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A Childhood on the Edge of History

Charles vanOnselen: J.M. Coetzee’s boyhood, 5 February 1998

Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 171 pp., £12.99, September 1997, 0 436 20448 7
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... There was a moment – probably in the Thirties, as Smuts and Hertzog were embarking on political exercises aimed at ‘nation-building’ – when the term ‘English-speaking’ might have meant something in white South African society. In contemporary South Africa, however, ‘African’ and ‘Afrikaner’ dominate the debate. Both suggest a primordial attachment to the continent, fan rival nationalisms and render the phrase ‘English-speaking South African’ politically irrelevant ...

Dead but Not Quite Buried

Charles vanOnselen: The desecration industry in South Africa, 29 October 1998

... In the winter of 1913, South Africa’s most famous black journalist, Solomon T. Plaatje, travelled through the southwestern Transvaal to observe and report on the plight of black families who had been thrown off white farms. These evictions were prompted by the passage of the notorious Natives’ Land Act, the legislation which, like the Enclosure Acts, formed the bedrock on which the economic edifice of segregationist, and later apartheid, South Africa was constructed ...

The world the Randlords made

George Rudé, 7 July 1983

Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand 1886-1914. Vol. I: New Babylon, Vol. II:New Nineveh 
by Charles vanOnselen.
Longman, 213 pp., £4.95, December 1982, 9780582643833
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... Charles vanOnselen is a South African historian teaching at the University of Witwatersrand who, from his earliest years, has been immersed in the realities of South Africa’s past and its present-day social and political problems. He was born in 1944, the son of a police detective and an Afrikaner mother of working-class stock ...

The Ingenuity of Rural Life

R.W. Johnson, 12 December 1996

The Seed Is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper, 1849-1985 
by Charles vanOnselen.
James Currey, 668 pp., £14.95, February 1996, 9780852557402
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... Western Transvaal. Sixty years later, among the thousands of hours he spent recalling his life for Charles vanOnselen – Kas was blessed with a memory from which nothing faded – he described how the ritual went: When a child was born you went to the landlord and said: ‘We have a baby boy’. The landlord would be ...

Who was he?

Charles Nicholl: Joe the Ripper, 7 February 2008

The Fox and the Flies: The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath 
by Charles vanOnselen.
Cape, 672 pp., £20, April 2007, 978 0 224 07929 7
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... the room. The bare facts are enough to convey the shock of being there, of having this glimpse, as Charles vanOnselen puts it, into ‘the Angel of Death’s laboratory’. Van Onselen’s long, disturbing and magnificently dogged book, The Fox and the Flies, takes us ...

At the Pompidou

Jeremy Harding: David Goldblatt, 26 April 2018

... The​ South African labour market,’ Charles vanOnselen writes in New Nineveh, ‘has always been dominated by … mining, agriculture and domestic service.’ Van Onselen’s two-volume history of ‘everyday life in the Witwatersrand’, a long ridge on the Highveld, explores the period from the mid-1880s when the discovery of gold propelled South Africa through a European-style industrial revolution compressed into twenty years ...

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