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Categories of Persons, Edited by Megan Jones and Jacob Dlamini, Launched at The Book Lounge

Njabulo Ndebele, Megan Jones and Tyrone August Categories of PersonsThe collection of essays titled Categories of Persons, edited by Megan Jones and Jacob Dlamini, aims to transfer the discussion usually reserved for academia to the general reader. The stories explore through personal narratives what it is to be South African.

Professor Njabulo Ndebele, author of The Cry of Winnie Mandela, and Tyrone August, former editor at the Cape Times, joined Megan Jones for the launch of Categories of Persons at The Book Lounge in Cape Town.

Megan read two essays from the collection. The first humorously details the differences of taxi vernacular in Johannesburg and Cape Town and coping with these differences as a passenger. The other is a story about a young boy whose wealthy father lives what one presumes is a double life with his other family and only visits his illegitimate child, the boy, once a year on his birthday. He comes bearing a gift – pair of takkies that doesn’t fit the boy…

“The book is a short read, but it takes a long time to come to grips with the content,” August said. “The notion of race is ubiquitus in South Africa and this book pushes the boundaries of how we perceive ourselves and others. It doesn’t preach but engages in a light conversational tone with the reader.” The pursuit of redefining the issue of race in South Africa is not solely an intellectual one, August explained. “The book is urging us to move away from our assumptions.”

Ndebele said that we as South Africans navigate by racial signposts but that they often lead us astray and it’s surprising when they do. “It denaturises what you thought you knew,” he says. He recalled an incident in which his sister, a black woman, landed in a spot of trouble with a taxi driver, a black man, when she was wrongfully accused of stealing another passenger’s taxi fare. “The conversation is always about colour versus colour but very seldom about people of the same race,” he said. “In South Africa we need to start loving one another as people.”

He said that this book is published at a timely moment as the era of the “big African leader” is probably over. “It is the removal of a controlling past with an explorative future in which we have the prospect of finding one together,” he explained. “We are currently looking at certitudes of the past and applying it to an uncertain present but we must rather share the desire to find a common space and remain committed to battling inherited inequalities.”

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