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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Read an excerpt from JM Coetzee’s new novel, The Schooldays of Jesus

JM Coetzee

The Schooldays of JesusFor today’s Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from JM Coetzee’s new novel, The Schooldays of Jesus.

Coetzee recently lost out on a chance to win a third Man Booker Prize, when The Schooldays of Jesus was left off the 2016 shortlist.

However, The Bookseller shared excerpts from all the longlisted novels, so you can get a taste of the book there.

The Schooldays of Jesus is a sequel to Coetzee’s 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus, featuring the same characters. Coetzee’s long-time editor Geoff Mulligan said of it: “The Schooldays of Jesus is an intriguing and wonderful novel and we are delighted to be publishing it.”

Read an excerpt:

The Schooldays of Jesus by J M Coetzee (Harvill Secker)

He was expecting Estrella to be bigger. On the map it shows up as a dot of the same size as Novilla. But whereas Novilla was a city, Estrella is no more than a sprawling provincial town set in a countryside of hills and fields and orchards, with a sluggish river meandering through it.

Will a new life be possible in Estrella? In Novilla he had been able to rely on the Office of Relocations to arrange accommodation. Will he and Inés and the boy be able to find a home here? The Office of Relocations is beneficent, it is the very embodiment of beneficence of an impersonal variety; but will its beneficence extend to fugitives from the law?

Juan, the hitchhiker who joined them on the road to Estrella, has suggested that they find work on one of the farms. Farmers always need farmhands, he says. The larger farms even have dormitories for seasonal workers. If it isn’t orange season it is apple season; if it isn’t apple season it is grape season. Estrella and its surrounds are a veritable cornucopia. He can direct them, if they wish, to a farm where friends of his once worked.

He exchanges looks with Inés. Should they follow Juan’s advice? Money is not a consideration, he has plenty of money in his pocket, they could easily stay at a hotel. But if the authorities from Novilla are really pursuing them, then perhaps they would be better off among the nameless transients.

“Yes,’ says Inés. ‘Let us go to this farm. We have been cooped up in the car long enough. Bolívar needs a run.”

“I feel the same way,” says he, Simón. “However, a farm is not a holiday camp. Are you ready, Inés, to spend all day picking fruit under a hot sun?”

Related stories:

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The New Yorker features a new story by Petina Gappah, ‘A Short History of Zaka the Zulu’

Rotten RowThe Book of MemoryAn Elegy for Easterly


Alert! The New Yorker has published a new story by Petina Gappah, from her forthcoming collection Rotten Row.

She is the first Zimbabwean writer to be featured in the publication for fiction.

Gappah won the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award for her acclaimed debut book of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly in 2009. More recently, she was shortlisted for the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award – the world’s richest prize for a single short story – and also became the first Zimbabwean author to be longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, for her novel The Book of Memory.

Her new story, “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu”, is set at the College of Loyola, a Jesuit school in Zimbabwe based on a school Gappah attended. In an interview with The New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, Gappah says the idea came to her about four years ago, when she was invited to give a speech at an old school’s prizegiving.

I had not been back during term time since I left. It struck me then how incredibly young the boys were, even the oldest of them. That realisation inspired me to write a story about the closed and insular world of boarding school, and about the choices that teenagers can make in the arrogant belief that they know everything. I don’t believe in the “write what you know” school of writing; I believe in writing what I can realistically imagine. I love to write across class, across race, across sex and gender, and I wanted badly to put myself in the shoes of those boys. It would have been too easy to write it from the girls’ perspective; I wanted to push myself by imagining another.

Gappah’s new collection of short stories, Rotten Row, will be published by Faber and Faber in the UK in November. The book is named after the street in Harare where the Criminal Division of the Magistrate’s Court is based, and is made up of 20 stories about crime, from different perspectives.

“I also experiment with different approaches to storytelling,” Gappah tells The New Yorker, “I use a court judgment, an autopsy report, and an internet discussion forum, as well as other voices. I love the short story and want to master the form. I love the sentence-by-sentence, word-level attention that the short story demands, and that is its greatest pleasure.”

Read “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu”:

He was always a bit of an odd fish, Zaka the Zulu, but he was the last boy any of us expected to be accused of murder. Not a wit, a sportsman, or a clown, he was not a popular boy at our school, where he wore his school uniform every day of the week, even on Sundays. Of course, we could have admired him for his brains. In the high-achieving hothouse that was the College of Loyola, which won the Secretary’s Bell Award fifteen years in a row, we admired any boy we labelled a razor. Zaka, though, made such a song and dance about his sharpness that you’d have thought he was the only razor in the school.

He became even less popular when he was made head prefect. In a school like Loyola, where the task of keeping everyday order is entrusted to the prefects, being head can bring out the tyrant in even the nicest chap, and Zaka brought to the position an obnoxious self-importance that made him absolutely insufferable. As head prefect, he issued demerits for the slightest offenses, marking down boys who did not wear ties with their khaki shirts at Benediction, making spot checks for perishable goods in our tuck boxes and trunks, sniffing for beer on the breath of every boy who had snuck out to Donhodzo, the rural bottle store in the valley below our school, and, from the strategically placed Prefects’ Room, making forays at unexpected times to see if he could catch anyone smoking outside the library.

Related stories:

Author image courtesy of The New Yorker/Composite by Books LIVE

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Read ‘Cupboards in the Dark’ – a new story by Yewande Omotoso for How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa

Read ‘Cupboards in the Dark’ – a new story by Yewande Omotoso for How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa
nullThe Woman Next Door

This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Yewande Omotoso’s short story “Cupboards in the Dark”, as featured in the new, free to read anthology How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa.

The anthology has been published by Arterial Network and includes articles, poems and works of fiction by writers such as Albie Sachs, Chenjerai Hove, Koleka Putuma, Lauren Beukes, Sylvia Vollenhoven, many more.

The book is described as “a meditation on the artistic health of the continent”.

Yewande Omotoso is a Barbadian-Nigerian who has spent many years in Johannesburg. An architect by day, she is the author of the acclaimed Bom Boy, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the MNet Film Award and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the South African Literary Award for First Time Published Author.

Her most recent novel, The Woman Next Door, was recently released internationally.

Cupboards in the Dark
Yewande Omotoso


Suppress – to inhibit the growth and development of

THEMBI COULD HEAR it. A knock-knock. She thought to get out of bed and put her ear to the wall between her room and her parents. She peeped over the top of her duvet.

The big shape was the cupboard, but in the dark it looked like a ghost, a giant tokoloshe, a monster waiting … one of those things from the horror movie she was not supposed to watch but did anyway.

The dark shape looked as if it could talk, as if it had moving parts and if she stared long enough it would start walking. It was on nights like these that Thembi wished she had a sister, older or younger didn’t matter. There was that sound again. Knock-knock.

She would even be happy with a brother on such nights.

Her parents had told her she was going to have a brother and her mother’s belly grew a bit and then after some time it became small again. And still she had no brother.

Thembi ducked back underneath the duvet, and to really feel invisible she closed her eyes. The noise continued. The reason she wanted someone else in the room with her, someone like her not an adult, was because on nights like these she wanted to be able to talk, get through the darkness and the unnerving knock-knock.

She wanted to be able to say, “That noise again, can you hear?” and “Can you see the tokoloshe?”

There was no one to talk to right away. And talking about what happened at night the next day was not the same. But it was better than nothing so Thembi spoke to her only friend, Esther.

The following day at school, during playtime, Thembi looked for Esther. She wanted to ask her to come to the far-off swings that scared the other children. There was a story that if you sat in those swings – the ones with rust and not nice paint – an evil spirit will enter through your toes, move up your legs and never leave your heart. Thembi didn’t believe in things like that – not during the daytime anyway. Swings could not send spirits up your toes, it was stupid.

with rust and not nice paint – an evil spirit will enter through your toes, move up your legs and never leave your heart. Thembi didn’t believe in things like that – not during the daytime anyway. Swings could not send spirits up your toes, it was stupid.

Cupboards in the dark, though.

Book details

  • How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa
    EAN: 9780992225216
    Read online for free!

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Read an excerpt from the latest edition of Chimurenga’s ChronicThe Corpse Exhibition and older graphic stories

Alert! The latest edition of Chimurenga’s Chronic is now available – both in print and online – and they have kindly shared an excerpt with Books LIVE.

The pan-African quarterly gazette’s new issue is entitled “The Corpse Exhibition and older graphic stories” and explores ideas around African Science Fiction – specifically its ability to tell a story – and graphic storytelling.

“The Corpse Exhibition” includes contributions from authors such as Hussein Nassir Sallih, London Kamwendo, Nikhil Singh, Breeze Yoko, Native Maqari, Catherine Anyango, Thenjiwe Nkosi, Loyiso Mkize, Graeme Arendse, Carsten Höller, Moses März, Mac McGill, Francis Burger, and more.

The Palm-Wine DrinkardSearch Sweet CountryMurambiKwezi

The title story is Sallih’s adaptation of Hassan Blasim’s “Corpse Exhibition” which explores the concept of terrorism in a world “dominated by capital flows”.

Read the Introduction:

The latest issue of Chimurenga’s pan-African quarterly gazette, the Chronic, explores ideas around mythscience, science fiction and graphic storytelling. Like previous editions of the Chronic, this edition is borne out of an urgent need to write our world differently – beyond the dogma of growth and development and the endless stream of future projections released by organisations like the IMF and the World Bank.

In opposition to the idea of the future as progress – a linear march through time – we propose a sense of time is innately human: “it’s time” when everyone gets there.

Science fiction on the continent is always said to be nascent, always on the cusp of emerging. A fact that has little to do with literature produced by writers from the continent and more to do with the bureaucratisation of African literature as a discipline of study.

Admittedly, “African science fiction” is a much contested term and our interest is not in questions around the genre – what African science fiction may or may not be – but in its story telling capacity: its radical ability to imagine new futures and new pasts in the here and now.

Moreover, Africa has a long history of producing comics that have pushed the boundaries of time and space and rewired seemingly redundant technology into new forms, from popular photo comics such as African Film produced by Drum in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana through the 70s and 80s to guerrilla publishing initiatives such as Kinshasa’s Mfumu’Eto and Zebulon Dread’s Hei Voetsek in Cape Town that flourished in the 1990s.

Drawing on this legacy we invited artists to produce graphic adaptations of stories that speak of everyday complexities in the world in which we live, in which we imagine we will live and in which we want to live.

This issue includes the graphic story “Avions de Nuit” by Pumle April. In an article for Chronic, April explains the meaning and symbolism behind the phrase “Avions de Nuit”:

Read the article:

In the Cameroonian imaginary “Avions de nuit” (night planes) are tiny vessels fuelled by the blood of their cargo, that make nightly flights across the Atlantic (or to neighbouring oil economies like Chad, Gabon or Equatorial Guinea – nuff people in Nigeria) carrying passages into slavery. According to news reports they could be as small as an empty tin of sardines or even a box of matches – yet despite their size any one of these planes can carry as many as twenty jumbies and fly out to great distances, with a common goal – to suck dry human beings.

The shell-body that remains would be asked: “who sold you?”

In South Africa thikholoshe extract the souls of innocent victims and transport them to the mythical kingdom of Gwadana, where they are harnessed to ride baboons through the night skies as Isisthunzela, doing the bidding of their masters.

Read an extract from “Avions de Nuit”:

Avions de Nuit by Books LIVE on Scribd

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Making us laugh while it makes us think – The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the English debut from award-winning Moroccan author Fouad Laroui



The Curious Case of Dassoukine's TrousersThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the long-awaited English-language debut from Morocco’s most prominent contemporary writer, Fouad Laroui.

In its original French, The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers won the Prix Gouncourt de Nouvelles, France’s most prestigious literary award, for best short story collection.

In the introduction to the English edition, award-winning Moroccan-American novelist and essayist Laila Lalami says: “Laroui’s prose moves fluidly between languages, between high and low culture, between affecting personal commentary and sharp cultural associations. This constant code-switching is no doubt a testament to a life lived between cultures, and made all the richer for it.

The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is a comic book, occasionally even a farce. [...] But beneath the humour is Laroui’s constant concern with power and displacement. His prose is delightfully energetic, filled with double entendres, and he is not afraid to experiment with syntactic structures, as he does in the story ‘Dislocation’.

“In its exploration of culture, identity and religious dogma, Dassoukine consistently makes us laugh while it makes us think. Laroui turns his appraising gaze on the foibles and foolishness of his characters – with irreverence, but never without tenderness.”

Laroui has published over 20 novels and collections of short stories, poetry, and essays, and teaches econometrics and environmental science at the University of Amsterdam. He lives between Amsterdam, Paris, and Casablanca.

The English edition of The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is published by Deep Vellum, who published Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Etisalat Prize-winning Tram 83.

Read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, courtesy of Words Without Borders:

* * * * *

“Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism,” sighs Dassoukine, staring into the distance.

I don’t respond because this phrase seems like a prologue – and in the face of a prologue, what can you do but await what follows, resigned. My commensal examines his mug of beer suspiciously, even though we are, after all, in the country that saw the birth of this pretty blonde, sometimes brunette, child—in an abbey, I’m told. The server eyes us. In this superb spot situated on the Grand-Place of Brussels, opposite the Maison du Cygne, we form a trio hanging on this thesis: “Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism.” This incipit is still floating in the air when Dassoukine decides to elaborate.

“What just happened to me, in any case, exceeds all bounds.”

I restrain myself from adding: “And when boundaries are crossed …”

He begins:

“So, I set out yesterday from Morocco on a very delicate mission. You know the grain harvest is off to a bad start in our country: it has rained, but not a lot. We are in desperate need of flour, but where to find it? Ukraine is in flames, the Russians cling tightly to their crops, it’s a long way to Australia. There’s only one solution: Europe. The government sends me to buy flour from Brussels. They’ve entrusted this mission to me. The country’s future is at risk. At the airport, in Rabat, they’re all on the tarmac, the ministers standing straight as yews, to bid me bon voyage as if their fate depended on little old me. Well, little … I’m taller than all of them by a head. The prime minister shakes my hand while the airplane engines roar and my eyes blur:

“‘—Get the best price, my boy, the best price! The budget of the state depends on your negotiating skills.’

“He nearly pulled my ear, as if to say, ‘the homeland is counting on you, grenadier.’ I board the plane and set sail for the haystacks. On the Place Jourdan in Brussels, I get a room in the hotel where high-flying diplomats normally stay. Check-in, shower, quick glance at the TV – the world still exists – I’ll spare you the details. I go down to have a drink at the bar. Surprise! While I’ve come to the land of Tintin to buy wheat, suddenly I find myself on the first floor at a soirée whose theme is – adjusting our glasses and leaning in to look at the placard – ‘the promotion of Alsatian wine and cuisine.’ Curious. I had thought the gastronomy on the borders of the Rhine could stand up for itself – didn’t the Maginot Line used to be there? But anyway … I mingle among the guests. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and no one seems to notice this tall freeloading foreigner who tomorrow will be buying twenty million pounds of wheat. No one … except for two gentlemen.”

“Two gentlemen?”

“Yes, one plus one.”

“You pronounce the ‘t’ when you say it?”

Dassoukine looks at me, dumbstruck.

“I’m telling you about the fiasco of the century and the only thing you’re worried about is whether you say ‘two gentlemen’ or ‘two gennelmen’?”


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Read Lidudumalingani’s 2016 Caine Prize-winning story “Memories We Lost”

Read Lidudumalingani's 2016 Caine Prize-winning story - and listen to him read it


This Fiction Friday, celebrate South African writer Lidudumalingani’s recent Caine Prize victory by reading his winning story, “Memories We Lost”.

The piece was originally published in the 2015 Short Sharp Stories anthology Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You, when it was described by Diane Awerbuck as “a terrifying examination of mental illness based on the writer’s real-life familial experiences”.

At the prize announcement, Chair of Judges Jarrett-Macauley said the story “explores a difficult subject – how traditional beliefs in a rural community are used to tackle schizophrenia”.

“This is a troubling piece,” she continued, “depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape. Multi-layered, and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.”

Tseliso Monaheng gives a beautiful reading of the story, available to listen to on Soundcloud:


Don’t miss Lidudumalingani in Johannesburg for an iSwareyi at the end of July.

Without further ado, read an excerpt from “Memories We Lost”:

There was never a forewarning that this thing was coming.

It came out of nowhere, as ghosts do, and it would disappear as it had come. Every time it left, I stretched my arms out in all directions, mumbled two short prayers, one to God and another to the ancestors, and then waited on my terrified sister to embrace me.

The embraces, I remember, were always tight and long, as if she hoped the moment would last forever.

Every time this thing took her, she returned altered, unrecognisable, as if two people were trapped inside her, both fighting to get out, but not before tearing each other into pieces. The first thing that this thing took from her, from us, was speech, and then it took our memories.

She began speaking in a language that was unfamiliar, her words trembling as if trying to relay unthinkable revelations from the gods. The memories faded one after the other until our past was a blur.

Some of the memories that have remained with me are of her screaming and running away from home. I remember when she ran out to the fields in the middle of the night, screaming, first waking my mother and me and then abducting the entire village from their sleep. Men and boys emerged from their houses carrying their knobkerries as if out to hunt an animal. Women and children stayed behind, frightened children clutching their mother’s nightgowns. The men and boys, disorientated and peeved, shuffled in the dark and split into small groups as instructed by a man who at the absence of a clear plan crowned himself a leader. Those with torches flicked them on and pushed back the darkness. Some took candles; they squeezed their bodies close and wrapped blankets around themselves in an attempt to block the wind, but all their matches extinguished before they could light a single candle.

Those without torches or candles walked on even though the next step in such darkness was possibly a plunge down a cliff. This was unlikely, it should be said, as most of them were born in the village, grew up there, got married there, had used that very same field as their toilet for all their lives, and had had in overlapping periods only left the village when they went to work for the white man in large cities.

They had a blueprint of the village in their minds; its walking paths, its indentations, its rivers, its mountains, its holes where ghosts lived were imprinted in their blood.

Hours later, the first small group of men and boys, and then another and another, emerged from the darkness. They did not find her. They had looked everywhere, at least they had claimed. They were worried about not finding my sister or annoyed at being woken in the middle of the night – I could not tell. Morphed into defeated men, their faces drooped to the floor, and their bodies slouched as if they had carried a heavy load. Each group was not aware of the other groups’ whereabouts.

They did not even know if the other groups still existed or if the night had swallowed them. They had last seen them when they wished them luck when they split up. They had heard them yell my sister’s name, in the dark, before going silent.

She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not respond to the calls.

Each group chanted with great terror. With each group that emerged, I hoped that it would chant something else, but nothing changed; the chant was, as if it had been rehearsed for a long time, repeated the same each time, tearing my heart apart.

She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not respond to our screams.

The chant went on until all groups had returned.

Mother, a woman of tall build and wide hips, only returned home when the sun was way up in the sky the next day, carrying my sister on her back.

She would scream in intervals as if to taunt me, my mother said.

Related stories:

Incredible JourneyLusaka Punk and Other StoriesThe Gonjon Pin and Other Stories10 Years of the Caine Prize for African WritingA Memory This Size and Other StoriesThe Caine Prize Anthology 2009: Work in Progress and Other Stories


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Images courtesy of The Caine Prize

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Long Story Short’s first African language podcast – Presley Chweneyagae reads Sabata-Mpho Mokae’s Ga Ke Modisa

Ga Ke ModisaThe Story of Sol T. Plaatje

The Long Story Short initiative, launched by arts and culture entrepreneur Kgauhelo Dube, has reached yet another literary milestone – their first podcast in an African language!

In this podcast, well-known actor Presley Chweneyagae of Tsotsi fame reads an extract from Sabata-Mpho Mokae’s Setswana novel Ga Ke Modisa. In 2013, Mokae’s novel won an M-Net Literary Award in the African languages and film categories.

Listen to the reading, which was recorded earlier this year at the inaugural Rutanang Book Fair in Tlokwe, North West Province. At the time, Dube exclaimed: “We are also very excited as the talented performer Presley Chweneyagae will be reading the first Setswana story in the Long Story Short series!”

Watch the video:

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Read an excerpt from Binyavanga Wainaina’s new short story, “Alien Taste”

Kwani?One Day I Will Write About This PlaceHow to Write About Africa

“There are times that even Graham believes the story he has peddled for so many years, about how he came to be gay.”

This Fiction Friday, dip into “Alien Taste”, a new short story on Brittle Paper by acclaimed author Binyavanga Wainaina.

The story starts with the protagonist thinking back on the time he first realised he was gay. Fifteen-year-old Graham drinks beer and has had sex with an older woman (but isn’t convinced that he liked either events).

“He assumed that sex was like beer—that soon it would create an unquestioning language in him, and he could lose himself in its subtleties.”

On the day he decides to smoke in public for the first time, Graham meets a man named Fred, a big Irishman with a deep, careless voice.

Read the excerpt:

There are times that even Graham believes the story he has peddled for so many years, about how he came to be gay. That he had always known; that he used to dress up in his mother; that he had been riveted by the biceps of Mohammed Ali, the anger of those black panthers on television; that he had played the kerfuffle game in public school; that the old gay friends of his mother, who had hosted him when she was in rehab, or consulting her guru in Lucknow, had made it easy to see possibilities in this world. These things are all true, but only small accessories to the main event.

But the main event, as seen by him now, is also untruthful: it was not as clear a sexual selection as he prefers to imagine, and he knows this enough not to share this story– it could well be that he was always gay, and that he would have come to it in one way or another, despite his self-protests to the contrary. But the unambiguous epiphany that the first gay fuck gave him marked not his sexuality, but his approach to life itself, it was his Woodstock, his civil rights movement. And inside himself, he remains unconvinced of his visceral homosexuality, believes that he has willfully created himself.

Related stories:


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Image courtesy of Brittle Paper and Department of Arts and Culture

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The campaign to stop Afrikaans-medium lessons: Excerpt from Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt

Year of Fire, Year of AshTo commemorate the 40th year anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings, HSRC Press has shared an excerpt from Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt – Roots of a Revolution? by Baruch Hirson.

Some 35 years after its original publication, but never previously available in South Africa, Year of Fire, Year of Ash still stands as one of the leading accounts of the 1976-77 Soweto Revolt, one of the most significant acts of resistance in the history of the anti-apartheid movement.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 10. The Soweto Revolt: June 1976:

The Campaign to Stop Afrikaans-medium Lessons

The instructions issued from the office of the Minister of Bantu Education that half the subjects taught in Standard 5 and in the first form be in Afrikaans was immediately opposed by parents, teachers and pupils. This opposition grew during the closing months of 1975, and by early 1976 there were demonstrations in some schools against the introduction of lessons in Afrikaans. As the protests increased, school after school, at least in the Soweto region, joined forces and eventually marched together in the demonstration of 16 June that sparked off the Revolt.

The widespread opposition to the new regulation, which brought together conservatives and radicals, teachers and taught, indicated that the many strands of opposition – based on very different premises – were uniting against something more than an instruction over language. In 1976 the united stand against Afrikaans was only the external manifestation of the deep resentment inside the townships against the entire administration. Moreover, the language predominantly used by police, prison warders, pass-office officials, township administrators and, indeed, the entire bureaucracy, was Afrikaans.

There were reasons for opposing Afrikaans, and there were reasons for preferring English. From the point of view of the educationalist, a switch to instruction in Afrikaans would be disastrous. Time and again both teachers and pupils stressed the fact that their education was inferior to that of the whites. The view of a young African, reported in the Natal Mercury in February 1975, was not atypical: ‘The education given to Africans is so low that a Junior Certificate [that is, third form pass] with us is equivalent to a standard 6 in the other racial groups.’6 There were no easy solutions to the problem and little chance of improvement in a system which was designed to fit youth for a subservient position, economically, socially and politically. Yet it was perceived that education conducted in Afrikaans would lead to a definite deterioration in standards. African teachers had received instruction almost exclusively in English, and many were barely able to converse in Afrikaans. They could not possibly have conducted a course of instruction in that language, and it was inconceivable that they could ever master the technical language required for the classroom in a language they did not speak – more especially for arithmetic or mathematics.

The secretary of the African Teachers Association of South Africa (ATASA) stated the teachers’ case in measured terms:

To say that the Blacks are opposed to the study of Afrikaans is a gross understatement … In strict terms what we oppose now is the manner in which this is being done without regard to the interests of the children concerned. And if this trend continues without being checked then the education of the Black child will be seriously threatened …

Parents and their children and, undoubtedly, many teachers objected to the new regulations for a number of reasons which included the widely held contentions that English was the main language of industry and commerce, and was essential for any youth who wanted to find a place inside the economy of South Africa; it was an international language and the medium through which contact could be maintained with the rest of Africa; and it was the one lingua franca which bound blacks, at least in the urban areas, together.

For the school pupils, or at least for that section which sought to organise opposition to the system of Bantu Education, the language issue assumed importance because it bound together pupils in the primary and the secondary schools on a single issue and offered a theme around which a campaign could be built.

The first vocal protests seem to have come from the School Boards in Soweto. These were bodies set up under the Bantu Education Act to
administer Community Schools, and were considered by all anti-government groups to be instruments of the Department of Bantu Education. Nonetheless, the first recorded opposition came from the Meadowlands Tswana School Board early in 1976. The Board issued a circular, under the names of Abner Letlape and Joseph Peele, countermanding the instruction that Afrikaans be used as a medium of instruction in the schools. The two men were dismissed and the dispute, between School Boards and parents and the Department, was openly acknowledged.

Active student opposition seems to have commenced with an altercation between third form pupils of the Thomas Mofolo Secondary School and their principal over the introduction of Afrikaans on 24 February 1976. Motapanyane, recalling the confrontation in 1977, stated:

As early as March 1976, Thomas Mofolo was the first school to have Afrikaans imposed on it, and immediately there was a student protest. In March 1976, the principal called in the police to cool the students and force them to accept Afrikaans. Some students from my school, Naledi High School, went there to investigate their problems. We also visited schools in Meadowlands. We found that these students also felt bitter about what the government was doing. They immediately stopped attending classes because they felt as we did that what was needed was a positive reaction.

The parents’ committee then intervened and approached the school inspectors. But they were rebuffed. Motapanyane continued his account:

The Naledi High SASM branch also went to Orlando West Junior Secondary … The students there agreed with us and started destroying their books and refused to attend classes. And this was the first effective protest started in Soweto … because the students there were quite clear about what they wanted. Despite the threat by the Bantu Education inspector that the schools would be closed … they remained very firm … We went on to other schools … By May 1976, the protest actions were quite general in many schools.

By now a large number of schools in Soweto were in an uproar. Normal lessons were replaced by debates on current affairs or on the shape of things to come. Essays were attempted on the shape of South Africa twenty-five years hence. Teachers joined pupils in these discussions and there were few signs of the supposed age gap between the generations. The students discussed the US, the role of the Black Power movement and Martin Luther King (a much-admired figure). They spoke of orderly change in the country leading eventually to majority rule and there was, it appears, little talk of revolutionary activity. Some schools were more aware politically than others, and the extent to which such discussions took place varied from school to school. Naledi and Orlando West (amongst others) were developing a very conscious student leadership and were to provide many of the leaders in the months to come.

Young men and women were drawn into the vortex of politics and learnt, within the space of weeks, what might otherwise have remained outside their experience. Daniel Sechaba Montsitsi, fourth president of SASM, told the World in an interview on 27 February 1977 that, until he joined SASM, he knew nothing of the ANC or the PAC. Thousands of other could undoubtedly have made similar remarks.

By May 17, 1 600 pupils had withdrawn from Orlando West Junior Secondary School12 and over 500 pupils at the Phefeni Junior Secondary School refused to attend classes and stoned the principal’s office. The following day two further schools closed and the children congregated in the school grounds, playing and skipping, while teachers stood by unwilling to interfere.

At this stage there was no clear direction from any organisation; children left the classrooms and in many cases drifted back. None of them, however, took any heed of threats – either of expulsion or that schools would be closed down and teachers transferred.

The first overt violence was reported on 27 May, when a teacher of Afrikaans at Pimville Higher Primary School was stabbed with a screwdriver. The police who arrived to arrest the offending pupil were stoned. The stonings were henceforth a regular feature of the violence that was evident everywhere. On 5 June, pupils at the Belle Higher Primary School stoned children who had returned to classes during an apparent lull in the boycotts.

Motopanyane adds from his own recollections:

Early in June the police sent their men to collect one of our colleagues … They arrested one student but he was later released. Then on the 8th they came again. Hey, it was unfortunate for them to be seen by the students. They were beaten and their car was burnt. On that day they were coming to arrest our local secretary of SASM at our school … in connection with the student protests …

Thereafter, said Motopanyane, the students informed the staff that they would not write the half-yearly examination. On 13 June, the Naledi branch of SASM called a meeting to discuss the entire issue. Between 300 and 400 students were present and they decided on a mass demonstration. An Action Committee of SASM, composed of two delegates from each school in Soweto, was placed in charge of the demonstration, and it was this body, renamed the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) after 16 June, that henceforth assumed the leadership of many of the events of 1976.

Tebello Motopanyane was the first chairman of the Action Committee and was secretary general of SASM. Motopanyane also stated that the demonstration, planned for 16 June, was to be peaceful – but that if the police used violence they were resolved to defend themselves and, if possible, to retaliate.

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Excerpt from Soweto Burning: A Family’s Journey to the 1976 Soweto Riots by Don Emby

Soweto BurningJune 16, 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, which took place in 1976.

To commemorate this important date, Donald Emby has shared an excerpt from his book Soweto Burning, part factual history and part fictional novel, published in 2014.

About the book

In the 1950s a routine underground inspection in a goldmine turns into a horrifying experience for a South African mining engineer.

In the 1970s a young woman decides to hike the Fish River Canyon in Namibia; and an American Catholic priest journeys to Soweto to care for abused women and children.

These seemingly unrelated strands form the foundation of a family’s journey to a day that would forever change them – and the country in which they live. Wednesday 16 June, 1976, the day on which highschool pupils in Soweto organised a riot to protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of education, marked a clear watershed for South Africa.

Soweto Burning is part factual history and part fictional novel, portrays the parallel journey of a family and a country to a crescendo that rocked the world. It starkly illustrates how this dramatic turning point, and the policy of racial segregation through apartheid, affected one white family and the country as a whole; how our actions impact on others, and how even one courageous decision can change countless lives.

About the author

Donald Emby was born in 1949 in Durban, South Africa. He studied medicine at Wits University, graduating in 1973. Much of his clinical training was at Baragwanath Hospital. He retired from full time radiological practice in 2012, having contributed more than 20 articles to medical literature; and turned his hand to non-medical writing.

Extracts from Part 2 of Soweto Burning: Wednesdays Children

The first encounter between the protesting school children and the police.

At 8:30 a.m. Col Kleingeld issued revolvers and live ammunition to his men, and led the patrol that set out from the Orlando Police Station. He had 48 policemen in his group, 40 of whom were black. His patrol drove past the still empty Orlando Stadium and encountered the vanguard of the marchers as they approached the old Orlando West Bridge.

The organisers of the march had cautioned the students to remain calm if they encountered police patrols, and not to act in ways that might be construed as contrary to the peaceful nature of the gathering. But with emotions running high, a small group of students started throwing stones at the police. Others rapidly joined in as the pent-up aggression of the marchers rapidly overtook the initial mood of peaceful defiance.

A stand-off ensued, with a distance of approximately 50 metres separating the two sides. Col Kleingeld was hit on the thigh, and the windscreen of his vehicle was shattered by the barrage of stones. In response he threw three teargas canisters at the crowd but far from dispersing them, this only acted to further incense the students. Cupping his hands to his mouth, he shouted to the students to disperse, but without a loudhailer, his voice was lost in the din and commotion.

With the teargas having had no effect in dispersing the marchers, the prudent response from the police would have been to withdraw the patrol, wait for backup and monitor the behaviour of the crowd from a safe distance. It would have been easy to call in helicopters for this purpose. This was, after all, only a throng of school children who carried no firearms, hand grenades or modern armaments of any kind. Their only weapons, other than stones, were sticks and the occasional knife.

Kleingeld, however, refused to back off believing, without any evidence other than the stone-throwing to support his conviction, that the intention of the march was to purposefully damage property and to endanger lives. In retrospect, one could perhaps try to equate the situation at that point with a monumental misunderstanding; a classic scenario of failed communication on a gigantic scale. If there had, at all, been a window of opportunity, however brief, for communication between the police patrol and the students, that window was, as a result of Kleingeld’s intransigence, not only closed but barred and barricaded, its glass panes shattered and boarded up so that any ray of hope had been totally obliterated by the hatred and distrust inherent at the time. In the prevailing climate of polarisation, communication was, if truth be told, never destined to see even a glimmer of the light of day.

During the course of the day, several hundred children sought sanctuary within the Regina Mundi Church.

With the teargas assault failing to drive the crowd of students out of the church, a tense, momentary stand-off followed.

Then the unthinkable happened.

With guns blazing, the police stormed the entrance to the church, firing into the narrow gap between the students’ heads and the top of the doorway. The panicking students in their path tried to flee deeper into the church, but only succeeded in tripping over, and trampling, each other. As the police advanced, their firing became more indiscriminate. Bullets smashed into, and ricocheted off, the marble altar, leaving the once smooth marble cracked and, in places, shattered. Rows of bullet holes tore through the ceiling. Not even the figure of Christ on the Cross in the alcove above the altar was spared from the demonic frenzy of gunfire that defiled the holy sanctuary.

Nicole, ducking down close to the altar, watched in speechless horror as the callous act of disrespect for the time-honoured tradition of the sanctity of the church unfolded before her. Splinters of marble from the altar became imbedded in her arms and legs, although she barely felt the pain or noticed the blood that was running down her limbs.

As she looked across the central aisle towards the mayhem, she saw a student kneeling beside one of the pews, pull a bottle from under his school blazer. It was filled with amber liquid and a piece of white rag protruded from the neck. Realising the insane stupidity of his desperate act, she launched herself at the student. The double risk of further provoking the police, and the disastrous consequences of a fire in the crowded, confined space of the church, were too terrible to contemplate.

But before she could reach him, a second student struck a match and lit the petrol-soaked fuse. As the teenager holding the flaming bottle stood up and raised his arm to throw the fire bomb towards the main entrance where the police were concentrated, she lunged at him, catching hold of his wrist before he could release the missile.

Forcing his arm backwards, she caused him to lose his balance. As he fell, his grip loosened and she wrenched the bottle with its deadly contents from his grasp.

But Nicole’s victory came at a horrifying price. As she jerked the bottle from the student’s hand, part of its flaming content splashed into her face. In an instant her hair was on fire. She turned desperately towards the buckets of water on the marble altar but only one remained standing following the destruction caused by the police gunfire. A sea of frightened children blocked her way. As she struggled to reach the life-saving coolness of the water, searing pain enveloped the right side of her face, and the unmistakable smell of burning flesh permeated her nostrils as the petrol-driven flames scorched her cheek and forehead, devouring her right ear and the hair and flesh of her right eyebrow. Without hesitation she plunged her head into the bucket. After a few seconds, she lifted her head and with water streaming down her face, plunged her burning right hand, still clutching the flaming Molotov cocktail, into the container. When the flames died away she released the bottle, and as she withdrew her hand from the water she was suddenly aware of a new, heart-stopping pain. Looking down, she saw to her horror that the skin from the palm of her hand had remained behind, burnt onto the glass surface of the bottle in the bucket.

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