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Photography as Historical Fiction: A Photo Essay

February 17, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

This is a past event. You can access the recording here.

Date/Time: February 17, 2021 – 12pm CT (6pm UTC)

Speaker: Hlonipha Mokoena

For many decades, African Studies has been defined by the ‘orality’ versus ‘literacy’ debate. This underpinned the function and rationale of the discipline as being about defending the oral traditions of the African continent while showing that orality is historical evidence regardless of its mutability. What happens then when we add photography to the mix? What new insights into ‘Africa’ can we glean from images that were created in Africa by photographers, artists, cartographers, town planners, illustrators etc.? This webinar will present photographs of African policemen from South Africa to make the argument that visual culture is the new ‘literacy’. The argument will be based on research on African policemen and the photographs that they posed for. The main argument will be that rather than offer us a ‘real’ picture of what it meant to be a policeman, images have actually created a ‘historical fiction’ in which the African policeman is seen as a traitor and turncoat. As an alternative, the webinar will present the argument that policing was part of a generalised availability of ‘war work’ and that many African men used ‘war work’ as a career move towards chiefdom, status and an unstable autonomy.

The Loyal Fingo by Thomas Baines in Thomas Baines: Eastern Cape Sketches, 1848–1852. Iziko Museums of South Africa, William Fehr Collection (Social History Collections).


Hlonipha Mokoena received her Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town in 2005. From 2006 to 2015 she taught in the Anthropology Department at Columbia University in the City of New York. She is currently an associate professor and researcher at WiSER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Her articles have been published in: Journal of Natal and Zulu History; Journal of Religion in Africa; Journal of Southern African Studies; Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies; Journal of African History; Kronos: Southern African Histories; Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies; Image & Text and Critical Arts. She has also written catalogue essays for Zanele Muholi, Mohau Modisakeng, Sabelo Mlangeni, Sam Nhlengethwa and Andrew Tshabangu. Her first book is on Magema M. Fuze, author of the Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona (1922) / The Black People and Whence They Came (1979). The book is titled Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual.


February 17, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm