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Archive for October, 2009

Loch Lomond Trip

getting ready to catch the bus in front of CMB

On the weekend of 25th to 27th September, we had our annual CAS family holiday. After all, we see each other every weekday, it becomes important to spend the occasional weekend together as well. Plus, it’s an opportunity to meet the new students. Besides, it’s always good to find out who in the department snores (outside of a seminar setting).

This year, our visit took us to the shores of Loch Lomond. To be honest, staying at a Youth Hostel can be like holidaying in an Open Prison, thankfully Loch Lomond Youth Hostel is a magnificent structure built during the heyday of the mid-19th century pseudo-castle craze, in a stunning location. As Dr Johnson, on his 1773 visit to the highlands of Scotland, noted, “Had Loch Lomond been in a happier climate, it would have been the boast of wealth and vanity to own one of the little spots”. As those who swam (willingly, or in the case of three of the canoists, unwillingly) can attest, it’s not the warmest of water bodies.

Thinking at first that we were a group of 18-year old undergrads, the hostel initially banned us from drinking alcohol: so on arrival it was with trepidation that we tried to hide the clinking of bottles in our bags. Once we’d convinced the hostel staff that we were, in fact, postgraduates and so mature enough to drink, they let us imbibe. Aware that this privilege could be revoked, it became of utmost importance that the hostel staff not notice that the new postdoc had had one or two too many. In fact, she was passed out, face-down, half-way up the central staircase.

An undoubted highlight of the weekend was the Africa-themed general knowledge quiz on Friday night – or, rather, the results. The team that came last – a long way last – was the team containing our acting head of department, James Smith. Maybe it just says something about the broad knowledge about Africa present in the rest of the department; in any event, I for one make sure that James is reminded of his performance at every opportunity.

On Saturday, we had what was referred to on the programme as outdoor team-building activities. For me, a couple of hip-flasks and a bit of sit down will be fine. So, unfortunately, I missed one of the other highlights of the trip: Shaun, James P and Dean developing their team-building skills together in a Canadian canoe, believed that they could easily beat Alex Beresford, alone in his kayak. In a masterful display of co-ordination, the three swung their oars into the water on the same side at the exact same moment. Their canoe immediately flipped on it’s side, sending them splashing into the loch. Together, as a team.

So as to not make us seem unacademic, it should be noted that we didn’t spend all our time laughing at near-drownings. We had three PhD presentations that highlighted the diversity of subjects studied in the department: Caryn Abrahams presented on food value chains in Zambia, James Pattison talked on his fieldwork amongst Orma pastoralists in Kenya, and Marc Fletcher spoke on his work on race and football in South Africa. James Smith provided an excellent session on writing: despite his lack of quizzing finesse, he has been averaging one book publication a week so far this semester, so he knows what he’s talking about! Meanwhile, the time-management course ran 15 minutes over schedule.

All-in-all, the annual CAS retreat is a great way to break to the ice and start the term. Long may the tradition continue!

Tom Fisher, Edinburgh

working to the presentation

working at the presentation

knowledgeable staff!

knowledgeable staff!

passionate about his argument!

passionate about his argument!

Presentation .. not so academic

Presentation .. not so academic

happy ladies in Scotland!

happy ladies in Scotland!

social gathering after dinner

social gathering after dinner

twister time

twister time

who said that is dangerous to swim in this water?

who said that is dangerous to swim in this water?

better to be careful then ...

better to be careful then ...

last photo before hitting back to Edinburgh

last photo before hitting back to Edinburgh

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As unhappy coincidence would have it, the Golden Castle Jazzman of the Year (1968), Winston Mankunku Ngozi, died yesterday in Wynberg. He was one of the greats of South African jazz and played with the likes of Chick Corea at various points in his career. His obituary may be found in various South African newspapers. Below is an advertisement seeking to make use of his image for Golden Castle wine.

Here he is

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chardonnay_harvestedResearching the history of the South African wine industry is both confirming my original expectations and causing me to rethink some of my starting assumptions. What has been confirmed is the close intersection of ideas about race, class and consumption. In the past month, this has been summed up brilliantly in the course of the ongoing internal ructions within the ANC and partners when the head of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, attacked certain members of the ANC leadership as being ‘red wine drinkers’. Although this elicited responses ranging from bemusement to derision, Malema actually had half a point: namely that the new black elite in South Africa has found new ways of expressing wealth and status through wine. Whereas beer presents a very flat landscape in terms of consumption – is an Amstel really that different from a Castle? – wine presents endless opportunities for matching taste, income and the trappings of success. And it so happens that red wine has a wider price band than white. Those who have really made it don’t stop at quaffing wine, but they buy or invest in wine farms, taking conspicuous consumption to a higher level still.

What I have been surprised by is my discovery of an older history of punting wine drinking as a fitting pursuit for black consumers. I am currently looking at wine advertising in the Distell archives. In 1968, the KWV (the super-cooperative that controlled the wine industry) launched a public relations campaign that simultaneously sought to reassure whites that drinking wine could be a non-snobbish and sexually suggestive activity, whilst seeking to persuade affluent blacks that drinking wine amongst friends of the same social status was something they ought to aspire to [see photo below]. The Castle Wine and Brandy Company attempted to promote sales of Golden Castle by sponsoring jazz competitions in Johannesburg and crowning the jazzman of the year [see photograph]. One of its main competitors, Sedgwick, marketed images of Beatles lookalikes and appealed largely to Coloured audiences in its attempt to sell something called Harmony wine [see photo below].

These are largely forgotten episodes, in part because wine was completely overtaken by rapidly rising beer consumption in the 1970s. But is worth recalling that wine and beer sales were running neck and neck in the 1960s. Perhaps things might have panned out differently. South African Breweries (SAB) actually owned the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW) for a time, but in the context of the intense politics surrounding liquor, it divested itself of these interests and never looked back. It now constitutes a vast multinational corporation for which the South African market is of relatively minor importance. Within South Africa, the wine industry faces a number of challenges, but there is an emergent black market at the upper end. What I find fascinating is that many of the images of the late 1960s have re-surfaced, as South Africa has (finally) begun to produce something like a black middle class. Wine has always been more than just a drink: it is a marker of who one is, not just for those who labour to produce it, but also or those who consume it. As a historian, finding these hidden continuities is always exciting.

Paul Nugent from the Cape

KWV MahlanguYou're a king woith Golden Castle

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