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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.Read more
- Methodologically innovative for its combination of biography and ethnography
- The analysis of contemporary witchcraft illuminates several important questions, namely: continuities with earlier cosmologies in modern life; themes of material inequalities in illness and death; and the historic and ongoing role of the AIDS pandemic in South African society
Reviews & endorsements
"A deeply learned, thoroughly researched and yet surprisingly accessible book."
The Times Literary SupplementSee more reviews
"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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- Date Published: October 2012
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9781107016286
- length: 259 pages
- dimensions: 234 x 158 x 22 mm
- weight: 0.48kg
- contains: 7 b/w illus. 2 maps
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
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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