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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.

***

Sitting Pretty

Book details

Linda Chisholm's Between Worlds shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless

Between Worlds
In Between Worlds Linda Chisholm meticulously and with great sensitivity dissects how one mission society, the German Hermannsburg Mission Society, parleyed its decision to remain within the state system in the shift from mission to Bantu Education, in creative and important ways. The book is a detailed portrait of the Hermannsburg Mission’s education work, but also a critical and insightful commentary on a set of broader questions, reflecting off the current political moment in South Africa.
- Professor Natasha Erlank, Historical Studies, University of Johannesburg

Linda Chisholm’s account of German Lutheran missionaries’ school and teacher education work in South Africa disrupts conventional understandings of the role of missionaries in the development of South Africa’s education system. Drawing on extensive archival research in South Africa and Germany, the history of the largely ignored Hermannsburg Mission reveals the ambiguities and contradictions which marked their complex relationships with local communities and the colonial and apartheid state.
- Volker Wedekind, University of Nottingham

The transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid era has highlighted questions about the past and the persistence of its influence in present-day South Africa. This is particularly so in education, where the past continues to play a decisive role in relation to inequality. Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa scrutinises the experience of a hitherto unexplored German mission society, probing the complexities and paradoxes of social change in education. It raises challenging questions about the nature of mission education legacies.

Linda Chisholm shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless. Instead, past and present interpenetrated one another, with resistance and compliance cohabiting in a complex new social order. At the same time as missionaries complied with the new Bantu Education dictates, they sought to secure a role for themselves in the face of demands of local communities for secular statecontrolled education. When the latter was implemented in a perverted form from the mid-1950s, one of its tools was textbooks in local languages developed by mission societies as part of a transnational project, with African participation. Introduced under the guise of expunging European control, Bantu Education merely served to reinforce such control.

The response of local communities was an attempt to domesticate – and master – the ‘foreign’ body of the mission so as to create access to a larger world. This book focuses on the ensuing struggle, fought on many fronts, including medium of instruction and textbook content, with concomitant sub-texts relating to gender roles and sexuality.

South Africa’s educational history is to this day informed by networks of people and ideas crossing geographic and racial boundaries. The colonial legacy has inevitably involved cultural mixing and hybridisation – with, paradoxically, parallel pleas for purity. Chisholm explores how these ideas found expression in colliding and coalescing worlds, one African, the other European, caught between mission and apartheid education.

Book details

  • Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa by Linda Chisholm
    EAN: 978-1-77614-174-6
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Die storie van Afrikaans: uit Europa en van Afrika boeiende leesstof vir enigiemand wat geïnteresseerd is in die ontstaan en ontwikkeling van Afrikaans

Die storie van Afrikaans: uit Europa en van Afrika In hierdie boek – wat in twee dele gepubliseer word en gedeeltelik gebaseer is op E.H. Raidt se Afrikaans en sy Europese verlede – word opnuut gekyk na Afrikaans se veelkantige herkoms: die Europese geskiedenis van Afrikaans (grondig vernuwe en beduidend aangevul) én veral Afrikaans se Afrikaherkoms – oor die opbouproses sedert die 17de eeu om Afrikaans in 1925 as amptelike taal erken te kry, Afrikaans se ontwikkeling as volwaardige standaardtaal in die 20ste eeu en veral die aanneem van die funksies wat hiermee gepaard gaan, Afrikaans se ongelukkige apartheidsverlede en die bevrydings- en versoeningsprosesse wat hierna nodig was.

Die wit verlede van Afrikaans word aangevul met die bruin en swart verlede sodat ’n gedeelde verlede van die sprekers van Afrikaans na vore kom.

Die storie van Afrikaans is die biografie van Afrikaans soos dit op drie kontinente ontwikkel het: in Europa (waar die ontwikkeling van Nederlands as die basisvorm van Afrikaans gedokumenteer en uitgebeeld word), in Afrika (waar die 17de-eeuse Hollandse dialek met verloop van tyd onder eiesoortige omstandighede en onder invloed van verskeie faktore uiteindelik volwaardig Afrikaans geword het) en in Asië (waar die impak van die taal van die slawe die wordende Afrikaans beïnvloed het tot die vorm wat dit wel geword het).

Die outeurs gee aan die hand van talle illustrasies ’n nuwe, meer volledige en inklusiewe blik op Afrikaans se ingewikkelde verlede.

In Deel 1 word die Europese verlede van Afrikaans weergegee. In Deel 2 kom die Afrikaverlede van Afrikaans aan bod. Die boek verken paaie wat nog nie voorheen ontgin is nie, en dit sal ’n besliste bydrae tot die debat oor Afrikaans se verlede wees.

Prof. W.A.M. Carstens was dosent aan die Universiteit van Stellenbosch (1977-1979) en die Universiteit van Kaapstad (1980-1991) voordat hy in 1991 aan die PU vir CHO as dosent in die Afrikaanse taalkunde aangestel is. Hy is in 1994 bevorder tot vol professor in die Afrikaanse taalkunde. Hy is sedert 1 Januarie 2001 Direkteur van die PU vir CHO (sedert 2004: Potchefstroomkampus, Noordwes-Universiteit) se Skool vir Tale. Hy het verskeie publikasies al die lig laat sien: Norme vir Afrikaans, Riglyne by die gebruik van Afrikaans en Afrikaanse tekslinguistiek en onlangs Teksredaksie. Hy is lid van verskeie vakverenigings (nasionaal en internasionaal) en is onlangs aangewys as voorsitter van die eerste Afrikaanse Taalraad. Hy is ook ’n gegradeerde navorser van die Nasionale Navorsingstigting.

Prof. Edith Raidt was tot met haar aftrede in 1996 professor in Historiese en Afrikaanse Taalwetenskap aan die Universiteit van die Witwatersrand. Daarna was sy die stigter-president en hoof uitvoerende beampte van die St. Augustine College van Suid-Afrika in Johannesburg, ’n Katolieke privaat ‘universiteit’ en is sedert 2005 Emeritus President. Sy was ook lid van etlike vakverenigings, onder andere is sy “Buitenlands Erelid van de Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde” (Gent). Sy is die outeur van Afrikaans en sy Europese verlede (1978, 3de uitgawe 1991), Einführung in Geschichte und Struktur des Afrikaans (1983), asook Historiese Taalkunde: Studies oor die geskiedenis van Afrikaans (1994), ontvanger van die C.J. Langenhovenprys vir Taalkunde van die SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns in 1994, asook ontvanger van eredoktorsgrade van die voormalige PU vir CHO (tans die NWU) (1997), Universiteit van die Witwatersrand (1998), UPE (1999) en die Universiteit van Natal (2003).

Boekbesonderhede

  • Die storie van Afrikaans: uit Europa en van Afrika – Die biografie van ‘n taal (Deel 1) deur W.A.M. Carstens, Edith Raidt
    EAN: 978-1-4853-0038-0
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

"Everything your ever wanted to know about crime but were too afraid to ask" - Robyn Sassen reviews The Truth About Crime

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Artist, academic, and visual artist Robyn Sassen recently reviewed the book:

It infiltrates our very existence – from the way in which we conduct ourselves in life, to the literature we read, the misconceptions of others we indulge in and the sensationalism that it smears across a world of broken dreams.

The concept and reality of crime, that is. And with this reflection on the all-pervasiveness of it, the Comaroffs’ latest publication The Truth About Crime is unputdownable, but not for the conventional reasons.

This foray into the complexities of crime, particularly in a South African context comes under the intense focus of quintessential seasoned sociologists Jean and John Comaroff; while you will not emerge with one gleaming “truth” which reflects “solution”, you will have a rollercoaster of a read.

Academic writing is a curious thing. Fraught with many rules of accreditation and checks and balances, it can be immensely dry and formulaic. Combined with old-fashioned hard work and rigorous intelligence, it can surpass the value of any bit of fiction, even yarns well-written.

And this is what you get here: an intense, oft witty, detailed and wise explication on stories that go bump in the night, about real people. The text is dense but it flows with a mellifluousness that makes you want to read it out aloud. The Comaroffs play with sounds and idioms, with parables and metaphors as they knit together associations and perceptions, book research and field work.

Continue reading Sassen’s review here.

Book details

2017 South African Literary Awards winners announced!

This year’s winners of the South African Literary Awards (SALAs) were announced on Tuesday night, 07 November 2017 at UNISA, Pretoria Campus.

Authors, poets, writers other and literary practitioners whose works are continuously contributing to the enrichment of South Africa’s literary landscape were celebrated in an auspicious ceremony.

The SALA Awards have honoured over a hundred individuals in the past 12 years.

The 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALAs) winners are:

Category: First-time Published Author Award

Moses Shimo Seletisha, Tšhutšhumakgala (Sepedi)

Category: k.Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

Nthikeng Mohlele, Pleasure (English)

Category: Poetry Award

Helen Moffett, Prunings (English)

Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu, Iingcango Zentliziyo (isiXhosa)

Category: Creative Non-Fiction Award

Dikgang Moseneke, My Own Liberator (English)

Category: Literary Journalism Award

Don Makatile, Body of work (English)

Phakama Mbonambi, Body of work (English)

Category: Literary Translators Award

Bridget Theron-Bushell, The Thirstland Trek: 1874 – 1881 (Afrikaans to English)

Jeff Opland, Wandile Kuse and Pamela Maseko, William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe Esinembali, Xhosa Histories And Poetry (1873 – 1888) (isiXhosa to English)

Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko, DLP.Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange, Historical Poems (isiXhosa to English)

Category: Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Roela Hattingh, Kamee (Afrikaans)

Category: Posthumous Literary Award

|A!kunta, Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)

!Kabbo, Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)

≠Kasin, Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)

Dia!kwain, Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)

|Han≠kass’o, Body of work (!Xam and !Kun)

Category: Lifetime Achievement Literary Award

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, Body of work (English)

Aletta Matshedisð Motimele, Body of work (Sepedi)

Etienne Van Heerden, Body of work (Afrikaans)

Category: Chairperson’s Award

Themba Christian Msimang, Body of work (isiZulu)

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"The white elites in SA are used to controlling their worlds" - a Q&A with Jean and John Comaroff

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Phys.Org, a website concerned with science, research and technology, recently conducted an interview with the authors:

Q: Wasn’t there an empirical rise in crime just after the transition of power in South Africa in 1994?

JEAN: Crime rates, particularly in places where there has been radical transition – such as post-Soviet Russia and Latin America – have tended to increase in the wake of such change. In South Africa, after the 1994 transition there was said to be an uptick in crime, then a tailing off, a plateau, and then a diminishing in many categories of felony. However, most people would simply not believe this; the most adamant being those who were least vulnerable because they could afford private protection.

JOHN: For us, then, the question became: Why do those who are least affected by crime panic most about it?

JEAN: Ironically, the populations most affected by crime – the poor, black South Africans, especially women – obsessed about it least. They suffered massive unemployment, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and domestic violence against women and children. They were the ones who victimized each other in a state of desperation; these communities had so much to worry about that they did not obsess nearly as much about crime, which had long been a fact of their everyday lives.

JOHN: Globally speaking, criminologists debate whether crime rates have gone up or down. And that is a complex question, largely depending on what and how we count. But the question for us is: What do we actually talk about, what do we actually mean, when we talk obsessively about crime? Like Americans these days, South Africans have a lot to panic about. We ought to panic here in South Africa about accidents – or at least what appear to be accidents, the rates of which are extremely high – and about rising poverty and inequality; just as in North America we ought to worry about the disappearance of security nets at the behest of conservative ideology, which is putting more and more people in deeply desperate conditions. But we seem not to panic too much about these things. Or, at least, not for long or in any systemic way. When it comes to crime here in South Africa, we all have stories, bad stories, but these do not necessarily add up to statistically significant phenomena – which figures on poverty and inequality do. Ironically, it is only the poorest, the most destitute, who actually suffer criminal violence with the kind of frequency that is statistically significant. Ironic, because it is those populations who are more often accused of crime, rather than seen as its usual victims. One of the objectives of the book is to explain all this, to make sense of the phenomenology of fear – and why it is that we invest so much attention away from things that should worry us toward those that, while certainly a cause for concern, are hardly cause for panic. And yet elections across the world are fought in the name of law and order, of being tough on crime. Not poverty or inequality.

Q: You say the white elites in South Africa have the highest anxiety about crime, yet they experience the fewest incidents. What accounts for the disconnect in their reaction?

JEAN: They are used to controlling their worlds. So, if they suffer a domestic robbery or a carjacking, it feels momentous, life-threatening – which it sometimes is, although less often than South African whites believe – because life is meant to be safe for people like them. Or so they assume. They buy insurance. They live in well protected homes. They believe that the state ought to protect them. Those who live on the South Side of Chicago or in black townships – or, for that matter, in US inner cities – are not in control of their worlds in the same way. And do not have the same expectations.

Q: Do you both feel safe living in Cape Town?

JEAN: We feel no less safe living in Cape Town than we did when we lived on the South Side of Chicago, where affluent and deprived communities live in close proximity. In both, crime rates vary enormously across the urban scape. If one knows the social geography and crime maps of the city in which one lives – and one has the means, the capital – one can avoid dangerous areas to a significant degree.

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