October APC Research Development Workshop

22 Dec 2021 - 11:30
“The absence of presence”. Anarchival Figurations from Seeing What is Not There by Carine Zaayman


Alirio Karina

The APC’s second Research Development Workshop of 2022 took place from 27-29 October on Zoom. 25 papers by 27 authors were read, given written commentary by assigned commentators, and discussed collectively over 11 sessions. As visual referents, the APC drew on a series of photographic works titled Seeing What Is Not There by APC research associate, Carine Zaayman.

The first day’s papers were organized under the theme, ‘Present Traditions and Past Modernities’.  The first session focused on musical expression.  Amogelang Maledu explored the genealogies of South African house music post 1994, raising questions of the importance of queer and Black sonic relations, the relationship between genres, and, a question that would recur in the session, that of location and movement. Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja’s paper, a draft of his PhD thesis introduction, worked to theorize Oudano as a sonic practice that represents at once a form of performance, play and archive, in the process underscoring the necessity of unsettling consensus ideas about indigenous African practices, and of thinking archives as projects in motion, in life. These questions would find resonance over the three days of the workshop.

Opening the second session, Angela Ferreira’s paper shifted the conversation about performance to a different context. Her paper examined the production of identity and ‘entitativity’ in the trading communities of Natal during King Dingane’s rule, underscoring the changingness of identity, how these transformations make naming entities-in-the-making tricky, and how, ultimately, identity was a site of performance. Following this, Tomohiro Kambayashi, joining the workshop from Japan,  presented a paper offering an experimental way of reading John Dube’s Ukuziphatha Kathle, examining how the text underscored commonalities between Zulu and European cultural practices, with Dube in a sense self-ethnographizing against empire, how the implied movement from present to past in the book’s layout invites the reader to first understand the past through the present, and further how Dube’s mode of comparison then invites the present to be reckoned through the past.

The following session continued the focus on African intellectual life. Thokozani Mhlambi’s paper examined Ntongela Masilela’s website about the New African Movement, mapping out the intellectual networks traced therein and Masilela’s intellectual-historical project, and raised questions about digital presentation and the website as archive. Sbonelo Radebe’s paper, focusing on Jordan Ngubane’s conception of the ‘race problem’ in South Africa, offered up questions of liberation, transnational solidarity, and how the politics of the day inflect intellectual histories.

The fourth and final session of the day began with Sandile Ngidi’s examination of invocations of antagonistic ideas around Zuluness in the aftermath of the unrest in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng earlier this year. Reading the political stakes of discourse production around this event through the work of Mazisi Kunene, Ngidi’s paper raised questions of the politics of knowledge and of the potential for different genres to reflect particularly Zulu (perhaps more broadly, particularly African) modes of critique, questions that would continue to resonate with much of the work being presented over the workshop. Jill Kelly’s paper, examining the disjunctures between established ideas of customs around sticks that ostensibly excluded women and women’s actual usage of these items, further troubled ideas of the presumed fixity and stability of ‘tradition’, and underscored the complexity of ensuing ideas of transgression and crime.

The second day of the workshop was organized under the theme of ‘Concepts in Translation, Worlds in Motion’. Opening the day, Thandile Xesi’s paper examined the impact of Nkosi S. P. Holomisa’s interventions in the press, and, in light of them, the question of his rarely being framed as ‘public intellectual’. Sibusiso Nkomo’s paper examined debates in Naledi ea Lesotho regarding the position of Africans as South Africa approached unionhood. Tracing how the newspaper was situated in broader African news networks, with political positions shaping not only commentary but alignments (and disalignments) between different newspapers. Pulling further back in time, Sanele kaNtshingana’s paper examined debates in Isigidimi samaXhosa in the aftermath of the ninth of the Cape Frontier Wars that worked to assess the changing political landscape and stake claims to political life. These papers, in focusing on political and intellectual frictions as played out in public life, underscored that what are now sources have always been in the thick of a contested social and political terrain.

Session six extended this conversation. Mojalefa Koloko presented a proposal for a PhD that will examine transformations in Basotho rights and the responsibilities of leaders over some two centuries. Wade Smit’s paper examined the life and writing of Magema Fuze, engaging particularly with Fuze’s invocations of umbuso, and their consequences for his intellectual thought and South African political life.

The following session was led by a pair of papers from Carolyn Hamilton and John Wright’s book project, which worked to rethink political organization and identity production in the KwaZulu Natal region in the century or so before colonialism by engaging African accounts of this past. These papers, respectively examining accounts of the emergence of the Mthethwa, and offering a political history of Hadebe expansion in the making of the Hlubi isizwe, underscored the mirrored contingencies of political life and intellectual claims to accounting for it, and thus more broadly what can come from treating sources as preceding historiographical interventions. Closing the second day, Sizakele Gumede thrillingly presented the conclusion to her Masters thesis on Harriette Colenso’s political praxis, retracing the contours and probable consequences of Colenso’s agitations.

The third day of the workshop took the theme ‘Private and Public Ideas’. Session 8 opened with Vanessa Chen’s early PhD proposal, for a project responding to an archival difficulty of thinking about the early Chinese entry into the Cape by working to theorize this problematic and to curate the fragmentary materials that will be traced across several archives. This was followed by a paper by Henry Fagan, Carolyn Hamilton and Benathi Marufu, reflecting on, explaining the rationale behind, and the choices that have shaped the Five Hundred Year Archive’s virtual ‘storerooms’.

Session 9 built upon these questions of public access to archival and curatorial spaces of contestation. It began with a paper by Glen Ncube and Seth Mehl, working to map heritage in the aftermath of forced removals from the Kruger National Park with a view to creating a community-born community archive. Following this, Fabian Saptouw presented on the shift towards presenting art exhibitions digitally in the wake of COVID-19, and the shift back to in-person events as the pandemic eased, exploring the consequences of digital mediation. Closing the session, Duane Jethro and Alírio Karina presented notes towards their upcoming symposium and book project, After the Fire, which works to theorize the relationship between archive, loss and African Studies in the aftermath of the UCT Library Fire.

Session 10 pivoted to examining film history in South Africa. Emma Sandon’s paper explored Thelma Gutsche’s contributions to film criticism and film history in South Africa, while drawing out her positioning in social, cultural, political and intellectual networks. Litheko Modisane’s paper explored how the picture stories of Ken Gampu in Grace magazine can be read as a form of life-writing, and as such offer an entry point to a new frame of attending to Gampu’s life.

Closing the workshop, session 11 began with Lebogang Mokwena’s sociological and historiographic interrogation of Da Gama Textiles’ positioning as legitimate and authentic originators of shweshwe, exploring the relationship between the production of shweshwe as authentically South African and Da Gama’s legitimacy as local enterprise. Following this, Alírio Karina presented a summary of their book project, Africa After Anthropology, which proposes to examine the history and political consequence of history of anthropological discourses in Africa, and to think the work of doing African Studies in this discursive wake.

The workshop closed with a poetic intervention from Sandile Ngidi, who performed a poem written in honour of his friend, the late maskandi musician and composer, David Ngcobo.