/ 29 November 2019

African Stories, told by Africans

Shireen Hassim weaves the colourful threads of Fatima Meer's life together
Shireen Hassim weaves the colourful threads of Fatima Meer's life together



The National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) champions not only academic participation and advancement in the fields of humanities and social studies; it is also an active advocate of African literary creation and consumption. The NIHSS’s commitment to promoting African stories told from an African perspective also encourages Africans to take ownership of these stories by reading them. Earlier this year, through the 2019 HSS Awards: Book, Creative Collection and Digital Contribution, NIHSS brought you creative works of both fiction and non-fiction for your winter reading list. Following the awards, the Institute now brings you creative works that are culmination of its collaborative projects with numerous publishers, such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Press. These books weave together the past, present, and future of South Africa for your festive reading list. Whether you are a humanities and social sciences scholar, an avid reader, or still finding your reading feet, you should be able to find a book that captures your interest from these festive reading recommendations.

One of the books that is a product of the NIHSS’s investment to the authentic telling and retelling of African stories is These are the Things that Sit with Us. Edited by P Gobodo-Madikizela, F Bubenzer, and M Oelofsen, this book details the lived experiences of ordinary South African citizens in Langa, Bonteheuwel and Worcester during apartheid. Democracy, freedom, discrimination, and justice can all be terms that are vague and misappropriated without context; These are the Things that Sit with Us helps to humanise these terms. The stories reflect the remnants and scars of South Africa’s tumultuous history that are reflected, in one way or another, within all South Africans. These tales are a fitting demonstration of the canvas that the country’s future is being charted on. Told in English, isiXhosa, and Afrikaans, they are not only accompanied by moving imagery, but they also provoke questions. This book won’t just give you critical insight: it promises to start interesting conversations on justice and decolonialisation in the South African context, and should definitely be on your festive reading list.

If These are the Things that Sit with Us whets your appetite, then you will find Black Academic Voices: the South African Experience even more enticing. Using the lens of transformation and decolonisation of academia in South Africa, the book provides insight into the personal livelihoods and experience of black academics in South African universities. Grace Khunou, Edith Phaswana, and Katijah Khoza-Shangase discuss identity, racial and sexual exclusion in an effort to deconstruct the patriarchal and racist authoritarian hierarchies of academia in South Africa. Black Academic Voices provides a reference for the debate on the scarcity of black academics in institutions of higher education in South Africa, as it explores black identity and its relation to the structural and relational challenges that exist within higher learning institutions. This book is one of the first few biographical renditions of black experience in academia and is a worthy read, not only for scholarly reference, but also for personal enrichment.

Black Academic Voices features colourful and intricate patterns that only exist because of the multi-faceted and insistent individuals such as Fatima Meer. Fatima Meer is an edition in the Voices of Liberation series, from HSRC Press supported by the NIHSS. It is edited by Shireen Hassim, and briefly narrates the life and experiences of the Durban-born activist. Hassim brings together the colourful threads of Meer’s life, including the early life experiences that shaped her world view and enabled her to intricately balance activism and academia. The book will give you insight into the motivations behind her absence in the South African democratic governing body while exploring her contributions to The Republic’s governance. If you invest your festive spend in this book, you’ll not only get to understand Meer’s life, but also understand her world view as the book contains excerpts from her written work. You’ll get to read Fatima’s accounts of violence in the 1980s, her thoughts on race and suicide, her literary portrait of Indian South Africans, and much more.

First published in seSotho, She is to Blame by BW Vilakazi is a part of Antji Krog’s book translation project with Oxford University Press (OUPSA). Translated by N. Sithole to English, this is a beautifully woven tale that involves the ritual murder by minor moSotho king, Mosito. The murder was instigated by his councillors, as a means of preserving his status as a minor king. Set in the early years of British colonial occupation, the story follows the life of Mosito, who finds himself conflicted between his educational background and traditional upbringing. The choices presented by his Lovedale College contemporaries and those presented by his wife and traditional councillors are a demonstration of the cultural and traditional clashes that Africans still experience today. Written many decades ago, and now available in English, the book explores themes that are still relevant in deconstructing African identity.

Also recently translated from isiXhosa to English by T Maqabeka, N Mpolweni, and T Ntwana is SEK Mqhayi’s Don Jadu. First published in 1951 under the tittle U-Don Jadu : “UkuHamba yimFundo” : imbali yokukhuthaza uManyano nenKqubela-Phambili, the translation of this book was no easy feat. This book articulates Mqayi’s hopes for the future of the Xhosa people. Don Jadu is short for Dondolo kaJadu Mzima, the central character of Mqhayi’s writing; he is a black and principled stateman whose utopian views and leadership Mqhayi hopes the Xhosa people will unite under.

JM Mngadi’s Askikho Ndawo Bakithi is a festive treat worthy of both your time and coins. It tells of the trials and tribulations of KwaZulu-Natal residents during apartheid: the challenges of land ownership in suburban KZN, issues of unemployment and the disintegration of family life and family values. The first edition is available in isiZulu; Home is Nowhere is a recent translation into English by NG Sibiya.

The NIHSS promises to keep delivering compelling and insightful African literature.For more details visit nihss.ac.za/