HSRC Imonti Modern book presented to Arts and Culture Minister

A new HSRC book, Imonti Modern: Picturing the Life and Times of a South African Location by Leslie Bank (EPD) and Mxolisi Qebeyi, a community activist from Duncan Village, East London, was launched at the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) conference in Port Elizabeth on the 8th March 2018. The Minster of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, who opened and attended the conference, responded positively to the book and encouraged the production of more volumes of this kind in South Africa.

The book Imonti Modern essentially seeks to recount a previously untold narrative of East London’s Coloured and African locations after the Second World War and before these communities were ripped apart in the early 1960s by apartheid-era forced removals. Photographs, poems and oral accounts by former residents portray their public and cultural life in the city’s locations on the East and West Banks of the Buffalo River.
In their own words and through their own pictures, these stories reveal how African residents created their own styles and forms of dress, music, leisure and home-making to forge a unique urban culture. How they created and occupied public spaces at the beach, in the dance hall, on the rugby pitch, in the boxing ring and at church and school. How they forged new social identities from the forms of consumption and aspiration that they found in the surrounding city. It also shows how their popular imagination was fired by the cultural and political example of black America, which offered hope for greater civic participation in a modern, developing world.
This volume describes how a black urban world within a white city, a ghetto, became mobilised culturally, socially and politically to lay claim to the city as a whole, demanding full citizenship and equal rights for residents, before they were cast aside. The authors’ expressed hope is that this history, the book, like the photographs and oral accounts upon which it relies, will restore the past to its previously marginalised subjects – fostering a new sense of belonging after the pain of dislocation and a dynamic of inclusivity that may shape East London’s future as a city.

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