Prof Charles van Onselen receives Academy of Science of South Africa Humanities Book Award

Posted on March 19, 2021

Congratulations to Prof Charles van Onselen, research professor in the Faculty of Humanities, for receiving this distinguished award for his book The Night Trains: Moving Mozambican Miners to and from South Africa.

Professor Charles van Onselen, research professor in the Faculty of Humanities at UP and affiliated to the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, is the recipient of the Academy of Science of South Africa Humanities Book Award for his highly acclaimed book The Night Trains: Moving Mozambican Miners to and from South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2019). 

Night Trains focuses on a train journey from Mozambique to South Africa to demonstrate how the interests of both local and international capitalism, underpinned by mining, rode roughshod over the dignity and human rights of large numbers of workers from Sul do Save and exploited, ill-treated and dehumanised them.

As the back cover indicates: “The story of the night trains echoes today through songs such as ‘Stimela’ and ‘Shosholoza’. But the experience of the poverty-stricken Mozambicans who travelled on the trains has never been told. Night Trains lays bare the hellish world.”

The book has been applauded by a range of high-profile academics, including Prof James Campbell of Stanford University, who stated that this is “the work of a master historian”. Prof Alois Mlambo of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies at UP observes that: “Van Onselen has produced a masterpiece and a seminal contribution to scholarship, which should be a must-read for anyone who wishes to have a deeper understanding of the forces that helped shape the historical experience and present reality of Southern Africa since the late 19th century.” For Prof James Scott of Yale University, “The great master of social history, Van Onselen, provides us an unsurpassable lesson in the commodification and disposal of human life.” 

Prof Van Onselen is the recipient of several other accolades. He has received an A-rating from the National Research Foundation on four occasions; been awarded UP’s Chancellor’s Award for research; the UP Vice-Chancellor’s Book Award; and the Human Sciences Research Council gold medal for a distinguished contribution to the Social Sciences and Humanities.

He has also received numerous awards for his books, including for Masked Raiders and The Fox and the Flies. His book The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine – A South African Sharecropper (1894-1895) won the Sunday Times Alan Paton award for non-fiction and was voted one of the hundred best books to come out of Africa in the 20th century.

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