68.Noviolet-Bulawayo-We-Need-New-NamesThe increasing interest in African Literature and the recognition of African authors globally is a cause for celebration. Yet the increase in visibility is not without its problems. “This newfound visibility has prompted a renewed sense of contestation around the term, a renewed sense of debate and conversation about what exactly we mean, what are the intellectual and institutional implications of using that phrase, African Literature,” said Ranka Primorac, an English lecturer at the University of Southampton. Using a variety of African texts and authors as a starting point, Primorac interrogated the issues surrounding the term African Literature.


ghana-must-goWhile many awards and prizes appear to celebrate African literature, they are also problematic in that they place limitations on what it means to be African, and what kinds of writing counts as African enough. “African Literature is being institutionally regulated,” she said. There is the idea that an author can be African to varying degrees, and that African writers must cover African topics. Their work is expected to play the role of anthropology. What author Taiye Selasi suggested, and Primorac agreed with, is that “African books for global eyes must be written by a broader range of Africans. We need more writers from more countries representing more class backgrounds. We need more names”.

Another problem with the term African Literature is that equal recognition does not seem to be given to all African countries. “When you say African Literature, it very often happens that metonymically speaking, South African literature gets to stand for that,” said Primorac.

chimamandangoziadichie1With all these problems surrounding the term, what then is African Literature good for? According to Primorac:

“African literature is a useful signifier for a set of shifting and layered network of authors, texts and readers that spans several geographies of scale and works to keep alive the memory of decolonisation and of global solidarity of the oppressed”.

“It is unfortunately still necessary as a category with which to try to facilitate access to the global literary marketplace for a certain group of disadvantaged authors, via institutional mechanisms such as the Caine prize

“It is an excellent starting point for begging to apprehend those textually created worlds in which African characters are able to regard a wide variety of global locations and spaces that they own, spaces that are theirs and as spaces in which Africa is no longer invisible”.

RankaPrimoracIn discussing the matter, Primorac suggests various African authors and their writing which contribute to the conversation. To hear her reading suggestions, you can listen to her full talk below.


the-secret-history-of-las-vegas_300x465 the-hired-man


Albie Sachs

Albie Sachs

Albie Sachs says that when he grew up he didn’t exactly see Cecil John Rhodes as Mr Nice Guy. But when he was at the University of Cape Town the ethos was to be friendly to him. Although bothered by the presence of Rhodes, Sachs says they had bigger battles to fight at the time. There was academic integration but social segregation on campus. Obviously that all has now changed.

The way a place makes you feel has a profound effect on how you experience it. If you walk around a campus that has symbols that remind you of the architects of your pain and make you feel uncomfortable, then understandably you will not feel at home or welcome there.  As a rational person, you will challenge issues that deal with the context which you live in. That is what the students of UCT did.

Some students didn’t understand this. But as Sachs reminds: “The intangible is very powerful to people who can feel it, but invisible to those who can’t.”

So what is the solution to creating a campus that makes all students feel welcome? According to Sachs, we must transform and not destroy or remove statues.  “We should have artwork that will confront the reality of Rhodes.”

As an example, he mentioned Willem Boshoff who proposed covering the mural of Jan Van Riebeeck in South Africa House in London with glass panels and inscribing them with the names of the slaves and Khoisan people displaced by Van Riebeeck. When people look at the mural, they are forced to confront Van Riebeeck and the destruction he wreaked.

Herein lies the problem: we can create artwork that confronts the reality of Rhodes, but if people continue being blind to the intangibles as Sachs calls them then we are not really doing anything. Transformation is not just about changing names and removing statues; it’s about education and making sure that conditions which make others feel like outsiders are dealt with.

Only then will we have academic institutions that are home for everyone.

Satire debate

One of the recurring issues when talking satire and freedom of expression at Think!Fest has been the limit to which we can say what we want. With Pierre de Vos, Justice Albie Sachs, Tara Notcutt, Jeremy Nell and Tjeerd Royaards on the panel and a full house ready to talk satire, chair Anthea Garman begins by asking what each speaker is personally offended by, and what they avoid speaking about in order to not offend.

Royaards, a Dutch cartoonist, says that the cartoon is an opinion and it is about making a connection with the audience. Anything that offends the audience can work against you if the offence outweighs the message. Nell, more commonly known as the cartoonist Jerm, is willing to draw anything, but being aware that certain topics provoke people, he will not depict religious figures. “If I’m being honest, it’s more about my safety,” he admits.

De Vos acknowledges that despite being a regular Twitter user who is used to insults that arise during disagreements, when people refer to his sexual orientation or HIV status as an insult, it cuts. Sachs agrees, saying that for him, the limit is where people are in pain or have been wounded. “You don’t trample on the pain,” he says.

“You don’t go after the weak because it’s not funny, it’s not fair,” agrees Royaards. The cartoonist also feels it is taboo to speak of something you have not researched properly. This begs a further question, when it comes to knowing what you’re satirising, how much is enough?

“You have to be able to defend what you have made” says Royaards, and the only way you can do that is by researching. De Vos adds that it’s not just about what you say, but the tone you use and the manner in which you do it. Furthermore, it isn’t about knowing what you know, but being aware of what you don’t know and being humble and willing to admit that you do not know and understand everything.

As more cartoonists are publishing independently rather than being linked to a newspaper, the character of cartoons is changing, which allows them to be more personal but also riskier. There is a danger of the misuse of certain elements of satire, stereotypes in particular. “Stereotypes are just really lazy,” says Notcutt, director of the satirical show The Three Little Pigs. “It doesn’t take a lot of work to be smarter than a stereotype,” she adds. Royaards uses particular political figures to represent a country, rather than resorting to a stereotype, while Notcutt never mentions names in her show. Nell, however, does not shy away from stereotypes. He believes they are about feeding into a particular prejudice in order to draw them out, and when used cleverly they can have a powerful effect. De Vos suggests that rather than avoiding a stereotype, one should attempt to completely turn it around.

Having discussed their own personal limits to satire, Garman suggests that perhaps limits are not limiting, but may inspire the most creative work. The apartheid regime in particular, despite its censorship laws, resulted in plays such as Woza Albert. Now we have a constitution that allows us freedom of speech, but requires greater thinking. According to de Vos, when you live in a free society you have the right to say many things, but it’s not necessarily the right thing to say.

Having listened to previous talk freedom of expression in Britain and France, it is clear that compared to other countries we are more advanced in our practice of freedom of speech. However, it is striking that in being given complete freedom, we are learning how and where to draw the line for ourselves.


The State of the State debate brought together Noor Nieftagodien, Ivor Chipkin and Ashley Westaway to discuss the current state of South Africa. While all three speakers had previously shared their work and research about local politics to Think!Fest audiences, the debate allowed them to discuss ideas and compare thoughts on where we stand as a country. Pertinent and challenging discussion points were put forward and engaging conversation resulted.

Here, we take a look at a few of the questions we need to be asking, as well as how the speakers responded.

If we want to assess the healthiness of how we live, where do we look to make these assessments?

Ashley Westaway

Ashley Westaway

“There is no one particular place,” says Westaway. If one tries to hear and assimilate as much as they can, they can get an idea of what is happening. The data and news from the last six months have been quite worrying. The state of the state is considerably weaker than 12 months ago, and Zuma’s term has been bad for the country.

Chipkin is less pessimistic than Westaway and the media. “In international comparative terms, we’re just a baby,” he says. Other states have had longer time to develop and we need to qualify the worry we have with how young we are. There are some worrying things but we need to moderate our sense of worry and panic. Having worked with state bureaucracy, he speaks about how we can judge the state we are in from administration, as so many daily experiences have to do with admin and record keeping. “Things are not great, but they are not as bad as you imagine” he asserts.

Nieftagodien’s view is based on a historical understanding of the state. He says he does not usually take the middle approach but will do so here. “How we frame the debate question is appropriate,” he says, “but we quickly fall into a binary”. The media engagement with this issue is worrying because of the lack of depth in the analysis, and the media’s preoccupation with Zuma. “Zuma is not the sum total of the state,” he says.

Nieftagodien also believes there is value in looking at how people are talking to each other now. We are in a post-reconciliation phase in the country and previously, the focus of conversations was on reconciliation. Yet the grounds on which we have conversations have been shifting, as signalled by the #RhodesMustFall conversations. People are now having difficult conversations and asking tough questions. In order to judge the state of SA, we need to look at these conversations as well as how ordinary people encounter and engage with the state. These encounters are usually experiences of the state’s attempts to control, or experiences of violence and coercion.

We want good governance, not violence. Why are we seeing violence and reaction from people?

Ivor Chipkin

Ivor Chipkin

According to Chipkin, there is a crisis happening in democracy and in our political culture. The idea of the rainbow nation is in crisis and there are signs that democracy is in trouble. However, he sees protests as administrative events rather than political events, and that the violence is a violence of bureaucratic and administrative failure. “We are not a failed state,” he says. “It is not as if nothing is happening”. There are functions provided but they are being provided in a way that seems unfair, unreliable and unequal, he explains. Having worked at the South African Revenue Services (SARS), he found that people often said that SARS was corrupt, even when evidence showed that it was not. He soon realised that to speak of corruption was a language for talking about unfairness. This is administrative violence and we need to distinguish it from political violence.

All three speakers mentioned the apartheid Bantustans in previous talks. How does this relate to the state of the state?

According to Nieftagodien, the North West and Limpopo have had more Bantustans, central to which were traditional authorities. The first democratic elections in 1994 meant the end of Bantustans but not the end of the people and the cultures of governance.

An audience member comments on the fact that the current design of townships mirror apartheid townships and have the character of temporary residences. We seem to have carried over from apartheid the mindset that this is how things should be.

Noor Nieftagodien

Noor Nieftagodien

Nieftagodien agrees, saying that one of the most problematic issues is a continuation of the apartheid housing and geographical situation. Townships have no parks and public spaces, and we should actually campaign for public spaces where children can play.

Another comment from the audience touches on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, suggesting that perhaps the TRC covered up things that we need to be addressing now.

Westaway responds, saying that interestingly enough, art historians have been more critical of the TRC than historians, and they have argued that because the focus of the TRC was on major events, it became a whitewashing of the project of apartheid. The normalcy of apartheid was looked over, allowing certain things to be perpetuated now. “I think what’s needed is a broad societal engagement in a critical way with the state,” says Westaway.

Nieftagodien says there is the idea that we need to put the past behind us in order to move forward, and there is a problem with this discourse. What happened at Marikana was an opportunity to open up conversation and perhaps address things the TRC didn’t, but we completely failed at that.


Anthea Garman, convenor of Think!Fest, rounds up the discussion, asking which leaders we can look to for guidance in the way forward.

For Westaway, it is Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University. “He has indicated a willingness to position the university much closer to the town,” he says, and that is admirable.

Chipkin believes that Ivan Pillay, former Deputy Commissioner of SARS, is a true leader for his work behind the scenes which went unacknowledged.

Nieftagodien concludes, saying that his idea of a leader to emulate does not have a name, but it would be “the great South African woman”.

The full conversation, which includes many other aspects of assessing our state, can be found below.

Noor NieftagodienProfessor Noor Nieftagodien’s work is centred on local histories and how it affects the present realities of South African citizens. While being deeply political, he attempts to comprehend a set of problems through a historical lens, looking at how state practices of the past have shaped how we are today.

Nieftagodien takes us through a brief history of locations and how their governance was formed through the years, from the municipal locations created in the 1920s and the advisory boards which were elected to advise the white government, to the Urban Bantu Councils which were linked to the Homelands in the 1960s.

“The Bantustans are not dead,” he says. Perhaps the architecture has changed and on paper they do not exist, but if you look at the police and other institutions, the same systems are in place. “The past is very present in relation to the state,” he says, quickly clarifying that he does not mean that nothing has changed since apartheid, but that we need to be sensitive to issues of continuity.

It’s important to understand that while these forms of governance were in place to enforce control over black people during apartheid, they also have an effect today. These councils created by the apartheid government undermined the organic ability of governance developing in townships, and undermined local authorities.  When state strategies for controlling the urban black population fell apart, the state immediately resorted to coercion, violence and force. Nieftagodien argues that there are important continuities in the way the state interacts with poor black people in their localities. He suggests that we have to have a sense of transition and history in order to understand why the problems the country faces today happen as they do.

However, in looking at the past in order to understand the present, we cannot only focus on certain parts of the country. Academic research on South Africa tends to focus on our main metropolitan areas such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The problems and successes of these places are read as a template to understanding the whole of South Africa, despite the population of these places being in the minority. As Nieftagodien’s research shows, not all the people that live in these areas consider it home. His work is therefore focussed on areas outside the metropolitan cities.

In researching the challenges faced in South Africa, Nieftagodien found that the idea of a failed state is being used as an explanatory framework. According to Nieftagodien,his concern is that it does not really tell us what is happening at a local level. “Local state is transforming in a way that we need to give attention to and that we don’t understand,” he says. Limpopo, in particular, has seen incredible growth due to mining developments in the area. The town of Lephalale, which many South Africans do not even know of, has the highest property value increase rate after Camps Bay in the Western Cape. That land on which new mining is taking place is owned by traditional authorities, who are now becoming stakeholders in mining companies, and this has political consequences. There are greater contestations over who is chief of an area, as well as an influence on the relations between the chief and the people of the area if the chief is to sell land that is considered communal land. The traditional authorities are linked to deriving significant amounts of income independent of the state, which reshapes the political economy of the area and has an impact on power struggles in the country.

Nieftagodien’s explanation of how this change in areas outside the main metropolitan cities affects the future of South Africa can be found in his talk below.

Dario Milo

Dario Milo

Is satire about freedom of expression or about the freedom to laugh? Should we as the public be so eager to laugh that we seek entertainment from any and everything?

Judge Albie Sachs, points out that laughter has its context. “It can be derisory and punitive, imposing indignity on the weak at the hands of the powerful.”

That is where the challenge lies for satire. It can parody a subject but also potentially cause offense.

 Where do we draw the line on what can be commented on and by who? If we restrict certain individuals from speaking about or depicting certain subjects, we are infringing on their freedom of expression. But on the other hand, are we are infringing on the others right to human dignity when we allow others to continuously poke fun at things they hold sacred?

Unfortunately, not even our courts have the answer.

In 2013, Zapiro drew a cartoon that depicted Lord Ganesha – as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) – offering money to Cricket SA (CSA) in return for the sacrifice of its chief executive, Haroon Lorgat. Hindus were offended by this image and the Zapiro and the Sunday Times were taken to court on charges of hate speech. However, the ruling judge found them not guilty and said in future they should proceed with caution.

This asks the question of whether we should then hold some religious symbols above others? If we ban newspapers from depicting the Prophet Muhammad, should that also apply to Jesus Christ? If we do that, are we then not infringing on the artist’s right to expression and the audience’s right to laugh at anything?

The only thing we know for sure is that there are limits to satire, but how does one draw that line? Dario Milo tells us the legal restrictions that do exist. Listen here for more information…

Ashley Westaway speaks to the Think!Fest audience

Ashley Westaway speaks to the Think!Fest audience

Ashley Westaway is the Manager of GADRA education, an organisation which aims to provide educational services and transformation of the education system in Grahamstown. In speaking about the state of schools in the Eastern Cape, he presents us with a story of failure. Whether the failure lies with the students or the system is what we need to question.

According to Westaway, the principal of a school outside Grahamstown repeatedly postponed a planned GADRA visit because the high school was closed in solidarity with SADTU protests. The June pass rate of this school was 11%.

The proportion of black youth in skilled employment is lower in 2014 than it was in 1994, according to StatsSA.

At the beginning of the year, 40 Grade 11 learners progressed to Grade 12. What this meant was that they had already failed in that band, so despite failing Grade 11 they had still been promoted to Grade 12.

The proportion of Grade 10 learners that went on to write Grade 12 exams has dropped below 50% across the country.

The statistics are bleak and we need to find a way to make sense of what is going on. Schools that underperform like this can be considered ‘dysfunctional’ schools as they fail to function as an educational institution. Usually, these schools are understood as failing because of various deficits such as a lack of good teachers, effective management, textbooks and desks. However, Westaway puts forward the idea that dysfunctional schools are not just defined by what they lack, but what they serve. If you can understand what a system is doing, you can understand why it functions unchallenged.

Westaway explains this using Bourdieu’s theories, saying that an ideology of merit is used to justify the inequalities. Children that underperform are said to be lacking gifts and talents, and this is supposedly why poorer children don’t do as well in school. The common story that is told is that all children now have universal access to education, no fee schools are available, feeding schemes are in place at schools and so any failure must be due to a child not working hard enough, as everything they need is available to them.

However, our government has created a welfare state that simultaneously sustains and suppresses, according to Westaway. We have both welfare (child support, disability and pension grants) as well as patronage, where patrons use state resources to secure the loyalty of clients. The role of bureaucracy then is not to deliver services but to benefit from patronage. This is the function that so-called dysfunctional schools are serving. Westaway believes that the failure of the education system therefore has nothing to do with the children and everything to do with the schools and the teachers, as well as a curriculum that is fundamentally racist.

We need to stop looking at schools as just dysfunctional and repeating the story that the black child is lazy and undisciplined, that all persistent problems are the legacy of apartheid, that black parents are pathetic and indifferent, that because of past inequalities a black child must not expect to do well, that they must merely expect the government to provide and that because conditions of schools have improved slightly since apartheid, they must feel indebted to the ruling party. Rather, we need to look at what systems are in place in these schools and the kinds of ideologies that they are serving to function, and perhaps that is how we begin to make sense of education in the Eastern Cape.

More information on GADRA can be found at http://gadraeducation.co.za/

Ivor ChipkinThe stories that are told about South Africa speak of corruption and decline of the state. We keep talking of an impending crisis, as if disaster is predicted by something intrinsic to our character as a country. We keep telling these stories over and over, but in order to understand things, we need to take a step back from the current and look at the state historically, according to Ivor Chipkin, Executive Director of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) and Associate Professor at the University of Witwatersrand.

Chipkin conducts ethnographic historical studies of the state that result in stories, stories which change the way we view bureaucracy and our understanding of the problems of the state. When we talk about the state, the idea of the state remains highly abstract. According to Chipkin, there is no discussion and analysis of the character of state institutions. We need to start rethinking how administration works and what it means to be a bureaucrat. The story currently being told is that our institutions are failing because of corruption and incompetence. Chipkin tells us a different story, one based on an historical analysis if the state. If we look at education in South Africa, we know that during apartheid, sections of South African provinces and homelands were governed by separate institutions. Now, 21 years after democracy was achieved, we need to look at who makes up our Department of Education. The senior managers are public servants drawn from the homelands, who each bring with them their own institutional cultures and practices. They make up the core of the institution, but they are coming from a range of different organisations and different histories. This leads to difficulties in the effective amalgamation of the separate institutions into one.

Furthermore, there are high levels of autocracy among senior management staff, but that structure does not reflect real power relations. There are therefore policies in place for development, but it may be difficult to get those below the person in charge to enforce the policies. Chipkin suggests that this could perhaps be because previous institutional cultures, perhaps a white, Indian or coloured state worker finding it difficult to follow through instructions from a black senior worker.

Many public servants are talented, committed and very hard workers, working under difficult circumstances, so why then do we still paint this picture of inefficiency? Rather than telling the same tired stories of why things don’t work, and how public service institutions are full of incompetent corrupt individuals, we need to pay attention to the complex institutional arrangements within the state.

The Public Affairs Research Institute bring more stories to us based on their institutional research.

Gavin MacFadyen

Gavin MacFadyen, Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism at Goldsmiths in London

Gavin MacFadyen has long been involved in work related to online information and cyber surveillance, despite not being a ‘nerd’, as he jokingly refers to those more technologically advanced. He recalls the days when data gathered from computers was denounced by journalists as irrelevant techno speak. Fast forward a few years and data has now become an important source of information for investigative journalists. It is also the cause of much controversy, intimidation, and silencing.

While the ability to collect and store data through our various technological devices has allowed journalists increased access to information, it also means an increase in cyber surveillance. Data is monitored and we can be intimidated to destroy information, making what we say and share limited despite our freedom of speech.

Ordinary people do not realise the extent to this surveillance. From our emails to what we search for on Google, we are all vulnerable to cyber surveillance. You think these kinds of things are of no interest, until you become a person of interest, MacFadyen says. Whistleblowers in particular, are vulnerable to threat when they share information, which is why measures have been put into place to allow whistleblowers to submit and share information in a way that cannot be traced and so protects them. MacFadyen has worked with Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, and he explains to us the extent of the dangers of being spied on should we have information that someone else wants to keep secret.

We know that our liberty is limited, but what can we do about it? MacFadyen and the audience discuss ways in which whistleblowers as well as ordinary citizens using technological devices can protect themselves and their information from surveillance. You can listen to the conversation here.

More information on the The Centre for Investigative Journalism can be found here: http://www.tcij.org

Loyiso Gola during his talk at Think!fest 2015.

Loyiso Gola during his talk at Think!fest 2015.

It’s hard to imagine the host of Late Night News nervous, but Loyiso Gola was visibly so when he began his talk at Think!Fest.

“I don’t think of myself as an authority figure to speak on satire. I’m just a stand-up comedian whose been thrust into satire,” he tells the audience.  “I’m not used to giving lectures,” he admits, adding that he’ll just talk, and he invites the audience to speak up if they disagree.

“As a comedian, I thrive on laughter,” he says when asked about his nervousness at the beginning of his talk on the sixth day of Think!Fest.

When talking about the making of his show, he emphasises the importance of getting the facts right.

“You have to be educated,” he says, whether you are a comedian, a cartoonist or a writer.

“My opinion is less important than the balance of the story. You have to be cognisant of the historical issues when you are doing art, including the people you are insulting. You have to understand why you are upsetting them.”

So what does Gola think is the role of satire?

“Part of being an adult is learning to unlearn all the bad things you’ve learnt growing up,” he says. “You have to pick what you want to unlearn. Satire helps you unlearn and helps you engage with that part of your brain that makes you question and engage with material that you have learnt about.”

However, there is something else that Gola would prefer over satire. Let him tell you here.


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