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Stephen Coan reviews Commonplace, a new photographic book that provides a unique view of parallel universes which occasionally collide

A new photographic book provides a unique view of parallel universes which occasionally collide: life lived in a Johannesburg township and life on a farm near Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal. STEPHEN COAN reports. Originally published in The Witness

A man opening a door with one hand, in the other a lit cigarette. He looks directly at the camera; at you. An invitation to enter the book you hold in your hands? Turn the page. A short explanatory text for what will follow. Turn the page. Another photograph: a man in shorts, in one hand a camera in the other a bunch of leaves. Behind him, not far along a rural dirt road, is a car dating the taking of the photograph to the 1950s.

The man in the first photograph is black, in the second, white. They are photographs from two collections, The Ngilima Collection and the Drummond-Fyvie Collection.

In 1905 Temple Lascelles Fyvie bought a plot of land outside Estcourt in the then Colony of Natal. In the 1930s Ronald Majongwa Ngilima left the Eastern Cape and headed for Benoni on the East Rand. “The photographic collections that grew out of these two moves form the basis of our book,” write Tamsyn Adams and Sophie Feyder, authors of Commonplace.

Tamsyn Adam
Sophie Feyder

“Their placement, side by side, starts to suggest the varied ways in which lives lived in different times and places, and under very disparate circumstances, might nevertheless be tied to each other – if not in a common place then at least in their commonplaces.”

“Collection” may seem a rather formal word to apply to these photographs but Adams and Feyder were trying to find an alternative to “archive” and opted for “collection” as, according to Adams, “the word implied a sense of the messiness, especially of the Drummond and Fyvie photos – which were rather an ‘accumulation’ as opposed to a formal ‘collection’.”

In the latter case the old-fashioned word “snaps” would likely have been applied by the two families (united by marriage in 1941) to describe their “collection” however the Ngilima Collection had more deliberate beginnings. When Ngilima obtained one of the new houses in the location of Wattville outside Benoni in 1952 he set up a dark room in the bathroom. Otherwise employed at the Leonard Dingler tobacco company in Boksburg Ngilima took photographs in his spare time, cycling around the townships with his camera to take photographs of people in their own homes while others came to “Mr. Snappy”, as he was popularly known, in his home-based studio.

Location unknown, mid-1950s. Photo: Ronald Ngilima, Ngilima Collection.


Scottburgh, 1930s. Photo: Drummond-Fyvie Collection

When Ronald Ngilima died suddenly in 1960 his son Thorence took over and ran what had become a small business until his work for the ANC became all consuming. A street in Wattville is named after him.

Meanwhile 25 boxes of negatives were kept safe in the family home where Ronald’s grandson Farrell came across them in 1999. Realising their historical value he was instrumental in their being stored at the Historical Papers archive at University of the Witwatersrand and thus making them publicly accessible.

Scottburgh, 1930s/1940s. Photo: Drummond-Fyvie Collection


Wattville, Benoni, early 1960s. Photo: Thorence Ngilima, Ngilima Collection

The photographs in the Drummond-Fyvie Collection date back to the 19th century and were probably stored without any particular consideration other than being family photographs from whenever until Adams similarly realised they possessed an importance that went beyond “family snaps”.

Both Adams, who has a fine arts background, and Feyder began working with the collections collaboratively as part of a joint doctoral research project between the History and Anthropology departments of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Location unknown, 1930s. Photo: Drummond-Fyvie Collection.


Wattville, Benoni, early 1960s. Photo: Thorence Ngilima, Ngilima Collection

Feyder, from Luxembourg and now resident in Brussels, Belgium, had long had an interest in southern Africa and studied political science and development. “But I realised you needed history to understand the situation today; to understand colonialism. I had a background in photography and at Leiden in the African Studies Program I was able to combine African history and photography.”

Feyder first encountered the Ngilima Collection in 2008 and arranged its digitization. Subsequently she and Adams worked with other colleagues from Leiden organising a conference in Johannesburg built around the relatively new discipline of visual studies. Their contribution would be to present their work with the two collections.

“We wanted to say that private archives, family photographs, are also interesting to look at in terms of history,” said Feyder. “They also have something to tell us; historic photographs are not just the famous photographs of iconic figures or of violent protests.”

At first Adams and Feyder intended presenting images from the collections separately but then decided it would be interesting to combine these seemingly non-political images within a larger context. Would it be possible to see apartheid reflected in these private photographs?

The answer was a qualified “yes”, according to Adams. “Putting the two collections together suggests another way of understanding them. It draws attention to the specific political context in which the photographs were taken. But it also highlights similarities in a way that hopefully doesn’t try to resolve the underlying tensions.”

Glenroy, near Estcourt, 1950s. Photo: Drummond-Fyvie Collection


Suburbs of Benoni, mid-1950s. Photo: Ronald Ngilima, Ngilima Collection


The resulting exhibition, Sidetracks: Working with Two Photographic Collections, went on display at the Market Photo Workshop in 2013. “For the book we drew on the same photographs but we worked with them in a slightly different way,” said Adams. “We also emphasised more social pictures. There is a perception that photographs from this period should focus on struggle – we were trying to give a different view.”

Feyder agrees. “Private photos like these suggest what it was like to live at the time. People did not go to the photographic studio to “resist” apartheid, they went there because it was fun. But you can say that it was part of a strategy of resilience, to construct a positive image of oneself in a context where you are being constantly told that you are inferior for not being white.”

Whereas the exhibition featured text and maps the book is determinedly minimal. Commonplace is a photographic book and the photographs dominate. Apart from those opening few words other text is to be found at the back of the book. Nor are there captions to the photographs; they too are at the back below thumbnail reference images.

Davies Social Centre, Benoni location, mid-1950s. Photo: Ronald Ngilima, Ngilima Collection.


Fyvie Farm near Estcourt, 1930s. Photo: Drummond-Fyvie Collection


The absence of captions was quite a leap for Adams and Feyder. “We were both reluctant at first,” recalled Feyder, “but Oliver Barstow, the book’s designer, encouraged us to keep it simple. As scholars the idea of having no captions horrified us, but we were also aware that scholars write all sorts of things about the images they are working with while forgetting to really look at them. “

For the viewer a lack of captions forces direct engagement with the images. You also discover how captions, when and if you refer to them, exert power and add bias thus mediating and manipulating your response. For example, you find that a full-length portrait photograph of a teenage Temple Fyvie in the late 1900s was taken shortly before he died, thrown by a horse. Does that knowledge add or detract to the image? It certainly changes how you “read” it. On a more prosaic level you discover the cigarette held by the man in that very first photograph has an added dimension: he is opening the door of the Leonard Dingler tobacco factory.

The many and various images in Commonplace either stand alone or on facing pages, such as the coy “pin-ups” of white women posing on sandy holiday beaches juxtaposed with those of black women on beds in their township homes; black or white their poses echo those of models in the swim- or underwear advertisements of the day.

Individuals, adults and children, couples, groups. Family photographs. In Adams case the family is her own. “Yes, they are private family ‘snaps’– and I feel protective of them in that sense – but they also bear witness to a particular past. In both the book and the exhibition we wanted to keep that sense of conflict.”

Feyder acknowledges the shared aspects of the photographs drawn from the two collections but the similarities are serendipitous rather than schematic. “There are similarities,” said Feyder, “but we are not out to make some redemptive statement about our shared common humanity with the book. We are more interested in the grey areas.”


Book details

Kortlyste vir die kykNET-Rapport Boekresensent van die Jaar-toekennings 2017 bekendgemaak

Die Afrikaanse resensiebedryf kan homself op die skouer klop te oordeel na die gehalte van inskrywings wat vir vanjaar se kykNET-Rapport Boekresensent van die Jaar-wedstryd ontvang is.

Die kortlyste is pas bekend gemaak vir dié pryse, wat ingestel is om die belange van boeke en die leesgenot van boekliefhebbers te bevorder deur die wêreld van Afrikaanse boeke vir die breë Suid-Afrikaanse publiek toeganklik te maak. Dit dien ook as aanmoediging om hoë standaarde in die Afrikaanse boekjoernalistiek te handhaaf.

Altesaam 33 van die voorste resensente in Afrikaans het vanjaar ingeskryf, tien meer as verlede jaar. Twee pryse van R25 000 elk word toegeken vir die beste Afrikaanse resensie wat in 2016 oor Afrikaansie fiksie en niefiksie onderskeidelik verskyn het. Die kortlyste, wat uit 90 inskrywings saamgestel is, is soos volg:


Danie Marais: “Die ‘Kook en Geniet’ van oneerbiedigheid” (oor Anton Kannemeyer en Conrad Botes se Bitterkomix 17, Media24-dagblaaie, 4 Julie 2016)
Charl-Pierre Naudé: “Digterlike afdruk van ‘n lewe verbeeld” (oor Bibi Slippers se Fotostaatmasjien, Media 24-dagblaaie, 5 Desember 2016)
Elmari Rautenbach: “Debuut se stiltes ’n elegie aan verlore liefde” (oor Valda Jansen se Hy kom met die skoenlappers, Media 24-dagblaaie, 18 Julie 2016)


Reinhardt Fourie: Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P. Brink en Ingrid Jonker (geredigeer deur Francis Galloway, Tydskrif vir letterkunde, September/Oktober 2016)
Daniel Hugo: “Een van die heel grotes” (oor Om Hennie Aucamp te onthou, saamgestel deur Danie Botha, Rapport, 14 Februarie 2016)
Emile Joubert: “Die afkook van ’n vol lewe vind hier beslag” (oor Wat die hart van vol is deur Peter Veldsman met Elmari Rautenbach, Media24-dagblaaie, 31 Oktober 2016)

Die keurders was boekjoernalis en digter Bibi Slippers (sameroeper), senior joernalis en skrywer Jomarié Botha en digter en dosent Alfred Schaffer. Aangesien ’n werk van Slippers geresenseer is, is sy vir die finale keuring deur die redakteur van Huisgenoot, Yvonne Beyers, vervang.

Die keurders was dit eens dat die inskrywings deur die bank van ’n baie hoë gehalte was en werklik leeslus aanwakker.

“Daar was heelparty gevalle waar ek nie noodwendig onder normale omstandighede in ’n sekere boek sou belangstel nie, maar die resensent se entoesiasme en insigte het my genoeg geprikkel om dit ’n kans te wil gee,” sê Slippers.

“Dit was ook veral heerlik om verskillende resensies van belangrike boeke soos Die na-dood, Vlakwater en Koors te lees, en uiteenlopende interpretasies en leesbenaderings te kan ervaar via die resensente.”

Daar was vanjaar heelwat nuwe name onder die resensente wat ingeskryf het. “Ek hoop dat ons deur inisiatiewe soos dié die poel selfs verder kan vergroot. Hoe meer ingeligte, intelligente menings uit verskillende perspektiewe verteenwoordig is, hoe beter vir alle rolspelers in die boekbedryf,” sê Slippers.

Die wenners word op 30 September 2017 saam met die wenners van die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse in Kaapstad aangekondig.

Bitterkomix 17Boekbesonderhede




Hy kom met die skoenlappers


Vlam in die sneeu


Om Hennie Aucamp te onthou


Wat die hart van vol is

50 Boerekosgeregte: krap maar in hierdie pot wat ’n voorwoord deur Dana Snyman bevat...

Kyk, as Dana Snyman die voorwoord skryf, dan weet jy…

50 Boerekosgeregte is ‘n samestelling van resepte uit die kombuise van die Vrouelandbouvereniging van die Noord-Kaap.

Krap maar in hierdie pot.

Hier is resepte vir weeksdagetes, spesiale geleenthede en familiesaamtrekke, met immergroen treffers soos ‘n korslose souttert, basaarpoeding, gestolde komkommerslaai, kerrievleisvetkoeke, snoektert, karringmelkroosterkoek en groenboontjiebredie.


Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award shortlist announced

The Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award is bestowed upon a local author for a South African published book that booksellers most enjoyed selling or that sold so well that it made a difference to the bottom line of booksellers across the country.

The books are voted for by members of the South African Booksellers Association all of whom are booksellers. It is the Booksellers Choice award, thus the booksellers vote for the book they most enjoyed selling during the year.

The shortlist this year includes previous winner, Deon Meyer, who makes it with his book Koors, a son’s story of his father’s murder. The much-loved comedian Trevor Noah joins him with Born a crime and other stories. Other shortlisted authors include Elsabé Brits who traces the fascinating life of Emily Hobhouse, from her tireless campaigning for women’s rights to her outspoken opposition to injustice, in Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde verraaier. My own liberator by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke plays homage to the many people and places that have helped define and shape him. Meanwhile JAN: A breath of French Air by Jan Hendrick van der Westhuizen is a memoir and celebration of the renowned eatery JAN, a South African restaurant in the South of France. Kook saam Kaaps by Koelsoem Kamalie and Flori Schrikker continues the culinary theme with an easy-going home cookbook with ‘food from the heart’ recipes.

Last year’s winner was Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. On accepting the award Sally commented: “I am so honoured to win the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award 2016; booksellers are heroes – up there with librarians in my estimation. Reading can entertain, challenge and educate. It takes us to places and ideas we don’t normally visit. It can even open our hearts and uplift our souls. Thank you, booksellers for this gift you give to us all”.

Stephen Long, Global Managing Director, Book Discovery and Commerce at Nielsen said, “With the help of members of the South African Booksellers Association, the number of submissions for this year’s event has been incredible. We wish all this year’s shortlisted authors the very best of luck.

The short-listed books for 2016 are:

· Born a crime and other stories by Trevor Noah (Published by Pan Macmillan)
· Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde verraaier by Elsabe Brits (Published by Tafelberg)
· JAN A breath of French Air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen (Published by Struik)
· Kook saam Kaaps by Koelsoem Kamalie and Flori Schrikker (Published by Lapa Uitgewers)
· Koors by Deon Meyer (Published by Human & Rousseau)
· My own liberator by Dikgang Moseneke (Published by Picador Africa)

The winning author will be announced on the 22nd of August at the Sefika Awards Dinner in Durban and will receive a cheque from Nielsen for R 20 000.


Book details

Born A Crime


Emily Hobhouse


My Own Liberator


JAN - A Breath of French Air


Kook Saam Kaaps

Launch: Curry (1 August)

Journalist Ishay Govender-Ypma threads together the enticing flavours of South African curry. The classic KwaZulu-Natal crab and dried fish curries share the limelight with Cape Malay chicken and crayfish curries, kasi beef curries from Orlando West and Qunu, offal from Calvinia, Karoo venison, kerkbasaar kerrie en rys and vegetarian dhals from across the map. The book takes a tour through the kitchens of respected local cooks as they share their stories and recipes.

Event Details

Kokkedoortjie is ’n kookboek vir die kind in ons almal

Die inspirasie waarop elke gesin gewag het. Kokkedoortjie volg in die spore van die uiters gewilde Kokkedoor- en Koekedoor-reekse, met tien jong kinderkokke wat meeding vir die titel van die land se beste kinderkok.

Dié kookboek is ’n versamelstuk vir die derduisende aanhangers wat die Kokkedoortjies leer lief kry het, en wil bak en kook soos hulle.

Kokkedoortjie is ’n gesinskookboek, ’n kinderkookboek, ’n kookboek vir die kind in ons almal. Dit verweef elke dag se staatmakerresepte met ’n unieke bestanddeel – die kleurvolle verbeelding van ’n kind.

Dit wissel van eiernessies vir ontbyt, die beste kosblik-toebroodjies ooit, koekies vir Entrepreneursdag, trooskos, sportiewe hamburgers, piekniekslaaie in flesse, poetsbak-poedings, plaatkoekies en pannekoek. Daar is kreatiewe visgeregte en die finaliste se wengeregte wat die land se monde laat water. Die beoordelaars deel ook hul gunstelingresepte in die boek.
Errieda du Toit, inhoudsvervaardiger: kos van Kokkedoortjie, vang die hoogtepunte van die reeks in dié boek vas. Kokkedoortjie is haar agste boek. Sy is ’n geliefde kok en radiopersoonlikheid – haar weeklikse koerantrubrieke en kosblog word verslind en haar mees onlangse boek, Tuistafel, word uit alle oorde besing.

Edwin Theron (13) van Worcester – wenner van Kokkedoortjie – is die spreekwoordelike klein pakkie met groot verrassings. In sy eie woorde: ‘die kleinste sleutels maak die grootste deure oop’. Hy is ‘n self-geleerde jong kok wat elke aand kos maak vir sy ma Marietjie en sussie Martli, wat hom baie selfvertroue in die kombuis gegee het.

Hy is vreesloos (hy is ‘n bekroonde stoeier, boer nou met bye en eet brandrissies soos lekkergoed) en avontuurlik, maar weet ook hoe om kos te maak wat almal van hou om te eet.

Sy gunsteling-resepte uit die kompetisie is almal in die Kokkedoortjie-boek opgeneem, van sy selfie-suurlemoenkolwyntjies wat hy vir die oudisie gemaak het, monsterkoekies uit Sesame Street, Franse roosterbroodvingers met graanvlokkie-kors, tregterkoekies tot sy Spaanse pizza, Usain Bolt-hoenderburger, beur-jou-op-bobotie en die souserige sjokoladekersiepoeding wat
hy in die finale rondte gemaak het.

Sy kenteken-gereg “Beesfilet-Cordon Bleu balle met sampioenroomsous” is sy persoonlike gunsteling.