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April 2017 APC Research Development Workshop Review

8 Jun 2017 - 13:45
APC Research Development Workshop, 5 April 2017
APC Research Development Workshop, 5 April 2017. Image: Rosemary Lombard

Susana Molins Lliteras

The first APC Research Development Workshop of 2017, held at the Wild Fig conference facility in Mowbray from 5 – 7 April, was framed by the Cape Town launch of Tribing and Untribing the Archive (Eds. Carolyn Hamilton and Nessa Leibhammer, KZN University Press, 2016), which had happened the day before.  The well-attended launch, co-hosted with the Historical Studies Department, featured thoughtful responses by APC affiliates Ayanda Mahlaba and Lebogang Mokwena, and set the atmosphere for the workshop.  The political mood of the moment in South Africa—after the dismissal of finance minister Pravin Gordhan and the politics of civil society mobilisation and protest—once again served as poignant backdrop to our conversations.  

Day 1

The first day’s theme followed from the discussion of the previous afternoon about the precolonial past in Southern Africa, or as we can now call it, the pre-tribal.  John Wright presented the first chapter of his book with Cynthia Kros on the precolonial in South Africa, framed around the notions of journey and conversations into the archives of evidence.  The discussion of Himal Ramji’s MA thesis chapter on Mapungubwe in South African history education touched on similar themes around master narratives and how methodology structures “powerful knowledge” about the past before the colonial period.  Carolyn Hamilton’s contribution on the kinds of archive izithakazelo constitute reprised earlier discussions around the “social intelligence” linked to certain types of knowledge. These questions were reframed around how certain invocations of clan names and a grandmother’s narrative of her people of can “bear witness” to identity-making in Ayanda Mahlaba’s presentation of his MA thesis pre-proposal.  The afternoon ended with two discussions centred around objects from the precolonial southern African past: Heeten Bhagat’s provocative and exciting uses of the precolonial archive in Zimbabwe to discover the surreal and absurd realities and opportunities of searching for indigeneity in the present; and Lebogang Mokwena’s poignant reflections on objects as subjects in their contributions to processes of state-making in colonial and post-colonial contexts.  

Day 2

After an evening of intense reading we resumed day two with a sharp focus on archive and heritage practices, management and politics. We welcomed back Harriet Deacon after a long absence, whose presentation on intellectual property issues around the heritage linked to “foodways” opened the discussion.  The conversation on Grant McNulty’s article on the “theory-of change” strategy for a platform on local knowledge in local languages highlighted the conceptual difficulties of formulating a practical project of this magnitude.  Tracey Randle’s focus on the original deed of grant for the Solms-Delta farm and its multiple effects over time emphasised the centrality of temporal frames and evidenced the strength of auto-ethnography.  Zuleiga Adams’ explored the psychic archive of memory in her presentation on the assassination of Hendrik Verwoerd by Demitrios Tsafendas. 

After lunch, the focus shifted to alternative forms of politics and political subjectivity in contemporary South Africa.  Camalita Naicker’s discussion of her PhD research on Marikana and its afterlives considered the question of what forms of the political are being articulated and practiced in relation to land and labour in the present. Katharina Schramm’s paper explored questions of political subjectivity through the notion of “the good life” and the contrasting examples of the construction of “Shackville” on UCT’s campus by students in 2016, and of a “Khoi kraal” at the Castle of Good Hope by indigenous heritage activists in the same year.  Greer Valley’s presentation of a preliminary concept for a PhD project reflected on the politics of representation of South Africa through museum exhibitions abroad.  Finally, we closed the session with a discussion on the notion of “responsibility” in relation to the university, with Rehana Odendaal’s MA thesis chapter on the history of Wits University.

Day 3

The final day was reorganised to accommodate our visitors from overseas first, in the possible event that protest action prevented access to the venue.  In the end, the day progressed smoothly with participants connected to the outside action through social media.  Media archives were in fact the connecting theme of the morning: Emma Sandon presented her work on the mining archives of Southern Africa and utilisation of film as a recruitment tool; while Jacqueline Maingard discussed Sol Plaatje’s touring cinema exhibitions of the 1920s in rural areas as a “projection of modernity”—the iterations of modernity became a topic of heated discussion from this session.  Thokozani Mhlambi discussed Afrikaans broadcasts and their links to wartime recruitment, explaining that this laid a foundation for considerations of African-aimed broadcasting and gave rise to particular conditions of listening.  The examination of new modernities continued in the next session through the attention to practices such as lobola and dress/fashion objects in museum collections: Gerald Machona’s PhD work, exploring his experience of transnational lobola raised questions of reformulations of the “animist unconscious” in the modern re-traditionalisation of Africa; while much discussion arose around Erica de Greef’s notion of “sartorial disruption” in her PhD research proposal.

The afternoon session centred around questions of loss, marginalisation and authenticity in the archive.  Jo-Anne Duggan’s PhD chapter beautifully described the forces to which news photographs were subjected in the process of ‘archivization’ and their potency in different contexts.  Finally, the energising discussion on Susana Molins Lliteras’ book proposal based on her PhD dissertation on the biography of a family collection from Timbuktu concentrated on notions of “forging” as another way of producing archive.

In a brief concluding discussion, we highlighted the themes of the making of political and other subjectivities, new modernities and their constructions through the precolonial/pre-tribal archives.  With another intense and productive workshop concluded, we unwound with drinks and a musical performances by Thokozani Mhlambi, pondering his departing question: Why are we here?