Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

“If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would probably never have begun.” Simone Haysom on writing The Last Words of Rowan du Preez

Published in the Sunday Times

The Last Words of Rowan du Preez: Murder and Conspiracy on the Cape Flats
Simone Haysom, Jonathan Ball Publishers
R275

Towards the end of 2013 a friend came to me and said: “I’ve just returned from Cape Town and the craziest things have been happening to a friend of mine.” I had recently moved back to SA after several years studying and working abroad and I was looking for a story, something that could help me understand the baffling, violent country I loved.

This turned out to be it.

The woman he was talking about was Angy Peter, and she was accused of necklacing a young man, Rowan du Preez, who she had been trying to rehabilitate from a life of crime. Angy, a criminal justice activist involved in a campaign to fix the dire state of policing in Khayelitsha, claimed she was innocent. She had been set up, she said, by a policeman she had accused of corruption, and a police force that considered her an enemy had gone along with it.

But the state had, on the face of things, a strong case: eyewitnesses to the assault, and a declaration supposedly made by Rowan himself – to three policemen – as he lay dying.

I spent the next five years researching and writing the story: attending the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, Angy Peter’s trial, and asking questions in Mfuleni, where the murder took place, poring over transcripts and chasing leads that often didn’t work out.

The story turned out to be as much about the toll that impunity – at high levels and low – has taken on our society, as it was about these specific events.

Sometimes the degree to which the truth refused to be pinned down was so extreme it became absurd. At one point in the trial, during a cross-examination of a witness who was being infuriatingly evasive, the defence advocate asked him: “What do you think the motive for the murder was?”

So intent on dodging questions was he, he replied: “Which murder?”

“This one!” bellowed the advocate, and I thought for a second he might be about to commit another.

If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would probably never have begun. In a story like this, your head can get done in, both by what you don’t find out and what you do.

Working through hundreds of pages of eyewitness and medical testimony on a necklacing begins to take a toll. You tell yourself it’ll be worth it when you find the truth, but that’s elusive. Though I was able to find out far more than the official story, my limitations to getting to the heart of what happened caused me angst.

You can’t get all the access you need: the story is shaped by the gaps you get through. @simonehaysom

Book details


» read article

Charles Massy’s book on agriculture in drought-stricken Australia has incited furious debate, writes Bron Sibree

Published in the Sunday Times

Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth *****
Charles Massy, Chelsea Green, R500

Charles Massy seems an unlikely revolutionary. Yet this softly spoken 65-year-old Australian farmer, bird lover and zoologist first won plaudits for exposing the political skulduggery that led to the decline of the Australian wool industry in his 2011 book, Breaking the Sheep’s Back.

He is now leading the charge for an agricultural insurrection with Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth.

It is a 500-plus-page tome so persuasive it incited furious debate in farming circles in Australia prior to its South African release this month, with prominent environmentalist Tim Flannery likening its power, scale and honesty to Rian Malan’s great saga of SA, My Traitor’s Heart.

Massy, who still tends the farm his family has tilled for five generations, prefers to describe the book as “a gentle course in teaching landscape function through lots of stories”. But he is quick to acknowledge that many of the revolutionary ideas he describes in it, indeed, “came out of Africa”.

He is eager, too, to confess to his own agricultural crimes, and to the palpable sense of urgency that drives Call of the Reed Warbler, which is at one level a momentous history of industrial agriculture and the ravages it continues to wreak upon global landscapes at a moment in “this Anthropocene epoch where”, says Massy “we are entering unknown and frightening territory”.

At another, it is the deeply personal story of a cluster of individuals who have transformed their farms from drought-blighted dustbowls into moist, fertile, financially viable farmlands by using a range of regenerative techniques – “techniques that many regard as counter-intuitive”, says Massy.

Among the many techniques he details in the book are the radical livestock grazing practices advocated by controversial Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory, whose story, along with that of fabled South African botanist John Acocks, is one of many he tells in Call of the Reed Warbler.

“It was influences like that that helped save me,” says Massy, who advocates the Savory method of rotating livestock regularly and rapidly through small paddocks to imitate herd behaviour of wild hoofed animals in Africa.

This brings intensive bursts of manure and urine to the soil which in turn stimulates all important microbial and fungal activity – as well as greater germination of perennial grasses and cereal crops. He also advocates – and uses – a form of farming called Keyline, which deploys contours in the land to maximise water and conserve rainfall.

All in all his book is an elegant and exhaustively detailed plan to enhance five key landscape functions: the solar-energy cycle, the water cycle, the soil-mineral cycle, diversity and health of ecosystems at all levels, and the human-social.

For Massy, the latter is the key, and the most difficult. It is our very Western industrial mindset or what he calls the “mechanical mind”, that has led to such wholesale degradation of our soils and food.

He first began questioning the reigning agricultural paradigm in the wake of the ’80s drought.

“Every day for five years there were mocking blue skies; it got to the stage where the district was dust. We’d never seen anything like it. I had a little family, my father was dying and I was depressed but didn’t realise it. My mindset was that old paradigm – ‘I’m going to fight it and beat this drought.’ It’s a fairly arrogant statement isn’t it?” he now quizzes, “and of course I lost.”

His painful honesty in detailing how he dug himself out of “decades of debt” – and, more crucially, out of the “mechanical mindset” which led him to perpetuate the mistakes that turned the family farm into “a dustbowl” – is part of what makes this vast hybrid of a book so compelling.

Massy’s unparalleled ability to convey the beauty and complexity of the natural world to the page is another. He is keenly aware, too, that in writing about the destructive impact of industrial agriculture on the one hand, and proffering counter-intuitive solutions on the other, he is rubbing up against the same paradigms and vested interests that reacted with vitriol to Savory’s earlier ideas.

“But there is more receptiveness to change now,” he says, “because farmers intuitively know something is not right.”

Since the book’s release he has addressed farmers and scientists in various parts of the globe about the regenerative agriculture he describes. Yet he shrugs off the rigours of piling those added labours onto the demands of farming in the interests of transforming the way we farm, eat and think about the earth itself.

“You only get a small unique window of advocacy, and if you believe in something, well, you’ve got to grab it, haven’t you?” @bronsibree

Book details


» read article

The 2018 SALA shortlist has been announced!

Via The South African Literary Awards

Celebrating 13th anniversary of their existence, the South African Literary Awards (SALA) have shortlisted twenty three (23) authors from a total of just under two hundred (200) submissions received for 2018. The winners will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony on the 6th November at UNISA.

Following the passing on of the 2nd National Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, the prestigious South African Literary Awards will announce his successor as well as introducing two additional categories: Novel Award and Children’s Literature Award.

The Awards will be followed by the 6th Africa Century International African Writers Conference whose International African Writers Day Lecture will be delivered by Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah, the renowned, highly respected scholar, prolific author and public speaker, who is also the founder of the Center for Advanced Studies of African Societies in South Africa.

The Conference is also taking place at UNISA over two days, i.e. 6th and 7th November 2018.

“We are excited that South African literature continues to flourish, with many young writers coming into the scene, sharing platforms with their more established and experienced counterparts,” said Morakabe Seakhoa, Project Director of the South African Literary Awards.

Seakhoa, however, expressed sadness and concern that “we still see less and less of works written in African languages”.

Founded by the wRite associates, in partnership with the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in 2005, the main aim of the South African Literary Awards is to pay tribute to South African writers who have distinguished themselves as groundbreaking producers and creators of literature, while it celebrates literary excellence in the depiction and sharing of South Africa’s histories, value systems and philosophies and art as inscribed and preserved in all the languages of South Africa, particularly the official languages.

With thirteen successful years of existence, thirteen categories and over 161 authors honoured, the SA Literary Awards have become the most prestigious and respected literary accolades in the South African literary landscape. SALA prides itself in not only acknowledging established authors but as a platform to budding writers through the First-time Published Author Award category.

We congratulate the 2018 nominees for their sterling work and keeping South Africa’s literary heritage alive.

First-time Published Author Award

Celesté Fritze: Verlorenkop (Afrikaans)

Malebo Sephodi:Miss Behave (English)

Creative Non- Fiction Award

Deon Maas: Melk die heilige koeie: Van baarde en banting tot Zupta and zol (Afrikaans)

Jurgen Schadeberg: The Way I See It (English)

Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

NO SHORTLIST

Poetry Award

Johan Myburg: Uittogboek (Afrikaans)

Kelwyn Sole: Walking, Falling (English)

Literary Translators Award

Jeff Opland and Peter Mtuze: Umoya Wembongi: Collected Poems (1922 – 1935) by John Solilo (isiXhosa to English)

Jeff Opland and Peter Mtuze: Iziganeko Zesizwe: Occasional Poems (1900-1943) by S.E.K. Mqhayi (isiXhosa to English)

Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Nick Mulgrew: The First Law of Sadness (English)

Nicole Jaekel Strauss: As in die mond (Afrikaans)

Novel Award

Dan Sleigh: 1795 (Afrikaans)

Rehana Rossouw: New Times (English)

Children’s Literature Award

Marilyn J Honikman: There should have been five (English)

Jaco Jacobs: Daar’s nie ʼn krokodil in hierdie boek nie (Afrikaans)

Jaco Jacobs: Moenie hierdie boek eet nie (Afrikaans)

Marita van der Vyver: Al wat ek weet (Afrikaans)

Posthumous Literary Award

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Literary Journalism Award

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Lifetime Achievement Literary Award

Hermann Giliomee: Body of work (Afrikaans)

Ronnie Kasrils: Body of work (English)

Chairperson’s

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

National Poet Laureate

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Verlorenkop

Book details
Verlorenkop by Celesté Fritze
Book homepage
EAN: 9780795801068
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
Miss Behave

Miss Behave by Malebo Sephodi
EAN: 9781928337416
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Melk die heilige koeie

Melk die heilige koeie by Deon Maas
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624081166
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
The Way I See It

The Way I See It: A Memoir by Jürgen Schadenberg
EAN: 9781770105294
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Uittogboek

Uittogboek by Johan Myburg
EAN: 9781485307761
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Walking, Falling

Walking, Falling by Kelwyn Sole
EAN: 9780987028280
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
John Solilo: Umoya wembongi

John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935) edited by Jeff Opland, Peter Mtuze
Book homepage
EAN: 9781869143121
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
S.E.K. Mqhayi

S.E.K. Mqhayi: Iziganeko zesizwe: Occasional poems (1900–1943) edited by Jeff Opland, Peter T Mtuze
EAN: 9781869143343
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
The First Law of Sadness

The First Law of Sadness by Nick Mulgrew
EAN: 9781485625780
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
As in die Mond

As in die Mond by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
EAN: 9780795801358
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
1795

1795 by Dan Sleigh
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624073307
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
New Times

New Times by Rehana Rossouw
EAN: 9781431425808
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
There Should Have Been Five

There Should Have Been Five by Marilyn Honikman
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624076568
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Daar's nie 'n krokodil in hierdie boek nie

Daar’s nie ‘n krokodil in hierdie boek nie by Jaco Jacobs, illustrated by Chris Venter
EAN: 9780799383836
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Moenie hierdie boek eet nie!

Moenie hierdie boek eet nie! : ’n Rympie vir elke dag van die jaar by Jaco Jacobs, illustrated by Zinelda McDonald
EAN: 9780799379211
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Al wat ek weet

Al wat ek weet by Marita Van der Vyver
EAN: 9780799378993
Find this book with BOOK Finder!


» read article

Kate Sidley on what new book lists tell you about the world

Published in the Sunday Times

Every month, publishers send out This Month’s Highlights e-mails to reviewers like me. The point of the mail is for us to select books to review, but I use it as a handy snapshot of the state of the world. It’s almost as effective as reading the newspaper, and a lot quicker. From recent months’ offerings, I have developed the following worldview:

We wuz robbed

Books about the pillage of the public purse are a thriving industry in SA. There’s at least one new one a month – Licence to Loot; How To Steal a City; Shadow State; Other titles with the words ‘plunder’ and ‘capture’ – and they barely even overlap, so rich is the seam to be mined. There’s enough meat for sequels – I imagine Licence to Loot More, How To Steal Another City and Even Shadowier State.

Veg is the new Banting

The lists are littered with vegetarian and vegan recipe books like The Plant-Based Cookbook and Vegan Christmas. OK, so the titles lack the finger-licking allure of How To Be A Domestic Goddess, which made the full-creamy Nigella Lawson a welcome presence in our kitchens, but no animals were harmed in their making. South African restaurants still relying on pasta arrabiata and the “vegetarian platter” (aka, a plate of fried brown things) as their extensive vegetarian menu, could learn a thing or two.

#MenAreTrash

The number of stories about spousal abuse and gender-based violence is simply appalling. Famous names like Tracy Going (Brutal Legacy) and Vanessa Govender (Beaten But Not Broken) – and lesser-known but equally brave survivors – are telling their stories.

But people are pretty awesome

There they are, overcoming cancer, fighting apartheid (100 Mandela Moments), swimming long distances in very cold water, challenging injustice, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and climbing mountains on their one remaining leg – not at the same time, just to be clear. And we get to read about it. It’s properly inspiring.

Except for the ones that are psychos

There they are, murdering, abusing children, running apartheid death squads, mucking up the country (The Lost Boys of Bird Island being a case in point). And we get to read about it. It’s properly depressing.

We drink too much

The Craft Beer Dictionary, The Bourbon Bible, The Vodka Lover’s Guide to Cirrhosis, and wine, wine, wine. The world is all boozed up, and increasingly adventurously so – no longer does one simply add some T to one’s G – you toss in lavender and star anise and burnt orange peel.

We need help!

People, we are struggling! And there are books to help. From colour therapy to feng shui, to spiritual guidance, to diet secrets, to career advice, they make big promises – like Mr Bitcoin: How I Became a Bitcoin Millionaire at 21. I can’t vouch for the success of the methods, but the category is booming.

We need escape

Leave the predictable daily grind for the mystery of novels where people who are thought dead turn out not to be, or whether the assumed killer is but a red herring. Be transported to Tuscany, into the chiselled arms of a handsome stranger. Or to a Chicago speakeasy. Or to suburban London. Any place, really. Any place but where you are.

Book details
Licence to Loot
Licence to Loot by Stephan Hofstatter
EAN: 9781776093120
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

How To Steal A City

How To Steal A City: The Battle For Nelson Mandela Bay by Crispian Oliver
EAN: 9781868428205
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

Shadow State

Shadow State: The Politics of State Capture by Ivor Chipkin, Mark Swilling
EAN: 9781776142125
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

The Plant-Based Cookbook

The Plant-Based Cookbook by Ella Mills
EAN: 9781473639218
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

Vegan Christmas

Vegan Christmas by Gaz Oakley
EAN: 9781787132672
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

Brutal Legacy

Brutal Legacy: A Memoir by Tracy Going
EAN: 9781928420125
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

Beaten but not Broken

Beaten but not Broken by Vanessa Govender
EAN: 9781431426799
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

100 Mandela Moments

100 Mandela Moments by Kate Sidley
EAN: 9781868429028
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

The Lost Boys of Bird Island

The Lost Boys of Bird Island: A shocking exposé from within the heart of the NP government by Mark Minnie, Chris Steyn
EAN: 9780624081432
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

The Craft Beer Dictionary

The Craft Beer Dictionary by Richard Croasdale
EAN: 9781784723880
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

The Bourbon Bible

The Bourbon Bible by Eric Zandona
EAN: 9781784724573
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

Mr Bitcoin

Mr Bitcoin: How I became a millionaire at 21 by Mpho Dagada
EAN: 9781431426720
Find this book with BOOK Finder!


» read article

Which turn will the 21st century take? Michele Magwood talks to historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari about the challenges facing humankind

Published in the Sunday Times

21 Lessons for the 21st Century *****
Yuval Noah Harari, Jonathan Cape, R320


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“In a world deluged by irrelevant information,” writes Yuval Noah Harari, “clarity is power.”

The slight, unassuming Israeli historian shot to fame with his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind which was originally published in Hebrew. He followed it up with Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Together they have sold tens of millions of copies and been translated into 45 languages.

Harari is a boldly original thinker and credits the Buddhist tradition of Vipassana meditation for his focus and insight. He meditates for two hours a day and for one or two months of the year takes a silent retreat with no books or social media. He is a vegan and chooses not to use a smartphone.

Now, having scrutinised the course of human history and forecast the future of the species, Harari presents 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, which drills into the here and now and the immediate future of human societies. What are today’s greatest challenges and choices? he asks. Where are we heading and what should we pay attention to? Divided into sections like “The Technological Challenge”, “Despair and Hope” and “Resilience” the book presents a deeply disquieting view. “As a historian, I cannot give people food or clothes – but I can try and offer some clarity.”

Yuval Noah Harari. Picture: Olivier Middendorp.

 

Here he answers questions for the Sunday Times:

What do you believe are the high-road and low-road scenarios in the 21st century? What is the best we can aspire to and what is the worst to fear?

The twin revolutions in biotechnology and information technology will give us godlike powers of creation and destruction. But technology doesn’t tell us how to use it. In the 20th century, some societies used the powers of electricity, trains and radio to create totalitarian dictatorships while other societies used exactly the same powers to create liberal democracies. Biotech and infotech can also be used to create very different kinds of societies.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario is that humankind will split into different biological castes, resulting in a situation far worse than apartheid. Artificial intelligence will push hundreds of millions of people out of the job market and into a new “useless class”. People will lose their economic worth and their political power. At the same time, bioengineering will make it possible to upgrade a small elite into super-humans. Revolt and resistance will be almost impossible due to a total surveillance regime that constantly monitors not just what every individual does and says, but even what every individual feels and thinks.

The best-case scenario is that the new technologies will liberate all humans from the burden of disease and hard labour and enable everyone to explore and develop their full potential. Bioengineering will focus on curing the needy rather than on upgrading the rich. Artificial intelligence will indeed eliminate many jobs, but the resulting profits will be used to provide everyone with free basic services, and to allow everyone the opportunity to pursue their dreams, in the field of art, sports, religion or community-building. State-of-the-art surveillance will be used to spy not on the citizens, but on the government, to make sure there is no corruption.

Which of these scenarios will come true?

At present, we seem to be heading towards the dystopian scenario, mainly due to growing global tensions. You cannot regulate bioengineering and artificial intelligence on the national level. For example, if most countries ban genetic-engineering of human babies, but China allows it, very soon everybody will copy the Chinese, because nobody would like to stay behind. The only way to effectively regulate such disruptive technologies is through global co-operation.

What role will religion, ethics and morality play in the 21st century? Are we “playing God”, for example, with bioengineering?

Ethics will be more important than ever, because humankind will be more powerful than ever. When you have the power to re-engineer life, your views on “right” and “wrong” acquire cosmic importance. But you don’t need religion in order to have a good moral compass. For morality doesn’t mean “obeying God” – morality means “reducing suffering”. In order to act morally, you just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering.

Secular people abstain from murder not because some god forbids it, but because killing inflicts suffering on sentient beings. There is something deeply troubling and dangerous about people who avoid killing just because “God says so”. Such people are motivated by obedience rather than compassion, and what will they do if they come to believe that their god commands them to kill heretics, witches or gays?

And it is noteworthy that secular morality really works. The most peaceful and prosperous countries in the world such as Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands are secular. In contrast, deeply religious countries such as Iraq and Pakistan tend to be violent and poor. @michelemagwood

Book details


» read article

Launch: Ambassadeur III (28 September)

Ambassadeur is an annual literary lifestyle journal featuring art, literature and travel. The third edition of this journal will be revealed at the launch event on Friday, 28 September 2018, at Just Like Papa, 73 Harrington Street, Cape Town.

The latest edition will feature: the photography of Jaco S. Venter, an in-depth interview with vanguard artist J.E. Foster, a discussion on the relationship between art and cuisine with renowned chef, Johnny Hamman, a near-death experience in the Congo, a look inside Bulgaria’s Soviet monuments and much more.

Ambassadeur have also once again collaborated with the Italian luxury brand Gucci, to bring to life another revered South African novel through a unique photo-essay where fashion meets literature. This time around the novel is André P. Brink’s literary tour de force, The Ambassador, first published in 1963.


» read article

“It was the fascination of discovering the diverse paths taken by my childhood friends that made me write this book,” writes Jill Baker of The Horns

Published in the Sunday Times

The Horns is the first book in Jill Baker’s Zambezi-trilogy.

 
It was the fascination of discovering the diverse paths taken by my childhood friends that made me write this book.

Jabu, son of a respected amaNdebele chief, trained in Russia to become a leader within Joshua Nkomo’s military wing, Zipra, and determined to unseat the colonial government; Prune, whose mother was unknown at the clinic where she died giving birth to him, adopted by the Scottish nurse and guided by the clinic orderly as a Matabele boy; Themba who was born to be a slave under the Matabele but who excelled at school and university and represented Southern Rhodesia at international trade talks aged 26 and became a top political figure under Bishop Abel Muzorewa; and Carol, born into unusual circumstances and adjusting to a different world.

Finding out about their lives took eight years of meticulous and detailed research.

Joshua Nkomo was the leader and founder of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Picture: Paul Harris/Getty Images

 
I lost touch with Jabu. So I made contact.

Through single-word messaging of destination, time and date, I left Australia to find him in Botswana. A decade of ghastly war divided us.

From 48 hours of non-stop debate and disagreement grew mutual understanding, acceptance and renewal of that friendship.

I knew I had to tell that story because I had lived long enough to bring it to life for, hopefully, the greater understanding of the country we love.

What surprised me during my research was the machinations of man! The distortions — the vested interests – the manipulation – from all sides. And the savagery. I was at first shocked and appalled, then I had to understand it.

Then there was the courage, the benevolence, the interactions and the heart-stopping emotion of glorious moments.

The Horns: Book One of the Zambezi Trilogy by Jill Baker is published by Porcupine Press, R250.

Book details


» read article

A Darker Shade of Pale adds to the growing genres of books about the everyday and painful experience of apartheid and racism in SA, writes Donnay Torr

Published in the Sunday Times


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A Darker Shade of Pale: A Memoir of Apartheid South Africa ****
Beryl Crosher-Segers, Torchflame Books, R250

In an entry on her blog, Beryl Crosher-Segers ponders: “I couldn’t get to know white or black South Africans while growing up. But our lives were intertwined in some absurd way. I think absurd is the right word here …”

“Absurd” is the perfect word for the juxtaposition of what reads like a normal childhood – but set within the abnormal strictures of apartheid SA.

At its heart, A Darker Shade of Pale is about family. Beryl was born in Cape Town in 1955, seven years after the National Party imposed the system of apartheid. As the middle child of five, she was a quiet observer. “I was the typical ‘Dear Diary’ girl,” she laughs. “I didn’t speak much until I was about 17. But I wrote things down. I’ve always written things down.”

These early recordings of her life are what make her memoir an engrossing read. It weaves clear and poignant memories together in a straightforward, unsentimental way: of a hard-working survivor of a mother, a dissatisfied revolutionary of a father, the solace of good neighbours and friends, moments of joy, pain at the tragic loss of a brother … And finally, a grown-up Beryl and her young family emigrating to Australia. The things that make up a life. There’s one difference, of course. Beryl and her family were classified as “coloured” under the laws of apartheid SA. This meant separate schools. Forced removals from beloved homes and public spaces. Genial white bakers who called you “hotnotjie”, not “child”. Benches that read “Whites Only”.

A “whites-only” beach. Picture courtesy of Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Getty Images.

 
Beryl is now living in Sydney, Australia, and was named one of the country’s most influential Africans, receiving the Celebrate African-Australia’s Captain’s Award. She’s received a human rights award from the University of Technology in Sydney, participated in the organisation of the 2000 Olympics and has worked for senator Penny Wong, parliamentary leader for the opposition. Despite her success, the humiliation of apartheid still lingers and she shares a vignette that illustrates how the hurt is still there, even decades after leaving SA.

“In 2017, a filmmaker from the Australian Film and Television School made a documentary about my story. We went to visit my mother, she’s 86 now and also living in Australia. I took two of the original ‘Whites Only’ signs from the trains along. My mom would not touch them. She would not look at them. She’s been out of SA for 40 years, she hasn’t seen these signs for that long, but she just wouldn’t …”

Writing the book opened old wounds, but also purged some of the more traumatic experiences Beryl had while growing up, such as the night she and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Chris, went to the Rhodes Memorial to make out – and witnessed a mixed-race couple being arrested by the cops. The (white) male got to sit in the front of the police van, the (non-white) woman was thrown in the back.

“Chris and I still talk about that night,” says Beryl. “I can still hear the woman’s screams. I wonder what happened to her. Where she is now, if she is still alive. And I wonder what we could have done, if we weren’t so scared and helpless to do anything back then.”

Writing the book has also opened the floodgates for more memories from her friends and family.

“My mother told me something that she’d never mentioned before … She grew up in a suburb called Retreat in Cape Town. She said that one morning, the bridge they’d always had to cross to get to the train station was suddenly off limits to them. It happened overnight. She said, ‘We were herded like cattle down to the railway crossing to walk around and go on to the other side.’ She’d never told me that before. To go from human one day, to not-quite-human the next … She told me this story, and I thought she probably has so many more she hasn’t told me …”

Engaging people with the power of story is the point of this book. “People really need to tell their stories,” says Beryl.

“We need to make it clear that all this is not forgotten. There needs to be dialogue. I think if we can engage and talk about how wrong it was … That’s all we want to hear. Because we, and I’m talking about myself, I live with that. It was an abuse of our human rights.” @SAPixi

Book details


» read article

Sefika Awards & Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award winners announced!

Issued on behalf of the SA Booksellers Association and Publishers Association of South Africa by Native Worx PR & Communications

29 August 2018

Last night the much-anticipated Grammy’s of the book industry were announced at a packed ceremony held at the Wanderers Club in Illovo, Johannesburg. The annual event forms part of the booksellers and publishers of South Africa co-joined Annual General Meetings (AGM) where topical issues in various sectors of the book industry are discussed. The Awards acknowledge and celebrate booksellers and the role they play in promoting literacy and a culture of reading.

The winners are:

• Academic bookseller of the year – Protea Books
• Education bookseller of the year – Books 24/7
• Library supplier of the year – Hargraves Library Services
• Trade bookseller of the year (chain stores) – Bargain Books
• Trade bookseller of the year (independent) – The Book Lounge
• Academic publisher of the year – Juta Books
• Education publisher of the year (large) – Best Education
• Education publisher of the year (small) – Berlut Book
• Trade publisher of the year – Jonathan Ball Publishers

Winners are selected through a voting process which enables publishers to select the best among booksellers and in turn booksellers choose the winners among publishers.

The evening culminated with the most coveted accolade, the Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award. The award is bestowed upon a local author for a South African published book that booksellers most enjoyed selling or that sold so well that it made a difference to the bottom line of booksellers across the country.

The award went to The President’s Keepers by investigative journalist Jacques Pauw. Published by Tafelberg Publishers, the book exposes a secret at the heart of Jacob Zuma’s compromised government. To date the book has sold over 200 000 copies worldwide.

Mr. Pauw gave a riveting speech by sharing the journey of the book from the moment it hit shelves across South Africa.

“When criminal charges were instituted against me in an effort to ban the book, everyone went out and bought a copy of it and it sold out. In the midst of all the publicity it also become an international best seller on eBooks,” commented Pauw.

The short-listed books for Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award 2018 were:

90 Rules For Entrepreneurs by Marnus Broodryk, published by Tracey McDonald Publishers.
Khwezi by Redi Tlhabi, published by Jonathan Ball.
No Longer Whispering To Power by Thandeka Gqubule, published by Jonathan Ball.
I Write What I Like by Steve Biko, published by Pan Macmillan

The President's Keepers

Book details
The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison by Jacques Pauw
EAN: 9780624083030
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 

90 Rules for Entrepreneurs

90 Rules for Entrepreneurs by Marnus Broodryk
EAN: 9780620758352
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
Khwezi

Khwezi: The Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo by Redi Tlhabi
EAN: 9781868427260
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
No Longer Whispering to Power

No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela by Thandeka Gqubule
EAN: 9781868427314
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
I Write What I Like

I Write What I Like: 40th Anniversary Edition by Steve Biko
EAN: 9781770105102
Find this book with BOOK Finder!


» read article

An African refugee finds her struggle is not over once she makes it to the US, writes Margaret von Klemperer

Published in the Sunday Times

Clemantine Wamariya says being reunited with her parents on TV, with no warning, made her feel like the subject of an experiment. Picture: Julia Zave.

 
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
****
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil, Hutchinson, R320

Clemantine Wamariya’s story opens in 2006. She was an 18-year-old high-school student in the US and a finalist in an Oprah Winfrey essay competition. As one of the finalists, she set off for the filming of an episode of Oprah’s show on Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel, as her essay was about Wiesel’s book, Night. But Wamariya is also a survivor – in her case, the Rwandan genocide.

Wamariya attended the shoot with her sister, Claire, who, nine years older than the six-year-old Clemantine, had protected her through six horrific years in the refugee camps of seven African countries. By 2006, they knew their parents had also survived, although they had not seen them for 12 years. With no warning, Oprah reunited the family on screen, in front of a worldwide TV audience – and of course there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Oprah had done an amazing thing, reuniting a family after years of devastation, death and loss. And she had raised awareness of a terrible event. But when I read about it, I could only see it as the commodification of grief and suffering, calculated to load the disengaged watchers with warm fuzzy feelings, but shattering to those to whom it mattered.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is partly an articulation of what that evening in a television studio meant. Wamariya says she was grateful to Oprah, of course, but goes on: “But I also felt kicked in the stomach, as though my life were some psychologist’s perverse experiment.”

Claire and Clemantine Wamariya on ‘Oprah’.

 
Wamariya tells her story with almost unbearable honesty and a palpable anger as she describes the refugee years with Claire, a survivor who was always on the hustle. In that time Claire had two children who Wamariya made it her mission to keep alive, clean and attractive – because clean, attractive infants score better in the hand-to-mouth refugee existence.

Once the sisters were granted refugee status in the US, Wamariya was taken in by a family who saw to her education so successfully that eventually she was accepted to go to Yale. But her main struggles were never going to be academic: Wamariya had to deal with people who wanted, often from the best of motives, to see her as a kind of “genocide princess”, particularly after Oprah. She tried to live up to that, but boiling away beneath the surface was distrust of people’s motives, learnt in her years trailing around the eastern side of Africa.

Then there was the difficulty of forming a relationship with the family she had been torn from at the age of six. Wamariya is honest about her problems and the loss of a sense of self that came from her horrendous childhood. She writes of her hatred of the word “genocide”, because it is an easy catch-all. Each person caught up in it has their own personal story, a private horror that can become lost in the general.

We all know the compassion fatigue that stories of refugees and their situation can engender. Wamariya lays her experience before us without asking for pity or even understanding, but simply for the time it takes to read her book. And it is well worth every minute.

Book details


» read article