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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

“A literary dance with science” – the Mail & Guardian reviews Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch

The announcement of the Homo naledi hominid fossils by Professor Lee Berger in September 2015 at Maropeng outside Johannesburg dominated the news and headlines for months internationally. The public reaction to the find indicated a fascination in the search for human origins, and that the concept of race and human evolution are linked in many people’s minds.

Christa Kuljian traces the history of South African palaeoanthropology and genetics research in order to make sense of science and race in the quest to understand human origins. Over time, the nature of the search has shifted and changed. What are we looking for after all?

Darwin’s hunch in 1871 was that humans evolved in Africa, but very few European scientists agreed. Raymond Dart wrote in Nature in February 1925 that the Taung Child Skull supported Darwin’s theory. Dart believed he had found the “missing link” between apes and humans. Again, few scientists agreed.

Over the past century, the search for human origins has been shaped by the changing social and political context. Reflecting colonial thinking, Raymond Dart followed the practice in the US and Europe of collecting human remains and characterising human skeletons into racial types. He thought that there was a Bushman racial type that might provide a clue to human evolution. In 1936, he led a Wits University expedition to the Kalahari to study this imaginary racial type. One of the people he met and measured was a young woman named /Keri-/Keri. She died two years later. Her body was embalmed and taken to Wits University where her skeleton became part of the Raymond Dart Skeleton Collection. The book uncovers the sad story of what happened to her remains. In addition to /Keri-/Keri, Kuljian introduces us to a range of people who were in the shadows of the well-known scientists.

The book shows how Prime Minister Jan Smuts supported the search for human origins in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, how the concept of human evolution was opposed by the apartheid government, and how the post-1994 South African government and President Thabo Mbeki, with encouragement from Phillip Tobias, celebrated the fact that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind. Yet the search continues. In 1987, the publication of ‘Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution’ suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to Africa 200,000 years ago. Many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim. Genetic research continues today, based not on fossils or skeletons, but on DNA samples. Kuljian examines current thinking and approaches to the ongoing search and explains why for much of the past century so many scientists were reluctant to accept Darwin’s Hunch.

Nigel Willis, a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, recently reviewed Kuljian’s Alan Paton Award 2017 shortlisted book for the Mail & Guardian:

Charles Darwin speculated that the origins of modern human beings may be traced to Africa. It took more than a century of hard research, exploration and scientific endeavour for his hunch to be vindicated.

Written in a gripping account that reads like a detective novel, Christa Kuljian provides a history of this validation of Darwin’s “hunch”. Kuljian is a writing fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research. She took her first degree in the history of science at Harvard University, where prominent among her tutors was the world-renowned paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould.

In addition to a master’s degree at Princeton, she has another from the University of the Witwatersrand in creative writing. Her superb academic training illuminates this book.

Kuljian deals insightfully with the interrelationship between politics and science, especially the science of paleontology. Politics and its kindred spirit, ideology, influenced not only the prevailing assumptions about human origins but also the ability of paleontologists to raise funds to enable them to undertake their research. Political support may result in direct grants from government, but also heightens general consciousness, facilitating generous donations from private foundations and other institutions.

Kuljian draws parallels and distinctions between Jan Smuts, statesman, all round academic and pre-apartheid prime minister, and post-apartheid president Thabo Mbeki. The intellectual curiosity of both was stimulated by the prospect that the origins of modern human beings may have begun in South Africa. Both thought that research in this regard would help to “put South Africa on the map”. Mbeki thought that it would give black South Africans a sense of self-pride. To this idea Smuts was impervious.

Under apartheid, the Nationalist government was indifferent, if not hostile, to the idea that “the cradle of humankind” may lie in South Africa. It was afraid of the effect science may have on the ideology of “difference” between and, correspondingly, the inherent “separateness” of races.

Apartheid prime minister and also an academic, Hendrik Verwoerd was afraid that science may implode his theory that, as the first white person came ashore at the Cape, the first black person crossed the Limpopo. In Verwoerdian ideology, South Africa, apart from a few politically irrelevant San and Khoi-Khoi, was a wilderness, awaiting possession by white people. Thus reasoned, there had been no colonial displacement of blacks.

Continue reading Judge Willis’s review here.
 

Darwin's Hunch

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The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for Writing 2017 collection

The Goddess of Mtwara and Other StoriesThe Goddess of Mtwara and Other StoriesThe Goddess of Mtwara and Other StoriesThe Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the
richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally. The focus on the short story reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.

This collection brings together the five 2017 shortlisted stories, along with stories written at the Caine Prize Writers’ Workshop, which took place in April 2017.

The Workshop authors are:
Lidudumalingani (South Africa), last year’s winner
Abdul Adan (Somalia/Kenya), previously shortlisted
Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria), previously shortlisted
Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe), previously shortlisted
Cheryl Ntumy (Botswana/Ghana)
Daniel Rafiki (Rwanda)
Darla Rudakubana (Rwanda)
Agazit Abate (Ethiopia)
Esther Karin Mngodo (Tanzania)
Lydia Kasese (Tanzania)
Zakariwa Riwa (Tanzania)

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Pumla Dineo Gqola’s Reflecting Rogue delivers 20 essays of deliciously incisive brain food written from anti-racist, feminist perspectives

Reflecting Rogue is the much anticipated and brilliant collection of experimental autobiographical essays on power, pleasure and South African culture by Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola.

In her most personal book to date, written from classic Gqola antiracist, feminist perspectives, Reflecting Rogue delivers 20 essays of deliciously incisive brain food, all extremely accessible to a general critical readership, without sacrificing intellectual rigour.

These include essays on ‘Disappearing Women’, where Gqola spends time exploring what it means to live in a country where women can simply disappear – from a secure Centurion estate in one case, to being a cop in another, and being taken by men who know them.

‘On the beauty of feminist rage’ magically weaves together the shift in gender discourse in South Africa’s public spheres, using examples from #RUReferenceList, #RapeAtAzania and #RememberingKhwezi.

Reflecting Rogue takes on both the difficulties and rewards of wilfully inhabiting our bodies in ‘Growing into my body’, while ‘Belonging to myself’ uncovers what it means to refuse the adversarial, self-harming lessons patriarchy teaches us about femininity.

In ‘Mothering while feminist’ Gqola explores raising boys as a feminist – a lesson in humour, humility and patience from the inside. In ‘Becoming my mother’ the themes of fear, envy, adoration and resentment are unpacked in mother-daughter relationships. While ‘I’ve got all my sisters with me’ explores the heady heights of feminist joy, ‘A meditation on feminist friendship with gratitude’ exposes a new, and more personal side to ever-incisive Gqola.

Reflecting Rogue comes to a breath-taking end in ‘A love letter to the Blackman who raised me’.

Gender activist, award-winning author and full professor of African Literature at Wits University, Pumla Dineo Gqola has written extensively for both local and international academic journals. She is the author of What is Slavery to Me? (Wits University Press), A Renegade Called Simphiwe (MFBooks Joburg) and Rape: A South African Nightmare (MFBooks Joburg).

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Decolonising South African Editing: In my own words debate

“If you don’t like my story, write your own.” Chinua Achebe’s words have been taken to heart.

It’s a wonderland of writing and book making out there. New voices, new stories, new energy, new ways of saying things. New ways of publishing, self-publishing prime among them. So, as not-so-traditional publishers who always look for new ways of doing things, we thought it was time to face up to our challenges.

On Wednesday, 2 August we hope to have a robust and thought-provoking debate and discussion that will help us find out:

• How do we reflect this new spirit from its inception?
• How do we help craft, edit, shape, or not, these new stories?
• How do we decolonise editing?

The evening will be emceed by Thabiso Mahlape, the founder of BlackBird Books. The panel, with speakers Sabata-Mpho Mokae, Dudu Busani-Dube, Helen Moffett, Rehana Rossouw and Malebo Sephodi, will be chaired by Redi Tlhabi, author of Endings & Beginnings and ex-702 Talk Radio host.

DATE
Wednesday, 2 August
TIME
18:00 for 18:30
VENUE
Wits Senate Room
2nd Floor
Senate House, East Campus
Johannesburg
RSVP
rsvp@jacana.co.za

Limited seating. RSVP to secure your place.

We will welcome voices from the audience.

PARKING:
Please use Senate House basement parking, which is accessible from 28 Jorissen Street. If it is full, please enter through the Yale Road entrance and use the public parking around the Origins Centre and the Planetarium.

ABOUT THE PANELLISTS

Thabiso Mahlape is a publisher with Jacana Media. She launched her own imprint BlackBird Books in 2015. The imprint seeks to provide a platform and a publishing home to both new voices and the existing generation of black writers and narratives.
 
 
 
 
 
Sabata-Mpho Mokae writes in English and Setswana. He is the author of a teen novella Dikeledi and a biography The Story of Sol T. Plaatje. His first novella, Ga ke Modisa [I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper] won the M-Net Literary Award for Best Novel in Setswana as well as the M-Net Film Award in 2013. The book is now prescribed at North West University as well as Central University of Technology. Mokae also won the South African Literary Award in 2011. In 2014 he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa. He is a creative writing lecturer at the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.
 
Dudu Busani-Dube is a successful self-published author. She chose to self-publish because she wanted to tell her stories using her own style and language. She believes that handing over her work to a traditional publisher and editor would not allow her to keep her style and for characters to use language in the way that best expressed their experiences, which is the very thing that has made her Hlomu The Wife series relatable and successful.
 
 
 
Helen Moffett is a poet, editor, academic, and feminist activist. She’s authored, co-authored or collated books ranging from university textbooks to poetry to erotica. She’s worked in publishing for 25 years, and cut her teeth as a development editor first as OUP’s academic editor and then as the editor of the academic journal Feminist Africa. Authors she’s edited include some of the country and continent’s brightest literary and academic stars. She specialises in mentoring younger editors, black women in particular, and this was a feature of the Short Story Day Africa anthology, Migrations, where she worked with the talented Bongani Kona and Efemia Chela.
 
Malebo Sephodi is an activist and writer who takes special interest in gender, development, science and economics in Africa. She is known as ‘Lioness’ and describes her life as nomadic. She is the founder of Lady Leader, a platform that allows black women to just be.
 
 
 
 
Rehana Rossouw is an award-winning author. Rehana has been a journalist for three decades and has also taught journalism and creative writing. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Wits University. She has judged the Sunday Times Literary Awards and believes in the power of words and not using glossaries to describe Cape Town slang.
 
 
 
 
Redi Tlhabi is a journalist, producer, author and a radio presenter. Tlhabi has an Honours degree in Political Economy and English Literature. She has been a television and radio journalist for the SABC, Primedia and eTV.


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Listen: Vanessa Levenstein reviews Raymond Suttner’s Inside Apartheid’s Prison for FMR

Inside Apartheid's PrisonFirst published by Oceanbooks, New York and Melbourne, and University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, in 2001, Inside Apartheid’s Prison was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton award in 2002.

In the public imagination the struggle that saw the end of apartheid and inauguration of a democratic South Africa is seen as one waged by black people who were often imprisoned or killed for their efforts. Raymond Suttner, an academic, is one of a small group of white South Africans who was imprisoned for his efforts to overthrow the apartheid regime.

He was first arrested in 1975 and tortured with electric shocks because he refused to supply information to the police. He then served eight years for underground activities for the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP).

After his release in 1983, he returned to the struggle and was forced to go underground to evade arrest, but was re-detained in 1986 for 27 months; 18 of these being spent in solitary confinement.

In the last months of this detention Suttner was allowed to have a pet lovebird, which he tamed and used to keep inside his tracksuit. When he was eventually released from detention in September 1988 the bird was on his shoulder.

Suttner was held under stringent house arrest conditions, imposed to impede further political activities. He however defied his house arrest restrictions and attended an Organisation for African Unity meeting in Harare, where he remained for five months. Shortly after his return to SA, when he anticipated being re-arrested, the state of emergency was lifted and the ANC and other banned organisations were unbanned.

The book describes Suttner’s experience of prison in a low-key, unromantic voice, providing the texture of prison life. This ‘struggle memoir’ is also intensely personal, as Suttner is not averse to admitting his fears and anxieties.

The new edition contains an afterword where Suttner describes his break with the ANC and SACP. But he argues that the reasons for his rupturing this connection that had been so important to his life were the same ethical reasons that had led him to join in the first place. He remains convinced that what he did was right and continues to act in accordance with those convictions.

Listen to Levenstein’s review here:


 

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Listen: AmaBookaBooka interview Christa Kuljian

In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

Listen to author Christa Kuljian discuss her Alan Paton award shortlisted book, sharing her thoughts on revisiting science, and repeating Australopithecus Africanus 10 times in this recent AmaBookaBooka interview:

 

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Farah Ahamed and Sarah Waiswa joint winners of Gerald Kraak 2017 Award

Gerald Kraak

 

Sarah Waiswa and Farah Ahamed

 
The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation recently hosted the presentation of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Prize and the launch of Pride and Prejudice: the Gerald Kraak Anthology of African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice, and Sexuality, at Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books’ Social Kitchen and Bar.

The MC for the evening, Kojo Baffoe, proclaimed that “tonight is about celebrating Gerald Kraak’s legacy.”

Pride and Prejudice is a collection of the short-listed entries to the inaugural award, named after Gerald Kraak (1956–2014), who was a passionate champion of social justice and an anti-apartheid activist.

“This book is a shelter, a place where slums are not art, they are simply where we live. It’s a place where albinos are not unicorns, they are only beautiful and ordinary. And it’s a place where gays are pained and also completely conventional. In this book, strange choppers fly and Africa is a landscape not simply for the past but for projections of the future,” says Sisonke Msimang, Editor in Chief and Head Judge.

The Gerald Kraak Award is a joint initiative between The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation.

A judging panel made up of distinguished gender activist Sisonke Msimang, prominent social and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser and leading African feminist Sylvia Tamale selected thirteen finalists.

“The stories in the anthology fight for what is just and right,” Baffoe asserted.

Research co-coordinator for The Other Foundation, Samuel Shapiro, announced that Pride and Prejudice is the first of five anthologies to come about celebrating the LGBTQI community in Africa.

After the attendees were treated to a performance by Danielle Bowler, Msimang delivered a televised message to all the entrants, lauding them for their creativity and “bad-ass” approach to discussing gender and sexuality in Africa.

Matele announced the joint winners for the anthology: Farah Ahamed (Fiction, Kenya) for her short story “Poached Eggs” and Sarah Waisman (Photography, Kenya) for her photo series “Stranger in a Familiar Land.”

“Poached Eggs” is described as a subtle, slow and careful rendering of the everyday rhythms of domestic terror that pays homage to the long history of women’s resistance; yet with wit and humour and grit, the story also sings of freedom, of resistance and the desire to be unbound.

“Stranger in a Familiar Land” showcases the best of African storytelling. The images take risks, and speak to danger and subversion. At the same time they are deeply rooted in places that are familiar to urban Africans. The woman in this collection is a stand-in for all of us.

All 13 entries which were shortlisted will be published in the anthology. The overall winner will receive a cash prize of R25 000.


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The Wild Fluffalump: a bedtime story which delivers an important message about extinction

A muddy baby elephant goes to sleep under a tall Cottonseed tree, where the leopard’s child has been bouncing all night.

It wakes up as a giant white fluffy ball and doesn’t recognise itself.

The animals come one by one and pull and lick and tug, trying to figure out what it is.

The battle being fought by admirable souls to keep elephants from extinction is steady but slow. A change in mind set is perhaps needed in the formative years, when cuddly bears and koalas and penguins and seal-pups rate high on the Hug-o-meter.

Now what if children from Africa to China could learn to see rhinos and elephants as wonderful animals to cuddle and to feel protective towards for a lifetime …

Also available in Afrikaans, isiXhosa & isiZulu.

Bruce Hobson writes as Mwenye Hadithi (meaning ‘story teller’ in Swahili). Born in Nairobi, Bruce grew in a house with a wild garden, visited by gazelles and porcupines and warthogs. A crocodile once went to sleep by the ironing board, and a hippopotamus got stuck in the back gate. As a child he kept tarantula-like spiders as pets and at school they were often confronted by baboons on the hockey field. From there he went to Rugby School in England, and studied foreign literature at London University. This inspired him to write, stirred by those traditional oral stories from Africa where the foibles of village characters, thinly disguised as animals, would lead to a moral lesson.

However, publishers weren’t keen on stories where hyenas had their bottoms sewn up in order to eat a lot, so in the best tradition of storytellers the world over, he borrowed bits from the old stories and wove them in with fresh threads of humour and his own motifs, and the Hadithi series’ Greedy Zebra was published in 1984.

Adrienne Kennaway grew up all over the world, but spent most of her formative life in Kenya, where an interest in wildlife soon turned to art, especially painting animals. Ealing Tech in London and L’Academie Bella Arte in Rome honed her skill and she became notably successful with her vivid watercolour illustrations for Mwenye Hadithi’s African folktale series. She has illustrated over 30 children’s books and her illustrations for Hadithi’s Crafty Chameleon won the Kate Greenaway Prize. Adrienne now enjoys spending time in the Irish countryside, capturing the local wildlife on canvas.

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Pride and Prejudice: an African anthology offering new perspectives on what it means to be marginalised, forgotten and stripped of one’s humanity

Pride and Prejudice is a collection of the short-listed entries to the inaugural award, named after Gerald Kraak (1956–2014), who was a passionate champion of social justice and an anti-apartheid activist.

“This book is a shelter, a place where slums are not art, they are simply where we live. It’s a place where albinos are not unicorns, they are only beautiful and ordinary. And it’s a place where gays are pained and also completely conventional. In this book, strange choppers fly and Africa is a landscape not simply for the past but for projections of the future,” says Sisonke Msimang, Editor in Chief and Head Judge.

The Gerald Kraak Award is a joint initiative between The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation.

A judging panel made up of distinguished gender activist Sisonke Msimang, prominent social and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser and leading African feminist Sylvia Tamale selected thirteen finalists.

The winner will be announced on 25 May 2017 at the official launch of the anthology.
 
 

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  • Pride and Prejudice: The Gerald Kraak Anthology African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice and Sexuality compiled by Gerald Kraak Award
    EAN: 9781431425181
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Apartheid Guns and Money a meticulously researched book which lifts the lid on some of the darkest secrets of apartheid’s economic crimes

The apartheid state was at war. For two decades before 1994, while internal resistance grew, mandatory sanctions prohibited the sale of strategic goods and arms to South Africa.

The last white regime was confronted with an existential threat.

A global covert network of nearly 50 countries was constructed to counter sanctions. In complete secrecy, allies in corporations, banks, governments and intelligence agencies helped move cash, illegally supply guns and create the apartheid arms money machine. Whistleblowers were assassinated and ordinary people suffered.

This is an exposé of that machinery created in defence of apartheid and the people who made this possible: heads of state, arms dealers, aristocrats, plutocrats, senators, bankers, spies, journalists and members of secret lobby groups.

They were all complicit in a crime against humanity. Motivated by ideology or kinship most sought to simply profit from the war.

Many have until now relied on lingering silence to erase the uncomfortable truth.

This meticulously researched book lifts the lid on some of the darkest secrets of apartheid’s economic crimes, weaving together material collected in over two-dozen archives in eight countries with an insight into tens of thousands of pages of newly declassified documents.

Networks of state capture persist in our democratic political system because the past and present are interconnected. In forging its future a new generation needs to grapple with the persistent silence regarding apartheid-era economic crime and ask difficult questions of those who benefited from it.

This book provides the evidence and the motivation to do so.

Hennie van Vuuren is an activist, writer and Director of Open Secrets, focusing on accountability for economic crimes and human rights violations. He works from within civil society, challenging corruption and the abuse of power.

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Apartheid Guns and Money can also be purchased via Exclusive Books Online and Takealot.


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