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Maureen Isaacson's Au Courant: Alegi, Dlamini, Coovadia and van Onselen

In her latest round-up of what’s new and noteworthy in the world of SA Lit, Sunday Independent books editor Maureen Isaacson engages with Peter Alegi’s Laduma!, UJ Prize winner Imraan Coovadia (High Low In-between) and historian Charles van Onselen (Masked Raiders):

Laduma!High Low In-betweenNative NostalgiaMasked Raiders

For those who have wondered how men in pre-colonial societies in southern Africa occupied themselves in sport, there is an illuminating chapter [in Laduma!] about competitive dance, stick fighting, cattle raiding, racing and hunting. The public spectacle which surrounded these activities is echoed in the festivities surrounding soccer matches today.


[In response to Isaacson's question about what he's reading, Coovadia says...] “Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People. The most transformative book on the Middle East in ages. Sand argues, in effect, that Judaism, like Islam and Christianity, is a religion which was created by conversion and conquest. It’s not a community defined by common descent. It’s been years since a scholarly enquiry had such immediate relevance. I was reading the news of the nine murders committed by the Israeli Defence Forces on the Mavi Mara and thinking that it was the result, in part, of a mistaken idea about blood and birth.


Stanford University historian James Campbell, on the cover describes the “Irish Brigade”, which is Van Onselen’s subject, as “a forgotten fraternity of highwaymen, soldiers and psychopaths, expelled from Victorian Britain”.

“Campbell calls this history on a knife-edge”. History seldom offers straightforward lessons of the sort beloved by some armchair critics, journalists and politicians, writes Van Onselen in his introduction. What it does provide are comparisons to broaden our perspective of the present. And it is because the Irish formed such a small part of the demographic make-up of southern Africa’s interior yet were disproportionately active as brigands between 1880 and 1899 that their story is worth telling, he writes.

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