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Archive for the ‘Jacana’ Category

The illumination of truthfulness: Zakes Mda’s Sunday Times Literary Awards keynote address

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sunday Times editor, Mr Bongani Siqoko, tells me “illumination of truthfulness” is the main criterion of the Alan Paton Award, which was established in 1989 for non-fiction works. He believes it applies to fiction as well, and quotes Albert Camus, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

I thank him for inviting me to give this talk. I think the topic is quite apt in this age of truthiness (1), post-truth (2) and alternative facts (3).

I must begin by saluting the Sunday Times for establishing these awards and for maintaining them for so many years. I am honored that I was the first writer to win the inaugural Sunday Times Fiction Prize with my third novel, The Heart of Redness, some 16 years ago.

I must also salute the Sunday Times for its sterling work in journalism, particularly its investigative reporting. You, and your colleagues have added value to our young democracy by taking your watchdog role seriously. Democracy cannot function without freedom of expression in general and of the media in particular.

Some of you might know of Lorraine Adams, who first caused literary waves with her debut novel, Harbor. She wrote this work of fiction after spending years reporting on Afghanistan and Iran for the Washington Post and winning a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. In her journalism, she is reputed to have dug out hidden stories on crucial issues such as xenophobia, immigration and terrorism. It was therefore a major surprise when she decided to quit the profession. There was even greater astonishment when she revealed she was leaving journalism for fiction so that she could write the truth. She explained that it was only with fiction that she could address the truth behind the facts. Whereas the journalist views truth in terms of witnessable and observable scenes, she added, the novelist pierces into a privacy where the truth resides.

She is correct. Journalism answers the simple question: what happened? It is the same question that is answered by most forms of non-fiction, including history. What happened? Of course, there are attendant questions such as how and why it happened, but the key story lies in the event.

Fiction on the other hand goes much further, and answers the question: what was it really like to be in what happened?

Talking of the genesis of her fine book on a bitter rivalry of two women who are neighbors, The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso tells an NPR interviewer, “I was really looking at what is it like, particularly for the Marion character, to have been someone during the apartheid days who didn’t necessarily resist apartheid, disagree with it, but kind of went along. What is it like now, you know, post-apartheid.” [emphasis mine]

What is it like? I am sure it is the same question that Kopano Matlwa attempts to answer with her suspenseful prose as we follow the young doctor, Masechaba, trying to reclaim her life in Period Pain, or Bronwyn Law-Viljoen’s The Printmaker as we search for an answer to the enigma of the printmaker’s solitary life. What was it like to be Hennie, an Afrikaner teenager in the Orange Free State of the 1980s, who has to escape his abusive father, and embark on a remarkable journey in search of his sister? We experience Hennie’s life with him in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know.

What was it like to be in what happened? It is a question whose answer gives us a sensory experience of the event. Fiction is experiential because it is transportational and vice versa.

To address this transporting question the writers create fully-realized characters – protagonists and antagonists and their allies – struggling to achieve their objectives and overcome obstacles in a compelling narrative arc. These characters may be based on real-life people the writer has known, or may be composites of same. They may even claim to have emerged from imagination. But we remember that the line of demarcation between imagination and memory is very blurred. We imagine from what we know; in other words, what we remember. Memory itself is essentially fictive. And since we are what we remember, our work creates us as we create it.

Into whatever we create as artists we bring the baggage that is our own biographies, whether we are conscious of that or not. A lot of what we create in a character is drawn from us, the creators, and from our experiences. We are always writing ourselves in the same way that we are always writing the same book.

The important thing about conventional fictional characters is that they do not function in any credible manner until their actions are motivated. The few exceptions that defy this convention are such postmodern narrative modes as magical realism. In traditional fiction, there is a practical “why” behind a character’s objectives and behaviors. Her actions are not only motivated but justified as well. This means she is who she is because of her life-experience, of her history. Fiction is very big on causality. Her actions are therefore psychologically (not necessarily morally) justified. This tells you that every writer of fiction worth her salt is a psychologist, a keen observer of human behavior and mental processes.

It is small wonder, therefore, that Sigmund Freud drew most of his groundbreaking conclusions – resulting in psychotherapy, “the talking cure” – from studying characters in novels rather than from analyzing live subjects. A whole new branch of psychiatry known as psychoanalysis was founded by analyzing fiction.

In the academy these days fiction is used to teach many other subjects, not only in psychology, history and philosophy, because fiction pierces into the truth behind the facts. Sipho Noko, an LL.B. student, told me on Twitter the other day that he had never read an African novel before until my novel, Black Diamond, was prescribed at the University of Pretoria Law School for a topic titled “Law from Below”. When I wrote that novel – a layman in the field of law – I never imagined it could be a law school textbook. Another lawyer, Advocate Maru Moremogolo, wrote to me about Little Suns, “Your book brings context to judicial powers of traditional leaders, a perfect timing #Dalindyebo – how the King wanted some of his judicial powers returned from the magistrate.”

He thought I was being prophetic, I thought I was just telling a story.

I was once astounded when I learned that Ways of Dying was prescribed at an architecture school in the United Kingdom. When I wrote that novel I never imagined I was writing about architecture. Yewande Omotoso, who is an architect in another life, once tried to explain how the novel relates to architecture, a field I know nothing about. But I forget now what she said.

The ability of fiction to operate so comfortably across all these diverse disciplines lies not only in its descriptive powers or its capacity to delineate structural problems, but in its facility to examine interiorities. The interior experience is absent in journalism, as it is in most non-fiction. The search of the interior experience has resulted in the emergence of Narrative Journalism in recent times (and of New Journalism in the last century), where the practitioners try to apply the techniques of fiction such as point of view and plot and various other narrative devices to journalism. You have seen this practiced quite successfully in the New Yorker and to some extent in Granta.

One notable non-fiction genre that has mastered the intricacies of hybridity is memoir. Memoir, unlike biography/autobiography, uses the tools of fiction to capture the essence of an aspect of the author’s life. Like fiction it explores interiorities.

The publishing industry in the Western world has set distinguishing features between memoir and traditional autobiography to which it adheres faithfully. Of course, writers always experiment and transgress genres. An autobiography is about the writer. She is the subject in a historical chronicle of her life and the events that shaped it – from the time she was born to a determined period. A memoir, on the other hand, is not about the writer but about something else as experienced by the writer or those close to her. A memoir therefore must have a subject because the writer is not the subject. For instance, the subject may be Alzheimer. A memoir must have a central theme: for example, on the author’s struggles to cope with a husband who is gradually losing his memory. A true memoirist works from memory – hence the name of the genre – because she is not a chronicler of history. She mines her memory and tries to capture the feelings and emotions she had at the time of the event. Her account is enriched by the distortions of time, by obliviousness, by faulty recall, by amnesia. The fidelity is to the emotion rather than to historical accuracy. That is why you can conflate characters in a memoir and re-invent new contexts etc. to capture and represent to the reader the feeling and sometimes the philosophy. The emphasis is on emotional truth.

History, like journalism, answers the question: what happened? We write historical fiction to take history to the level of: what was it like to be in what happened? The story of Mhlontlo that I write in Little Suns was well-known to me from the time I was a toddler. It is part of family lore. Even after I had researched its historical aspects, it still remained a series of anecdotes – surface stories lacking subtlety. It was only when I was writing it as a work of fiction, exploring what it was really like to be Mhlontlo by recreating his exterior and interior worlds, and the worlds of those who surrounded him, protagonists and antagonists, their loves, their losses, their gains, victories and defeats, that the emotional import hit me. Anger swelled in my chest. To my embarrassment I was caught screaming one day, “Damn, this is what they did to my great grandfather.”

The injustices done to amaMpondomise by the British endure to this day under the ANC regime. The amaMpondomise continue to be punished for having stood against British colonialism.
Like most writers of historical novels, I write historical fiction to grapple with the present. Great historical fiction is more about the present than it is about the past. That is why the lawyer could relate the past I was re-imagining to present contestations. The past is always a strong presence in our present.

Traditional historians believe that history is objective reality. For me history does not have an objective existence. It exists only as an absence. We don’t have direct access to the past; we cannot scientifically and objectively observe its facts. We experience history through words, through storytelling and through chronicles of events and dates. Therefore, history is textual; our attempts at separating it from literature are tenuous.

History is as subjective as journalism. I know, you think you’re objective. Observe how The New Age on one hand and the Sunday Times on the other report on the same event. It is bound to read like two different events. The value-laden words, the incidents selected or left out, and the angles that the reporters take will surely reflect their subjectivities. If contemporary journalism cannot be objective about contemporary events, what more of history which is shaped by its necessary textuality?

History is the story of the victor. That is what I try to correct. In doing so I make it herstory as well. South Africa presents us with a good example of the creation and imposition of a narrative that legitimizes the ruling elite of the day. The colonizers wrote history from their own perspective, always to validate their privileged position. The subaltern groups were denied a voice. They were even erased from the landscape so that when the colonizer arrived in southern Africa the lands were vast and empty and the natives non-existent. The colonialist dismissed as fanciful oral traditions that located ancient kingdoms and empires in the region dating hundreds of years before colonization. When the colonizer’s own ethno-archeologists excavated towns and settlements dating more than a thousand years ago, the proponents of “vast empty lands” created alternative narratives attributing them to alien civilizations – sometimes even from outer space. They were the victors and could therefore re-create the past in their own image.

Now a new order exists in South Africa. Like all regimes before it the new dispensation is narrating the past from its own perspective, re-creating and reshaping it to palliate the very present it continues to mismanage, erasing the contribution of some from the annals of history, and lionizing the current crooks – the harvesters of matundu ya uhuru, the fruits of freedom.

The truth of fiction can give context to and shed new insights on the stories unearthed by your investigative reporting. It gives them longevity and digestibility. Fiction is even more essential in this age when shamelessness and impunity among the ruling elite, and corruption-fatigue in the populace, are leading South Africa to perdition.

1 – Truthiness: The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.
2 – Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics): a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. (Wikipedia)
3 – Alternative facts: President Trump Counselor Kellyanne Conway’s phrase to describe demonstrable falsehoods that are touted as truth.

The Heart of Redness

Book details

 
 
 

The Woman Next Door

 
 
 

Period Pain

 
 
 

The Printmaker

 
 
 

The Safest Place You Know

 
 
 

Black Diamond

 
 
 

Little Suns

 
 
 

Ways of Dying


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Barry Ronge Prize shortlist: Kopano Matlwa discusses her novel Period Pain

Published in the Sunday Times

Period Pain

Period Pain
Kopano Matlwa (Jacana Media)

I write because I need to. It is through writing that I try (or at least attempt) to make sense of the world. I wrote Period Pain because I needed to, because it was through writing it that I began to work through my own disappointments with our “new South Africa” and remind myself why it is, despite the decay, I still believe in the South African dream.

Sometimes I write pages of pages of scraps without any sense of where those scraps are going, and then out of nowhere a title comes and it grips me, and I sigh a sigh of great relief because I know that I have a title and that means I’m writing a novel!

I’ve always had a fascination with how we as women relate to our bodies. I recall as a medical student or maybe someone told me the story and it made such an impression on me that I remember it as my own, I can’t be sure… It was during a rotating of an obstetrics and gynaecology module, and sitting in on a consultation between the gynaecologist on duty and a middle-age woman from one of Cape Town’s many disadvantaged communities.

The woman kept referring to her vagina as her ‘skaamte’ i.e. her shame. I remember being so struck by that. So saddened. So angry. So embarrassed. Her shame? Why shame? Who knows where titles come? Perhaps from the same magical place novels come from. I suppose in some subconscious way the title Period Pain came from a frustration with the shadow of contempt cast upon our bodies, by society, by men, by language, by ourselves, from a frustration with our bodies being the battlefield, the scapegoat, the excuse. And then there is also, of course, the pain of the period that South Africa is in but that’s probably a whole other topic for another day…

EXTRACT

What is it inside of us that makes us so evil? And how do we become better? Why are we capable of so much harm and badness? How do we change? And stay changed?

Nyasha says her group of new intern doctors all have weaves. Twelve girls as black as night, with mops of plastic on their heads. She is annoyed.

‘Stupid girls. Book smart, but stupid. They can tell you the nerve that innervates the stapedius muscle, but they can’t see the foolishness in walking around with heaps of self-hatred on their heads.’

She wants me to get involved.

‘Why don’t you tell them, Chaba? These are your sisters, your South African sisters. Maybe if you speak to them, you can put some sense into their heads.’

I say nothing, so she continues. ‘We know we hate ourselves as black people. That we know. But now we’re exposing ourselves to white people, too. Now we are exposing this dark stain of self-hatred on our race. We’re giving them evidence that we are indeed a foolish, self-loathing people. A thing to be pitied. How much do those weaves cost? These girls have only been working a few months and already they’re enriching the industries that strive to oppress us instead of building our communities.’

Her tirade continues, and she seems not bothered by my obvious disinterest.

‘Now I must keep these dreadlocks, even though they wear my head down, even though I’ve grown tired of them, because one of us, some of us, must have pride. We can’t all walk around like mad people. If aliens were to come from Mars, what would they make of us, Chaba?’

Nyasha wants to fight, fight, fight. She hates white people and blames them for everything. Maybe she’s right, maybe they are to blame. But it is what it is. What’s happened has happened. We can’t go back, and we certainly can’t change who we are to try to avenge the past. She says we black South Africans are too nice, too accommodating, too soft. ‘Weak’ and ‘pathetic’ are the words she uses to describe us.

‘We need to stop bending over backwards, breaking our backs to make them feel comfortable, welcome, safe. Put a white man in charge and he’ll only serve his own interests.’

Maybe, Nyasha, maybe that’s true, but maybe it isn’t. And maybe, Nyasha, we need to remember that this world is fallen. There are wars we will never win, and maybe the end game is not to triumph over fleeting kingdoms in this life, but to conquer the battle for eternity.

Of course she scoffs when I say things like that.

‘Why does your god make it so hard for us to love him, Chaba? Why play these games? Create this world, bring us here, only to watch us suffer? Why does he hide? Is he a coward? Why doesn’t he come out here and see the mess he’s made, come see how his creation is doing?’

I’m no good at arguing. I get too overwhelmed and my mind goes blank, so I say nothing.

Ma insists that my friendship with Nyasha will only result in pain. She insists that foreigners are crafty, and that Nyasha is only being my friend to steal all my knowledge and overtake me. This is what foreigners like to do, she says. They come to our country to take from us all the things we fought for.

I’ve given up trying to reason with Ma. When I go home on weekends she makes me take off my clothes at the door; she doesn’t want me coming into the house with Nyasha’s charms and black magic. It’s her way of getting back at me for leaving her and moving in with Nyasha.

If only they knew how similar they were, how much they have in common. They both want me to hate white people, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to hate foreigners, either. I don’t want to hate anybody. It’s tiring. I’m already so tired from work. It’s much more than I can deal with at the moment.

But they constantly remind me that I must. They retell old stories of deceit, of conniving, of looting, and then share new ones. I don’t want to disappoint them, make them worry that I’m unfocused, that I’ve dropped the ball. So I often just nod in agreement and hope they’ll stop. But this ball is too heavy to carry. It hurts my arms, and with it in my hands I cannot do anything else.

So I don’t tell Nyasha what I did with Francois at the Christmas party. And when he walks past me in the doctors’ parking lot and smiles, she’s immediately annoyed and goes off on one of her tirades.

‘White men think they can just smile at a black woman and she’ll oblige. They think we should be flattered that they even see us. No, not just flattered, honoured. It makes me sick. Even the morbidly obese ones, who could never summon the courage to approach one of their own, think we’ll just drop our panties at the sight of their skin.’

I pretend not to hear, mumble that I have pre-op bloods to take before the morning ward round, and rush off.

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Call for submissions: 2017/8 Gerald Kraak Award and Anthology

The Jacana Literary Foundation recently released their press release calling for submissions for the 2017/8 Gerald Kraak Award and Anthology:

The Jacana Literary Foundation (JLF) and the Other Foundation are pleased to announce that submissions for the second annual Gerald Kraak Award and Anthology for 2017/8 are now open.

Created in honour of the late activist Gerald Kraak’s extraordinary legacy of supporting human rights, this award advances his contribution to building a world that is safe and welcoming to all. The unique award calls for multi-layered, brave and stirring African voices that represent a new wave of fresh storytelling, one that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality.

Submissions will be accepted until 24 July 2017, and will be open to the following genres:

Fiction
Non-fiction
Poetry
Photography
Journalism / magazine reporting
Scholarly articles in academic journals and book chapters / extracts
Social media / blog writings and contributions

Only the very best work submitted will be short-listed and published in the anthology, with the winners announced in 2018 at an awards ceremony hosted by the Other Foundation. A cash prize of R25 000 will be awarded to the author of the winning piece. The JLF will partner with publishers throughout the African continent in order to disseminate the work as widely as possible.

Gerald Kraak (1956–2014) was a passionate champion of social justice, an anti-apartheid activist and the head of the Atlantic Philanthropies’ Reconciliation and Human Rights Programme in South Africa. He authored two books, including the European Union Literary Award-winning Ice in the Lungs (Jacana, 2005), which explores South African politics, and directed a documentary on gay conscripts in the apartheid army. He will be remembered for being kind and generous, delightfully irreverent and deeply committed to realising an equal and just society for all. His unfinished novel, Shadow Play, posthumously completed by Alison Lowry, was published by Jacana Media in May 2017.

Read more here.

Pride and Prejudice

Book details

  • Pride and Prejudice: The Gerald Kraak Anthology African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice and Sexuality
    EAN: 9781431425181
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 

Ice in the Lungs

 
 
 
 

Shadow Play


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Exclusive Books Homebru 2017 selection announced

Exclusive Books has announced their selection of fiction, non-fiction, cookery and children’s books for their annual Homebru campaign.

This year’s slogan was ‘books by us, written for you’. According to Ben Williams, general manager of Exclusive Books, the nearly fifty titles on the list “represent a highly engaging slice of current South African writing and life.”

With titles as diverse as Fred Strydom’s work of speculative fiction, The Inside-Out Man, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s political analysis, The Republic of Gupta, and the colourful array of cookery and children’s books, including Khanyisa Malabi’s Legacy of Living and Sparkles of Taste and Carol-Ann Davids’ The Hair Fair, this year’s list certainly is representative of contemporary South African writing.

The titles which appear on the list are:

NON-FICTION

Confluence


Confluence: Beyond the River with Siseko Ntondini

by Piers Cruickshanks
 
 
 
 
 
Bending the RulesBending the Rules: Memoir of a Pioneering Diplomat
by Rafique Gangat
 
 
 
 
 
 
Making Africa WorkMaking Africa Work: A handbook for economic success
by Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo & Dickie Davis
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Republic of GuptaThe Republic of Gupta: A Story of State Capture
by Pieter-Louis Myburgh
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dreams, Betrayal and Hope Dreams, Betrayal and Hope
by Mamphela Ramphele
 
 
 
 
 
 
Apartheid Guns and MoneyApartheid, Guns and Money: A tale of profit
by Hennie Van Vuuren
 
 
 
 
 
 
Traces and Tracks: A Thirty-Year Journey with the SanTraces and Tracks: A thirty year journey with the San
by Paul Weinberg
 
 
 
 
 
 
FICTION

Selling Lip ServiceSelling Lip Service
by Tammy Baikie
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hlomu The Wife
Zandile The Resolute
Naledi His Love

by Dudu Busani-Dube
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dancing the Death DrillDancing the Death Drill
by Fred Khumalo
 
 
 
 
 
 
Emperor Shaka the GreatEmperor Shaka The Great (English Edition)
Unodumehlezi Kamenzi (isiZulu Edition)
by Masizi Kunene
 
 
 
 
 
 
Being KariBeing Kari
by Qarnita Loxton
 
 
 
 
 
 
Recognition
Recognition: An Anthology of South African Short Stories

edited by David Medalie
 
 
 
 
 
 
Web
Web

by Naomi Meyer
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Last StopThe Last Stop
by Thabiso Mofokeng
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Third Reel
The Third Reel

Die Derde Spoel
by S J Naudé
 
 
 
 
 
 
If I Stay Right Here
If I Stay Right Here
by Chwayita Ngamlana
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ayixoxeki NakuxoxekaAyixoxeki Nakuxoxeka
by Mbongeni Cyprian Nzimande
 
 
 
 
 
 
Akulahlwa Mbeleko NgakufelwaAkulahlwa Mbeleko Ngakufelwa
by Zukiswa Pakama
 
 
 
 
 
 
Delilah Now TrendingDelilah Now Trending
by Pamela Power
 
 
 
 
 
 
Die BergengelDie Bergengel
by Carina Stander
 
 
 
 
 
 
As in die Mond
As in die mond

by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Inside-Out Man
The Inside-Out Man

by Fred Strydom
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alles het niet kom wod

Alles het niet kom wôd

by Nathan Trantraal
 
 
 
 
 
 
BIOGRAPHIES

Last Night at the BasslineLast Night at the Bassline
by David Coplan and Oscar Gutierrez
 
 
 
 
 
 
Equal, but Different
Equal But Different
by Judy Dlamini
 
 
 
 
 
 
No Longer Whispering to Power
No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela
by Thandeka Gqubule
 
 
 
 
 
 
Being Chris Hani's Daughter Being Chris Hani’s Daughter
by Lindiwe Hani
 
 
 
 
 
 
God praat Afrikaans
God praat Afrikaans

by HemelBesem
 
 
 
 
 
 
Lied vir SarahSong for Sarah: Lessons from my Mother
Lied vir Sarah: Lesse van My Moeder

by Jonathan Jansen
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fatima MeerFatima Meer: Memories of Love & Struggle
by Fatima Meer
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Man Who Founded the ANCThe Man Who Founded The ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme
by Bongani Ngqulunga
 
 
 
 
 
 
Billionaires Under Construction

Billionaires Under Construction

by DJ Sbu
 
 
 
 
 
 
CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS
 

The Elders at the DoorThe Elders at the Door (Afrikaans, English, isiZhosa, isiZulu)
by Maryanne Bester, illustrated by Shayla Bester
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Hair FairThe Hair Fair
by Carol-Ann Davids
 
 
 
 
 
 
#LoveReading
#LoveReading: short stories, poems, blogs and more
compiled by Rosamund Haden & Dorothy Dyer
 
 
 
 
 
 
Beyond the River
Beyond the River

by Mohale Mashigo
 
 
 
 
 
 
How Many Ways Can You Say Hello? How Many Ways Can You Say Hello
by Refiloe Moahloli, illustrated by Anja Stoeckigt
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dromers
Dromers

by Fanie Viljoen
 
 
 
 
 
 

COOKERY

 

HomegrownHomegrown
by Bertus Basson
 
 
 
 
 
 
Legacy of Living and Sparkles of TasteLegacy of Living & Sparkles of Taste
by Khanyisa Malabi
 
 
 
 
 
 
Johanne 14
Johanne 14: Real South African Food

by Hope Malau
 
 
 
 
 

Book details

  • Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success by Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo, Dickie Davis
    EAN: 9780624080275
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Alan Paton Awards shortlist: Christa Kuljian talks about her book Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

Published in the Sunday Times

Christa Kuljian discusses her Alan Paton Award shortlisted book Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins, the impact colonialism had on studying human evolution, the latest developments in science and the controversy surrounding the Out of Africa theory.

Why this book, and why now?
In the early 1980s, I studied the history of science at Harvard with palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould. It was then that I learned how science is shaped by its social and political context and how racism affected the work of certain scientists in the past. Building on these interests and given South Africa’s role in human origins research over the past century, I put together a book proposal in 2013 that asked questions such as: What impact did colonialism have on the views of scientists studying human evolution? What influence did apartheid have on the search? How have the changing scientific views about race, and racism, affected the efforts to understand human evolution? As I began my research, I saw that the stories I was unearthing were of relevance to all of us today.

Can you describe your process of research?
In addition to reading books, journal articles, newspaper clippings and online sources, and watching films and videos, I conducted interviews and had personal correspondence with many people in the fields of palaeoanthropology and genetics, here in South Africa and around the world. I made numerous site visits to the Cradle of Humankind and delved into the archives at Wits University, UCT, in Pretoria and in the U.S. My research and writing continued for three years.

Why did scientists reject Darwin’s theory that humans evolved in Africa?
When Darwin wrote about this theory in 1871, European scientists had just begun the search for ancient fossils in an effort to understand human evolution. They had found Neanderthal fossils in Germany in 1856 and later in Belgium, France and Croatia. Many European scientists saw Europeans as “civilised” and perceived societies outside of Europe as less evolved. The concepts of a hierarchy of race, and white superiority were at play. These assumptions affected where they focused the search. While some explorers started in England, and others headed to Asia, none of them were looking in Africa.

Charles Darwin

 

The book shows that science is often shaped by the social and political context of the time. How has it shaped the search for human origins in South Africa?
This is really, at its core, what the book is about. Part One explores the ways in which colonial thinking affected scientists in the late 1800s through to the 1930s. What influenced Robert Broom? What decisions and choices did Raymond Dart make at the time? Part Two reveals some of the ways in which the impact of World War II and the imposition of apartheid shaped thinking in the 1940s through to the 1980s and introduces Dart’s successor, Phillip Tobias. Part Three follows scientists who have been influenced by some of the social and political changes underway in South Africa in the 1990s up to the present.

Raymond Dart believed that humans are naturally violent, but the thinking around this has changed, hasn’t it?
This is one example of how new research and a changing social context can result in completely different scientific conclusions and a very different public response. Dart believed, based on his research, that the bones he saw represented weapons and that human ancestors were naturally violent. The concept of humans as a “killer ape” became hugely popular. However, years later, another South African scientist, Bob Brain conducted similar research and concluded that the bones he saw were not weapons but that they remained because they were dense and hard to chew.

Raymond Dart

 

What was the most disturbing thing you uncovered in your research?
The most disturbing result of my research was finding out about the life and death of a woman named /Keri-/Keri who lived with her family in the Kalahari in the 1920s and 30s. Raymond Dart led a Wits expedition to the Kalahari in 1936 and met /Keri-/Keri as part of his research to understand the “Bushman” anatomy which he believed would provide him with a clue toward understanding human evolution. He referred to them as “living fossils.” Even before /Keri-/Keri passed away in 1939, Dart arranged for her skeleton to be brought to Wits to become part of the Raymond Dart Human Skeleton Collection. I tried to find out more about /Keri-/Keri and her family, her life and death. The entire painful story conveyed that Dart, and other scientists at the time, treated human beings as specimens. For 50 years, while /Keri-/Keri’s family and community were decimated and dispersed, /Keri-/Keri’s skeleton remained on a shelf in the human skeleton collection. In the late 1980s or early 90s, her skeleton went missing. It is not clear if it was stolen, or misplaced. For over six decades, at the Department of Anatomy at Wits Medical School, /Keri-/Keri’s body cast stood on display.

What were your biggest challenges in writing the book?
One major challenge was the absence of information in the archives. There are a number of people that I read about – Saul Sithole, Daniel Mosehle and George Moenda for example – who were technicians working in the field of palaeoanthropology in South Africa who were largely unacknowledged for their contributions, and never had the opportunity to study formally in the sciences. I wanted to share with the reader about their lives and their perspectives on the science of human origins. However, in most cases, I found dead ends and very little documentation. This is part of the process of how stories are told often from the perspective of people with power, and I found this frustrating.

What are the latest developments in this field of science?
Scientific knowledge is changing and growing so quickly, and advances are being made in so many inter-related scientific fields, it is difficult to keep pace with new information. The ability to extract DNA from ancient bones, for example, is one new area of science that is having an impact on the field of human origins, which brings together the work of archaeologists, palaeoanthropologists and geneticists. Many fossil finds in the last decade from around the world and right here in South Africa, with the Homo naledi find in September 2015 and last week’s announcement regarding further finds in the Cradle of Humankind, raise new questions about our past.

Homo naledi

 

Zwelinzima Vavi and ANC MP Mathole Motshekga accused Professor Lee Berger of suggesting that black people were descended from baboons. What was your response to the controversy?
Many South Africans question the concept of human evolution. I believe that Vavi’s comment came from the impact of South Africa’s colonial and racist past. Vavi said that over many generations, the racist insult comparing black people to baboons has resulted in people questioning the validity of science. “It’s in insults like this that make some of us to question the whole thing,” said Vavi.
One possible factor that could have contributed to the controversy was the artistic reconstruction of what Homo naledi might have looked like. Created by palaeo-artist John Gurche, the image was presented as part of the announcement in September 2015 and flooded the media. In some cases, the image was used in social media alongside insults to black people so many people found it offensive.
All living humans are members of the same species Homo sapiens. The Out of Africa theory, and the genetic evidence that underpins it, shows that all seven billion people on earth have common origins in Africa, from as recently as 100,000 years ago. There are always dangers in terms of how information can be used and abused. But in conducting research about human evolution, there is the potential to draw lessons from our past, and develop a new vision for the future that recognises the dignity of all human beings.
 

Darwin's Hunch

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WiSER discussion: Christa Kuljian on the case of human origins

Christa Kuljian, the author of the acclaimed Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins will be in discussion with Hlonipha Mokoena on Wednesday 17 May, at Wits University’s WiSER Seminar Room. The discussion will be chaired by Sarah Nutall.

Scientists and their research are often shaped by the prevailing social and political context. Darwin’s Hunch, recently shortlisted for the prestigious 2017 Alan Paton Award for Non-Fiction, explores this trend, and provides fresh insight on the search for human origins in South Africa over the past century.

Kuljian asks “What impact did colonialism have on the views of scientists studying human evolution in the early twentieth century? What influence did apartheid have on the search? How have the changing scientific views about race, and racism, affected efforts to understand human evolution?”

Darwin’s Hunch was published in November 2016. We will take a close and sustained look at the arguments Kuljian makes, the pressures that her book puts on the scientific community in South Africa, the implications of publishing this book at this time, and the outcomes and challenges, political and social, of what we now know, through this detailed and meticulous research.

Professor Mokoena will engage Christa Kuljian in bold, outspoken and forthright discussion on this complicated and contested topic.

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2017 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize Shortlist

After months of evaluation and deliberation it is finally time to reveal the shortlist for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The winner, who will receive R100 000, will be announced on Saturday June 24.

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize
In the five shortlisted books the judges highlighted writing of rare style and imagination, stories that chose the personal over the political, and themes that are fresh and provocative. “The words”, says chairperson Rehana Rossouw, “strike at the reader’s heart”.

The Printmaker, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)
Law-Viljoen’s quiet, finely calibrated novel is set in Johannesburg and centres on a reclusive printmaker named March, who makes his art obsessively – and alone – for decades. When he inherits the thdies a friendousands of drawings and etchings crammed into the house and through his work sets out to understand her troubled friend. “There’s not a superfluous word in it,” said one judge. “March is still living in my head.”

Period Pain, Kopano Matlwa (Jacana Media)
The wunderkind young author shows she has a long career ahead with this acute, powerful book. Masechaba is a young woman trying to find meaning in contemporary South Africa, a country wracked by social problems. “Where are we going,” it asks, “and what have we become?” “It’s a searing, brilliant read,” said a judge.

Little Suns, Zakes Mda (Umuzi)
“Zakes Mda is on song with this book,” exclaimed a judge, “it brings people from our past gorgeously to life.” It is 1903. A frail Malangana searches for his beloved Mthwakazi, the woman he had loved 20 years earlier and who he was forced to leave. Based on true events in history, it is a poignant story of how love and perseverance can transcend exile and strife.

The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)
In this story of two strong-willed women, Omotoso delicately traces the racial fault lines of the rainbow land. One of the women is black, the other white, and for decades the pair have lived next door to each other in an affluent estate in Cape Town. One day, an accident brings them together. “She doesn’t pretend to have the answers,” commented one judge, “but she forces us to examine our deeply embedded racism. It’s very clever and deeply human.”

The Safest Place You Know, Mark Winkler (Umuzi)
After his father’s violent death one day in the drought- stricken Free State, a young man leaves the derelict family farm with no plan. Two people he meets on his way to the Cape will change his life forever. The story is set in the 80s, before everything changes. “I was blown away by the magnificent writing,” said a judge, “the story went straight to my heart.”
 
View the 2017 longlist here.

The Printmaker

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Period Pain

 
 

Little Suns

 
 

The Woman Next Door

 
 
 

The Safest Place You Know


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Amabookabooka releases unaired episode to coincide with 109th anniversary of the birth of Bram Fischer

Amabookabooka, the quirky podcast devoted to interviewing local authors about their work, recently released a special edition episode.

This episode is from a previous podcast series produced by the Amabookabooka-duo, Jonathan Ancer and Dan Dewes, called Extraordinary Lives and has been released to coincide with the 109th anniversary of the birth of Bram Fischer – described by Ancer and Dewes as the South African prime minister we should have had.

Lord Joel Joffe, a human rights lawyer, who was on the legal team that defended the Rivonia Trialists in 1964 talks about Bram, whom he describes as his hero.

Fischer’s daughter, Ilse Wilson, also joins in the conversation revealing a different side to the Scarlet Pimpernel – that of Bram the father.

Listen to the podcast here.
 
 

Bram Fischer

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The Bram Fischer Waltz

 
 
 
 

Fischer's Choice


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Jacana Masterclass with Patrick Conroy, author of Everest Untold

Patrick Conroy, author of Everest Untold, will present a Jacana Masterclass on writing non-fiction. The fee includes a copy of the book.

The Masterclass is a chance for writers to interact with published authors to get advice on sharpening their skills, and learning what it takes to get published.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 20 April 2017
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Bridge Books, 85 Commissioner Street
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Cover charge: R150
  • RSVP: info@bridgebooks.co.za, +27 79 708 4461

 
About the author and the book:
Patrick Conroy was only 23 in 1996 when Radio 702 chose him to travel to Mount Everest in Nepal to cover what was to become the greatest tragedy in climbing history.
Heart-chilling audio in once thought to be lost audio files which reveal some of the mysteries of the death of a South African.
Media coverage from both eNCA, where Patrick covers the Africa beat, as well as Talk 702.

Told with the immediacy of a diary, which is where the book began, Patrick takes us on a journey to the highest mountain in the world, where one of the greatest tragedies in climbing history was about to unfold. Filled with photographs and sketches from his notebooks we become part of the 702 team sent to cover the South African Everest Expedition of 1996. It would turn out to be the deadliest climbing seasons in the peak’s history. Twenty years later the controversy around what truly happened on the mountain continues to rage.

Conroy kept a meticulous diary and recorded many hours of radio communications between the climbers. Now, two decades later, his memoirs reveal a remarkable and untold story of what happened on the mountain that fateful year.

Everest Untold includes hidden insights and never before revealed transcripts that shed new light on the 1996 disaster, including the mysterious disappearance of one of the South African team members in the death zone.

Conroy’s hidden story reopens the debate on the risks of high-altitude mountaineering and what it meant to a young democratic South Africa unaware of the dangers that lay ahead.

Everest Untold: Diaries From The First South African Everest ExpeditionBook Details


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Seven books to read in the light of Pravin Gordhan’s dismissal

President Jacob Zuma’s dismissal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on 30 March 2017 has been met with opposition from South African politicians and citizens alike.

The following seven books serve as recommended background reading on South Africa’s socio-political history, including its state of affairs since Zuma’s presidency:

South Africa's Corporatised Liberation South Africa’s Corporatised Liberation
Dale T. McKinley
South Africa’s democracy is in trouble. The present situation is, in objective terms, a house divided; a house that is tottering on rotten foundations. Despite the more general advances that have been made under the ANC’s rule since 1994, power has not only remained in the hands of a small minority but has increasingly been exercised in service to capital. The ANC has become the key political vehicle – in party and state form as well as application – of corporate capital: domestic and international, black and white, local and national, and constitutive of a range of different fractions. As a result, ‘transformation’ has largely taken the form of acceptance of, combined with incorporation into, the capitalist ‘house’, now minus its formal apartheid frame.

What has happened in South Africa over the last 22 years is the corporatisation of liberation, the political and economic commodification of the ANC and societal development. Those in positions of leadership and power within the ANC have allowed themselves to be lured by the siren calls of power and money, to be sucked in by the prize of ‘capturing’ institutional sites of power, to be seduced by the egoism and lifestyles of the capitalist elite.

This book tells that ‘story’ by offering a critical, fact-based and actively informed holistic analysis of the ANC in power, as a means to: better explain and understand the ANC and its politics as well as South Africa’s post-1994 trajectory; contribute to renewed discussion and debate about power and democracy; and help identify possible sign-posts to reclaim revolutionary, universalist and humanist values as part of the individual and collective struggle for the systemic change South Africa’s democracy needs.

Policy, Politics and Poverty in South AfricaPolicy, Politics and Poverty in South Africa
Jeremy Seekings & Nicoli Nattrass
Along with inequality and unemployment, poverty is seen as South Africa’s biggest challenge with over half of South Africans living below the national poverty line. Poverty is arguably the most pressing social, economic and political problem faced in South Africa. When South Africa finally held its first democratic elections in 1994, the country had a much higher poverty rate than in other countries at a similar level of development. While the exclusion of the poor occurs in very many countries, in South Africa it has a distinctive extra dimension. Here, poverty has been profoundly racialised by law, by social practice, and by prejudice. This was the legacy of apartheid. Over twenty years later, poverty is still widespread. Poverty, Politics & Policy in South Africa explains why poverty has persisted in South Africa since 1994.

In the book, authors Jeremy Seekings and Nicoli Nattrass demonstrate who has and who has not remained poor, how public policies both mitigated and reproduced poverty, and how and why these policies were adopted. Their analysis of the South African welfare state, labour market policies and the growth path of the South African economy challenges conventional accounts that focus only on ‘neoliberalism’. They argue, instead, that the ANC government’s policies have been, in important respects, social democratic.

The book shows how social-democratic policies both mitigate and reproduce poverty in countries like South Africa, reflecting the contradictory nature of social democracy in the global South.

Dead President WalkingDead President Walking
Zapiro

Zapiro comes of age in this 21st annual. Zuma once again takes centre stage for all the wrong reasons along with his cronies the Guptas and his nemesis Malema. It’s the year of the hashtag. #RhodesMustFall begat #FeesMustFall, also #Racism/#Sexism and #ZumaMustFall. With Nenegate and SARS wars, it’s the rand that’s really falling. Meanwhile, Pravin and Thuli fight the good fight.

Each cartoon is worth a thousand words and helps us make sense of our crazy, beautiful country where fact is indeed stranger than fiction.
 
 

How Long will South Africa Survive? How Long will South Africa Survive?
RW Johnson

In 1977, RW Johnson’s best-selling How Long Will South Africa Survive? provided a controversial and highly original analysis of the survival prospects of apartheid. Now, after more than twenty years of ANC rule, he believes the situation has become so critical that the question must be posed again.
‘The big question about ANC rule’, he writes, ‘is whether African nationalism would be able to cope with the challenges of running a modern industrial economy. Twenty years of ANC rule have shown conclusively that the party is hopelessly ill-equipped for this task. Indeed, everything suggests that South Africa under the ANC is fast slipping backward and that even the survival of South Africa as a unitary state cannot be taken for granted. The fundamental reason why the question of regime change has to be posed is that it is now clear that South Africa can either choose to have an ANC government or it can have a modern industrial economy. It cannot have both.’ Johnson’s analysis is strikingly original and cogently argued. He has for several decades now been the senior international commentator on South African affairs, known for his lucid analysis and complete lack of deference towards the conventional wisdom. (Also available as an eBook.)

Goodnight Zzzuma! Goodnight Zzzuma
Anonymous

Tucked up in bed, President Zuma says goodnight to all the familiar things in his softly lit world. Goodnight to the pictures of his favourite wives, to the Gupta brothers and to the helipad at Nkandla. To everything, one by one, he says goodnight.
Generations of children have been lulled to sleep with Margaret Wise Brown’s and illustrator Clement Hurd’s classic bedtime story Goodnight Moon. In 2008, Little Brown US published the New York Times bestseller, Goodnight Bush. It became a runaway bestseller and viral sensation. In 2009 Bush left office. Now it is our turn, with Goodnight Zzzuma! A must-read for anyone still possessing a sense of outrage.

Clever Blacks, Jesus and NkandlaClever Blacks, Jesus and Nkandla
Gareth van Onselen

Gareth van Onselen has put together a comprehensive collection of Zuma’s most controversial – and often contradictory – public statements. With some 350 quotes collected along ten themes that define Zuma’s personal beliefs, Clever Blacks, Jesus and Nkandla documents some of Zuma’s most notorious moments. It aims to serve as both an easy guide to Zuma’s personal philosophy and a reference point for some of the debates that have defined his political career. The quotes represent one of the fundamental fault lines that run through South African discourse today – a society trapped between its Third World realities and its much-vaunted First World ambitions. In many ways, Zuma is the epicentre around which the subsequent debate has unfolded. (Also available as an eBook.)
 
 
 

When Zuma GoesWhen Zuma Goes
Ralph Mathekga

South Africa has been in the grip of the ‘Zunami’ since May 2009: Scandal, corruption and allegations of state capture have become synonymous with the Zuma era, leaving the country and its people disheartened. But Jacob Zuma’s time is running out. What impact will his departure have on South Africa, its people and on the ruling party? Can we fix the damage, and how? Ralph Mathekga answers these questions and more as he puts Zuma’s leadership, and what will come after, in the spotlight.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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