Saturday, June 24, 2017

Remembering Pauline Manaka

Irvine -- The tragic and unexpected passing this past Sunday (18 June 2017) of my long-term colleague and good friend cut short the amazing life of a librarian who reached the pinnacle of her profession (by serving on the Council of the American Library Association) and more importantly, became a strong voice for social justice. 

Hailing from Pretoria, South Africa, Pauline Manaka (photographed) was a student Fulbrighter, in the late 1970s, arguably the first to enter library school at Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, on such a prestigious grant given by the U.S. to a national of South Africa.  She came to Atlanta at a time where her homeland was trapped in the Apartheid era.  In joining the library profession, she followed in the pioneering steps of her uncle, Seth Manaka, who would be the first black librarian and later university librarian and library school professor in the country, honored at his retirement in 2015 with his own festschrift.

Moving to Orange County by 1989, Pauline lessened my burden as a social sciences bibliographer by taking on the responsibilities for selecting in sociology and anthropology. She later also took on Women Studies when another librarian left.  In the 28 years I've known her, she was the voice on conscience as the library and the university took on the formidable challenge of diversifying its staff as well as its collections.

She kept her commitment to the struggles of her homeland.  In 1994 (April 24) she appeared as a committed  African National Congress member on my KUCI Subversity Show to talk about her organizing work among the South African diaspora in southern California for a historic post-Apartheid national election.  She was also quoted in a Los Angeles Times article.

She kept her interest in and her ties with South Africa, teaching in Anthropology a UCI class for many years on South Africa.  She also served as library liaison to the area Model United Nations.

She was active also in the librarians and lecturers union, UC-AFT.  Union president Andrew Tonkovich in fact wrote a very warm profile of her in Coast Magazine in January 2015.

It is fortunate that her voice will not be silenced, literally, since she provided the "clear narration" (as I wrote in a review in the 9 May 2002 OC Weekly) for UCI PhD student and Student Workers Union organizer Marty Otanez's  (he's now a professor in anthropology at University of Colorado, Denver) pioneering documentary short (with Michelle Otanez) on Big Tobacco, "Thangata: Social Bondage and Big Tobacco in Malawi".

In her narration, Pauline indicted the World Bank for causing economic instability in Malawi, described the slave trade,  and called out U.S. tobacco firms for the exploitation of labor in the growing of tobacco and its marketing to women and children in Malwai and other developing countries. That short film is available free online, where you can hear Pauline's lyrical voice.

She was also interviewed with two of her colleagues in an oral history video for the UCI Libraries' 50th anniversary.

I trust her adult son, Lesetja, a budding filmmaker, will emerge from the pain of losing his mother so suddenly, and take his own path, while recognizing his mom's pioneering role in America. -- Daniel C. Tsang.

Sepia-toned photos of Pauline Manaka taken in 2015. © Copyright Daniel C. Tsang.