Etikettarkiv: South Africa

Four favorites 1: Derek Attridge recommends contemporary South African novels

I recently read a very interesting, rather short but dense, article: “The South African Novel Today”. It begins with reflections about the contemporary South African novel and a shift from an optimistic world view, that followed when apartheid finally was abolished, to a considerably more pessimistic world view expressed in more recent novels.


The author of the article, Derek Attridge, a renowned South African-born British scholar at University of York, specialized in English and South African literature, then proceeds with an evaluation of the state of the South African novel today and in its recent past. He quotes two new studies on the subject, he criticizes some aspects of the contemporary trend to blend the historical with the fictive, he reflects on broader trends and he engages in a more detailed analysis of one recent novel. The article is inspiring, dense with knowledge and it makes you want to know more about South African novels.

I wrote Mr. Attridge and asked if he would be interested in recommending four of his favorite contemporary South African novels. I’m very grateful and proud to be able to present Mr. Attridge’s recommendations (below) in our new series Four favorites / Fyra favoriter.

Mr. Attridge has written and edited more than 20 academic studies. He has written J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (2004) and The Work of Literature (2015). He has co-edited Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy 1970-1995 (1998) and The Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012).

These are Mr. Attridge’s recommendations:


David’s Story, by Zoë Wicomb (Kwela, 2000; The New Press, 2001).

This ambitious novel weaves together two stories dating from either end of the twentieth century: David Dirkse, a former guerrilla in the struggle against apartheid adjusts to the new world of post-apartheid South Africa while exploring the historical roots of his community, the Griqua people; and his possible ancestor, Andrew Abraham Stockenstrom le Fleur, leads the Griquas in a trek to find a new home. Wicomb explores the fraught internal dynamics of the liberation movement, with particular attention to the prejudices against “coloured” (i.e., “mixed-race”) and women members of the ANC in a dazzling, sometimes comic, sometimes chilling, always highly imaginative work.


The Restless Supermarket, by Ivan Vladislavić (Umuzi, 2001; And Other Stories, 2014). Swedish translation: Snabbköpet rastlös

Aubrey Tearle, the narrator of this novel, is resistant to change, but change is happening all around him, as the fixities of apartheid South Africa tumble in the late twentieth century. He is a proofreader, and his passion for correctness is evident throughout the novel, which relates the tale of the final gathering at the Café Europa in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, before it closes its doors, a victim of the unstoppable transition. The novel includes Tearle’s magnum opus, ”The Proofreader’s Derby”, a nightmarish tale which he has produced in an error-strewn version to test young proofreaders. Through the comedy runs a vein of sadness, as Tearle, for all his absurdity, is a not unsympathetic character. Vladislavić’s superb handling of style is a delight throughout.


The Heart of Redness, by Zakes Mda (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000; Oxford, 2002).

What is especially striking in this novel is the long view it takes of the history of the Xhosa peoples in the Eastern Cape, in which the apartheid years from 1948 to 1994 are seen onlyas a small part of a much longer story. The work moves between the pre-apartheid past and the post-apartheid present, tracing the long wake produced by the Cattle-Killing of 1856-7 which sealed the subjugation of the Xhosa to the European colonizers. In the present, the people are still divided between the descendants of those who believed the prophecy that led to the killing of cattle and those who didn’t, and the novel brilliantly shows the rift working itself out over the question of tourism in the region.


Agaat, by Marlene van Niekerk (Tafelberg, 2004; translated by Michiel Heyns as The Way of the Women, Little, Brown, 2007; translation reissued by Tin House Books, 2010). Swedish translation: Agaat

Written in Afrikaans and skilfully translated into English, this magnificent novel uses the extraordinary device of the consciousness of a dying woman suffering from motor neurone disease, and who can only communicate by blinking, to tell the story of family and racial conflict on a South African farm. Agaat (Agatha, but also agate, in English) is the coloured nurse who tends to Milla while also overseeing the farm, in a dramatic reversal of power relations – since Milla had rescued Agaat as a child from extreme poverty and neglect. Set in the dying days of apartheid, the work uses an intense family drama to reinvent the tradition of the Afrikaans plaasroman or farm-novel as a distillation of the country’s tragic history.

Derek Attridge

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Photos by Mark Lewis of informal butchers in Johannesburg


S’kop (Fourthwall Books) by Tanya Zack and Mark Lewis. S’kop is short for isiKop – ”the head” – in a hybrid Zulu/Afrikaans slang.

South Africa has undergone dramatic change since apartheid was abolished 1990 and free elections were held 1994. The South African society is still changing, on many different levels, and one place in particular has changed rapidly the last decades: Johannesburg.

The big insurance and banking companies began to invest heavily in the suburbs, particularly the northern suburbs, in the 80s. This triggered a flight of white and affluent people from the inner city and more and more companies moved their headquarters as well. The inner city became less attractive, parts of it was totally neglected, but Johannesburg is a typical “arrival city”, it’s not only attracting South Africans in search for opportunity, it attracts Africans seeking opportunity from the entire region. From Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia among other countries.


In only ten years, between 2001 and 2011, the province of Guateng, of which Johannesburg is capital, grew by 30%. During the apartheid years the inner city of Johannesburg was virtually all white.  Today, according to some estimates, less than 50% of the population is South African and of them only a very small minority is white.

The photographer Mark Lewis has worked a lot in Johannesburg during the last decades, and we are very grateful that we may publish a few of his amazing images of informal butchers in Johannesburg, most of them Zimbabwean immigrants. We also asked Mark a couple of questions.

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a photographer, how did you develop your style and interest in telling stories?

– I kind of slipped into photography. I got a job painting the interior of a photographer’s studio and ended up staying on as his assistant. I then did advertising photography and moved to London in the 80s and started doing fashion photography for magazines like Blitz and The Face. I viewed my work with those magazines, in particular Blitz Magazine, as more social documentary than fashion as it really reflected the times and in that way the fashion of the day, post punk and the beginning of Thatcherite England.

– I returned to South Africa in 1994 and started doing work with an Africa Correspondent for various German publications so that work took me into the continent and that opened my eyes to a new beginning in photography and one that I felt more comfortable with. It was when I returned to live in Joburg after a very long absence that I met up with Tanya Zack and we both discovered our mutual desire to seek and tell stories of this ever changing city, and so began the Wake Up This Is Joburg series. Tanya’s knowledge of the city through her work as an Urban Planner enabled me to look at the city in a new way.  It has also increased my interest in urbanisation and the changes that are taking place in the peri-urban landscape in Joburg, South Africa and in the rest of the continent.


S’kop is the first book in the Wake Up-series. Could you please tell us a little bit about the series and why you began to focus on the Kazerne, that ceased to function as a parking garage in the late 1980s and then became a taxi rank?

– Wake Up This Is Joburg is a series of 10 booklets, it tells the stories of 10 ordinary, interesting, odd or outrageous denizens of the city of Johannesburg. It was first conceived as one book by Tanya and myself, S’kop, but Fourthwall Books suggested we do it as 10 stories which we both liked. Tanyas and my initial thoughts were about looking at movement in and through the inner city; how urban space gets continually altered and abandoned and hijacked and also how people navigate through these altered, abandoned and hijacked spaces. So seeing cow heads pushed through the city centre in Woolworths shopping trolleys fitted exactly into what I was hoping to find. The heads are collected every day from the inner city butcheries and pushed to various abandoned or left over spaces around the city where they are chopped and cooked.

– On entering the abandoned space which had been a parking garage and then a taxi rank and was now occupied by informal butchers wielding axes and knives and smoke billowing from fires cooking huge pots of porridge and meat, and skulls and skins piled upon blackened concrete floors, it was quite an extraordinary site, the light was wonderful and we were soon welcomed into their space and allowed to witness this process. But then the extraordinary becomes the ordinary and then you can see it for what it is, which is a startling story of entrepreneurship and survival in the city.

All photos © Mark Lewis

The Kazerne, also known as Second Kazerne Parking Garage, 66 Harrison Street, was built 1963 and demolished 2013.

Ola Wihlke

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Foto: ”White Africans. A Journey To The Homeland” av Katharine Cooper

Declan with Polly the parrot-Ledbury Farm-Zimbabwe

Declan with Polly the Parrot : Ledbury Farm, Mazowe, Zimbabwe 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Cheryldean Hestia Marisan & Clara- Prins Albert park SA 2013

Cheryldean, Hestia, Marisan & Clara in the Park at Prins Albert, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Belinda Bakeberg & family-Johannesburg 2013

Belinda Bakeberg & Family: Apple Park, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Stacy & the little stranger-Harare-Zimbabwe 2013

Stacy and the Little Stranger: Harare, Zimbabwe 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Jean Charl Greef-surfer-Koffiebaai-SA 2013

Jean Charl Greef, Artist & Surfer: Koffiebaai, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

alexia & dino

Alexia & Dino, brother and sister: Sandton – Johannesburg, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Rugby team at coronation park

Coronation Park Rugby Team: Krugersdorp, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Pieter Pretorius & his friends-Groenfontein-SA 2013

Pieter Pretorious & Friends Playing Rugby: Groenfontein, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Hein van Jaarsveldt & Dylan-Krugersdorp-SA

Hein van Jaarsveld (double-leg amputee) & his Stepson, Dylan:
Krugersdorp, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

zane & vanessa-koffiebaai-south africa 2013

Zane and Vanessa, Childhood Friends: Koffiebaai, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Nina with her children and their grandfather-Grahamstown-SA 2013

Nina, Mayrie & Max with Oupa Lindsay: Grahamstown, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Danielle & Tiger by the Pool-Harare-Zimbabwe 2004

Danielle & Tiger by the Pool: Harare, Zimbabwe 2004 © Katharine Cooper

kc ak & nr 022-6

Katharine Cooper, Anna Karien & Nina reunited after 22 years at Beadle
Street House: Grahamstown, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

In 2012 and 2013 the young South African photographer Katharine Cooper, who now lives in Arles, travelled back to her homeland South Africa and Zimbabwe to photograph women, men and children of the white minority, people whose lives she might have shared. Cooper gave us the opportunity to choose and display photos from the resulting series, ”White Africans. A Journey To The Homeland.” She was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions.

I have read several texts about ”White Africans”. Most are very similar. Could you please tell us a little bit about it in your own words, its a very personal project. Please tell us how you went about it, and about the taboos you wanted to challenge.

– I suppose it was a very personal thing. It all begins with the white diaspora leaving South Africa and Zimbabwe for Europe, America, Australia, because of increasing hostility towards them, owing to the colour of their skin.  They were given no choice but to leave, in order to make safe lives for themselves and their children, in communities where they did not feel like a threatened minority, in countries where they had rights and where the future seemed surer than in their country of origin.

– But it was heartbreaking for all of us to leave Africa. We lived our new lives with a constant nostalgia and longing. Some might call it permanent homesickness. I and friends of mine deal with these feelings on an almost daily basis. We have built homes for ourselves in the first world, but our hearts yearn for Africa. We are white, but we are not like the Europeans, Americans or Australians. We have an entirely different culture, vocabulary, and in the case of the Afrikaans people, a whole new language, which are peculiar to us.

– We are White Africans, afraid to proclaim it too loud, because of all the guilt that colonialism and apartheid make us bear. ”I wanted to confront this and proclaim verly clearly that certain white people in Africa have as much right to call themselves ‘African’ as as the people who settled in the Americas have the right to call themselves ‘American’. And I count myself amongst them.

You get the sense that the persons in the series, a few of them, are vulnerable and living under difficult conditions. You have taken their photographs with great sensitivity. But there is a tension in a several of the photos, there are more than a hundred, and quite a few of the persons look reserved. How did you approach the persons you wanted to take pictures of? Have they seen the photos?

– There is a freshness and innocence about these people that is lacking in Europeans. The expression is a result of the interaction between myself and the subject. I am such a reserved and shy person myself that it is in fact an ordeal I have to overcome every time I take a photograph of someone, to ask them if they would accept to pose for me. I am so afraid of exploiting or making people feel ill at ease, that it is an incredibly complex process for me to approach a stranger in the street and ask them to perform for my camera.

– Every time that someone accepts to look into my lens, it is an event. It is a meaningful encounter, full of gravity and mutual respect. Or at least, I hope so! Maybe they just think I am totally nuts! At any rate, I think this explains the expression on their faces : I do not want them to clown around, to smile, but rather to retain their full dignity by looking straight into the camera without smiling. I really do feel that the scowl is the best form of freedom of expression.

– As a general rule, I always take the name and email addresses of the people I photograph, in order to send them the images. Some people do not have email, so it is more difficult to show them. So, most of the people who are in these pictures have seen the end result and are pleased.

From seeing your photos, the ones on your homepage as well, I get the impression that you are both interested in the documentary tradition and the art and even fashion tradition of photography. Can you please tell us a little about photographers that have infuenced you?

– It is so interesting that you should mention that, because I have, in fact, been very much influenced by the old masters of fashion photography. I must say that Irving Penn is one of my gods, as well as Richard Avedon, Horst P Horst, Helmut Newton, Man Ray and Lee Miller, Edward Steichen. Of course there was also Diane Arbus in a more purely documentary style, as well as Jacques Henri Lartigue and Brassaï.

– Film has influenced me a lot too: Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and film noir as a genre. To me it is vital to bring out the glamour, the life force, the beauty in every subject. Straight documentary can never quite do this; one must mix in a drop of fantasy. Irving Penn photographed fashion like documentary: a bit of dirty carpet folded over a wooden crate on which he would place a woman in a couture dress; still life messed up with a dead fly; a celebrity squashed up in the corner in his studio.

You had a huge sucess with ”White Africans” in Paris. What are your plans for the near future?

– It is true that ”White Africans” was very well received, and I am so grateful to everybody – friends and strangers alike – for their sincere enthusiasm and real enjoyment of the pictures. I could not have dreamed of anything better or more rewarding. Now I am slowly getting my ideas together for the next project which will be happening in my homeland – South Africa – again.

– I cannot say too much because it is barely in embryonic form at the moment, but I am trying to get the ideas to flow onto paper (computer) so that I can ask the very lovely people in charge of the purse-strings for some funding. Without them, these projects would never happen, because, as we all know, artists are always broke!

If you like the images in this blog post, you should visit Katharine Coopers homepage.

Ola Wihlke

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