Humanities and Social Science Awards make quantum leap in their 7th year

After a gruelling judging process of the over 190 entries received — the largest number in the seven-year history of the HSS Awards — the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) is delighted to announce the winners of the 7th HSS Awards. 

At an Awards ceremony held at the Javett Arts Centre (Javett-UP) in Pretoria on Thursday, 31 March 2022, guests, judges, Board members, publishers, members of the media, NIHSS staff and key stakeholders celebrated the winners in the Book, Creative and Digital categories of the coveted HSS Awards. 

“The entries and winners of the 7th edition of the HSS Awards embody an emergence of new voices, the making of space for fresh or revisited experiences that enrich our field (and therefore humanity) and the inclusion of our histories, her-stories and their-stories previously untold, or told one-sidedly,” said NIHSS CEO, Professor Sarah Mosoetsa. 

“The NIHSS feels deep satisfaction and gratitude for the contribution South Africa’s HSS creative-intellectuals are making to the opening up of viewpoints and vantage points. Each in their own way, whether with words, brush strokes, musical notes or body movements, the members of this community are expanding the possibilities humanity has at its disposal to make sense of our worlds. By filling in the gaps between polar opposites, HSS scholars make room for options and perspectives that might not otherwise be considered in terrains ranging from peace and politics to poverty and unemployment, gender and sexual orientation, history, identity, human development and environmental integrity,” Mosoetsa further remarked.

There is little doubt the world has become a more polarised place in the past two years, not least as a result of living through a pandemic, she said. Increasingly, it seems, the choices available to humankind are being presented as simple binaries: for or against, right or wrong, good or bad. 

The task of the HSS is to colour in the spaces between extremes; to shade in the nuances and gradations missing from debates and dilemmas that are not nearly as clear-cut as they may be made out to be. 

The NIHSS is also seeing a level of language diversity that is simply unparalleled. South African indigenous languages are represented more prominently than in any previous year, a promising sign that the support of the organisation is having an effect.  

“But the commitment of the authors themselves to produce their work in isiZulu, Setswana and isiXhosa, among others, is a vital factor in the drive to promote thought-provoking indigenous literature,” Mosoetsa added. “A number of indigenous language authors have expressed the utmost determination to see to it that African work is given a place in the sun, both among writers and readers. The NIHSS is proud to be part of this effort.” 

It is important to emphasise, however, that diversity, nuances and novelty alone will not secure anyone an HSS Award. “To be included in our short lists and be recognised among the winners, an author, artist or poet must meet the highest standards of intellectual rigour and have been willing to put in some very hard work. They must also have demonstrated real creative merit and technical dexterity that place them among the foremost creative-intellectuals in HSS scholarship.” 

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Pumla Dineo Gqola accepts her HSS Award for Best Fiction Monograph for her book, Female Fear Factory

Pumla Dineo Gqola’s Female Fear Factory, winner of this year’s Best Non-Fiction Monograph, is a must-read that is not for the faint-hearted (who should steel themselves to read this nevertheless). The author’s interrogation of how patriarchy creates the female through a “register of violence and experiential processes” is unique. She ingeniously uses the factory as a metaphor to accentuate notions of typical patriarchal behaviour on a global stage.  What Gqola brings to our understanding are the personal and social manifestations of gendered fear. In a violent society such as South Africa, with so very many instances of attacks on individuals, fear may be generalised beyond questions of gender, with many males being fearful as well. Female Fear Factory looks at the ways in which women live in fear of being attacked without actually having been attacked. In a nutshell it is about the way in which women’s fear is naturalised. The author fearlessly exposes the machinations of fear. She is brave and therefore we should all be brave.

Thulasizwe Simpson’s remarkable accomplishment for History of South Africa: From 1902 to the Present is original in three key ways: it is based on original research in unexplored archives, it offers new interpretations of traditional debates and archives, and lastly, in terms of content, it considers subject matters which have not been explored in any other history of South Africa. The real strength of the book is the manner in which it deals with the ongoing interplay between civil society, social movements and liberation organisations on the one hand and the changing nature of the state and its policies on the other. The detailed research is truly impressive and the empirical depth is unrivalled. Here is a historian at the very crest of his craft.

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Thulasizwe Simpson giving his acceptance speech for his book History of South Africa: From 1902 to the Present, which won in the Best Fiction Monograph category

Mandla Langa’s magnificent novel, The Language of the Soul, which won Best Fiction Novel, is an outstanding example of work that is innovative, nuanced, meticulously crafted, lovingly researched and beautifully written. It tells the story of Joseph Mabaso, the 14-year-old son of freedom fighters who have disappeared without a trace, prompting him to set out from South Africa to Lusaka, alone, in search of them. One of the many things that make this book so noteworthy is how it foregrounds the youth as ancestral carriers of courage and resilience and seekers of justice. Women, too, are seen and revealed as central to this liberation and survival work, even when it is men who appear to lead.  

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Mandla Langa giving his acceptance speech on winning Best Fiction Novel for his book The Lost Language of the Soul at the 2022 HSS Awards 

Wild (Im)perfections goes beyond just reflecting substantive and dynamic South African content by embracing great poems from across the world and the African continent. Of importance about these poems is that they reflect that the world, South Africa and the African continent as a whole have similar concerns that they have to deal with. These poems, written by more than 30 women, scour every subject and theme that affects women, mostly in negative ways that have been established by patriarchy over centuries. 

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Natalia Molebatsi giving the acceptance speech for winner in the Best Fiction Edited Volume, Wild (Im)perfections

All these voices, each unique in its own way and in as many voices as the poets that contributed to the anthology, sing in one tune like an orchestra. They bring in poetic life the strivings that are all familiar, but make them simultaneously sound both historical and freshly wounding. The poems reawaken and electrocute the conscience.

The NIHSS would like to congratulate the winners of the 7th HSS Awards. We honour the outstanding, innovative and creative contributions that are dynamising, advancing and transforming the HSS. The Institute also extends its appreciation to all who contributed to making this year’s Awards possible.

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The 2022 HSS Award winners. Back row, from left: Aryan Kaganof, Natalia Molebatsi, Napjadi Letsoalo, Thulasizwe Simpson, Nthikeng Mohlele, Mandla Langa. Front from left: Zolani Shangase, Futhi Ntshingila, Athambile Masola, Coral bijoux, Dimakatso Sedite, Pumla Dineo Gqola



Best Non-Fiction Monograph 

Female Fear Factory – Pumla Dineo Gqola (Melinda Ferguson, an Imprint of NB Publishers) 

History of South Africa: From 1902 to the Present – Thula Simpson (Penguin Random House South Africa)

Best Non-Fiction Biography 

Scatterling of Africa: My early years – Johnny Clegg (Pan Macmillan South Africa)

Best Non-Fiction Edited Volume 

Ambivalent: Photography and Visibility in African History – Patricia Hayes and Gary Minkley (Jacana Media) 

Best Non-Fiction Edited Volume 

Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa – Desiree Lewis and Gabeba Baderoon (Wits University Press) 


Best Fiction Novel 

The Lost Language of the Soul – Mandla Langa (Pan Macmillan South Africa) 

They Got To You Too – Futhi Ntshingila (Pan Macmillan South Africa)

Kompoun ‘n Roman – Ronelda Kamfer (Kwela, an Imprint of NB Publishers) 

Best Fiction Edited Volume 

Wild (Im)perfections – Natalia Molebatsi (Penguin Random House) 

Haunting – Niq Mhlongo (Jacana Media)

Best Fiction Poetry 

Ilifa – Athambile Masola (uHlanga Press) 

Yellow Shade – Dimakatso Sedite (Deep South) 

Best Fiction Short Stories 

The Discovery of Love – Nthikeng Mohlele (Jacana Media)


Best Exhibition Catalogue

Dreams as R-evolution – an artbook – Coral Bijoux 

Best Musical Arrangement 

Antique Spoons: Chapters on Love, Loss and the Politics of Memory – Vuma Levin 

Best Public Performance 

The Sounds of Hlakanyana – Zolani Shangase 

Best Visual Art 

Umdiyadiya– Wezile Harmans


Mzansi Taal: The South African Taal Dictionary – Napjadi Letsoalo  

herri – Aryan Kaganof

For more information, visit us on our website  

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The HSS Awards are open to all academics, curators and artists of various forms of creative work who are based in South Africa working to advance the HSS.  Through these awards, the NIHSS provides an enormous contribution to the national dialogue about the importance of the HSS for the country as a whole. 

A key aim of the annual Awards is to give special recognition and celebrate those members of the HSS community who are undertaking the necessary work of creating post-apartheid and postcolonial forms of scholarship, creative and digital humanities productions. The Awards do this by honouring outstanding, innovative and socially responsive scholarship, as well as digital contributions. 

The HSS Awards provide an opportunity to cast a celebratory limelight to those intellectual-creative workers whose work often goes unnoticed both in the academy and society at large. These include the tenacious authors and playwrights, the risk-taking poets and artists; and curators and publishers who ensure that we can all view and enjoy the HSS boundary-spanning outputs. 

The HSS Awards’ aim is to give life to the ideas expressed in the Humanities Charter and increase the recognition afforded to book and creative outputs; reposition these scholarly contributions as having public-value; and increase appreciation and the role they play in sustainable social cohesion and the re-imagining of the HSS.  

The NIHSS is an entity of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

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