Last night the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) hosted the 7th Humanities and Social Sciences Awards (HSS) at Javett-UP Art Centre in Pretoria. The HSS has established itself as a platform that celebrates local creative collections and digital contributions in South Africa.
The awards are open to South African publishers, scholars based in South African universities and independent artists linked to universities. Since its inception, the NiHSS Awards panel has adjudicated the literary merit of over 350 fiction and non-fiction books, and more than 120 digital and creative pursuits like exhibition catalogues, musical compositions/arrangements, performances, and visual art.
Pan Macmillan took home awards in three categories:
Best Non-Fiction Biography
Scatterling of Africa My Early Years by Johnny Clegg
‘There are moments in life that are pure, and which seem to hang in the air, unhitched from the everyday world as we know it. Suspended for a few seconds, they float in their own space and time with their own hidden prospects. For want of a better term, we call these moments “magical” and when we remember them they are cloaked in a halo of special meaning.’
For 14-year-old Johnny Clegg, hearing Zulu street music as plucked on the strings of a guitar by Charlie Mzila one evening outside a corner café in Bellevue, Johannesburg, was one such ‘magical’ moment.
The success story of Juluka and later Savuka, and the cross-cultural celebration of music, language, story, dance and song that stirred the hearts of millions across the world, is well documented. Their music was the soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives during the turbulent 70s and 80s as the country moved from legislated oppression to democratic freedom. It crossed borders, boundaries and generations, resonating around the world and back again.
Less known is the story of how it all began and developed.
Scatterling of Africa is that origin story, as Johnny Clegg wrote it and wanted it told. It is the story of how the son of an unconventional mother, grandson of Jewish immigrants, came to realise that identity can be a choice, and home is a place you leave and return to as surely as the seasons change. Best Fiction Novel
They Got To You Too, Futhi Ntshingila
Hans van Rooyen is a former police general raised by two women who survived the 1899 South African War. He finds himself being cared for in an old age home by the daughter of liberation struggle activists. At 80, he carries with him the memories of crimes he committed as an officer under the apartheid government. Having eluded the public confessions at the TRC for his time in the Border Wars, he retained his position in the democratic South Africa, serving as an institutional memory for a new generation of police recruits.
Zoe Zondi is tasked to care for the old man. Her gentle and compassionate nature prompts Hans to review his decision to go to the grave with all his secrets. Zoe has her own life story to tell and, as their unlikely bond deepens, strengthened by the isolation that COVID-19 lockdown brings, they provide a safe space for each other to say the things that are often left unsaid.
The Lost Language of the Soul, Mandla Langa
‘If I disappeared, I’d expect my children to search for me high and low. A mother disappearing goes against the laws of nature. Fathers disappear all the time; it’s their speciality.’
Joseph Mabaso is used to his father Sobhuza’s long absences from the family home in Lusaka. Sobhuza is a freedom fighter and doing important work, and Joseph has learned not to ask questions. But when Chanda, his mother, disappears without a trace, leaving him and his siblings alone, Joseph knows that something is terribly wrong.
And so begins a journey, physically arduous and dangerous and emotionally fraught, that no 14-year-old boy should have to undertake alone. Following the most tenuous of threads, Joseph finds some unlikely guides along the way: courageous Leila and her horses; Sis Violet and the guerrilla unit she commands; Mr Chikwedere, stonecutter and illicit trader; Madala at the Lesedi Repatriation Camp, who helps him find his voice; and Aunt Susie Juma, unofficial Zambian ambassador in Yeoville, Johannesburg, whose detective skills are legendary.
As Joseph navigates unfamiliar and often hostile territory in his search for his parents, he is on a parallel journey of discovery – one of identity and belonging – as he attempts to find a safe house that is truly safe, a language that understands all languages, and a place in his soul that feels like home.
Pan Macmillan is proud to have published these remarkable authors and grateful for the acknowledgement of their excellence by the NiHSS awards.