Selma Shiyoka, PhD
From 12 September to 16 September 2022, I attended a MultiLing Summer School at the University of Oslo, Norway. The theme for the summer school was “Communication and Environmental Justice: Sociocultural Linguistic Approaches” and its main objective was to consider how applied linguists can contribute to social justice concerns in a time of growing environmental challenges and climate change. Over the course of an idea-packed week, participants and invited lecturers shared and discussed their research to examine the connections between language, environment and social justice. My presentation was based on the introductory chapter of my doctoral dissertation, “Precarity and Resilience: An Ecofeminist Reading of the African Child in Fiction by Contemporary Women Writers”.
In preparation for the summer school, the invited lecturers sent us an extensive reading list and required our participation in different activities. For the first session, we were asked to bring and discuss an image, a piece of music, an object, anything that symbolizes and reflects our personal relationship to politics and its interrelationship with language/semiotics. The aim of this activity was to show how scholars can become political activists and how language can be used to communicate anger, resilience and hope. Throughout the week, lecturers presented their research in relation to the reading list. One of the main themes in these presentations was the abuse of animals by human animals. For instance, dairy cows are exploited and separated from their calf after birth; the milk produced is strictly for human consumption whilst the calf is formula fed. We visited a dairy farm where I saw how the cows live in a very small environment without much room for movement and are reared to serve humans. We were tasked to observe how cows interact among themselves and how they communicate with / respond to humans. During the summer school, I learnt that language plays a critical role in the way that anger and hope are understood in times of crisis, which I found essential as a scholar-activist. Although anger is perceived to be destructive, it can be used as a tool against oppressive systems and other injustices facing nature, human animals and nonhuman animals today. Hope is an affective agency which fuels forms of refusal and carries the potential to change the status quo.
I would like to thank Professor Christine Anthonissen in the Department of General Linguistics and Prof Tina Steiner in the Department of English at Stellenbosch University for supporting my application to attend the summer school. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to the MultiLing team and the INTPART project facilitators for sponsoring my travel from Namibia and stay in Oslo, enabling me to participate in this invaluable learning experience. I also want to thank my supervisor, Dr Jeanne Ellis, for her encouragement, support and guidance.
Concurrences and Connections: The Colonial Anthropocene
Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Växjo, Sweden (15-19 August 2022)
Lobke Minter (PhD student)
I was invited to present a paper at Concurrences and Connections: The Colonial Anthropocene, hosted by the Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies in Växjo, Sweden (15-19 August 2022). The paper entitled “Scars, Resilience and Power in Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death” is based on a chapter in my PhD dissertation, “Speculative Gothic Fiction and the Scar as Trauma Trope: Imagining Hope through Horror”. My presentation focused on how resistance is embodied within the context of Okorafor’s postapocalyptic Africa, which is disproportionately affected by environmental degradation due to continued colonial and neo-colonial extraction of resources.
The summer school was attended by scholars from a range of different disciplines, such as anthropology, history, sociology, geology as well as literature. Every morning we started off with a theory session. Interdisciplinary and collaborative, the discussions delved into diverse topics, from the problematic construction of the Anthropocene to considering how academia and activism should and could intersect more powerfully. This critical awareness and mindfulness filtered into the presentations held in the afternoon, with robust discussions and feedback afterwards. Each presentation highlighted a facet of how imperial power structures are entangled with questions of environment and human relationships. The interdisciplinarity encouraged everyone to challenge themselves to step outside of their fields and consider different ways of engaging with the topics being discussed. I found myself thinking about how literary studies can contribute to activism and the importance of imagining the world as it could be.
The emphasis on collegiality created a discursively rich atmosphere. I have gained a lot from this experience, primarily in the form of having acquired new knowledge as well as feeling significantly encouraged within my own research journey. I feel incredibly privileged and grateful to have been able to attend the summer school and would like to thank Stellenbosch University’s International Office for the PGO overseas conference grant as well as the Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies for their generous funding. Thanks also to Dr Jeanne Ellis for her unwavering support as my supervisor.
Rose Lim is a PhD candidate with the English department at Stellenbosch University. Her research areas include African women’s writing with particular interest in women’s language, their multivalence and regional distinctiveness.
Rose was invited to present a paper at the recently concluded Archipelagic Memory Conference (2 – 4 August), organised by the University of Mauritius in collaboration with King’s College London and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She spoke on “Archipelagic Thinking and the Prisms of Mozambican Women’s Multivalent Articulations” focusing on the writings of Paulina Chiziane. In the presentation, she discussed Chiziane’s literary narratives, ruminating on the fractured regional representations found in Mozambique via the prisms of its women’s polyvocal articulations. She contended that history, memory and the divergent emergence of women-centric language in Chiziane’s Afro-Luso writings converge and find meaning with the polyphonic cadence exuded by archipelagic thought and its imaginaries. Drawing attention to the notion that these writings have errantly disengaged themselves from the thrall of hegemonic conventionalities, instead electing to journey unfettered in the fluid spatialities proffered by interlinking with archipelagic-centric sensibilities.
This enriching conference was attended by international delegates of intersecting specialisations and disciplines. Notable keynote speakers included Prof. Ananya Kabir, Prof. George Abungu and Prof. Stef Craps. Aside from the panel sessions, the delegates visited the related Intercontinental Slavery Museum and the UNESCO Heritage Aapravasi Ghat. Rose would like to warmly thank Prof. Tina Steiner for her encouragement and support. Also appreciative thanks to the delegates from Johannesburg for their invitation to the private visit at Beau Bassin Jewish Memorial. Finally, a profound thank you to the exceptional organisers of the conference, and their generous sponsors, which allowed interconnecting thinkers of Archipelagic thought to gather, share and learn from one other.
Stephanie de Villiers
From 15-21 May 2022, I attended a Summer School at Venice International University in Italy. My PhD thesis focusses on madness and gender in diasporic literature, and the Summer School was on migration and gender from a legal and literary perspective. This was an incredibly ambitious project, and in preparation we had to read three novels on migration: Adua by Igiaba Scego, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. During the Summer School, we considered these texts in relation to legal cases on migration, and discussed how migration laws are gender-specific and do not always make room for the vulnerabilities and difficulties faced by women migrants, especially those who are forced into journeying far from their homes in order to seek asylum. What emerged from the discussions was the importance of literature in the construction of laws surrounding migration since it is through the telling of stories that we are able to learn about migrants’ lived experiences. In addition, literature, and the ability to critically consider and analyse stories play an important part in the interpretation of laws, which can affect the outcomes of human rights cases of migration. The final assignment of the Summer School was the perfect illustration of this. Working in groups, we were given a legal case on migration, and asked to do a feminist rewriting of the decision. My group’s case involved a man from Kiribati who had been denied asylum to New Zealand on the grounds that he was not individually persecuted. In our feminist rewriting, we changed the gender of the man to a pregnant woman with three children, all of whom had been born in New Zealand. We then argued that the family’s human rights provided legal grounds for their asylum. In our rewriting, we also included the fictional testimony of the woman, which I wrote in the form of a poem. Even though I was disappointed by the lack of focus on migration in Africa, it was an absolute pleasure for me to attend this Summer School, which reinvigorated my passion for my thesis. I am also incredibly grateful for Stellenbosch University’s International Office for providing me with a travel bursary, and for my supervisor, Dr Jeanne Ellis, for her support in this endeavour.
Read Stephanie’s poem, “Testimomy”, here.
Racism, Violence, Betrayals and New Imaginaries: Feminist Voices, published by the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) Press, was launched on Thursday, 19 May at the Homecoming Centre of the District Six Museum. English Department senior lecturer Dr. Nadia Sanger co-edited this collection with Dr. Benita Moolman of the University of Cape Town (UCT), and both were at the launch in discussion with Bonita Bennett, ex-director of the District Six Museum.
The book is a unique anthology of writings on race and racism by black women from South Africa and Brazil and consists of both fiction and non-fiction. The contributions speak to the personal and political worlds of the writers, who are concerned with social justice, human rights, and freedom. Contributors include Yvette Abrahams, Liliane Braga, Luciana Braga, Sarah Malotane Henkeman, Tigist Shewarega Hussen, Dane Isaacs, Vanessa R. Ludwig, Delia Meyer and the editors, Nadia Sanger and Benita Moolman, among others.
Bennett offered her selected readings of the book and conducted an engaging and flowing discussion with Drs Sanger and Moolman regarding the aims of the book, its origins, and the rich contributions, of which Bennett highlighted many.
The participants readily engaged with their audience, allowing for a free-flowing interaction that emphasized the importance of dialogue about race, humanity, and freedom at all times. The meaning and definition of the term ‘black’ was pondered, as well as notions of freedom within the global and local social and political phenomena of today.
The atmosphere was refreshingly different to routine book launches, with the space of the Homecoming Centre and its reminders of Cape Town’s history offering a contextual framework for some of the discussion topics. Children were present and active in a different, child-friendly zone but pleasantly made their presence felt now and then, creating a storied sense of family amid provocative and profound conversations about race and identity. Dr. Sanger noted the troubled, universal state of race relations by acknowledging the deadly race shooting in Buffalo, New York and the Theuns Du Toit incident at Stellenbosch University, both which had occurred days prior to the event at the Homecoming Centre.
Several of the book’s contributors were present, including Delia Meyer, who responded to a request to read her poem, ‘was my mother’, included in the book; Monique Tamara, who wrote “ⱡ An: (the visceral experience of body politics, perception and sensation): An open letter” ,and Dane Isaacs, who co-wrote the essay “Claustrophobic and unable to move: Representations and social discourses of racism and inequality in the Western Cape media”.
Racism, Violence, Betrayals and New Imaginaries: Feminist Voices is available now, at under R200 from Loot, and has already been included to the Stellenbosch University library, where its presence is a matter of priority. In the words of Mary Hames, head of the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), ‘This is an important work by black feminists from the South…’
A second launch for the book is scheduled for June 6th at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).
The English Department at Stellenbosch University vehemently denounces the reprehensible act carried out by a student this week in Huis Marais residence. This racist act lacks regard for Black life, integrity, and safety.
The University’s actions affect the academic, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing of all students and staff, and in this case particularly Black students and Black staff who identify with the student whose valuables and humanity were defiled: we are affected by this violence and wish to act as a community in support of the victimised student.
As scholars and teachers who among other things work in the field of Critical Race Theory, we understand and are impacted by the connections between this event and the rise of extreme white nationalism internationally. On the same day of the incident in the SU residence, ten Black people were indiscriminately shot and killed by a white nationalist in Buffalo in the USA. These events must be seen as constituting a constellation of global anti-black threat and death from which we are not exempt.
We advocate for the motion to expel the student in question indefinitely. Further, the student’s actions must be flagged as intolerant and racist: his vile and violent actions should be categorically repudiated by this and any other institution, as opposed to eliciting a mere slap on the wrist.
The English Department takes an antiracist position. This position does not only distance itself from racist behaviour, but actively renounces it by articulating a stance of zero-tolerance underpinned by clearly stated measures to be taken against anyone who infringes upon another’s constitutional and human rights, sense of safety and integrity, and undermines their cultural identity.
Considering the history of Stellenbosch University and the various prior incidences of racism, it is critical that we both affirm the clear position expressed here and work towards programmes at the first-year level that encourage critical thinking about race and racism. This must be a priority and is best located in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Students need to hear immediately from their lecturers that initiatives are being taken to keep them safe. Black South African families who are thinking about registering their children at Stellenbosch University in the future need to know that the university is a safe space of learning for their children.
Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University.
20th May 2022
The Department of English warmly congratulates the most recent cohort of PhD students to have successfully defended their PhD projects. They include Dr. Spemba Spemba, Dr. Joseph Kwanya and Dr. Waghied Misbach.
Dr. Spemba’s dissertation is titled “Representation of Albinism and Persons with Albinism in Narratives from East and Southern Africa” and was supervised by Dr. Tilla Slabbert. Dr Kwanya’s dissertation is titled “Myth and Counterfactuality in Diasporic Women’s Novels” and was supervised by Dr. Nadia Sanger and Prof. Louise Green. Dr. Misbach’s PhD project, titled “Postcolonial Minoritarian Characters: Transformative Strategies for Re-Mediating Raced Marginalisation in South African English Fiction” is a semi-creative thesis with a critical and creative component in the form of a novel. Professor Sally-Ann Murray was Dr. Misbach’s supervisor.
Finally, the Department congratulates Professor Tina Steiner for her recent promotion to full Professor.
Professor Meg Samuelson, from the School of Humanities at the University of Adelaide and formerly of the Department of English at Stellenbosch University, recently contributed an essay on the work of Abdulrazak Gurnah for the Sydney Review of Books. While at Stellenbosch University, Professor Samuelson was among the English staff members teaching Gurnah’s work. A link to the essay for the Sydney Review of Books may be found here.
During the first week of November 2021, a group of our English postgraduates, along with Prof. Tina Steiner, attended the African Feminisms (Afems) 2021 Conference, “In Search of Our Shrines: Feminist Healing and the Politics of Love”.
This was the fourth Afems installment, hosted in 2021 as a hybrid physical and online event by the University of Cape Town (UCT) in collaboration with the African Gender Institute, the Department of Literary Studies in English, Rhodes University and the Department of Fine Arts, Wits. University.
As per the Afems website, the 2021 conference had a core focus on addressing “alternative modes of knowledge production, ongoing implications of the divide between feminist theory and praxis, as well as intellectual and creative feminist strategies.”