Josette Cole

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and grew up in Toronto, Canada, where my family emigrated in the early 1960s. Unsettled and unresolved about becoming a Canadian citizen, I returned to Cape Town on my own in December 1975 when many South Africans were going in the other direction. Within six months, Soweto erupted (June 1976) and I was faced with a choice - stay and do something, or leave. I decided to stay, and the rest is history.

Since the late 1970s I have lived a life that seamlessly slips between social activism, reflection, writing and, theorising about life as observed and experienced under apartheid and in the space beyond 1994. Since 1996, I have worked as a freelance development consultant, researcher and writer.

Looking back after more than 35 years of doing this, I can see that the emphasis has tended to lean in the direction of social activism, with a brief sojourn at the University of Cape Town (1983 - 1986). I graduated (BA Hons) in 1986, despite being 'on the run' for broader anti-apartheid activities. My thesis was an attempt to describe and analyse fieldwork experiences and observations of Crossroads and surrounding settlements faced with forced removals. At the request of Ravan Press and my external examiner, Phil Bonner, I used the thesis as the foundation for my first book, published by Ravan Press in 1987, Crossroads: The Politics of Reform and Repression - 1976 to 1986. The book went beyond the thesis, exploring some of the forces behind the brutal destruction and deconstruction of the Crossroads Complex and forced removal of over 70 000 inhabitants between May to June 1976.

With the exception of doing some teaching as a visiting lecturer in the Sociology Department at UCT (1991) and inspiring many postgraduate students to do their research on various aspects of apartheid history and the unfolding (post 1994) transition, I have not been part of the Academy since the mid-1980s. I decided to return to academic life to extend the research and writing that I started in the mid-1980s to a deeper and, hopefully, higher level of understanding. I hope to use my time with the APC as part of developing an intellectual base and platform from which to rethink, write, and make more public (through a number of formats) a period of Cape Town's social, political and cultural life during and post the apartheid era. I am particularly interested in utilising empirical evidence to explore concepts like complicity, betrayal, denial, disavowal, and an ongoing quest (for some) towards forgiveness and closure by reconstructing an apartheid and liberation narrative that explores what is forgotten and, what gets remembered, reconfigured, represented and played out in contemporary life, debates and public discourse. 

Some of my other publications and articles include: Khayelitsha: New Home, Old Story, published by SPP (1984); Social and Economic Rights, published by Development Action Group (1995); More to Life than Livelihoods, PLAAS Working Paper No 13. (2009); Revolt: A Symptom of Historical Pain, Cape Argus, 10 August 2009; The Struggle for Home Ownership in New Crossroads, published by Urban Landmark Trust (2010); and Behind and Beyond the Eiselen Line, (forthcoming, 2012), commissioned by St George's Cathedral Crypt Memory and Witness Centre.