‘Vat en sit’: South African men through the eyes of the women?


By Laetitia Simorangkir
While conducting fieldwork for my research on the orga-nization of care arrangements in South African communities, I surprisingly often ended up in situations where my female respondents started to see me as ‘one of their own’. An unexperienced, ignorant one though, but still, ‘one of their own’. They enjoyed telling me about their communities and teaching me about their ways of living. One of the topics we discussed regularly, was the difference between men and women, especially their efficiency and usefulness within the household. Lees verder

Poor Whites in South Africa

Just like last year, various master students obtained a small financial allowance from the Vamos Bien-Foundation of our Department. In  return, they write blogs about their fieldwork, posted on the vamosbien.nl-site. Like last year, we will re-post some of these field stories on our Standplaatswereld site. The first one is by Dafydd Russell-Jones. He went to South Africa to explore the experiences of poverty among white communities living in informal settlements in and around Pretoria.  This research will explore the lived realities of white South Africans who have experienced a great shift in social and economic security since the end of apartheid.


By Dafydd Russel-Jones   After commuting in and out of Westfort (an ‘improvised’ community near Pretoria) for the past 6 weeks, I was presented an opportunity to live in one of the spare rooms with a member of the Democratic Alliance and so I have been living as he does for the past week. On the very first visit to Westfort, I spoke with a young Soweto man with two kids, and Indian family who lived next door to a Zimbabwean family, a Zulu man, who was neighbours with an Afrikaner lady and also a coloured family. I was told by one of my supervisors that I should not go looking for the ‘rainbow nation’ whilst in South Africa because I simply would not find it. It is clear that the rainbow exists right here, but the colours are not united in their freedom of choice, instead they are bound in their daily struggles and alas, there is not a pot of gold sight.

During my time, I have tried to speak with a diverse range of people as possible but have carried out the most in depth interviews with minority of Afrikaners (20) as they are the focus of this study. Regardless of cultural background, there are three clear insecurities that would dominate any humans daily psychological, emotional and operational capacities; no running water, no electricity and not knowing that you will still be sleeping under the same roof come tomorrow. Lees verder

Another World

IMG_1150By Duane Jethro. I cut in the queue to buy cigarettes. The big guy behind me approaches and says, “sorry but I was in front of you”. I let him pass. But he’s not content. He turns and says, “don’t be like the Dutch they were like that. They exterminated all the indigenous people. Just look at Holland, its all flat, indicative of the flat, all conquering mindset of the people that live there”. A short, stocky dude, he’s clutching a pack of salt, rice and milk. I wonder where he comes from. “You should be more like the Spanish” he continues, “they are nice”. “Did you know the Spanish were the first people to conquere the Cape? They liked eating babies but they didn’t like black babies that’s why there are so many black people in South Africa”, he says. He speaks in deep monotones and has that wild eyed look that I do not want to test with historical facts. I am confused but nod, and try to avoid eye contact. He pays and leaves, but the confusion and anxiety of the encounter hangs like smoke on my shoulder.

Commemorations, death and memorials. These are the things I am struggling with later that same evening. The words splashed on my computer screen seem to speak with the same accent of the guy at the counter. Dealing with my thesis, I now try avoid eye contact, nod and keep saying yes. The stairs creak as my girlfriend comes downstairs clutching her phone. “Switch on the TV, president Zuma is going to make an announcement, they say”. I close the computer and switch on the TV. The public broadcaster is preparing for something big. Jacob Zuma is wearing black, and conveys the bombshell that is Nelson Mandela’s death in his own slow muddled way. We become teary and embrace. A little later, Barack Obama splashes onto the TV screen. We’re ambivalent, but he speaks with sincerity. Tears are now streaming down our cheeks. It’s all so confusing. We’d never imagined it would be like this. Lees verder

Stormachtige tijden in Zuid Afrika: Goodbye Mandela

Kaapstad universiteitFemke Brandt, momenteel als post-doc werkzaam in Kaapstad, deelt enkele etnografische observaties omtrent het overlijden van Nelson Mandela op donderdag 5 december. Hoe ervaren Kapenaren het vertrek van hun nationale symbool van verzoening en vrede? Is er ruimte voor kritische reflecties op de erfenis van de eerste ANC president? Femke doet verslag van verschillende herdenkingsmomenten en een speciale vakbondsbijeenkomst op een wijnboerderij.

Vrijdag 6 december – 00:00, middernacht
Een stevige zomerwind blaast door de stad rond middernacht wanneer ik in mijn blauwe Toyota Tazz stap, na een avond onbezorgd dansen op reggae en dub in een piepklein Chinees restaurant onder aan de Tafelberg. Terwijl ik het voertuig door de nacht navigeer meldt passagier Jenny ontsteld, en nog vol ongeloof, dat zij op haar telefoon diverse meldingen binnenkrijgt dat Mandela is overleden. Ik zet de radio aan.  Alle zenders presenteren speciale uitzendingen over de Father of the Nation. De media is duidelijk voorbereid, het lijkt alsof de documentaires en programmas in de studios op dit moment lagen te wachten. De Kaapse wind blaast ze nu de samenleving in en ik vraag me af welke kanten het nieuws de komende tijd op zal waaien.

10:00 uur
Nkululeko komt voor de zoveelste keer mijn kantoor binnen en maakt een rusteloze indruk. De wind giert nog steeds om de Tafelberg en verder is het muisstil op de universiteit. Het academische jaar is ten einde en in de hoofden van mijn collegas waaien herinneringen op. Nkululeko was vorige week nog in de buurt van Mandela’s geboorteplaats in de Oostkaap en heeft zich afgevraagd of de wegwerkzaamheden op tijd klaar zouden zijn voor de begrafenis. Hij was een tiener toen hij voor het eerst over Mandela hoorde, die toen al achter tralies was gezet door de apartheid regering en het zelfs verboden was om over hem te spreken. De strijd om zijn bevrijding bepaalde het ritme van de vrijheidsliederen, de dans van geweld, en schiep hoop voor de zwarte vrijheidsstrijders in (buitenlandse) kampen ver van huis. Lees verder

Blackening Up for the Festive Season

As in earlier years, the controversy on the significance of the figure of ‘zwarte piet’ cropped up again. On those earlier occasions, we have posted both blogs arguing in favor of the ‘tender Dutch tradition’, and blogs stating that the arguments about the ‘innocent custom’ simply won’t do. This year we again, simultaneously, publish two contributions, by Duane Jethro and Rhoda Woets, questioning the guiltless-ness of the figure of zware piet.

By Duane Jethro  It is that time of year again when, slowly, the Netherlands is being invaded by those loveable effigies of dark-skinned, red-lipped ZwartePieten. From Albert Hein to the Kapsalon, Rotterdam to Maastricht, little dark Pieten are colonizing inches of display space, as all across the Netherlands children wait anxiously for their white, bearded boss-man, Sinterklaas, to arrive from Spain and steam into cities and towns this November.

In keeping with the annual celebration, I have been asked to engage with the significance of the commemoration of Sinterklaas. I hope to use this opportunity to embark on my own intocht into the tradition, with the intention of dishing out intellectual snoepjes and cadeautjes that hopefully will add to the annual Standplaatswereld debate about the significance of that mercurial of Dutch folk characters, Zwarte Piet. Lees verder

Having Your Boerewors Roll and Eating it

Duane jethro’s braai

By Duane Jethro  The 24th of September marked Heritage Day in South Africa. Inaugurated in 1996, the state figured this public holiday would afford South Africans the opportunity to critically reflect on the post-apartheid nation’s rich cultural heritage and diversity. Responding to this implicit appeal, on the 24th of September 2005, the Mzansi Braai Institute initiated the idea of reframing Heritage Day as being a celebration of the braai, or barbeque. Lees verder

The Politics and Ethics of keeping things clean: striking insights from South Africa


Image taken from http://kimmoment.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/mayhem-madness-media-exaggeration/

 By Tarryn Frankish Globally, the question of how to deal with the ‘dirty business’ of keeping things clean remains pertinent. In this blog I look to South Africa for insight into these questions as strikes around the globe by cleaning staff force us to think about the politics and ethics of keeping things clean elsewhere.

As a Desmond Tutu scholar, working at the Vrije University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa I have the unique opportunity of spending time in two countries as I work towards my doctoral degree. My first trip to Amsterdam coincided with a strike by cleaning services in May 2010. More recently, as I was leaving Amsterdam in February 2012, the working conditions of cleaning staff were again in question. This question resonates with what I have come to know in South Africa.  Striking similarities in the way ‘cleaning’ is organised in the Netherlands and South Africa became apparent to me during my stays despite the contextual differences between the two countries, wherein cleaning work is performed and negotiated. The situation in South Africa (and some of the similarities witnessed in Amsterdam) suggests much for thinking about the politics and ethics of keeping things clean in a global context. Lees verder

Sport for development; my South African experience

Photo from documentary ‘Can I kick it?’ (2010)

While studying in South Africa for one semester I was involved in a development project called “Girls and Football South Africa” (GFSA). This sparked my enthusiasm and interest for the use of sport as a tool in development initiatives and inspired me to write my Bachelor’s thesis on this topic.

By Siri Lijfering It was exactly one year ago that I left Amsterdam to go to South Africato do a minor in development studies at the university of Stellenbosch. During my studies there, I became closely involved in the GFSA project that aimed at providing girls from a township between 9 and 12 years of age, the opportunity to develop their football skills, personal qualities and self esteem (www.girlsandfootballsa.com). In the past few years, several ‘sport for development projects’ have been set up in townships, but none for girls, who are considered to be the most marginalized. Due to the parents’ long working hours, the large amount of single-mother households, and the common drug and alcohol abuse by adults, children, and especially girls, are parentalized – having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for others – at a very young age which often results in social isolation. Hence, providing these girls with a safe space where they can play and talk with peers can prevent this. Lees verder

World Cup Mania: Beyond the vuvuzela

By Duane Jethro Since the conclusion of the World Cup, questions have been raised about what could be done with the vuvuzelas accumulated during the tournament. In response, the renowned South African cartoonist Zapiro offered a few creative, novel suggestions in one of his weekly sketches for the Sunday Times. These included deafened fans using their vuvuzelas as a hearing aid, following Paris Hilton’s lead and using it as a cannabis pipe, or as the case may be with recently sacked coach Raymond Domenech, using it as a receptacle for collecting change from the public while begging on the street.

Just as the vuvuzela’s uses as a material object were open to a multiplicity of reinterpretations, the horn has also lent itself to myriad symbolic readings that connected it to notions of culture, religion and social identities. In that case, we could perhaps find another, alternate use for the vuvuzela, using it telescopically to look back and scan the uproarious terrain of the World Cup and canvass some of the things that had been overlooked and not really heard. Lees verder

World Cup Mania: Talking about Culture

Dutch Fan Culture

By Duane Jethro Culture is on everybody’s lips. Another game at the fan park: Spain vs Switzerland, if I remember correctly. Cold beer in hand, I am engaging in conversation with a middle-aged gentleman about the World Cup vibe. It’s a chilly, grey day and the sparse crowd is quiet, subdued, passively absorbing Spain’s demise. Minutes later, a group of about 10 or so excited Bafana Bafana supporters congregate in my vicinity and start generating some gees. They sing popular local songs in isiXhosa, and blow their vuvuzelas in time to the tune, all the while drawing foreign bystanders into the enticing rhythm.

The scene is priceless and I remark that once people get hold of vuvuzelas they go mad. “Ja, ma wat kan jy doen is os culture”, [Yes, but what can you do, it’s our culture], he replies curtly. “A culture van geraas maak en tekeere gaan?” [A culture of making a noise and showing off], I cheekily quip. “En Party” [And partying], he adds, and we both laugh.

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World Cup Mania: Ke nako, feel it is here!

Aged supporter in Cape Town (all pictures by Duane Jethro)

By Duane Jethro Ke Nako is a Sotho phrase that roughly translates into “it is here” or “it is time”. Playing on this traditional term, the South African Broadcasting Corporation sought to tap into the charged feelings of anticipation and excitement with the prospect of the looming World Cup, with its own slogan, Feel It is Here. On June 11th, 2010, it arrived. The day marked a watershed moment in South Africa’s history, as the nation celebrated the opening of the highly anticipated FIFA 2010 World Cup™, to be staged on home soil. World Cup day, as it may be termed, was not only eagerly anticipated, it was also raucously celebrated. Lees verder

World Cup Mania: what’s the vuvuzela about?

Duane about to blow the vuvuzela

In our new series on the Football World Cup, Duane Jethro will regularly report from South Africa. Duane is currently doing his PhD research in his home-country, looking at cultural heritage initiatives in the post-apartheid era. The World Cup, with its articulations of a (putative) South African authentic culture, has become an important site of Duane’s investigations. In this first part of the series we’ll reproduce Duane’s report on the festivities in the context of the World Cup’s final draw, in which he discusses an object that has recently become somewhat controversial in the Netherlands: the vuvuzela. What does the vuvuzela stand for and where does it come from? Lees verder

The South African Vuvuzela at the FIFA Football

(picture by Duane)

By Duane Jethro

The FIFA Fan Fest™, a locally organised public festival celebrating the FIFA 2010 World Cup™ final draw, was the watershed event marking South Africa’s official role as host of the 2010 World Cup tournament. Held in Long Street Cape Town, the magnanimous celebration stretched from the Convention Centre on the east, through the heart of the city to its western boundary. Attended by revellers, officials and, celebrities from across the globe, it represented the first major occasion for the local organising committee and the South African public to welcome the global football loving audience to South Africa. Significantly, amongst many nations represented at the event, there seemed to be a large contingent of Dutch supporters present, celebrating the Netherlands’ berth, and indulging in the general festivities. Lees verder

Financial crisis worldwide

Street selling in The Gambia (by red hand records)
Street selling in The Gambia (by red hand records)

By Kim Knibbe What do a window washer at a cross-roads in a metropole who starts washing your window unasked, an old lady from a village in Africa who visits her son in the big city to ask for financial support, a beggar and a pickpocket have in common? According to the anthropologist James Ferguson, they are all involved in what he calls improvisational distributive labour. Ferguson said this during the seminar The Financial Crisis: views from anthropology, which was held at our department last week. 

Lees verder