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Visit to the Cradle of Humankind

The JIAS group outside Maropeng, the visitor’s centre at the Cradle of Humankind.

On 18 May, seven 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows visited the Cradle of Humankind, the World Heritage Site north west of Johannesburg in Gauteng province.

This excursion has become an annual event. This year, it was led by Dr Ian McKay of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University.

The group first took a guided tour of the Sterkfontein Caves, and then returned to the visitor’s centre, Maropeng, where they explored the museum and other features. Following lunch at the Centre, the group returned to Johannesburg.

Layers of history

Following the visit, Hsuan Chou commented as follows:

‘While a mere hour away from Johannesburg, the Sterkfontein Caves are quite otherworldly. Descending into the caves is like walking through layers of history, with each stratum containing its own unique stories.

‘The approach to the cave entrance was marked with plaques highlighting and explaining the life forms found in the area. There was one about the famous ‘Mrs Ples’, Australopithecus africanus, who may have been male or female.

And, of course, there was ‘Little Foot’, 3.6 million years old, and the most complete fossil of Australopithecus ever discovered to date.

‘What impressed me the most was the imagination required to understand what life was like for those who came before us.

‘We were fortunate to be accompanied by Dr McKay, who described the challenges of archaeological digs in the cave, where body size really matters (slim and small are preferred).

‘The day ended with animated debates about the origins of mankind: evolution, or the creation of a higher being?’

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JIAS takes part in Polokwane Literary Fair


By Emelia Kamena

On 17–20 April 2018, a JIAS team, including some of our 2018 Writing Fellows, participated in the Polokwane Literary Fair in Limpopo. The Fair is a flagship project of the Department of Cultural Services of the Polokwane Municipality, in the provincial capital of Limpopo. JIAS has participated in this event every year since 2016.

The JIAS team comprised the director, Prof Peter Vale; Emelia Kamena, administrative assistant; and five Writing Fellows, namely Niq Mhlongo, Zukiswa Wanner, Amrita Shah, Hans Pienaar, and David Huang. Adam Brown, a visitor from Singapore, was also with the group. Most of these Writing Fellows are published authors, and they looked forward to the excursion with great anticipation.

Upon arrival, we were met at the City Library in Polokwane by our host, Malose Lekganyane of the Polokwane Municipality, and colleagues. We then attended an opening dinner with various guests and partners of the Literary Fair, including the directors of the City Library, and members of the offices of the Mayor of Polokwane and the Premier of Limpopo.

Day One

On the first day, Writing Fellows visited three high schools in Mankweng, 30 kilometres outside Polokwane, for an engagement with learners and to hand over books donated by JIAS. These schools were the Frans Mohlala Secondary School, the Mamabudusha High School, and the Ramashobohle High School. JIAS Fellows engaged with learners in their classrooms, and donated copies of their books.

Zukiswa Wanner also managed a workshop at the Polokwane City Library for 35 children aged ten and eleven.

In the evening, the Writing Fellows attended a conversation about language with academics and students from the University of Limpopo. Prof Peter Vale, Director of JIAS, gave a presentation about JIAS.

Day Two

The second day began with a visit to a local prison, where Writing Fellows engaged with more than 100 inmates. Readings were given, and inmates were provided with insights on how to produce written texts. It was agreed that an anthology of poetry written by the inmates would be published. JIAS and the City Library donated books to the Correctional Services Library.

In evening, the JIAS group attended a conversation about memory, this time with members of the local Timbuktu Book Club.

Comment by Zukiswa Wanner

‘I kicked off my JIAS Fellowship on the very first day by reading a story I had written for World Read Aloud Day to a thousand children in Mofolo Park in Soweto. While we ambitiously hoped that a million children would read that story aloud in South Africa, almost 1,3 million children ended up reading it.

‘It was gratifying to note that among the children who had read that story were children I workshopped on the art of storytelling at Polokwane Literary Festival. Not only had they read it, but they had creatively adapted it for stage, and performed it for me and other students during the Festival.

‘I also immensely enjoyed the prison visit, as our clients at Polokwane Correctional Services were not only well-read but asked incisive and insightful questions. I think this is an important part of the Festival, and both JIAS and Polokwane Municipality should ensure that this remains a permanent feature.’

Comment by Amrita Shah

‘Visiting Polokwane provided me and other Writing Fellows with a valuable opportunity both to observe life in South Africa and to interact with readers and budding writers.’

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Leadership changes at UJ and NTU Singapore

Important changes in leadership have taken place at the University of Johannesburg and Nanyang Technological University Singapore, which have jointly established JIAS.

At NTU Singapore, Professor Subra Suresh has succeed Professor Bertil Andersson as President, and at UJ, Professor Tshildzi Marwala has succeeded Professor Ihron Rensburg as Vice-Chancellor and Principal. Both assumed their duties on 1 January 2018. Prof Suresh was inaugurated on 22 February 2018, and Prof Marwala on 26 March 2018.

Prof Peter Vale, Director of, JIAS has commented as follows: ‘These appointments are important events for these universities, and for JIAS as well. This is underscored by both inaugural addresses, which reflect common themes which are of interest not only to these two institutions, but the broader community of higher education, both nationally and internationally, as well.

‘To celebrate this moment, JIAS, in collaboration with the College of Business and Economics at UJ, will host a series of seminars in the second half of the year on the future of work and its linkages with tertiary education, to which both Professors Suresh and Marwala will be invited to contribute.’

Prof Subra Suresh

More about Prof Suresh

Prof Suresh is an eminent American scientist, engineer and entrepreneur who was chosen in 2010 by then US President Barack Obama to lead the US National Science Foundation (NSF). He has joined NTU Singapore from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where he was President for the previous four years.

For a media release about Prof Suresh’s appointment, click here.
For a media release about his inauguration, click here.
To access his Inauguration Address, click here.

Prof Tshilidzi Marwala.

More about Prof Marwala

Prof Marwala is an eminent scholar with a distinguished academic and administrative record. He previously served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Internationalisation at UJ, and Executive Dean of its Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment.

He is the holder of more than 45 honours and awards, including the Order of Mapungubwe, and was the first African engineer to be awarded the National Research Foundation’s President’s award.

For a media release about Prof Marwala’s appointment, click here.
For a media release about his inauguration, click here.
To access his Inaugural Address, click here.

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Interview with Zukiswa Wanner

THE International Woman has published a lengthy interview with the acclaimed South African writer Zukiswa Wanner, a 2018 JIAS Writing Fellow. Conducted by Edinah Masanga, the interview centres on Zukiswa’s latest book, Hardly Working: A Travel Memoir of Sorts, and her thoughts on self-publishing. To access the interview, click here.

An extract from Hardly Working: A Travel Memoir of Sorts has been published by The Johannesburg Review of Books. To access the extract, click here.

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JIAS at Science Forum South Africa 2017

JIAS staffed a booth at Science Forum South Africa 2017, held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria on 7 – 8 December 2017. From left to right are: Prof BVR Chowdari (NTU), Prof Peter Vale (JIAS), Reshmi Singh (JIAS), Prof Alexander Zehnder (NTU), Emelia Kamena (JIAS), Ronald Witte (JIAS), and Dr Kristen Sadler (NTU). JIAS also organised a panel discussion.

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JIAS Writing Fellows 2018

JIAS has announced the names of its third intake of Writing Fellows for its four-month Writing Term that will run from February to May 2018. Selected from more than 300 applicants, the Writing Fellows include authors, journalists, and scholars in various disciplines from Africa and Asia.

Writing Fellows will have access to live-in suites at the JIAS complex in Westdene, Johannesburg, where they will enjoy a quiet space for work and reflection, and participate in academic community-building.

Commenting on the selection, Prof Peter Vale, JIAS Director, said he was gratified by the large number of applications, which attested to the growing role of JIAS in fostering interdisciplinary thought and research.

‘We are excited by the pool of talent these Fellows represent. We hope their stay at JIAS will be productive, and they will make full use of this opportunity to share in and build an intercontinental community of scholars.’

For pictures and biographical notes, click here.

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David Shulman visits JIAS

David and Eileen Shulman at JIAS.

Professor David Schulman,  one of the greatest living Indologists,visited JIAS in early September. He was a cures of the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, Wits University, and JIAS.

A literary scholar, philosopher and activist, he has written more than 20 books on poetry, myth and aesthetics in South Asia over the past 400 years. His most recent works are Tamil: a Biography (Harvard University Press, 2017) and More than Real: A History of the imagination in South India (Harvard University Press, 2015).

His moving account of his work on the West Bank and Gaza as a member of the peace group Ta’ayush, which takes its name from the Arabic for “living together”, was published as Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (Chicago University Press, 2007).

Between 1992 and 1998, Schulman was Director of the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem.

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30 years of Stacey Stent

JIAS has contracted Africartoons to exhibit ‘30 Years of Stacey Stent’ in the JIAS Cartoon Room.

The curator, John Curtis of Africartoons, has written: ‘Stacey Stent is one of South Africa’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonists, and one of the few who have covered the shenanigans of both the apartheid regime and the democratic dispensation that followed it.

‘Her free-flowing lines and clever, witty dialogue are very accessible, and her trademark satire can be simultaneously light and biting – but it is always thought-provoking.

‘A committed chamption of the voiceless and dispossessed, she follows a progressive line, and is a feminist. These symphaties are reflected in her work. Stent is South Africa’s first and only woman professional editorial cartoonist.’

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UBIAS calls for applications for ICA3

UBIAS (University-Based Institutes for Advanced Study) has called for applications to participate in the third UBIAS Intercontinental Academia (ICA) on ‘Laws: Rigidity and Dynamics’, to be held at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore in March 2018, and the University of Birmingham in March 2019.

The organisers are leading figures in the IAS at the NTU; the IAS at the University of Birmingham; the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and the National University of Singapore.

They are seeking applications from early / mid-career researchers with research posts in academia, industry, charities, the arts, or other relevant sectors. Fifteen participants will be selected.

The call for Fellows is open from 15 June to 15 August 2017. Applications and informal enquiries should be submitted to ICALaws@congtacxts.lbham.ac.uk.

UBIAS is a network of institutes for advanced study across the world. The Institutes of Advanced Study at the University of Birmingham and NTU are UBIAS members.

Intercontinental Academia (ICA) is an initiative developed among members of the group for scientific exchanges between generations, discplines, cultures and continents around a specific topic or theme. ICA1 on the topic ‘Time’ was held at the University of Sao Paulo and Nagoya University in April 2015 and 2016, and ICA2 on the topic ‘Human Dignity’ at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bielefeld University in March and August 2016 respectively.

For more  information and a detailed invitation, click here.

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Last Night at the Bassline

Last Night At The Bassline, David B Coplan and Oscar Gutierrez, Jacana 2017

A BOOK written by David B Coplan, professor of social anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and a 2016 JIAS Writing Fellow, was launched in Johannesburg on Sunday 11 June 2017.

Entitled Last Night At The Bassline, it records the history of the iconic Johannesburg jazz club Bassline, which closed its doors in December 2016. The book features photographs by Oscar Gutierrez and other photographers.

The backtext reads as follows:

‘In 1994, Brad and Paige Holmes opened a small, live-music venue in the bohemian suburb of Melville in Johannesburg. They called it Bassline, which very soon became synonymous with cigarette smoke, great jazz and nights you wished would never end. They later moved the club to Newtown where it grew in prominence as the ultimate venue for live music, hosting amazing artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Jimmy Dludlu, Lira, The Soil, and the Grammy Award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

‘In 2016 word spread like wildfire that everyone’s favourite club was closing its doors; this place that had held all the promises of a new South Africa, a place where people of all races could come together, share a drink, dance and fall in love, was to be no more.

‘In this book, the esteemed music historian Professor David Coplan tells the story of Bassline and the Holmes’ journey with it, thus giving musicians and jazz fans something to hold on to even after its closure.

‘With more than 50 iconic photographs by Oscar Gutierrez and other photographers. The book is more than just a memoir. It is a gritty, smoky, passionate slice of time. Bassline will always be a reminder of what it feels like to live the impossible.’

David Coplan is a respected writer and filmmaker. He arrived in South Africa in the early 1970s as an anthropology researcher at the University of Cape Town. His first book, In Township Tonight, was a pioneering social history of urban black music, dance and theatre in South Africa. A friend of the Holmes’, he too found sanctuary at the Bassline when he moved to Johannesburg to take up a professorship at the University of the Witwatersrand. He was a JIAS Writing Fellow in 2016.

Oscar Gutierrez arrived in South Africa in 1994. As a photojournalist he has documented a great range of events and issues in politics, religion and music with an impressive client list that includes The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, The G8 Music Festival, the Orbit and Bassline. He has an extensive photographic collection of contemporary South African music.

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