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Sisonke Msimang on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, stanning and #blackgirlmagic


 

Sisonke Msimang recently wrote a feature for the website Africa is a Country in which this significant author discusses her changing opinions of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the act of stanning, and the trap of #blackgirlmagic.

An extract from Msimang’s piece:

Adichie is African of course, but because she began writing in a world that was more global than it had ever been, because she traveled so frequently between Nigeria and America, she was easily claimed as a member of a much larger global African diaspora. She may technically belong to two countries, but she is collectively seen as a daughter or a sister to black people in a broader sense.

In other words, Adichie has become a signifier for something larger than herself. In some ways, she has marked the rise of what Taiye Selassie calls, “the Afropolitan.” The phrase is problematic, and I use it fully aware of its complications. Still, part of the Adichie phenomenon has been the sense for many Africans who are similarly located as citizens of Africa as a concept, that if success was possible for her in the world of arts and letters, then surely, we might all succeed in the various new terrains we sought to master – from engineering to cosmetic surgery to venture capital.

And it was when we began to project our dreams onto her that loving Adichie the symbol – rather than her books – became murky. This is not unique to Adichie, but it provides a stark example of the limits of black girl magic. It plays in the dangerous terrain in which we accept that, “there is some sort of inherent connection between all brown-skinned persons. We know something. We necessarily connect…[A]ll group identities are constructed. However, some group identities run away with us. Some become harmful, or even work against the purpose they were created to defeat…[T]he “Afropolitan” is just such a group identity. It is exclusive, elitist and self-aggrandizing.”

By the time Adichie’s “Danger of a single story” TED talk was released, she was already flirting with fame. The talk has been viewed millions of times and it helped her to take the first serious steps towards genuine fame. It became a manifesto, a sort of treatise for a new generation of feminists of all races but of a very particular class background, who were looking for more complicated ways of understanding the world than their mothers had been able to provide.

Read the full article here.

Msimang’s memoir, Always Another Country, will be published by Jonathan Ball in October 2017.
 

Purple Hibiscus

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Americanah

 
 

Half of a Yellow Sun

The ghost of Ahmed Kathrada will haunt his corrupt successors, writes Richard Poplak for The Atlantic

In a recent article for The Atlantic, journalist and author Richard Poplak examines South Africa’s democratic future – and the future of current ruling party, the ANC – in the aftermath of Ahmed Kathrada’s death.
 
“South African democracy has failed to craft a coherent nation from the wreckage of apartheid,” Poplak wrote, asking “[i]f Zuma does fall, what will replace him?”
 
An extract from The Quiet Death of an Anti-Apartheid Hero:

In a relentless attempt to control every aspect of the state, the day after Kathrada’s funeral, and for the second time in 15 months, Zuma unilaterally fired his finance minister. The casualty on this occasion was Pravin Gordhan, something of a superstar among the global financial elite, who was just settling into his second stint atop the ministry. The sacking was premised on a widely dismissed, undercooked intelligence report claiming that Gordhan wanted to undermine Zuma.

But from the moment he assumed the position in December 2015, Gordhan has faced an unrelenting assault from Zuma stemming from his refusal to sign off on spending initiatives in various ministries and state-owned enterprises. His removal, along with a wider cabinet reshuffle, has precipitated what could be one of the major crises of the democratic era.

Kathrada’s funeral, meticulously curated by his family, was a pre-emptive response to Gordhan’s axing, designed as a rebuke for an inevitable act of political sabotage. The Kathrada family had made it clear to Zuma that while his presence at the ceremony would be tolerated, he would not be asked to speak.

This was not the first of Uncle Kathy’s political broadsides.

At the outset of last year’s treasury crisis, Kathrada sent Zuma an open letter culminating with the line, “Submit to the will of the people, and resign.” From a wooden box draped in the ANC flag, Uncle Kathy was leading calls for the president’s removal, voluntary or otherwise. In this way, it represented a national first: a state funeral without a state president.

Read the full article here.
 
 
Poplak’s Continental Shift has been longlisted for the Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction.

Continental Shift

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Launch of Short Story Day Africa's Migrations

Migrations: New Short Stories From Africa Short Story Day Africa will be launching their latest anthology Migrations. There will be a discussion between Mary Watson, Efemia Chela and Bongani Kona with Sibongile Fisher and Megan Ross (winner of and 2nd runner-up for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize).
 
 

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"Handle history with care - it might come back to bite you": Stephen Coan on Tribing and Untribing the Archive


 

Former features writer for the Witness, writer-director in film and theatre, and freelance journalist, Stephen Coan, recently wrote an article on Tribing and Untribing the Archive, edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, discussing the significance of past events which has shaped the current political order. Read Coan’s insightful piece here:

Decolonisation. The use of the word is much in vogue at present; usually invoked to advocate a move away from a Eurocentric focus to one that is Afrocentric. If the concept is to be pursued with serious intent it could have quite unexpected implications for traditional leaders, not only in the province of KwaZulu-Natal but the whole of South Africa.

These implications are made clear in Tribing and Untribing the Archive – Identity and the Material Record in Southern KwaZulu-Natal in the Late Independent and Colonial Periods, edited by Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, published in two slipcased volumes and consisting of twenty essays and an epilogue drawn from a multidisciplinary team of contributors, including archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, art historians, archivists and curators.

According to the editors the essays provide a window into “not only to see how archives give shape to history, but also how history gives shape to archives.”

But what exactly is “the archive”? On one level it is what has been written: what is found in state repositories, missionary records, personal papers, recorded oral testimony and newspapers. However Tribing and Untribing the Archive goes further, drawing attention “to the extent of the material culture record … little appreciated by researchers outside art history and archaeology.”

Consequently material objects such as snuff spoons, sticks, photographs and artworks are brought within the compass of the archive thus allowing scope for such essays as Nontobeko Ntombela’s Shifting contexts: Material, Process and Contemporary Art in Times of Change and Hlonipha Mokoena’s quirky and intriguing ‘Knobkerrie’: Some Preliminary Notes on the Transformation of a Weapon into a Swagger Stick, or Sometimes a Stick is Not Just a Stick which teases out out the meaning and complexities of a photograph (c.1890) depicting two policemen, one (white and seated) with a swagger stick and the other (black, barefoot, and standing) holding a knobkerrie.

Another group of essays, which include an aspect of Christoph Rippe’s pioneering work on the photographic collections at Mariannhill Monastery plus André Croucamp’s delving into tourism promotion by the Natal Government Railways, reveal how the image of “the Zulu” popularly assumed to be a product of the Zulu heartland north of the Thukela was in fact constructed much further south with paintings and photographs made within easy travelling distance (firstly by horse, then rail) of Durban.

Whatever a contributor’s particular focus all the essays coalesce under the umbrella of the title essay, Tribing and Untribing the Archive by Hamilton and Leibhammer, which elaborates on how “yoked together in the service of colonial and later apartheid rule, the pernicious combination of tribe and tradition continues to tether modern South Africans to ideas about the remote past as primitive, timeless and unchanging, despite substantial scholarly and public critical discussion of the fallacy of these notions.”

Speaking at the book’s launch in Johannesburg contributor John Wright said the most frequent response to its content was: “‘Well, if we can’t call them tribes, what can we call them?’”
“It’s the wrong question,” he countered. “The issue is not about finding new names for a category, but rethinking the nature of the category altogether. Historical work is showing that before the 19th century Africans lived not in bounded, relatively homogeneous ‘tribes’, but in polities, for which we have no word in English, that were fluid, relatively loosely structured groups, organized round the exigencies of making and remaking alliances, and incorporating newcomers.”

“Many people – black and white – today find it very difficult to think beyond Africans as ‘always’ having lived in tribes. They find it very difficult to think historically about African polities.”

While Tribing and Untribing the Archive has a specific regional focus – that of southern Kwazulu-Natal, bounded by the Thukela River in the north and the Mzimvubu in the south – the insights it contains have far wider application. “This area had a very distinctive colonial experience,” said Hamilton at the launch. “And it had a very distinctive experience before that, both before and after Shaka built up his power. What happened in this region has ramifications for the rest of the country.”

With the arrival of white settlers in significant numbers from the 1840s onwards southern KwaZulu-Natal became subject to colonial administration which saw Theophilus Shepstone, the Diplomatic Agent to the Native Tribes, devise a form of indirect rule which controlled African communities via the power of their chiefs. Non-compliant chiefs were either marginalised or, as in the case of the Hlubi leader Langalibalele kaMthimkhulu, designated rebels and violently subjugated. However, the great majority of chiefs recognised by Shepstone happily acquiesced in this system of government and turned it to their advantage. Thus by the end of the nineteenth century the concept of the “tribe” as the basic social and political unit of African society had become rooted in the minds of both the coloniser and the colonised.

Since 1994, as Grant McNulty details in his essay (Re)discovering the Correct History, numerous communities in KwaZulu-Natal have called for recognition of their pasts and identities both before their assimilation into the Zulu kingdom during the time of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona or their later status under colonial rule, “wrestling with how best to navigate these oppressed histories and how and what to present as evidence in support of their claims.”

This has seen frequent recourse to the archive, as the Campbell Collections in Durban and local state repositories can attest, in order “to strengthen and validate claims for traditional leadership submitted to the Nhlapo Commission and the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims.” The archive has also been used by lawyers investigating land claims while many members of the public have taken to researching their histories to try and re-establish their roots and identity.

According to McNulty the resultant re-emergence of the pre-Zulu history of the Hlubi, Ndwandwe, Quabe, and Nhlangwini represents “a direct threat to the authenticity and power of the Zulu king as a custodian and symbol of a unified Zulu nation.”

Post-1994 the liberation movements deliberately moved away from the tribal concept, a trajectory widely expected to continue. “Paradoxically, the opposite has happened,” according to Wright in Making Identities in the Thukela-Mzimvubu Region.

“National and provincial governments sought first to accommodate and then to win the support of ‘traditional leaders’ by recognising and augmenting the authority they exercised in terms of ‘customary law’ in ‘tribal areas’ based on those established in the eras of colonialism and apartheid.” Or, to put it another way, what is the decolonisation project to do with traditional leaders whose status came into being as the result of collaboration with the colonial regime or direct colonial appointment?

There are no easy answers to such questions and if nothing else, as Mbongiseni Buthelezi puts it in his perceptive epilogue: “These volumes show us that we know neither enough about the past before colonialism nor about the ways in which local institutions were reshaped in the early years of colonialism to suit a form of indirect colonial rule.”

“We need more investigation into the longer past because the more we know about the forms of social organisation, leadership, relations between neighbours and so on that existed prior to the advent of European settlement, the better we give back to the present and future their pasts.”

Tribing and Untribing the Archive marks both a beginning of that process and a challenge to the current political order.

 

Tribing and Untribing the Archive

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Durban next literary capital of the world?

TimesLIVE recently reported that Durban is aspiring to hold the title of ‘literary capital of the world’.

This coastal city synonymous with beaches, bunny chow and kief barrels is preparing to bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature‚ the 21st in the world and the first in Africa.

International cities which hold this title include Edinburgh, Melbourne, Barcelona, Heidelberg and Krakow.

Darryl David, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal asserted that the designation could make Durban “the literary capital of South Africa”.

As intrigued as we are? Click here for more.

Wildlife at War in Angola examines the post-colonial tragedy of one of Africa's most biologically diverse countries

Wildlife at War in Angola: The Rise and Fall of an African Eden describes in fascinating detail the wildlife, wild places and wild personalities that occupied Angola’s conservation landscape through four decades of war and a decade of peace.

Intrigues, assassinations, corruption, greed and incompetence ‒ during the colonial era, through the horrific war and most especially throughout the crony-capitalist kleptocracy of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos ‒ have resulted in the extinction of most of its formerly abundant wildlife populations and the decay and erosion of a once endless Eden.

This is the first book to integrate the political, economic and environmental threads that account for the post-colonial tragedy of one of Africa’s most biologically diverse countries. A corrupt government has robbed the country of its vast oil and diamond wealth, of its environmental health, of its morality and of its soul. It was not always so.

Brian J. Huntley was appointed ecologist to Angola’s National Parks in 1971. But the vast open spaces, peaceful stillness and tropical luxuriance that he found during the four years they spent exploring and developing the country’s wildlife reserves was not to last. The powder keg of anger against centuries of colonial exploitation ‒ of slavery, of forced labour and of an abusive system of penal settlement ‒ could not be contained. Bloody nationalist uprisings led to the abandonment of Angola by Portugal and the transition from random guerrilla skirmishes with a colonial army into a brutal civil war that cost over one million lives. Despite its scarred history, the author believes the country can still rebuild its national parks and save much of its wildlife and wilderness. But this can only happen if the current ageing autocracy makes space for a new generation of Angolan conservationists.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian J. Huntley is an internationally respected conservationist with over 50 years of field research and management experience in many African countries and sub-Antarctic islands. He has initiated and led to successful conclusion several major inter-disciplinary cooperative research and institutional development projects from the Cape to the Congo. Following retirement in 2009 as CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, he is currently engaged as an independent consultant on conservation research and implementation projects in many African countries and for various United Nations agencies.
 
 

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