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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.

Continue reading here.

Book details

Shortlist for 2017 South African Literary Awards announced

2017 marks the highest milestone of South African Literary Awards (SALA), as the shortlist includes, for the first time, the !Xam and !Kun languages.

Listed under the Posthumous Literary Awards, five legendary contributors are drawn from Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd collection of !Xam and !Kun narratives, verses, songs, chants, drawings and other materials consisting of over 150 notebooks running in some 13 000 pages which is considered a unique cultural and literary collection which has been recognised by United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Council (UNESCO) and entered into the memory of the World Register.

The materials deal with the land, the rain, the history of the first people, the origin of the moon and stars, animals, cosmology, beliefs, ceremonies, art and information of the
individual lives of the informants who had come to Cape Town as prisoners of the British Crown and were released into Bleek’s custody at his residence in Mowbray for linguistic and cultural research.

Also interesting is the shortlist list under the Translators Literary award consisting of William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe Esinembali, Xhosa Histories And Poetry (1873 – 1888), DLP.Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange, Historical Poems and The Thirstland Trek: 1874 – 1881. While the Creative Non- Fiction Award has The Keeper Of The Kumm: Ancestral Longing And Belonging Of A Boesmankind, by Sylvia Vollenhoven, My Own Liberator by Judge Dikgang Moseneke and Emily Hobhouse – Geliefde Verraaier by Elsabé Brits.

The shortlist goes on to list under the Lifetime Achievement Literary Award, South Africa’s legendary Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa, who is largely respected for his predictions of world events, including the destruction of New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001, the 1976 June 16 Uprising, HIV, Chris Hani’s assassination, load shedding and the ousting of President Thabo Mbeki. Mutwa shares the category with other literary stalwarts, Aletta Matshedisð Motimele, who is revered for her Sepedi works and Etienne van Heerden, an academic and prolific Afrikaans author.

“Indeed, as its main aim, SALA continues to strive to become the most prestigious and respected literary accolades in South African literature,” says Ms Sindiswa Seakhoa, director at wRite associates, founders of SALA, in partnership with the department of Arts and Culture in 2005.

Since its inception in 2005, to date, SALA has honoured 160 authors in 11 categories in all official South African languages. SALA also boasts legacy programmes including:
- The National Poet Laureate Programme and the Keorapetse Kgositsile Lecture, in honour of the Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile.
- The Miriam Tlali Reading and Book Club, in honour of the late Miriam Tlali.
- Band of Troubadours, a publication comprising the work of the SALA recipients
- Africa Century International African Writers Conference and International African
Writers Day Lecture, established in 2012.

The conference is set to become a Mecca of who is who of the African literati, the Diaspora and the entire globe where the celebration of African letters occupies centre stage.

This historical gathering of literary intellectuals and authors from across the world, is, as the then-OAU’s Conference of African Ministers of Education and Culture (meeting in Coutonou, Benin, in 1991) resolved, “… to afford the African people a moment of pause within which to reflect on the contribution of African Writers to the development of the Continent”.

Both the 2017 South African Literary Awards ceremony and Conference will take place on the 7th November at Kgorong Building, UNISA. This is partnership by the wRite associates, the department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, UNISA.

The theme for the conference is “The Writer as a Drum Major of Conscience, Restoration & Transformation”, with the sub-theme being “The Establishment of the South African Writers Organization”.

Prof Zodwa Motsa, a Fulbright Scholar, a Researcher, Writer and Social Engineer, who has served as Head of the Department: English Studies (UNISA) from 2006 -2011 and currently serving as the Country Director at UNISA’s Ethiopia Centre for Graduate Studies in Addis Ababa, since 2012, will deliver the sixth International African Writers Day Lecture and Prof Nhlanhla Maake, an academician, novelist, dramatist, literary critic, and language activist will deliver the response. Prof Andries Oliphant, author, poet, literary scholar and cultural policy advisor, will lead the seminar on the establishment of South Africa’s writers’ organization.

Category: First-time Published Author Award

Amy Jephta, Kristalvlakte
Moses Shimo Seletisha, Tšhutšhumakgala
Mohale Mashigo, The Yearning

Category: k.Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

Kopano Matlwa, Period Pain
Nthikeng Mohlele, Pleasure

Category: Poetry Award

Helen Moffett, Prunings
Ronelda S Kamfer, Hammie
Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu, Iingcango Zentliziyo

Category: Creative Non- Fiction Award

Dikgang Moseneke, My Own Liberator
Elsabé Brits, Emily Hobhouse – Geliefde Verraaier
Sylvia Vollenhoven, The Keeper Of The Kumm

Category: Literary Journalism Award

Don Makatile: His oeuvre
Phakama Mbonambi: His oeuvre

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)

Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Nick Mulgrew, Stations
Roela Hattingh, Kamee

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
Aletta Matshedisð Motimele: Body of work
Etienne Van Heerden: Body of work

Category: Chairperson’s Award

The recipient will be announced at the award ceremony

Book details

Kristalvlakte

 
 
 
 

The Yearning

 
 
 
 

Period Pain

 
 
 
 

Pleasure

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

Hammie

 
 
 
 

My Own Liberator

 
 
 
 

Emily Hobhouse

 
 
 
 

Keeper of the Kumm

 
 
 
 

The Thirstland Trek

 
 
 
 

William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali

 
 
 
 

DLP Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange

 
 

Stations

 
 
 
 

Kamee

Launch: The State of Secularism by Dhammamegha Annie Leatt (11 October)

The author deftly guides the reader through various committees, negotiation forums, interest groups, political parties and legal wrangles to uncover the often-surprising developments, alliances and political about-turns in the process of Constitution-making. This is not just politics as the search for power, or the politics of big men … but a thoroughly human affair with its attendant messiness, idealism, complexities and ambiguities. — Ilana van Wyk, author of A Church of Strangers: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa.

The Dutch Reformed Church, it was said in apartheid South Africa, was the National Party at prayer, and indeed, given that the Bible was so fundamental to much of the legislation that governed the apartheid state, that apparently satirical description had the ring of truth.

‘Religion in South Africa’s past’, writes Dhammamegha Annie Leatt, has been ‘saturated by politics’ and politics ‘saturated by religion’. So how, she asks, was it possible for a new state to found itself without religious authority? Why did the churches give up so much of their political role in the transition? How can we think about tradition and the customary in relation to secularism? How can we not?

In The State of Secularism Leatt guides the reader from a history of global political secularism through an exploration of the roles played by religion and traditional authority in apartheid South Africa to the position of religion in the post-apartheid state. She analyses the negotiations relating to religion in the constitution-making process, arguing that South Africa is both secular in its Constitution and judicial foundations and increasingly non-secular in its embrace of traditional authorities and customary law.

In the final chapter Leatt turns her attention to post-apartheid South Africa, examining changing relationships between churches and the ruling African National Congress and the increasing influence of traditional leaders and evangelical Christians in an anti-liberal alliance.

This book makes a tremendous contribution to the literature on postcolonial politics on the African continent. It has wonderful insights into the founding of a constitutional democracy in South Africa and will appeal to students in history, politics, sociology, anthropology and constitutional law.

The State of Secularism

Book details

UKZN Press introduces 'Off-Centre' - a book series focused on the social, political & cultural life of SA and southern Africa

OFF-CENTRE is a book series focused on the social, political and cultural life of South Africa and the southern African region. The series offers new perspectives on issues of public interest and concern. Written in a deliberately accessible style, each book presents an engaging and informative read for specialist and lay-person alike, utilising the best of academic scholarship to challenge and correct conventional wisdoms. So far, two volumes have been published. The third volume will be published in 2018.

Volume 1: Water in Southern Africa by Larry A. Swatuk
Volume 2: Jan Smuts and the Indian Question

Water in Southern AfricaWater in Southern Africa
Larry Swatuk

When it comes to water, we are fed a daily diet of doom and gloom, of a looming crisis: wars of the future will be over water; nearly one-billion people lack access to clean water; river basins are closed so there is no more water to be allocated despite ever-growing demand; aquifers are overdrawn to such an extent that a global food crisis is just around the corner and major cities, such as Bangkok and Mexico, are sinking. And let us not forget about pollution or vector-borne diseases.

The challenges for sustainable water management are massive. Yet, as shown in this book, there are many positives to be drawn from the southern African experience. Despite abiding conditions of economic underdevelopment and social inequality, people rise to the challenge, oftentimes out of necessity and through self-help, but sometimes through creative coalitions operating at different scales – from the local to the global – and across issue areas – from transboundary governance to urban water supply. This first volume in the Off-Centre series argues that we must learn to see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.

Larry A. Swatuk is Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) at the University of Waterloo, Canada; Extraordinary Professor at the Institute for Water Studies, University of Western Cape, South Africa; and Research Associate, Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC). Prior to joining the University of Waterloo, he was Associate Professor of Natural Resources Governance at the Okavango Research Institute, Maun, Botswana.

Jan Smuts and the Indian QuestionJan Smuts and the Indian Question
Vineet Thakur

As the only surviving statesman of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Jan Smuts arrived for the first session of the United Nations in New York in 1946 to celebratory chants. His departure, a month and a half later, was terrifyingly dissimilar. The ‘counsellor of nations’ left a dejected man, with his honour, power and glory severely dented.

The tragedy that befell Smuts’ international swansong was an Indian delegation, which, as Smuts bemoaned, used his own words against himself and showed him to be a hypocrite. This was eerily similar to a diplomatic onslaught Smuts had faced between 1917 and 1923 at the hands of another set of little-known Indian diplomats. Through these episodic histories, this book chronicles the ambivalent cosmopolitanism of Jan Smuts.
 
 
Vineet Thakur is an assistant professor of International Relations at Leiden University, the Netherlands. He holds a doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, and has taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and Ambedkar University Delhi. He was also previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, University of Johannesburg.

Book details

"Religion in South Africa's past has been saturated by politics and politics saturated by religion"

The author deftly guides the reader through various committees, negotiation forums, interest groups, political parties and legal wrangles to uncover the often-surprising developments, alliances and political about-turns in the process of Constitution-making. This is not just politics as the search for power, or the politics of big men … but a thoroughly human affair with its attendant messiness, idealism, complexities and ambiguities. — Ilana van Wyk, author of A Church of Strangers: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa.

The Dutch Reformed Church, it was said in apartheid South Africa, was the National Party at prayer, and indeed, given that the Bible was so fundamental to much of the legislation that governed the apartheid state, that apparently satirical description had the ring of truth.

‘Religion in South Africa’s past’, writes Dhammamegha Annie Leatt, has been ‘saturated by politics’ and politics ‘saturated by religion’. So how, she asks, was it possible for a new state to found itself without religious authority? Why did the churches give up so much of their political role in the transition? How can we think about tradition and the customary in relation to secularism? How can we not?

In The State of Secularism Leatt guides the reader from a history of global political secularism through an exploration of the roles played by religion and traditional authority in apartheid South Africa to the position of religion in the post-apartheid state. She analyses the negotiations relating to religion in the constitution-making process, arguing that South Africa is both secular in its Constitution and judicial foundations and increasingly non-secular in its embrace of traditional authorities and customary law.

In the final chapter Leatt turns her attention to post-apartheid South Africa, examining changing relationships between churches and the ruling African National Congress and the increasing influence of traditional leaders and evangelical Christians in an anti-liberal alliance.

This book makes a tremendous contribution to the literature on postcolonial politics on the African continent. It has wonderful insights into the founding of a constitutional democracy in South Africa and will appeal to students in history, politics, sociology, anthropology and constitutional law.

Book details

Sizwe Nxasana donates books worth over R12.5 million to Walter Sisulu University

Future Nation Schools celebrated the conclusion of Heritage Month by embracing African literature at their Book Fair and Literary Festival on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

In celebration of the Future Nation Schools first book fair, Founder of Future Nation Schools and chairperson of NSFAS and the National Education Collaboration trust, Sizwe Nxasana donated more than 25,000 books worth more than R12.5m to Walter Sisulu University (WSU).

In keeping with Future Nation School’s focus on entrepreneurship, technology and computer skills, a multitude of books focussing on Business Sciences and Computer Sciences were donated to WSU.
The books also cover genres ranging from fiction, action & adventure, self-help, health, religion & spirituality, history, poetry, and encyclopaedias, dictionaries, biographies, and many more were given to Walter Sisulu University to fuel a love of reading amongst the students.

“The effect of this generous gift is immeasurable. It constitutes an entire library collection which will supplement our holdings across four campuses and will open fresh opportunities for our students to explore. Walter Sisulu University is most grateful for this kind gesture,” said Professor Rob Midgely the Vice Chancellor of Walter Sisulu University.

In addition to the WSU donation, Future Nation Schools also donated a total of R220,000 towards bursaries and the purchase of books to five schools in Alexandra township who are part of the Vincent Tshabalala Education Trust (VTET). The schools are, Alexandra High School, KwaBhekilanga Secondary School, East Bank High School, Realogile Secondary School and Minerva Secondary School. The five schools each received R20 000 which is in addition to the R120 000 that Nxasana donated towards the Vincent Tshabalala Education Trust. The teachers of Future Nation Schools also donated books to the five schools.

Paul Mashatile, the chairperson of the Vincent Tshabalala Education Trust said “We are truly grateful to Future Nation Schools for partnering with us in support of teaching and learning in Alexandra Township. We are also delighted that Future Nation Schools is donating money towards the bursaries and the purchase of books which will encourage and inspire our young people. This donation will strengthen the work we are already doing as a Trust to support the culture of reading by supplying schools in Alexandra with books that tell South African and African stories, our history and who we are as a people. We look forward to our continued partnership with Future Nation Schools for the benefit of learners from Alexandra.”

According to Sizwe Nxasana, “The aim of the Future Nation Schools Book Fair and Literary Festival is to showcase African literature, writers, poetry and arts. This feeds into the Future Nation Schools vision of spearheading the African education revolution through driving content that is relevant to the continent. We believe ensuring all children experience the joy of reading is a vital aspect to developing enquiring minds in our youth and a knowledge of our African heritage.”

For more insights regarding the Book Fair and Literary Festival visit http://fnsbookfair.africa/