Sasinda Futhi Siselapha [We’re Still Here]: Black Feminist Approaches to Cultural Studies in South Africa’s Twenty Five Years Since 1994 can best be described as a pedagogical text intended for those proficient in the study of contemporary South Africa or students who might enroll in an African Feminisms course with the hope of learning more. Editors Derilene (Dee) Marco, Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, and Abebe Zegeye present an important collection of essays and articles that speak to contemporary issues at the forefront of a South Africa struggling to gain solid footing as the ghosts of horrific practices of apartheid continue to hamper progress, even twenty five years later.
Zegeye writes, “A minority of individuals (still) control the means of literary production.” After apartheid, this numerical majority “who are held hostage intellectually” still don’t have the venues to put forth their literary works, are at a disadvantage when it comes to having connections with institutions and the cultural capital with which to approach those institutions. Publishing and its literary gatekeepers continue the legacies of apartheid and promote institutional conditions that silence and suppress critical examination of systemic oppression.”
The collection of essays, organized into five sections, is preceded by an introduction and followed by author biographies and index. The language in this text is difficult to access in places, and the placement of some essays seems ad hoc; yet, taken as a whole, this work brings up critical points of view and calls for attention.
For example, Natalie Molebatsi in “Healing Perspectives of a Black womxn poet: Writing the unborn and the dead” says that the three most desired elements of life by people in contemporary South Africa are: freedom to dream, ability to wish, and opportunity to honor. These are components of a healing medicine aimed to obliterate the “arbitrary and mythical breaches that systems of power insist on imposing on us.”
Another example: J.J. Charlesworth asks, “As the art world becomes increasingly global, does it run the risk of destroying cultural difference in its efforts to promote art that is legible, easily understandable, instantly translatable, and culturally exchangeable?” Ashraf Jamal discusses 80-year-old Ghanaian born artist El Anatsui, whose “breathtaking, shimmering curtains made of thousands of throwaway metal objects—bottle caps, aluminum wrapping, metal graters, printing plates—have wowed crowds across the world…” El Anatsui landed at number 98 on ArtReview’s list of the Power 100 in 2013, a first for an African artist. His recycling of waste materials to create “fabric” for his work is part of a contemporary movement towards sustainability, itself a global effort. Yet the question remains, what does it mean to be contemporary in the context of Africa’s emergence onto the world’s art stage? Does El Anatsui become more important to Western art collectors than to the contemporary African citizenship “that rejects all forms of elitism and destroys the barriers between those who know and those who do not know?”
Free form odes and poems dedicated to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the anti-apartheid freedom fighter, appear in the Post Script. Her actual diaries detail the severity of her treatment in solitary confinement. R.M. Corbin concludes this essay with, “This type of weaponized isolation and loneliness cannot prevail.”
Tiffany Willoughby-Herard says that in order to reconcile the present, people need to understand the past, yet much colonial history is no longer accessible. She asks, “Why, in a country that is 80% Black, are fewer than 25% of the premier University of Cape Town student body and fewer than 5% of the faculty Black?” Why does rape continue to be an epidemic?
South Africa, she says, is facing a profound standoff with its young people. Their experiences, with “the legacies of racism, expanding global apartheid, and deepening criminalization of and genocide against the poor, reveal that the promises of post-apartheid South Africa have not been kept.”
This is an academic book rather than narrative nonfiction, yet it contained quite a few typos. The construction of the introduction felt pieced together by the three editors in places, making it less coherent. Still, for one seeking to expand an understanding of Africa and Africans in our world, especially from a feminist point of view, Sasinda Futhi Siselapha provides insight and historical perspectives to consider.