You can read an excerpt from the book over at the fabulous new South African media project New Frame.
You can listen to a podcast about the book over at New Books Network.
Just in case you missed the news on social media, To Swim with Crocodiles came out in the U.S. earlier this summer. It will be out in South Africa in early 2019 with the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. You can get it now with Michigan State University Press and, of course, that other online seller. Thanks, everyone, for your support!
Last month, the Presidency of South Africa awarded the Order of the Luthuli in Gold posthumously to Inkosi Mhlabunzima Joseph Maphumulo. The order “is awarded to South Africans who have served the interests of South Africa by making a meaningful contribution in any of the following areas: the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice, peace and conflict resolution.”
The award recognizes that the chief made “an exceptional contribution to conflict resolution and to resistance against injustice and oppression. He lost his life fighting for his people.” Mhlabunzima Maphumulo was the chief of the Maphumulo at Table Mountain, but the people for whom he fought extended beyond his rural chiefdom, earning him the moniker of ‘peace chief’.
I am so grateful to have been a part of nominating him and am so pleased to watch his family accept the award. You can learn more about his life in my book, now out in the U.S. and soon in Z.A.
*For more on the context of this particular oral history interview, see previous post.
The “myth of the empty land” is one of the most pervasive myths of South African history. In 2012, Freedom Front Plus leader and then deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries Pieter Mulder declared that black South Africans had no claim to 40% of South Africa and that European settlers had not stolen the land, suggesting that land in the semi-desert Karoo and Kalahri be purchased for black South Africans.
Writing in the Mail & Guardian in response, historian Shula Marks remarked upon a sense of déjà vu . She penned the 1980 “South Africa – the Myth of the Empty Land” in History Today and now found that ignorance about South Africa’s past lingered 30+ years later despite scholarly research. Mulder’s remark reveals the longevity of apartheid ideology that justified white settlement of South African land.
An equally pervasive myth exists among dispossessed South Africans that suggests how they understand this loss of land. A year before Mulder’s claim to empty land, in a conversation between two of my interlocutors, they attempted to explain the loss of African territory in Zululand to Boer immigrants. Here, in a larger conversation about the chieftaincy, two community elders connected the perils of an uneducated leader to historical land dispossession:
GB: When Sichiza was a chief [in the 1950s], he could not write his name.
NM: If you cannot read your own name, how can you become a chief?
GB: He had an assistant to read for him and the assistant could read to him whatever he wanted.
NM: It is the same thing which happened years ago, when white people made one of the kings to sit in a rotating chair to point the whole nation to the whites.
GB: I know that thing, they put a king in a rotating chair and they pressed it while he was pointing them to a piece of land. He ended up giving them the whole nation. I think that was Dingane.
It is said that during the reign of King Dingane a group of Boers sought an audience with King Dingane for some or other land concession, they spoke to him and a demarcation of land was agreed upon. When Dingane was about to point out the parameters of the land he was asked to sit down on a revolving chair, this chair was then spun around in an act of treachery by the Boers and it was through such actions that they lay claims on the Zulu country.
Mkhize points out the myth’s entertainment value and distance from reality, speculating the story may have its origins in the 1851 creation of a wheelchair for King Mpande, ill with gout, by Norwegian missionaries.
The myth is certainly an entertaining one–everyone present giggled at its telling. But it should not be dismissed as only a myth. It does suggest a reality–how its narrators understand land dispossession as an act of deceit in which white immigrants took advantage of an unwitting king’s diplomacy. The invocation of the myth to discuss an uneducated chief reveals how these interlocutors view power and envision leadership.
“Dingane in Ordinary and Dancing Dresses,” 1836, by Captain Allen Francis Gardiner.
An 1849 portrait of King Mpande by George French Angas
I haven’t blogged in a year. Oops.
I’m on leave (yay!) and spending a lot of time revisiting my oral history interviews as part of manuscript revisions. Reading, listening again produces a range of emotions and thoughts that won’t make it into any book or article. They deserve to be shared and despite my best efforts at creativity are too much for Twitter. I’ve decided to share them here periodically.* Stay tuned, first up tomorrow.
*Everyone who participated in the oral history project gave oral or written consent for use of their interviews in publications and eventual archival deposit.
This week in the Modern African history course we’re discussing African participation in World War II and its impact on the continent. Like the growing attention to World War I highlighted by the World War I in Africa project, it is increasingly easy to access media for classroom use. A few I have used successfully:
British Pathe coverage of Italian departure for Ethiopia, 1935:
Halie Selassie I speaks at the League of Nations after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, 1936:
Rare color footage (Kino Library) of Prisoners of War from the French colonies in Germany:
British Pathe footage of South African war effort & troops:
Ato Yanney’s His Majesty’s Sergent trailer
Ousmane Sembene’s (1988) Camp de Thiaroye
Rachid Bouchareb (2006) Indigènes (Days of Glory) trailer
My students listened to Afripod Episode 81: The Nigerian homefront in WWII.
Today, South Africa announced the parole decisions for three apartheid-era political assassins: Clive Derby-Lewis, Eugene de Kock and Ferdi Barnard. Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masuta announced that de Kock would be released. Despite the medical board‘s recommendation, the state denied Derby-Lewis (the man behind Chris Hani‘s murder) parole. The decision on Ferdi Bernard has been reserved. These decisions open old wounds and debate about more than just the fate of these assassins.
A sampling of responses:
Desmond Tutu says release from prison of apartheid police killer Eugene de Kock represents milestone on road to reconciliation and healing
— SAfm news (@SAfmnews) January 30, 2015
My thoughts on Eugene de Kock's release? Let me borrow from another evil, Jimmy Kruger, "It leaves me cold."
— Eusebius McKaiser (@Eusebius) January 30, 2015
What is the meaning on insisting on punishing individuals like the De Kock when ALL whites benefited from Apartheid oppression of blacks?
— ANDILE (@Mngxitama) January 30, 2015
You should be upset Eugene de Kock's going free. But even more upset about why these people never paid for Apartheid http://t.co/ZEQV3T1GHH
— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) January 30, 2015
A boulevard named after de Klerk and Eugene de Kock parole in the same week. Apartheid's skeletons coming out of the clauset.
— Duane Jethro (@materialpasts) January 30, 2015
The mere mention of Eugene de Kock's name still makes me as fearful today as it did when I was growing up in Apartheid RSA.
— Florence Masebe (@FloMasebe) January 30, 2015
The decisions are heated, certainly because of the brutality of men in question. De Kock is a veteran of the Rhodesian war and the Koevoet Police Counter-Insurgency Unit in Namibia. He took over as Dirk Coetzee’s successor at Vlakplaas. Among De Kock’s crimes against humanity, he orchestrated the bombing of COSATU and Khotso Houses and the murder of the Cradock Four.
Conservative Party MP Derby-Lewis, now 78 and stricken with lung cancer, conspired with Janusz Walus to murder Hani and provided the weapon. Hani was, and remains, a revered figure in South Africa for his principles and leadership in the SACP and MK.
Ferdi Bernard hired a hitman to assassinate Anton Lubowski in Windhoek in 1989 and assassinated anti-apartheid activist David Webster in 1989. He attempted to murder Dullah Omar. Jacques Pauw described him as “one of apartheid’s most infamous hoodlums, a Rambo-esque killer who moved between the criminal underworld of drug dealing, prostitution, and diamond smuggling, and South Africa’s official business in the government’s dirty tricks units and deaths squads.”
But this debate is about more than individuals and their crimes. As T.O. Molefe pointed out six months ago, the “debate is especially frenzied because the racial hierarchy these men were defending when they committed their barbarous acts is still largely intact, even if the lives of many black people have improved since 1994.” Masuta alleges de Kock’s release is “in the interests of nation-building and reconciliation.” Tutu hopes it will contribute to such.
But can reconciliation be achieved when little has changed? Few high-ranking apartheid officials participated in the TRC and even fewer were tried in court. In his TRC testimonies and interviews with Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a TRC commissioner, De Kock declared himself the scapegoat for the apartheid officials who previously sought him out as a counterinsurgency strategist. Ronald Suresh Roberts points out that South African business beneficiaries have not been held accountable either.
The release of de Kock is about more than just his immediate victims. It’s also about every South African who experienced apartheid as well as those who continue to live with the legacies of apartheid.
Short read: BBC profile on de Kock
Long read: Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night
Long read: Jacques Pauw’s Into the Heart of Darkness on Bernard, de Kock and others
Research: Amnesty applications of de Kock, Derby-Lewis and others are available online.
Listen: de Kock’s friend Professor Piet Croucamp spoke with the SABC about de Kock’s belief that F.W. de Klerk belonged in jail. (He’s right. Jabulani Sithole’s research puts de Klerk, who has always maintained his “clean hands,” at a meeting that approved the fostering of political violence.) The interview has perfect timing, as Cape Town plans to rename Table Bay Boulevard after the last apartheid president.
Watch: SABC’s “Truth Commission: Special Report Episode 61” on the amnesty application of Hani’s assassin, Janusz Walus, and the assassination’s mastermind, Clive Derby Lewis.
Watch: Documentary on Eugene de Kock, Prime Evil