/ 20 December 2019

Humanities Awards 2020 Long List Collection Inspiring …

Discover more about South Africa with the books that won acclaim from the NIHSS
Discover more about South Africa with the books that won acclaim from the NIHSS



The fifth installation of the annual Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Awards, taking place on March 12 2020, honours authors and contributors of books, creative collections, and digital contributions. 

The Awards – hosted by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) – boasts over 100 entries in eight categories, and uplifts the work of creatives and scholars. The Awards categories include fiction (edited volumes and single authored volumes), non-fiction monographs and edited volumes, musical compositions/arrangements, public performances, visual arts and digital humanities visualisations and infographics. 

The awards not only serve as a platform for recognition of the writers and contributors, but to also pay tribute to the strides made by the associated publishing houses; they also aid the creatives and academics in promoting their work.

“With more than a 100 entries, we are pleased to note the phenomenal growth and interest in the number of submissions for the HSS Awards 2020. Qualifying entries for these annual HSS Awards 2020 feature 67 book entries, 18 creative collections and digital contributions,” explains Professor Sarah Mosoetsa, NIHSS chief executive. The submissions are supported by various publishing houses and associated with 15 higher education institutions. 

“The book submissions for the awards span a wide range of categories and they illustrate the diversity, beauty, complexities, and richness of the South African context. Most of the book entries below are a highlight of the 2020 Awards entries; they include a plethora of non-fiction literature that reflects the institutionalisation of the Southern African experience, demographic, and landscape,” says Mosoetsa.

Book reviews

Included in the non-fiction book entries is Whose History Counts: Decolonising African Pre-colonial Historiography, edited by June Bam, Lungisile Ntsebeza, and Allan Zinn; it is the third volume of the Rethinking Africa series of the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town. The book is a result of the 2017 conference, held at the Nelson Mandela University, which addressed and debated the perceptions and facts of the precolonial history of South Africa.

The book focuses on Xhosa history; this focus is based on the observed absence of the Xhosa narrative in precolonial histography, despite the prominence of the colonial land wars between the Xhosa people and the British, as well as the education system of the time that produced noteworthy leaders and academics. It goes beyond the facts of Xhosa history to explore the theory of knowledge, especially with regards to the methods, validity, scope, as well as the distinction between justified belief and opinion as it relates to South African Xhosa history. The editors explore facets of Xhosa culture that include: the past, definitions and naming, language, idioms, and knowledge retention methods within the indigenous knowledge system; they also explore the practical challenges associated with the decolonialising of knowledge.

Building on the theme of written history, the Voices of Liberation series recognises the lives and written work of African and South African activists and heroes dedicated to the liberation movement. A new addition to the series is dedicated to Archie Mafeje — whom the South African History Online befittingly describes as an “intellectual pathfinder” — who contributed much to the people of Africa’s knowledge and self-worth. Not only was Mafeje an influential academic, but he was a person of brilliance, intellect and a man of insight.

The book Voices of Liberation: Archie Mafeje by Bongani Nyoka captures Mafeje as a pan-Africanist and cosmopolitan thinker and scholar, who used his worldview to place South Africa and its narrative in the global context. His contributions impact how Africans understand themselves and how they engage the journey to emancipation; his contributions are informed by his family and political background, as well as his scholarly experiences and his life in exile. Most notably, the book includes a collection of Archie’s scholarly works, which are insightful and educational.

Among the biographical entries of the Awards is the story of an unsung hero. This is the story of a man who would grow up to be a political activist, qualified teacher, journalist, interpreter, farm manager and committed emancipation activist, Henry Selby Msimang. Msimang was a founding member of the African National Congress in 1912, and wore many hats throughout his life, which ended in 1982. A Political Biography of Selby Msimang: Principle and Pragmatism in the Liberation Struggle is the first comprehensive biography of the activist’s life and is written by Sibongiseni Mkhize. Mkhize draws on extensive unpublished sources to create a body of work that reflects the social and political experiences of Selby, which informed his view of the world and shaped his life journey.

One of South Africa’s most accomplished and celebrated political and literary figures is Sol Plaatje. Written by accomplished historian and academic, Brain Willan, the book Sol Plaatje: a life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje 1876-1932, paints the picture of his life, the context in which his literary work was created, and his lived experiences that formed the background of his political contributions and opinions. The book demonstrates his commitment to black liberation by bringing to light Plaatje as one of the founding members of the ANC, and his participation in the resistance to the Native Land Act of 1913. Plaatje was also committed to language preservation: his work as newspaper editor, published writer in both English and Setswana, and his translation of English creative work into his native language are evidence to this fact. Willan examines the formative years of the libertarian and weaves in the struggles and triumphs of his personal life. The portrait of Plaatje as written by Willan is drawn from extensive research in Southern African, European, and American archives and Solomon’s own writings.

Another libertarian portrayed in the Awards entries is President Cyril Ramaphosa. Whether you know Ramaphosa as the current President of the Republic of South Africa, as an active participant in the liberation movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, as the founding father of the National Union of Mineworkers, or as one of the most successful black businessmen in South Africa, you know him as a formidable character in the dynamics of our country. Anthony Butler’s Cyril Ramaphosa: The Road to Presidential Power examines the president’s traits, accomplishments and struggles. Butler looks at Ramaphosa’s formative years and schooling, delves into his contributions in paving the road to emancipation and the mobilisation of the mining workforce.

Ramaphosa’s leadership in the fight for the recognition of mineworker’s rights is also contrasted by Butler against the Marikana Massacre. Butler, who is a Professor of Political Studies at the University of Cape Town, bases his assessment and portrayal of Ramaphosa’s life on numerous conversations with the president, as well as his associates and friends. His portrayal paints the South African political context and landscape as the backdrop of the Ramaphosa’s experiences. He concludes the book by forming an analysis of the Ramaphosa’s prospects as the fifth president of democratic South Africa, drawing on his observations of the current and past presidents, combined with an understanding of the country’s political framework and landscape.

A superb entry in the fiction category is Nthikeng Mohlele’s sixth book, Illumination, which is an electric tale of Bantubonke’s life in Johannesburg as an artist. The book follows the life of revered trumpeter, composer, and band leader Bantubonke through the heights of his music and the eventual downward spiral that comprises his love life as well as his music. The downward spiral of the main character’s life follows his involvement in a horrific domestic gas explosion that leaves him disfigured and his music making compromised. The lives of Bantubonke and the associated characters are marked by the lingering colours of apartheid. Mohlele’s literary tapestry and characters bring to mind the existential question of who among the characters is really living? His rendering of an artist’s multi-layered life and struggles are poignant; he draws vivid imagery of not only the hustle and bustle of the Johannesburg scenery and lifestyle, but also of music and music creation. Mohlele’s powers of imagery are drawn from his experience as a performance arts student, which entrenches the imagination and related artistic development.

The body of South African biographic literature is extended with an entry that tells the life story of Abram Tiro. More than four decades after his passing, this is a portrait of South Africa’s first liberation activist to be assassinated by a parcel bomb beyond the borders of the country by the apartheid regime. Parcel of Death: The Biography of Onkgopotse Abram Tiro, recounts the little-told life story of Tiro. His life might have been short but it was expansive: he was an expelled student and member of the Student Representative Council at the University of the North (now known as University of Limpopo) in 1972, and organiser of the South African Students Organisation, a history teacher, and a worker at a manganese mine in his elementary schooling years. Gaongalelwe Tiro, the author of the book, is a blood relative of Onkgopotse and writes not only of the struggles of the freedom fighter’s death and the preceding events, but also of his sphere of influence, his politics and the formative experiences of his politics.

The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives, edited by Vishwas Safgar, is a Southern African perspective on one of the most pertinent global issues. It describes the role of corporate organisations in accelerating the crisis, as well as the shortfalls of public governance structures in introducing impactful approaches and solutions. Safgar also provides a commentary on the various aspects of the capitalist approach that are detrimental to the climate change conversations. This book is a third volume of the Democratic Marxism series and debates the eco-socialist solutions that are led by climate justice activists and campaigns. Safgar highlights the failings of the top-down approach that are demonstrated in international agendas such as the Paris Climate Agreement and suggests a bottom-up systematic transition to enable sustainable living. Expressing the vulnerabilities of island states and low-lying countries to changes in the climate and the environment, the book is a product of both empirical and theoretical research, and it builds on volume two of the previous series.

Dance of the Dung Beetles: Their role in our changing world explores our perception of the natural world and how societies engage with their environment. The book looks at the number of dung beetle species identified over the years and how these species have impacted societies across the globe. Marcus Byrne — writer and Professor in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Science — together with Helen Lunn (PhD in Musicology) bring together 3 000 years’ worth of dung beetle history. The authors portray dung beetles as insects but also as remarkable creatures that have a longstanding presence in religion, literature, science, the environment and as a known friend of the elephant.

The 2020 HSS Awards also feature an entry by one of South Africa’s award winning poets, Gabeba Baderoon. Gabebas’s fourth poetry book, The History of Intimacy, is a collection of poems that express the hurts and intimacies of desire, memories, and engagement with laws of existence. Baderoon is not only a poet and writer; she is also serves an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Pen State.

Non-Fiction Monograph

Are You Two Sisters? a memoir, by Hester Van der Walt, Modjaji Books

A Political Biography of Selby Msimang Principle and Pragmatism in the Liberation Struggle, by Sibongiseni Mkhize, HSRC Press

After Dawn, by Mcebisi Jonas, Pan Macmillan SA

Birding in South Africa’s National Parks, by Rob Little, Jacana Media

Black Consciousness and Progressive Movements under Apartheid, by Ian Macqueen, UKZN Press

Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance, by Adrienne Sichel, Porcupine Press

City of Broken Dreams, Myth-making, Nationalism and the University in an African City, by Leslie Bank, HSRC Press

Civilising Grass: The art of the Lawn on the South African Highveld, by Jonathan Cane, Wits University Press

Confronting Apartheid: A Personal History of South Africa, Namibia and Palestine, by John Dugard, Jacana Media

Cyril Ramaphosa: The Road to Presidential Power, by Anthony Butler, Helen Lunn, Jacana Media

Dance of the Dung Beetles: Their Role in our Changing World, by Marcus Byrne, Wits University Press

Death and Compassion: The Elephant in Southern African Literature, by Dan Wylie, Wits University Press

Democracy Works, by Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbst and Tendai Biti, Pan Macmillan SA

Dr T: A Guide to Sexual Health & Pleasure, by Tlaleng Mofokeng, Pan Macmillan SA

Everyone is Present, by Teresa Kurgan, Fourthwall Books

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism: The Role of Business in South Africa, by Raymond Parsons with Ali Parry, Jacana Media

Like Family: Domestic Workers in South African History and Literature, by Ena Jansen, Wits University Press

Parcel of Death: The Biography of Onkgopotse Abram Tiro, by Gaongalelwe Tiro, Pan Macmillan SA

Power in Action: Democracy, Citizenship and Social Justice, by Steven Friedman, Wits University Press

Radio Soundings: South Africa and the Black Modern, by Liz Gunner, Wits University Press

Real and Imagined Readers: Censorship, Publishing and Reading under Apartheid, by Rachel Matteau Matsha, UKZN Press

Sol Plaatje: A life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje 1876–1932, by Brian Willan, Jacana Media

South Africa’s Survival Guide to Climate Change, by Sipho Kings and Sarah Wild, Pan Macmillan SA

Stopping the Spies: Constructing and Resisting the Surveillance State in South Africa, by Jane Duncan, Wits University Press

The Cape Radicals: Intellectual and Political Thought of the New Era Fellowship, 1930s-1960s, by Crain Soudien, Wits University Press

The First Safari – Searching for François Levaillant, by Ian Glenn, Jacana Media

The House of Tshatshu: Power, Politics and Chiefs North-West of the Great Kei River, by Anne Kelk Mager and Phiko Jeffrey Velelo, UCT Press

Theorising Education: A primer for the Educational Imagination, by Wayne Hugo, HSRC Press

There Goes English Teacher, by Karin Cronje, Modjaji Books

Voices of Liberation: Archie Mafeje, by Bongani Nyoka, HSRC Press

Voices of Liberation: Fatima Meer, by Shireen Hassim, HSRC Press

Voices of Resilience: A Living History of the Kenneth Gardens Municipal Housing Estate in Durban, by Monique Marks, Kira Erwin and Tamlynn Fleetwood, with a photo essay by Cedric Nunn, UKZN Press

Wilder Lives: Humans and our Environments, by Duncan Brown, UKZN Press

Writing the Ancestral River: A biography of the Kowie, by Jacklyn Cock, Wits University Press

WTF: Capturing Zuma – A Cartoonist’s Tale, Jonathan Shapiro, Jacana Media

Non-Fiction Edited Volume

A School Where I Belong, by Roy Hellenberg, Dylan Wra and Jonathan Jansen, Bookstorm

Acts of Transgression – Contemporary Live Art in South Africa, by Jay Pather and Catherine Boulle, Wits University Press

Black Academic Voices – The South African Experience, by Grace Khunou, Hugo Canham, Katijah Khoza-Shangase and Edith Dinong Phaswana, HSRC Press

Conspicuous Consumption in Africa, by Deborah Posel and Ilana van Wyk, Wits University Press

Equitable Rural Socioeconomic Change: Land, Climate Dynamics, Technological Innovation, by Peter Jacobs, HSRC Press

Hidden Voices 3: The Story of One Tells the Story of All, by Mandlenkosi Makhoba and Petrus Tom, Jacana Media

I Want to go Home Forever – Stories of Becoming and Belonging in South Africa’s Great Metropolis, by Loren B Landau and Tanya Pampalone, Wits University Press

In a Time of Plague: Memories of the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa, by Howard Phillips, VRS

Neva Again: Hip Hop Art, Activism and Education in Post-Apartheid South Africa, Adam Haupt, Quentin Williams, H Samy Alim and Emile Jansen, HSRC Press

Post-School Education and the Labour Market in South Africa, Professor Michael Rogan, HSRC Press

Race, Nation, Translation: South African essays, 1990-2013, by Andrew Van der Vlies, Wits University Press

South African Social Attitudes, Family Matters: Family Cohesion, Values and Wellbeing, by Zitha Mokomane, Benjamin Roberts, Jarè Struwig and Steven Gordon, HSRC Press

State of the Nation: Poverty and Inequality Diagnosis, Prognosis and Responses, by Crain Soudien, Vasu Reddy and Ingrid Woolard, HSRC Press

The Climate Crisis: South African and Global Democratic Eco-Socialist Alternatives, Vishwas Satgar, Wits University Press

These Are the Things that Sit with Us, by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Friederike Bubenzer and Marietjie Oelofsen, Jacana Media

Transforming Research Methods in the Social Sciences: Case Studies from South Africa, by Sumaya Laher, Angelo Fynn and Sherianne Kramer, Wits University Press

We Are No Longer at Ease, by Wandile Ngcaweni and Busani Ngcaweni, Jacana Media

Whose History Counts – Decolonising African Pre-colonial Historiography, by June Bam, Lungisile Ntsebeza and Allan Zinn, African Sun MeDia

Best Fiction Single Authored Volume (Novel)

A Tree for the Birds, by Vernon Head, Jacana Media

Called to Song, by Kharnita Mohamed, Kwela

Illumination, Nthikeng Mohlele, Pan Macmillan SA

Lacuna, Fiona Snyckers, Pan Macmillan SA

Liefde in die Tyd van die Internet, by Fransi Phillips, Queillerie

Medusa, by Rudie Van Rensburg, Queillerie

Prooi, by Deon Meyer, Human & Rousseau

Stof, by Alettie Van den Heever, Queillerie

The Accident, by Gail Schimmel, Pan Macmillan SA

The Snow Sleeper, by Marlene Van Niekerk, Human & Rousseau

Best Fiction Edited Volume

Asleep, Awake, Asleep, by Jo-Ann Bekker, Modjaji Books

Red Cotton, by Vangile Gantsho, Impepho Press

The History of Intimacy, by Gabeba Baderoon, Kwela

Vuvuzela Dawn, by Luke Alfred and Ian Hawkey, Pan Macmillan SA

Best Musical Composition/Arrangement

Liminal, by Reza Khota

Mantombi Matotiyana: Songs of Greeting, Healing and Heritage, by Michael Blake

There’s No Disappointment in Heaven, by Kgomotso Moshugi

Best Public Performance

Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) Live Art Festival 2018, by Jay Pather

The Tree Song, by Kristina Helena Johnstone

Yet to be Determined, by Gavin Krastin

Best Visual Art

Asymmetries Exhibition, by Nduka Mntambo

Black is Blue, Oupa Sibeko

Harmonia: Sacred Geometry – Patterns of Existence, by Gordon Froud

Longing for the Old Days, by Clement Maenetja

Prides and Plights – the Reformation of Senior Women’s Struggles, by Daniel Rankadi Mosako

Speaking Through Walls, by Sethembile Msezane

Best DH Visualisation Or Infographic

Azimutha: An Experiment of Virtual Reality for the Fashion Film Genre, by Nirma Dolly Madhoo

Oxford Digital Thematic Atlas series, by Elaine Williams

The Chronicles of Sketch and Etha, by Gregory Koole