Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa

Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa

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Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa reconstructs the biography of an ordinary South African, Jimmy Mohale. Born in 1964, Jimmy came of age in rural South Africa during apartheid, then studied at university and worked as a teacher during the anti-apartheid struggle. In 2005, Jimmy died from an undiagnosed sickness, probably related to AIDS. Jimmy gradually came to see the unanticipated misfortune he experienced as a result of his father's witchcraft and sought remedies from diviners rather than from biomedical doctors. This study casts new light on scholarly understandings of the connections between South African politics, witchcraft and the AIDS pandemic.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 7 b/w illus. 2 maps
  • 1139558285
  • 9781139558280

Table of contents

1. Introduction; 2. Early experiences, initial suspicions; 3. Becoming a man; 4. 'Then I did not believe'; 5. 'My second initiation'; 6. 'I see things differently now'; 7. Seeking revenge; 8. AIDS and Oedipus; 9. Reconstructing an ideal life; 10. Last words.
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Review quote

'South Africa sometimes seems to elicit the big, the overgeneralized. Isak Niehaus demonstrates the power of small, intimate, contextualized detail in this description of the life and death of one of his research assistants. The result is both moving and illuminating. By the end, witchcraft, AIDS, and the New South Africa all stand in a new light.' Donald L. Donham, University of California, Davis 'This is biography with a purpose; Niehaus makes the point that witchcraft is lived, not merely believed, and illustrates a new theoretical perspective from which to understand it. The narrative that recounts the intelligent, educated Jimmy Mohale's reluctant progress toward the conviction that his father is bewitching him is illuminated by detailed ethnography, extensive scholarship, and timely discussion. To be read at many levels.' Jean La Fontaine, London School of Economics and Political Science 'Extraordinary ...' London Review of Books 'A deeply learned, thoroughly researched and yet surprisingly accessible book.' The Times Literary Supplement 'In this biographical narrative, Niehaus has given [a] most detailed and profound reflection of one man's perspective on witchcraft and life in New South Africa.' Jana Admine, Anthropological Notebooks 'Isak Niehaus's Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa is an elegantly written but disturbing book. Breaking the mould of much of the scholarship on witchcraft in South Africa, and that of Niehaus's previous work, it steers clear of macropolitical and economic analyses in favour of a biographical approach ... I would highly recommend Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa for the fine-grained, human picture it paints of those who believe in witchcraft, for its honesty in dealing with the difficulties of fieldwork and for the ways in which it shifts the debate about witchcraft from a 'nativist ... [to] a cosmopolitan enterprise'.' Ilana van Wyk, Anthropology Southern Africa 'This is a biography, but the ethnographic perspective is apparent in the way Niehaus draws on his knowledge of the region's customs, social relations, and cosmology to contextualize Jimmy's narrative. This work is most relevant to scholars and graduate students in anthropology, though it would also be of interest to historians, political scientists, and public health policy makers ... [Readers] cannot help being moved by Jimmy's story and the gravity of witchcraft's manifestations in Africa today.' Douglas Falen, American Anthropologist 'This is a powerful tale of one man's gradual conviction that witchcraft is behind his misfortune. As in Adam Ashforth's Madumo, a man bewitched (2000), South African witchcraft is elucidated through biography. ... This is a moving and insightful account whose biographical form is used to compelling effect.' Maxim Bolt, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
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About Isak Niehaus

Isak Niehaus is currently Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Brunel University. He is the author of Witchcraft, Power and Politics: Exploring the Occult in the South African Lowveld (2001) and Magic! AIDS Review 2009 with Fraser G. McNeill. He is a member of the council of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Niehaus has done extensive fieldwork in South African rural areas.
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