Daniel R. Magaziner

University of KwaZulu-Natal Press and Adams Books cordially invite you to the launch of The Art of Life in South Africa by Daniel Magaziner.

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Read a feature on Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko, the main editors and translators of the Jeff Opland Series on Xhosa writers

These features were published in The Sunday Independent.

A feature on Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko, the main editors and translators of the Jeff Opland Series on Xhosa writers, recently appeared in the Sunday Independent.

Read an extract from the two pieces here:

It is common when thinking of a literary archive in the South African indigenous languages, to focus only on the knowledge of literary heritage of a few authors and their selected writings.

In particular, writings that were used at the point of the introduction of literacy for didactic purposes are the only considered as a literary canon of the language.

It is also common that these selected writings are studied and appreciated only for their literary attributes or as far as they are able to tell us about the biographies of their writers.

The meaningful value of a literary archive is embodied in a letter written in the newspaper Isigidimi, in 1887 by Wellington W. Gqoba. Writing in his capacity as an editor, he says, “But there are reasons for me not to remain idle but to deal briefly with minor aspects of … chronological stories of our national stories … motivated as I am by national envy in doing so. My fervent desire is that our history should be well known and brought into print because all nations who possess a history continue to live and do not die even if they are fragmented.

We are taught the events of the nations of Greece, Rome, Egypt, of the English and so on, who they were and what they are today. Thus, they are very much alive, because even we who never shared their experiences or saw them, at least today we know something about them. Through their historical books, we see them, we discuss them and make an example of some of their sayings and habits as reflected in their present day legacy.”

Gqoba argues that a literary heritage reflects and preserves the national, social and cultural identity of a nation. He posits that from these we can deduce the knowledge and intellectual thoughts of the society on whom the writings are based, knowledge that can be shared with other nations.

He is the author of the first volume in the Opland Xhosa Literature Collection Series. Most of his works, which appeared mainly in Isigidimi were copied and collected by Professor Jeffrey Opland and form part of Opland’s Library Collection.

The Gqoba volume was published in 2015 and was translated and co-edited by Opland, Maseko and Kuse. The works reflect, through various literary genres, the intellectual thought of the isiXhosa-speaking Nguni people of the Eastern Cape, reflecting the African ways of knowing.

As Series Editors, Opland and Maseko are driven by the possibilities that these works can add to the body of knowledge in various disciplines in the academy.

They say it is sad that the academy is silent about African intellectual thought when Africa is teeming in its presence. The right to speak your language, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is not enough, if one cannot use it to understand, share and process knowledge in the context of one’s past experiences, and ways of knowing.

Continue reading the features on Opland and Maseko here:

Pamela Maseko Sunday Independent Article

 
 

DLP Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange

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William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali

 
 

IsiShweshwe traces the origins of the cloth, its early usage, and cultural adaptations

The cross-cultural usage of a particular cloth type – blueprint – is central to South African cultural history.

Known locally as seshoeshoe or isishweshwe, among many other localised names, South African blueprint originated in the Far East and East Asia.

Adapted and absorbed by the West, blueprint in Africa was originally associated with trade, coercion, colonisation, Westernisation, religious conversion and even slavery, but residing within its hues and patterns was a resonance that endured.

The cloth came to reflect histories of hardship, courage and survival, but it also conveyed the taste and aesthetic predilections of its users, preferences often shared across racial and cultural divides.

In its indigenisation, isishweshwe has subverted its former history and alien origins and has come to reflect the authority of its users and their culture, conveying resilience, innovation and adaptation and above all a distinctive South Africanness.

In this beautifully illustrated book Juliette Leeb-du Toit traces the origins of the cloth, its early usage and cultural adaptations, and its emerging regional, cultural and aesthetic significance.

In examining its usage and current national significance, she highlights some of the salient features associated with histories of indigenisation.

An art historian who has a particular interest in African and South African art, Juliette Leeb-du Toit has also had a lifelong interest in design and textiles. She is currently engaged in the recovery of modernisms in design history, the impact of German modernism in South Africa and the impact of China on the arts in South Africa.

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Durban book launch of The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories by Kobus Moolman

University of KwaZulu-Natal Press and Adams Books invite you to the launch of The Swimming Lesson and other stories.

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Book launch: The Illustrated Glossary of Southern African Architectural Terms

Franco Frescura, one of the authors of Illustrated Glossary of Southern African Architectural Terms will be giving talks on this book and its impact not only on architecture, but also on an inclusive account of cultural history in SA

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Book launch: The Swimming Lesson and other stories by Kobus Moolman

UKZN Press and Epworth School invite you to the launch of Kobus Moolman’s The Swimming Lesson and other stories.

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Fiction Friday: read an extract from Kobus Moolman’s The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories

Award-winning author Kobus Moolman’s latest short story collection, The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories, has received praise for its unconventional perspectives. Moolman’s anthology consists of 10 short stories. Read an extract from the first story, Shelter here:

There are two bus shelters just around the corner from where he lives in Greyling Street – from the house he has always lived in. One bus shelter he likes and uses most of the time; mainly to wait for the Saturday morning bus to take him to town, to the children’s library in the centre of town, or to the OK Bazaars to buy himself a Lucky Packet (in the shape of a small, brightly-coloured cardboard suitcase) with money he received for his birthday, or to King’s Sports to look at their bats or to get another tennis ball after his was confiscated by the woman next door for damaging her flowers during a cricket match between his brother and himself.

The other bus shelter – the one he does not like – is probably closer, but he does not use it. He is not able to walk long distances, so it would make sense to use this one. But he does not. He cannot even remember ever having used it, although he knows that he must have at some point (or driven past it with his parents), for how else would he have known that he did not like it?

Sometimes he thinks it is because his favourite shelter is situated along the exact road he walks to school every week from Monday to Friday (excepting school holidays). If this is true – and already he knows enough about himself to suspect so – then he feels just a little afraid, for it would mean that he is a creature of habit; that he is, in fact, already laying down on a daily basis a pattern of living he might come to regret at some point in his
future.

But the future is too far away for him to be concerned. He is nine years old and he cannot see any reason why he should not remain nine for the rest of his life. His favourite bus shelter is made of tin. It is closed on three sides and has a roof that sticks out like the peak of a cap. The seat is not solid but consists of two polished wooden strips. When he
sits he can swing his legs vigorously and his feet do not scrape the pavement. There is a pole painted yellow just in front of the shelter – in fact, it stands between the shelter and the edge of the road.

There is a small sign on the top of the pole with a number on it, but he does not remember ever taking notice of it. He waits always for the bus with ‘City/Stad’ displayed in black capitalletters onthe front. When he returns from town, from his solitary shopping expedition, he looks for the bus marked ‘Clarendon’. He does not live in this fancy suburb on the hill – his father is a storeman in a chocolate factory – but the bus that goes there has to drive through a section of the lower end of town where he lives.

He is not yet conscious of any difference in his life as a result of living in a street where people have names like Koekie and Poppie and the Eyetie, and where they fix their cars in the front garden or in the road because they don’t have a garden at all. However, he is aware that there is something different about him because of the way people look at him when he climbs onto the bus or walks into a shop, and then he understands why his mother fusses over him so much and why he is not part of any of the gangs at school. He is not sure but he suspects that another reason he likes this small tin bus shelter is because he cannot be seen once he is inside and has drawn up his legs onto the seat beside him like a pair of crutches.

This desire to hide himself away is perhaps yet another pattern he realises that he is building for himself, from which he will not be able to escape. But he does not know what else a small boy can do who is not able to run or jump or play team sports like other children. The other children do not want him on their team. He is too slow. He falls over when they pass the ball to him. He wets himself from anxiety.

He was included once, though. In a football match between the boys and the girls. When he played goalie for the girls. He saved a goal on that occasion, and all the girls jumped up and down and screamed and put their arms around him, and one girl even kissed him on the cheek, twice – a small girl with freckles on her face and a pale skin and sad mouth that was always turned
down. They still lost 7–0 though.

On another occasion, an occasion of which he is extraordinarily proud, he won the Dressing-Up Race at school. This was the first and the only race he has ever won in his short life. In the race the boys had to run to a large heap of clothing piled up in the middle of the field which they had brought from the wardrobe of their big sister or their mother. (This part of the race he naturally lost.) Dresses, shoes, hats and handbags were all jumbled together and the boys had to scrabble and scratch around first to find all of their mother’s or older sister’s items. Then they had to get dressed as quickly as they could – dropping the awkward frocks over their small shoulders – and, hitching up their trailing skirts, run slideshuffling in oversize shoes to the finish line at the end of the field.

He won this part of the race hands down. His favourite game at home is to dress up in his older sister’s outfits and parade around the house talking to himself as if he were some high-society lady. He knows how to do up buttons and zips; how to slide-shuffle in his mother’s shoes that fit snugly over his small, black orthopaedic
boots. ‘Stop that!’ his mother would always shout at him. ‘You’re stretching my shoes.’ But she never took her shoes away.

His prize for winning the race that day was an inflatable figure of a clown that stood upright once its bottom had been weighted with water. It was virtually impossible then to knock the smiling plastic man over. No matter how hard he punched or kicked it the clown would simply bounce straight back up again. Down and up, down and up the little figure would go all day long, no matter how hard he hit it. Down and straight back up again. Down and straight back up again. He thinks that this is a very good description of how he walks, too. He tells himself that at least he knows how to fall without hurting himself.

There are two ways he can walk to get to the small tin shelter to catch the ‘City/Stad’ bus. When he comes out of his green front gate he can either walk all the way down Greyling Street until he comes to Oxford Street, turn right at the house with the knobbly walls, walk straight up this street with its crooked and uneven paving blocks, turn left at the bottom into Boom Street, past the little café on the corner, and on to the bus shelter a hundred metres or so below. This is the one way. What he calls the Long Way. Though by normal standards it is not long at all.

Or he can take the short route. In actuality, it is probably not much shorter (if at all), and really only involves cutting out the greater part of Boom Street by taking a tiny lane (Stead Lane) that sneaks behind the unkempt backyards of the same houses that front onto the Long Way. It is, however, the more interesting route. At least for a boy who enjoys tales of the weird and the wonderful. For, apart from the overgrown backyards with their rusty corrugated iron fences and scraggly fruit trees, the Short Way has the attraction of two strange creatures. Again, not strange by normal standards. But strange enough for someone who has spent their entire life in one street in the lower end of the city.

The first creature is a white goose. It makes him think of ‘The Snow Goose’. But this bird from Stead Lane is definitely not the same ideal of unwavering affection that the Snow Goose is in the story he likes to listen to on his sister’s record. It hisses like a snake and twists its long neck about just like a snake when he walks
down the lane. Because he knows that it cannot get through the wire fence (its wings have also been clipped, his father assures him) he sometimes stands for a long time enjoying the terrifying thrill of danger while the large bird with wings outstretched sways and jabs at the air between them.

But two houses down from the goose is an almost opposite creature. And one of which he is more genuinely afraid since it seems never to notice him, has never made a sound as far as he can remember, and is content simply to stand staring fixedly at him like a mythic beast from one of the books on legends that he always takes out of the library. It is a tall, elegant bird. A blue crane. Rescued perhaps from the side of some rural road where it lay flapping its broken mauve wing helplessly. He does not know for sure. Whatever its origin, he has never seen it move, but knows it is alive only because it is never in the same place in the garden. He does not look at it for long, afraid that, like the Medusa, it will turn its victims to stone.

There is one problem, however, with this short cut which, despite the dangerous and exotic attraction of the birds, causes him more often than not to avoid it. For the end of Stead Lane, where it leads back in to the top part of Boom Street, is a dirt track overgrown on the sides with wild banana trees and bushes that never flower but give off a putrefying smell from their leaves.

The track is often also covered in rubbish. It is a path that he always regrets having to go down, making him wish he had never chosen to walk down the lane to look at the two birds, that he had suffered instead the narrow pavement of Boom Street where the uneven blocks threaten at every step to pitch him into the deep gutters. He tells no one of his fears and his secret thrills. He closes himself off from admitting the truth to anyone, as if he himself were a book that he could simply shut and forget. (But how many stories are there which he does, in fact, forget?) It is a strategy he cannot ever remember learning, but seems to have been born with. As he was born with stupid feet and a hole at the base of his spine. As he was born with soft brown eyes.

Once again he has an intimation that some dark pattern of behaviour is being worn into his being that, once established, he will find it difficult to free himself from. But he does not know how else to survive. It is not a choice. It is simply what he has to do in order to win other dressing-up races. In order not to wet himself
with anxiety when a playmate passes the ball to him, shouting, ‘Score! Score! It’s wide open!’
And he falls.

* * *.

The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories

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Kobus Moolman’s The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories stands out for its unusual perspectives

This story collection by multiple award-winning poet, author and playwright Kobus Moolman is a volume of unconventional potency.

Written in a range of styles, voices and genres, each of the ten stories offers original insights into the difficulties of staying afloat. Whether the challenge is being differently abled (with all the outsider isolation this brings); lower-income family life under unbending patriarchal rule; or being born a female child in an abusive, gendered culture, the narratives are convincing (often humorous) in their portrayal of trapped lives striving for transcendence.

The darkly funny ‘Kiss and the Brigadier’ invokes the stultifying boredom of small-town life and the captured mentalities of its understimulated citizens; ‘Extracts from a Dispensable Life’ offers a creative and sensitive reading of the gender violence theme; while the irreverent but never disrespectful ‘Angel Heart’ ventures into the risky waters of religious send-up.

The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories is a collection that stands out for its unusual perspectives; its frank, often uncomfortable treatment of taboo topics; its creative risk-taking; and its skilful and observant recreation of worlds gone by, which still leave their aftershocks.
 
 

Kobus Moolman is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Western Cape. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2015 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and has presented his work at literary festivals in South Africa, Ireland and Canada.

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Breathing Spaces – a photographical exploration of the relationship between people and their neighborhoods in Durban


 

Breathing Spaces is a book of environmental portraits, composed of photographs taken in the first decade of the twenty-first century, a few years after South Africa’s democracy. It explores how photographic images can move us, can unlock personal and shared memories, can prompt public debate, can unsettle us and challenge us to think about alternative environmental futures. The photographs in Breathing Spaces explore the relationship between people and three neighbourhoods located south of Durban harbour: Wentworth, Merebank and Lamontville.

Durban’s densely populated southern basin is well known as a flashpoint of pollution perpetrated by South African industries and transnational petrochemical corporations. It is also known for the conflict over plans for further, dirty economic growth.

Breathing Spaces: Environmental Portraits of Durban’s Industrial South presents portraits of people and living spaces taken by social documentary photographer Jenny Gordon. These are interleaved with reproductions of images from family albums and are variously accompanied by extracts from Marijke du Toit’s conversations with the people portrayed, their friends, family and neighbours. A selection of photographs taken by local residents who participated in photographic workshops and exhibitions, held in the particular neighbourhoods, are also included. As a composite portrait, this book presents long histories of personal, communal and familial places in South Durban. It explores the possibilities of photography through conversation, and conversation through photography. It is about the struggle to take personal breath against social and environmental injustice.

Historian Marijke du Toit is based in the Faculty of Arts at the University of the Western Cape, where she works as a specialist for teaching and learning in Higher Education. Before moving to UWC she was based at the History Department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

Photographer Jenny Gordon lectures photojournalism at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Grahamstown.
 

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“Handle history with care – it might come back to bite you”: Stephen Coan on Tribing and Untribing the Archive


 

Former features writer for the Witness, writer-director in film and theatre, and freelance journalist, Stephen Coan, recently wrote an article on Tribing and Untribing the Archive, edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, discussing the significance of past events which has shaped the current political order. Read Coan’s insightful piece here:

Decolonisation. The use of the word is much in vogue at present; usually invoked to advocate a move away from a Eurocentric focus to one that is Afrocentric. If the concept is to be pursued with serious intent it could have quite unexpected implications for traditional leaders, not only in the province of KwaZulu-Natal but the whole of South Africa.

These implications are made clear in Tribing and Untribing the Archive – Identity and the Material Record in Southern KwaZulu-Natal in the Late Independent and Colonial Periods, edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, published in two slipcased volumes and consisting of twenty essays and an epilogue drawn from a multidisciplinary team of contributors, including archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, art historians, archivists and curators.

According to the editors the essays provide a window into “not only to see how archives give shape to history, but also how history gives shape to archives.”

But what exactly is “the archive”? On one level it is what has been written: what is found in state repositories, missionary records, personal papers, recorded oral testimony and newspapers. However Tribing and Untribing the Archive goes further, drawing attention “to the extent of the material culture record … little appreciated by researchers outside art history and archaeology.”

Consequently material objects such as snuff spoons, sticks, photographs and artworks are brought within the compass of the archive thus allowing scope for such essays as Nontobeko Ntombela’s Shifting contexts: Material, Process and Contemporary Art in Times of Change and Hlonipha Mokoena’s quirky and intriguing ‘Knobkerrie’: Some Preliminary Notes on the Transformation of a Weapon into a Swagger Stick, or Sometimes a Stick is Not Just a Stick which teases out out the meaning and complexities of a photograph (c.1890) depicting two policemen, one (white and seated) with a swagger stick and the other (black, barefoot, and standing) holding a knobkerrie.

Another group of essays, which include an aspect of Christoph Rippe’s pioneering work on the photographic collections at Mariannhill Monastery plus André Croucamp’s delving into tourism promotion by the Natal Government Railways, reveal how the image of “the Zulu” popularly assumed to be a product of the Zulu heartland north of the Thukela was in fact constructed much further south with paintings and photographs made within easy travelling distance (firstly by horse, then rail) of Durban.

Whatever a contributor’s particular focus all the essays coalesce under the umbrella of the title essay, Tribing and Untribing the Archive by Hamilton and Leibhammer, which elaborates on how “yoked together in the service of colonial and later apartheid rule, the pernicious combination of tribe and tradition continues to tether modern South Africans to ideas about the remote past as primitive, timeless and unchanging, despite substantial scholarly and public critical discussion of the fallacy of these notions.”

Speaking at the book’s launch in Johannesburg contributor John Wright said the most frequent response to its content was: “‘Well, if we can’t call them tribes, what can we call them?’”
“It’s the wrong question,” he countered. “The issue is not about finding new names for a category, but rethinking the nature of the category altogether. Historical work is showing that before the 19th century Africans lived not in bounded, relatively homogeneous ‘tribes’, but in polities, for which we have no word in English, that were fluid, relatively loosely structured groups, organized round the exigencies of making and remaking alliances, and incorporating newcomers.”

“Many people – black and white – today find it very difficult to think beyond Africans as ‘always’ having lived in tribes. They find it very difficult to think historically about African polities.”

While Tribing and Untribing the Archive has a specific regional focus – that of southern Kwazulu-Natal, bounded by the Thukela River in the north and the Mzimvubu in the south – the insights it contains have far wider application. “This area had a very distinctive colonial experience,” said Hamilton at the launch. “And it had a very distinctive experience before that, both before and after Shaka built up his power. What happened in this region has ramifications for the rest of the country.”

With the arrival of white settlers in significant numbers from the 1840s onwards southern KwaZulu-Natal became subject to colonial administration which saw Theophilus Shepstone, the Diplomatic Agent to the Native Tribes, devise a form of indirect rule which controlled African communities via the power of their chiefs. Non-compliant chiefs were either marginalised or, as in the case of the Hlubi leader Langalibalele kaMthimkhulu, designated rebels and violently subjugated. However, the great majority of chiefs recognised by Shepstone happily acquiesced in this system of government and turned it to their advantage. Thus by the end of the nineteenth century the concept of the “tribe” as the basic social and political unit of African society had become rooted in the minds of both the coloniser and the colonised.

Since 1994, as Grant McNulty details in his essay (Re)discovering the Correct History, numerous communities in KwaZulu-Natal have called for recognition of their pasts and identities both before their assimilation into the Zulu kingdom during the time of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona or their later status under colonial rule, “wrestling with how best to navigate these oppressed histories and how and what to present as evidence in support of their claims.”

This has seen frequent recourse to the archive, as the Campbell Collections in Durban and local state repositories can attest, in order “to strengthen and validate claims for traditional leadership submitted to the Nhlapo Commission and the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims.” The archive has also been used by lawyers investigating land claims while many members of the public have taken to researching their histories to try and re-establish their roots and identity.

According to McNulty the resultant re-emergence of the pre-Zulu history of the Hlubi, Ndwandwe, Quabe, and Nhlangwini represents “a direct threat to the authenticity and power of the Zulu king as a custodian and symbol of a unified Zulu nation.”

Post-1994 the liberation movements deliberately moved away from the tribal concept, a trajectory widely expected to continue. “Paradoxically, the opposite has happened,” according to Wright in Making Identities in the Thukela-Mzimvubu Region.

“National and provincial governments sought first to accommodate and then to win the support of ‘traditional leaders’ by recognising and augmenting the authority they exercised in terms of ‘customary law’ in ‘tribal areas’ based on those established in the eras of colonialism and apartheid.” Or, to put it another way, what is the decolonisation project to do with traditional leaders whose status came into being as the result of collaboration with the colonial regime or direct colonial appointment?

There are no easy answers to such questions and if nothing else, as Mbongiseni Buthelezi puts it in his perceptive epilogue: “These volumes show us that we know neither enough about the past before colonialism nor about the ways in which local institutions were reshaped in the early years of colonialism to suit a form of indirect colonial rule.”

“We need more investigation into the longer past because the more we know about the forms of social organisation, leadership, relations between neighbours and so on that existed prior to the advent of European settlement, the better we give back to the present and future their pasts.”

Tribing and Untribing the Archive marks both a beginning of that process and a challenge to the current political order.

 

Tribing and Untribing the Archive

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