Alert! The winners of the 2011 Sunday Times Literary Awards were announced at a gala banquet in Johannesburg this evening.
Sifiso Mzobe’s novel, Young Blood, beat a field that included Ivan Vladislavic’s Double Negative to take the R75 000 Fiction Prize – thus denying the latter a hat trick of wins, as Double Negative had already been awarded the UJ Prize and M-Net Literary Award – while Ronnie Kasril’s tribute to his late wife, Eleanor, The Unlikely Secret Agent, received the R75 000 Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. Young Blood was published by Kwela, an imprint of NB Publishers; The Unlikely Secret Agent was published by Jacana Media.
Earlier this year, Mzobe’s novel, the author’s first, was awarded the Herman Charles Bosman Prize at the Media24 Books Literary Awards – which, however, are only for books published by Media24. With the most prestigious of South Africa’s prizes now secured for his literary cv, Mzobe follows in the footsteps of the 2008 winner – Ceridwen Dovey’s Blood Kin was also a debut – and, depending on how you count it, Andrew Brown and Coldsleep Lullaby (Brown’s first novel, Inyenzi was initially self-published; Lullaby was his first eligible book).
Young Blood tells the story of Sipho, a “young man of the school-going generation caught up in a world of money, booze and greed. He lives in Umlazi, Durban – he is seventeen, has dropped out of school and helps out at his father’s mechanic shop during the day. But odd jobs underneath the bonnets of wrecked cars do not provide the lifestyle his friends have…”
Watch Mzobe’s acceptance speech:
Kasrils’ book, meanwhile, opens in 1963:
South Africa is in crisis and the white state is under siege. On 19 August the dreaded Security Police swoop on Griggs bookstore in downtown Durban and arrest Eleanor, the daughter of the manageress. They threaten to “break her or hang her” if she does not lead them to her lover, “Red” Ronnie Kasrils, who is wanted on suspicion of involvement in recent acts of sabotage, including the toppling of electricity pylons and explosions at a Security Police office in Durban.
Though she comes under intense pressure during interrogation, Eleanor has her own secret to conceal. She has been acting as a clandestine agent for the underground ANC and must protect her handlers and Ronnie at all costs. Astutely, she convinces the police that she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and, still a prisoner, is sent off to a mental hospital in Pietermaritzburg for assessment. It is here that she plots her escape…
The Unlikely Secret Agent is the remarkable story of a young woman’s courage and daring at a time of increasing repression in apartheid South Africa is told here for the first time with great verve and élan by Eleanor’s husband, Ronnie Kasrils, who eventually became South Africa’s Minister of Intelligence Services in 2004.
The book was blurbed by no less a literary personage than John le Carré, who said, “This is a wonderful book about a courageous and extraordinary woman who was highly principled, yet endowed by nature with all the clandestine skills. Her exploits recall the heroism of the great SOE women agents of the Second World War.”
Kasrils, a lightning-rod figure in South African politics – for his role in the struggle and post-liberation government, and for his criticism of Israel – is also the author of a bestselling memoir, Armed and Dangerous.
Watch Kasrils’ touching acceptance speech (in which he calls himself “Eleanor’s ghost writer”):
View a Flickr gallery of the evening’s guests:
Tonight’s announcements fairly bring the year’s lit prize season to a close. Congratulations to Mzobe and Kasrils – and to all who’ve been recognised in the past six months!
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Sidebar 1: University of the Free State Vice Chancellor Jonathan Jansen was the evening’s main speaker; he peered into the interior of a country that, in an act of “bibliocide”, burns its own libraries. Some tweets posted during the speech:
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Sidebar 2: Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley also gave a few remarks about the state of SA and books’ place in it:
#livebooks Hartley opens with a tribute to the storybook, tells us that the ST’s storybook campaign has seen 1 mil books distro’d this year
#livebooks Now we hit the meat of Hartley’s speech. He starts w/ref to Julius Malema. ‘We are fixated by the Malema volcano… ‘
#livebooks …but do we see the tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet?’ Referring to the angry, alienated generation that supports JM
#livebooks Hartley: there are no shortcuts. Ultimately, the way to deal with Malema is to deal w/the fundamental problems, include education
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Sidebar 3: guests were entertained by comedian Loyiso Gola during the evening. A few tweets on his performance – and a quick clip, in which Your Correspondent is chastised for reckless pointing of an iPad:
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Here is Tymon Smith‘s coverage of the awards:
Formeer spy chief Ronnie Kasrils has won the 22nd Alan Paton award for non-fiction at the Sunday Times literary awards.
Kasrils, who quit as minister of intelligence in 2008, took the R75000 prize for his memoir of his late wife, Eleanor, The Unlikely Secret Agent (Jacana).
Sifiso Mzobe, who works for a community newspaper in KwaZulu-Natal, won R75000 and the 11th Sunday Times fiction prize for his debut novel, Young Blood, published by Kwela Books.
- The Unlikely Secret Agent by Ronnie Kasrils
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