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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

“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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John Trengove Discusses iBhokhwe, His Film Based on Part of Thando Mgqolozana’s A Man Who Is Not A Man

A Man Who is Not a ManWhile doing research for his short film partially based on Thando Mgqolozana’s A Man Who Is Not a Man, John Trengove learned that there is a belief that traditional circumcision has the power to “cure” homosexuality.

During interviews with gay Xhosa men, Trengrove was told that homosexual initiates are “often neglected or completely abandoned over the period of three weeks, which is supposed to be the healing period after the initiation”. iBhokhwe, his 13-minute film, focuses on a young man abandoned by his elders in a makeshift hut after the ritual.

Sandiso Ngubane of the Mail & Guardian spoke to Trengove about iBhokhwe, which was screened at the Berlinale in Germany last week. Trengove hopes to develop it into a feature film exploring homosexuality and traditional circumcision.

It’s been touted as the first film to explore homosexuality within the context of traditional Xhosa initiation.

IBhokwe: The Goat, screened at the Berlinale in Germany last week, is partially adapted from Thando Mngqolozana’s book A Man Who Is Not a Man. It follows the story of a young man who has been isolated from the other initiates.

Times LIVE reported some of the shocking statistics of botched traditional circumcisions:

Initiates who needed medical attention during the traditional circumcision season were often stigmatised by their communities.

Some men in the Eastern Cape who developed infections refused to go to hospitals and some had parents who prevented them from accessing medical treatment.

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Video: Ashwin Desai Discusses Chatsworth: The Making of a South African Township

ChatsworthAshwin Desai joined Leanne Manas on SABC’s Morning Live to discuss Chatsworth: The Making of a South African Township, which he co-edited. Manas comments that the book includes “an exhilarating mix of voices” that tell the story of Chatsworth, the Indian township in Durban which was created by apartheid era planners.

Desai discusses how the book offers a deeper understanding of the ways in which Chatsworth has changed over the years, as well as looking at the continuity of the area. He mentions aspects such as the expressions of sexuality, and the way in which Pentacostal Christianity has become the fastest growing religion in the area, as examples of these shifts.

Watch the interview and read about Desai’s comments below:

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In 1960, apartheid’s planners created the “Indian” township of Chatsworth, evicting people from established neighbourhoods around Durban and forcibly settling them into a grid of modern racial ghetto.

The book, “Chatsworth: The making of a South African township”, brings together an exhilarating mix of voices that collectively tell the story of Chatsworth’s origins and transformations.

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21 Icons South Africa Features Short Documentary and Portrait of Gcina Mhlophe

Have You Seen Zandile?Gcina Mhlophe has been featured as one of the extraordinary South Africans that filmmaker and photographer Adrian Steirn is profiling with his 21 Icons South Africa project.

Mhlophe explains how she followed her true calling to become a storyteller, after building her career as a performer, director and playwright. She says that people thought something was wrong when she changed paths, but that she has never been happier and is very grateful that she listened to the voice that urged her to tell stories.

Watch the short documentary, see the portrait of Mhlophe and read the essay:

Gcina Mhlophe has many talents. She has won awards as a performer, a director and a playwright, and built the foundations of her career doing those things. But her true gift is storytelling.

She realised this in the late 1980s, just as her career as a performer was peaking. The calling to change direction and become a fulltime storyteller concerned those close to her. “People got worried about me – they thought something was going wrong,” she says. “I wanted to listen to that voice, to answer that calling. And I’ve never been happier. I’m very grateful that I listened to that voice.”

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Video: Pamphilia Hlapa Discusses How Writing A Daughter’s Legacy Helped Her to Deal with Her Past

A Daughter's LegacyPamphilia Hlapa was featured in a recent episode of I Am Woman: Leap of Faith where she discussed how writing her novel A Daughter’s Legacy helped her break the silence about being raped and sexually assaulted when she was younger. The book is written as fiction but deals with the abuse that rural girls are often exposed to.

Watch the video of the episode, in which Hlapa meets presenter Lisa Chait in The Book Lounge in Cape Town to discuss her childhood and the healing she found writing A Daughter’s Legacy.

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Pamphilia Hlapa to Feature in Upcoming Episode of I Am Woman: Leap of Faith

A Daughter's LegacyAn upcoming episode of I Am Woman: Leap of Faith will feature Pamphilia Hlapa, author of A Daughter’s Legacy. The series is presented by Lisa Chait and “features the lives and Leaps of Faith of 52 remarkable women showing how they stepped into brand new territory bravely when faced with life’s greatest challenges and opportunities”.

Hlapa’s episode looks at how writing A Daughter’s Legacy helped her to break the silence about being raped and sexually assaulted when she was younger. Although the book is fictional, it gave her “a space to share her own story and that of her rural sisters”. The episode will air on SABC 3 on Sunday 14 July at 10:30 AM.

Read more about Hlapa’s journey to breaking the silence:

Can you live a full life despite what has happened in your past?

Sexual violence in South Africa features on the national agenda but shocking statistics and horrific attacks continue to come to light. What is not spoken about enough, however, is the protracted, relentless abuse of young women in rural villages where, even more so than in our already abuse-ridden urban spaces, girls are at the mercy of men and boys.

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Percy Zvomuya Interviews Nthikeng Mohlele, Author of Small Things

Small ThingsPercy Zvomuya chatted to Nthikeng Mohlele, author of Small Things, for the Mail & Guardian. Zvomuya mentions JM Coetzee’s “unrestrained praise” of the book, saying that it is easy to see why Coetzee says that, “The prose is rich in texture, the final effect melancholy and comic in equal proportions.”

Zvomuya found out what Mohlele is currently reading, what music he’s enjoying at the moment and other little snippets from his life:

“Behind this story of love, music and the eternal quest, lies an artistic sensibility as generous as it is complex. The prose is rich in texture, the final effect melancholy and comic in equal proportions,” the Nobel ­laureate wrote.

Unrestrained praise, but then, over the past few years, ­Coetzee has been generous in his praise of young South African writers.

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Slideshow: Sabelo Mlangeni and Graeme Reid Examine the Lives of Gay People in Small Towns

How to be a Real GayThe Mail & Guardian has published a multimedia slideshow of Sabelo Mlangeni’s images of gay people in small town South Africa, accompanied by a description of Graeme Reid’s book How to be a Real Gay: Gay Identities in Small-Town South Africa.

The slideshow describes how Reid discusses the ambivalent space that gay people inhabit in the small towns of South Africa:

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Percy Zvomuya Speaks to Siphiwo Mahala About Translating When a Man Cries

Siphiwo Mahala

Yakhalâ�� IndodaWhen a Man CriesSiphiwo Mahala‘s novel of township life and sexual identity, When a Man Cries, was published in isiXhosa as Yakhal’Indoda in 2010.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian‘s Percy Zvomuya, Mahala revealed how he used write on every possible surface, including toilet paper and funeral programmes, until he finally realised that carrying a notepad was the way to jot down his words when inspiration struck. He also realised that translating his work into isiXhosa would be a benefit to the people he wrote about, and that if he only published in English, their stories would remain inaccessible to them.

Describe your ideal reader

Imaginative individuals who allow words to invade their minds, pene-trate their heart and soul and take them to the highest peaks of ecstasy.

What was the originating idea for translating your debut novel, When a Man Cries, into isiXhosa?

An old lady from my Grahamstown neighbourhood bought a copy of the book and, because she couldn’t read English, she asked her grandchildren to it read for her. And then I thought these are the people I write about and the story remains inaccessible to them because of a language barrier.

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Podcast: Jill Nudelman Discusses Roots and Inheritance with SAfm’s Karabo Kgoleng

Inheriting the EarthSAfm’s Karabo Kgoleng talked to Jill Nudelman about some of the themes that inhabit her debut novel, Inheriting the Earth.

Nudelman and Kgoleng discussed ‘the curse of the phenotype’ and how this relates to a search for roots and identity, and the sense of rootlessness experienced by many white people in South Africa. Nudelman said she felt that people are afraid to talk about race because of apartheid:

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