This project takes the reader on a journey across lands to explore the complex nature of memory; leaving them wanting to explore their own.
Uncovering Memory is a powerful book which unpacks a research project aimed at working through personal, familial and societal memories by using film to locate oneself in the current day.
Living in post-colonial and apartheid South Africa, the book recognises that South Africans live in a society that is filled with imagery from the past, and it wants to unearth how these images affect people’s sub-conscious minds.
Written by Wits film and television professor, Tanja Sakota and published by the Wits University Press in March this year, the book is compilation of understandable and practical examples of the power of practice-based research, film and autobiographical style of academic writing that draws on and analyses the author’s own lived experiences.
For example, the book seeks to answer the question of how a student in the 21st century can look at a statue of Cecil John Rhodes during #RhodesMustFall in 2015, and be so emotionally charged to throw feces on a statue of Rhodes. In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Sakota describes spaces and places around us as, “deeply entrenched with the memory of the past”.
Using the camera as the primary research tool, Sakota and fellow participants walk through chosen areas which represent something historically important to that researcher, and later, they narrate and critically unpack the impact these spaces had on them. In doing so, they seek to “uncover memory through space and place” to try and “make the invisible, visible through a camera.” Sakota does this in her book as well as in a series of short-film projects under the same name as the book.
In these films, released and explained in tandem with the book, participants explore their own historical trauma. Specifically, and most memorably, Sakota explores her parents own personal trauma through walking along the train-tracks in Poland which once transported millions to their death during the Holocaust in her own short film titled, Shattered Reflection. The topics that Sakota uncovers of her own are at times heart-breaking memories of both past and present, through these spaces.
The book is separated into three main parts: research with students, then colleagues, and finally the authors. The research focused on locations such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Berlin.
As much as each part of the book provides well thought out ideas of the subject matter, the work becomes more powerful for the reader as the book progresses. This is due to the increasingly personal style of writing, where Sakota eventually finds herself central to the research, where she is the filmmaker and researcher unpacking both her own personal and family trauma.
The book challenges the concept of research being separate from oneself, serving as a key reference for students and researchers (particularly filmmakers) interested in undertaking a similar journey of uncovering their own memories, in attempts to locate who they are in a postcolonial space.
The book does not have a conclusive ending, but rather serves as a starting point for its readers to use.
WITS University vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib faced down criticism of how he had handled the #FeesMustFall protests, and other “misrepresentations” in his latest book, Rebels and Rage, at its launch in Hyde Park on Wednesday, March 13.
A group of about 20 people who identified themselves as students took Habib to task over his decision to call police onto campus during the 2016 #FMF protests.
Prof Habib defended his decision, saying, he had called police onto campus because of the responsibility he had to ensure the safety and security of the entire Wits community, and that 77% of students who had taken part in an SMS poll conducted by the university, had indicated that they wanted to complete the academic year.
“If I was faced with the same circumstances and the same conditions, I would make the same decision again as it was the progressive and right decision under those circumstances,” he told the Exclusive Books audience.
His critics were having none of his explanations, and were robust in their engagement. “You are a skilful liar … you are a very, very violent man,” said one, much to the displeasure of the audience that heckled him.
The young man was not fazed, and challenged the VC to host an assembly at the university to allow students to engage with him about the book. Afterwards, he told Wits Vuvuzela that he was a student at Wits, but wouldn’t give his name.
Former Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) member and All Residence Council chairperson, Willie Muhlarhi, said that he had attended the launch to call Prof Habib to account for “misrepresenting the role of student leadership” during #FMF.
In the book, Prof Habib is critical of student leaders and academics he characterised as being “far-left”. He accuses student leaders of being often absent from efforts to provide solutions. As an example, he says the most progressive funding model that was brought to the university was created by a group of accounting students, who were not part of student leadership.
This is inaccurate, according to Muhlarhi, who is studying towards a masters in finance. “Habib fails to mention that there were SRC and student committee members involved in creating the model submitted by the accounting students, which shows a lack of research on his part.”
Students are not the only critics of Habib’s book. Former Wits anthropology lecturer, Dr Kelly Gillespie, who is named in the book as being one of the far-left academics, told Wits Vuvuzela that Prof Habib had misrepresented her and progressive lecturers’ actions and motives during the protests.
“It’s incredibly irresponsible for him to argue [progressive lecturers] were proponents of, or encouraging violence when 99% of the time we were there, we were trying to reduce violence and calm things down on both sides. He is creating extremely partial accounts that are very dangerous, and for some it feels he’s creating conditions for [academics] to be watched by state security,” Gillespie said.
Prof Habib has disputed the claims that he misrepresented #FMF events. “I wanted to correct the narrative of Fees Must Fall being pushed by politicians that the vice-chancellors are these neoliberals while the student activists are progressives who are the only ones committed to the goal of free education. That simply isn’t true,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.
Wits will host an event for Rebels and Rage, Prof Habib told the audience at the book launch, but details will be announced later.
FEATURED PHOTO: Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib responded to criticisms that he had misrepresented events and prominent figures during the #FeesMustFall protests at the launch of his book, Rebels and Rage hosted in Hyde Park.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi
BOOK SMART: Second-year student Bhaso Ndzendze reads a verse of his newly published book Africa: The Continent We Construct. Photo: Ilanit Chernick
Bhaso Ndzendze is not your average 19-year-old.
The second year BA student already has a book professionally published. His book Africa: The Continent We Construct looks at how Africa attempts to define herself too much by comparing herself with the rest of the world.
Ndzendze wrote this book for the same reason “silkworms make silks” meaning that it is his “responsibility as an individual” to understand and make sense of the environment “in which we function” and be productive in it.
“As Africans we are still finding our feet,” he said.
The youngest of four brothers, Ndzendze grew up in both parts of KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape and finally settled in Johannesburg when he was 16.
“My parents moved around a lot for work related reasons so when they moved we moved with them.”
“As Africans we are still finding our feet,” he said.
He describes his upbringing to be one of “pious Catholicism”.
Ndzendze who is currently studying psychology, politics and international relations at Wits hopes to be a journalist one day.
“If that doesn’t work out than I hope to be involved in public service. I want to get involved with charity organisations like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation to help make life easier for Africans.”
When Ndzendze is not writing books, he enjoys reading, writing poetry computer programming, listening to music and visiting museums and art galleries.
His vision for Africa is one that does not aim to settle its predecessors “score” but rather focuses on fighting for its’ children and its future.
“We should not be focusing on what we want and what was done to us, we should focus on what needs to be done,” he said.
Ndzendze has a strong message for Witsies and hopes they will “embrace equality and contribute for the betterment of our society”.
“Whatever you are doing, you should always act in a way where no harm will come from it.”
Today we’re taking a look at the #WitsShutdown protests which are over historical debt and unaffordable accommodation, which have seen several students suspended, physical clashes between protestors and security and disruptions to the academic programme for many. In this bonus episode of We Should Be Writing, we let students unpack their views on what has […]