News from the Long Lockdown August 2020

2020. A year of many obstacles, but also many achievements. Despite the challenges posed by working remotely under various lockdown levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, colleagues in the English Department at Stellenbosch University (SU) have pressed on. Excellence, continuity in teaching and research: these are important, though sometimes we have simply done our best under horrible circumstances. And actually, that best is not looking too bad! Here’s a brief overview of some great achievements and activities, thus far.

Professor Louise Green’s book, Fragments from the History of Loss: Nature and the Postcolony has recently been published by Penn State University Press.  The book has been recognised as a significant contribution to the politicising of the Anthropocene in contexts of postcolonial scholarshipIn the words of Jennifer Wentzel, “With bracing nuance and salutary attention to inequality and immiseration, this scintillating book sifts through slices of time and fragments of nature in order to assemble shards of wisdom for living – lightly, with less – in the Anthropocene.”

Dr Uhuru Phalafala has for almost two years been leading an initiative to re-publish a volume called Malibongwe: Poems from the Struggle by ANC Women, now out from uHlanga. The book is the “first South African edition of a Struggle classic…banned by the apartheid regime – a book in and of exile,” featuring “poems written by women in ANC camps and offices throughout Africa and the world”. This re-issue of Malibongwe (authorised by the original editor Sono Molefe) “re-establishes a place for women artists in the history of South Africa’s liberation. These are the struggles within the Struggle”, as is argued in a new preface by Dr Phalafala, which outlines some of the book’s publishing history.

Dr Phalafala was interviewed in August by news24’s Lindokuhle Nkosi in a Q & A piece called ‘Vernaculars of the Spirit’. Read it here.

With a multi-institutional editorial team, Professor Tina Steiner and SU Prof Extraordinaire Evan Mwangi of Northwestern, worked collaboratively on a Wits University Press edition of DDT Jabavu’s travelogue In India and East Africa / E-Indiya nase East Africa, published in isiXhosa and English. The book represents a long, even labyrinthine, journey for the editors, across institutions, languages, cultures, continents, mediating between the politics of the past and the claims of the present. In re-rendering Jabavu’s experiences and views, it offers a very important and unusual contribution to the field.

Read about this groundbreaking volume here.

Lauren van der Rede

Dr Lauren Van der Rede has been selected for Stellenbosch University’s participation in the national ‘Early Career Academic Development (ECAD) Programme’. This institutional guidance, mentoring and grant will help to boost her already strengthening career.

Tilla Slabbert

Dr Tilla Slabbert is the host for a Subcommittee A Postdoc Fellowship held by Dr Lizelle Smit. The archival project focuses on recovering nineteenth and twentieth century South African women’s stories and histories. On the strength of Dr Smit’s excellent publication record, the award has been extended for a further year. 

Sally Ann Murray

Professor Sally Ann Murray has been working with departmental colleague Dr Tilla Slabbert and University of the Western Cape (UWC) scholar Prof F Fiona Moolla, on a special issue of a/b Auto/Biography Studies.  Addressing questions of ‘the AutobiogrAfrical’, the issue is just out from Routledge. Dr Nadia Sanger wrote an essay for the collection, titled ‘Bending Bodies, Signing Words: Reshaping a Father and a Feminist Practice’ .

Also, with Prof Kobus Moolman of UWC, Murray has co-edited the upcoming Spring 2020 issue of New Contrast, featuring creative work by senior students in the English departments of SU and UWC. This project is supported by her Andrew W Mellon 30th Anniversary Artists in Residence Grant, which this year saw poet Rustum Kozain teaching in the SU English Department, with artist Garth Erasmus in SU Visual Arts. Erasmus’ artwork features on the cover of the a/b special issue. Murray is also pleased with her own small creative joys, having had two poems selected for the ClemenGold Project (“The Mother of All Naartjies” and “Unforgettable”).

Dryad Press and the SU English Department have initiated an annual publishing internship, designed to offer the selected student an insight into the skills of publishing. The project was piloted in 2019, mentoring Honours student Caryn Oram (now pursuing an MA at Pretoria University). The 2020 Dryad intern is English 3 student Sarah Uheida, a poet and memoirist in the making whose work has featured in literary journals such as, Plume, Blindeye, the South African, and Eunoia Review.

Research Associate Dr Tyrone August’s book, Dennis Brutus, the South African Years, was published earlier in 2020 and several launches are forthcoming, with a departmental seminar discussion to be hosted later this year. The book has received attention in the USA and Dr August has been invited to join the Biographers International Organisation. Locally, the book is available at outlets like Protea Books, Clarke’s Bookshop and The Book Lounge.

Research Associate Dr Matthew Shum’s Improvisations of Empire is the first extended critical, biographical and historiographical account of the varied career and capacities of Thomas Pringle, the journalist, editor, “Scottish Romantic poet, South African settler and London-based advocate for abolition” (Jason Rudy, University of Maryland). For scholars of South African literature, “Pringle has been a long-time icon of South African liberalism,” and this “new study presents a more complex figure caught up in the contradictions of empire by a career that comprised poetry, settler propaganda and abolitionism.” You can read more about Improvisations of Empire here.

Professor Leslie Swartz, of SU Psychology, successfully defended his PhD in English Studies in July, with Professors Shaun Viljoen and Louise Green as supervisors. His memoir How I Lost My Mother has been contracted for publication in 2021 by Wits University Press.

Dr Wamuwi Mbao and Dr Riaan Oppelt both contributed to the fourth issue of herri, an interactive, inter-sensory platform that, according to editor and curator Aryan Kaganof, attempts to answer the question, ‘What does decolonisation look like in this age of hybridity?’ Dr Mbao wrote the essay, “Struggle Sounds” with audio clips and Dr Oppelt wrote the play, (Ultra) Lockdown, with original theme music.

In other news, Sarah Marecek’s documentary film Waking Stellenbosch, created as an Honours research project in the English Department at SU, has been selected for screening at the Encounters Film Festival from 20 to 30 August.

And to conclude, the SU library has secured e-copies of two departmental books: SU Professor Extraordinaire Stephanie Newell’s Histories of Dirt : Media and Urban Life in Colonial and Postcolonial Lagos, which colleagues and interested students can find at and Moving Spaces: Creolisation and Mobility in Africa, the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, edited by Prof Shaun Viljoen, SU Research Associate Dr Fernando Rosa and Prof Marina Berthet (Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil):