The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum was the site of great jubilation last weekend, when members of the Lwandle community celebrated the academic team who had told their story. Noëleen Murray and Leslie Witz’s Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa is a powerful tribute to the men (and later, women) who lived there. Many of those who had endured under the system of migrant labour, single-sex hostels and the control of black workers through the reviled pass book, were there to celebrate. Now in advanced years, they were joined by a range of visitors who had been instrumental in establishing the museum and who had contributed to the success of the publication.
Academic and author Ciraj Rassool opened the event by calling for a minute’s silence in memory of those who had lost their lives at Marikana. He paid tribute to the process the museum had undergone and the vision and energy that seen the transformation of the heritage site into its current function.
The team of authors shared an amusing account of their earliest recollections of how the unlikely project took shape. Witz said, “I first heard of the possibility of a museum in Lwandle in 1998 when the University of the Western Cape, together with the Robben Island Museum and the University of Cape Town began offering a Postgraduate Diploma in Museum and Heritage Studies that would extend vocational possibilities in the heritage sector. In the first year of the programme one of the students approached me during a break in class and told me of where he lived and spoke of plans to develop a museum of migrant labour around the last remaining hostel. I was highly sceptical. Within the boundaries of historical narratives of the Western Cape that I had read and studied over the years, Lwandle did not feature at all.”
The academic continued, “Nonetheless the student, Bongani Mgijima, seemed bright and enthusiastic and when he returned with a set of somewhat uninspiring and unremarkable photographs of the area, I promised to go there to see what was happening and how the envisaged museum was progressing. My expectations were not high,” he said.
Murray confirmed that almost a year later, in 1999, Witz kept his promise to Mgijima and set off along Settlers Way. “Bongani had indicated it would be easy to find Lwandle and the museum as it was just beyond Somerset West off the N2. Soon after leaving Somerset West, however, Leslie saw the large billboard on the left hand side of the road indicating that he had arrived at place called Heritage Park. Bongani had written an article for the local newspaper, The District Mail, in June 1998, with the title ‘Let’s talk heritage matters’ and he had given Leslie a copy.”
In the article Bongani pointed to the potential of the buildings of Lwandle being constituted as a heritage tourism site symbolising the struggle of the people. “This aspect combined with the ‘hundreds’ of praise-singers, traditional healers, handcrafts, artists, songs, traditional dancers, art performers and other cultural activists,” he maintained, made Lwandle a potential “showcase … of living heritage”. The sign for what was being called Heritage Park seemed to not contain any of the aspects that embraced Bongani’s claims to heritage for Lwandle that were under construction on the opposite side of the N2.
“The heraldic emblem for ‘Heritage Park’ on the billboard facing the N2 displayed a drawing of a bunch of red grapes and an acorn, signalling a romantic association with a past of leafy European settlement at the Cape winelands. Below the shield inscribed in a scroll of honour were the words: ‘Live, work and play in safety’. This was the motto and insignia of a gated community that was being imagined by a private developer.
“Barely 300 metres after the ‘Heritage Park’ sign Leslie noticed a large open area of land on the right hand side of the motorway. A road sign indicated the correct turnoff to Lwandle, which Bongani had described as the location of the museum project. He went past a house painted white where a flag with an octagonal decal indicated a police presence, and on to a street named Vulindlela (translated as ‘pioneer’) where long rows of buildings were all adorned with solar panels on their roofs.
“Opposite what seemed to be a taxi rank there was a small café, and across a stretch of bare dusty ground was a building that bore all the functionality of apartheid design. It was symmetrical, austere, windowless, largely made of facebrick, and had a sloping roof on either side that reached a central apex. Outside the building he saw Bongani anxiously waiting for him.
Witz took over the narrative: “Bongani invited me to enter what he proudly called the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum. What he had done in the time since graduating with his Postgraduate Diploma in Museum and Heritage Studies was that he and Charmian Plummer, an ex-school teacher and resident of Somerset West, had begun marking out the space of this unattractive building as a museum. Having few resources at their disposal they had resorted to putting notices and photographs to the walls, using A4 sheets and prestik.
“The content of what they had labelled as an exhibition was largely a series of photographs of contemporary Lwandle street scenes by local photographers who had offered their services without payment. A notice indicated that the mission of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum was: ‘To commemorate the migrant labour system and hostel life.’
“I thought that Bongani was either very brave or stupid, and that it would be almost impossible for this so-called museum to survive. But I also had a great deal of admiration for him in trying to initiate this project with almost no resources and with what appeared to be very little support either in Lwandle, from other museums or from residents of nearby Somerset West. Bongani and I had joked just before I departed about Heritage Park across the N2 and Bongani indicated that he had actually approached the property developer for assistance but that this was not forthcoming.”
Murray reflected on the intervening years: “Somewhat surprisingly, a little over 15 years later and almost by chance, and despite constant threats of closure, there is a museum in Lwandle and it is the story of those fifteen years of museum making that we relate in our book. The project for this book took shape around plans for the museum’s 10th birthday in 2010 and the restoration of a migrant labour hostel, labelled as hostel 33. I had joined the board a couple of years after Leslie and it was Bongani’s enthusiasm over an architectural academic being involved that drew me into an idea of combining design and research.
“From 2008 onwards the museum had turned its attention to the restoration of hostel 33 and had secured funding from the US Ambassadors Cultural preservation Fund, the National lottery Board and the National Heritage Council. I was granted a UWC Arts Faculty two-year post-doc fellowship in the Centre for Humanities Research with the explicit intention of critically reflecting upon the processes of museum making and deepening the intellectual project of the museum. What it became was spending months in my gumboots getting to know the life and structure of the hostel, working with builders, architects, residents of Lwandle, and staff of the museum in the pursuit of what we began to call the rehabilitation of hostel 33,” she said.
Witz reflected on the recent events that had cast Lwandle into the world’s eye. He said, “Until a few months ago on Google maps the Lwandle museum was located next to the Somerset Mall. But from June this year when a series of land evictions commenced, Lwandle, became headline news. As we know in the midst of one of the severest storms in Cape Town residents and their homes in Siyanyanzela (translated meaning: ‘we are forcing’), a settlement on land adjacent to Lwandle that was set aside for the extension of the national road, were forcibly removed by the police and officers from a private security company acting on behalf of the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL).
“From being a place that was hardly written about, and had received little attention in contemporary urban studies, Lwandle suddenly appeared to become highly visible in the national media. But at the same time as it became ‘breaking news’ Lwandle has remained dislocated and invisible – an urban ‘informal settlement’ that could be anywhere at any time. And when in breaking news a photo appears to accompany a story, an image of Khayelitsha is put in place as a generic township settlement, providing an easy replicable substitute.”
After the talk, guests visited the heritage site and heard about the process of rehabilitation, and how “the hostel 33, with a small ‘h’, became the proper noun Hostel 33, with an upper case ‘H’.”
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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks
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- Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa by Noëleen Murray and Leslie Witz
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Join the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) Cape Town in a public dialogue on “The Debate on Homosexuality in Africa” on Wednesday, 20 August, at the Centre for the Book in Gardens, Cape Town.
The two speakers leading the discussion are Zanele Muholi and Zakhele Mbhele. Muholi, contributor to the recent publication Jacketed Women: Qualitative research methodologies on sexualities and gender in Africa, is a photojournalist and gay rights activist, and Mbhele is a Member of Parliament.
Senior Programme Officer for Africa at IGLHRC Thomas Ndayiragije will chair the debate, which will start at 5:30 PM.
Aninka Claassens, co-author of Land, Power and Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act, writes that land restitution claims by traditional leaders could blow up in Zuma’s face, with competing demands that could result in violence.
Jacob Zuma, in his speech opening the National House of Traditional Leaders, encouraged traditional leaders to take advantage of the newly amended Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act and put in claims. The amendment reopens the window for lodging restitution claims, but retains the restriction that dispossession must have taken place after 1913.
Yet hints by Zuma that this date is negotiable have led to an avalanche of claims by traditional leaders going back into the mists of time.
- Land, Power and Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act by Aninka Claassens and Ben Cousins
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UCT Press and the Board and Staff of Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum warmly invite you to join Noëleen Murray and Leslie Witz for the launch of their new book, Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa.
The event takes place at the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum on Saturday, 16 August, and starts at 10:30 AM.
Professor Ciraj Rassool from the University of the Western Cape History Department will be delivering the keynote address.
Don’t miss this!
- Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa by Noëleen Murray, Leslie Witz
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During a week when The Book Lounge was a hum of activity with a range of different books launched every night, one evening stood out for the launch of two books simultaneously. Two publishers joined forces, each celebrating the arrival of their title that explored issues relating to the other’s book.
In Search of Equality: Women, Law and Society in South Africa edited by Stefanie Röhrs and Dee Smythe was launched alongside Marriage, Land and Custom edited by Aninka Claassens and Dee Smythe, and published by Juta Law. Smythe, who is the Director of the Centre for Law and Society at UCT, and Claassens, a senior researcher in the unit, were joined by Nomboniso Gasa, an independent gender and policy analyst, and the author of Women in South African History.
Claassens commenced the evening with a brief synopsis of the book, which explores the remarkable decline in marriage rates among African people in South Africa, which have reached 10 percent in KwaZulu-Natal. “Against this decline in the marriage rates, we are seeing an unprecedented number of single women claiming and getting residential sites within communal areas, which is completely contrary to the orthodoxy that under customary law women don’t have land rights,” she said. This calls for reflection on the consequences of how law reform affects processes on the ground, for example the Recognition of the Customary Marriages Act. In other instances, it bears contemplation how change is led by rural women outside the law.
A series of chapters deal with the dramatic decline in marriage rates, talking about how this started in the ’60s. “It is related to the increase in unemployment, the decline in migrancy, the dislocation of the agrarian society in which women played a pivotal role, but also the dilemmas of how you count marriage. In the west, you are either married or not. From the African perspective, marriage is much more processional, going through a long process with many questions about where/when the marriage has actually taken place,” she said.
“A key focus is the processes of single women claiming residential sites after 1994. These came to light in a series of consultation meetings about the Communal Land Rights Act. Women’s vulnerability to eviction when their husbands died or the marriages had broken down had come to the fore.
She said that another pivotal chapter surveyed 3 000 women, investigating their anecdotal accounts. Debbie Budlender found that indeed there has been a marked change in processes of women claiming and getting residential sites. Another fascinating question was how women drew on different repertoires in claiming customs and rights.
The problem of binaries that inform the law are reinforced by the way the law looks at society. A whole section of the book looks at the implementation of the Customary Marriages Act. With regard to this, Gasa identified of a number of questions that came to mind: “What is tradition? And who defines this? Why is it defined in a certain way at a given point in time? What does the South African State’s law reform process affirm when it looks at tradition?”
Claassens also spoke about the meaning of liberation which enables people to make the claims they need and want to make. “We liberate those aspects of our beings that have been oppressed or suppressed. Custom and culture is an important part of that and people need to express themselves and lay claim to these. It’s important to recognise that people have cultural institutions that are important and meaningful to them, like chief and traditional leaders. The problem lies in the very point of departure that Government has applied to its legal reform is much influenced by what is familiar and what makes sense. No matter how hard we try to reject our colonial legacy, it keeps creeping back. By putting it into laws stating that we will have areas and terrains controlled by traditional leaders, government has congealed a process that could have been fluid.
She identified a default position; that which is familiar, the “Bantustan”. With this mindset, there can only be one way of being. “Because you are a Motswana, therefore you belong here or there. The fluidity that people have always had in relation to location, or geography, but also in relation to negotiating around powers and centres of authority among themselves becomes compromised. The creativity is lost in a context where you have very fixed boundaries, very fixed areas of traditional leadership,” she said.
Claassens referred to a woman who had spoken at a kgotla in the Royal Bafokeng area who had married in to the community, and was technically an outsider. “Once you start telling people which area they belong to and what they should be doing, it follows that you have to give people other powers, other rules. The interesting thing is that the only roles and powers that traditional leaders can be given over customs and cultures are those that eat into citizenship and chosen – rather than imposed – identity of people. It relates to the debate of whether anybody is a ‘pure’ Zulu at any given time.”
Gasa identified another aspect which lies in privileging certain notions of family, of heterosexuality, that are similar and mirror the colonial notion of family, even as there is a move to undermine these. “Perhaps more serious is the impact that all these laws centring on issues of tradition, including the Traditional Courts Bill, have on citizenship and the right to self determination.”
“No sooner is there an opportunity for people to reopen the land claims then the president goes to traditional leaders and actively encourages them to put their best resources, consolidate, make a claim. That’s problematic because the leader then determines who will benefit and it will be along certain lines. Mostly importantly, given the fact the people who lead in these areas have multiple identities, multiple areas of loyalty, some might claim more loyalty to their churches than to their cultural identity. One identity takes precedence over others, enforcing one particular version of Christianity onto people. One type of cosmology is then imposed on people. Those who are left at the bottom, and completely disempowered, are women, older women, young women and rural women.
“Finally, the notion of marriage itself needs a lot of conversation. It is frequently written in connection with procreation, continuity of lineage, and so on. Other notions of marriage around protection of wealth, is hardly every explored. Other notions of African women as sexualised, sensualised being in themselves. They have always been in relationships they initiated. With time those courtships can result in interesting unions. These are then written out of the laws that recognise customary marriage because there’s a list of stipulations, like the exchange of cattle, that hasn’t been met.”
Gasa believes that the kind of traditionalism that President Jacob Zuma presides over and actively drives is one that privileges “men of status” and erases women as being. This returns women to the place where they are defined in relation to a man, the daughter, wife or aunt of somebody. Who you are in your own right ceases to matter. The period we are in is a new traditional period with incredible consequences in terms of land, property and association around property and cultural institutions.
Smythe noted that In Search of Equality was born out of conversations between women and activists within the African network of constitutional lawyers about the utility of constitutional rights for women and their advancement on the continent. The conversation was about more than just equality initially. It was about access to justice, about sexual and reproductive rights, sexual orientation and socioeconomic rights.
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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:
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The Design Africa Symposium is set to take place on Monday, 11 August, at the Brundyn+ Gallery in the Bo-Kaap, with the programme featuring Edgar Pieterse, co-editor of Africa’s Urban Revolution, as one of the speakers.
This special event is presented by WDC Cape Town 2014 and Luyanda Mpahlwa DesignSpaceAfrica, with support from PPC Cement | AZA 2014, and is CPD validated by the Cape Institute for Architecture. The symposium continues the dialogue from the UIA 2014 25th World Congress on Architecture in Durban, as both WDC 2014 and UIA 2014 offer significant opportunities to bring international attention to South Africa’s design landscape.
The Design Africa Symposium, with the theme “Design Visions for African Cities of the Future”, will take the form of conversations with international and local voices on the contemporary condition of African cities. Other speakers include Angela Mingas (Angola), Joe Addo (Ghana), Sithabile Mathe (Botswana) and South Africans Iain Louw, Rashiq Fataar and Luyanda Mpahlwa. The interactive discussion sessions will be followed by dinner, drinks and entertainment.
The symposium starts at 3 PM and will finish at 9 PM. Tickets cost R100 for professionals and R50 for students.
Don’t miss this important event!
- Date: Monday, 11 August 2014
- Time: 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM
- Venue: Brundyn+ Gallery
170 Buitengracht St
Bo-Kaap | Map
- Guest Speakers: Angela Mingas, Joe Addo, Sithabile Mathe, Iain Louw, Rashiq Fataar and Luyanda Mpahlwa
- Refreshments: Dinner, drinks
- Cover charge: R100 for professionals, R50 for students
- RSVP: Buy tickets on Quicket
Edgar Pieterse, co-editor of Africa’s Urban Revolution, participated in this year’s Think!Fest in Grahamstown where he discussed the future of African cities and slum urbanisation. Youlendree Appasamy reported on the event and shared a podcast of the talk.
Pieterse said, “In my most optimistic moments, the best scenario is innovative mayors, and people within urban societies doing tech-smart things.”
Listen to the podcast:
Before engaging with ways to move forward in combating slum neglect in burgeoning mega-cities (and smaller cities) in Africa, Pieterse outlined the bare and bleak facts of urbanisation, population growth and globalisation in relation to Africa. By 2060, 1 in 4 individuals on the planet will be African. This African Development Bank report explains more key figures and statistics of Africa in 2060. With rates of urbanisation increasing, Pieterse stressed the need for all levels of society to “confront material realities”.
Kai Peters, CEO of Ashridge Business School and co-author of Steward Leadership: A Maturational Perspective, sees he is expecting an upturn in the economy to continue, and adds that companies should start planning for growth.
“Growth for companies of different sizes will come from different directions,” Peters says. “Some organisations are rooted in their communities so they are not going to start exporting.
“But with anyone else with a product or service with potential markets elsewhere, I would strongly encourage people to look, not only to UK and Europe, but beyond.”
Watch the video:
UCT Press and The Book Lounge cordially invite you to the launch of In Search of Equality: Women, Law and Society in South Africa edited by Stefanie Röhrs and Dee Smythe tomorrow evening (Thursday, 31 July).
The book will be launched in conjunction with Marriage, Land and Custom by Aninka Claassens and Smythe.
Smythe and Claassens will be in conversation with Nomboniso Gasa on Thursday 31 July at 5:30 PM for 6 PM.
Don’t miss it!
Nadine Gordimer – who won the Nobel Prize in Literature 1991 – visited Chile in 1998, as part of the project “Writing the Deep South”. She did so with fellow South African, Australian and Chilean writers. The project was an initiative of Ariel Dorfman and Jorge Heine, then Chile’s ambassador to South Africa (1994-1999). Heine recalls that experience and his friendship with the late Gordimer.
Heine’s tribute first appeared in El Mercurio. Below is a translation from the Spanish he shared with UCT Press.
Nadine Gordimer, the grande dame of South African letters, died at age 90 at her home in Parktown West, a Johannesburg suburb. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, and of the Booker Prize in 1974, she left an extensive body of work of fifteen novels, twenty-one short story collections, several plays and numerous essays. She left an indelible imprint on the political novel of the twentieth century and was also a master of the short story.
I was privileged to enjoy her friendship and her generous hospitality at her home in 7 Frere Road, Parktown, and to made it possible for her to visit Chile in 1998, the first (and only) time a Nobel Prize-winning writer participated in the International Book Fair of Santiago, at the Mapocho Station Cultural Center. She did so as part of a project, “Writing the Deep South”, we organised with Ariel Dorfman, with the participation of Antonio Skarmeta, and other South African writers such as André Brink, Zakes Mda and Wally Serote, and Australians such as Peter Carey. The project led to the publication of a book of the same title, published by El Mercurio that year, with stories from each of the participating authors. These days, the headlines around the world refer to the “great chronicler of the anti-apartheid struggle”. I only came to know in the new South Africa, that is the post-apartheid one, during the presidency of her good friend, Nelson Mandela. Yet, to describe her as the chronicler of a political cause does not do justice to the enormous richness of her work or her fertile literary imagination. What Gordimer did was to fictionalise an era in which politics permeated every aspect of South African life.
Gordimer’s politics were clear and unambiguous: she was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and openly opposed apartheid. That said, she did not share the notion of the writer as a propagandist. Her novels, such as The Conservationist (1974), Burger’s Daughter (1979) and July’s People (1981) painted in rich detail the dramas of the private lives of her characters, with plots in which politics impinges upon the personal, often with tragic consequences. With that fine ear for dialogue that marks great novelists, she drew the world of the white, leafy Northern suburbs of Johannesburg, that of large gardens, pools and barbecues to be found in Sandton, Parktown and Houghton, and how it intersects with the one of Soweto and its black population, and the ensuing tensions and tragedies arising from legal segregation. Gordimer did not consider herself an inherently political person, but said that the place and time in which she lived forced her to consider the impact of politics on her characters. But she did so in a subtle and elegant fashion, showing the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition in their many expressions.
Some thought that the end of apartheid would end her creativity. Yet, that did not happen. Over the course of the past two decades, she churned out, among other works, five novels, of which the last, No Time Like the Present, came out in 2012 (what an example for the craft!).
Inspired by the great nineteenth-century realist writers like Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Maupassant, Gordimer was largely self-taught. Born in Springs, a mining town east of Johannesburg, she discovered literature and her literary vocation early, publishing her first story at age 15. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Johannesburg, attended briefly the University of the Witwatersrand and devoted herself to writing. She soon started to contribute to The New Yorker, a steady source of support of her work over the years.
“Nothing factual I write or say will be as true as my fiction” is one of her most quoted phrases, and goes to the heart of the creative process. And that particular project that brought her to Chile, “Writing the Deep South”, cemented our friendship and helped me understand her creative genius. Years later, staying at her home on Frere Road, which never saw a television set or a computer, watching her write away on an old-fashioned typewriter, I witnessed that extreme concentration that marks truly creative minds. Her friends knew we could only call this small seemingly fragile woman, with delicately chiseled features, but with an iron will, only after four o’clock in the afternoon. I saw her for the last time in February of 2011, when she invited me to dinner at her home and we shared a spirited conversation until late in the evening with critic Maureen Isaacson.
The question that guided our project on the Deep South was whether this common historical and geographical condition, ie, the particular location of Australia, Chile and South Africa in the “deep South” of the planet, had any effect on literary creation and the way writers see the world and their societies. Gordimer was enthusiastic about it, but set her own conditions. The idea of a book with stories of each of the participating authors was hers. She insisted on the participation of fellow black South African writers and helped us recruit them. The project triggered such interest that Gordimer’s then-authorised biographer, Ronald Suresh Roberts, decided to join us. Extended interviews of the participating writers in the Book Review section of El Mercurio laid the ground for the visit. For a full week in Chile, we participated in several panels at the Santiago International Book Fair, at a roundtable at the Catholic University of Valparaiso and at a panel at the Southern University in Valdivia.
The visit to Valdivia included a boat trip along the river Calle-Calle, in a glorious spring day. I can still recall watching her on the boat sitting on a deck chair, watching the stunning scenery of our south, listening to the stories of the 1960 tsunami and the devastation it caused. And while the rest of us moved vigorously around the riverboat, Gordimer did not move from her chair, taking in every detail of her surroundings. What we did not know was that she was practicing what in her Nobel lecture he described as the “intense inner concentration that writers must have to cross the chasm of the aleatory and make it into their own words.”
Four months later, in March 1999, Gordimer published a story titled “Loot” in The New Yorker. “Once upon a time there was an earthquake, the strongest since they are measured with the Richter scale.” Although there is no mention of Chile (“I am not a journalist”, she said to me once, “and I do not give names of places or dates”), there is no doubt it is Chile and its travails she is thinking of. She thus tells the story of those who, full of greed to collect the many valuable objects in the bottom of the sea – exposed as the Pacific Ocean retreated – succumb to the returning giant wave of the tsunami that pulled them in, only to clash with the corpses of the “detenidos-desaparecidos”, launched from helicopters in body bags (in another, albeit later, Chilean tragedy).
We did not come up with a final answer to the initial question of the project on the Deep South. But I would like to think that, even if only for having fired the imagination of Nadine Gordimer and triggered this little gem that is “Loot”, the whole exercise was very much worth it.
Rest in peace, dear Nadine. We’ll miss you, but your work endures.