Premesh Lalu

CHR Director

premeshPremesh Lalu is currently the Director of the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) at UWC and Deputy Dean for Research and Post-graduate Studies in the Faculty of Arts at UWC. Prior to assuming the directorship of the CHR in 2008, he served since 1995 as lecturer, senior lecturer and Associate Professor in the Department of History at UWC, preceded by a two-year contract appointment as junior lecturer in History. He has lectured internationally and locally in South Africa on a broad range of themes, including histories of colonialism and apartheid, art and history, digitization of archives, and the humanities after apartheid.

Following his doctoral studies as a MacArthur Fellow in African History at the University of Minnesota, Lalu developed a substantial engagement with the scholarship of the Subaltern Studies Collective in South Asia. This resulted in a burgeoning scholarship amongst emerging doctoral researchers that responds directly to the questions posed in Lalu’s work. Central to Lalu’s research was the question of the killing of the Xhosa king, Hintsa, and the alleged return of his skull at the height of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996. Subsequently revised and published as The Deaths of Hintsa: Post-apartheid South Africa and the Shape of Recurring Pasts (HSRC Press, 2009), the book argued that works of art may prove far more crucial for understanding the links between colonialism, apartheid and the post-apartheid than the archive, nationalist narration and the museum put together. The book received several extended reviews in major national and international journals, including History and Theory, South African Historical Journal, and Safundi, and received mention on the Alan Paton longlist awards and the Vice Chancellor’s award for best monograph at UWC. It is also the subject of ongoing interest, with a recent interview with Cuadermo, “Writing History with the craft of a work of art”, published as part of the Video Brazil 2014 festival by the Tate Modern Gallery.

More recent research by Lalu on the Becoming Technical of the Human will feature in English and in translation in a volume titled Giving Contours to Shadows, to be published in Berlin. A version of Lalu’s recent inaugural lecture titled “The Trojan Horse and the Becoming Technical of the Human” will be translated for publication in the Sud Deutsche Zeitung. The full lecture is due for publication in Remains of the Social, and will be translated into German, French and Amharic.

The two thematic areas of research straddle a series of articles, public lectures, newspaper opeds locally and internationally, exhibition openings, local and international conference presentations, academic journal articles, and keynote addresses and lectures in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Delhi, USA, Hong Kong, Addis Ababa and Kampala in 2014 alone. Many of these focus on the debate on the humanities from the vantage of a nascent post-apartheid society. Beyond these, Lalu has published a co-edited volume titled Becoming UWC: Reflections, Pathways and Unmaking Apartheid’s Legacy (2011) and contributed to a volume called Uncontained: Opening the Community Arts Project Archive (2012), which accompanied a CHR exhibition by the same name. Recently, he has written and lectured on the history of cinema, the student movement and technology in Athlone, drawn from his manuscript provisionally titled Sadness, as such…on the becoming technical of the human. These various research outputs hinge on the argument that if the question of the human is unavailable to the becoming post-apartheid of South Africa, we will fail to avert a slippage in which the post-apartheid appears as a more efficient version of apartheid.

Under Lalu’s leadership, the CHR has emerged as a dynamic contributor to the global debates on the humanities. In recognition of these efforts, he was elected to serve on the board of the international Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes, which brings together 206 centre directors from across the world. A large part of our international partners are drawn from this international network. In 2011, based on his work in the humanities, he was awarded a Copeland Fellowship at Amherst College in the USA. The CHR produces quality graduates who have taken up leading academic positions in South Africa and Africa. It has managed to secure substantial research and fellowship grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Ford Foundation. Lalu established relationships with leading art initiatives, including the Handspring Puppet Company. Currently, Lalu is the chair of the Handspring Trust which engages in arts developmental programmes in Masiphumulele and Barrydale.

Suren Pillay

Senior Researcher

suren pillay bwSuren Pillay is currently Senior Researcher and Associate Professor in the Centre for Humanities Research. He has held this position since 2010. From 2007-2010 he was seconded to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) of South Africa as a Senior Research Specialist in the Democracy and Governance Programme. From 2003-2004 he served as a Programme Officer at the Centre for African Studies at Columbia University. He held a position of senior lecturer in the Dept. of Political Studies, UWC, from 1995-2010. Prof. Pillay holds an Mphil, and a Phd in Anthropology with distinction, from Columbia University in New York (2011). He also has a Masters (cum laude) in Development Studies from the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

While at the HSRC, Pillay led a research team on violence. The team initiated projects, developed funding proposals, and established international research networks, with an emphasis on the global South. In 2008 he helped co-ordinate a team of researchers from the HSRC in response to the xenophobic violence which broke out in South Africa. He currently plays an active role in the Centre for Humanities Research: in 2011 he served as Acting Director of the CHR during the sabbatical year of its director. Pillay also served as Editor of the journal Social Dynamics, published by Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town (UCT) between 2009 and 2012. He has published extensively in the press, including the Mail and Guardian, Cape Times, Ugandan Monitor, Jerusalem Post, and Al Jazeera international online. His awards include a prestigious Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Award for Anthropological Research, a CHOICE Award from the American Publishers Association for Outstanding Book title (2011), and a Special Mention for authoring one of the ten most downloaded articles in African Studies by the African Studies Association (USA) in 2010.

Heidi Grunebaum

Senior Researcher

heidiHeidi Grunebaum has been a Senior Researcher at the CHR since 2011, where she has worked on the research theme, Aesthetics and Politics. She is author of the monograph, Memorializing the Past: Everyday Life in South Africa after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (New Jersey: Transaction, 2011) and co-editor, with Emile Maurice, of Uncontained: Opening the Community Arts Project Archive (Cape Town: CHR, 2012). With Mark J Kaplan she made the documentary film, The Village Under the Forest (2013), which received the audience award for Best South African Documentary Film at Encounters International Documentary Film Festival in 2013. Grunebaum holds a Masters in French literature from the University of Cape Town (UCT), and  a Phd in History from UWC (2007). In 2009 she was awarded an A.W. Mellon postdoctoral fellowship at the CHR.

Through the Aesthetics and Politics research platform, Grunebaum has worked with curator, Emile Maurice, on the ‘Uncontained’ project which included an exhibition, a writing project and an edited book publication. With Premesh Lalu, she co-convened the catalytic project on Hidden Voices in the Arts and Music (2013-2014) and was organizer, with Brett Pyper and Premesh Lalu, of the Arts of Intervention workshop at the Absa Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstfees (KKNK), Oudtshoorn (April 2014).

In addition to the published monograph, co-edited collection and peer-reviewed book chapters, Grunebaum has published in Current WritingResearch in African Literatures, Fantomas, the PMLA, Encounters: International Journal on Culture and Society, Third Text Africa, Southern African Anthropology and contributed to the Cape Times and Voices from the South (Karibu, Norway). Her poetry is published in issues of Botsotso Journal for South African Arts and Cultures and Running Towards Us: New Writing from South Africa (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000). Grunebaum has supervised two Masters students (one cum laude) and is currently (May 2015) supervisor of one doctoral and co-supervisor of three doctoral students.


Ms Lameez Lalkhen

lameezLameez has completed her B.Admin degree at the University of the Western Cape, majoring in public administration and industrial psychology. She has been the Senior Administrator of the CHR since 2006, co-ordinating various programmes, workshops and conferences within the CHR. In 2007 she was selected by UWC as part of a delegation to the “World Social Forum” in Kenya. She is also an active member of Women In Black, a world-wide network of women actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence, and has been part of delegations to Spain (2008) and India (2015).
Contact Details

Phone: (021) 959 3162
Fax: (021) 959 1282