Non-fiction for reading for me in the past year generally fell into two main categories: straight-up history and more journalistic narrative. I’ll reserve a third post in my “reading 2009” series for books that I read that fall more into the category of what I call “books about ideas.” Ideas and ideologies are in all kinds of writing, but in that third category this is more explicitly the case.

In any event, it was unsurprising to me that much of my non-fiction reading focused on straight-up history and journalism in South Africa. South Africa is a particularly vibrant place in terms of commentary and other kinds of political and historical writing. New books are coming out all the time on a variety of relevant subjects. It’s the kind of country that is small enough that there are always gaps waiting to be filled. At the same time there is so much energy in this young democracy that keeps writers and readers pushing to fill these holes.

South African politics and current events

By no stretch of the imagination did my reading in South African politics and long-form journalism run the true gamut of what has come out in the last few years. Before I left, I devoured Jonny Steinberg’s Three Letter Plague (published in the USA as Sizwe’s Test). The story follows a young man in a particularly poor, AIDS-riven area of the Eastern Cape who is deciding whether to take an AIDS test. At around the same time, a Medecins Sans Frontier doctor is trying to set up testing and care programs throughout the province. It’s an all-too-rare example of examining a problem equally from three different angles: intellectual / scientific, interpersonal, and political. And Steinberg is just a damn good writer.

Also, on HIV/AIDS was The Virus, Vitamins And Vegetables: The South African HIV/AIDS Mystery edited by Kerry Cullinan and Anso Thom of the Health-E News Service. A series of essays by journalists, doctors, and activists about the ideological and bureaucratic pathologies of the Mbeki government in developing and implementing — perhaps it would be better to say not developing and not implementing — its HIV/AIDS policy.

Another book of essays on recent South African events was the University of Witwatersrand’s collection on the xenophobic attacks in 2008. A lot of good stuff, including Anton Harber’s essay on media complicity and oblivion on this issue (see my earlier discussion of this essay here). This is an issue that too often gets reduced to self-righteous preening and demagoguery when it really demands careful nuance like in Go Home Or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia And The Reinvention Of Difference In South Africa. It also has a lot of impressive photos by Alon Skuy, a former colleague at The Times.

Jeremy Gordin’s biography of Jacob Zuma did not have particular insight, but it worked well for me as an open-minded “just the facts” approach to a compelling personality. It was especially useful to read prior to the election in April. Mainstream media in this country was a bit of a disgrace in that, only after he was elected, did many who were perfectly willing to pontificate on their fears about a Zuma presidency learn even basic facts of his rather impressive life.

South African history

Philip Bonner and Noor Nieftagodien’s new history of Alexandra township in Johannesburg was inspiring to me as a documenter and historian. Their reliance on hard-nosed field work combined with substantive archival research is a great example for most any kind of history. They could not have written this book without involving people in the community in their field research. Their integration of such a community-based approach to history should serve as a model for further work in modern South African, as well as in other places.

I grew up with a lot of South African jazz that my father used to have in his music collection. Now that I live in South Africa, I’ve been able to explore this a lot more deeply for myself. Gwen Ansell’s Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music & Politics In South Africa connects a lot of the dots in SA jazz history — the early Sophiatown days, exile, rural-urban migration, democracy — and does it in her usual, welcome, no-nonsense style readers of her regular Business Day column know well.

A random assortment

I finally got around to Michela Wrong’s account of the Mobutu Sese-Seko’s fall from power in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), In The Footsteps Of Mr. Kurtz. Shows what happens when a talented journalist gets the opportunity to examine the historical big picture, pull away from the mere day-to-day, while still incorporating her own first-hand reportage.

I am somewhat embarassed that I spent any amount of time reading Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent Of Money. This is mainly because he has been such an incorrigible deficit hawk in his recent newspaper commentary. Still, the book is a pretty accessible financial history, with some interesting anecdotes along the way.

I finally got around to Peter Hessler’s first memoir, River Town: Two Years On The Yangtze. I have been a big fan of Hessler since reading his Oracle Bones a few years ago, and subsequently catching a lot of his articles in the New Yorker magazine. His writing is always compelling and insightful, and he sticks out among American observers of China for two reasons: (1) he is a real student of the country’s history and (2) he integrates the history into his contemporary stories with particular elegance. I’m looking forward to his new book, Country Driving, which is supposed to come out early next year.

In my first full year out of an academic environment, I tried to make sure that I kept up a steady diet of reading. My friend Brian, who graduated a year before I did, wrote on his blog earlier this year, that he felt that his reading patterns were relatively scattershot shortly after graduating, but were tending to become more focused around specific subject areas. So over the next few days, I’m going to try to think out loud about some of the books I’ve read this year, and see what kinds of trends may or may not be developing.

I find that people with a heavy interest in public policy and related fields tend to view fiction as a bit of a diversion. Literary public policy types may view fiction as a necessary diversion, but ultimately, still a diversion from the more concrete stringency of policy, political history, etc, that dominates bookstores in places like Washington, DC. Though I work in what may be most clearly seen as the “non-fiction world” — a mix of journalism, policy, and advocacy — I have tried to keep my personal reading grounded in a more intentionally balanced mix of fiction, non-fiction, and books centered around the inquiry into ideas. As a not entirely unrelated aside, the one place I am sorely lacking is women’s voices. Almost time for some New Year’s resolutions on this score.

South African fiction

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that this was a year in which I moved to South Africa, much of my reading in all three areas was focused on this general area of the world. I read a collection of short stories and articles from Drum magazine in the 1950s. Drum symbolized a period of intellectual and artistic vibrancy in the Sophiatown neighborhood in Johannesburg. The stories in The Drum Decade, edited by Michael Chapman, are concerned with the grit, life and music of that place and time, held by many to have been a golden age of black life in the city.

Es’kia Mphahlele wrote for Drum and went on to a storied career as an educator and writer in South Africa, in exile, and upon his return home towards the end of his life. Down 2nd Avenue gets at a lot of the troubles of impermanence and harshness of growing up as a young black man in the urban centers of present-day Gauteng province. Mphahlele’s sympathetic eye for his own emotions and those of others is a good lesson for writers and readers anywhere. His description of his decision to go into exile illuminates the dilemmas faced by many South African writers and artists especially during the 1950s and 1960s. I think this may be a set work in most South African schools, but if you’re in a new place, sometimes you have to start with the basics!

Niq Mhlongo’s Dog Eat Dog was a fun, insightful look into the mind of a student at Wits in Braamfontein, the neighborhood just north of the Johannesburg city center that is also home to my office. My impression is that some of the discussions about race relations in the immediate aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s elections have become more complicated and perhaps not such an obsession fifteen years later. On the other hand, universities in South Africa still have a lot of old white men (and women) running the show. I can imagine the opening scene between Dingz — the main protagonist — and a stodgy white lady in the university bursary office to be just as likely today.

Mandla Langa’s The Lost Colours Of The Chameleon is an unabashedly political novel. But it comes at the psyche of dictatorship, corruption, and the crumbling of a family dynasty from a highly personal level. More insightful than the pop-psychoanalysis of an actual, non-fictional leader like Thabo Mbeki that Mark Gevisser did in his A Dream Deferred last year (published in the USA in 2009 as A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki And The Future Of The South African Dream). And yes, I did read the full version of the Gevisser book — none of this “abridged” nonsense!

Elsewhere in Africa

Dambudzo Marechera’s Black Sunlight was republished this year. The Zimbabwean “enfant terrible of African literature” lived up to such a billing. The novel really gets inside the madness of an unnamed city under seige. Avoids being hyper-politicized by including a spoonful of sexual desire on the part of the narrator.

I didn’t know until recently that Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene also published books during his prolific life. I recently finished a collection of two novellas, White Genesis and The Money Order (no link — I bought it used and I think it is out of print). The first is about the societal effects of polygamy and male dominance in traditional Senegalese society, the second about the intersection of inept, low-level bureaucracy, migration, and urban poverty in Dakar.

United States

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee is not really fiction, but it is so experimental in terms of form that I think it is alright to include it here. I read this as part of a long-term syllabus I am crafting for myself for writing about poverty. Perhaps we can excuse this as being of its time, but I don’t think a writer from a position of privilege need ever spend so much time emoting about his own guilt if he aims to really engage with the circumstances of his subject. Crass sympathy (“oh, poor them”) is not a good substitute for truly engaged empathy. Still, this was well worth reading and I’m happy I didn’t do it as part of a college course, as many American students do. It demands a more unconventional kind of reading for which there is rarely time in college.

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or Evening Redness In The West was by far the bloodiest, most violent book that I have ever read. I will always be down with McCarthy’s totally morbid vision of human nature and the particularities of how that plays out in the American context.

Outsider Europe

I read a couple of Russians this year basically on a whim and my feeling that I have a natural affinity for 19th century Russian literature, even though I have not read so much of it. A friend gave me The Brute and Other Farces by Anton Chekhov just before I left for South Africa in March. A good read for a year of farces encountered both personally and throughout the world.

Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls has a lot of farcical aspects to it as well. A crazy traveling entrepreneur laughs in the face of landowners throughout the Russian countryside. Good stuff.

Finally, this would have been a great year in fiction reading if only because my favorite writer of all time, Orhan Pamuk, finally came out with his new masterpiece, The Museum Of Innocence. An incredibly obsessive character portrait of a self-described “anthropologist” of his own life. Turns out this means that the main character, Kemal, constantly feeds his obsession for his almost-there love, Fusun, and the city where he suffers, hates, and loves: Istanbul. Also, before I left the United States, I picked up Pamuk’s collection of essays, Other Colors. It was great to read him find fragments of his city, his book collection, and his own novels.

You need only check the date of this post and the previous one to realize my lax upkeep of this blog. There are a few excuses that I have for this fact. They vary in legitimacy. One week I had a cold. Then I changed jobs. Then I visited the USA for a few weeks. Then I started a new job. In between somewhere there was a second cold. I’m still not sure if I’ve had H1N1 yet, but it is something of which I persist in perpetual fear.

It would be ridiculous to try to catch up on all blog-worthy thoughts (yes, I know that the bar is rather low on this count) and all the stories I had published by The Times. Before I resume regular posting in the here and now I figured I would highlight a couple choice stories that I enjoyed working on and perhaps you might enjoy perusing as well.

I posted previously about a competition of la sape that I witnessed in the Yeoville neighborhood in Johannesburg. I ended up going back there to speak with organizers and the eventual winner of the competition. In all honesty, it was one of the most fun stories I have ever worked on. My hope was that this showed through in the audio slideshow that I produced about the event.

Well, the whole fiasco about the Gandhi house came to a close, though the seller, Nancy Ball, never ended up divulging the details about who bought it. It appears none of the people fingered as the final bidders actually bought the property. In the meantime, I wrote a piece about Gandhi’s not-so-simple legacy in South Africa.

Especially in his early days in South Africa, Gandhi’s activism was much more parochial than the universal non-racialism of the ANC. In attempting to secure fair land rights for Indians in the new, bustling Johannesburg, he protested in 1905 that “kaffirs” (a term he used often in his early writings) were being allowed to live in what was then known as a “coolie location”, theoretically reserved for Indians.

The 1906 incident in the train portrayed in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic film Gandhi is also troublesome. Gandhi was advocating that just upper-caste Indians be allowed to use the train, not people of all races.

His views did appear to evolve over time and it is hard to deny his inspirational fight against British colonialism in India.

In South Africa, his influence as a freedom fighter persists. Annual marches in KwaZulu-Natal celebrating his legacy attest to this.

Still, no South African besides Gandhi’s granddaughter, Kirti Menon, came forward with an offer for The Kraal compelling enough for the Ball family in terms of both money and historical preservation. According to Nancy Ball, the final three bidders were Menon, Malaysian e-commerce tycoon Vijay Eswaran, and a late entry by the Indian government.

Eswaran told The Times that if he buys the house he plans to create a museum that would “remind this South African nation of the great legacy indeed that they have”.

Menon echoed this sentiment. “Gandhi’s period in Johannesburg is of particular importance in his own development,” she said.

Gandhi’s time in Johannesburg was clearly influential. But its “legacy”, as Eswaran calls it, is a complicated one. His philosophy inspired, but his activism, limited in its universality, echoed throughout later Indian-black relations during the struggle against apartheid and discrimination. Mid-20th century riots in Durban are examples of violent tension between Indians and blacks. Some chafed against the ANC’s insistence on non-racialism and tying the Indian cause to the greater anti-apartheid one. Even now, it is an issue that hits a raw nerve.

On Monday, The Times published my story about a somewhat famous house in Johannesburg where Mohandas Gandhi once lived (the accompanying video can be viewed here). The owner of the house, Nancy Ball, has been struggling to find a buyer with an interest in preserving the house’s historical legacy.

Hidden away on a quiet street in Orchards, north of central Johannesburg, the house was designed by Gandhi confidant, architect Hermann Kallenbach.Its distinct thatched roofs and rondavel style give the house its informal name “The Kraal”.

Gandhi lived at the house with Kallenbach for three years, beginning in 1908.

Ball told The Times: “He left a lot of his peace here. It’s a very special place.”

She tried to find a way of selling the house to someone with a historical interest in the property and enlisted Stephen Gelb, founding director of the Centre of Indian Studies in Africa at the University of Witwatersrand, on a voluntary basis, to try to find a suitable buyer.

Gelb tried to solicit the interest of prominent Indians in South Africa and even explored the possibility of Wits acquiring the property for use as a residence for visiting professors.

Little interest among the Indian community has surfaced, and Wits was similarly uninterested, Gelb said.

The story has been picked up by a number of international news sources, including BBC, and a number of Indian newspapers. But one Indian article, in the Deccan Times, caught me by surprise with its aggressive slant to the story.

Invoking Gandhi’s name to earn a fast buck does not seem to have worked wonders.

Unlike the London auction, there aren’t much takers for the house, where the icon of non-violence began his experiments with Satyagraha. Even the Indian-origin community members have shown scant interest in buying the property.

Based on the inquiries I myself have received, in addition to what I’ve heard from the other relevant parties, there’s been a great upsurge in interest since the article’s publication. Somehow, I think such “wonders” could still be forthcoming. To be continued…

Quick quiz question: 2006, 2008, 2009 — What do these three years have in common in South Africa?

These were years when the public at-large, the middle classes, the bourgeoisie, the media, the establishment, or whatever else you might call it, started paying attention, if momentarily to poor people. In those three years major instances of often violent protests erupted in townships and slums throughout the country.

Unfortunately for poor people, and for the greater understanding of everyone involved, the reasons for these demonstrations have often gotten lost in a fiery haze. In 2008, the protests took the form of xenophobic attacks on foreign-born store owners and other migrants living in South Africa.

Such violence was clearly reprehensible. It also gave middle classes an excuse to ignore the valid frustrations of poor people whose frustrations boiled over in a particularly disgusting way. Instead of being ashamed in its complicity with a system that deprives the poor, toiling in sewage-ridden, shack-filled, unsafe and unfit slums, the middle class could rest on its outraged high horse. How dare South Africans attack others simply for not being South African?

Such sentiments are all well and good, but they also smack of willful ignorance. The violence in places like Alexandra last year was not fundamentally about hatred of foreigners. The acts of hatred were symptomatic of a greater frustration with the lack of progress in many townships. Based on my interviews with a number of shack-dwelling residents of Alex over the past four months (and I will grant the limits of this kind of anecdotal evidence), a discussion of foreigners is always accompanied by the larger issue of the general state of living in the township. “How can all these foreigners come here when things are already so out of control?” “We can’t get any jobs. Why can they get jobs?”

The frustration is not so much with foreigners, as the overall state of living. So witness the protests in Thokoza and Balfour this past week as the latest example of protests that appear to have hit closer to the mark in terms of public perception. This, despite worrying instances of xenophobic attacks attached to the demonstrations. “Service delivery” is once again the name of the game.

I interviewed Udesh Pillay, an expert on “service delivery” at the Human Sciences Research Council. He points out that the ongoing protests have their roots not in xenophobia, but in the more fundamental struggle for human dignity in the 1980s against apartheid. Many of the protests of this time focused on specific issues like rent prices and utility services, while aiming to “render ungovernable” townships throughout the country.

In the case of apartheid, the government could not respond because it was born of a system that was inherently illegitimate. Now, the government has been elected through legitimate means, but does not have the structures that will allow for constructive engagement with communities. Democracy does not end with elections. Community engagement with elected officials is the real nuts and bolts of democracy, a way for the will of the people to be heard and developed in the public sphere.

“Service delivery,” Pillay told me, is then a stand-in phrase for the greater lack of accountability that currently exists in slum governance. I would argue that it is this lack of accountability that is totally anathema to the middle-class-driven public debate on this issue. The assumption is much more cynical, and anti-democratic. They elected Zuma and the ANC. This is what they get. Why are they so violent and xenophobic? Why are their leaders so incompetent?

In order to move forward, such questions need to be replaced by those informed by a more democratic point of view. How can communities engage consistently and constructively with local government? This is an issue that has never been practiced well in South Africa. The apartheid government enacted policies concerning the overwhelmingly black poor without consultation, and in the democratic era little has changed in many townships.

Currently up for debate is why the government is not implementing their policies properly. Instead the questions need to be about how the policies are developed in the first place. The likelihood of proper implementation would then be much closer behind.

There is little both as hip and worrying to people interested in international affairs as China’s relationship to Africa. Beyond a fly-by-night visit by Barack Obama, it’s one of the only reasons the rest of the world will pay any attention to the continent.

Of course, the reasons for the African interest among Chinese businesses and government officials boils down to the same reasons most non-Africans have always cared about Africa: money and resources.

Foreign Policy‘s Elizabeth Dickinson notes that Africa’s resources are not only in vogue among the Chinese, but perhaps more broadly among the BRIC countries. Those BRIC countries that have managed to navigate the current economic crisis relatively well (of the four countries — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — Russia is almost definitely suffering the most) boast of decoupling from the developed world’s economies, and the opportunities their independence allows:

With aid and investment drying up from Europe and the West, it’s wise of the BRICs to fill the void. More than good business, it’s proof of the BRICs claim that they’re in Africa for the long haul. Guess who wins that game?

Still, most of the attention is coming from China — who else is going in deep enough to bail out Zimbabwe when no one else will? This has led to a lot of speculation in English-language press that there’s basically just a new colonial boss in town. Nothing encapsulated this view better than French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s chilly reception at a funeral for Gabon’s president Omar Bongo. Bongo was the quintessential French colonial stooge in the “post-colonial” African setting, the “epitome of françafrique,” writes The Economist. He even managed to arrange for the firing of one of Sarkozy’s ministers, overseas aid minister Jean-Marie Bockel, who had dared to call for the end of the excesses and patronage relationships of françafrique.

As France and other western states muddle along in trying to fashion a post-colonial world order that still affords enough of the practical benefits of colonialism, China the basically the only contender for the top of the heap of this world order. The attractiveness of China to Africans is partly a matter of the fact that the Chinese are just not the West, writes William Wallis in the Financial Times:

Europe still sees Africa as a burden. The Chinese, Brazilians, Indians and others see it as an opportunity.”We have a competitive advantage,” says Gu Xiaojie, China’s ambassador to Ethiopia, with a certain amount of glee.

“My own experience is that they [African governments] are uncomfortable dealing with developed countries. They think they [Europeans] want to impose their own ideas and they have a long [mutual] history that is violent and bitter.”

But China’s star shines brightly beyond the fact of who it is not. Quite plainly, it is often the only major economic power that seems to give a damn. Shortly before I left Philadelphia for Johannesburg, I had a discussion with my former professor in Chinese history during which I mentioned that the Chinese may be running roughshod over African workers and communities in the course of their projects in the continent. Her response was simple and, honestly, hard to refute: Who else is paying attention?

Howard French notes that both political and financial attention from China is in easy supply. Top political leaders visit the continent every year, including a visit by Hu Jintao concurrent to my discussion with my professor in late February / early March. Moreover,

from Angola and Congo and from Nigeria and Mozambique, the big news in Africa has recently been measured in big business deals, and this story could almost be summed up as all China, all the time.

A Shanghai-based housing developer argues that Africa is a key plank in China’s grander geopolitical strategy in China Safari, a new book on China’s role in the continent written by two French journalists, Serge Michel and Michel Beuret.

“I’m going to be honest with you, China is using Africa to get where the United States is now, and surpass it.”

This may be overstating the case. While the view from Africa may make this plausible, the view from China may look quite different.

Jeune Afrique recently had a large report on China in Africa, and took a much more skeptical view than most of the writing from English-language publications, perhaps reflecting a greater overall disillusionment with outside influence in Africa among those in the francophone world. In an interview with He Wenping, director of African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, reporter Pascal Auaralt asks if there might be a lack of knowledge about Africa among many Chinese. He does not exactly defend her countrymen and women. She points out that there are only 20 students in her program, the largest African studies program in the country.

From the global to the local, in no particular order…

  • For those who can read a bit of French, Radio France Internationale’s round-up of West African media reaction to the death of Gabon’s President Omar Bongo is fascinating. (I also have a piece in The Times that includes interviews with a couple of SA-based analysts about Gabon’s post-Bongo future.)
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jr writes in The Guardian about his recently settled case against Shell Oil in Nigeria.
  • Chris Blattman has a much friendlier take on Douglas Foster’s Zuma piece than I did a couple weeks ago.
  • Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch takes on the Philly news establishment, and has some wise, if unkind words that are applicable to all newspapers in this day and age. Newspapers should focus on “forging new connections with the communities, more open to citizen journalists and forging ties with local bloggers, rethinking the whole purpose of print.” Philadelphia is a city with a vibrant online, informal, citizen journalist / blogger scene. On the other hand, the ineptitude of the print newspaper situation killed the notion of the viability of daily print-based newspapers in my mind. My current attitude towards the medium? Fun and a highly enjoyable throwback, but ultimately near-useless.
  • And, for fun, what the hell is happening to the hangouts of my youth?!?!

In my ongoing quest to find and tell stories from Alexandra in Johannesburg come an article and related video about how street hawkers are being affected by the recent opening of a landmark shopping mall in the struggling, but vibrant township.

Informal sellers of produce, cigarettes, matches, and other assorted goods in Alexandra each have their own regular customers.

Still, it didn’t take long for Olivia Makalela to break into the market when she set up her stand five years ago.

She sang , danced and shouted slogans to attract attention to her stand in a courtyard next to the bustling 2nd Avenue, on the edge of the historic township.

But business has fallen in the past two weeks. Makalela blames the new Pick n Pay across the street, the anchor store of the recently opened Pan Africa Mall.

The issue is likely not going away. The youth wing of the Alexandra Chamber of Commerce is calling for a boycott of the mall for not totally unrelated reasons. An interesting case in how progress for some can — and often does — leave others behind.

No use writing here if I can’t occasionally plug a family member. My father, Daniel Bradlow, has a great (if I may say so) letter in today’s Financial Times bringing some sense to the heated debate about development aid raging between Dambisa Moyo, William Easterly, Jeffrey Sachs, etc. A good summary of the debate by the FT‘s William Wallis can be found here.

The main gist of his point is that aid is too often treated

as fundamentally different from the other sources of development finance that African countries utilise. It is not. Like these other sources – for example international capital markets, foreign direct investors, remittances etc – it entails both costs and benefits.

This means that, like them, there will be some occasions when aid, despite its costs, will be the best source of finance for the particular purpose, and some situations in which it will be an inappropriate source. Identifying the most desirable times for utilising aid requires governments to dispassionately assess both the explicit and implicit costs and benefits associated with the offers of aid that they have received, and of the alternatives to those offers. It also requires negotiating the best possible deal with the chosen source of funds.

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Close to a month ago, I attended a show by Abdullah Ibrahim with his New York City-based band Ekaya at the University of Witwatersrand’s Great Hall. Ibrahim is a jazz artist who represented the sound of a time and place with compositions like “Mannenberg.” Combined with his fantastic musicianship, he is a legendary jazz player and composer, and, at the end of the day, a consummate South African artist.

A newer player, not nearly on the level of Ibrahim, but highly notable nonetheless is guitarist Selaelo Selota. My friend Kulani Nkuna recently interviewed him for The Times. In the piece, Selota discusses how he has used music to search for his northern South African, Pedi roots.

In Ibrahim’s time, it was most artistically relevant to reflect the sound of the townships, the sound of an often silenced, significant part of South Africa’s culture. For contemporary artists like Selota, and even pop star Thandiswa Mazwai, it has become more important to harken back to a deeper past, incorporating rural, traditional sounds.