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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

Why the first South African novel to be banned under apartheid law is also one of the worst ever written

Published in the Sunday Times

Rosa Lyster conducted a forensic-detective-style search for the author of the forgotten book An Act of Immorality, which despite its pseudo-liberal credentials she believes is one of the worst local novels ever written

In 1963, the state tried to take control of South African literature. While other legislation was already being used to censor “undesirable” material, the 1963 Publications and Entertainment Act was the first to make statutory provision for the control of locally produced work, allowing the apartheid state to operate one of the most comprehensive censorship systems in the world. It is difficult to communicate the scale of the endeavour, except to describe it as a kind of mania. The censors tried to read everything, were suspicious of everything, wrote dense and detailed reports on everything, in an attempt to neutralise the perceived threat of literature. They failed, ultimately. But they tried.

The first South African novel to be banned under the new legislation was titled An Act of Immorality, published by Trans-World in 1963, and written under a pseudonym: Des Troye. The book jacket advertises it as “A Startling Expose of Sex Across the Colour Line”, featuring a lawyer who “prosecutes offenders of the Immorality Act by day” and “by Night, under neurotic compulsion … breaks the immorality act.” The author is described as “a Johannesburg Attorney who holds a degree in psychology … He writes under the pen-name ‘Des Troye’ to avoid victimisation and publicity”.



An Act of Immorality sold 40,000 copies on publication, breaking previous records on South African sales by 25,000 units. In late 1963, an American film crew entered South Africa illegally through Swaziland in order to make a film of the book, drawing the attention of the Security Branch. Further scrutiny followed about six months later, when An Act of Immorality was submitted to the censorship board by the Police Commissioner. The novel was quickly banned. Censors’ reports describe it as “an attack on the National Party” and on apartheid. Attached documents reveal that the offices of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and the National Commissioner of Police were engaged in a joint effort to unmask Des Troye, who they had identified only as a white Johannesburg-based lawyer who might be working at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court. It is unclear, in these memos, whether this information has been gathered from analysis of the novel itself, or from other sources of intelligence. What is clear is that they badly wanted to find out who he was.

This is the first half of the story of An Act of Immorality. I have told it to a few people, and the response is always the same: they cannot understand why they haven’t heard it before. It’s such an interesting story, after all: anonymous author, 40,000 copies sold, first South African novel to be banned. The most interesting thing about Act though is that almost no one seems to know anything about it, even the people who should know. I can offer myself as a test case: I am in the process of completing a doctoral thesis about literary censorship during apartheid, and all I knew that the book was that it existed, and that it was long out of print. I had never read it, and I had no idea of the author’s real identity. It’s not just me – in wider discussions of literary censorship, the novel is mentioned only in passing, and only the pseudonym is provided. Peter McDonald, the author of The Literature Police (Oxford University Press) and an authority on the subject of apartheid censorship, didn’t know who Des Troye was, either. I asked him about it over email, shortly after I became interested in the case. He replied saying that he hadn’t been able to get to the bottom of it, and encouraged me to do some more digging.

I started with the book itself, which I read over two days in the National Library, sitting with all the people rustling their newspapers and doing their maths homework. I’m not sure what I expected it to be like. Earnestly liberal, maybe. Probably a bit racy, with some bad sex scenes and an implausible plotline. I didn’t think it was going to be good. I did not anticipate how bad it actually is.

An Act of Immorality is a very bad book. It begins with the sentence “It was afternoon, a warm, sensual afternoon”, and it is all downhill from there. Characters are coarsely drawn; description is weak; plot twists are produced at the last moment; whole characters exist only to illuminate the nobility of the protagonist, Johannes Burger, an obvious stand-in for the author; and dialogue is comically bad. It urgently needs an edit. The tone moves awkwardly between laboured raunchiness and long stretches in which characters have impossibly unlikely conversations about psychology. Remember the psychology thing, because it becomes important later.

Open Act at any page, and you will find something to cringe at. It’s not a sin, though, to be a bad writer. The real problem is that it is also a horrible book. The novel continually expresses views which are repellent, while also presenting its protagonist as an exemplar of liberal humanity. On the one hand, it weighs against the Immorality Act, calling it “an act of death”, and provides countless scenes of the damage the act wrought. On the other, it contains many sentences like these: “It was obvious to all present, even to the most ignorant African onlooker, that here was a man different from other men”; “[e]ven the most illiterate non-white in the gallery could see that Johannes was a man of conviction”; “her voice, poise and attire were extremely sophisticated for a black woman”. The protagonist’s desire for black women is described as a “neurotic compulsion”, and it is strongly implied that the root of this “compulsion” is his sexual abuse at the hands of his mother. It is further intimated that both parents were driven to suicide by their own “neurotic” desire for black men and women. White people’s desire for black people is continually depicted as pathological, the product of a troubled mind, and the root cause of the suicide of at least four white people in the novel. It is literally what kills them. The novel was banned on the grounds that it was “a slashing attack on the Immorality Act and apartheid,” but it could almost have been used as state propaganda.

Reading Act made me understand why the author had been so coy about his identity. I went back to the censor’s report hoping to find something, some clue about who he was. I found it: a typed memo at the back of a file I had looked at probably 20 times before, and yet somehow failed to properly see: “It may be mentioned that the ‘Sunday Express’ of the 29th September contains a report to the effect that an American film company is secretly filming the novel. The department has notified the SAP, and will be advised as to the authenticity of this statement. According to the Press report, the author is Mr Simon Meyerson.”

I can’t think of a more vivid example of the lunacies of the apartheid state than the fact that three state offices, between them, were apparently in doubt as to the identity of someone whose full name, occupation, and photograph had recently been published in a national paper. The secret of Des Troye’s identity was never a secret at all.

Ordering the microfilm from the National Library, I expected to find a small piece somewhere towards the back of the paper. It was on the front page. A screaming headline: SEX BOOK IS FILMED SECRETLY ON RAND: AMERICAN UNIT “SHOOTS” “ACT OF IMMORALITY” The article describes the author in the same terms used on the book jacket and states that “until today, his identity has remained a well-kept secret”. The writer goes on: “I am now able to disclose that the author is Mr Simon Meyerson, a 27-year-old student at the University of the Witwaterstrand”.

The subsequent interview of Meyerson makes for revealing reading. The writer of the article, Gordon Winter (subsequently revealed to be an apartheid spy), quotes Meyerson as insisting that the book was not “political” and instead was an interrogation into “the underlying psychological reasons … why people broke the Act in spite of its disastrous consequences.” In a follow-up report a week later, Meyerson insisted again that his motives were not political. Discussing an upcoming trip to London in order to negotiate world film rights for the novel, Meyerson stated: “I … wish to tell [the Minister of Information] that I do not intend being a bad ambassador for South Africa when I go to London on Thursday.”

It is difficult to say what he was thinking when he gave this interview. Also, it is important to remember that the writer of this article was an apartheid spy – he might have quoted Meyerson unsympathetically, or out of context. It is difficult to say. It looks very bad, though, especially the part about being an ambassador for the apartheid state.

Where is Meyerson now? An online search found a psychologist of the same name and age, also born in South Africa, who has an LLB and now lives in London. He did not respond to repeated email requests for comment, so it might be him, or it might not. Nowhere in this Meyerson’s biography or list of achievements is there any mention of An Act of Immorality.

Whoever wrote the book has succeeded in obscuring this part of his past. There is, in fact, very little remaining evidence that the book existed at all. It has fallen almost entirely from view. The question as to why this has happened might be easy to answer: this is a horrible story, and one that we would prefer not to remember.

Follow Rosa Lyster @rosalyster

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South Africa’s day of reckoning approaches: Ishtiyaq Shukri weighs up Brexit, the Tshwane unrest, privilege and poverty



There hasn’t been a day of reckoning in South Africa, but if things don’t change tangibly and soon, there will be. And when it comes, it will be horrific, but it will not be without cause.

Ishtiyaq Shukri considers the implications of Brexit, the American presidential race, hysteria around migration, and the recent unrest in Tshwane

Like so many people in the world today, I don’t live in a country, but between countries. Over time, I have developed an affinity with all of them. When I am physically present in one, the others are always on my mind.

South Africa and Britain are two of my countries, and while I no longer feel at liberty to travel to Britain physically, life is not only experienced through the movements of the body, but also in the workings of the mind. Despite my physical exclusion from the UK, I spend a lot of mental time there, particularly in London. I have lived for so long between my countries that they have begun to merge, no longer separate places on the map, but one place in my head. That is where they co-exist and where I hold them together.

Watching our capital burn, on the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising

This has been a particular difficult week for South Africa and Britain. In Pretoria, riots erupted on 21 June over the nomination of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s mayoral candidate in local elections scheduled for August. To see our capital city in flames isn’t easy, but in the case of Pretoria, it has been especially cutting to witness such fiery images coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising of 16 June, 1976. Those pictures of Pretoria in flames paint a thousand words, among them the following eight: All is not well. Something needs to change.

News from Britain has also been vexing. On 16 June, I was driving on a busy motorway and had turned down the radio to negotiate a convoy of trucks when five words filtered through the din of the highway to punch me in the ears – British Member of Parliament shot. In the immediacy of the moment, the announcement competing for my attention with the lorry ahead, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps the shooting had occurred in Afghanistan or Iraq. Isn’t that where such things happen? I slowed down and turned up the volume to hear the details: not Afghanistan or Iraq, but West Yorkshire, England. I remember looking at the radio and asking out loud, “What?”

This week, those words from the protest song by the British rock band Queen have going round in my head, the way songs sometimes do:

Is this the world we created? We made it on our own.
Is this the world we devastated, right to the bone?
If there’s a God up in the sky looking down
What must he think of what we’ve done
To the world that He created?

That they grow ever more poignant with the passing of time belies our assumptions of our age as the pinnacle of human progress and evolution. When I look around the world, particularly at the countries in which I have lived my life, I draw different conclusions about the state of the world and the language we use to describe it. We use terms like the “developed world”, the “first world”, the “industrialised world” to categorise, to elevate and to denigrate, whereas I have a growing sense of foreboding that only one descriptor is increasingly relevant to ever-expanding swathes of our planet – the devastated world – because that is how most people on Earth experience life. What meaning is there to any of our categories when the economic and foreign policies of rich countries in the “developed world” are directly responsible for the poverty and insecurity of poor countries in the “developing world”, their policies actively working against development to foster destruction and annihilation instead. Let me give just one example – Yemen – pulverised by Saudi Arabia with British and American weapons.

The dynamics of the contrived categories we impose on the world are equally at work in the horrendous language we use to talk about people we perceive as different. There are two current affairs items, which – along with Tony Blair – I have taken to muting. The first is news involving the American billionaire currently a front-runner for the Republican Party in the campaign for the US Presidency. I refuse to write his name. He has already had more media coverage than a bigoted idiot should. The other is the debate around Britain’s proposed exit from the European Union to be decided in a referendum on 23 June. No longer able to endure the vitriol of the “Brexit” campaign, I tuned out.

The myth of change in South Africa

Similarly, if anything belies the myth of change in South Africa, it is the language South Africans continue to use and the ways of thinking we continue to employ. Young privileged South Africans can frequently be heard arguing that they are not responsible for apartheid as they were born after it (supposedly) ended. This kind of thinking is born out of that of their parents, who similarly absolved themselves of responsibility through claims that they either did not know what was going on, or that they were merely abiding by the laws of the land, or that they were simply following orders. These deceptions continue to be peddled as truths in South Africa, where they are used by enormously privileged people trying to reconcile and legitimise the continued states of unequal favour they enjoy, and to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the enduring trauma tormenting the country. And even as they employ such duplicity, it is without any awareness of the converse being true – that if wealthy South Africans born after 1994 are not responsible for the state of the nation and therefore at liberty to enjoy their wealth, then poor South Africans born at the same time are not responsible for their poverty and therefore at liberty to protest.

In reality, the truth is more like this: around the world, but especially in South Africa, privilege and poverty are inherited, and like most inheritances, you get it from your parents. 22 years after 1994, who in South Africa still lives in townships? And how many township inhabitants are white? By what perverted thinking have privileged South Africans become innocent victims? Of Africa’s 10 richest people, three are South African – more than in any other country on the continent. All three are white (men). The notion that they are victims is the same kind of perversity that allows Israel to paint itself the victim of Palestinian aggression even while it has nuclear bombs and the most powerful army in the Middle East at its disposal, while Palestinians have stones and knives and crude Qassam rockets.

Britain is the most corrupt country in the world: Brexit deflects the real issues

Such flawed reasoning becomes the rationale through which we justify and perpetuate racist stereotypes and attitudes. Take corruption, for instance. Depictions of Africa as endemically corrupt are commonplace. And while corruption certainly blights our continent, according to Transparency International, Britain is in fact the most corrupt country in the world, and London the world’s “number-one home for the fruits of corruption”. But who cares about facts when they conflict with our ingrained notions of the developed world, of the west, of the first world and of Europe, which brings us another set of truths. Europe is in meltdown because of its supposed migration crisis, but it is in Africa where most of the world’s refugees live – more than 2.5 million. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, 26 percent of the world’s refugee population lives in Sub-Saharan Africa. And the countries that host the largest refugee populations are not in Europe, but in Asia and the Middle East – Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon.

The same language used by privileged South Africans has been on abundant display in Europe. European countries have colonised the world, yet they descend into crisis when a fraction the world’s most desperate and vulnerable people arrive at their borders, not as violent colonisers but as desperate refugees. On 4 April, 2016 the EU started sending migrants back to Turkey, some fleeing conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan, which EU member states like Britain actively helped plunge into war. In 2004 I was awarded the inaugural EU Literary Award. On 4 April, 2016, I felt nothing but shame. Today it is an award that leaves me with a deep feeling of embarrassment and betrayal.

In Britain, hysteria around migration has led to the prospect of a British withdrawal from the EU. In the wake of the assassination of the British MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair, there is now a petition sweeping across the UK to cancel the referendum on Thursday. I hope it will be called off, but that is unlikely. This referendum should never have been called for in the first place. If Britain wants to have a referendum, let it have one on ending the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia. Let it have one on ending its involvement in illegal foreign military interventions. If Britain wants to have a serious national debate, let it have one on ending the scourge of homelessness, poverty and exclusion, particularly white poverty and exclusion, because in Britain, white poverty is invisible. And when white poverty in Britain does appear on the national stage, it is usually as the butt of the joke in sitcoms like Little Britain. Vicky Pollard is a target precisely because she is poor white.

This referendum deflects such issues, and taking Britain out of the EU won’t improve things for Vicky, however much she has been promised that it will. It is a deceptive, indulgent and shortsighted campaign, set upon tearing up Europe and dismantling the world. It has revealed deep divides in British society. Should Britain leave the EU, how will its factions continue to cohabit an isolated island? And when the EU is no longer to blame, what will be the substitute piñata, and who will people like Thomas Mair feel at liberty to stab and shoot next? This parochial campaign has serious international consequences because a British exit from the EU will leave Europe weaker. The tragic killing of Jo Cox should also remind us of the global dangers posed by a weakened Europe should it all unravel.

On 28 June, 1914, a Slavic nationalist Gavrilo Princip fired a shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. The shot was fired in Sarajevo, but it travelled through Europe and around the world, igniting World War I. Should Thursday’s referendum go ahead, I hope British voters will consider their choice carefully. I hope they will look beyond their immediate horizons and consider the world as it is, a tinderbox, fragile, volatile and highly militarised. I hope British people will consider the sinister movements that will feel emboldened should the Leave camp win. The neo-Nazi nationalist movement National Action has already voiced support for the killing of Jo Cox. I hope that British voters will remember their history, and recall just how far the bullets of European nationalists like Princip and now Mair can travel.

There hasn’t been a reckoning in South Africa yet

And as Pretoria burns, let wealthy and powerful South Africans continue to dismiss and isolate themselves from the grievances of the township. The riots in Pretoria may have been sparked by the announcement of a mayoral candidate, but the level and spread of the violence suggests that it is fuelled by deeper unresolved issues. Many of those go back decades, some even centuries. There hasn’t been a reckoning in South Africa yet, and if you think 27 April, 1994 was a substitute, perhaps it’s time to think again. It may have been a kiss-and-make-up moment, but that’s clearly all it was – a moment. The good will of that day on which people felt they had achieved real change has gone. A new generation has grown up. They care little for the amnesties, or negotiated settlements or the rainbows their parents settled for. They are not impressed by some of the heroes of the struggle so admired by their parents’ generation. They weren’t there for the love-in, remember? 27 April, 1994 may have been your day of freedom, but it clearly isn’t theirs. And why should it be when they don’t live in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but in a township at the back of a hill? There hasn’t been a day of reckoning in South Africa, but if things don’t change tangibly and soon, there will be. And when it comes, it will be horrific, but it will not be without cause. No doubt, the pictures from that day will also paint a thousand words, among them the following three: Lord help us.

The Silent MinaretI See You

Ishtiyaq Shukri is the author of the EU Literary Award-winning The Silent Minaret and I See You

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Book details

Image: YouTube

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A brief, ephemeral encounter between two people long ago: The meeting of Qing and Joseph Orpen

By Stephen Coan

On the Trail of Qing and OrpenBeneath the blank-windowed office block cliffs of downtown Johannesburg an unusual exhibition offers a rare opportunity to consider the echoes of a series of conversations held between two men in the remote high Maloti-Drakensberg nearly 150 years ago.

In 1873 Joseph Orpen, a colonial administrator, was commissioned to track down the Hlubi chief Langalibalele kaMthimkhulu who had fled into Basutoland to escape the Natal authorities. Orpen recruited local scouts, among them a man named Qing, a Bushman who lived in the Maloti mountains. Orpen was impressed by Qing and interviewed him about his people’s stories and rituals. The two also discussed the rock art they encountered at several sites.

William Howard Schröeder's portrait of Joseph Millerd Orpen, 1872Orpen later published an account of these interviews in the Cape Monthly Magazine and this article has since come to be regarded as “one of the most thrilling documents in the archive of Bushman ethnography,” according to Jeremy Hollmann, a specialist in southern African hunter-gatherer rock art.

“The meeting between Qing and Orpen in the Maloti-Drakensberg in what is now Lesotho, is widely agreed to be a unique moment,” exhibition curator Justine Wintjes says, “and the only recorded instance in which the meanings of certain rock art scenes were discussed between an outsider, Orpen, and Qing, a man whose community may have still been making rock art.”

The meeting of Qing and Orpen, which occurred during a key episode of colonial oppression in the late nineteenth century, and its outcome forms the subject of the exhibition On the trail of Qing and Orpen: from the colonial era to the present, currently showing at the Standard Bank Art Gallery.

Although there are no pictures of Qing, this figure on horseback painted on the wall of Melikane Shelter stands in for Qing in both book and exhibition. It may have been painted during Qing’s lifetime. Source: Jeremy Hollman.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of On the trail of Qing and Orpen, authored by a multidisciplinary team of scholars: José Manuel de Prada-Samper, Menán du Plessis, Jeremy Hollmann, Jill Weintroub, Justine Wintjes and John Wright, who are also the contributors to the exhibition which was curated by Wintjes, assisted by Wright and Weintroub.

“Six people worked on six different issues,” Wintjes says. “Our approach has been even-handed. Qing and Orpen have equal status.”

Despite such statements the exhibition and the book are not without an element of controversy – notably in the use of the term “bushman”. Some “San” groups use the term “San” as a self-designation while others reject the term and prefer “Bushmen”. Some descendants of Bushmen accept the generic label “Khoisan” which Khoisan activists are fostering; others say this marginalises them.

As is pointed out in the book and in the brief texts accompanying the exhibits, the word “San” was adopted by academics in the 1960s to describe southern Africa’s hunter-gatherer peoples, an all-embracing term incorporating both the present and, crucially, the past. It was seen as a suitable replacement for “bushman” which had come to have a pejorative meaning, denoting not only difference but inferiority. But, as it turns out, “San” is also a contested word, and in certain contexts probably just as disparaging.

Quite apart from scholarly usage, “San” has come to be used as an expression of identity among certain groups seeking their rights as southern Africa’s “first nation”. “In this sense the word ‘San’ equates and strengthens a sense of ethnicity,” Weintroub says. “It symbolises a way of fighting for resources, but to project it back into the past is an anachronism.”

Accordingly, since the 1980s some scholars have gradually returned to using the word “bushman” though rock art specialists still use the term “San”.

“It’s not just the word that is contested, but the whole idea of making it a category of people,” says Wright, a historian who has been working on the history of the bushmen of the Maloti-Drakensberg since 1965. “It is used as a blanket description for a whole range of peoples with different languages. San is a 20th century term; to use it now is an anachronism. Just as it makes no sense to talk of Zulus 500 years ago; Zulu was a term that only began to be widely used after the emergence of the Zulu kingdom in the 1820s.”

Wintjes says the term is used in the exhibition and the book to denote a specific identity. “We simply didn’t have a better term in this context than ‘bushman’. There is no replacement for that word – but we have worked towards using it in more nuanced ways. We also use this term for its continuity with eighteenth and nineteenth-century sources, and to connect back to a time of searching for categories. We use it in a non-ethnic, non-tribal sense.”

Wright agrees: “San is a modern ethnic term – echoing an imagined tribal past. It’s part of the whole tribal paradigm that South Africa is currently caught up in, which in itself is highly problematic.”

Over the years Bushmen have also accrued a layer of romanticism, seen by some as living fossils from some Edenic golden age when human beings lived in harmony with their natural environment. Wright is having none of that: “The whole notion of ‘ancientism’ is rubbish, they are as much a part of modern history as we are.”

Some conversations are always going to be difficult, especially when different levels of discourse – popular, activist, and academic – intersect but are talking at cross-purposes. Qing and Orpen relied on interpreters and Orpen’s article arose out of that problematic process. Now comes the book and the exhibition.

“Both are primarily on the backstory, production, and afterlife of a particular text – Orpen’s crucial article on the stories that Qing told him,” Wright says. “We are trying to open up historical questions.”

And both go further than previously in looking at the text, Weintroub says. “The published text is taken as authoritative. But there are differences between the published text and Orpen’s original manuscript.”

These discrepancies have been scrutinised by folklorist De Prada-Samper. His findings, drawn from both the manuscript and the published text, feature in what is the largest section of the book and present much new information. Of particular note are his interpretations regarding beliefs surrounding snakes, the nature of the rain-creature, and another dimension that relates to a complex of beliefs “very widespread in southern Africa and beyond, about an underwater world that very often, though not always, is connected with the world of the spirits of the dead”.

“José’s work is the central element of the book,” Wright says. “José’s rethinking will attract attention.”

According to Wintjes the book and exhibition serve to fill a gap in scholarship, as few of the studies on Orpen’s article place it within a wider historical context.

The book came first. “It existed as a project five years ago,” Wintjes says. “When Barbara Freemantle, curator of the Standard Bank Art Gallery, heard about it she said it would make for a great exhibition. So, in part, the exhibition facilitated publication of the book – but it also extended the content of the book into a different mode of exposition. The book is illustrated in service of the text, but with the exhibition we move out of a textual mode.”

The exhibition features rarely seen examples of rock engravings, paintings and bushman artefacts, as well as activist T-shirts side by side with nineteenth-century artworks by Thomas Baines, Andrew Anderson, George Angas and others, some especially restored by Standard Bank for the exhibition.

Also on display are a variety of manuscripts, including a reproduction of Orpen’s original, books, and some spectacular photographs by Hollmann of the rock art sites where Qing and Orpen held their conversations.

Men Catching Snake
A digitally enhanced photograph of an image from Sehonghong Shelter identified by Qing as depicting “men … under water” catching a “snake” with “charms” and a “long reim” (sic). Another nineteenth century informant said the paintings depict “rainmaking”. Source: Jeremy Hollman.

Objects and artworks are placed in interesting juxtapositions, adding further layers to Qing and Orpen’s interaction. “There are objects from the Wits Art Museum and these are in a cabinet that is an echo of the nineteenth-century ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’. Next to them is a display of a selection of the many the books that have come out of their encounter. So this library display situated next to a museum storage mode of display generates new meanings, for example turning books into objects of material culture. We are asking questions in that kind of way.”

The exhibits are interspersed with short texts, often inconclusive and open-ended. “They throw questions back to the engaged viewer,” Wintjes says.

Exhibition and book explore the encounter of Qing and Orpen from various perspectives: history, archaeology, folklore and ethnography, linguistics, art and art history.

Both book and exhibition pivot on Orpen’s text and the agreement among the scholars involved that there was far more to be mined from it.
Linguist Du Plessis teased out the linguistic evidence “while attempting occasionally to ‘walk the text back’ in an effort to uncover particular words that may have been used either by Qing or the interpreters”.

“The information that Orpen transmitted for us includes around two dozen words from Qing’s ‘own language’,” Du Plessis says, and from these “small shards” she was able to ascertain that Qing’s language “was suffused with elements from both Khoekhoe and southern Bantu languages … while others must have been present from the outset in the broader !Ui family to which his language probably belonged”.
Weintroub sifted the history of the text and its place in knowledge production. “Scholars tend to use it as a repository of information to back up certain interpretative material,” she says. “But I wanted to look at its history as an archival object with a trajectory of its own in relation to epochs or paradigms of thought at different times.”

“This text came out of a brief, ephemeral encounter between two people long ago, but look at what it has given. The scholarly work on it is massive. That encounter was very short but it has inspired so much.”

Doubtless it will inspire more. Wright says: “This book and exhibition are not the final word on the subject. This is not a closed account.”

The exhibition is showing at the Standard Bank Art Gallery until the end of the year. The book On the Trail of Qing and On the trail of Qing and Orpen – From the Colonial Era to the Present Orpen is published by Standard Bank.

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Book details
On the Trail of Qing and Orpen

  • On the Trail of Qing and Orpen by José Manuel de Prada-Samper, Menán du Plessis, Jeremy Hollmann, Jill Weintroub, Justine Wintjes, John Wright
    EAN: 9780620688451
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Dorothea Bleek

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Megan Ross reports back from the Iceland Writers Retreat – dubbed ‘the best in the world’

Iceland Writer's Retreat


Megan Ross recently returned from the Iceland Writers Retreat – known as one of the world’s best and most picturesque writers retreats.

Ross is a writer, journalist and editorial designer from Gonubie in the Eastern Cape. She was selected as the female South African entrant for the PEN International New Voices Award in 2014, longlisted for the 2015 Short Sharp Stories Award and shortlisted for the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize.

In December, she won an Alumni Award to the Iceland Writers Retreat, and travelled to Reykjavík in April.

Read her report, and interview with IWR co-founder Eliza Reid:

It’s touted as one of the best writing retreats in the world, and after attending I must agree that the Iceland Writers Retreat lives up to its reputation. Set in picturesque Reykjavik, the retreat consists of four days of writing, events and workshops led by acclaimed authors. This year’s retreat featured workshops with Neel Mukherjee, Miriam Toews and Cheryl Strayed, among others, and was also the first year the Alumni Award was awarded. An all-inclusive prize, based on merit and financial need, the award is entirely funded by the retreat’s alumni, and is the reason I was able to travel 11,000km to beautiful Iceland for such an unforgettable writing experience.

On the last day, I caught up with co-founder of the IWR, Canadian-born writer Eliza Reid, to talk about her work-life balance, mingling with famous writers and her key ingredients for a writing retreat.

Eliza Reid of the Iceland Writer's Retreat
Eliza Reid


You’ve had a busy year. There’s the Iceland Writers Retreat, you’re a mother to four children and you’re also a writer. How do you manage to do so much, with a young family in tow?

Iceland is a great place for young families. There is help in the form of subsidies from the government and Reykjavik is a really safe, small city: I let my children walk home from school, and child care is reasonable. Coming from Canada, where having four kids and still working would just not be possible, it makes logistical sense to be here. I also have a home office and my husband and I have a really good domestic balance at home.

On top of this, your husband is running for the Icelandic presidency, and you might just be the new First Lady of Iceland. How is this affecting things?

At the moment I’m focusing exclusively on the campaign, where there are only another three weeks to go. I’m just doing the essential stuff for IWR and some of my other projects, while Erica [Jacobs Green, IWR co-founder] is of course, looking after a lot. We also have Lisa Shannen helping us on social media.

At the beginning of the retreat, you mentioned that you came up with the idea for a writing retreat over lunch with Erica. Tell me about that.

I like to say that most good ideas always start over booze of some sort. But really, we were over at Erica’s drinking wine in the kitchen, and Erica had just come back from a writing conference in the United States. We were having this philosophical discussion about writing and we wondered why there’s nothing like that here in Iceland when there are so many in the US … and being the kind of person who is into event organising, I piped up and said we should start our own. (We also joked that it would be a good excuse to hang out and make our lunches tax-deductable!)

Iceland Writer's Retreat

How did you get things started?

I was going to Canada, where my brother is also a writer. He and I chatted about my idea for a writers’ retreat, and I asked him what he thought peoples’ expectations would be, what we should focus on and how we would go about organising something like this. He suggested we find some authors who would be good teachers, and get some sponsors on board.

In only its first year, you attracted writers like New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean. How did you manage to secure such a famous writer for a fledgling event?

We were really lucky at first. Susan Orlean is a friend of a friend, so we were able to get her in 2014. And we just wrote Geraldine Brooks an email asking her to get involved the following year. Word of mouth helped, and getting those first authors assisted us out for the retreats that followed. We also made sure everything looked legitimate and ran smoothly. And since then, writers have been surprisingly willing. The retreat is also set in Iceland, which is a big drawcard!

Iceland is home to a rich, centuries-old literary tradition and is also the first non-native English speaking country to have a UNESCO City of Literature. Does this have anything to do with the IWR gaining such momentum in only its third year?

It helps that Iceland has its own well-known authors, along with an amazing literary culture, but honestly, I have no idea how it’s grown so big, so quickly. I guess people have enjoyed it and they’ve expressed this through word of mouth.

What is at the core of the Iceland Writers Retreat?

This isn’t a competition or a conference. It’s about bringing like-minded people together into a completely new, beautiful environment. There’s a relaxed, friendly tone. And the travel dimension is very attractive.

Iceland Writer's Retreat

How important is the team behind the scenes?

The retreat started with just Erica and I. Erica has a fulltime job so I do a lot of the day-to-day things but we make all the big decisions together. In terms of a team, we have our social media and marketing intern, Audrey Wright, who manages that aspect of things. We’re lucky to mentor her, which forms part of her university programme in Toronto. There’s also our blog manager, plus our volunteers who help out for the duration of the retreat. We also pay our volunteer coordinators, Elizabeth Nunberg and Lisa Shannen.

The event is so slick and impeccably run. How do you achieve this with such a small team?

Planning, planning and more planning. Even though we organise everything down to the last minute, there’s constant work to be done during the retreat. I mean, this year I’ve only been to one workshop. I know Erica’s also only been to one, and the rest of the time we have just been working.

How do you cope when things go awry?

No matter how well we plan things there are always little things that can go wrong. But you just have to fix them! For instance, Cheryl Strayed couldn’t come this year. She had terrible flu and couldn’t fly. But people are generally understanding, so we deal with it and move on, and learn for the following year.

Erica Green and Eliza Reid of the Iceland Writer's Retreat

You and Erica are a powerhouse team. How do you do it?

Erica and I have been friends since 2011 and just work really well together. I never have to explain myself to her, and vice versa. Communication is obviously key in this sort of thing.

Does running a writing retreat inspire your own writing career?

It most certainly does. Lately, I haven’t put a priority on my own writing career or made it my whole focus and that’s okay. On the rare occasion, I do get some writing in. But that’s really on the rare occasion.

What is your favourite part of the retreat?

I find the entire event wholly fulfilling. Erica and I joke that we’ve found a way to meet people from around the world, and make great contacts to stay with each time we travel. But seriously, I have loved creating this network of similar-minded people from all over the world, and Erica and I both enjoy playing a role in connecting people with each other.

Iceland Writer's Retreat

The Alumni Award is a great way to make this sort of event more inclusive. Was this one of its aims?

Despite us trying to make it as cost-effective as possible, we know not a lot of writers could afford to go to this sort of event. So we thought we should just ask our alumni, because they could afford to come here in the first place. Owing to their generosity, we named it for them. Although we based the Alumni Award on merit and financial need, we were well aware it would be difficult to determine who is more deserving since we don’t ask for proof of financial need. When it comes down to it, do you choose the widow with four kids and cancer from Iowa or the young female writer in Sudan? It can be difficult.

How did the Alumni Award work?

It was mainly a quick win contest. We had five hundred entries and it ended up being like this lottery. We didn’t charge an entry fee and a competition works really well because it’s great advertising too.

How long did it take to raise the funds?

We used the Icelandic version of Kickstarter, and raised 50 percent of our goal in just one day, and the rest in only two weeks. We were pleased with how ready the alumni were to help because it really showed the value of such an award.

Iceland Writer's Retreat

What is your core focus when planning the retreat each year?

We insist on small, intimate groups, as well as a good gender balance in the faculty and the classes. And then of course, it’s set in Iceland! We incorporate this tourism aspect into a lot of what we do in the form of literary tours and events. People enjoy this.

Do you have any plans to expand the IWR? Would you consider hosting another event or recreating something similar somewhere else?

We decide plans for expansion on a year-to-year basis. We like to give as many people as possible an opportunity to attend, but also want to maintain the small, friendly feeling. There’s a few tweaks lined up for 2017 which we are yet to announce. As for the latter, we’ll always host it in Iceland.

I keep imagining an event like this in South Africa. What would you tell someone looking to establish a new writing retreat?

Write a good business plan. When you’re thinking about securing a corporate sponsor, don’t tell them your event is great because it’s a good cause, give them the bottom line: tell them it will make them money! Then involve organisers and suppliers that you can trust.

Iceland Writer's Retreat

When organising a literary event on this kind of scale, what should one be aware of?

I would say that there are always going to be people who don’t like certain aspects of things. Accept this and don’t be disheartened. Another key thing is managing other people who want to come along for the ride, because there will be people who want a portion of the success when things go well.

Have you learned any valuable lessons in running the last three events?

I’ve had to learn to say no! For example, we’ve had agents approaching us to pitch at the retreat and we’ve always said no to because this just doesn’t tie in with our vision. Don’t try to be all things for all people. Erica and I have always been upfront about what the IWR is and how we run it.

And lastly, what would you say is the secret to the phenomenal success of the IWR?

We hand out feedback forms at the end of every retreat, and we take this information very seriously. You must find out what people loved and didn’t love, and grow from it. We also always keep in mind that this is our event. To anyone else, I would say to remember that you need to be loyal to your vision. Ignore any naysayers, do what you want to do and execute that.

Iceland Writer's Retreat

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Showcasing South African authors: The 2016 Homebru Selection from Exclusive Books

The 2016 Homebru Selection from Exclusive Books

For the month of June Exclusive Books is celebrating great South African authors and great South African books with its 15th annual Homebru campaign.

Their selection this year includes fiction, current affairs, history and politics, cookery, business, biography, travel writing, self-help and children’s books.

From Exclusive Books:

Homebru: A celebration of South African authors

Since the beginning of time, storytelling has been an integral part of our continent’s people, from the stories told to us by our grandmothers; to the written word as we know it today. As South Africans, we have a rich heritage and are a diverse nation. Our stories are colorful and unique; they are a reflection of our country’s landscape.

This year, Exclusive Books celebrates 15 years of our Homebru campaign, a carefully curated list of the best in South African writing. This year’s campaign is a celebration of authors such as critically acclaimed photojournalist, Peter Magubane, with his iconic collection of photographs in his book June 16. 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of Magubane’s photographic evidence that led to South Africa’s freedom.

For investigative journalism at its best, Alex Eliseev’s Cold Case Confession delves into the mysterious Betty Ketani case; the storyline would not be out of place as a Hollywood movie.

How does one get ahead in life while having to pay “black tax” and lobola? These are some of the questions black middleclass South Africans have to ask themselves today. Writing What We Like is an in-depth collection of opinion pieces, with contributions by the likes of comedians David Kau and Loyiso Gola, writer Shaka Sisulu and singer Simphiwe Dana.

At this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival, our CEO made an address to call to service to all those in the book trade to address issues around accessibility and the promotion of South African authors:
“It is a discordant and uncomfortable truth that bookshops do not exist in areas where the majority of our countrymen still live. We need to address this and we see it as an immediate priority. In this context particularly we should welcome the voices of young people who have highlighted our neglect of a crucial market. There is work to do – for both us and the publishers” — Benjamin Trisk, CEO, Exclusive Books

With this year’s Homebru campaign, Exclusive Books is committed to seeing this change.

Here’s the complete 2016 Homebru selection:


Cold Case ConfessionCold Case Confession: Unravelling the Betty Ketani Murder by Alex Eliseev

Betty Ketani, a mother of three, came to Johannesburg in search of better prospects for her family. She found work cooking at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, and then one day she mysteriously disappeared.

The storyline would not be out of place as a Hollywood movie – and it’s all completely true. Written by the reporter who broke the story,
Cold Case Confession goes behind the headlines to share exclusive material gathered during four years of investigations, including the most elusive piece of the puzzle: who would want Betty Ketani dead, and why?

EAN: 9781770103108
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The Sword and the PenThe Sword and the Pen: Six Decades on the Political Frontier by Allister Sparks

The Sword and the Pen is the story of how as a journalist, he observed, chronicled and participated in his country’s unfolding drama for more than 66 years, covering events from the premiership of DF Malan to the presidency of Jacob Zuma, witnessing at close range the rise and fall of apartheid and the rise and crisis of the new South Africa

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EAN: 9781868425594
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The Fires BeneathThe Fires Beneath: The Life Of Monica Wilson, South African Anthropologist by Sean Morrow

The Fires Beneath is a powerful and affecting story of love and loss. Monica Wilson, née Hunter, was the most prominent social
anthropologist of her day in South Africa, whose groundbreaking research in African communities continues to influence anthropological and ethnographic studies. With sympathetic candour this book explores a life of achievement and integrity that was also marked by tragedy

EAN: 9781776090396
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Fighting for MandelaFighting for Mandela: The Explosive Autobiography of the Woman Who Helped to Destroy Apartheid by Priscilla Jana with Barbara Jones

Priscilla Jana is a legendary figure in South African revolutionary politics. As an Indian woman who experienced racial oppression first-hand, she decided to use her degree in law to fight for the rights of her fellow people and do all she could to bring down the apartheid state. At one time she represented every single political prisoner on Robben Island, including both Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Priscilla spent her days in court, fighting human rights case after human rights case, but it was at night when her real work was done. As part of an underground cell, she fought tirelessly to bring down the hated government. This activism, however, came at a price.

EAN: 9781784189792
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What a BoykieWhat a Boykie: The John Berks Story by Robin Binckes

Pioneering modern radio in South Africa, John Berks broke new ground in radio broadcasting through his hilarious parodies of situations, phone calls to unsuspecting victims, and his ‘characters’ such as ‘Jan Sweetpak’. He developed ‘Theatre of the Mind’ and took it to new heights, with a vision to push for talk radio at a time when others said it would fail, and in doing so, changed the face of broadcasting in South Africa. Berks was a man of great humility and integrity, and this book shows how much can be achieved when the odds are stacked against you and all you have is determination, passion and an unparalleled talent for communicating.

EAN: 9781928211846
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The DisruptorsThe Disruptors: Social Entrepreneurs Reinventing Business and Society by Kerryn Krige and Gus Silber

Impassioned by purpose, driven by dreams, emboldened by ideals, social entrepreneurs go out of their way to make a better world. They
shake the dust off old ways of thinking and disrupt the way business has always been done. Through tales of daring, struggle, triumph and
innovation, you’ll see the world through the eyes of a diverse range of social entrepreneurs, and learn their secrets for changing the world by changing business. From healthcare to mobile gaming, from education to recycling, from dancing to gardening, these are the game-
changers, the difference-makers, the doers of good. Here are their stories.

EAN: 9781928257172
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Black Economic EmpowermentBlack Economic Empowerment: 20 Years Later – The Baby and the Bathwater by Phinda Mzwakhe Madi

South Africa’s pioneer and foremost thinker and voice on black economic advancement, Phinda Mzwakhe Madi is back with a bang. His first book, Affirmative Action in Corporate South Africa, triggered the first wave of Affirmative Action programmes in the country. His follow-up book, Black Economic Empowerment in the New South Africa, led to the formation of the BEE Commission and eventually the creation of the country’s policy and codes of good practice. Now his third book in the trilogy, Black Economic Empowerment: 20 years later – The Baby and the Bathwater, evaluates progress so far and startles with its fresh perspective on the way forward.

EAN: 9781869225858
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Harry The Hungry HadedaHarry The Hungry Hadeda by Ed Jordan and Alan Glass

With his long beak and handsome feathers, he’s one of Africa’s best-known fellas! Meet Harry the Hungry Hadeda, a wonderful, rather noisy, prehistoric looking bird! Join in as he digs for worms, flies the skies and wakes everybody up with his morning song, Ha Ha
Ha, Hadeda!

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EAN: 9780620587631
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Powers of the KnifePowers of the Knife by Bontle Senne

What if you discovered that you come from an ancient family of Shadow Chasers, with a duty to protect others from an evil Army of Shadows? Nom and Zithembe’s lives are turned upside down when an Army of Shadows threatens everyone close to them. It’s the beginning of a quest that takes them into the dream world, and will change their lives forever. Powers of the Knife is the first book in the Shadow Chasers trilogy. It’s an African fantasy adventure – one part family saga, one part hero’s quest.

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EAN: 9780994674456
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SnitchSnitch by Edyth Bulbring

13-Year-old Ben Smith attends St David’s, where rugby is a compulsory sport. After the annual derby against Voortrekker in which a St David’s player is severely injured and rushed to hospital, Ben inadvertently catches a glimpse of a bottle labeled Methyltestosterone in the player’s tog bag. What follows turns Ben’s life upside down. Gripping and pacy, this first-person account tackles the serious topic of steroids used by schoolkids.

EAN: 9780624077114
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I am AlexI am Alex by Elena Agnello, illustrated by Adrie le Roux

I am Alex. Today is my birthday and I’m having a party. My friends are coming, but everyone is welcome! Please come, too!

Children don’t see race, religion or disability – and nor should they have to. This little book is a universal celebration of diversity and tolerance. Also available in Afrikaans.

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EAN: 9780994690708
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KweziKwezi by Loyiso Mkize

The comic follows a narcissistic teenage boy named Kwezi as he discovers his superhuman abilities amid the daily hustle of the fictional
Gold City – a bustling metropolis modeled after Johannesburg. Portrayed as a cocky anti-hero obsessed with selfies and Twitter, Kwezi is
initially fueled by the attention from his adoring online fans, but he soon finds out that his powers come with a cultural responsibility.

Mkize describes Kwezi as “a coming of age story about finding one’s heritage.”

EAN: 9781485622727
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There Should Have Been FiveThere Should Have Been Five by Marilyn Honikman

Two children visit the Museum of Military History in Johannesburg and are intrigued by a painting of a black serviceman at the top of the stairs … there were 354,000 South Africans of all races, including 25,000 women, who volunteered to serve in South Africa’s defence force and nursing services in the fight against Hitler, the Nazis and the Italian fascists in World War II. This book tells of one of these men, Job Maseko, whose heroic deed was almost forgotten for 50 years: he managed to destroy a German vessel with a homemade bomb while imprisoned in Tobruk. Why was he not awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery?

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EAN: 9780624076568
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Nombulelo and the MothNombulelo and the Moth by Susie Dinneen

Even though Nombulelo loves her Gogo’s stories about the animals that live in the forest, she’s too scared to go there. When Gogo dies, Nombulelo must summon her courage and take Gogo’s magical moth on a journey through the forest. This is a story of love, loss and the discovery of inner strength. Also available in Afrikaans.

EAN: 9781485900108
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AfkopAfkop by Fanie Viljoen

Trent bly hierdie naweek alleen by die huis. ‘n Aand se rowwe partytjie eindig tragies in ‘n karongeluk, en laat Trent met die moeilike keuse: wat moet hy doen met die geld wat hy by die ongelukstoneel opgetel het?

In hierdie aweregse, holdersterbolder riller vir tieners
loop dinge lelik skeefin ware Tarantino-styl. Die leser moet hare op die tande hê om kop te hou met die vinnige pas van die storie. Hierdie grinterige, vermaaklike storie is Fanie Viljoen op sy beste!

EAN: 9780799372885
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My Cape Malay KitchenMy Cape Malay Kitchen by Cariema Isaacs

My Cape Malay Kitchen is Cariema Isaacs’s heartfelt and poignant account of the extraordinary relationship between herself and her father and how that was reflected in their shared passion for food and cooking. She recollects all of the dishes they cooked and ate together, and shares her childhood memories of growing up in Bo-Kaap (the Cape Malay Quarter in Cape Town), lending insight into the culture, religious ceremonies and family events that have shaped the Cape Malay community into what it is today.

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EAN: 9781432305659
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JAN - A Breath of French AirJAN – A Breath of French Air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen

JAN – A Breath of French Air is a memoir and celebration of the renowned eatery JAN, a South African restaurant in the south of France. The restaurant is a showcase of South Africa’s tradition of hospitality, transported from a farm in rural South Africa to the glamorous French Riviera. Jan, now a one-star Michelin restaurant, is proof that dreams can be lived and how a love for what you do can transform humble ingredients into a masterpiece. The collection of over 90 recipes covers everything from locally-baked breads to amuse bouches and mouthwatering main course meat and fish dishes

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EAN: 9781432306083
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Eat TingEat Ting: Lose Weight, Gain Health, Find Yourself by Mpho Tshukudu and Anna Trapido

Tshukudu and Trapido offer healthy eating solutions based on traditional Southern African food, and modern versions of time-honoured
favourites. From gluten-free sorghum flapjacks to salads featuring low-GI ancient grains, this book is all about great-tasting South
African superfoods. How about a modernised tshidzimba with oven-roasted tomatoes? Or an updated inhloko with spiced pumpkin salad? Perhaps a comforting bowl of classic mofokotso? It’s all here, plus many more innovative, delicious dishes that are very good for you too.

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EAN: 9781928209553
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My Little Black Recipe BookMy Little Black Recipe Book by Siphokazi Mdlankomo

In My Little Black Recipe Book, Siphokazi Mdlankomo shares her favourite recipes, from the simple scones and ginger beer her mom taught her to make many years ago, to mouth-watering braised oxtail, cinnamon cream pears and the rest of the sumptuous fare she developed on her way to the MasterChef finale.

From delicious dips and sauces, decadent desserts and easy one-dish meals to traditional favourites and sophisticated fusion food, every recipe is characterised by Siphokazi’s delightful combination of flavours and ingredients. Beautiful photographs of completed dishes will whet your appetite and have you trying out the dishes in no time.

EAN: 9781928201632
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Simply DeliciousSimply Delicious by Zola Nene

Simply Delicious is all about Zola’s culinary career told through her recipes, interspersed with snippets and perspectives of her life journey, including tributes to the people who have inspired and influenced her cooking style. Her food philosophy is very simple – cooking is for everyone. With easy-to-follow instructions, the recipes will ensure that anyone can produce mouthwatering results.

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EAN: 9781432304874
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Kook Saam KaapsKook Saam Kaaps by Koelsoem Kamalie and Flori Schrikker

Groenboontjiebredie, koolfrikkadelle, tamatiebredie, sagopoeding en broodpoeding – eerlik gemaak, sonder fieterjasies en moderne byvoegings – is die onopgesmukte huiskos waarna ons elkeen verlang. Die hartskos wat met ’n stewige dosis van ma en ouma se liefde berei is en ons instinktief laat weet dat ons tuis is.

Kook saam Kaaps, in samewerking met RSG, stel beheud die kos van Koelsoem Kamalie en Flori Schrikker, twee voorslag-kosmakers van Bonteheuwel in die Kaap. Met onfeilbare resepte, perfek beproef na jare se ondervinding, kan elkeen weer huiskos in hul eie kombuise

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EAN: 9780799375039
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Sigh The Beloved CountrySigh The Beloved Country: Braai Talk, Rock ‘n Roll and Other Stories by Bongani Madondo

Foreword by Rian Malan: With his customary flair and eye for detail, Bongani Madondo delights his readers in this essay collection with his unique take on all things South African, covering topics ranging from “Kissing and Lynching the Black Body” to “New Money Culture” and “Student Politics”, and including uniquely critical and insightful homages to our beloved country and those who call it home.

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EAN: 9781770104952
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Gang TownGang Town by Don Pinnock

Why is Cape Town one of the most violent cities on earth? What is it that makes gangs so attractive to young people? Why are drugs so easy to find and so widespread? Why are the police seemingly losing control of the crime situation? Why is it getting worse? Top-selling author Don Pinnock answers these questions in Gang Town, and looks at solutions to the problem.

Meticulously researched, Gang Town, winner of City Press/Tafelberg Nonfiction Award, offers practical remedies to the scourge of gangsterism on the Cape Flats and elsewhere.

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EAN: 9780624067894
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Continental ShiftContinental Shift: A Journey Into Africa’s Changing Fortunes by Kevin Bloom and Richard Poplak

Africa is failing. Africa is succeeding. Africa is betraying its citizens. Africa is a place of starvation, corruption, disease. African economies are soaring faster than any on Earth. Africa is turbulent. Africa is stabilising. Africa is doomed. Africa is the future.

All of these pronouncements prove equally true and false, as South African journalists Richard Poplak and Kevin Bloom discover on their 9-year road trip through the paradoxical continent they call home.

Part detective story, part report from this economic frontier, Continental Shift follows the money as it flows through Chinese coffers to international conglomerates, to heads of state, to ordinary African citizens, all of whom are intent on defining a metamorphosing continent.

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EAN: 9781868424283
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A Manifesto For Social ChangeA Manifesto For Social Change: How To Save South Africa by Moeletsi Mbeki

A Manifesto for Social Change is the third of a three-volume series that started seven years ago investigating the causes of our country’s – and the continent’s – development obstacles. Architects of Poverty: Why African Capitalism Needs Changing (2009) set out to explain what role African elites played in creating and promoting their fellow Africans’ misery.

Advocates for Change: How to Overcome Africa’s Challenges (2011) set out to show that there were short- to medium-term solutions to many of Africa’s and South Africa’s problems, from agriculture to healthcare, if only the powers that be would take note.

EAN: 9781770104976
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Writing What We LikeWriting What We Like: A New Generation Speaks edited by Yolisa Qunta

How does one get ahead in life while having to pay “black tax” and lobola? Can urban life be reconciled with traditional culture? What does it mean to be privileged and black? These are some of the questions middle-class black South Africans have to ask themselves today. This book looks at topics as wide-ranging as the Rhodes Must Fall movement, blackface in popular culture and, sexual identity and life lessons learned when taking a minibus taxi. With contributions by the likes of comedians David Kau and Loyiso Gola, writer Shaka Sisulu
and singer Simphiwe Dana.

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EAN: 9780624071808
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The YearningThe Yearning by Mohale Mashigo

Marubini is a young woman who has an enviable life in Cape Town, working at a wine farm and spending idyllic days with her friends … until her past starts spilling into her present. Something dark has been lurking in the shadows of Marubini’s life from as far back as she can remember. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches out and grabs at her. The Yearning is a memorable exploration of the ripple effects of the past, of personal strength and courage, and of the shadowy intersections of traditional and modern worlds.

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EAN: 9781770104839
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Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesTjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories by Jolyn Phillips

A strikingly written debut collection of vivid short stories set in and around Gansbaai, on the Western Cape coast of South Africa.

“An impressive debut that brings across voices never heard before in South African English – not only in rhythm and timbre, but plumbing
the unspoken. With such a remarkable ear, Jolyn Phillips is a young writer to watch.” – Antjie Krog

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EAN: 9781928215172
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Dutch CourageDutch Courage by Paige Nick

Grace Hendriks has led a pretty sheltered life. So when her sister Natalie begs her to take her place as a Rihanna impersonator at a club in Amsterdam, no alarm bells go off … until she finds herself onstage with only a pole for support and her knickers in a knot. Thrown into strip-club life, and forced to share an apartment with an exotic troupe of impersonating divas with Lady Gaga-sized egos, Grace has to learn some hard lessons fast, such as transformations don’t happen overnight – especially when your bra is determined to sabotage your dance routine.

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EAN: 9781415207703
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AffluenzaAffluenza by Niq Mhlongo

Affluenza is a new collection of short stories. In his characteristically humorous and piercing style, Mhlongo writes about the span of our democracy and the madness of the last twenty years after apartheid: his short stories address issues such as crime, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, the new black elite, and land redistribution. The stories have been published to critical acclaim in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and in the USA but remain largely unknown in South Africa.

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EAN: 9780795706967
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Gold Never RustsGold Never Rusts by Paul-Constant Smit

It is 998 BC. The Queen of Sheba sends an expedition down the east coast of Africa, but it comes to grief. Many years later, while roaming the vast subcontinent, a castaway from one of Vasco Da Gama’s ships finds the ancient records of the expedition, but dies before he can use them. During the 1880s gold rush in the Transvaal, American mining engineer Con Slaughter stumbles across the records while fleeing a gang of robbers. He strikes it rich on the Barberton gold fields, but soon assassins are after him. Also available in Afrikaans.

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EAN: 9781485903222
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Chasing The Tails of My Father’s CattleChasing The Tails of My Father’s Cattle by Sindiwe Magona

This is the story of Shumikazi, the only surviving child of Jojo and Miseka. She grows up in a small village in the remote Eastern Cape during the days of white rule – from the outside, an apparently unremarkable life. And yet Shumi is marked for extraordinary things from the moment of her birth. Wry, tragic, funny, scathing, this rich new novel from one of South Africa’s most beloved storytellers is not only a powerful meditation on the vulnerability of rural women, it is also a series of overlapping love stories – above all, the love a father has for his daughter.

EAN: 9780994677006
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NwelezelangaNwelezelanga: The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni

Nwelezelanga, The Star Child travels a magical and spiritual journey that merges the ancestral realms with contemporary realities. It is a story of an ancestral spirit that is born through Nwelezelanga, who is tasked with the purpose to pass on messages from the beyond; a divine responsibility given to children of the star.

With an assured voice and eloquent prose, Magubeni invites us into the life of this extraordinary being, Nwelezelanga, the child who should not have been, contrasting the themes of darkness and light, embracing the unknown and unseen in a way no one else has – or can.

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EAN: 9781928337249
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SlaafsSlaafs by Bettina Wyngaard

‘n Dag in die lewe van drie speurders van die Khayelitsha-polisiestasie is nie paintball speel nie. Vra maar vir kaptein Nicci de Wee,
“Ounooi” soos haar kollega Blackie haar noem. Haar priestervriendin Sally sal dit beaam en so ook Peters, wat skaars sy oë van Nicci kan afhou.

Want in Khayelitsha is die Jane Does volop: daardie vroueslagoffers wat so sonder naam op die staatspatoloog se outopsietafel beland. Maar waarom was daar vreemde vesels in die keel van ’n meisie wat aan ’n oordosis sterf, en hoekom het sy en ’n tweede slagoffer dieselfde tatoeëermerk?

Weldra daal Nicci en haar kollegas af in die donker onderwêreld van mensehandel, begelei deur die enigmatiese (en verleidelike) doktor Gigi Gerber, kenner op die gebied van slawesindikate. En heeltyd, in die agtergrond, staan al die kwesbare, ontwortelde mense van die wêreld.

Die speurspan in Bettina Wyngaard se nuwe riller is mense van vlees en bloed wat diep voel, in intense verhoudinge tot mekaar staan, liefhet, verliese ly en die hart aangryp.

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EAN: 9781415207536
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Die Formidabele Ling HoDie Formidabele Ling Ho by Johan Kruger

Kansvatter Willem Landman doen hom voor as Ling Ho: opperste towenaar en showman. Van skoolsaal na kerksaal na landbousaal reis Willem, sy assistent en sy kat in hul bakkie, gevolg deur ’n karavaan, gevolg deur ’n Ventertjie, oor die grasvelde van Mpumalanga, waar Willem-hulle ’n biblioteekwa raakloop. Tussen Willem en die bibliotekaresse is daar ’n vonkie, maar daar is ook ’n storm in aankoms … Die Formidabele Ling Ho steek die draak met allerlei swaarwigtige Suid-Afrikaase werklikhede, met skreeusnaakse gevolge!

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EAN: 9781415201756
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Fordsburg FighterFordsburg Fighter: The journey of an MK volunteer by Amin Cajee and Terry Bell

When Amin Cajee left South Africa to join the liberation struggle, he believed he had volunteered to serve “a democratic movement dedicated to bringing down an oppressive and racist regime”. Instead, he writes, in this powerful and courageous memoir, “I found myself serving a movement that was relentless in exercising power and riddled with corruption”.

Fordsburg Fighter traces an extraordinary physical journey – from home in South Africa, to training in Czechoslovakia and the ANC’s Kongwa camp in Tanzania, to England. The book is both a significant contribution to opening up the hidden history of exile, and a documentation of Cajee’s emotional odyssey from idealism to disillusionment.

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EAN: 9780994674425
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June 16June 16 by Peter Magubane

2016 Marks the 40th anniversary of Peter Magubane’s historic photographic evidence that led to South Africa’s freedom. With over 130 iconic photographs, this is one of the most important works of contemporary Africana to appear in the last two decades.

Foreword by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

EAN: 9780994677082
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Umkhonto we SizweUmkhonto we Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle by Thula Simpson

The armed struggle waged by the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), was the longest sustained insurgency in South African history. This book offers the first full account of the rebellion in its entirety, from its early days in the 1950s to the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South African president in 1994.

Written in a fresh, immediate style, Umkhonto we Sizwe is an honest account of the armed struggle and a fascinating chronicle of events that changed South African history.

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EAN: 9781770228412
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Dr Philip's EmpireDr Philip’s Empire: One Man’s Struggle for Justice in Nineteenth-Century South Africa by Tim Keegan

From the time he arrived in South Africa as superintendent of the London Missionary Society in 1819, Dr John Philip played a major role in the idealist and humanitarian campaigns of the day, working with English philanthropists such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Fowell Buxton and African leaders such as Waterboer, Moshoeshoe and Maqoma. He was a creature of an age of extraordinary optimism, who held out a vision of non-racialism and progress that needs to be rediscovered and remembered.

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EAN: 9781770227101
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Is it Just Me or is Everything Kak?Is it Just Me or is Everything Kak?: The Zuma Years by Tim Richman

It’s time once again to cry the beloved country, because ever since Alan Paton wrote his upbeat little book, South Africans have been taking his advice to heart: whinging and moaning about the state of the nation at regular intervals. And though we thought we’d got it all off our chests in the late 2000s with the original Is it Just Me or is Everything Kak? series, well, it’s back on our chests, isn’t it?

This is a book that unites South Africans in their misery and allows us to laugh it off. Just in time for the national elections, of course!

EAN: 9781928230335
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The Goddess Mojo BootcampThe Goddess Mojo Bootcamp by Kagiso Msimango

This book is for women who want authentic relationships, not those who are interested in learning how to manipulate men in order to get a ring on their finger. It’s for women who desire happy, healthy relationships in their lives. Central to this empowering book is loving yourself and feeling good about yourself. It teaches you how to attract a healthy relationship, through falling in love with yourself and your life.

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EAN: 9781920601683
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Blacks Do CaravanBlacks Do Caravan by Fikile Hlatshwayo

When her husband and children broke the news that they were planning a countrywide caravanning adventure, Fikile was adamant that “Blacks don’t caravan!” But faced with the prospect of being abandoned at home she put aside her preconceptions, put on her sunhat and started reading up on the way of the wild. What followed was an eye-opening, mind-changing trip of a lifetime. Fikile and her family visited over
25 caravan parks, covered over 10,000 kilometres, and traversed all nine provinces on their adventure.

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EAN: 9781431423774
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Stop going back to the farm: Celebrating the strong voices trying to pull South African fiction out of its self-indulgent swamp

By Wamuwi Mbao for the Sunday Times

Stop going back to the farm: Celebrating the strong voices trying to pull South African fiction out of its self-indulgent swamp


When I asked someone who claimed to be an enthusiastic reader what South African fiction he was reading, his face fell as if I had suggested drinking a tumbler full of a stranger’s tears. The kind of novel he envisioned was probably a grief-and-violence-sodden morality tale about apartheid.

South African literature, to borrow a joke from Tom Waits, is dominated by Grand Weepers and Grim Reapers. It reflects a society in which repressed sadness and spectacular violence trade regular places at the forefront of our national attention span.

The die was cast by Cry, the Beloved Country. Many people left school believing that all South African literature amounted to was wordy sermonising about the soul and pitched exchanges between white and black for the edification of some unseen interlocutor.

For many years they weren’t wrong. The crucible of South African writing has produced many significant writers, but also a great many also-rans. An odd result is that our literary scene loves a good formula. The first critic who called Cry, the Beloved Country “magisterial” should have patented the term, because that mode has become the coveted descriptor of serious South African fiction. That, and “searing”, which looks great in a review but quickly reaches its limits as an expression of anything. Paton’s novel spawned a hundred watery imitations, and so we came to understand literature as a mirror reflecting lives we already know, rather than as a way of opening life outwards.

The tree continues to bear bitter fruit. Most South African literature does too much of the work for you. This may or may not explain why South African literature sells like pork at a kibbutz. Very few, if any, South African authors make a sustained living from books alone. As one confided to me while slipping scones into his coat pocket at a book launch: “Ingrid and André obviously didn’t have student loans.”

But for the past year, I’ve been telling anyone who asks that there’s a must-read list of young South African authors. If the Mandela era birthed a crisply ambivalent literature that morphed into the hallucinatory crime-fiction boom of the Mbeki and Zuma years, the last two years have seen a new cohort of writers loosened from our traditional moorings of corruption and buried secrets.

Between postgraduate limbo and day jobs in ad agencies, these university-reared and copywriting-matured new writers create ways of speaking to the turbulence of the present. A ragtag group of novelists, poets and playwrights, their work is much more compelling than a lot of the stuff that has occupied our bookshelves over the past decade.

What does the new South African writing look like? It would probably use keywords like “hyper-literate” to describe itself. There’s a determined turn away from apartheid preoccupations, a campily sardonic humour always in touch with its own self-absorption; a favouring of statement over meditation, a pervasive anti-sentimentality, whether describing the kid next door’s death or the trepidations of a matric Rage party.

These authors are united less by age than by the environment in which they write. They understand that forgetting about verisimilitude is the first step towards achieving it. They are ciphers of our discordant age, and they embrace the unknown in ways that are exciting and that – most importantly – feel new.

* * * * *

How you know you are reading an old South African novel

1. Following the death of a father/mother/sundry other relative, Character X returns to South Africa after 10/15/20 years and must confront a dark and unresolved secret from the past (SPOILER: usually something bad involving race and/or sex).

2. Crime-by-numbers action in a loud dust-jacket, making mordant criticisms of the current government while taking great pains NOT to be about apartheid. May involve scenes from prison life that read suspiciously like they were culled from a Ross Kemp documentary.

3. Ordinary-lives drama in which City X (usually, but not always Jozi) is an awesome and edgy backdrop for a fairly ordinary story whose ordinariness is awesome and edgy because of the city.

4. Historical fiction usually involving a little-known South African historical event, padded out to speak to present-day anxieties. Is the old-world version of 5 (below).

5. Science/Future fiction, which goes to great lengths to show that the future will happen in South Africa too (probably in Joburg, but not Bredasdorp); usually uses the future to comment on the present.

* * * * *

New SA writers who might save us

Mohale MashigoThe Yearning
Mohale Mashigo
Mohale Mashigo’s The Yearning begins like a folkloric tale, reminding us that “we all have the desire to be special”. Mashigo can sound like Toni Morrison, with that same burnished sense of storytelling speaking through the novel. Zakes Mda, no less, calls The Yearning “a bewitching addition to the current South African literary boom”. Mashigo stakes out an imaginative terrain and then decorates it.
Panashe ChigumadziSweet Medicine
Panashe Chigumadzi
Panashe Chigumadzi’s Sweet Medicine brings a transnational dimension to this area of writing, being set in Zimbabwe. Sweet Medicine courses with the complications of coming to fruition in an economically precarious society. Rather, it’s a rueful tale about how to live in uncertain times, weaving in the problematics of patriarchy and gender inequality that is especially pertinent in a climate of blessers and sugar daddies.
Genna GardiniMatric Rage
Genna Gardini
Genna Gardini’s terse collection Matric Rage makes childhood feel like a morbid conspiracy. In each poem, Gardini finds an unexpected metaphor in the provincialism of everyday routines (a school outing becomes “a foefie-slide ride past the exit sign”), and her aphorisms unstitch old horrors (an abuser is “thready as a wear in the leather”). My copy is guiltily underlined, because every line shows off Gardini’s formidable powers. Her lens might swing to the past, but her poetry is rooted firmly in the present.
Nick MulgrewStations
Nick Mulgrew
In Nick Mulgrew’s Stations, muggy middle-class worlds are made knowable via reverberant prose. The stories are preoccupied with capturing the texture and shadow of an otherwise impenetrable world. Mulgrew has a knack for taking up or leaving off a story at just the right moment. Some characters’ stories stretch across several pages, while others like “Daughter” exhale their intimacies in half a page.
Koleka Putuma
Koleka Putuma
Koleka Putuma’s poetry has received rapturous attention, for good reason. She uses droll wit to cauterise old wounds and puncture new ones with equal candour: her poems reconfigure the odd predicaments of black life in South Africa without seeking to over-define what that life might be. Her magnificent suite of poems, Water, knows the deprivations and desolations beneath the everyday rituals of family life.
Wamuwi Mbao is an essayist and cultural critic. His short stories have been published in various collections. He lectures at Stellenbosch University on literary and cultural studies and post-transitional South African life.

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Modern London, 1970s London and 19th century Benin: Read an excerpt from Irenosen Okojie’s Butterfly Fish

Nigerian-born author Irenosen Okojie shortlisted for 2016 Betty Trask Prize


Butterfly FishThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Nigerian-born author Irenosen Okojie’s novel Butterfly Fish, which has just been shortlisted for the 2016 Betty Trask Prize.

The Betty Trask Awards are given annually to the debut novelists under the age of 35, to celebrate “young authors writing in a traditional or romantic style”.

Prize judge Michèle Roberts called Butterfly Fish: “A bittersweet story uniting different traditions of narrative to create a whole new geography of the imagination.”

Butterfly Fish spans modern London, 1970s London and 19th century Benin, combining elements of traditional Nigerian storytelling and magical realism with a compelling take on the legacy of inheritance.

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About the book

After the sudden death of her mother, London photographer Joy struggles to pull the threads of her life back together, with the support of her kind but mysterious neighbour Mrs Harris. Joy’s fortune begins to change when she receives an unexpected inheritance from her mother: a huge sum of money, her grandfather’s diary and a unique brass warrior’s head from the nineteenth century kingdom of Benin.

* * * * *

Read an excerpt:

Fish Out Of Water


19th century Benin


At dawn on the day the news of the competition reached the Omoregbe family, Adesua, with a bitter taste in her mouth, had risen to the gentle sound of her mother’s footsteps. From her position on the floor, the unrelenting glare of the sun flooding the small but sturdy compound provided further an illuminating reminder of the tasks to be done for the day.

The news that the king was looking for a new bride had quickly spread all over Esan land and people had been buzzing for weeks about the competition. The special event was to be held at the palace, where all suitable young women were to bring a dish they had prepared, and the king would make his choice of a new bride from the maker of the best dish.

Mothers running around like headless chickens, each eager to outdo the other, constantly visited the market stalls keeping their ears open for any piece of information they could glean to give their daughter an advantage. Fathers resorted to bribery, bombarding the King with gifts. The palace was laden with necklaces, cloths, masks, sweet wine from the palm trees, goat, cow and bush meat. The rumour began that the palace stocked enough to feed all of Esan and the surrounding areas for two seasons, though this came from Ehimare, the land’s most famous gossip, who was deaf in one ear and whose mouth appeared to be in perpetual motion.

Adesua was Mama Uwamusi’s only child who arrived in the world kicking and screaming into broken rays of light. Uwamusi had almost died giving birth, and further attempts at having other children had resulted in five dead babies. This day as they swept their small compound in preparation for their guests she handed
over the broom to her daughter, looking at her as if for the first time.

She must have known she had done well; Adesua was beautiful with a wide mouth and an angular face. She had the height of her father and his stubborn temperament but her heart was good and this pleased Uwamusi more than any physical attribute. Adesua was a young woman now, yet she wondered if the girl realised it, so quick was she to climb a tree or insist on going hunting with Papa Anahero at any opportunity Later, they were expecting the company of Azemoya and Onohe, two of Papa’s friends from a neighbouring village. She did not enjoy the extra work that came with attending to their every whim, for both men could each eat enough for two or three people and never failed to outstay their welcome. Azemoya had six wives and many children, and so was quick to invite himself to other people’s homes to ensure a reasonably large meal every so often. Onohe was a very lazy man; it was a curse that had afflicted male members of his bloodline for generations. Instead of working hard to provide for his family, he was full of excuses. Either there was some bodily ailment (real or imagined) troubling him, or the weather was not agreeable or the Gods had not shown him favour no matter how many sacrifices he made to them. Onohe was at his happiest whenever his stomach was full, yet it was widely known that his wives and children could sometimes be seen begging neighbours for food.

Adesua shook her head at the thought of it, so that is what it meant to be someone’s wife? Unable to understand how the men felt no shame at treating their women so badly, she set her mind to brighter things, longing for the day to be over, so she could have time to herself again and challenge some of the boys she knew to a hunting competition.

“You must send her to the ceremony, the King is looking for a new wife and Adesua has as good a chance as anybody else.” Azemoya’s loud voice could be heard over the crackling of wood in the fire.

“She is my only child, I think I will wait another season before I think of such matters”, Anahero replied.

“She cannot belong to you forever, it is time to start planning for tomorrow”, Onohe’s tone was filled with amusement. “She is a woman now. I too will send my eldest daughter to the ceremony; if I have good fortune on my side she may be chosen.”

“I have not seen such a smile on your wife’s face for many seasons,” Onohe added, biting heartily into a kola nut. “But I do not understand you Anahero. Why do you not have more wives? People have been laughing behind your back for a long time. You would have had many children by now. It is a foolish man that does not see what is right before his eyes.”

“Let them laugh, Uwamusi has served me well.”

“She did not bear you a son, and you know people talk, it is custom to have a son to carry your name”, Azemoya said smiling, exposing various gaps in his brown teeth.

Anahero’s voice rose defensively, “I have Adesua.” He had always ached for more children and he knew his face revealed that need even when he attempted to persuade himself otherwise.

“My spirit troubles me about sending Adesua to the king’s palace.” Anahero spoke this concern lightly gauging the reactions, as his sense of foreboding for his only daughter was deeply troubling to him.

“You must consult with the oracle for guidance. It is time. She cannot continue hunting and climbing trees with village boys!” Onohe patted him reassuringly on the back with one hand while eagerly reaching for another piece of yam with the other.

After their guests left, Anehero and Uwamusi made sacrifices. They swam in the river with painted faces. And when the gods summoned those faces underwater, their heads broke through the rippling surface in acceptance.

Five days passed. On the sixth day an angry wind came from the north, hissing and spitting out defiant trees on arrival, whirling loudly and destroying whatever crossed its path.

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Apartheid in post-apocalyptic America – Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer chat about their collaborative debut: Frank Owen’s South

Apartheid in post-apocalyptic America – Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer chat about their collaborative debut: Frank Owen’s South

SouthDiane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer have a new book coming out: South, written under the pen name Frank Owen.

Independent publisher Allen & Unwin calls South: “A stunning high-concept post-apocalyptic debut novel in the vein of The Passage by Justin Cronin.”

South will be published in the United Kingdom by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books, in July 2016.

Awerbuck and Latimer have collaborated before, notably on a short story called “Sweet Water” for FunDza, an online mobi-library of free stories for young South Africans, but South is their first book-length project.

Cat Hellisen caught up with Awerbuck and Latimer to find out more about their new novel, how the writing partnership works, and the magic of mushrooms.

* * * * *

You’re very different writers in terms of stories and styles and backgrounds. Can you tell us a little about Frank Owen, and the different facets of Diane and Alex that go into making him the writer he is?

Latimer: Writing is a personal process, and so it took some time to figure out how best to write together. The way I saw it was that I’d drive the storyline – try to get the pace and plot going so that there’s something happening in every chapter. Then over that Diane brings a very accessible but literary style – smart and layered and mesmerising.

PJ O’Rourke once made the comparison between the Voortrekkers and the American pioneers, noting how much they have in common. Do things like this give you the overlap to make the story engaging for both American and South African audiences?

Latimer: We were both initially uncomfortable with the idea of setting it in America since neither of us has spent much time there – but even so, the place didn’t feel foreign to write. That stems largely from the cultural colonisation that America has been doing for a century, through movies and books and big brands. America has become both a country and a genre. We’re writing in the genre.

South is an alternative history of the US, with the timeline deliberately fudged. We spoke about this Great Divide you create in your version of America. You are also able to draw on your South African experience. What were your thought processes while building this United America?

Latimer: This story is basically a transposition of apartheid onto the American continent, though the dividing line is literally one border – a bit like the “homelands”. South explores what apartheid might look like there.

The characters in South run the gamut, and there were those I hated, those I wanted to give a good kick up the arse, and those I loved. Could you talk to us a bit about your favourites to write, and how you approached the heroes and villains in your story?

Latimer: The backbone of the narrative rests on our favourite: Felix Callahan, an ex-TV salesman and amateur meteorologist living in an underground shack. He’s pivotal, yet he’s a reluctant participant the whole way through. We like him because his agenda is pretty clear. He’s not motivated by love or money, but by the hope that he might be left alone to drink his whiskey.

Every villain in South is really only trying to survive. They’re not malicious for the sake of it. The real villains are up North, since they’re the ones who’ve decimated everything below the border. Those guys we deal with in the next book, North.

South has a distinct The Dark Tower, Stephen King feel, though your story has stripped the magic and replaced it with science. Was King a deliberate influence? What other stories fed into the writing of South?

Awerbuck: King is God. But all of Bradbury and Le Guin get a nod, too. Michiel Heyns’s The Reluctant Passenger and Claire Robertson’s The Spiral House resonated. Real news stories infected the writing: Wouter Basson repeatedly getting away with his apartheid experimentation; Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Suit that lets mushrooms do the decomposition work after your death.

I know both of you have strong feelings on music. Was getting into the sound of the south important for you while working on this series?

Awerbuck: I kept listening to Miss Texas 1977′s “Nettles”, and it twanged something in my head. Books are ballads, too. The curated nostalgia inherent in bluegrass and folk is fascinating – that history and experience that you find in every culture: Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band; Valiant Swart. I also stumbled on The Civil Wars, and “Iron Head” Baker – the prisoner who first sang “Black Betty”. And Gene Kierman of Miss Texas composed two tracks for the series. They’ll be downloadable from the site.

I had some difficulties with accepting certain things – the winds and the viruses, and later the mushrooms. It turns out all this is plausible. Can you talk about the research?

Awerbuck: A lot of mushrooms – like shiitake and oyster, not psychedelic “boomers” – really are anti-viral as well as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. China has known this for 10,000 years. Our government ought to be researching the hell out of these things. Mushrooms have direct implications for HIV, TB, hepatitis, and the common cold. They literally grow in wood and – usually – horseshit, though on a formal scale it’s a pasteurised substrate. Kimberley farmers tried large-scale oyster-mushroom farming in De Beers’s abandoned mine shafts: I’ve eaten some of those babies. South Africa has loads of sites – Mushroom Guru, Funguys Gourmet, and so on.

Keep an eye on Books LIVE for more about South


The Space RaceHome RemediesBeastkeeper

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Niq Mhlongo’s top 15 books from the African Writers Series

Niq Mhlongo
Niq Mhlongo's top 15 books from the African Writers Series
AffluenzaDog Eat DogAfter TearsWay Back Home


Niq Mhlongo has shared his top 15 books from the legendary Heinemann African Writers Series.

Mhlongo is a known fan of the famous series, and at the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban this year he said it was a great influence on his writing.

“I grew up reading only the African Writers Series,” he said. “So when people talk about Charles Dickens, I’ve never even read him. It didn’t interest me at all. I grew up reading African writers. I read everything that was African.”

Read: ‘I’m not philosophical, I’m just a writer’ – Niq Mhlongo tells it like it is at Time of the Writer

Now Mhlongo has compiled a list of his favourites, and it’s a must see for those wishing to expand their knowledge – as Nozizwe Cynthia Jele comments: “This is the ultimate reading list!”

He writes on Facebook:

Before I studied literature at the Wits University, the only writers I was exposed to (apart from Shakespeare and Orwell) were African writers from the Heinemann African Writers Series. Here is my top 15 books that I adored from the series before I was introduced to other writers from around world.

Follow Mhlongo on Facebook here

Niq Mhlongo’s African Writers Series top 15

Some of the books are currently unavailable from the African Writers Series, and the cheapest edition has been substituted in

How many of these books have you read? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Second Class Citizen
1. Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta
EAN: 9780435909918
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2. Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
EAN: 9780435905323
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Nervous Conditions
3. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
EAN: 9780954702335
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Going Down River Road
4. Going Down River Road by Meja Mwangi
EAN: 9780982012635
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The African Child
5. The African Child by Camara Laye
EAN: 9780006122593
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The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born
6. The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
EAN: 9780435905408
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The Marabi Dance
7. The Marabi Dance by Modikwe Diboke
EAN: 9780435901240
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Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary
8. Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
EAN: 9780435902407
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House of Hunger
9. House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera
EAN: 9780435895983
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Afrika My Music
10. Afrika My Music: An Autobiography 1957-1983 by Es’kia Mphahlele
EAN: 9780869752371
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Call Me Woman
11. Call Me Woman by Ellen Kuzwayo
EAN: 9780958470827
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God\'s Bits of Wood
12. God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane
EAN: 9780435909598
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Mine Boy
13. Mine Boy by Peter Abrahams
EAN: 9780435905620
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14. Mhudi by Sol Plaatje
EAN: 9780143185406
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15. Chaka by Thomas Mofolo
EAN: 9780435902292
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Read an excerpt from Donald Molosi’s We Are All Blue – the first print publication of a play from Botswana

Read an excerpt from Donald Molosi’s We Are All Blue – the first print publication of a play from Botswana


This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from actor and playwright Donald Molosi’s groundbreaking We Are All Blue, the first Botswanan drama to be published in print form.

We Are All Blue is a collection of two plays, “Motswana: Africa, Dream Again” and “Blue, Black and White”, and includes an introduction by Quett Masire, former president of Botswana.

“Blue, Black and White” tells the story of Botswana’s first democratically elected president, Seretse Khama, and his interracial, transformative marriage to Ruth Williams in the 1940s. It is the longest-running one-man show in Botswana’s history and the first-ever Botswana play staged Off-Broadway in New York, for which Molosi won the 2011 United Solo Best Short Solo Award.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence, and Khama’s marriage is also the focus of a forthcoming film called A United Kingdom, which will David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, who starred most recently in Gone Girl. Molosi also has a small role in the film.

Molosi won the 2015 Bessie Head Short Story Award and was longlisted for the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize. He was also a facilitator for the 2015 Writivism creative writing workshops.

We Are All Blue was published by The Mantle in January.

“The publishing scene in Botswana favours textbooks, and so it is extremely difficult to publish and sell non-textbook material in Botswana,” Molosi said in an interview with World Literature Today. “What We Are All Blue offers is an opportunity to engage with Botswana of the past, present, and future at the same time.”

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Read an excerpt:

* * * * *
Donald Molosi


Based on the lives of Sir Seretse Khama (1921-1980)
and Lady Ruth Khama (1923-2002),
and the history of a nation.



Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. — Rumi

قوشعم روا قشاع
(“Lover and Beloved” in Urdu)

Present day is July 2002. A multiracial group of students enters and performs a folktale as the villagers of Serowe, perhaps accompanied by live guitar music. The students are also putting together the set and putting on costume as they tell the story.

This folktale is the theme to the class’s commemoration of Sir Seretse Khama Week, especially today (July 1) being Sir Seretse Khama Day. The class is also honoring Sir Seretse’s wife, Lady Ruth, who passed away two months prior to July 1, 2002.

ALL VILLAGERS: We begin this Sir Seretse Khama Week with the folktale that is our theme. The folktale is about a boy who brought his father back from the dead.

VILLAGER 1: It is said that there was once a boy who was living in a land far away from his kgota, his home. His father died while the boy was very young, so he did not know his father.

VILLAGER 2: When the boy was growing up and became aware that he did not have a father, he asked his mother.

ALL VILLAGERS: Mother, where is my father?

VILLAGER 3: And his mother replied—

ALL VILLAGERS: Your father is dead, my son. His name was Ngwedi, which means “the moon.”

VILLAGER 4: His mother had also since died. Hei!

VILLAGER 1: Now that the boy was growing older, he found himself wondering a lot about his father.

VILLAGER 4: People around him were treating the boy badly and beat him for no reason. He wanted his father’s protection.

VILLAGER 3: He wondered and wondered about his father and wanted desperately to see him. He wondered for days and weeks and months.

VILLAGER 2: One day he decided to yoke the donkeys to the wagon and set off for his father’s family dwelling place, his father’s kgota.

VILLAGER 1: Since his father’s name was Ngwedi, the kgota was also called Ngwedi, because he had been its headman when he was alive.

VILLAGER 2: It was evening when the boy left for his father’s kgota and the clouds were gathering over the moon. On the way he met a woman and sang out to her—

ALL VILLAGERS: Take heed, those who delay me! Where is Ngwedi’s kgota? Listen to what I ask, for the clouds are where the moon was. Don’t delay me.

VILLAGER 1: The woman said—

ALL VILLAGERS: Stay on this road, ngwanaka. You will meet some people going there. Ask them.

VILLAGER 3: Stay on this road. You will meet some people going there. Ask them.

VILLAGER 1: The boy continued his journey. On the way he met a man and he sang—

ALL VILLAGERS: Take heed, those who delay me! Where is Ngwedi’s kgota? Listen to what I ask, for the clouds are where the moon was. Don’t delay me.

VILLAGER 2: The old woman pointed to a place and said—

ALL VILLAGERS: That is the kgota you want over there, ngwanaka. Turn off the gravel road, walk a little bit and you will get to it.

VILLAGER 3: That is the kgota you want over there. Turn off the gravel road, walk a little bit and you will get to it.

VILLAGER 2: When the boy reached the kgota, he said to the people there—

LEFIKA: I am Morwangwedi, the son of Ngwedi. I want black sheep and white oxen; kill them for me. I am looking for the place where my father was buried.

VILLAGER 4: And so the people of the kgota took him to the kraal and showed him his father’s grave. The boy dug out his father’s bones and fastened them together. When he had done this, he took the meat of the sheep and oxen and put it on the bones. Then the boy began to sing—

LEFIKA: Take heed, those who delay me! Where is Ngwedi’s shirt? Listen to what I ask, for the clouds are where the moon was. Don’t delay me.

(As each item of clothing is mentioned, the villagers pull it out of their baskets and dress Lefika in it. Every time he puts on a new item of cloth- ing he transforms more into Sir Seretse Khama. Lefika is isolated from the rest of the ensemble. Soft, ethereal guitar music plays.)

VILLAGER 3: So the people of the kgota gave him his father’s shirt, and he put it on top of the meat of oxen and sheep, which was fastened to the bones.

VILLAGER 2: Then the boy asked for his father’s trousers in the same way.

VILLAGER 1: And his shoes.

VILLAGER 2: All the time urging them to hurry because the clouds were covering the moon.

VILLAGER 4: When the flesh was clothed, his father came to life! The boy yoked the donkeys, took his father, and set off back to where the boy had been living as an orphan. And when he arrived with his father, the people treated the boy like a king.

ALL VILLAGERS: They did not treat him badly like before, be- cause now he had his father to protect him.

(There is much jubilation and ululation. Lefika, one of the students has been transformed by the costume into Sir Seretse Khama. He poses as a statue of Sir Seretse and then melts out of the pose to deliver the follow- ing version of one of Sir Seretse’s speeches. Ensemble gathers around him and uses their bodies and configuration to establish a radio station studio and a microphone that Sir Seretse is speaking into. No music.)

LEFIKA: (Putting on his glasses.) Bagaetsho, we must write our history books to prove that we did have a past, and that this is  a past that is just as worth writing and learning about as any other. My fellow Batswana, we must excavate our history, dress it up in pride, intelligence, and foresight so that it may indeed come alive in our consciousness today.

(Lights fade and the rest of the speech is done in the fade-out to imply evanescent memory, or a glimpse.)

We must connect the present to the past so that the future may be secured. Because the past can disappear.

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