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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Tribing and Untribing the Archive selected as one of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles

UKZN Press congratulates Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer on the selection of Tribing and Untribing the Archive as one of the “Choice 2017 Outstanding Academic Titles”.

The Outstanding Academic Titles from Choice are the best of the best. It is a prestigious list that reflects the best in scholarly titles reviewed by Choice. Only a select group of publishers and authors are represented on such a list. The full list was publicly released & published in the January 2018 issue of Choice.

Choice, a journal which provides book reviews for academic libraries, has picked Tribing and Untribing the Archive (Set, Vols. 1 & 2), edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, for the 2017 Outstanding Academic Title (OATs) list.

This year’s OATs list features 504 titles out of approximately 6,000 works reviewed last year. The titles are selected for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value as important treatment of their subject.

EXTRACTS FROM THE REVIEW THAT WAS PUBLISHED IN “CHOICE”"

“This seminal collection provides rare insight into issues of identity, ethnicity, self-expression, and performance (material culture) from the pre- to postcolonial period in South Africa.”

The “volumes provide unique and local representations of self from mostly South African authors about South Africa today and in the past”.

Included in this title are “colorful photographs of contemporary South African artwork and rare historic photographs of ethnic communities from the precolonial period” which will allow readers to “better understand the complexities of culture and material culture in the region”.

“These voices demand representation in libraries and universities in the USA. Essential. All academic levels/libraries”.

–Choice, Vol. 55, No. 1, September 2017

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“I try to make history relatable – to humanise it”: Zakes Mda on his writing

By Michelle Gouws, for STIAS

Zakes Mda during his seminar presentation on 1 February 2018. ©Christoff Pauw

 
“My mission is to tell a good story. If I don’t make my characters human – the story will fail,” said Zakes Mda.

Mda is currently Artist-in-Residence at STIAS where he is finalising his latest work The Zulus of New York, a historical novel set in KwaZulu, the Cape of Good Hope, London, New York and at a Jieng village in South Sudan between 1878 and 1895. Celebrated author Mda, who is Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio University, outlined the plot of the novel, the historical events underlying it, analysed the role of historical fiction and explained some of his writing process to STIAS fellows. He also treated them to a reading from the novel.

He aimed to answer the question of why we need historical fiction when history has already told us the story.

“I write about the past to discuss the present,” he said. “I write historical fiction to tame the past and foist order on it.”

He described historical fiction is an effective tool for interrogating and challenging historical narrative, and moving those previously marginalised from the periphery to the centre.

“I try to make history relatable – to humanise it,” he said. “The historical record states but fiction demonstrates. History tells us what happened while historical fiction demonstrates what it was like to be in what happened. It takes us inside history into the interiorities of the players – both historical and fictional. We can only sympathise with those whose story we know.”

He pointed out that neither journalism nor the historical record is completely objective about contemporary events. “It’s one perspective. And it brings baggage and values in selection. History represents the dominant discourse and creates a narrative that legitimises the ruling elite. I try to use my fiction to address this situation.”

“There are two possible approaches – to rewrite the past or to reinvent the past,” he added.

“I like to make it clear what is history and what is imagination. My novels are set in a historical period but are driven by fictional characters whose fate is not necessarily determined by history. They have agency and psychological motivation but are influenced by events in the historical record. I place characters in the context of history but their actions are their own.”

In The Zulus of New York Mda tells the story of a group of Zulus who were imported to England and later the United States in the 1880S by William Leonard Hunt, also known as The Great Farini, to perform as ‘human curiosities’ or ‘freak shows’ in his popular circus.

Continue reading here.


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Joint launch: Sitting Pretty & Blackwashing Homophobia (15 Feb)


 
Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 15 February 2018
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Ike’s Books & Collectables, 234 4th Road, Durban Central, Durban | Map
  • RSVP: Cedric Sissing, cedric@adamsbooks.co.za
     
    Sitting Pretty

    At the opening of South Africa’s first democratic parliament in 1994, newly elected president Nelson Mandela issued a clarion call to an unlikely group: white Afrikaans women, who during apartheid straddled the ambivalent position of being simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.

    He conjured the memory of poet Ingrid Jonker as ‘both an Afrikaner and an African’ who ‘instructs that our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child’. More than two decades later, the question is: how have white Afrikaans women responded to the liberating possibilities of constitutional democracy?

    With Afrikaner nationalism in disrepair, and official apartheid in demise, have they re-imagined themselves in opposition to colonial ideas of race, gender, sexuality and class?

    This book explores this postapartheid identity through the concepts of ordentlikheid, as an ethnic form of respectability, and the volksmoeder, or mother of the nation, as enduring icon.

    Blackwashing Homophobia

    As lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex identities increasingly secure legal recognition across the globe, these formal equality gains are contradicted by the continued presence of violence. Such violence emerges as a political pressure point for contestations of identity and power within wider systems of global and local inequality. Discourses of homophobia-related violence constitute subjectivities that enact violence and that are rendered vulnerable to it, as well as shaping political possibilities to act against violence.

    Blackwashing Homophobia critiques prevailing discourses through which violence and its queer targets are normatively understood, exploring the knowledge regimes in which multiple forms of othering are both reproduced and/or resisted. This book draws on primary research on lesbian subjectivity and violence in South Africa examining the intersections of sexual, gender, race and class identities, and the contemporary politics of violence in a postcolonial context:

    • What are the contending ways of knowing queers and the violence they face?

    • How are the causes, characters, consequence of, and ‘cures’ for, violence constructed through such knowledges and what are their power effects?

    The book explores these questions and their implications for how violence, as an instrument of power, might be countered.

    Blackwashing Homophobia is a timely intervention for theorising the discourse of homophobia-related violence and what it reveals and conceals, enables and hinders, in relation to queer identities and political imaginaries in times of violence. The book’s interdisciplinary approach to the topic will appeal to social and political scientists, philosophers and psychology professionals, as well as to advanced psychology undergraduates and postgraduates alike.

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Launch: Justify the Enemy by Zakes Mda (13 February)

Justify the Enemy is a collection of non-fiction by the prolific author Zakes Mda. It showcases his role as a public intellectual with the inclusion of public lectures, essays and media articles. Mda focuses on South Africa’s history and the present, identity and belonging, the art of writing, human rights, global warming and why he is unable to keep silent on abuses of power.

Some of his best-known novels include Ways of Dying (1995, MNet Book Prize); The Heart of Redness (2000, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Africa, and Sunday Times Fiction Prize); The Madonna of Excelsior (2002, one of the Top Ten South African books published in the Decade of Democracy); The Whale Caller (2005); Cion (2007); Black Diamond (2009); The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (2013); Rachel’s Blue (2014); and Little Suns (2015, Sunday Times Literary Award).

Zakes Mda was born in Herschel in the Eastern Cape in 1948 and studied in South Africa, Lesotho and the United States. He wrote his first short story at the age of fifteen and has since won major South African and British literary awards for his novels and plays. His writing has been translated into twenty languages. Mda is a professor of Creative Writing at Ohio University.

J.U. Jacobs is an emeritus professor and senior research associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is the co-editor of Ways of Writing: Critical Essays on Zakes Mda (2009) and author of Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction (2016).

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Lees: Christi van der Westhuizen bespreek Sitting Pretty met Naomi Meyer

Christi van der Westhuizen se mees onlangse boek, Sitting Pretty: White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa is pas deur UKZN Press uitgegee. Dié merkwaardige boek ondersoek onder meer identiteit, die konsep van ordentlikheid, en die Afrikaner. Lees Naomi Meyer se LitNet-onderhoud met Christi hier:

Christi, baie geluk met Sitting pretty. Ek het ’n onlangse kykNET-gesprek tussen jou, Kabous Meiring en Deborah Steinmair hieroor gesien en wil afskop met: Waarom het jy hierdie boek geskryf? Vertel my hiervan, en vertel my asseblief ook van jou ouma.

My vorige boek, White power & the rise and fall of the National Party, het vraagstukke oor ras, klas, politiek en ekonomie op die makrovlak getakel. Met die skryf daarvan het nuwe vrae by my ontstaan oor die vorming van identiteit, oftewel subjektiwiteit. Hoekom heg ons onsself aan onderdrukkende sosiale kategorieë soos ras, klas, geslag en seksualiteit? Ek wou sin maak van die kwessie binne my eie konteks van apartheid en Afrikaner-nasionalisme.

In my familie is ek grootgemaak deur sterk vroue wat in mindere of meerdere mate Afrikaner-nasionalisties was. My een ouma (gebore Viljoen en getroud met ’n Erasmus) was ’n veldkornet in die Ossewa-Brandwag. Daarteenoor het haar dogter – my ma – reeds in die ’70’s apartheid as stelsel al meer begin bevraagteken en dit uiteindelik teen die vroeë ’80’s verwerp as onmenslik.

Dit is die nalatenskap waaruit ek kom, en dit is belangrik vir my om dit te verstaan. Hoeveel agentskap het hulle gehad en hoeveel het ek? Kan ons as mense ’n meer etiese wêreld skep, of is ons oorgelewer aan ons omstandighede?

In die Prontuit-gesprek het jy gesê dat jy as Afrikaner identifiseer. Wat beteken dit vir jou?

My identifisering as Afrikaner is ’n etiese besluit, en wel om twee redes.

Die eerste is dat ek binne ’n Afrikaner-nasionalistiese konteks grootgemaak is, met al die gepaardgaande regverdigings van rasse-, geslags- en ander hiërargieë, en met die bevoordeling wat apartheid vir veral wit Afrikaanssprekende mense teweeggebring het. Deur steeds as Afrikaner te identifiseer, erken ek my verlede en die voordele wat ek daaruit getrek het. Dit maak dit vir my moontlik om nie net krities nie, maar ook selfreflektief met daardie geskiedenis en die voortslepende effekte daarvan om te gaan, ook vir my persoonlik.

Die tweede rede is dat ek binne daardie konteks positiewe persoonlike belewenisse gehad het, en dat daar menslik-bevestigende waardes met my gedeel is wat, paradoksaal, uiteindelik ook my kritiese posisie moontlik gemaak het. Deur as Afrikaner te identifiseer, erken ek hierdie emosionele en intellektuele bande, asook die bron van my etiese ingesteldheid van ontleding en selfkritiek.

’n Woord wat oor en oor genoem word: “ordentlikheid”. The done thing. Om iets in stand te hou, nie die bootjie te skommel nie, of ongemak te veroorsaak nie. Praat ons van vroue wat by mans langs die vuur gaan staan in plaas van slaai maak in die kombuis? Of deurtrek dit die samelewing, is dit méér as dit? En tog: soms kan mens nie anders as om binne ’n stelsel te funksioneer nie – dis tog orals. As die land se geldeenheid die rand is, kan mens nie betaal met die eenheid van jou keuse nie. Help my asseblief om die term te verstaan.

In my studie het ek gevind dat sommige wit Afrikaanssprekende mense nie meer as “Afrikaners” identifiseer nie. Ek moes ’n ander begrip vind om die identiteit te beskryf. Ordentlikheid is daardie begrip, omdat dit die verskillende dimensies van die identiteit die beste vasvat. Dit spreek tot ’n aspirasie om ’n sekere respektabelheid te verwesenlik deur ’n spesifieke stel reëls oor ras, klas, geslag en seksualiteit na te volg.

Om as ’n Afrikaanssprekende wit vrou “ordentlik” te wees, moet ’n mens jou na ’n spesifieke klasgegronde vorm van wit patriargale heteroseksualiteit skik. Jou gedrag word gepolisieer met idees oor beleefdheid en goeie maniere. As jy nie aan die vasgestelde norme voldoen nie, loop jy die risiko van stigmatisering, marginalisering en uitsluiting. Maar daar is ook ’n dissidente vorm van ordentlikheid onder wit Afrikaanssprekendes wat, met ’n etiese oogmerk, ras- en geslagshiërargieë verwerp en aktief daarteen werk, soos in my boek beskryf.

’n Mens kan sê dat die verdeling van Afrikaanssprekendes in twee groepe op grond van ras in die 20ste eeu ’n grootskaalse en eerste proses van stigmatisering, marginalisering en uitsluiting was. Dit het gedemonstreer dat om ordentlik te wees, jy wit moet wees. Bruin Afrikaanssprekendes het ordentlikheid uiteraard anders gedefinieer, soos deur die antropoloog Elaine Salo beskryf.

Klik hier om verder te lees.

Boekbesonderhede


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Christi van der Westhuizen, author of Sitting Pretty, on how the rationality between the two settler classes in SA reinforces whiteness

This article first appeared in The Conversation

By Christi van der Westhuizen

Sitting PrettyWhy is it that when the West was turning away from direct colonialism in the mid-20th century, South Africa shifted to apartheid, an intensified form of this heinous system?

One of the answers lies in the country’s history of colonisation by two contending settler classes. The Dutch, or Boer, settler class on the southern most point of Africa was displaced in the 19th century by the arrival of the British.

The Afrikaners – as the descendants of the Boer settlers eventually became known – constructed their identity in opposition to, on the one hand, black identities, and on the other to Anglo whiteness.

The reverberations of the contest between these two settler groups continue even after apartheid, as I argue in my new book Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa.

During apartheid a great deal of work went into justifying the imposition of inequalities on the basis of human differences.

In the end apartheid collapsed due to global opprobrium that was heaped on the Afrikaner government, with both material and symbolic consequences. It tipped Afrikaner identity into turmoil, not least because their sense of themselves as moral beings was radically challenged.

At stake was ordentlikheid, analysed in my book as an ethnicised respectability. Ordentlikheid is an Afrikaans word that is difficult to translate: apart from respectability, its meanings include presentability, good manners, decency, politeness and humility with a Calvinist tenor.

Today it works as a glue that holds the identity together at the intersections of specific versions of gender, sexuality, class and race. Ordentlikheid serves as a mode of identification that works as a panacea to Afrikaner woes as they struggle to cleanse themselves of the stain of apartheid and adapt to changing historical conditions.

Examining “Afrikaner” identity through the lens of ordentlikheid reveals it as a lesser whiteness in relation to white English-speaking South African identity, which in turn draws on global Anglo whiteness.

Continue reading here.

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Watch: Zakes Mda discusses Justify the Enemy on eNCA

Justify the Enemy is a collection of non-fiction by the prolific author Zakes Mda. It showcases his role as a public intellectual with the inclusion of public lectures, essays and media articles. Mda focuses on South Africa’s history and the present, identity and belonging, the art of writing, human rights, global warming and why he is unable to keep silent on abuses of power.

Some of his best-known novels include Ways of Dying (1995, MNet Book Prize); The Heart of Redness (2000, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Africa, and Sunday Times Fiction Prize); The Madonna of Excelsior (2002, one of the Top Ten South African books published in the Decade of Democracy); The Whale Caller (2005); Cion (2007); Black Diamond (2009); The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (2013); Rachel’s Blue (2014); and Little Suns (2015, Sunday Times Literary Award).

Zakes Mda was born in Herschel in the Eastern Cape in 1948 and studied in South Africa, Lesotho and the United States. He wrote his first short story at the age of fifteen and has since won major South African and British literary awards for his novels and plays. His writing has been translated into twenty languages. Mda is a professor of Creative Writing at Ohio University.

J.U. Jacobs is an emeritus professor and senior research associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is the co-editor of Ways of Writing: Critical Essays on Zakes Mda (2009) and author of Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction (2016).

Mda recently discussed Justify the Enemy with John Perlman on Perlman’s eNCA-programme, Under the Skin. Watch their conversation here:

Justify the Enemy

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John Perlman to interview Zakes Mda on Under the Skin: 20 December

Zakes Mda will be John Perlman’s guest on tomorrow night’s episode of Perlman’s eNCA screening of “Under the Skin.” The literary giant will discuss his latest book, Justify the Enemy with Perlman; tune in at 9:30 PM, Channel 403 on DStv!

Justify the EnemyThis book is a collection of non-fiction by the prolific author Zakes Mda. It showcases his role as a public intellectual with the inclusion of public lectures, essays and media articles. Mda focuses on South Africa’s history and the present, identity and belonging, the art of writing, human rights, global warming and why he is unable to keep silent on abuses of power.

Some of his best-known novels include Ways of Dying (1995, MNet Book Prize); The Heart of Redness (2000, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Africa, and Sunday Times Fiction Prize); The Madonna of Excelsior (2002, one of the Top Ten South African books published in the Decade of Democracy); The Whale Caller (2005); Cion (2007); Black Diamond (2009); The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (2013); Rachel’s Blue (2014); and Little Suns (2015, Sunday Times Literary Award).

Zakes Mda was born in Herschel in the Eastern Cape in 1948 and studied in South Africa, Lesotho and the United States. He wrote his first short story at the age of fifteen and has since won major South African and British literary awards for his novels and plays. His writing has been translated into twenty languages. Mda is a professor of Creative Writing at Ohio University.

J.U. Jacobs is an emeritus professor and senior research associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is the co-editor of Ways of Writing: Critical Essays on Zakes Mda (2009) and author of Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction (2016).

Book details


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“Reading takes you on a metaphorical journey, and now you can get up and go on a real one.” – Co-author of A Literary Guide to KwaZulu-Natal, Lindy Stiebel

KwaZulu-Natal is culturally rich, offering a wide range of writers – writing mainly in English and Zulu – who are linked through their lives and their writing to this province of South Africa. The writers include, to name just a few, Alan Paton, Roy Campbell, Lewis Nkosi, Ronnie Govender, Wilbur Smith, Daphne Rooke, Credo Mutwa and Gcina Mhlophe. And how better to understand a writer than to know about the places they are linked to? For example, who, after reading the lyrical opening sentences of Paton’s famous book Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) has not wanted to see this scene in reality?

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

A Literary Guide to KwaZulu-Natal introduces you to the regions and writers through word and image, leading you imaginatively through this beautiful province.

This could include following the route a fictional character charts in a novel, visiting particular settings from a story or tracking down the places linked to a writer, whether a birthplace, home, burial site or significant setting. Literary tourists are interested in how places have influenced writing and at the same time how writing has created place.

This is also a way of reflecting upon and understanding historic and contemporary identities in a changing cultural and political South African landscape.

Niall McNulty is a digital publishing specialist who was involved in the Literary Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal research project for several years. Niall is currently the digital publishing manager at Cambridge University Press where he is at the forefront of researching and developing publishing technologies for the creation of interactive e-books.

Lindy Stiebel is Professor Emeritus of English Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her research interests are linked by a profound interest in the relationship between writers and place: these include the South African colonial and post-colonial novel; Indian Ocean studies, particularly literary interconnections between South Africa, India and Mauritius; and literary tourism. Her latest book published in 2016 is entitled Writing Home: Lewis Nkosi on South African Literature (with Michael Chapman, UKZN Press).

The Times‘s Shelley Seid recently discussed this remarkable book with Lindy Stiebel. Take a peek!

That KZN has the only active literary tourism project in the country must have greatly enhanced the bid to proclaim Durban a Unesco World City of Literature, the first on the African continent.

Literary tourism engages with writers and their real lives as well as the fictional settings that appear in their works.

It is a flourishing niche market in Europe and more prominently in the UK where it’s often hard to avoid – Harry Potter’s platform at King’s Cross station in London, for example, or the George Inn, where you can have a pint in a pub that featured in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit.

Where geography and literature meet. ©University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

 

In South Africa it’s a new initiative and most of the credit for what is available is due to Professor Lindy Stiebel, a UKZN academic who began a research project on KZN writers and writing in 2002.

“KZN Literary Tourism began as a five-year research project. Students received bursaries for their work on KZN writers and we built up an archive. We then created a website and loaded authors’ profiles. My particular interest was literary maps so I began mapping out where and how writers were linked.”

Initially the tourism aspect was “muted”, she says, but grew almost organically.

“Who, after reading the lyrical opening sentences of Paton’s famous book, Cry the Beloved Country, has not wanted to see the place in reality?” asks Stiebel.

Cry, the Beloved Country fans can journey to Paton’s office. ©University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

 

Continue reading Seid’s article here.

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“If you look at Afrikaner identity, it’s really forged out of the kinds of exclusions that split families” – Christi van der Westhuizen at the launch of Sitting Pretty

Christi van der Westhuizen, Zimitri Erasmus, and a riveted audience. ©Johan Eybers

 

“Gaan dit goed met jou?”
“Ja, baie goed.”
“Dis [x,y,z], hulle is lieflike mense.”

Ordentlik, nè?

Ironically enough, this conversation was taking place in the courtyard of everyone’s favourite indie bookshop in Joburg, Love Books (and not a kerkbasaar), during the recent launch of academic Christi van der Westhuizen’s Sitting Pretty: White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa, a book which explores the identity of white Afrikaans women through the concepts of ordentlikheid and the volksmoeder.

Love Books played host to Van der Westhuizen, her respondent Zimitri Erasmus – the perennially smiling sociology professor and author of the seminal volume Coloured by History, Shaped by Place – and a noteworthy turnout of bibliophiles.

As Sitting Pretty was published ten years after Van der Westhuizen’s first book, White Power & The Rise and Fall of the National Party, Erasmus was curious to know how her thought process had changed since.

“So much happens in South Africa it’s difficult to recall what happened two months ago,” Van der Westhuizen responded (much to the audience’s delight.) She continued by saying that the National Party collapsed in the mid-2000s – “not with a bang, but with a whimper” – into the African National Congress.

“If you thought of the National Party at the height of its powers in the 1980s, of course it was under pressure, but it was really building its militaristic powers. If somebody had said to you at that stage that it was going to collapse into the ANC, you’d be completely off your head. I mean, you must have been smoking something potent! [Cue appreciative laughter]

Zimitri Erasmus, Kate Rogan, The Audience. ©Christi van der Westhuizen

 

“What was obscure for me, was that particularly Afrikaners were not dealing with the collapse of the party and this party. And, if you think about it, the NP was pivot in Afrikaner identity for so many decades.

“Of course when people are so absolutely dedicated to looking away from something then I’m always drawn to try and figure out ‘why’? I felt like I still couldn’t get my head around why Afrikaners particularly are so fixated on such a particularly pernicious and offensive set of hierarchies and exclusions, in terms of forming identity.

“If you look at Afrikaner identity it’s really forged out of the kinds of exclusions that split families.”

Van der Westhuizen furthered this statement by adding that identities are always formed through exclusions: “I was interested in why did this one take these kind of forms as opposed to others. As part of that quest I started to change my analysis, into one of post-structuralist discourse analysis. To try and make sense of meaning formations at the subjective level, which basically means looking at discourses, looking at language and trying to make sense of the world around us; how we construct ourselves and our identities through language and the world around us.”

Construction of the self and creating hierarchies (unfortunately) exist in a symbiotic relationship.

“Human beings are very fixated on difference. We use difference to make meaning and frequently to create hierarchies and inequalities. Sitting Pretty sprang from that.

“My particular interest has been in power and how we, as human beings, make power for us and how power can work against us. In social sciences, we tend to focus on the margins … There’s an over-abundance of work on poor, black people – and I’m not saying that we should not try and understand poverty and the intersection with blackness – of course you must – but at the same time these kind of convictions are being constructed from somewhere, you know. That’s why it’s important for me that we look at the centers of power. That’s why I’m interested in where whiteness comes from, intersectionality and middle-classness and I decided to mix it up a little bit and throw women in.” (This last comment was met with appreciate laughter from the crowd…)

“I’m a woman” [ another round of 'haha's!'] “so I thought – just in terms of my own position – it’s also a question to understand the legacy of where I come from; my own sense of a deep familiarity with Afrikaner identity and on the other hand a profound alienation with Afrikaner identity – particularly around its sexual and gender constructions. I’ve never wanted to live up to its prescriptions in those regards.”

Van der Westhuizen’s familiarity and alienation with Afrikaner identity is personified by her grandmother, she disclosed.

Described by Van der Westhuizen as a loving, warm, embracing, affirming figure, her grandmother also believed in the inferiority of black people on the basis of race, and was a field cornet in the proto-fascist Ossewa Brandwag.

“So how do I deal with this contradiction of this woman who I also loved so deeply and was such a wonderful person to me and at the same time – with politics – was absolutely so horrendous? She was, to a large extent, also a patriarchal woman. She was advancing patriarchy through many of her practices. So how to make sense of that, that was also important to me.

“So it wasn’t a question of pointing fingers, I mean I discovered a few things about myself in the writing process…”

Christi in conversation. ©Mila de Villiers

 
“It is very interesting and powerful to realise the books that really hold your attention, that really hold your heart, are born of something personal-political that the author is wanting to make sense of, and that’s really what I felt reading Sitting Pretty,” Erasmus responded before touching on the next subject – Van der Westhuizen’s decision to open the book with Mandela’s reference to Ingrid Jonker’s poem, ‘The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers at Nyanga’.

“What are your thoughts of the effects of this particular opening, at this moment when Mandela’s politics are being challenged quite severely in particular circles – especially ones you and I circulate in at universities?”

“It’s particularly noticeable in the university context, so I wondered to what extent people have picked up on this; that there’s a kind of anti-Mandela discourse that has started to circulate,” Van der Westhuizen replied. Judging by her “I see quite a few nodding heads”-remark, it’s clear that audience members are also aware of, and possibly agree with, the anti-Mandela manifestation.

She questioned whether she should intro with Mandela, “given that there’s been a political shift around his significance and his politics. The issues are real – his politics are being questioned; his politics weren’t really transformative. In fact, transformation as a concept is being rejected by this particular position and the position has now been adopted as one of so-called ‘decolonisation’. Mandela’s politics was, in a sense, sell-out politics and Mandela wasn’t in any way a radical – just a really large band-aid to make socioeconomic inequality and injustice continue from the apartheid era to post-apartheid era and, in fact, we’re not in the post-apartheid era, we’re actually still living in apartheid, we’re just calling it something else,” she asserted.

Van der Westhuizen criticised decolonisation for diverting away from Mandela’s original politics which “produced a very strong vision of an alternative South Africa that’s borne on justice and equality.” She also spoke out against the lack of alternative political visions. “What I have seen is essentialisation of race, a lot of homogenisation of blackness and whiteness.”

After a healthy bout of inner turmoil, she decided to stick with Mandela.

“At the end of the day, yes, he was an African nationalist and I abhor nationalism of any kind, particularly because of my close encounter with other forms of nationalism. At the same time he gave us a very powerful vision; a radical vision, a vision of inclusion. A vision to try and see if we can actually dare to try and establish justice in our country on every level.”

Casual product placement… ©Mila de Villiers

 

Given the preconceived notion that Afrikaner women should subscribe to a certain ethic of respectability (“ordentlikheid”), Erasmus mentioned how ordentlikheid is one of the threads that runs through Sitting Pretty.

“Talk to us more about this specific relationship between ordentlikheid, white English speaking South Africaness and blackness.”

“I was trying to get some kind of configuration that could capture the identity that I’m talking about,” Van der Westhuizen responded, “and interestingly a lot of Afrikaners are not identifying as ‘Afrikaners’ anymore.”

According to Van der Westhuizen “Identifying as an Afrikaner does not indicate whether someone is reactionary or radical. People who don’t identify as Afrikaners can either have radical or reactionary politics in terms of race, gender and sexuality. Paradoxically the same is true for those who identify as Afrikaners.

“It’s a mixed bag. ‘Afrikaner’ becomes almost useless in trying to capture the identity we’re talking about.

Ordentlikheid is the word that finally came up for me; it’s an intersection where a particular ethnic idea of sexuality, gender, class and race takes shape.”

Ordentlikheid manifests via particular ideas about politeness, decency and respectability, Van der Westhuizen continued.

“It’s achieved through adopting very particular gender or race or class or sexual positions. Identity is always approached; we feel like we have very stable identities, but actually we’re constructing our identities all the time. We’re making it up as we go along and we’re using these categories of difference to do that.

Ordentlikheid, in a sense, is the permeation this particular identity takes.”

Afrikaner identity tries to set itself apart from other identities, as shaped by the frontier – the cause of our colonial apartheid history.

“The primary frontier in terms of the relationship with other identities is still race. Afrikaners – or white, Afrikaans people – want to set themselves apart from black people. People are still racialised as ‘black’, which is erroneous because we know it’s all social constructions. They also want to set themselves apart from white, English-speaking South Africans.”

Van der Westhuizen commented on the political project in the early 20th century, stating that “it was all about sharing the spoils of whiteness. A very overbearing identity came with British imperialism.” Anglo-Whiteness was entrenching itself in South Africa, painting the Dutch/Boer settlers in unflattering lights, she explained. ‘Whiteness’, as constructed by the British, was adopted as the standard against which civilisation was measured.

The Boers, as a people, were dehumanised, described by Kitchener as ‘savages with a thin, white veneer’.

“So you have the Afrikaner identity constructed in opposition to this overbearing British whiteness that arrived,” Van der Westhuizen said, interrupting herself mid-sentence as she commented on an audience member’s physical response to her statement.

“I see Sheila is shaking her head vigorously.”

“Nodding!” The one and only Sheila protested, which caused to crowd to crack up, made all the funnier when Van der Westhuizen enquired whether she was nodding in an affirmative kind of way and replying ‘Viva’ to Sheila’s ‘Yes’.

Alle grappies op ‘n stokkie.

“We’re being positioned in a very particular way in relation to Anglo Whiteness and this emerging group wanting to share in almost all its whiteness. You want to differentiate yourself from Englishness, particular ethic permutations and ultimately sexuality and gender then become quite important. Sexual/gender relations are used to create this form of ethnic whiteness. In terms of black people, I found a series of discourses that sort of divide black people into categories.

“Dichotomies are created. Basically, good black people are black people that exonerate white people of all the injustices of the past.”

Ja, that’s part of the book that’s really gripping,” Erasmus responded. “So you need to get there!” she urged the audience.

“Just a sort question,” Erasmus serenely went on, “the term ‘Afrikaner’ – I don’t know where I get this from, but I understood that from about the mid-90s there was a shift to something called ‘Afrikaanse’. “I’m not an Afrikaner, but I’m Afrikaans-speaking person”. Is that distinction still there?”

“That speaks to the stigma that’s attached to Afrikaner identity,” Van der Westhuizen said.

“The reason why so many people don’t want to claim Afrikaner identity anymore is because of the stigma of apartheid, so apartheid has spoiled the identity; it speaks to question of ordentlikheid. The work that’s being done after apartheid is to try and establish the ordentlikheid of the identity, because apartheid is like a massive stain that you just can’t scrub out; the identity is trying to get rid of it. The Afrikaanse – I’m very careful about that because I do feel that that seems to be like a political project that tries to expand the ranks of the people who used to be called Afrikaners, to buttress them and plump up their numbers; and at the same time to make them politically more viable a force.

“There are certain racialisations that are still in operation … I feel that Afrikaners need to do a lot more work in terms of racial identities over the 20th century. We haven’t done that work sufficiently in any way whatsoever,” Van der Westhuizen emphatically asserted.

Van der Westhuizen and author William Mervin Gumede. ©Johan Eybers

 

Erasmus’s next query targeted a persistently problematic phenomenon – that of the women’s magazine. Sarie, to be precise. (Which Erasmus assured the audience she DOESN’T read – “Just admit it, you’re a closet Sarie reader!” Van der Westhuizen retorted.)

“I found it really interesting to learn that the majority of the columnists for Sarie are men,” Erasmus said, to the amusement of the audience. “I thought ‘what?!’ So, is it unusual?”

“Well, I didn’t do a comparative analysis with other women’s magazines,” Van der Westhuizen diplomatically replied, “but it did strike me that the majority of columnists were men. Even the last column of the magazine, called ‘Laaste Sê’, and that was written by a dominee,” [cue raucous laughter] “with the name of Izak de Villiers, who in his day used to be the editor of the magazine.

“In a sense it really symbolised how the femininity that Sarie constructs is basically surveilled and regulated by this patriarchal overseer. I was compelled to write a chapter just drawing on what my respondents were saying about men and Afrikaner masculinity. You have the volksmoeder who calls certain shots and then you have a patriarchal overseer. Some of the magazine illustrates it really well. You do have the male figure in women’s magazines but usually much more hidden; in Sarie magazine it’s this pan-optical male but he’s not invisiblised, he’s actually very visible. You could see him on their pages and he’s restricting discourse and he’s allowing you to only go *this* far because we want you to live up to white western hetero-femininity and to actualise white western hetero-femininity and at the same time you’re still our women and you need to know your place.” (This was followed by murmurs of agreement from the audience…)

“That I find really fascinating; it makes me want to buy women’s magazines. Because I see all the men here! What are they doing?” Erasmus laughed.

Van der Westhuizen demonstrated the pan-optical patriarchy present in Sarie via the performer and public figure, Nataniël, who is closely associated with Sarie the brand, and, inherently, as a brand himself.

“What’s interesting with the role that Nataniël plays in the magazine, is that he’s a gay male but he’s not identified as such in the discourse – he has to sanitise his sexuality; he’s there to advise on decor and food … he’s your best little friend on who’s shoulder you can cry. He’s a desexualised figure. He actually brought out a notebook with an inscription from him – allegedly, because Sarie makes up this stuff – “you can’t make yourself feel better if you don’t make other people feel better”. And that’s the femininity – it can only actualise itself in so far as it can service to the others around it and those others must be white.”

Speaking of whiteness…

“You write about aspirational disposition among middle-class Afrikaners toward what you call a ‘global Anglo whiteness’,” Erasmus said. “Does the Netherlands any time, or today, have a place at all in these aspirations to what you also write about as a kind of western universalism? Does the Netherlands have any place there? I’m interested in that question, partly because of my own connection to Holland [Erasmus completed her PhD at the University of Nijmegen] and partly because of my experience of what is called the Afrikaner aristocracy in the western cape.”

“I think there was a strong connection to the Netherlands up until a certain point in the 20th century, because it’s the so-called stamland, the primary country from which settlers arrived. I think the break came with the anti-apartheid movement when there was a strong sense of a humiliation by European whiteness and I think global whiteness in general. Afrikaner whiteness was suddenly not acceptable anymore.

“Our racial practices here – which carried a certain kind of support from the west – started to crumble and Afrikaners are confronted with their racial project being morally and ethically unsustainable and despicable. The Netherlands had a very strong anti-apartheid movement, so that caused quite a break with the Afrikaner nationalist class. At the same time, the white English-speaking South Africans here (or WESAS) like to operate.” The laughter elicited by Van der Westhuizen’s proclamation of ‘WESAS’ – pronounced weh-zas – was a clear indicator of the audience’s familiarity with this, um, particular kind of South African…

The (seated) author signing copies of Sitting Pretty. ©Johan Eybers

 
As a Joburg summer thunderstorm raged outside, the audience posed their Q’s and Van der Westhuizen provided them with A’s, before the crowd started to disperse – either to have their books signed, or to capitalise on one of the (many) highlights of a book launch – good ol’ mahala vino.

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Sitting Pretty

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