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Boeke | Books > Kennisgewings | Notices > English

Last discussion of the year with Jacob Dlamini and Maggie Davey at Boekehuis


2009-12-10

BOEKEHUIS & Jacana Media invite you to the last discussion of the year with
Jacob Dlamini, author of a memoir, Native Nostalgia

& Maggie Davey, Publisher, writer and a WISER Fellow at Wits University from 2010, about what it means for black South Africans to remember their lives under apartheid with fondness.

Where: BOEKEHUIS, Cnr. Lothbury and Fawley streets, Auckland Park

When: Saturday 12 December 2009, at 12:30

RSVP: by Thurs 10/12 on
011 482 3609 or boekehuis@boekehuis.co.za

Praise for Dlamini’s book:

“The book (…) enriches one's understanding of past, present and the relation between them. In that, I see Native Nostalgia as doing some of what Freud called Trauerarbeit, the work of mourning, and thereby countering the melancholic tendency.”
 Shaun de Waal in the Mail & Guardian

“Jacob Dlamini's Native Nostalgia seeks to challenge "the grand master narrative of black dispossession" that he says dominates the historiography of the struggle.  By providing a deeply complex, layered, richly textured memoir and cultural biography, Dlamini revisits the past, allows it to breathe again, in all its diversity, in Katlehong. This was the "scientific township" built on a farm in Natalspruit in 1949 by "the parent city" of Germiston.
Dlamini is not here to lament but to remember, and he redefines nostalgia as "a sentiment of loss and displacement" - he describes it as an incurable condition of modernity.”
Maureen Isaacson in The Sunday Independent

“His (Jacob Dlamini’s) key premise is that life within South African townships during apartheid was rich and complex, contrary to widespread descriptions of them as mere sites of socioeconomic depravity. Life happened in the township both despite apartheid and in complex relation to apartheid. Fond recollections by blacks are not an inadvertent legitimating of an immoral political system. Of course, fear of being seen to retrospectively endorse apartheid explains why a book like Dlamini’s might not have been written before – it invites a lazy accusation that the writer wishes apartheid had never ended.

By arguing that not all aspects of life in townships were hell, Native Nostalgia humanises township residents. It recognises that township residents have always exhibited complex agencies with which they built and negotiated daily life during apartheid. These lived realities - lying at the heart of nostalgic recollections by blacks - include music, art, games, partying and other markers of normalcy that showcase the human spirit's defiance of the psychological insult that was apartheid. Dlamini adds to this rich characterisation with a number of thought provoking related claims.

He claims that Afrikaans is the language of nostalgia for many black South Africans. Phrases such as a ‘Waar was jy?' - which also became the title of a hit song for the outfit Skeem - and ‘Toeka!' and many others instantly evoke a litany of fond memories. A jazz track may invite a lover or friend, for example, to implore another to ‘Hoor net daar!' The appearance of Afrikaans across the cultural landscape of township life means that there is an Afrikaans cultural grammar that white Afrikaans speakers might never recognise. This is not to deny the fact that Afrikaans still has an oppressive resonance for many black South Africans. The salient point is that the relationship between black South Africans and the ‘oppressors' language' is more ambiguous than simplistic accounts of that relationship that start and stop with the 1976 Soweto uprisings.”
Eusebius McKaiser on his blog

About the book:

In this, his first book, Jacob Dlamini writes about growing up in Katlehong in Gauteng, in the tradition of Orhan Pamuk’s and Walter Benjamin’s accounts of their childhoods in Istanbul and Berlin respectively. Using fragments from his own childhood, he examines the nostalgia that many black people feel for the past – their lives under apartheid. In arguing that people do not stop being moral agents just because they are politically oppressed or discriminated against, the author seeks to recover the moral content of black life under apartheid.

This book is about nostalgia, an affliction of the heart that began life as a passing ailment but became an incurable modern condition. The book uses the life of a young black South African who spent his childhood under apartheid to ask the following question: What does it mean to remember a (black) life lived under apartheid with fondness and longing? The nostalgia examined here should not be understood the same way that the archetypal black pensioner trotted out by newspapers at each general election in South Africa says: “Things were better under apartheid.” No, apartheid had no virtue. But the author insists that we confront facile accounts of black life under apartheid that paint the 46 years in which the system existed as one vast moral desert, as if blacks produced no art, literature, music, bore no morally upstanding children or, at the very least, children who knew the difference between right and wrong – even if those children did not grow up to make the “right” moral choices in their lives. This is not to say there was no poverty, crime or moral degradation. There was, of course. But none of this determined the shape of black life in its totality.

This is not to suggest that all black families were happy the same way. Each family was, of course, unhappy in its own way. The differences between black families extended beyond questions of domestic bliss or strife. There were class, ethnic and gender differences aplenty. It behoves any history worthy of the name to take these differences seriously, which could be as small as the type of lawn one had in one’s yard, the type of furniture in each bedroom, or the type of fencing one had around the yard – whether the concrete slabs colloquially called “stop nonsense” or a wire mesh fence.

The author is interested also in the role of the senses in a person’s experience of nostalgia. He uses fragments drawn randomly from the past to look at his childhood in Katlehong as a lived experience of the senses. He tries to imagine how one might relay the history of Katlehong in terms of the senses of smell, hearing, taste, touch and sight. He uses his sensory experience of Katlehong, for example, to examine the place of radio in the life of an urban black family in apartheid South Africa. Here he does not simply wish to relay the auditory experience of listening to the radio but to look, rather, at how the very instrument that was supposed to be the government’s propaganda tool actually had the opposite effect, awakening in him a political consciousness that saw him adopt a politics at odds with the political gradualism and religious conservatism of his mother.

Again, he looks at how black schools, intended by government to be a great downward leveller of black ambition, inadvertently served to heighten class consciousness within black society, often pitting the local elite against the mass of the great black unwashed.

Finally, he studies how local political identities were formed in relation to both a national black identity and a much broader black diasporic identity.

About the author:

Jacob Dlamini is one of South Africa’s bright young intellectuals. A PhD student at Yale, he has written for a number of magazines and newspapers such as the Sunday Times.

Saturday Voices is a series of readings and discussions by authors at Boekehuis that normally lasts 45-60 minutes.
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