Impossible Return book launch

7 Nov 2019 - 13:00

Impossible Return book launch

Impossible Return is a multi-faceted research project at the Centre for Curating the Archive focused on forced removals in the Harfield and Claremont areas. The project began with a collection of photographs by South African artist, David Brown, who, whilst a Fine Art student at Michaelis in the 1970s, photographed the Harfield community just before and during the apartheid-era forced removals. 

On Sunday, 20 October, Impossible Return: Harfield Village Forced Removals, a book on the subject, authored by Professor Siona O’Connell, was launched at St Matthews church in Harfield Village and included A Childhood Disrupted, mobile exhibition by research curator, Jade Nair.

The book features Brown’s photographs accompanied by narrative chapters detailing the experiences of forcibly removed families. The event was an opportunity for ex-residents to return to the area and reunite with each other in a site of historical importance for the community. St Matthews church has been an enduring site of return for ex-residents of the area, with many of its congregation returning each week from areas as far as Mitchells Plain and Manenberg. The event was opened with an interfaith blessing by Reverend Mzwabantu Magadla of St Matthews Church, Professor Peter Storey of the South African Methodist Church and, Mr Mohammed Maged, representing Harvey Street Mosque.

A panel discussion followed between Professor Siona O'Connell, Professor Pippa Skotnes, Professor Murray Leibbrandt and Mary Burton which focused on the origins of the book, the gaps and omissions left in the wake of the TRC with regards to forced removals and how the book addresses the different faces of poverty traps in South Africa.

A Childhood Disrupted, the mobile exhibition curated by Jade Nair, focused on the children in Brown’s photographs and considered the intergenerational effects of childhood trauma, as caused by forced removals. CCA PhD candidate, Nina Liebenberg, assisted with research and exhibition design and technical officer, Fazlin Schyff, provided exhibition assistance.

The next launch event for this book will take place on Tuesday, 12 November, at Exclusive Books, Cavendish Square, 18:00 for 18:30. Please RSVP to   

Impossible Return: Harfield Village Forced Removals by Professor Siona O’Connell is available at the following book stores:

Book Lounge 


Bargain Books 

For media coverage on the event and publication, please follow see:

The John Maytham Show, 21 October 2019

Curatorial text for A Childhood Disrupted available here.

Reverend Mzwabantu Magadla, leader of St Matthews Church, opening proceedings.

Members of the public at the launch. 

Professor Pippa Skotnes, Professor Murray Leibbrandt, Professor Siona O'Connell and Mary Burton.

Professor Siona O'Connell signing copies of Impossible Return: Harfield Village Forced Removals.

A Childhood Disrupted by Jade Nair.


Above photos taken by Geena Wilkinson.

For more information on the project, please contact:

Jade Nair, Project Manager, Centre for Curating the Archive

021 650 1649 |