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State of Dis-ease

A transdisciplinary workshop on South African health and illness

Brought to you by the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study

Launch Workshop

Artists, academics and practitioners in conversation about pressing South African health questions. 
25 - 28  March 

The study of health and illness raises questions at the very heart of our humanity: questions of how we live and die. Health is neither a purely medical, nor a purely biological question. Instead, it holds profound implications for our social lives, surfacing patterns of power and privilege, puzzles of mind and body, as well as practices of care and healing. Studies of health and illness have significant instrumental value for us all: helping us to advance justice, improve lives, inform policy, and stave off suffering. But they also hold intrinsic importance. To investigate illness is to force a confrontation with human fragility: it is to wrestle with the fact that human life, with all its ingenuity and imagination, is lived within the constraints of a body.

Despite the importance of biomedicine and clinical innovation, there is growing acknowledgement that technical solutions alone cannot address health questions. South Africa’s ‘quadruple burden of disease’ is characterised by colliding epidemics, each rooted in social conditions, and with profound social implications: HIV/TB, maternal and child mortality, noncommunicable diseases and violent injury. Health workers bemoan the limitations of their interventions, biological data leaves many questions unanswered, and addressing health systems has become an increasingly salient focus. A holistic understanding of the conditions that produce ill-health, or support healing, will yield more significant (and more lasting) gains.

Although interdisciplinarity is increasingly sought after in fields of health and illness, there are reasons researchers find it difficult to achieve: from how research is valued and evaluated, to the ways in which funding is structured, and incentives to specialise early. More so, attempts at interdisciplinarity have often stopped at multidisciplinary — involving a series of disconnected contributions from different disciplines. This JIAS workshop provides an opportunity for researchers, practitioners, artists and the public to engage in genuine collaboration, that combines and transcends disciplines.

The Workshop

Looking Back: State of Dis-ease Workshop 2019



 2 5 M A R C H

Literature and Illness: Writers in Conversation

Chair: Megan Ross, author of Milk Fever

Maneo Mohale, writer editor, journalist, activist

Lauren Segal, author of Cancer: A Love Story

Kobus Moolman, "Not Falling, But Floating": a reading from Swimming Lessons and Other Stories

Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, author of The Ones With Purpose

Phumlani Pikoli, author The Fatuous State of Severity



2 6 M A R C H

Launching ‘State of Dis-ease’

Bongani Ngqulunga, Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS)

Mmamoloko Tryphosa Kubayi-Ngubane, the Minister of Science and Technology

Beth Vale, Convenor of State of Dis-ease Project



The State of Health Studies in South Africa

Chair: Susan Levine, UCT Anthropology

Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, WISER

Fareed Abdullah, Medical Research Council

Chris Colvin, UCT School of Public Health

Firdouza Waggie, UWC Community and Health Sciences

Carla Tsampiras, UCT Primary Healthcare Directorate



BMJ Special Edition Medical Humanities in Africa

Care as Work

Chair:  Gloria Maimela, Wits Reproductive Health Institute

Tendai Mafuma, Section 27, on community health work.

Job Zwane, Wits History Workshop, on the gossip about nurses.

Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven, Wits Family Medicine, on the health professions.


Leanne Brady, UCT Health Policy & Systems, After the Night: health work & violence




Where is My Mind? Artists, Healers and Practitioners on Mental Health

Chair: Gillian Eagle, Wits Psychology Department

Sinethemba Makanya, WISER. Ukugula kwabantu: Traditional healers & mental health

Thembela ‘Nymless’ Ngayi, creator of The Great African Horror Story 

Tsoku Maela, creator of Abstract Peaces

Melvyn Freeman, Consultant in Mental Health & NCDs

Victoria Hume, Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, Creator of Delirium



2 7 M A R C H

Advocacy Brief: Retha Viviers, ME/ CFS in South Africa

The Biggest Health Stories of the Past Year: Journalists in


Chair: Pontsho Pilane, Health-e

Dylan Bush, Bhekisisa

Sibongile Nkosi, Health-e

Mark Heywood, Section-27

Vuyo Mkize, City Press 


Breathless: The State of the South African Lung

Chair: Barry Kistnasamy, Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases

Stacy Hardy, creator of Museum of Lungs  

(for a transcript of Stacy's writing click here)

Carina du Toit, Legal Resources Centre, on the silicosis class action

Anastasia Koch, Nomfundo Sibiya & Zondikazi  Mtonjeni,

Eh!Woza: art & science to engage youth on TB.

Bavesh Kana, Wits Centre for Excellence for Biomedical TB research



Pear Chef
Birthday Collage
Summer Collage
Retro Girls

Convene  transdisciplinary dialogue on PRESSING QUESTIONS for South African health


Foster collaborative, cross-disciplinary PARTNERSHIPS and projects.
DISRUPT disciplinary silos in the study and practice of healthcare.
Ignite the public IMAGINATION on questions of health and illness.
Presenters & Discussants


Everything Is A Deathly Flower


Maneo Mohale


In place of no, my leaking mouth spills foxgloves.

Trumpets of tongued blossoms litter the locked closet.

Up to my ankles in petals, the hanged gowns close in,

mother multiplied, more – there’re always more

“Closet of Red” – Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise


The memory returns to me as a dream.

Inkblot rising black, weeping porous on the night’s page.

In place of my room, I lie sleeping in an open forest,

moss a bed beneath me, blanket of cedar leaves – fragrant

and warm as a secret prayer.

Until you arrive. In all your silent menace

you are keeping watch. Your night vigil brief,

searching for a moment when my sleep dips deepest.

You sneak into the moss and touch me without my consent.

In place of no, my leaking mouth spills foxgloves


soundlessly onto the pillowed green.

You do not stop. Instead, you mistake the flood of petals

from my mouth as pleasure. You do not stop. Instead,

you read my body’s rigidness as Yes. You read my silence as Permission.

You read my closed eyes as Assent. And my turned head

as Of Course I Am Black and Woman and Queer

What Else Could My Body Be For But Entry

How Else Am I Legible But As Safe To Violate

Everything is a deathly flower.

Trumpets of tongued blossoms litter the locked closet


standing unmoved behind us. Panic paces its itch

across my back and for a moment, I forget my power.

Until I arrive. In the dream, everything is different.

I will my eyes to open. I throw you off of me

onto the floor. I summon the vines to snake

around your wrists like venom. In the dream, the ground

asks you what on earth you are doing.

In the dream, everything rises to protect me.

The petals from my mouth are survivors. I am

up to my ankles in petals, the hanged gowns close in


ensnaring you and suddenly I am safe. Everything

is different in the dream. In the dream, I am safe

forever. I leave my moss bed with bare feet.

Somewhere a lover calls me by name.

“Gift-mother”, she says.

We find each other by the water. I

leave the foxgloves behind me.

Every petal that fell

from my mouth is a survivor, they are my

mother multiplied, more – there’re always more.

Profilng our presentes

Profiling Our Contributors

The Foot

Kobus Moolman

The foot is a hole.
A stone.
A black stone.
A hole made by the stone
before the hole was made.
A hole that the stone cannot get out of,
no matter how black, and blacker still,
its skin goes –
until its skin begins to crack, and
pieces flake off.
Pieces of rock falling into
the black hole that the foot grows
beneath its shadow.

The foot is a stone.
Underneath the stone is a hole
that spreads and shrinks and
spreads again as the wind blows.

The hole smells like words left a long time
in the crevice between two teeth.
Like words that have been closed up
too long in the dark pit of the mouth.
Sweating all night. And sleepless
in the day.

The foot is a hole made by a shard
of memory.
It walked through black mud
one morning on the edge of a brown lake,
where the birds waded deep up to their cries,
up to their blue wings.
It walked through the black mud and
into the lake.
And the water was not cold,
the foot said.
Come in, the foot said. The water is warm.
And it bent and scooped up the old skin
from off the surface of the lake and
threw it up into the air.

And the flakes of water flew.

And the flakes of water fell.
And the foot came up out of the water
and it was red.
It was red where the flakes of water
had fallen upon it and cut it –
called out to it its new name.

Its new name was loss.
And rot.

The foot remembers the brown lake
always, and longs to return
to the warm water, to the impenetrable depths,
lurking with the voices of fishes.

The foot remembers the brown lake
with its long waving hair and its green eyes,
and the foot wants to laugh again, loudly,
the way the long grass does.
It wants to laugh again.
But there is a hole.
There is the hole made by the red stone
that does not heal. Ever.
The hole that never closes over.
Even when it seems to.

I hold the foot in my hand every night,
spit onto it.
I spit into its red hole and
mix the spit with sand and honey,
and pack it full. I pack the hole full
every night, and when I go to sleep
I dream that the hole is growing a skin over it.
That a wide bridge is falling out of the sky,
and that it lands on the foot,
and that it covers the deep distance
between the edges of the red hole.

The foot pretends that it has something to say.
That the fishes in the brown lake and
the birds in the air and the stones, too,
in the black desert
want to hear what it has to say.

But to be honest,
it has all been said before.


The Foot (the other one)

The other foot is stupid.
And small.
And not worth talking about.

Published in Light and After (deep south, 2010)


State of Dis-ease Exhibition

Curated by Beth Vale & Motlatsi Khosi