Historical Trauma and Transformation
Welcome to Stellenbosch University

Reading Groups

The Reading Groups are a unique and vibrant platform of productive intellectual debate where senior researchers, postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students discuss texts that are chosen to encourage critical debate and to nurture interdisciplinary forms of knowledge. Ultimately, the reading groups are where critical reflection takes place in a way that fosters intellectual empowerment and provides support for young researchers to become successful scholars. The reading groups take place bi-weekly on Tuesdays between 12:00 noon and 1:30 p.m. While they are designed for in-house discussions, a few spaces are available for participation of postgraduate students, researchers, and faculty staff may request participation and will be welcome.

 

For information on the Reading Groups contact the coordinators:

Dr. Emery Kalema  [emerykalema@sun.ac.za]

Dr. Mosa Phadi  [mmphadi@sunac.za]

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On 7 July 2020, the reading group discussion was a response to events taking place currently—the explosion of protests in many cities across the globe following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in the US, and in the midst of rising numbers of the Covid -19 outbreak. The theme for discussion, which was selected by Doctoral Fellows, was “freedom." Doctoral fellows Lerato Machetela and Lireko Qhobela led the selection of readings for this session, and here below is the introduction to the Reading Group discussion by Lerato Machetela.   

 

Lerato Machetela | Doctoral Fellow

 

The reading theme is freedom. In line with the theme, the provided materials for today's reading focuses on freedom through the lens of the Black Lives Matters movement and the impact of COVID-19 lockdown.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been tantamount to bringing to life the disposability of “black bodies" as experienced through the racialized corporeal violence and injustices which render worthless the human experience of being black in white America. I say black bodies because for the majority of the time, the explosion of the BLM movement seems to have been triggered by visible yet lifeless or dead black bodies such as that of George Floyd, who in a video circulating internationally can be seen lying on the street pavement in a brutal attack by a white police officer. The circulating video exposes the visible faces of a black male named George Floyd and a white male police officer kneeling heavily on George Floyd's neck whose last words were “I can't breathe". This image of George Floyd's lifeless black body in a public space is a compelling image that is circulating globally. This is a powerful image that humanises the racial violence and injustices of the black body by making these lived experiences more visceral and real to white spectators. Yet, as powerful and compelling as the George Floyd image is, the video of the young woman[1] educating her parents about racial injustices seems to suggests that the language of lifeless black bodies is inaudible in communicating black pain and suffering to white spectators – the young white woman's parents.

In his last breath George Floyd can be heard pleading for freedom, the freedom to simply breathe. According to Fanon (1956, p. 201) "when we revolt it's …simply because …we can no longer breathe". In this sense, the videos of Keke Palmer[2] – an internationally acclaimed actress - who can be seen urging white soldiers carrying guns to join in the BLM protest and the video of Vusi Thembekwayo[3] – a well-known South African businessman – who can be seen expressing anger about the battered state of the South African economy following the COVID-19 lockdown are showcasing black individuals who are rising up in protest because they can no longer breathe. They are crying out for the freedom to live and not to be reduced to disposable beings. They are protesting against the challenges of living in a black body. They are raising their voices in anger because the death George Floyd and COVID-19 lockdown have brought to life historical currents of how the imagination of freedom continues to be a struggle for the historically tortured, exploited and disposable black body.

Following this, the questions we bring to you today are:

  1. How do voices of protests such as Vusi Thembekwayo's viral video articulate the disposability of black lives that results from decision made by politicians regarding economic policies during Covid-19 lockdown? How does this correspond with the language of lifeless black bodies to represent black pain, suffering in the Black Lives Matters Movement?
  2. How does the yearning to exit the “zone of non-being" (Fanon, 1952) to be recognized and be allowed to just breathe feature in the lives of black people? 
  3. Is there a way we can make the experiences of black pain and suffering more audible prior the lifeless bodies and protests?
  4. And lastly, how do we listen to pain and suffering of other even prior the lifeless black bodies? 


[1] Young white woman educating her parents  https://youtu.be/QV7nVeOVJlY

[2] Video Keke Palmer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo3aZym5hA8

[3] Video Vusi Thembekwayo https://twitter.com/hermanmashaba/status/1279004848814505990