- Time: 16:00
- Location: Baines Wing SR (2.13)
Asbestos in the Southern African Imaginary
In late 2019, Zimbabwe’s The Herald announced that the Shabanie-Mashaba Asbestos Mine, closed in 2009, had “awakened from slumber”. Long the subject of rumours, responses to the mine’s possible reopening ranged from the anxiety on the part of global anti-asbestos activists that the one-time 6th biggest producer would recommence production, to the optimism of local politicians and businesspeople that it would revitalize the Zvishavane area. Whereas previous historical work tended to characterize such optimism as misguided, recent work, focused on asbestos communities in Quebec Canada, has shown it to be a more complex process of accommodation and resilience. In order to translate such work to the contexts of Southern African asbestos production (South Africa and Zimbabwe) and thereby unpick the differing priorities at work for asbestos communities, I want to explore the ways in which Southern African literature has envisioned asbestos mining and asbestos use as it appears in novels by Richard Kunzmann, Francois Loots, Valerie Tagwira and Yvonne Vera. Building on a set of psychogeographical field trips through South Africa’s abandoned asbestos mines, this paper considers the literature about asbestos shows continued relationships with asbestos in the region that demand more nuanced responses than those offered by a language of “false consciousness”.
Arthur Rose is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Bristol. He is currently completing a book provisionally titled Asbestos: The Last Modernist Object.