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Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

What Discerning Book Thieves Tell Us About a Country’s Reading Culture

The Conversation

Originally published on The Conversation, which uses a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives license

By Isabel Hofmeyr, University of the Witwatersrand

The catalogue of the Johannesburg Public Library in South Africa contains a poignant entry – “Biko, Steve. Long overdue”.

The entry refers to I Write What I Like, a volume of collected writings by Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader tortured to death in police custody in 1977. The library used to have six copies of the volume but they have all been borrowed and never returned.

Pirates of the book world

Other public libraries in Gauteng, one of South Africa nine provinces and its economic hub, have similar stories to tell. Their copies of Biko have long been kidnapped.

nullOthers writers too are routinely abducted by “bookaneers”. Two current favourites are the political philosophers, Frantz Fanon and Achille Mbembe. The University of South Africa library keeps Fanon’s major titles in what it calls a “high-risk archive”. Judging from library records, Mbembe’s works are often checked out but not returned.

Book theft in South Africa has recently been under the spotlight. Last month, Jacana publishers ran a “Hot Reads campaign” featuring their titles that are most frequently shoplifted from South African bookshops. The list is dominated by titles on African political history and biography, including Biko, with some self-help titles thrown in.

In some cases, the patterns of biblio-shoplifting are predictable. Bibles, religious and self-help books are stolen for resale. This theft reaches across all levels of society – from vagrants stealing newspapers for bedding to book-dealers lifting rare editions from libraries and bookstores.

Yet not all shoplifters pilfer to resell. Those purloining Biko, Fanon and Mbembe want to read them so badly that they will steal them.

Whose reading culture?

Can these “bookaneers” teach us anything about reading cultures in South Africa? Can they throw light on the discussions about the white-domination of the literary system that recently surfaced around the Franschhoek Literary Festival?


The novelist Thando Mgqolozana famously walked out of the festival and the white establishment that it embodies. His exit sparked a debate on “decolonising South African literature”. Dovetailing with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at the University of Cape Town, these discussions have ranged widely, touching on the structures of publishing, the size of the book market, library funding and the state of education.

One strand in these debates dealt with a recurring theme: the supposed lack of a reading culture in South Africa. This colonial chestnut has been around for a long time and has its roots in imperial ideas where the book was a symbol of English authority but also a “gift” to help “civilise” colonised subjects. These subjects could supposedly never possess the book in the same way as those who had brought it and to whom it apparently “belonged”.

These ideas persist into the present, apparent among those who can only understand a reading culture as what white middle-class folks do. Any other modes of book consumption don’t seem to count as reading.

This narrow view of reading culture has been blown apart as scholars have begun exploring the rich histories of reading in South Africa. Archie Dick’s The Hidden History of South Africa’s Book and Reading Cultures documents common readers excluded by racist structures, actively or passively prevented from reading, but managing to read nonetheless. The book presents a rich cast of characters – slaves, soldiers, political prisoners, township activists, political exiles – and ingenious ways in which they managed to read against the odds.

From a different perspective, Peter McDonald’s The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences examines the workings of the censorship board and how it formed and deformed ideas about what literature is or should be.

Rachel Matteau interviewed people who read banned material clandestinely under apartheid and discussed how and where they hid books and how they shared them.

Recently, Caroline Davis and David Johnson’s The Book in Africa: Critical Debates decolonises older, colonially shaped accounts of books and reading in Africa. These focus mainly on Christian mission presses while overlooking the pre-colonial Muslim traditions of manuscript book production.

Reading culture revisited

The figure of the “bookaneer” looks back to one particular mode of passionate political reading under apartheid – in trade unions, university residences, community groups, debating and discussion groups, people read material deeply, closely and carefully. Much of this material was banned and was passed clandestinely from hand to hand. Dog-eared photocopies circulated among trusted associates.

In these clandestine settings, books became common property. They resembled the samizdat or self-published literature in the Soviet Union, a widespread system of underground publishing generally produced on typewriters with carbon paper and passed from hand to hand.

In such contexts of oppression, appropriating books for political ends made sense. This attitude was widespread in radical circles across the world. The famous US anarchist Abbie Hoffman, active in the 1960 and 1970s, produced a volume entitled Steal this Book.

Like readers under apartheid, present-day bookaneers are grappling with pressing political issues. As the Rhodes Must Fall campaign demonstrated, these issues have a strong Black Consciousness element and address themes of psychological liberation and experiential questions of confronting white domination.

The “kidnapped” writers – Fanon, Biko and Mbembe – deal with the residues of colonial and apartheid violence through psychic questions of the self. These books speak to a new generation in existential and psychic idioms that resonate with the struggles of the present.

In keeping with radical political cultures across the world, readers have turned these books into common property. They have created a particular reading subculture in South Africa that joins a long legacy of inventive and insouciant modes of reading.

Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at University of the Witwatersrand.This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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Portrait of a Remarkable Novelist at Work: Rustum Kozain Reviews David Attwell’s JM Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face To Face With Time

By Rustum Kozain for the Sunday Times

David AttwellJM Coetzee and the Life of WritingJ.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face to Face with Time
David Attwell (Jacana)

Following the sale of a large archive of JM Coetzee’s papers to the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas (Austin) a few years ago, there is little surprise that a book exploring the symbiosis between the life and writing of the author has appeared. And there is little surprise that the critic to do so should be David Attwell.

Attwell has been at the forefront of “Coetzee Studies” ever since the publication of Doubling the Point in 1992, which he edited. More than being the collator and editor of the collection of Coetzee essays, Attwell also interviewed Coetzee for the book, and his interviews revealed a surprising rapport between him and Coetzee, the novelist by then already known to be a reticent interviewee.

Attwell, then, in a sense, is the best-placed to be first to delve into the biographical intimacies behind an oeuvre of fiction that has often been misread as impersonal, even soulless. But this new book is not for the socially prurient: while it may contain interesting biographical details, its purpose is not literary gossip. Neither is it, as Attwell himself disclaims, an “intellectual biography”. Attwell is more interested in the “creative processes and sources, [the] oddities and victories” underlying Coetzee’s fiction. He is interested in “the remarkable ways in which [Coetzee’s writing] transforms its often quite ordinary materials into unforgettable fiction”.

The book is reconstructed portrait of a remarkable novelist at work, from his first novel, Dusklands (1974), to his most recent, The Childhood of Jesus (2013). The material at hand is rich – Coetzee is a writer of meticulous habit. There are multiple drafts of novels (sometimes more than 15, all numbered and collated) and one can trace how a novel evolves and mutates into final form. Coetzee’s commentary on his drafts, editing notes, reading notes – all these add to the picture.

Naturally, Attwell’s book provides a fascinating account, novel to novel, from originating idea through imaginative dead-ends, of Coetzee’s fiction. It reveals a novelist determined and driven, who knows, properly, what it means to confront an issue and not shy away from more deeply held and disturbing aspects of humanity. Throughout, Attwell also considers wider social issues that affect the writer and by extension his fiction: is Coetzee an Afrikaner, why the Karoo, how to infect English syntax with Afrikaans? The book can be considered a quasi-compendium, driving one to a reconsideration of a favourite novel or a re-reading of lesser favourites.

But the book should not be considered in dusty academic terms – it is not a catalogue of footnotes or a jargon-filled exercise. And neither should fans worry that exploding the seam between the life and fictions of Coetzee might detract from the fiction’s magical enigmas. As with the rapport between him and Coetzee in the early interviews of Doubling the Point, Attwell’s writing is finely attuned to his subject matter, making for a careful consideration of the life and work of a careful novelist.

Follow Kozain on Twitter @Grondwerk

Book details

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An Inappropriate Text for an Appropriate Evening – Read Antjie Krog’s Keynote Address from the 2015 Sunday Times Literary Awards

Antjie Krog

Poet, author and activist Antjie Krog delivered the keynote address at the 2015 Sunday Times Literary Awards on Saturday. She made a call for white South Africans to perform an act of radical outreach, similar to that of Nelson Mandela 20 years ago when he donned Francois Pienaar’s jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Krog made various statements which drew spirited reactions from the crowd – some not as positive as others (scroll to the end to see the reaction on Twitter).

Read her speech in full, and see the images Krog used to illustrate her point:

* * * * * * * *

Inappropriate Text for an Appropriate Evening

Allow me tonight to open with an incident from Country of my Skull.

During a public meeting with the then Minister of Finance he was asked whether there was a post-Truth and Reconciliation plan to get from whites what was needed to repair the past? He answered: even if we take everything whites have, it will never make up for what they did. What we need, to address inequality is a 6% growth rate.

This was of course the truth. Nothing could ever repair the damage of three centuries. But in another way it was also a mark of a general unwillingness by all of us to do some complex thinking.

With the wisdom of hindsight one wishes there had been a Rhodes Must Fall group to ignite a proper conversation on the consequences of not changing our world. What was it that black people desired after apartheid? What were the outlines of their dreams? Also, what was the biggest challenge: establishing racial equality and then attending poverty? Or a drive to reduce poverty through various mechanisms of which a crucial one was race.

It would have been important for whites then to have heard the conditions under which they were to be accommodated or rejected: we don’t want whites here; or: we want whites, but only poor ones – or only rich ones; or: we want whites willingly to take responsibility for everything that fails; or: for three centuries the country has invested its best and most powerful resources in you, so for three generations you will use your accumulated skills, knowledge and resources to eradicate for ever the Verwoerd education system, or mend the distorted transport system, or build an appropriate health system; or perhaps even: every white should report to a township school and assist with rendering services from cleaning toilets and safeguarding buildings and people, to teaching and marking as and when necessary.

However problematic or unpractical these suggestions might sound, they would have focused all of our minds on what kind of society we wanted to live in. And what we were willing to pay for it.

I mean, whatever was negotiated and understood, misunderstood or taken for granted – was there anybody in South Africa who thought that the country materially had to stay as it was with all the resources remaining in specific areas and classes? Remember Yeats:

Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot.
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again:
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

How many Afrikaners assumed that they could raise their children and grandchildren in a ghetto of ethnic privilege and language, avoiding everything that had to do with the continent they so blithely named themselves after? Did whites really think that setting matters right stopped at charity, NGOs, philanthropy, paying domestic workers more than a living wage and allowing a black middle class to grow?

At this post-Marikana stage it is perhaps time to speak frankly – to engage in brutal public conversations. It is especially time for anger. I respect anger. Anger is often where important change begins. Not the anger of destruction, but the anger which brings clarity of direction and resolute lucidity. When someone in anger says: “We must kill the whites … ” it is important to hear real responses: and then what? Or: how? OR more importantly: on what principle? This is not to play around irresponsibly with fears, rage and desires, but to bring into the open what is being murmured under angry breaths, what festers in horrific killings, emotional repression and violent neglect of human dignity. It is time to discuss and argue these things. How do we get to radical change? How will the means influence the outcome? If there are race-killings, expropriations, squattings as a consequence of unrelieved poverty and dashed expectations of change – what will happen? And who will care enough to start dealing with the root causes and wounds?

Recently a comprehensive research project was done on racism on campuses. An interesting element was that apparently all the students, irrespective of colour, expressed a desire to move: ‘beyond race’. Yet, the moment they themselves begin to talk about their circumstances and dreams, they fell back into old apartheid categories. Thus one of the conclusions is that we are not enabling students to move beyond the racial lexicon of apartheid. The irony, as Neville Alexander noted: is that those born free from racial classification are now forced by government practice to classify themselves when filling in forms as white, coloured, black or Indian.

In the absence of a plan to get what is needed from whites and the absence of new content to the pronoun ‘us’, a question: what would most South Africans older than thirty two, respond, when asked to name a visual image which brought home like a thunderbolt the profound moment of radical change?


Mandela in a Springbok jersey / Mandela taking the national salute:

Mandela Wearing a Springbok Jersey



Mandela with Mbeki and de Klerk:

Reconciliation in Action

But as they ask in IQ tests: what should the next frame look like?

Who Will Fill the Empty Frame?

In the first two images, outreach is from the black side.

Personally I want an image showing whites in an equally radical act of outreach. After the TRC there was intense hope for a White Prince of Reconciliation: a powerful not-guilty white man to say: on behalf of all whites, I am sorry, we want to build with you a new society of sharing, tell us what to do. That never happened. The Home For All campaign, eliciting tons of scorn and ridicule, barely raised eight hundred signatures, so after twenty years the third frame is still empty.

And yet, many whites are doing things. Enormous things. Small things. Wonderful things. (So do black people, but the frame needs the input from whites!) Many people, old and young, are being assisted by whites, many lives are being saved, talents nurtured and sponsored, and every person assisted is a person assisted, whatever the motives or the affluence from which it originated. So why don’t whites have an image to put in here? Is it just bad PR or is it that charity and aid often immobilise efforts of radical change while simultaneously allowing government to blissfully ignore the poor.

But whites working shoulder to shoulder with blacks, as equals, as partners, as fellow citizens, could present an image of a sweeping paradigm shift able radically to change the South African landscape for the good. But what should blacks and whites be doing to psychologically complete the visual frame series inspirationally? Let’s have phone-ins with plans and a referendum choosing among them.

Because what was promised in 1994, didn’t happen. A systemic fault line prevented the momentous emblematic political transformation from being complemented by an equally momentous emblematic socioeconomic transformation. Was everybody so caught up in placating the interests of capital that we assumed that it was enough that affirmative action was meant for those already employed and BEE for those mixing with the elite? How on earth could we think this was ethically correct? Or that it will hold?

In one’s frustration one is pushed to imagine whether the empty frame calls for a two year Radical Reconstruction Period in which all energy, all resources and every South African is used in order to achieve massive structural change. The image that comes to mind is of a particular kind of scrambled egg, one made after the yolk and white has been fried hard. Everything is put on hold, salary increases, price increases, even the constitution is used to take us towards systemic changes, until the collective spatula has cut the whole lot to pieces for a proper, fairer mix.

Will that do the job? First a step back. Ten years ago I felt that all land should be nationalised. Then one could say: the land truly belongs to all the South African people, all of us; those on farms merely have leasehold. But with the current set of leaders it seems problematic to execute any plan demanding of clear ethical thinking, selfless motivation and moral example.

Every week there are problematic responses to headline issues. One remarkable example is the open letter of President Zuma to Mozambican writer Mia Couto saying that the government is driving a campaign to tell South Africans not to kill other Africans as they assisted the ANC in their struggle against apartheid. Does the President notice that he implies that those who did NOT actively support the ANC in exile – the Somalians, the Moroccans, the PAC-supporting Zimbabweans – are fair game?

Listening to ANC politicians and spokespersons is often like entering an ethical desert where all life is centred on riches that will dawn like a lottery win on individuals doing the protect Zuma-tapdance. The poor suddenly have to become entrepreneurs. The rhetoric of freedom and justice has evaporated into increasingly shabby talk about a developmental state, while the examples of leaders suggest freedom from apartheid means freedom to shop and especially freedom not to be accountable.

When last did we hear anybody talk about a just society, a better life for everybody, suggesting that enough was a feast? In strikes and wage bargaining one seldom hears the words: justice, fairness, empathy. And why would we – being bombarded by the vulgar excesses of celebrity life and vainglorious luxury on television, billboards and magazines only acknowledging the right to consume?

To return to the Rhodes Must Fall group: it has surely done well to create awareness of the need to face issues; of the kind of activism that understands the importance of thinking as a form of collective activity. But precisely for that reason, and because collectivity can humanise a space, it is important to press for clarity of thought to educate us all. Are they teaching us that to reject Rhodes solely on grounds of his racism is implicitly to endorse the inequality, exploitation and state violence of the present?

Fanon warned decades ago how quickly liberation can degenerate when it lacks humanist content. Movements without it, fall into undemocratic and brutal ways especially when a ruling party, masked by the mixed rhetoric of Africanism, Ubuntu and possessive individualism, begins to focus only on sectional and ethnic interests. He suggested that in order not to create new hierarchies, we should establish ‘relations of comradeship, of solidarity, of love, relations which prefigure the sort of society we struggle for.’

But let us return to the seemingly impossible image of the hard fried egg that needs to be scrambled.

How to Scramble a Fried Egg?

The essence of colonialism is space – the expropriation and personal consuming of space. The colonial and apartheid worlds were worlds divided and dividing. Therefore decolonisation must mean the making whole, the recreation, reappropriation and reconfiguration of space. It means more than simply eradicating the lines of force that keep zones apart; it requires fundamental social and economic change.

For example: during this suggested two year Radical Reconstruction Period all suburbs and farms are given two years of free range to scramble themselves. Every house in the suburbs should be confronted by the fact of shackness, every park filled with squatters, every street with vendors. Every home and land owner, every suburb, every farm free to negotiate a living space with whomever moves in.

Liberation remains incomplete when the colonial or apartheid city is not reorganised, but simply taken over. A ban should be put on changing the name of any town/street/space before that community has fundamentally, practically and collectively prioritised the poor. Those who finish their studies, and those who have retired, should work for a year in the town or city of their birth to remove backlogs and shortages in courts, hospitals, schools, administrative offices, infrastructure support, corruption investigations, child care etc. For no salary. The town will provide food and a place to sleep.

We are facing a disaster in the absence of a crucial social unifying vision of a humane society. The times are pitiless. No vision is coming to save us. Let us dirty our hands with the tactics of the kind of communality needed to create openings into which new rhythms, new language and new modes of being human can be poured.

"Us" - An illustration of South Africans


We did it once. We surprised ourselves in doing what was not thought possible (a political transformation despite our historical and current political context). The times are demanding from us to do so again: bringing about the impossible: an economic transformation despite a neoliberal context and rotten leadership. And in order to pull it off, we need to have all the conversations, deferred from 1994, with as much courageous imagination, new vocabulary and wild dreams as possible.

and so this us comes
heartstained and upwards
the us comes
with cataclysmic breath
in the mouthclose sound of birds
with care we break the frames

and our bodies
begin to
read: those with less power

our tongues begin to feel: the destitute

our neck hairs rise:
when on flattened cartons a fallen man turns over

our ribs
slip: at the maiming of a trampled body’s light

this us are the beggars
this us are the poor
this us live intact and with honour

unwon we must become
with wrists that bravely pile up stars

* * * * * * * *

Related stories:

Read some tweets sent out during Krog’s speech:.


* * * * * * * *


Country of My SkullA Change of TongueAntjie Krog and the Post-Apartheid Public SphereMede-weteSynapseAntjie Krog
Skinned\'n Ander tongvalDie sterre sê tsauMet Woorde Soos Met KerseBody BereftVerweerskrifFynbos Fairies


View some photos from the event:


Book details

  • Die sterre sê tsau: /Xam-gedigte van Diä!kwain, Kweiten-ta-//ken, /A!kúnta, /Han#kass’o en //Kabbo edited by Antjie Krog
    EAN: 9780795701740
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Don’t Miss the Launch of Freedom Time by Gary Wilder at WiSER

Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the WorldWiSER, JWTC and CISA would like to invite you to the launch of Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World by Gary Wilder.

Freedom Time takes a look at decolonization from the perspectives of Aimé Césaire (Martinique) and Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) who, beginning in 1945, promoted self-determination without state sovereignty.

The launch will be held on Tuesday, 30 June, in the WiSER Seminar Room on Wits University’s East Campus at 5:30 PM.

Don’t miss out!

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 30 June 2015
  • Time: 5:30 PM
  • Venue: WiSER Seminar Room
    6th Floor
    Richard Ward Building
    East Campus
    Wits University | Map
  • Refreshments: Drinks and snacks will be served

Book Details

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Join Achille Mbembe and Thembinkosi Goniwe for the 2015 Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism at WiSER

The 2015 Session of The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC)The 2015 Session of The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC)

WiSER invites you to the 2015 session of the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC) which is centred around the theme “Bios, Techné and the Manufacture of Happiness”.

The closed welcoming celebrations will take place on Sunday, 28 June, and the series will kick off on Monday, 29 June, at 10:30 AM. Everyone is welcome to attend the public lectures and performances which will take place in the WiSER Seminar Room at the University of the Witwatersrand, unless otherwise indicated.

Throughout the session authors Achille Mbembe, Thembinkosi Goniwe, Catherine Burns, David Theo Goldberg, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen and Ackbar Abbas will present lectures in which they tackle the question of happiness. Mbembe will open proceedings on Monday morning with a presentation on “Happiness in the Age of Animism”.

On the PostcolonySpaceThe MothThe Threat of RaceLight on a HillContemporary Practices


The 2015 session of JWTC will also examine how brain patterns and human behaviour have been altered by social media. Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: From Monday, 29 June, to Wednesday, 8 July, 2015
  • Time: 10:30 AM
  • Venue: WiSER Seminar Room
    6th Floor
    Richard Ward Building,
    East Campus
    Wits University | Map
  • Speakers: Achille Mbembe, Thembinkosi Goniwe, Catherine Burns, David Theo Goldberg, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen and Ackbar Abbas

Book Details

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9 South African Writers to Take Part in 2015 Writing South Africa Now Colloquium at University of Cambridge

Nine South African writers are set to lead conversations and do readings during this weekend’s Writing South Africa Now (WSAN) Conference, an annual colloquium hosted by the University of Cambridge.

This two-day event aims to promote international dialogue on South African culture and literature, and seeks to connect graduates, researchers and academics working in this field.

Representing the South African voice are Malika Ndlovu, Kelwyn Sole, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Lyndall Gordon, Toni Stuart, Denis Hirson, Katharine Kilalea, Rita Barnard and Isobel Dixon.

WSAN is based in the English Faculty of the University of Cambridge. This year they have teamed up with the Southern African Poetry Project (ZAPP) to curate the programme. Many of the writers set to perform and take part in the various panel discussions are based in the UK, with others flying in for the occasion.

Have a look at what will be on offer on 26 and 27 June:

Invisible EarthquakeAbsent TonguesGreen LionDivided LivesIn the Heat of ShadowsOne Eye'd LeighThe Cambridge Companion to Nelson MandelaThe Tempest Prognosticator

Friday 26 June 2015

9:00 Arrival & Registration | 9:30 Welcome | 9:40 Panel 1 | 11:10 Break | 11:30 Reading: Lyndall Gordon and Henrietta Rose-Innes | 12:30 Lunch | 13:30 Panel 2 | 15:00 Break | 15:20 Talk: Rita Barnard | 16:20 Break | 16:30 Panel 3 | 18:00 Break for wine and nibbles | 18:30 Reading and Performance: Denis Hirson, Toni Stuart, Malika Ndlovu | 19:30 Close

Saturday 27 June 2015

9:30 Welcome | 9:40 Panel 4 | 11:10 Break | 11:30 Talk – Kelwyn Sole | 12:30 Lunch | 13:30 Round table– Poetry and Anthologies in SA Now: Denis Hirson, Isobel Dixon, Malika Ndlovu, Toni Stuart | 14:45 Break | 15:15 Poetry reading: Kelwyn Sole, Kate Kilalea, Isobel Dixon | 16:45 Close | 18:30 Dinner at the Punter
Event Details

  • Dates : Friday, 26 June and Saturday, 27 June 2015
  • Time: 6 AM start
  • Venue: University of Cambridge
    Room GR05 of the English Faculty, Sidgwick Site
    9 West Road
    Cambridge| Map
  • Participants: Malika Ndlovu, Kelwyn Sole, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Lyndall Gordon, Toni Stuart, Denis Hirson, Katharine Kilalea, Rita Barnard and Isobel Dixon
  • More information: WSAN

Book details

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Suléne Pilon resenseer Stylboek: Riglyne vir paslik skryf deur Piet du Toit en Wanda Smith

Stylboek: Riglyne vir paslik skryfUitspraak: wortel

Stylboek: Riglyne vir paslik skryf is een so ’n hulpmiddel. Stylboek is in 2003 gepubliseer en het die belang van die styl van ’n dokument uitgelig, bespreek en met uitvoerige voorbeelde toegelig. Sover bekend was dit die eerste gids van dié aard in Afrikaans. Die boodskap was duidelik: Nie net korrekte taalgebruik is belangrik wanneer ’n dokument geskryf word nie – ’n goeie dokument voldoen ook aan al die stylbeginsels.

In die uitgebreide en bygewerkte uitgawe wat onlangs verskyn het, bly die waardevolle bydrae van die eerste uitgawe behoue. Die begrip “styl” word eerstens deeglik gedefinieer en dit word vir die leser duidelik dat styl ’n keuse is wat die teksskrywer moet maak en dat hierdie keuse deur verskeie faktore beïnvloed kan word.


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Fiction Friday: An Excerpt from the First Novel in English By a Black South African, Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi, on the Anniversary of His Death

Sol T Plaatje, journalist, linguist, politician, translator, writer and intellectual, died on this day in 1932, aged just 55. To celebrate his life, read an excerpt from his novel Mhudi – the first novel in English by a black South African.

MhudiSol PlaatjeNative Life in South AfricaLover of His PeopleThe Story of Sol T. Plaatje

Plaatje wrote Mhudi in 1919, although it was only published in 1930. RRR Dhlomo An African Tragedy was published in 1928, making it the first published black South African novel in English, although Mhudi was written first.

Mhudi is set in the 1830s, during a period of conflict between the Ndebele, the Barolong, the Griqua and the Boers, and Plaatje called it: “a love story after the manner of romances; but based on historical facts … with plenty of love, superstition, and imaginations worked in between wars. Just like the style of Rider Haggard when he writes about Zulus.”

But Plaatje was being flippant in this description. Mhudi is deeply political; it explores the origins of segregation and is an implicit attack on the apartheid government’s 1913 Land Act.

Read an excerpt from Mhudi, taken from Chapter 2, “Dark Days”:

Ra-Thaga, in order not to be attacked by wild animals, was won to sleep in the top branches of some large tree, where he would weave a hammock of ramblers and ropes of inner barks, tying it up with twigs. In this manner he spent many nights alone in different woods. This was a wise precaution, for occasionally his sleep and the stillness of the night were disturbed by the awful roar of the kind of beasts, making thunder in the forest. One morning, at the end of another restless night, when the wood pigeons began to address one another in their language, after the dawn of day had caused the whining of the hyenas to cease, the sun rose slowly, and Ra-Thaga, descending from his late solitary nest, commenced the misery of another day. Each of his mornings was but the resumption of his fruitless search for the company of human beings, which is seemed he was never to find in this world. As he dragged his feet through the dewy grass he seems to have no particular destination in view. He wondered how much longer this solitude would last. With a drooping spirit he mused over the gloom of existence and asked himself if he still could speak his own language; or if, supposing he met anyone and was address, he could still understand it.

These thoughts tormented him for the sixtieth time, when he suddenly saw a slender figure running softly towards him. It was clear that the maiden was frightened by something terrible, for she ran unseeingly towards him, and as he arrested her progress the girl stood panting like a hunted fox. It was only after some moments that with a supreme effort she could utter the short disyllable, tau (that is, a lion).

‘Where?’ asked Ra-Thaga.

‘Oh, stranger,’ gasped the girl, recovering her voice, ‘how good of you to appear just when my succession of misfortunes has reached a climax. I almost stumbled over a huge lion just beyond that ridge, not far from here – I am afraid he will hear us if we speak above a whisper. I did not notice the brute at first because his hair looked just like the tops of the autumn grass. He must have been eating something, for straight in front of me I heard a sound like the breaking of a tree. I think he was crushing the leg of a cos – oh, how silly of me to forget that there are no cows in this wilderness. Anyway,’ continued the girl between her gasps, ‘I noticed that in front of me there was, not a tuft of grass, but a living animal feeding on something. So I stepped quietly backward, without turning around, until I was at some distance, and then I turned and ran.’

Ra-Thaga, successfully concealing his own fears, asked, ‘You were not, then, observed by the animal, were you?’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘I believe that he is still devouring his prey.’

Ra-Thaga did not know what to do, for if there were two things he was against meeting, they were a Matabele and a lion. ‘But here is an awkward position,’ he thought, ‘a young woman fleeing to me for protection. What is best to be done?’

His native gallantry urged him to go after the beast; the young woman persisted in following close behind him. Vainly he tried to persuade her to remain where she was, but she was obdurate. ‘Nay,’ she replied, in a loud whisper, ‘I dare not remain alone.’

Ra-Thaga thought he knew what was passing through her mind before she spoke. She added: ‘I have wandered through this lonely wilderness for days and nights, since my people were scattered at Kunana; I have lived on roots and bulbs and wild berries, yearning to meet some human being, and now that I have met you, you cannot leave me again so quickly. In fact, I am not quite certain that you are a man, but if you are a dream, I will stay with you and dream on while the vision lasts; whether you are a man or ghost I have enjoyed the pleasure of a few words with you. I am prepared to see ten other lions with you rather than stay behind of my own free will. Walk on to the lion, I will follow you.’

Ra-Thaga heard this with a shiver. He believed that women were timid creatures, but here was one actually volunteering to guide him to where the lion was, instead of commanding him to take her far away from the man-eater. How he wished he might find it gone! However, he summoned up courage and proceeded, his companion following. At times he felt pleased that she had not obeyed him, for her presence stimulated his bravery. As they proceeded, however, he certainly began to doubt the wisdom of his adventure. ‘In our country,’ he said to himself, ‘lions were usually hunted by large companies of armed men aided by fierce mastiffs, and not by one badly armed man guided by a strange girl.’

Suddenly their extreme peril struck him and, before he had time to ponder it, the maiden touched his should and pointed to what looked like a moving tuft of grass, some fifty yards ahead – it was a black-maned lion.

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19 Pieces of Writing Advice from South Africa’s Literary Greats

Shirley Goodness and MercyChris van Wyk on how to listen:

I always tell writers who want advice to listen. Listen if you are in a taxi; listen to the way people speak, not just to what they say. And reproduce that.

Source: A Quotionary by Jenny Hobbs

Footprints in the QuagMiriam Tlali on the difficulties of writing in South Africa:

You have to remove all the problems that prevent people from sitting down, reading the books, appreciating them and developing their own writing.

Source: Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995

Down Second AvenueEs’kia Mphahlele on imagination:

It was never a problem. In fact, I always had to rein it in. Reining it in is always an act of art. To create art you need to put your imagination together so that it does not run wild when shaping your work.

Source: Selves in Question

July\'s PeopleNadine Gordimer on creation:

The tension between inside and outside – it is out of that that the work comes.

Source: A Quotionary by Jenny Hobbs

Mandela's EgoLewis Nkosi on improving his craft:

I don’t learn very much from critics writing about my work. How I learn from criticism and how I apply it to my work is when I read about the kinds of writing that I am interested in, the people who are impressive to me, and then their weaknesses are sometimes pinpointed. And then I say to myself, ‘Ah, Lewis, you too must try and avoid those pitfalls’.

Source: Lewis Nkosi documentary

To My Children's ChildrenSindiwe Magona on autobiography:

It’s within writing that you are forced to unlock doors that you have closed, to unveil yourself to yourself, to examine things you skim through and gloss over because, as you put them down, they ring a false note.

Source: Selves in Question

The Good StoryJM Coetzee on ambition:

One isn’t, in writing, transforming the world into the world as it should be. That would be too much of a task if one undertook it every time. No, I think that grasping the world as it is, putting it within a certain frame, taming it to a certain extent, that is quite enough of an ambition.

Source: Betapicts on YouTube

Way Back HomeNiq Mhlongo shares his best piece of advice for young writers:

Write as provocatively and as fearlessly as you can. Read more widely.

Source: Decentered

SynapseAntjie Krog on facing a white page:

For poetry the process has to be as tentative as possible, has to avoid any notion of permanence or importance. I write with a pencil, lightly, without really moving, as if it is merely an extension of my skin.

Source: Read SA

Rachel’s BlueZakes Mda on inspiration:

Waiting for inspiration? You will wait forever. Write and write and write again. Inspiration will find you on the way.

Source: Read SA

Strange PilgrimagesAchmat Dangor on being a South African writer:

And I think right now, as a writer, I don’t have any duty to support or criticise anyone. The only duty I have is to be imaginative.

Source: The Ledge

Desert GodWilbur Smith on finding ideas:

Every good idea breeds another good idea.

Source: BBC

Walter and Albertina SisuluElinor Sisulu on discipline:

I have found that the discipline required to write is the same for all genres; regularly engaging in some kind of writing exercise, even writing letters, is important.

Source: African Gender Institute

Tales of the Metric SystemImraan Coovadia on the best material:

Families are our point of entrance into society. They provide a lot of our starting capital as writers.

Source: A Quotionary by Jenny Hobbs

PhilidaAndré Brink shares his best piece of writing advice:

To believe utterly in the story you have to tell.

Source: Writers Write

OctoberZoë Wicomb on the importance of a routine:

To settle on a suitable routine, a time to write, and to consider the routine sacrosanct. If only I followed my own advice throughout …

Source: Aerodrome

Sounds of a Cowhide Drum / Imisindo Yesighubu Sesikhumba SenkomoMbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali on the value of poetry:

For me coming from this environment and the repressive conditions under which I grew up, poetry was a gateway to ‘success’. It provided a way out of morass of misery under a very ruthless system that was designed to destroy all those who opposed it.

Source: HTML Giant

RumoursMongane Wally Serote on being a writer:

There are phases that a writer moves through. Writers are the most unfortunate artists because they grow through speaking loudly in public and everybody remembers what they say.

Source: Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995

The Lion Sleeps TonightRian Malan on the violence of creation:

You have to open the door to creation. The problem is the door only opens once you have bashed your bloodied head against it over and over again.

Source: A Quotionary by Jenny Hobbs

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Must Read: Round-up of Coverage of the Recent #LitApartheid Debate on Decolonising the Literary Landscape

Corina van der Spoel, Thando Mgqolozana, Eusebius McKaiser, Ben Williams and Siphiwo Mahala

Eusebius McKaiser led a panel discussion at Wits recently entitled Decolonising the Literary Landscape, organised by Jacana Media as a follow up to Thando Mgqolozana’s controversial comments about the “white literary system” at the Franschhoek Literary Festival this year. View a round-up of Books LIVE’s coverage of the event.

Authors Mgqolozana and Siphiwo Mahala, as well as Ben Williams, Sunday Times books editor and founder of Books LIVE, and Corina van der Spoel, festival organiser, book facilitator and former manager of Die Boekehuis, were on the panel.

UnimportanceCould I Vote DA?African DelightsWhat is Slavery to Me?Almost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuThe Texture of Shadows

Read all the reports from the debate:


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Listen to the full podcast here:


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See a Twitter timeline of the #LitApartheid hashtag:



Flickr album from the event:


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