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Boekehuis Saturday Voices: Notorious Lives in Historical Joburg

Veronica Klipp, Belinda Bozzoli & Charles van OnselenThe Criminal World of the Whitechapel MurdererJT Bain - A Scottish Rebel in Colonial South AfricaAntjie Krog & Jon Hyslop

This Saturday, Boekehuis invites you to listen in on a fascinating conversation between two SA biographer-historians.

Charles van Onselen, author of The Fox and the Flies: The Criminal World of the Whitechapel Murderer, and Jonathan Hyslop, author of The Notorious Syndicalist – JT Bain: A Scottish Rebel in Colonial South Africa, will discuss these respective notorious lives of historical Joburg.

Where: BOEKEHUIS, Cnr. Lothbury and Fawley streets, Auckland Park, Johannesburg | Map
When: Saturday 23 August 2008, at 12:30
RSVP: by Thurs 21/08 on 011 482 3609 or


The Fox & the Flies
At the end of the nineteenth century European pimps and ‘white slavers’ established a hugely successful global market for commercial sex. Criminal syndicates from Buenos Aires to London and from Cape Town to New York were able to organise the seduction or rape of women in under-developed parts of Europe and their ‘export’ as prostitutes to meet an insatiable demand for sexual services. For three turbulent decades before the First World War, Joseph Silver – brothel-owner, pimp and trafficker in women on four continents – was central to this hidden world of betrayal, intrigue, lust and sexual slavery.

Burglar, gun-runner, jewel-thief, rapist, safe-cracker and sodomist, Silver’s notoriety was captured in the most confidential correspondence of a dozen countries in the western world. What those in charge of law-enforcement agencies kept to themselves, however, was how their officers had attempted to use Silver as an informer to infiltrate syndicates built on ‘vice’, only to have him outwit them as he moved in the dangerous space between police and prostitutes.

A disturbed adolescent, youthful predator and adult misogynist driven by dark biblical and medieval obsessions, Silver’s mental universe remained largely hidden from his family, other gangsters and police handlers. In this first reconstruction of the life of a dangerous psychopath, Charles van Onselen situates the private life of one man amidst the demi-monde of the Atlantic world to identify the most infamous serial killer of all time – for Joseph Silver’s darkest secret of all lay in London, in Whitechapel, in the autumn of 1888.

“As an insight into the dark underbelly of urban life in the late Victorian and Edwardian era, The Fox and the Flies is compelling reading.”
(Peter Guttridge in The Guardian)

The Notorious Syndicalist
Just for a moment, one week in 1919, JT Bain was the ‘dictator of Johannesburg’. Would he plunge the city into a Russian-style revolution? How had his past prepared him for this moment? Would it give him the strength to seize power, or would it fail him at the last moment?

Unknown to modern memory, James Thompson Bain led such an extraordinary life that it is strange he is now forgotten. Born into poverty in Scotland, he educated himself in the radical philosophies of William Morris and Thomas Carlyle. He fought for the British against the Zulus in 1879 and for the Boers against the British in 1899. On the Rand he struggled against the mineowners and was a spy for Paul Kruger’s government.

JT Bain was a pioneer of socialist ideas in South Africa. He played a leading part in the great Rand strike of 1913. His deportation along with eight other strike leaders in 1914 rocked the governments of South Africa and Britain and for a while he was the sensation of London. Then in the last year of his life, he held the fate of Johannesburg, and perhaps South Africa, in his hands …

“Hyslop once again reminds us of the magic of biography. He takes an unknown person from the throng of history and turns him into a person of real interest. What is more, with meticulous research and a light and sympathetic pen, he casts his drama with a fascinating parade of colourful characters from Irish revolutionaries to Indian pacifists.”
(Tim Couzens)


Charles van Onselen is an acclaimed biographer who has been honoured with visiting fellowships at Cambridge, Oxford and Yale. A graduate of Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and St. Antony’s College, Oxford, his earlier works on the social history of southern Africa won him, amongst others, the American African Studies Association’s Herskovits Prize, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ Trevor Reese Memorial Prize and also the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper, 1894 – 1985. He has published extensively in leading historical journals in America, England and France. A Fellow of the Royal Society (S.A.), he has recently been a visiting fellow at Magdalene College, Oxford, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate in literature from Rhodes University. He is currently Research Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Jonathan Hyslop is Deputy Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He has published numerous articles on nineteenth and twentieth century South African social history in journals including the Journal of Historical Sociology, History Workshop Journal, the Journal of African History, the International Journal of African Historical Studies and the Journal of Southern African Studies. He is author of The Classroom Struggle: Policy and Resistance in South Africa From the 1940s to 1990 (Natal University Press, 1999) and editor of African Democracy in the Era of Globalisation (Wits University Press, 1999). Jonathan Hyslop grew up in Johannesburg, took degrees at the Universities of Oxford, Birmingham and the Witwatersrand, and has spent time in living in the Sudan and Zimbabwe. Before coming to WISER, he taught for many years in the Sociology Department at Wits. He is a long-standing member of the committee of the Wits History Workshop.

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