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Joburg Books Celebrated at a Joburg Book Shop

The Joburg BookNechama Brodie, Achille Mbembe, Sarah Nuttall & Mark GevisserAs the last book event in Johannesburg for 2008 arrived – an invitation to “Celebrate Joburg” – newspaper placards in the morning’s streets proclaimed: “No Xmas Exodus from Jozi”. Boekehuis guests knew it was not economic meltdown keeping folks home this December, but the balmy summer weather, which makes Johannesburg the best place to be in the country this time of year.

The final celebration at Boekehuis took the form of a panel discussion between authors Nechama Brodie (The Joburg Book) and Achille Mbembe and Sarah Nuttall (Johannesburg, the Elusive Metropolis), chaired by Mark Gevisser.

Corina Van der SpoelShop manager Corina Van der Spoel acknowledged the various writers and thinkers who’d contributed to the success of the Boekehuis “Saturday Voices” programme throughout the year. She celebrated the cross-current of ideas and discussions that had enlivened the city this way.

“Maybe the metropolis is not so elusive, judging by the die-hards sporting their ‘I love Jozi’ t-shirts,” she quipped. She welcomed authors of other books or set in the city, including Keith Bevan, Fred de Vries, Jo-Anne Richards and Kleinboer.

Penny Siopis & Sarah NuttallIn Mark Gevisser’s view, the two books to hand talked to each other. He quoted from Mbembe’s essay, “Why am I here?” that appears in At Risk, another anthology edited by Nuttall.

“For me the place that stands for South Africa’s deepest potential in the eyes of the world at any rate is first and foremost Johannesburg. Just as Paris was my window onto a way of thinking, and New York my watchtower onto the global world, so the South Africa of my political and intellectual reflection is above all Johannesburg.

Nechama Brodie & Achille Mbembe “Historically this city was built by people who by and large came from elsewhere – uitlanders – whether from overseas or from other reaches of South Africa and southern Africa. Today many continue to arrive from elsewhere. Joburg has the potential to become the equivalent of New York on an African scale, a place of sedimentation of the world’s cultures and the richness carried by each of them. But the city must first conceive of itself in this way and make this its project.”

KleinboerBut how does one make that a project? “It’s a grand thing the JDA is doing, chopping up the roads, but intellectually, culturally and creatively, these books begin to allow us to conceive of Johannesburg in the way we need to if we’re going to become the New York of Africa,” said Gevisser.

Johannesburg, the Elusive Metropolis was an academic book that was accessible to all. “The first section contains truly provocative theoretical essays that have me thinking about the city in an entirely new way. The second section is a series of subjective takes by people trying to understand the city.”

Gevisser said that The Joburg Book was a city guide – through time as well as place. “What makes it special – even its design with shweshwe on the cover and the use of shweshwe throughout – is that it finds the Afropolitan, the African modern. In the section starting with Soweto we have an endless succession of wigs at the Maponya Mall instead of the stereotypical row of matchbook houses. This isn’t done as location style Shack-Chic, but rather the coolness and chicness, and the nostalgia of the city is laced with acute social commentary. This is the modern iteration of Luli Callinicos’ Place in the City. It tells you how the city came to be.”


Mark Gevisser & Nechama BrodieSarah Nuttall & Mark GevisserBooks on Joburg Veronica Klipp, Achille Mbembe & Fred de VriesMelanie Pequeux & Chris Reinders Wynand & Landi DreyerMichael Titlestad & Ena Jansen Sue Krige, Cynthia Kross & Isabel Hofmeyr Benno Erken & Barbara Shuble Matt Rowberry & Beth McAllister Andries Bezuidenhout & Henning Viljoen Emma Hutton & Jo-Anne Richards

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