Business As Usual After Marikana – edited volume (2018)

The mining industry has always been the backbone of the South African economy, and it still is. A healthy and sustainable mining sector should accordingly form part of the focus of our efforts to heal this country and its people. Nevertheless, the history of mining in South Africa has been and continues to be characterised by the oppression and exploitation of workers under the policy of the migratory system. The new dispensation of 1994, rule under the African National Congress, did not assist much in changing the conditions at the mines. It continues to turn a blind eye to the unjust wages and living and working conditions of miners.

Six years after the Marikana massacre we have still seen minimal change for mineworkers and mining communities. Although much has been written about the days leading up to 16 August 2012 and how little has been done, few have analysed the policies and system that make such a tragedy possible. Lonmin Platinum Mine and the events of 16 August are a microcosm of the mining sector and how things can go wrong when society leaves everything to government and “big business”.

Business as Usual after Marikana is a comprehensive analysis of mining in South Africa. Written by respected academics and practitioners in the field, it looks into the history, policies and business practices that brought us to this point. It also examines how bigger global companies like BASF were directly or indirectly responsible, and yet nothing is done to keep them accountable.

This publication, which starts by examining the long-term business relations between BASF and Lonmin, goes on to drill deeper into the hard rock of the persistent structures of inequality. By doing so we will understand that Marikana is not the tragic failure of an otherwise improving economic system but rather a calculated form of collateral damage.” – Bishop Jo Seoka, former president of the South African Council of Churches

#WeWillNeverForget

I have an essay in this book – if you’re interested, you can get hold of a copy via Jacana. The book also appears in German as Zum Beispiel BASF. Über Konzernmacht und Menschenrechte, published by Mandelbaum.

“bared life” – looking at stereographs of south african miners produced in the early 1900s (rosemary lombard, 2014)

This is a research paper I wrote in 2014 for “The Public Life of the Image”, an MPhil course offered through the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town.


“[T]he striking mine workers at Marikana have become spectacularised. It is a stark reminder that the mine worker, a modern subject of capitalism, in these parts of the world is also the product of a colonial encounter.”

— Suren Pillay (2014)

“We need to understand how photography works within everyday life in advanced industrial societies: the problem is one of materialist cultural history rather than art history.”

— Allan Sekula (2003)

__

I pick up the odd wood and metal contraption. This is a stereoscope, I am told. It feels old, in the sense that there is a certain worn patina about it, and a non-utilitarian elegance to the turned wood and decoration, though not as if it were an expensive piece – just as if it came from an era where there was time for embellishment. It feels cheaply put together, mass-produced and flimsy as opposed to delicate, the engraving detail of the tinny sheet metal rather rough, the fit of the one piece as it glides through the other somewhat rickety in my hands.

stereoscope 02

stereoscope 01

From two elevations, a stereoscope almost identical to the one I used. Various kinds were devised in the 19th century. The particular hand-held variety, of oak, tin, glass and velvet depicted here dates back to 1901, Based on a design by the inventor Oliver Wendell Holmes, it is perhaps the most readily available and simplest model.

I reach for the pile of faded stereographs; flipping through them slowly. There are 24, picked up in an antique shop in an arcade off Cape Town’s Long Street together with the viewing device. A stereograph is composed of two photographs of the same subject taken from slightly different angles. When placed in the stereoscope’s wire holder, and viewed through the eyeholes, an illusion of perspective and depth is achieved as the two images appear to combine through a trick of parallax.

Susan Sontag remarks that “[p]hotographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy”2. And Allan Sekula calls the photograph an “incomplete utterance, a message that depends on some external matrix of conditions and presuppositions for its readability. That is, the meaning of any photographic message is necessarily context determined”3. In what follows, while unable to offer definitive conclusions, I will look more closely at 2 out of these 24 pictures and, through a contextual discussion, attempt to unpack a few aspects of the complex relationships of photography with its subjects and also with public circulation.

Each thick, oblong card with its rounded, scuffed edges discoloured by age has two seemingly identical images on it, side by side, and is embossed with the name of what I guess must have been the photographer or printing studio’s name in gold down the margin: “RAYMOND NEILSON, BOX 145, JOHANNESBURG”. The images depict miners underground. Some are very faded, to the extent that the figures in them appear featureless and ghostly. There is virtually no annotation on most of the photos. On just a few of them, spidery white handwriting on the photo itself, as if scratched into the negative before it was printed, announces the name of the machinery or activity in the picture and the name of the mine: “Crown Mines”.

I pick up the first card, slot it into the stereoscope, and peer through the device. On the left of the two images, the writing announces: “Ingersoll hammer drill cutting box hole. C215. Crown Mines.”

Photo 1: Stereographic image of miners in Crown Mines around the turn of the twentieth century.

Photo 1: Stereographic image of miners in Crown Mines around the turn of the twentieth century.

I slide the holder backwards and forwards along the wooden shaft to focus. I’m seeing two images, nothing remarkable, until suddenly, at a precise point on the axis, the images coalesce into one, three-dimensional. The experience is that of a gestalt switch, the optical illusion uncanny. I blink hard. It’s still there. It feels magical, as if the figures in the photos are stepping right out of the card towards me. Their eyes stare into mine through over a century of time, gleaming white out of dirty, sweaty faces.

Startlingly tangible, here stand two young white men in a mine shaft, scarcely out of their teens, leaning against rock, each with a hand on a hip and a jauntily cocked hat. They are very young… yet very old too, I immediately think: definitely dead now; and perhaps dead soon after the picture was taken, living at risk, killed in a rock fall or in World War One. A pang of indefinable emotion hits. I am amazed at how powerfully this image has flooded my imagination. Even with the difficult viewing process, the effect is astonishing.

I am reminded of Susan Sontag’s contention that all photographs are memento mori: “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt”5.

I also notice that the trick of parallax (and concurrently, the evocativeness) works most pronouncedly on the figures in the foreground, probably due to the camera angle and vanishing points of the perspective. Behind the two white youngsters, almost fading into the darkness, is a black man, holding up a drill over all of their heads that seems to penetrate the tunnel of rock in which they are suspended.

He appears to have moved during the shot as his face is blurred. This could also be due to the low light in the shaft. Though he is looking straight at me, I can’t connect with him like I do with the figures in front. He is very much in the background, a presence without substance. The way the photo was set up and taken has placed him in that position, and this viewpoint is indelible, no matter how hard I try to look past it.

Photo 2: Stereographic image of Johannesburg miners around the turn of the twentieth century.

Photo 2: Stereographic image of Johannesburg miners around the turn of the twentieth century.

There is no writing on this one except for what seems to be a reference number: “C269”. The figure in the foreground is a black man, miming work with a mallet and chisel against the rock face, though clearly standing very still for the shot, as he is perfectly in focus, his sceptical gaze on us, a sharp shadow thrown on the rock behind him. This is no ordinary lamp light: it seems clear that these pictures have been professionally illumined by the photographer, perhaps using magnesium flares, because these shots definitely predate flash photography.

To the man with the chisel’s left stands a white man, face dark with dirt. He is holding a lamp in one hand, and his other grasps a support pile which bisects the shaft and also the photo. Tight-jawed, he stares beyond us, his eyes preoccupied, glazed over. Behind the two men in the foreground, there are more men – parts of two, perhaps three workers can be seen, one a black man crouched down at the rock face behind the man with the chisel.

What strikes me most trenchantly about this picture — the punctum, after Barthes7 — is the man with the chisel’s bare feet. He is at work in an extremely hazardous environment without shoes. Looking at all the photographs, every white worker is wearing boots, but there are several pictures where it is visible that many of the black workers are barefoot.

This is shocking visual evidence of an exploitative industry which does not take its workers’ safety seriously: these men are placed at incredible risk without the provision of adequate protective attire: none have hard protection for their heads, and black workers are without shoes. Men not deemed worthy of protection are, by inference, expendable. From these photos, one surmises that black lives are more dispensable than white.

I am really curious to find out more about these pictures. Perhaps the visual evidence here is echoed in literature? Perhaps they can tell us things the literature does not?

Who were these people posing? There is nothing on the back of the photos. No captions, no dates. Who was the photographer? For what purpose were these pictures being taken? The lack of answers to these most mundane of questions lends the photos an uncanny, almost spectral quality.

Continue reading

charity hamilton – troubled bodies: metaxu, suffering and the encounter with the divine

charity hamilton

Charity Hamilton

The body is the canvas on which the female experience is painted and through which female identity is often understood. The female body is a slate on which a patriarchal story has been written, scarred onto the flesh.

For Simone Weil metaxu was simultaneously that which separated and connected, so for instance the wall between two prison cells cuts off the prisoners but was also the means by which they communicated by knocking on that wall. Could the body be that metaxu all at once separating us and connecting us to the Divine? The nature of metaxu is that it offers a route not just for the individual soul but for the souls of others to travel…

It’s all well and good to dust off a dead French Jewish Catholic not-quite-feminist-philosopher called Simone Weil and say ‘thanks, your theory of metaxu is great’, but what I want to know within the bones of my so-called soul is how this notion of metaxu can draw me into God, how can it liberate my sisters and how can it usher in the kingdom of the mother of all creation?

Human beings are created in the image of God and formed from the dust of the earth, and thus the body has an echoing significance throughout Christian history. The body is the perceived seat of what some describe as the fall, the locus of the incarnation, the home of crucifixion, the vessel of redemption, salvation and resurrection. The body is not an external meaningless diversion from the spiritual path; rather it is an incredibly important recurring theme both biblically and in Christian tradition and history. Bray and Colebrook state that,

The body is a negotiation with images, but it is also a negotiation with pleasures, pains, other bodies, space, visibility, and medical practice; no single event in this field can act as a general ground for determining the status of the body (Bray and Colebrook, 1998).

Yet more than all of this, the body is the place in which we dwell, it is all we have. As Elizabeth Moltmann Wendell says ‘I am my body’ (Moltmann-Wendell, 1994). For each of our sisters the body is the canvas on which the female experience is painted and through which female identity is often understood. It is on the stage of our female bodies that some of the most fixed church doctrines have been written and enacted. The female body is a slate on which a patriarchal story has been written, scarred onto the flesh. These bodies of ours are patriarchal constructs which must be liberated and re-adopted into the Christian story without the limitations of perceived notions or definitions of ‘gender’.

Isherwood and Stuart assert that ‘From the moment we are asked to believe that Eve was a rib removed from the side of Adam we understand that theology is based in the body and we are at a disadvantage!’ (Isherwood and Stuart, 1998: 15). The historical dichotomy between the Eve and the Mary constructions has led to a definitive inequality for women, both in terms of physical wellbeing and in terms of spiritual and psychological wellbeing. The choices for a woman to be the sin-formed, temptress Eve or the virginal pure vessel Mary are seen historically in the precarious place of women in the church and in society.

Elizabeth Stuart writes that ‘Women were regarded as being ensnared in their bodiliness to a far greater degree than men and they too had to be tamed and subdued for their own good and the good of the men they might tempt into sin’ (Stuart, 1996: 23). It is hardly surprising therefore that twentieth and twenty-first century feminist, womanist, mujerista and black theologians have worked hard to undo and re-express a theology of the body which offers a more authentic narrative of the relationship between the Divine and the physical which both liberates the female body and liberates God from the patriarchal box the Church has created around her.

…The female body can only be liberated from that patriarchal overwriting by writing its own narrative, much of which will be based upon experiences of being troubled. The true nature of the female body can only be revealed by a concerted effort to ‘re-own’ this body as our own not as we have been taught to understand it. This in turn means that the systems, doctrines and ‘ways of being’ which exist within the Church and society must be challenged and re-imagined from the perspective of the un-vocalized and troubled female narrative. In the sense that the female body has not really been ours, has not been an authentically female body and yet has the potential to be unlocked as such, it therefore makes for the perfect condition for metaxu, it is that thing which separates in its forms of oppression and connects in its potential liberation. It is at once a place where great evil has been wrought and a place of divine goodness. Weil writes of love that,

Creation is an act of love and it is perpetual. At each moment our existence is God’s love for us. But God can only love himself. His love for us is love for himself through us. Thus, he who gives us our being loves in us the acceptance of not being. Our existence is made up only of his waiting for our acceptance not to exist. He is perpetually begging from us that existence which he gives. He gives it to us in order to beg it from us (Weil, 2002: 28).

According to Weil, our very existence is from God and returns to God. I would argue that to be able to return this ‘not being’ to God, the body has to take some form of action, or have some form of action performed upon it to open a space in which our not being or not existing can be offered to God. It is this removal of our self which I argue can be interpreted as a removal of the socially created self to leave only the God part of ourselves, the authentic self that is God. The body is metaxu in that it is imperfect and yet perfect. The body is human and therefore unreal and socially recreated, yet the body is also created by God and God dwells within it. The female body is both imprisoned and is liberated. Its imprisonment is the very thing that enables it to unravel the layers of patriarchal construction to locate the God part and its imprisonment is the thing which allows for an authentic narrative to be written. The female body has to separate us from the Divine in order to connect us to the Divine.

Read the whole of this interesting paper by Charity Hamilton HERE.

jeannette ehlers – whip it good

This is an incredibly powerful performance.

Performances took place 24 – 30 April 2015, presented by Autograph ABP at Rivington Place, London. Presented in two parts, seven evening performances in the gallery followed by a seven-week exhibition, ‘Whip it Good’ retraces the footsteps of colonialism and maps the contemporary reverberations of the triangular slave trade via a series of performances that will result in a body of new ‘action’ paintings.

During each performance, the artist radically transforms the whip – a potent sign and signifier of violence against the enslaved body – into a contemporary painting tool, evoking within both the spectators and the participants the physical and visceral brutality of the transatlantic slave trade. Deep black charcoal is rubbed into the whip, directed at a large-scale white canvas, and – following the artist’s initial ritual – offered to members of the audience to complete the painting.

However, the themes that emerge from Whip It Good trace beyond those of slavery: Ehlers’ actions powerfully disrupt historical relationships between agency and control in the contemporary. The ensuing ‘whipped’ canvases become transformative bearers of the historical legacy of imperial violence, and through a controversial artistic act re-awaken critical debates surrounding gender, race and power within artistic production. What the process generates for the artist, is an intensely focused space in which to make new work as part of a cathartic collaborative process.

Read Chandra Frank’s review of the performance, which also took place in Gallery Momo in South Africa, HERE.

 

izithunguthu

The Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, where I work, is hosting an interesting conference next month:

IZITHUNGUTHU: 

Southern African Pasts Before the Colonial Era, their Archives and their Ongoing Present/Presence

16, 17, 18, July, 2015
Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative
University of Cape Town

“You can write and remember but for our part we are simply izithunguthu” (Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in James Stuart Archive, vol.6. p.289)

Thunguthu (Isi), n. One flustered or put out, made to forget by being scolded or cross-questioned, though well-informed. Colenso’s Dictionary (4th ed., 1905, p. 627)

Transcript of Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in James Stuart Archive, vol.6. p.289

Transcript of Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in the James Stuart Archive

In late 2014 the sixth volume of the James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples (edited by the late C.de B.Webb and J.B. Wright) was published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, bringing the number of pages of edited, translated and annotated archival text to a total of 1697 (excluding indexes), organised alphabetically from Antel to Zwayi, under the names of 185 primary interviewees.

The conference celebrates this remarkable editorial achievement and its contribution to the enquiry into the southern African past in the many eras before the advent of European colonialism. It also foregrounds and seeks to take forward new developments and thinking about these eras. It does this through a double focus on the different forms of archive relevant to the various eras and on the innovations – conceptual, theoretical, methodological, technological, practical or creative – involved both in mobilizing such archives, and indeed other materials considered to be not-archive, and in pursuing enquiries into those eras.

The conference will be organised around four central themes:

  • the making and remaking of the James Stuart Archive;
  • the nature and forms of archive, and indeed other forms of historical material, pertinent to these eras;
  • the meanings of pasts designated “pre-colonial” in the present, and in past presents;
  • innovations- conceptual, theoretical, methodological, technological, practical and creative – in enquiry into these eras.

The Making and Remaking of the James Stuart Archive
The James Stuart Archive is a rare southern African treasure for a number of reasons, of which two are particularly significant. The first is that while the collection is undoubtedly the work of the collector, and has been fundamentally shaped by him in ways that are the subject of ongoing critical scholarly investigation, the recorded texts also offer insight into the thinking of the various people whose accounts Stuart recorded. The bulk of the material was documented between 1897 and 1922, when Stuart interviewed some 200 people whom he considered to be well informed on contemporary and historical matters relevant to the region. He took detailed notes in the course of the conversations, often seemingly recording people in their own words. His working methods, the contributions of his interlocutors and all the other factors that shaped the archival texts, are the subject of ongoing scholarly attention. The combination of the extensiveness of the corpus and the nature of the material covered by interviewer and interviewees, often dealing with topics little discussed elsewhere in written documentation of the time, makes it one of South Africa’s most valuable historical resources pertinent to the late independent era in south-east Africa, as well as the colonial period that followed.

Archive and its “Others”
The past decade has seen the paying of close attention to the making and shaping of archive in many forms, while archive/s have also been the subject of sustained theoretical and methodological discussion. Long understood to be a time without an archive, the eras of the past before European colonialism and enquiries into them both draw from and contribute to, in distinctive ways, the larger critical discussion about archive, itself otherwise decisively shaped by European intellectual history.  The conference theme on the nature and forms of archive focuses attention on these distinctive ways, seeking to understand what they mean for the wider understanding of archive and what they mean for enquiries into the long southern African past.

We welcome papers not only on similarly iconic text-based archives (like the much celebrated Bleek and Lloyd Archive of material collected from /xam and !kung speakers between 1870 and 1884) but also on lesser known text-based sources, including ones which might heretofore have never been explicitly treated as archives. The conference hopes to interrogate taken-for-granted distinctions between primary and secondary sources.  When, for example, is a published account be considered an archive, and of what precisely is it an archive? We are interested in discursive materials that may not take a written form, including poetic forms, songs and invocations, and in interrogating critically the notion of “oral tradition”, seeking not only its disaggregation, but also careful reassessment of the conceptual apparatus associated with it.

We are especially interested in the nature of materials that are relevant to the remote past which have been or are yet thought of explicitly as “not archival”. Items of material and visual culture are widely used as sources for various aspects of enquiry into the past, but often in a manner that assumes that they have a timeless cultural relevance. We invite papers that build on recent work which historicises such items, paying close attention to particularities of provenance, circumstances and effects of collection, classification and curation. Current work is beginning to recognize incorporated, as opposed to inscribed, archival forms, notably embodied forms of materials that refer to the past. We invite contributions that grapple with the complex challenges involved in exploring, for example, contemporary instances of spirit possession and rituals concerning ancestors, for what they might add to an understanding of the distant past.

The Entangled “Pre-colonial”
How do we think of what has been termed the pre-colonial beyond the strictures of prepositional time? The academic orthodoxy teaches us to approach it as the distant past, as an evacuated experience, as a domain of specialists. And yet, our everyday scenes are stamped by its uncanny fecundity, its untheorised proximity, its entangled lives in the contemporary.  In a variety of different ways – imaginatively, expansively, subjectively, critically, affectively – contemporary artists, writers, family and clan historians, politicians and intellectuals engage the body of inherited materials that academics and lawyers use as “sources”, often with very different purposes, from the celebratory through the denunciatory to the parodic.  All of these engagements with the eras of the past before European colonialism, and with the ways in which the colonial and apartheid eras dealt with the earlier periods, undertaken by historians and many others, contribute to contemporary understandings and meanings of the distant past and fall within the purview of the conference.

In the nineteenth century, many colonial intellectuals took the history of the region before colonialism seriously enough to record and collect materials pertinent to it and to write its histories. In the post-conquest context of the twentieth century, the many eras of the long past, and indeed the history of indigenous people in the colonial and apartheid eras, were systematically ghetto-ised as the subject of the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, linguistics and prehistory, and as requiring a specialist conceptual apparatus pertinent to the study of ‘tribal’ or ‘pre-modern’ societies. Unpacking the legacies of this conceptual apparatus requires comparative perspectives from across and beyond the continent attentive to the cross-genealogies of the tribal and the modern. These concepts have lingering effects that are yet discernible. In trying to think about the past beyond the warranty of these concepts, we also invite reflections on the ways of being in the world in which that past may not necessarily be an object of capture.

Conceptual Innovations
Our conference, therefore, is inevitably an engagement with the new. As it seeks to break out of the academic ghetto-isation, its exploratory restlessness challenges the established boundaries of disciplines, regions and identities. What happens when we consider enquiries into the past before European colonialism in the light of the contemporary insights on religion and affect, fashion and beauty, embodied knowledges, decoloniality, performance theory, border epistemologies, theory from the south, and so on?

The conference rationale is founded in a long view of history, seeking to subvert persistent habits of treating the past before colonialism as another country, and the advent of colonialism as the history of the region’s starting point with only a passing nod to, or introductory paragraph on, what went before. What happens when histories of ideas, modes of thought, institutions and practices, and the changes which they have undergone, are traced across the early state, late independent, early colonial, apartheid, and even post-apartheid, eras? In the conference even the latter, provisional, periodization would itself be open to debate and question.

For more information, please email APC-admin@uct.ac.za.

marx and engels on the global reach of capitalism

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

man-steve-cutts-02

Still from “Man”, by Steve Cutts (watch it!)

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

Marx & Engels: Library: 1848: Manifesto of the Communist Party: Chapter 1