On Writing South Africa Now 2015

ZAPP_Facebook_profile_160px_72ppi_roundcorners_webEstablished in 2013 with the primary mandate of promoting international dialogue on South African literature and culture, the Writing South Africa Now (WSAN) collective held its third colloquium in conjunction with the South African Poetry Project (ZAPP) at the University of Cambridge on 26 and 27 June 2015. Also launched in 2013, ZAPP is a collaboration between Cambridge’s Centre for Commonwealth Education and the University of the Witwatersrand in an effort to “develop research on South African poetry and support its teaching in secondary schools”. This partnership resulted in fruitful discussions on scholarship, literary practice, performance, publication, and criticism in South Africa.

The colloquium consisted of four panels: Testimony and Truth, Politics and Aesthetics, The Global and the Transcultural, and Identity and Representation. Interspersed between these panels were guest talks by scholars, Rita Barnard and Kelwyn Sole, as well as readings and performances by the renowned writers and poets: Lyndall Gordon, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Denis Hirson, Toni Stuart, Malika Ndlovu, Isobel Dixon, and Kate Kilalea. Amongst questions raised during the Testimony and Truth panel session were the impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on literary production, representation, and the types of metaphors which its legacy has brought to the fore in post-liberation writing. Panelists concentrated on Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull, Ruth First’s 117 Days, Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter, Njabulo Ndebele’s The Cry of Winnie Mandela, Yvette Christiansë’s Unconfessed, and Lauren Buekes’ Zoo City – to name but a few. Continue reading

Writer in Residence: Margie Orford at the University of York

Margie Orford (John Tinley Writer in Residence) © Imke van Heerden
Margie Orford (John Tinley Writer in Residence) © Imke van Heerden

At the beginning of the summer term, the University of York welcomed the queen of crime fiction, Margie Orford, as a John Tinley Writer in Residence in the Department of English and Related Literature. In addition to running weekly writing workshops at York, Orford also gave lectures on “Writing Violence: Ethics and Aesthetics” at both York and Cambridge, lectures in which she explored the ubiquity of violence in the socio-political and her role as a novelist in South Africa. Citing the prevalence of crime, interpersonal and structural violence in South Africa, Orford argued that crime fiction, which only emerged as a genre after the transition, “seemed to offer a way to contain…fear and to make sense of the obliterating chaos of violence”. With regards to this, the crime novel functions as “a way of interpreting the society upon which it focuses its lens”. Her analysis thus revealed the “links between crime fiction and a liberal democratic order”. Continue reading

On the African Intellectual Mobilities Colloquium

Rebecca Jones ‘We need new critical paradigms’: Reflections on researching a literary history of Yoruba travel writing’ © Imke van Heerden
Rebecca Jones ‘We need new critical paradigms’: Reflections on researching a literary history of Yoruba travel writing’ © Imke van Heerden

Finding Africa is delighted to have had the opportunity to co-host and participate in the recent colloquium of African Intellectual Mobilities at the University of York. Centred around a questioning and broadening of the travel writing genre and the movements of writers, the colloquium registered the significance and extent of travel writing by African and black diaspora authors and intellectuals. Such a revisiting of the genre reveals the potential for research that seeks to reposition travel and the many types of texts and voices that have been marginalised within this tradition of writing.

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Brendon Nicholls and his reading of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s “Sozaboy”

Dr. Brendon Nicholls, lecturer in African and Postcolonial literatures at the University of Leeds
Brendon Nicholls, lecturer in African and Postcolonial literatures at the University of Leeds

Finding Africa considers itself fortunate to have had its first seminar inaugurated by Brendon Nicholls and his insightful new reading of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy. In bringing together a consideration of environment, psyche and objects, Nicholls was able to argue for the existence, in the text, of an embedded environmental consciousness. The significance of his reading is twofold in its relation to Ken Saro-Wiwa as an activist and figure of resistance, and in respect to Kleinian Object Relations and their applicability to postcolonial African texts.

On the 10 of November 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by his government along with eight other members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Sara-Wiwa’s activism had at its heart a concern for his Ogoni people, which in turn led him to lead a protest against the environmental damage to Ogoni lands carried out by the Shell oil company. In what has been considered a landmark victory against global exploitation, Saro-Wiwa’s campaign successfully managed to kick Shell out of the Ogoni region in 1993. The circumstances of Saro-Wiwa’s execution two years later have left little doubt regarding the government’s complicity with corporate exploitation and the price one pays for taking a stand against it. Continue reading

Ruth Mumbi, Human Rights, and the Dhobi of Kenya

Ruth Mumbi (Visiting Fellow) Centre for Applied Human Rights University of York
Ruth Mumbi (Visiting Fellow)
Centre for Applied Human Rights
University of York

The gasp that escaped from the audience in response to the image projected before them was proof that Ruth Mumbi, angry tears shining in her eyes, had succeeded in driving home the reality of her message and cause – a reality worlds apart from that of those privileged enough to have attended Ruth’s talk last Friday on the 17th of October. Ruth herself was the subject of the photo and in it she was being dragged up by three police into the back of a truck.

She didn’t so much as blink when she proceeded to mention that she had experienced physical abuse during her time spent in police custody. According to Ruth, she was one of the lucky ones. Having developed a profile as a Human Rights Defender (HRD) many NGOs and other organisations were willing to post her bail. Those beginning to tread down the road of fighting for human rights in Kenya, those without a profile or history, are unlikely to have their bail posted for them. The police had seized Ruth on suspicion of her organising an illegal assembly in protest against a 16% tax increase on commodities (more details to be found here).

Ruth is currently a visiting fellow at the University of York, and is being hosted by the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR). At the focal point of her talk here at York was the organisation Wamama wa Dhobi that she has been part of organising in order to address the maltreatment of informal domestic workers living in Mathare, an informal settlement outside of Nairobi. The troubles of these domestic workers has risen as a result of a stipulation in Kenyan law which recognises only those domestic workers who live with the family they work for. These women, known as Dhobi (which means ‘laundry’ in Swahili), are frequently exploited by their employees who offer them a below minimum wage and then assert the right not to pay the women if they have found their work for the day to be unsatisfactory. Instances of physical abuse and rape are not uncommon. Continue reading