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  • Lee Berger's Almost Human "fascinating and dramatically paced," writes Rachel Newcomb for The Washington Post

    Almost Human is the personal story of a charismatic and visionary palaeontologist, a rich and readable narrative about science, exploration, and what it means to be human.

    In 2013, Lee Berger caught wind of a cache of bones in a hard-to-reach underground cave near Johannesburg. He put out a call around the world for collaborators – men and women small and adventurous enough to be able to squeeze through 8-inch tunnels to reach a sunless cave 40 feet underground. With this team of ‘underground astronauts’, Berger made the discovery of a lifetime: hundreds of prehistoric bones, including entire skeletons of at least 15 individuals, all perhaps two million years old.

    Their features combined those of known pre-hominids with those more human than anything ever before seen in prehistoric remains. Berger’s team had discovered an all new species: Homo naledi.

    The cave proved to be the richest pre-hominid site ever discovered, full of implications that challenge how we define ourselves as human. Did these ancestors of ours bury their dead? If so, they must have had an awareness of death, a level of self-knowledge: the very characteristic we used to define ourselves as human.

    Did an equally advanced species inhabit Earth with us, or before us?

    Addressing these questions, Berger counters the arguments of those colleagues who have questioned his controversial interpretations and astounding finds.

    Anthropologist and the Diane and Michael Maher Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning at Rollins College, Rachel Newcomb, recently reviewed Berger’s book for the Washing Post. Read an excerpt here:

    A 9-year-old boy stumbles upon a 2 million-year-old hominin clavicle while exploring in a field in South Africa. A paleoanthropologist, kayaking with his family on the Pacific island of Palau, finds a burial chamber full of ancient remains that he suspects might be a previously undocumented race of tiny people.

    A swashbuckling former diamond hunter discovers a treasure trove of humanlike fossils in a network of caves accessible only to people small enough to slither through an 18-centimeter opening.

    In Almost Human, the search for hominin fossils reads like an extreme sport. Written by Lee Berger with fellow paleoanthropologist John Hawks, the book documents with riveting intensity Berger’s lifelong fascination with fossil hunting and the contributions he has made to our understanding of human origins.

    In contemporary paleoanthropological circles, Berger, who grew up in the United States and is based in South Africa, is considered something of a maverick.

    He invites National Geographic to document his expeditions for social media, puts out calls on Facebook to invite scientists to join his teams and, rather than hoarding his finds so he alone can analyze them, makes replicas and photos of fossils available for other scientists to study.

    Traditionally, the journey from fossil discovery to publication has been a slow and laborious one, but Berger is known for speeding everything up.

    Critical of establishment paleoanthropologists, he views them as “an exclusive club” that refuses to share with others. “I represented a generation that didn’t just want the keys to the club,” Berger writes, “we wanted to open the doors to everyone. We were impatient for a faster pace of discovery and science, and sought collaborations with larger and larger groups of experts outside the traditional schools of thought.”

    Other scientists have sharply criticized Berger for being a relentless self-promoter, too quick to announce to the world that his fossils are rewriting human history.

    Paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley has accused Berger of engaging in “selfie science” and suggested that he is more interested in telling a good story than in sharing scientifically validated facts.

    Criticisms of Berger aside, Almost Human is a fascinating and dramatically paced book that translates for a lay audience the excitement of paleoanthropology, its debates and its scandals.

    Continue reading Newcomb’s review here.

    Book details

    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.

    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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    PE Book Launch: I'm the Girl Who Was Raped by Michelle Hattingh

    I'm the Girl Who Was RapedMichelle HattinghFogarty’s and Modjaji Books invite you to the Port Elizabeth launch of I’m the Girl Who Was Raped, a memoir by Michelle Hattingh. The author comes from Port Elizabeth, so she is back in her home town talking about her incredibly courageous book.

    “Compelling, clear and beautiful writing on such a necessary topic. She shatters rape myths on every page.” Jen Thorpe, gender activist and author of The Peculiars.

    “Many people think middle class women are magically immune to rape or that if they are raped their easy access to the resources they need will be everything they need to recover completely. A book that discusses the cross cutting nature of the pain all women must feel when a man rapes them can only be welcomed in a time when communities across South Africa struggle with high rape rates.” Kathleen Dey of Rape Crisis

    More about the book:
    That morning, Michelle presented her Psychology honours thesis on men’s perceptions of rape. She started her presentation like this, “A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read …” On that same evening, she goes to a party to celebrate attaining her degree. She and a friend go to the beach; the friend has something she wants to discuss. They are both robbed, assaulted and raped. Within minutes of getting help, Michelle realises she’ll never be herself again. She’s now “the girl who was raped.”

    This book is Michelle’s fight to be herself again. Of the taint she feels, despite the support and resources at her disposal as the loved child of a successful middle-class family. Of the fall-out to friendships, job, identity. It’s Michelle’s brave way of standing up for the women in South Africa who are raped every day.

    About the author:

    Michelle Hattingh was born in South Africa in 1988. She attended school in Port Elizabeth and studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Stellenbosch University. She went on to do her Honours in Psychology at Cape Town University and now lives in Cape Town. Michelle works as senior online content producer at Marie Claire SA. Her work has been published in Elle SA, Marie Claire SA and Mail & Guardian. I’m the Girl Who Was Raped is her first book.

    Event Details

    • Date: Thursday, 12 May 2016
    • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
    • Venue: GFI Gallery, 30 Park Drive, Central, Port Elizabeth
    • Guest Speaker: Emily Buchanan
    • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine and snacks
    • RSVP: Fogarty’s,, 041 368 1425

    I'm the Girl Who Was Raped
    Book Details

    Fishing for a future

    A shadow looms over the admirable initiative launched this week to finally grant fishing rights to small-scale fishers. Unless the disproportionately large share of marine resources currently allocated to the commercial fishing sector is cut, there will be nothing left to hand out. The process will be a farce.

    Over 95% of all marine resources are reserved for commercial rights’ holders. Quotas for ten species – including linefish, abalone and West Coast rock lobster – are currently up for re-allocation to commercial rights holders in the 2015-2016 Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP).  Unless this proportion is substantially reduced, the new policy will be a non-starter.

    The Small Scale Fishing Policy has just been signed into law with an amendment to the flawed Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 which recognised only three categories of fishers: commercial, subsistence and leisure.  The division was stark: those with subsistence and leisure rights were entitled to consume but not sell what they caught.

    Only commercial rights holders could sell. In a stroke, this outlawed the traditional livelihoods of most of the 30,000 odd fishers in villages along the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces who for decades had fished to feed their families and sold the rest of their catch.  Amounts were negligible but enough to keep poverty at bay in areas where unemployment was high and fishing was the only source of income.

    There is a convincing argument that criminalising the harvesting of a resource considered to be their god-given right has damaged these communities.  Fishing became “poaching”. Gangs took over the marketing of the more valuable species such as abalone. They brought in drugs and guns. But they also enabled parents to pay school fees and feed their children.

    Some individuals were awarded commercial fishing rights and this sowed divisions and deepened inequalities in communities which had been relatively egalitarian.

    The new policy introduces a fourth category: Small Scale fishers. Craig Smith, Director of Small Scale Fisheries, argues that a 50% share of linefish should be reserved for these small scale fishers as well as up to 100% of near-shore resources such as mussels, abalone and lobster.  Commercial fishers can afford the big, fast boats required to exploit the deep seas.

    The person responsible for making this decision is the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana. Since 1994, the colour of those awarded the right to mine the ocean’s resources has changed considerably but they still overwhelmingly represent the more powerful and politically connected. Giving small scale fishers a generous slice of the cake will indicate a new willingness to cater to the poor, rather than an elite.

    The policy has taken over a decade to be implemented. It originated in a court case brought by an NGO, Masifundise, to the Equity Court, arguing that the Marine Living Resources Act created inequality.  It infringed the fishers’ constitutional rights to food security and the protection of  their traditional culture.

    The outcome was a court order to the government to create a small scale fishing policy.  Masifundise has threatened to go back to the Equality Court if the Minister fails to give the small scale fishers an appropriate share.

    Meanwhile, there is much excitement around the next stage of the process: the identification of suitable candidates. Representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (DAFF) will visit 280 communities on the east and west coasts over the next few weeks. In school and community halls – and even in one case “an open space next to the [Fish] river” – fishers will queue up with their ID books and verifiable testimony from a fellow community member that they have fished for a living over at least the past ten years.

    Dates and venues have been established for each community, advertised on radio, in newspapers and posters in each area. The fishers have only one chance to apply. If they miss their allocated day, they will not be considered. Once all the applications are in, DAFF officials and community representatives will adjudicate on each case.

    The Small Scale fishing policy is ambitious: it allocates quotas not to individuals but to co-operatives. There will be only one co-op per community. Each must have at least 20 members. Fishers who currently hold commercial rights will be required to relinquish them if they become members of the co-op.

    A host of services will be available to co-op members, including courses in marketing, financial management and spin-off activities such as tourism. The plan is to leverage the co-ops to promote development in rural areas.

    What’s more, a sense of justice could be reinstated. If communities again feel a sense of ownership over marine resources, it is hoped that they will feel responsible for protecting them.

    McGregor is a visiting researcher at The Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town.

     This article first appeared in GroundUp


    Winners of the 2015 Artists In Residency Programme announced - including Masande Ntshanga

    Winners of the 2015 Artists In Residency Programme announced


    The ReactiveAlert! The Africa Centre has announced the winners of the 2015 Artists In Residency Programme.

    The residencies, which have been running since 2011, are available to artists in all stages of career development across all disciplines: visual arts, performing arts, creative and literary arts, film, music and curatorial practice. Winners are given the opportunity to participate in residency programmes throughout the world.

    The Africa Centre received a large number of applications this year, and shortlisted over 65 artists in December.

    Nine winners have been announced, including two writers: South African Masande Ntshanga (left) and Nana Oforiatta Ayim from Ghana.

    Congratulations to the winners!

    2015 Artists In Residency Programme winners:

    Collin Sekajugo (Uganda | Visual Artist) – Jiwar, Spain
    Francois Knoetze (South Africa | Visual Artist) – Nafasi Arts Space, Tanzania
    Kato Change (Kenya | Performance Artist) – Instituto Sacatar, Brazil
    Liza Grobler (South Africa | Visual Artist) – Khoj, India
    Masande Ntshanga (South Africa | Author) – Bundanon Trust, Australia
    Nana Oforiatta Ayim (Ghana | Author) – Instituto Sacatar, Brazil
    Richard Mudariki (Zimbabwe | Visual Artist) – Fountainhead, USA
    Tamrat Gezahagne Gero (Ethiopia | Visual Artist) – Jiwar, Spain
    Wallen Mapondera (Zimbabwe | Visual Artist) – Kuona Trust, Kenya

    Image of Nana Oforiatta Ayim courtesy of Asiko Art School

    Book details

    Join Jane Griffiths for a talk on Jane's Delicious Urban Gardening at Windmill on Main

    Invite to Jane Griffiths's book launch

    Jane’s Delicious Urban GardeningThe Beaulieu Garden Club invites you to a talk by Jane Griffiths to launch her latest book, Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening.

    Griffiths’s bestselling book, Jane’s Delicious Garden, led to a vegetable revolution in South Africa, with thousands of people following in her footsteps. Her latest book, Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening, is packed with inspirational ideas and practical information on all aspects of eco urban living.

    At the talk, hosted by the Windmill on Main, Griffiths will show you just how easy it is to achieve a flourishing food garden, no matter how small your space.

    The event takes place on Wednesday, 17 February at 9:30 for 10 AM. Tickets cost R170. Refreshments will be served and there will be fabulous prizes up for grabs.

    See you there!

    Event Details

    • Date: Wednesday, 17 February 2016
    • Time: 9:30 AM for 10:00 AM
    • Venue: Windmill on Main
      54 Main Road (M71), corner Ash Road
      Kyalami, between Lonehill and Kyalami
      (Please note that different GPSess also seem to provide different results and sometimes Main Road is referred to as MacGregor Road) | Map
    • Refreshments will be served
    • Cover charge: R170
    • RSVP:, 083 300 6402

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