Sunday 28 January 2018

A School in Malindi

Every year, the Italian Embassy in Nairobi organises a concert by a renowned Italian musician. In 2012, the musician was Mario Biondi, Italy's Barry White. All proceeds went to "an Italian Cooperation education project for the construction of a primary school for the poorest children of the coastal city of Malindi in Kenya" (via and via).

Mario Biondi Sunday music link pack:

::: This Is What You Are: LISTEN/WATCH
::: Deep Space: LISTEN/WATCH
::: Live in concert, 2015: LISTEN/WATCH
::: Amarsi un po': LISTEN/WATCH (Original: Lucio Battisti)
::: What Have You Done to Me: LISTEN/WATCH
::: Shine On: LISTEN/WATCH

photograph via

Saturday 27 January 2018

"I am constantly amazed by man's inhumanity to man." Primo Levi

Primo Michele Levi was an Italian chemist. And he was a Holocaust survivor. In 1944, he was incarcerated in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where he was "one of the three out of the 125 people consigned with him to survive". Levi wrote several books. At first rejected by numerous publishers, "If This Is a Man" - which he wrote soon after being liberated from the concentration camp - was later translated into several languages and became his most famous piece of work. The book is about humanity in extremis, the collective madness he experienced but nevertheless life-affirming and without any bitterness (via and via).
27th of January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the day Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet Armed Forces. It is also the day Primo Levi was liberated.

If this is a man, by Primo Levi (via)

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

There are speculations about Levi's death; some say it was a suicide, others say it was an accident. On 11 April 1987, at around 10:20 o'clock in the morning, the concierge rang the doorbell of Primo Levi's flat on the third floor. He opened the door, collected his letters, smiling, thanking her, then closed the door. When the concierge descended, she heard his body hit the bottom of the stairs by the lift (via).

"Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years later."
Elie Wiesel

"Of those years [in Auschwitz] he must have had terrible memories: a wound he always carried with great fortitude, but which must have been nonetheless atrocious. I think it was the memory of those years which lead him towards his death."
Natalia Ginzburg

"This suicide must be backdated to 1945. It did not happen then because Primo wanted (and had to) write."
Ferdinando Camon

"Many Jews survived the concentration camps and yet killed themselves later."
Lester (2005)

"Now everyone wants to understand, to grasp, to probe. I think my father had already written the last act of his existence. Read the conclusion of The Truce and you will understand."
Renzo, Primo Levi's son
[And] a dream full of horror has still not ceased to visit me, at sometimes frequent, sometimes longer, intervals. It is a dream within a dream, varied in detail, one in substance. I am sitting at a table with my family, or with friends, or at work, or in the green countryside; in short, in a peaceful relaxed environment, apparently without tension or affliction; yet I feel a deep and subtle anguish, the definite sensation of an impending threat. And in fact, as the dream proceeds, slowly and brutally, each time in a different way, everything collapses, and disintegrates around me, the scenery, the walls, the people, while the anguish becomes more intense and more precise. Now everything has changed into chaos; I am alone in the centre of a grey and turbid nothing, and now, I know what this thing means, and I also know that I have always known it; I am in the Lager once more, and nothing is true outside the Lager. All the rest was a brief pause, a deception of the senses, a dream; my family, nature in flower, my home. Now this inner dream, this dream of peace, is over, and in the outer dream, which continues, gelid, a well-known voice resounds: a single word, not imperious, but brief and subdued. It is the dawn command, of Auschwitz, a foreign word, feared and expected: get up, 'Wstawàch.'
Primo Levi, 1962
After the liberation in 1945, a majority of the survivors were kept in interim displaced persons camps. Interested observers conducted physical and psychological analyses of the survivors and noted the most obvious consequences, i.e., extreme physical disabilities. Apart from that, this period seemed to be a "symptom-free interval". It was only during the late 1940s and early 1950s that "the delayed effect of the Holocaust experience began to manifest in survivors". The major psyhological effect became visible after survivors had resettled and started a new life. First called "Concentration Camp Syndrome" or "Survivor Syndrome", this is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Rosenberg, 1984). 50 years after the horrible experiences, a significantly higher rate of PTSD  was reported among Holocaust survivors than for war veterans. Ageing is said to be a phase of severe crisis for Holocaust survivors (Barak & Szor, 2000).

Excerpts taken from "If This Is a Man" (via)

“It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange, how in some way one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and it is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup, so that even today you find the strength to reach the evening. Or it is raining, windy and you have the usual hunger, and then you think that if you really had to, if you really felt nothing in your heart but suffering and tedium - as sometimes happens, when you really seem to lie on the bottom - well, even in that case, at any moment you want you could always go and touch the electric wire-fence, or throw yourself under the shunting trains, and then it would stop raining.”

“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.”

“There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred: it is hate that is not in us, it is outside of man.. We cannot understand it, but we must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Consciences can be seduced and obscured again - even our consciences. For this reason, it is everyone duty to reflect on what happened. Everybody must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were "charismatic leaders" ; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the soundness of things they said but from the suggestive way in which they said them, from their eloquence, from their histrionic art, perhaps instinctive, perhaps patiently learned and practised. The ideas they proclaimed were not always the same and were, in general, aberrant or silly or cruel. And yet they were acclaimed with hosannas and followed to the death by millions of the faithful.”

“We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last - the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.”

“Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”

- Barak, Y. & Szor, H. (2000). Lifelong posttraumatic stress disorder: evidence from aging Holocaust survivors. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 2(1), 57-62.
- Lester, D. (2005). Suicide and the Holocaust. New York: Nova Science Publishers
- Levi, P. (1989). Se questo è un uomo. La tregua. Turin: Einaudi Tascabili
- Rosenberg, J. (1984). Holocaust Survivors and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders: The Need for Conceptual Reassessment and Development. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 11(4), 930-938
- photographs via and via and via and via

Thursday 25 January 2018

Edge People, by Tony Judt

Tony Robert Judt (1948-2010) was an "outstanding historian", a "fearless critic of narrow orthodoxies and bullying cliques" (via), a "public intellectual". Judt died of complications of Lou Gehrig's disease which had left him paralysed in a matter of months (via).

"In the 1960s, Cambridge produced a remarkable generation of historians (...) but one name acquired a particular resonance. Well before his death at 62 from motor neurone disorder, Tony Judt flowered not only as a great historian of modern Europe, (...) but as a brilliant political commentator."
Geoffrey Wheatcroft

“Identity” is a dangerous word. It has no respectable contemporary uses. (...)

In academic life, the word has comparably mischievous uses. Undergraduates today can select from a swathe of identity studies: “gender studies,” “women’s studies,” “Asian-Pacific-American studies,” and dozens of others. The shortcoming of all these para-academic programs is not that they concentrate on a given ethnic or geographical minority; it is that they encourage members of that minority to study themselves—thereby simultaneously negating the goals of a liberal education and reinforcing the sectarian and ghetto mentalities they purport to undermine. All too frequently, such programs are job-creation schemes for their incumbents, and outside interest is actively discouraged. Blacks study blacks, gays study gays, and so forth.

As so often, academic taste follows fashion. These programs are byproducts of communitarian solipsism: today we are all hyphenated—Irish-Americans, Native Americans, African-Americans, and the like. (...)

This warm bath of identity was always alien to me. I grew up in England and English is the language in which I think and write. London—my birthplace—remains familiar to me for all the many changes that it has seen over the decades. I know the country well; I even share some of its prejudices and predilections. But when I think or speak of the English, I instinctively use the third person: I don’t identify with them.

In part this may be because I am Jewish: when I was growing up Jews were the only significant minority in Christian Britain and the object of mild but unmistakable cultural prejudice. On the other hand, my parents stood quite apart from the organized Jewish community. We celebrated no Jewish holidays (I always had a Christmas tree and Easter eggs), followed no rabbinical injunctions, and only identified with Judaism over Friday evening meals with grandparents. Thanks to an English schooling, I am more familiar with the Anglican liturgy than with many of the rites and practices of Judaism. So if I grew up Jewish, it was as a decidedly non-Jewish Jew.


I was thus neither English nor Jewish. And yet, I feel strongly that I am—in different ways and at different times—both. Perhaps such genetic identifications are less consequential than we suppose? What of the elective affinities I acquired over the years: am I a French historian?


As an English-born student of European history teaching in the US; as a Jew somewhat uncomfortable with much that passes for “Jewishness” in contemporary America; as a social democrat frequently at odds with my self-described radical colleagues, I suppose I should seek comfort in the familiar insult of “rootless cosmopolitan.” But that seems to me too imprecise, too deliberately universal in its ambitions. Far from being rootless, I am all too well rooted in a variety of contrasting heritages.

In any event, all such labels make me uneasy. We know enough of ideological and political movements to be wary of exclusive solidarity in all its forms. One should keep one’s distance not only from the obviously unappealing “-isms”—fascism, jingoism, chauvinism—but also from the more seductive variety (...).

I prefer the edge: the place where countries, communities, allegiances, affinities, and roots bump uncomfortably up against one another—where cosmopolitanism is not so much an identity as the normal condition of life. (...)

To be sure, there is something self-indulgent in the assertion that one is always at the edge, on the margin. Such a claim is only open to a certain kind of person exercising very particular privileges. Most people, most of the time, would rather not stand out: it is not safe. If everyone else is a Shia, better to be a Shia. If everyone in Denmark is tall and white, then who—given a choice—would opt to be short and brown? And even in an open democracy, it takes a certain obstinacy of character to work willfully against the grain of one’s community, especially if it is small.

But if you are born at intersecting margins and—thanks to the peculiar institution of academic tenure—are at liberty to remain there, it seems to me a decidedly advantageous perch: What should they know of England, who only England know? (...)

Unlike the late Edward Said, I believe I can understand and even empathize with those who know what it means to love a country. I don’t regard such sentiments as incomprehensible; I just don’t share them. But over the years these fierce unconditional loyalties—to a country, a God, an idea, or a man—have come to terrify me.


Being “Danish” or “Italian,” “American” or “European” won’t just be an identity; it will be a rebuff and a reproof to those whom it excludes. The state, far from disappearing, may be about to come into its own: the privileges of citizenship, the protections of card-holding residency rights, will be wielded as political trumps. Intolerant demagogues in established democracies will demand “tests”—of knowledge, of language, of attitude—to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch or French “identity.” They are already doing so. In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals: the edge people. My people.

More/Via The New York Review of Books

- - - - - -
photograph via

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Camp Notes, by Mitsuye Yamada (1976)

It must be odd
to be a minority
he was saying.
I looked around
and didn't see any.
So I said
it must be.

Mitsuye Yamada, LOOKING OUT (Camp Notes)


The one in San Francisco who asked
Why did the Japanese Americans let
the government put them in
those camps without protest?

Come to think of it I

    should've run off to Canada
    should've hijacked a plane to Algeria
    should've pulled myself up from my
    bra straps
    and kicked'm in the groin
    should've bombed a bank
    should've tried self-immolation
    should've holed myself up in a
    woodframe house
    and let you watch me
    burn up on the six o'clock news
    should've run howling down the street
    naked and assaulted you at breakfast
    by AP wirephoto
    should've screamed bloody murder
    like Kitty Genovese


YOU would've

    come to my aid in shining armor
    laid yourself across the railroad track
    marched on Washington
    tattooed a Star of David on your arm
    written six million enraged
    letters to Congress

But we didn't draw the line
law and order Executive Order 9066
social order moral order internal order

YOU let'm
I let'm
All are punished.

- - - - - - -

Mitsuye Yamada was born in Japan in 1923 and immigrated to the US at the age of three. In 1942, her family (including her) was incarcerated at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. In her writings, she focuses on her Japanese American heritage and feminism.

"The core poems of Camp Notes and the title come from the notes I had taken when I was in camp, and it wasn’t published until thirty years after most of it was written. I was simply describing what was happening to me, and my thoughts. But, in retrospect, the collection takes on a kind of expanded meaning about that period in our history."
Mitsuye Yamada

"I don’t think [feminism is] dead. I think that what has happened to feminism is what should happen. Back in the day, a feminist was seen as this angry man-hater or man-eater. We have fought the battle, not completely won, but now women have incorporated into their being the fact that they are entitled as women. In some ways, you don’t have to fight as hard as your mother or former generations, and in those ways [the movement] was a success. I don’t think we will ever go back. Many women don’t know that they’re feminists, but their parents fought and paved the way for them in many respects. This is also true of ethnic Americans. When you think about how black Americans paved the way for the civil rights movement, we have to acknowledge the fact that we have benefited from their battles and their deaths – because many of them did die in battle. So, we have to build from there. In some respects, we slide back, two steps back and three steps forward. But we have to keep pressing."
Mitsuye Yamada

"The thing that I always tell young people when I talk to them is that you have to be politically active, that you have to keep your mind and heart open and be aware of what’s going on in the world. And to have a critical sense of the world around you, I think that’s very important. I think the worst kind of thing is passivity. There’s a Japanese phrase, Shikata ga nai, meaning “it can’t be helped” – it’s the way it is. But then you become known as the model minority, and it’s just really deadening to be invisible. You should not be invisible. You should stand up and be counted."
Mitsuye Yamada

- - - - - - - - - -
- Yamada, M. (1998). Camp Notes and Other Writings. New Brunswick, New Jersey & London: Rutgers University Press
- photograph via

Sunday 21 January 2018

Lamb Side Story

Meat & Livestock Australia's adverstising campaign "Lamb Side Story" has the message that no matter how different opinions of the left and the right are, Australians will never lamb alone.

"Under the banner of You Never Lamb Alone we’ve delivered campaigns that celebrate unity and inclusivity, whilst pushing the creative boundaries and this summer is no different. Our latest campaign takes a satirical look at the diversity of modern Australia and celebrates our nation’s ability to put aside our differences, no matter our cultural backgrounds or political leanings, and join together over a delicious lamb BBQ.” 
Lisa Sharp

“Lamb as a brand stands for unity and this latest campaign shines a light on what unites us rather than divides us. In true Aussie spirit we are celebrating our nation’s ability to put aside our differences and join together over our love of lamb, the meat that brings everyone to the table.”
Lisa Sharp

“Lamb Side Story proves that both extremes of global political views can be fun – there’s nothing like lamb and dancing to bring people with various levels of outrage together.”
Scott Nowell

Image via

Thursday 18 January 2018

The King. The Cool. Peter Wyngarde.

Peter Wyngarde (1927 - 2018) was "Jason King" but also Jan Wicziewsky, a gay Polish army lieutenant in one of the first ever gay television dramas ("South"). The milestone in gay cultural history screened in 1959, at a time homosexuality was illegal in the UK. In the acting world it was well-known that Wyngarde was gay, to the general public it was a "closely guarded secret" (via).

"I think you have to give Wyngarde a massive pat on the back in terms of the bravery in taking this role. There were quite bad reactions from some of the press."
Simon McCallum

"I do NOT see anything attractive in the agonies and ecstasies of a pervert, especially in close-up in my living room. This is not prudishness. There are some indecencies in life that are best left covered up."
review from the Daily Sketch's critic

"Watching it does remind you how brave he was at the time to take this role and the way the subject is dealt with is incredibly brave."
Simon McCallum

images via and via

Monday 15 January 2018

Quoting David Bowie (II)

"If you are pining for youth I think it produces a stereotypical old man because you only live in memory, you live in a place that doesn’t exist… I think ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been."
David Bowie

Related posting: Quoting David Bowie

photographs via and via

Saturday 13 January 2018

Temptations of a Faustian President

“Every notable historical era will have its own Faust,” wrote Kierkegaard. Our challenge today is that, to some extent, we are all in a Faustian bind. We are plagued by politicians offering easy answers to complex problems – especially when those easy answers are empty promises. The legend warns us to be wary of the cult of the ego, the seductions of fame and the celebration of power. These are hollow triumphs, and short-lived; indeed, “what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (literally via)

A knock? Come in! Again my quiet broken?

'Tis I!

Come in!

Thrice must the words be spoken.

Come in, then!

Thus thou pleasest me.
I hope we'll suit each other well;
For now, thy vapors to dispel,
I come, a squire of high degree,
In scarlet coat, with golden trimming,
A cloak in silken lustre swimming,
A tall cock's-feather in my hat,
A long, sharp sword for show or quarrel,—
And I advise thee, brief and flat,
To don the self-same gay apparel,
That, from this den released, and free,
Life be at last revealed to thee!

This life of earth, whatever my attire,
Would pain me in its wonted fashion.
Too old am I to play with passion;
Too young, to be without desire.
What from the world have I to gain?
Thou shalt abstain—renounce—refrain!
Such is the everlasting song
That in the ears of all men rings,—
That unrelieved, our whole life long,
Each hour, in passing, hoarsely sings.
In very terror I at morn awake,
Upon the verge of bitter weeping,
To see the day of disappointment break,
To no one hope of mine—not one—its promise keeping:—
That even each joy's presentiment
With wilful cavil would diminish,
With grinning masks of life prevent
My mind its fairest work to finish!
Then, too, when night descends, how anxiously
Upon my couch of sleep I lay me:
There, also, comes no rest to me,
But some wild dream is sent to fray me.
The God that in my breast is owned
Can deeply stir the inner sources;
The God, above my powers enthroned,
He cannot change external forces.
So, by the burden of my days oppressed,
Death is desired, and Life a thing unblest!

And yet is never Death a wholly welcome guest.


Woe! woe!
Thou hast it destroyed,
The beautiful world,
With powerful fist:
In ruin 'tis hurled,
By the blow of a demigod shattered!
The scattered
Fragments into the Void we carry,
The beauty perished beyond restoring.
For the children of men,
Build it again,
In thine own bosom build it anew!
Bid the new career
With clearer sense,
And the new songs of cheer
Be sung thereto!

These are the small dependants
Who give me attendance.
Hear them, to deeds and passion
Counsel in shrewd old-fashion!
Into the world of strife,
Out of this lonely life
That of senses and sap has betrayed thee,
They would persuade thee.
This nursing of the pain forego thee,
That, like a vulture, feeds upon thy breast!
The worst society thou find'st will show thee
Thou art a man among the rest.
But 'tis not meant to thrust
Thee into the mob thou hatest!
I am not one of the greatest,
Yet, wilt thou to me entrust
Thy steps through life, I'll guide thee,—
Will willingly walk beside thee,—
Will serve thee at once and forever
With best endeavor,
And, if thou art satisfied,
Will as servant, slave, with thee abide.

And what shall be my counter-service therefor?

The time is long: thou need'st not now insist.

No—no! The Devil is an egotist,
And is not apt, without a why or wherefore,
"For God's sake," others to assist.
Speak thy conditions plain and clear!
With such a servant danger comes, I fear.


Canst thou, poor Devil, give me whatsoever?
When was a human soul, in its supreme endeavor,
E'er understood by such as thou?
Yet, hast thou food which never satiates, now,—
The restless, ruddy gold hast thou,
That runs, quicksilver-like, one's fingers through,—
A game whose winnings no man ever knew,—
A maid that, even from my breast,
Beckons my neighbor with her wanton glances,
And Honor's godlike zest,
The meteor that a moment dances,—
Show me the fruits that, ere they're gathered, rot,
And trees that daily with new leafage clothe them!

Such a demand alarms me not:
Such treasures have I, and can show them.
But still the time may reach us, good my friend.
When peace we crave and more luxurious diet.


Fear not that I this pact shall seek to sever?
The promise that I make to thee
Is just the sum of my endeavor.
I have myself inflated all too high;
My proper place is thy estate:
The Mighty Spirit deigns me no reply,
And Nature shuts on me her gate.
The thread of Thought at last is broken,
And knowledge brings disgust unspoken.
Let us the sensual deeps explore,
To quench the fervors of glowing passion!
Let every marvel take form and fashion
Through the impervious veil it wore!
Plunge we in Time's tumultuous dance,
In the rush and roll of Circumstance!
Then may delight and distress,
And worry and success,
Alternately follow, as best they can:
Restless activity proves the man!

via Gutenberg

Oskar Werner reads Goethe's Faust (German with English translation):

photographs of Oskar Werner (1922-1984), one of the most impressive actors ever via and via

Friday 12 January 2018

Narrative images: Food in Segregated South Africa

"This is a photograph of a butcher shop in Johannesburg, South Africa, taken in May, 1965. They advertise second grade meat, which is sold at a lesser price, bought mostly by the black Africans and servants. (AP Photo/Royle)." (via)

"“Servant’s rations”, the “servant’s blankets”, the “servant’s crockery” were synonymous with second hand or cheap products of low-grade quality. Typically, for food “she was given bread, tea, jam and mielie-meal and occasionally managed to steal a piece of meat out of the cooking pot when she was cooking stew” (Cock, 1984, p. 34). Alternatively “servants rations consisted of inferior food and often include stale, rotten or simply ‘left-over food’ which the employer considered unsuitable for her own family’s consumption” (p. 27)."

"Often the domestic worker received part of her payment in kind (accommodation, food, old clothes etc.).
Offering old clothes, old furniture and leftover food with no expectation of return “places the recipient in the position of a child or a beggar, being too poor, too young or too low in social status to be able to participate in the system of exchanges which mark the social boundaries of the donor’s group” (Whisson & Weil, 1971, p. 43). Quite simply employers bestowed a gift in order to assert their dominance and their possession of the servant."

"I do remember being embarrassed at the way my parents treated Beauty e.g. her living conditions and she didn’t eat off the same crockery and the general food that she was given, the kind of tinned pilchards and tomato sauce scenario and being decidedly uncomfortable with that……my father would have been quite sympathetic on an abstract level but he wouldn’t have been willing to do anything about it”."
Goldman, 2003

- - - - - - -
- Goldman, S. (2003). White Boyhood under Apartheid: The Experience of Being Looked After by a Black Nanny. Doctoral thesis: University of Pretoria
- photograph via

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Black Nannies

"The nanny phenomenon is closely allied to colonialism where servants administered ruling class needs. In South Africa, nannies are most often historically disenfranchised, working class, black woman."
Goldman, 2003

Photograph of a girl on the bench in Johannesburg taken by Peter Magubane, via

During the apartheid years, it was not only the affluent middle class who employed (black) domestic workers. White working classes had servants too.
South African domestic workers were legally bound by the Master-Servant Act. Non-performance and contractual breach included whipping and imprisonment. Domestic service was "a microcosm of the exploitation and inequality on which the entire social order was based". In this microcosm, the nanny experienced a "triple oppression": the intersection of ethnic, gender and class exploitation.
Live-in domestic workers lived in the "servant's quarter", typically at the back of the property. These were substandard living quarters without electricity and running water. They suffered extreme isolation since other people - their families, their friends - had no access. Due to the long working hours there was hardly any time to visit others. But even in their leisure time they were not free as they could be called in any time to do some extra work (Goldman, 2003).

Photograph taken on 18 May 1966: A white infant is bottle bed by her black nanny as her brother plays behind the "Nannies Only" seat in an all-white park in Johannesburg, via

"On any given day I would come home from school to find my nanny hanging out washing, or Samson, our neighbour's gardener, trimming the hedge between our houses. It never occurred to me that, other than nannies and gardeners, no one in my street was black. I never questioned why all my friends, except for a few snot-covered black toddlers who were sent home before they could talk, were white. I never wondered where home for those toddlers was. Never even thought to ask, as I helped my nanny pack her Christmas hamper, where she was going. (...)
Neatly segregated, I never noticed anything wrong with the way we were.
When I was 12, all that changed. As I stepped off my 'whites only' school bus, I had to step over the body of a black woman, the victim of a hit-and-run on Robert's Avenue. She was dressed in a green pinafore, the sort nannies wore. Someone had placed a newspaper over her face, but other than that, there was nothing to protect her from the sun, the ants and our curious stares. For three days she remained, unmoving, in front of my stop, and for three days I stepped gingerly over her, holding my breath. Eventually my mother called the police and demanded she be removed, commenting that they never would have left her there had she been white. The next day she was gone, but the knowledge that the indignity she had suffered was because of the colour of her skin stayed with me, and the way I viewed my world began to change.
Like many white South African children, I was in the care of a black nanny from an early age. By the time I stepped off that bus, I was a mish-mash of cultures, the purity of whiteness our government was trying so hard to preserve existed only on the surface. One of my earliest memories is of sitting at our kitchen table, talking to Gladys, my Zulu nanny, while a pot of mielie pap porridge bubbled on the stove. Served hot with butter and sugar, the porridge was delicious, though the pale yellow grains of ground maize made it a little gritty and I had to suck my teeth all the way to school."
Rachel Zadok

Photograph of children sitting on a bench along the waterfront in Durban taken by Dennis Lee Royle, via

"The human-to-human contact, as personal as it was, took place in a situation where race was the primary designator of social standing. Skin was the marker of not simply position in the economy, but supposedly also of superiority-inferiority. Historically this relationship was one of master and slave. It was in this larger context that both participants entered the relationship with a series of presumptions: for the master (and later his children) there was the supposition of dominance, where the servant had (been socialised and) come to accept her subordination. Inevitably the domestic worker as a black person came to be a receptacle of revulsion (the prevailing cultural mores), “an opportunity for white children to discover and experiment with attitudes and styles of racial domination” (Cock, 1989, p. 57). Certainly domestic workers were subject to numerous practises and rituals of inferiority. These rituals of inferiority afforded the employer ego enhancements that emanated from having an ‘inferior’ present; validating her lifestyle, her class and her racial privilege, her entire social world. The relationship thus provided the employer with ideological justifications for the economic and racially stratified system in which she lived and from which she derived benefit."
Goldman, 2003

- - - - - - - - -
- Goldman, S. (2003). White Boyhood under Apartheid: The Experience of Being Looked After by a Black Nanny. Doctoral thesis: University of Pretoria

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Narrative images: The Babysitter

"A young black girl, scarcely more than a child herself, looks after a baby girl for a white family. 1969." (literally via)

"In the post-war period, the South African government gradually developed a policy that was meant to permanently retain the rights and privileges of a white minority: apartheid, racial prejudices and tensions create difficulties in many societies, but only in South Africa was segregation institutionalized and regulated. The results were tragic and disturbing.
The camera of Ian Berry has uniquely recorded this aspect of the South African experience: the duty to ‘live apart’ while occupying the same space."

Magnum Photos
The photograph was taken by British photojournalist Ian Berry in South Africa where he worked for the Daily Mail and Drum magazine (via). Berry is the photographer who took "the photos that changed history". He was the only photographer to witness the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, an event that is now marked as a national holiday, one of the more brutal events in late-apartheid history with 69 people killed and 180 injured (via and via).

- - - - - - - -
photograph via Magnum Photos