Thinking with Archipelagos

Rose Lim

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.

from left: Rose Lim, Dr. Edgar Nabutanyi and Associate Professor Ahmed Mulla

Summer School. Gender and Migration: A Legal and Literary Perspective, Venice International University, Italy

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.

Book Launch: Racism, Violence, Betrayals and New Imaginaries: Feminist Voices

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.

From left: Bonita Bennett, Dr. Nadia Sanger and Dr. Benita Moolman. Photo credit: Damian Samuels

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.

From left: Dr. Nadia Sanger, Dane Isaacs, Delia Meyer, Monique Tamara and Dr. Benita Moolman. Photo credit: Damian Samuels

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.

Photo credit: Damian Samuels

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”.

Dr. Nadia Sanger and Dr. Benita Moolman. Photo credit: Damian Samuels

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).

English Department at Stellenbosch University Anti-Racist Manifesto

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.

Meg Samuelson on Abdulrazak Gurnah: A Storyteller for Our Times

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.

“In Search of Our Shrines”

from left: Rose Lim, Stephanie de Villiers, Lobke Minter, Prof. Tina Steiner and Nelia Bester

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.”

The Department of English celebrates Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abdulrazak Gurnah’s ten novels

This past week, on 7 October 2021, Zanzibar-born novelist and Emeritus Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent, Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Alongside the official Nobel recognition for Professor Gurnah’s body of work as an “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”, many around the world are celebrating and reflecting on Professor Gurnah’s achievement. Novelist Maaza Mengiste adds that, for three decades, Professor Gurnah has been “writing with a quiet and unwavering conviction about those relegated to the forgotten corners of history.”

Professor Gurnah’s achievement is received with great excitement by the Department. Our connection to both the author and his work dates back to 2008, when Professor Tina Steiner first taught undergraduate and postgraduate classes on his novels, and over the years other colleagues in the Department have also presented on Gurnah’s texts.

Prof. Steiner with Prof. Gurnah, Canterbury, 2012

Gurnah has visited the Department a number of times, in addition to his residency at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS). In April 2010, he gave the keynote address at the Zoë Wicombe conference, the first of two illustrious, major international conferences hosted by Stellenbosch at which Gurnah would partake. The second such occasion was in July 2016 at the Conference for the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS). In 2018, Gurnah joined STIAS as a research fellow and ran a reading group for English postgraduates, affording students and colleagues a rare opportunity to get to know an author whose work is an important fixture in the department’s undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. For some Honours students, having read Gurnah’s By The Sea in their final undergraduate year, it was the chance to meet an author some of them had recently become familiar with, and the experience may not have been any less exciting for colleagues who had taught or written about his work.

In “Nobel winner Abdulrazak Gurnah’s fiction traces small lives with wit and tenderness,” a piece published on news24 immediately after the news of Professor Gurnah’s Nobel Prize win, Professor Steiner reflects that

Gurnah, the storyteller, probes the efficacy of stories to connect people and geographies. Yet at the same time he is acutely attentive to the divisive nature of stories of certainty: of colonial domination, of patriarchal scripts, of racism, of xenophobia towards strangers from elsewhere. His work points to the way in which such certainties furnish people with a belief in the rightness of the violence they wreak on others, in the destruction of other people’s lives which they deem to matter less than their own.

In the same piece, Steiner discusses the empathy that is evident in Gurnah’s prose across his ten novels and also within his short stories. She observes that the settings of his novels, almost exclusively African (more precisely, settings along the Eastern African Swahili Coast or in Zanzibar) but for one exception, illuminate the “common occurrences” of migration and displacement faced by many in Africa and across the globe. With intermingling along the East African shores of the Indian Ocean, Gurnah’s characters often suggest “the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of East African coastal regions and their place within the continent, the Indian Ocean world, and the globe in order to stress a common humanity.”

Considering Professor Steiner’s points, we may note that Gurnah’s work is so pivotal to the Department’s vision that he has, indeed, been recognized in our mission statement since the early 2010s:

We envisage the discipline as a series of transformative encounters between worlds and texts, a process of reading, thinking, debate and writing which is well-placed to contribute not only to our students’ critical and creative knowledge of ‘English’ as a discipline, but also to the possibilities for change in Stellenbosch, a site still marked by racial and economic disparity… novels by Chimamanda Adichie and Abdulrazak Gurnah, poetry from the Caribbean, and articles by Njabulo S. Ndebele can prompt revised recognitions of racial, cultural and gendered identities…

Finally, another observation in Professor Steiner’s piece, one that is also found in views expressed by other avid Gurnah readers like Mengiste, is Gurnah’s great sense of care for his characters, ensuring that they are documented through literature even as his other work strives towards more immediate forms of recognition for those often left unarchived. The ability to weave humour into his narratives, despite some of their harrowing aspects, is one of the many reasons Gurnah’s work remains both enjoyable as well immanently teachable. Steiner’s piece acknowledges “the subtle humour which suffuses his writing that give his stories a lightness of touch”, a skill no doubt familiar to readers and, now, to the Nobel Committee for Literature.

Postgraduate English Studies Conference, 16 September

The Department will present its annual Postgraduate Conference on Thursday, 16 September. Postgraduates from the Honours, Masters and PhD cohorts will present on their work and the day’s proceedings will also include a research seminar discussion by Dr Ranka Primorac. The summary of the conference programme is below.

Session 1: Chair, Prof. Tina Steiner

10:00-10:20 The Posthuman Imperative in Dystopian and Post-

Apocalyptic Literatures

Presenter: Andre Kershaw

Discussant: Megan Jones

10:20-10:50 Mental Distress and Diasporic Experience in Porochista

Khakpour’s Sick: A Memoir and Brown Album: Essays on

Exile and Identity

Presenter: Stephanie de Villiers

Discussant: Nhlanhla Dube

10:50-11:10 On words and sounds: Intergenerational Trauma and

Identity in Selected Shoah and Apartheid Memoirs

Presenter: Lara Alhadeff

Discussant: Lobke Minter

11:10-11:30 A Dream in which Silence is Golden

Presenter: Sarah Uheida

Discussant: Tilla Slabbert

12:00-13:00 Keynote: Dr Ranka Primorac

Session 2: Chair, Prof. Louise Green

14:30-14:50 Depictions of Victorian Masculinity in Jane Eyre and

North and South

Presenter: Josephine Troost

Discussant: Treesa Marshall

14:50-15:20 Between the Lines: Writing With, Against and Beyond

Prescribed Models of “Colouredness”

Presenter: Cleo Biscombe

Discussant: Riaan Oppelt

15:20-15:50 Freud and Laubscher: A Haunting

Presenter: Penny Busetto

Discussant: Louise Green