‘Almost-Times: South African Temporalities’

On 5 May 2017, JIAS, in collaboration with Penn, hosted a one-day workshop on ‘ Almost-Times: South African Temporalities’. The abstract provided to participants read as follows:

‘In April 2016, Sisonke Msimang wrote passionately in the Daily Maverick about a pervasive feeling of precariousness, uncertainty, and stuckness in South Africa: ‘All I know,’ she declares, ‘is that we are living in the almost-times.’ It is hard to know whether ‘we are ascending or descending,’ whether people will take action in order to make themselves proud in retrospect, or whether South Africans will remain ashamed—ashamed especially, of a president who is notably unashamed of his reversal of the promises of a hard-won democracy.

‘The experience of living in almost-times is distressing; but it does mean that intellectual space has opened up for an urgent critical reconsideration of time in South Africa—a movement away from the earlier focus on space and geography in the 1990s and 2000s. We have heard much talk in the academy about the transitional and the post-transitional, of the post-post-apartheid and post-anti-apartheid, of deferred dreams and suspended revolutions. The recent waves of political protest have self-consciously placed themselves in the lineage of anti-apartheid struggle. All these things evidence a profound but frustrated desire to project the slippery present onto a meaningful historical metanarrative. But is it possible to step away from the desire for broad historical periodization and home in, instead, on the lived experience of time—on temporality, defined as the way we experience and imagine the relation between past, present, and future?

‘We invite participants to meditate on the various affective structures (progress, decline, nostalgia, melancholia, hope, disappointment, etc) through which time has been experienced, understood, and written in apartheid-era and post-apartheid South Africa. Brief provocations and thought-experiments from all disciplines and angles are welcome.’

The speakers were:

Khwezi Mkhize of UCT on ‘Postcolonial disenchantment, or a brief genealogy of South African exceptionalism’.

Sikhumbuzo Mngadi of UJ on ‘Reflections on presentism’.

Sarah Nuttall of WISER on ‘Coeval time: the shock of the new old’.

Daniel Roux on ‘Doing time: post-apartheid temporalities and the case of Eugene de Kock’.

Ronit Frenkel of JIAS on ‘Post-liberation temporalities and three new South African novels’.

Danai Mupotsa of Wits University on ‘Against love’.

Nadine Moonsamy of the University of Pretoria on ‘A country out of time: nostalgia and nationalism in the South African imaginary’.

Danyela Demir of UJ on ‘Fragmentation, space-time collapse, and melancholia: reflections on Lesego Rampolokeng’s Bird-Monk Seding’.

Timothy Wright on ‘Chronotopes of Johannesburg: mutant futures, evacuated presents, and the ghost of 1994’.

Steven Robins on ‘”Slow activism”: reflections on post-revolutionary time’.

Rita Barnard on ‘The year of the tapeworm and other times: closing remarks’.

Readings were done by S J Naude and James Whyle.

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