Anyone who knows me knows how much I absolutely love Johannesburg, in all its grit and grime and glory. I write poems about it. I even write children’s books about it. So, naturally, my academic efforts are dedicated to understanding this city and the people who live and love in it, as I do. My current PhD journey continues from where I concluded my Master’s research. I find myself really fascinated by romantic relationships; what is reflected about them in the media, in music, in movies, in pop culture and how people navigate them to realise their own individual happiness within their couplings. I’m also interested in how grand socio-political occurrences affect the intimacies between people. If you’re interested in that too, you should read my chapter in Professor Nicky Falkof and Dr Cobus van Staden’s new edited volume, Anxious Joburg: The Inner Lives of a Global South City.
This publication is a result of responding to a call for abstracts for Nicky and Cobus’ Urban Anxieties workshop held in 2017 that is supported by my current scholarship, Governing Intimacies. I worked with them, back-and-forth draft submissions and edits, until we reached the point where the chapter was good enough to be published. Academia gives me butterflies in the worst way so even when the act of applying myself feels like moving boulders, I really do try to give it my best each time. My favourite part is that I always come out on the other side having a wealth of new knowledge and knowing new scholars that inspire me and if I’m lucky, they take interest in my work and give me the most amazing advice. Strangely, academia makes me happy. Let’s get back to the book. I really think you’ll enjoy it so get yourself a copy here and while you wait, you should listen to Prof. Falkof’s conversation with Azania Mosaka on Radio 702, here.
Connected Lives: Families, Households and Care in South Africa edited by Professors Nolwazi Mkhwanazi and Lenore Manderson is finally here. This means that I am officially a published Anthropologist – let me go update my CV! It seems like a lifetime ago when I was navigating the public health section of my university’s medical campus in search of the venue that they had organised for the Families, Households and Care Workshop. I just remember feeling really intimidated about being one of the youngest (and least credentialed) people in the room so I mostly kept quiet and kept to myself while trying to learn as much as I can. My favourite part about being involved in workshops and conferences is seeing how people working in similar areas of research can be gathered together to think together about what a collective contribution to knowledge production can look like and then being part of that process over time; editing and communicating for years until everything is has been checked off the list and all that’s left is to receive the copies from the publisher. Here is more information about the book:
Connected lives: Families, households, health and care in contemporary South Africa, illustrates the changing constitution and the variability of households, fluid understandings of family, and the impact of these in the context of life changes and health problems. Through 29 case studies of people of diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, class, sex and gender, of varying ages and from both urban and rural backgrounds, the authors explore the household as a site for the production of health and care. The book illustrates the impact of economic, demographic and social changes on households and families, and considers how these factors influence everyday life, health, wellbeing and care in contemporary South Africa. This book will interest those in global public health, anthropology, and population and demography studies.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to cancel the physical book launch and find a way to create a virtual one instead. So, here is the book launch, a series of 1 minute long videos from each author. My case study was drawn from my Master’s research on compensated (“blesser and blessee”) relationships. My summary is below:
You’ll notice that the Youtube page that the videos are hosted on reads Medical Health Humanities Africa. It is an African network of medical and health humanities academics, artists, healers and activists that Professor Mkhwanazi has been involved in creating – if that sounds like you, you can check out the website and join. And, you can purchase Connected Lives: Families, Households and Care in South Africahere.
Thank you, Nolwazi and Lenore, for believing in my work and helping me to shape my contribution into something worth publishing!
I would like to wish you a wonderful start to the new year! In thinking about you, me and this little corner of the internet that we share, I have decided to set some goals for this blog but I’ll tell you more about that later.
I’m currently on holiday in the Eastern Cape. It started in Simon’s Town, then Knysna, Port Alfred, Mthatha and I’m in Port St John’s for a few more hours, then Umhlanga. The weather has warmed up considerably from yesterday so I am finally able to think about something other than how cold it is! I’m quite delighted that it’s a new year. The sun and this gentle breeze have me in a great mood to think, dream, imagine and plan myself into this new season of my life.The year 2019 was really good to me and it stretched my wings further as an author, Anthropologist and poet. My debut children’s book Mpumi’s Magic Beads won the South African Literary Award for Children’s Literature and the IBBY South Africa Award for Best Writer. I presented my research work at conferences in Mumbai, India and Johannesburg, South Africa and had it accepted for publication. I travelled to Asia for the first time and I visited the United States again. I graduated from the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship. I facilitated literary event sessions, collaborated with reputable brands using my poetry and began some collaborative work that will debut in the new year. I got a job at my favourite radio station and, best of all, I graduated! Conferred on 10 December 2019 by the University of Witwatersrand, I am finally a Master of Arts in Social Anthropology.
Me being me, I already began my PhD in August last year and while these past few months have been good for thinking through what exactly it is a want my doctoral thesis to be about, this year and this exact day symbolises a great new beginning for me. However, I underestimated how exhausted I actually am. Although the way I see it, I have no children and no husband so there is no reason why I don’t get to be this multi- meta- person who pursues all of her whims and talents to their logical conclusion. It is difficult to balance my family, social and working lives and to especially give my best to my work but I do it with joy anyway because who am I to deprive myself of this one wild and precious life? (Word to Mary Oliver.) Taking a break is inconceivable to me because I would like to get my doctorate as soon as possible and I really enjoy being in the university system. It’s helpful because I am able to maintain work relationships I have within the corridors and frequently receive information about talks, conferences and funding opportunities.
In all honesty, the prospect of how this year will unfold is weighing on me; only because I know that work begets more work and I am supposed to be strict about limiting what’s on my plate. I want to give this degree all I’ve got…but I also want to be available for whatever other blessings come my way. Something has got to give and perhaps that thing will be social media? My workload is already heavy, however, I would like to commit to blogging here on the third of every month (and in between if possible) while being less active on Twitter and Instagram. That way, I can post updates here primarily and use the nifty buttons to share with social media afterwards. So, please feel free to follow, like and comment as we make our way through this fresh and exciting year.
May it be full of blessings and wonder for you and yours. May you give yourself the world!
I have written. I have read. I have edited and deleted everything and started again. I have cried. I have agonised. I have procrastinated. I have carried this work with me to London, to New York (twice), layovers in Cairo and Dubai – while doing other important work, always staying in to write at least one paragraph – and finally, when it was complete, I presented it in Mumbai. I have crossed into new years with this work. I have become an author in a completely new genre while doing this work. I have taken my time and given so much of myself for it to be here today and I’m just so grateful for the community that loved me and held me through this work.
Here’s to the end of the chapter titled: “Lebohang studies and completes a Masters degree – can you believe it?” I wasn’t prepared for how long and demanding this journey would be and the creativity I would summon to distract myself from doing it *enter children’s book and a whole new life as a literary figure* and the many steps it takes until it’s officially done done but we are finally here now. (I consider this the official end because the graduation ceremony is optional.) This research has been such a ride. I really got to know myself anew and witness my entire political beliefs do a 180° transformation. I got to sharpen my instincts as a researcher and to trust the guidance of my intuition. It’s also been very hard being on the opposite side of people’s moral stances and being addressed like a delinquent here and there. So it has been immensely affirming to recieve feedback from people who really get it. My convictions may make the work controversial but as long as I remain true to my personal ethic of thinking and writing about black womanhoods in ways that are respectful and dignified, I’ll be okay. When I approached the women with whom I worked in this dissertation, I promised that I would not reproduce the trope that the media loves; the lie that black women are either so hypersexual or so poor that they have to sleep with men for money. I’m not interested in that. I am interested in exploring adult women’s consensual romantic practices with their partners and the logics that inform their desire to only date men of particular financial and social standings, with the context of a neoliberal society. While I do consider the vulnerabilties and violence that these women could encounter, I am more interested in the pleasures and joys of their lives. I do not want to constantly represent black women’s lives as marred by struggle when there is a plurality of experiences and when we are out here living and loving happily, too. Continue reading “My Master of Social Anthropology Dissertation”
When I think about it, the best part about being an Anthropologist is being able to occupy really interesting spaces and speak as an expert on the topic – because that’s what the long days and nights of academic productivity are about. So, in my capacity as a scholar and children’s book author, I was invited to be a panelist at the #CoilConversations event hosted by the Jabu Stone brand and engage in conversation with the MC, Noluthando Nqayi, the legend himself, Jabu Stone and an audience of beautiful, natural hair influencers from around Johannesburg. Continue reading “#CoilConversations with Jabu Stone”
Following last year’s successful lingerie campaign around body positivity and self-love, Jet Store had another amazing one this Valentine’s Day! Interestingly, I felt more confident this time around because I felt like I had both my body and my skin under a little more control. Either way, I love that I showed up and shone regardless of how unfit my body felt and how pimply my face was. It was a small reminder that loving myself is a necessity that must be put into practice even on days when standing in that truth feels daunting.
I also love the images that people shared with me on Twitter. It’s a big deal to me that I am contributing to the imagery (normalisation thereof) of tattooed, African women. Below are two of my favourite: Look at my non-model, modelling self being great in the storefront. I am so proud!
2. I met Dr Grada Kilomba!
This year, after I sent Dr Kilomba one of my posts about how much I love her work, she let me know that she would be in Cape Town at the Goodman Gallery for an exhibition. It would be another multi-disciplinary performance lecture (I’m still very very fascinated by these) on decolonial theory and I obviously wasn’t going to miss it for the world. You know I wrote all about it.
3. #MakeOneDayToday campaign!
This is the campaign that took the dream of Mpumi’s Magic Beads and gave it wings! From pledging to host a storytelling event for children in the city using beautiful posters of the scenes on an easel, to mama having produced an entire book and having an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)! I’m so proud of me!
I put “travel” on my vision board this year without any real longing in my heart to go anywhere in particular. I just wanted to set an intention of acceptance should the opportunity come because I was annoyed with myself for detesting airports as much as I do. So when the talented writer and poet, Belinda Zhawi contacted me to join her on stage in London in May, I said yes! I also got to see my friend, Hana Riaz on her home turf and it felt great. My flight was via Cairo International – I don’t enjoy layovers – and my airport phobia was not helped by landing in Heathrow to news of the Manchester Terror Attack and departing on the day of the great British Airways administration disaster of May 2017. The airport was a messy, full, mess. I’m just grateful that I was safe going in and safe going out. We will be doing it again in a few days, in Johannesburg this time!
6. Modelling for Destiny Magazine.
My beautiful tattooed body was adorned in some exquisite accessories for one of Destiny Magazine’s Winter editorials in June, 2017.
7. Elle Magazine
In August 2017, I was featured in Elle Magazine and we shot in my bedroom in my special umbhalo that my gran’s friend got for me. I spoke about literature, school and Mpumi’s Magic Beads, of course. Get into this Moyo by BiBi choker, please!
8. Urban Anxieties workshop and Media Studies guest lecture
I gave my first academic talk at the Urban Anxieties workshop, based on the research from my thesis. It was organised by Dr Nicky Falkof from Wits Universty’s Media Studies department. After I presented, she invited me to guest lecture her third year Media Studies group. They were both great experiences. I really enjoy the opportunity to share my work and to do my little bit to contribute to advancing intersectional feminist politics through teaching and speaking to young people.
9. The People vs Patriarchy
I got to feature in The People vs Patriarchy, another MTV documentary and the follow-up to The People vs The Rainbow Nation. I enjoyed watching the film and how Lebogang Rasethaba used visual text to emphasise the contributors narratives. It’s an important documentary for all South Africans, regardless of where they are on their Feminist journeys, towards understanding and gaining the language to make sense of society.
10. I am a children’s book author!
Mpumi’s Magic Beads by Lebohang Masango is a real thing. It’s a book that can be touched and read and is currently living its own life outside of me, in children’s homes and hearts. I am indescribably proud and happy about this milestone. To think that I wrote and oversaw every single detail of the dream right until it’s very end. I drafted, produced and manufactured an entire book. I love that this is only the beginning. I have so many stories and so many plans. 2018 is going to be amazing!
The Cape Town Art Fair is on. Last evening, my friend Thenji and I went to the Goodman Gallery’s “South-South: Let Me Begin Again”. I know that I said that I probably wouldn’t be able to go because of my work but, I give my heart what it wants – always. In the video room, seated to the right of a white wall and surrounded by a few microphones, sat Professor Grada Kilomba. The audience sat on the floor as her silent video played and she read along – this is called “Illusions”. I sat at the very front and listened intently as she narrated a story of Narcissus and Echo. I’m not going to retell it here or give notes like last time but the switch up was delicious: Greek mythology until a point, then a rereading in which Prof. Kilomba positions whiteness as Narcissus and Echo as “white consensus”. It was obviously incredible. The microphones, a motif in the video as well, make me think of her work regarding the slave bit (please, look it up!), the silent black subject and how she says “listening is an act of the authorisation of the speaker.” The image of multiple microphones, read against her eloquent take-down of whiteness in this performance lecture, emphasises the black subject as an authority. Our lived experiences are adequate and enough of an authority on whiteness. Our lived experience is knowledge. The subaltern speaks. (Word to Professor Gaytari Spivak.) Continue reading “I Met Professor Grada Kilomba. Wow.”
Which is to say, she’s the most phenomenal sight that I have ever seen with my two eyes. I still think of that night in spiritual terms. Someone beyond sky and time; someone who loves me gifted me this experience. Friday night and I’m all alone (as usual) and I was running late. I was cold as all misery. I’d received invitations to several parties and declined, despite the fact that the week was long and I deserved ease. I hadn’t been able to make it to the Decolonising Feminism Conference that had been held during the week but this was one of the last sessions titled, “Decolonising Knowledge: A Performance Lecture”. Just for those two last words, I had to be there. I tell you, interdisciplinarity consumes my thoughts. I obsess about how I want my academic and artistic vantages to intersect. When I spend a lot of time shifting between this Economic Anthropology text and that proposal on love and intimacy and that seminar that requires zooming through Haiti and Hegel and universal history books – the spirit stops to ask for poetry. Finding the balance between a worldview that demands unrelenting analysis and one that begs for stillness, softness and an economy of language induces much anxiety and the heartbreaking sacrifice of one. It’s urgent that I grow the space in my mind where the union of poetry and Anthropology is natural, in a way that is organic for me. It’s the stuff that my daydreaming is made of.
Postgrad life keeps me intensely busy. There are so many cool projects that I couldn’t participate in and so many stages that I couldn’t stand on because of this priority. On those occasions that I was able to take some time off, it was and still is an honour to have had different groups of people entrust me with their labours of love and invite me to contribute to their vision with my gifts. Thank you to every one of you. So, not only is this a glimpse of some of my favourite moments of the year, I hope that this also serves as an introduction to exactly what I mean by “my dreaming and doing life.”
The year started off with Jet Store’s #JetLoveYourself body positive Valentine’s campaign! I joined some awesome South African women – who are also not models – in wearing beautiful underwear and confidently celebrating our bodies in their different sizes and shapes.