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Karl Von Holdt’s Opening Address at the M&G Literary Festival: “The Johannesburg Moment”


Conversations with BourdieuTransition From BelowProfessor Karl Von Holdt, author of Transition From Below and director of the Society Work and Development Institute at Wits, opened last week’s Mail & Guardian Literary Festival with a keynote address, titled “The Johannesburg Moment” – derived from his new book to be published in October this year, Conversations with Bourdieu: the Johannesburg Moment.

Van Holdt’s book examines Johannesburg as a site of fractious social contest, as a new post-apartheid social order emerges – one that forces us to rethink how we imagine and represent ourselves:

Forty years ago, in the early 1970s, Durban became a ferment of new ideas that were to profoundly shape resistance to apartheid and the growth of new organisations. The two central figures in this ferment were Steve Biko and Rick Turner. Steve Biko and his comrades founded the Black Consciousness moment and its organisational forms, SASO and the BPC, from which emerged many of the new generation of political activists who went on to organise trade unions, community organisations and the UDF. By the end of the decade Biko had been killed by the Security Police, but his role in galvanising the resistance movement of the 1970s would continue to shape the following decade.

Rick Turner’s ideas about participatory democracy, and the projects he initiated to support a nascent black trade union movement, challenged Marxist orthodoxy and influenced many of those who contributed to the building of the trade union movement which went on to become so formidable an opponent of the apartheid regime. His death– he was gunned down by an assassin in the midT 1970s– was clearly also the work of the Security Police, yet his concept of grassroots democracy and activism continued to influence the trade unions and community organisations in the years after his death.

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