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Right! That's a wrap of our #ManBooker2014 coverage. Congratulations to Richard Flanagan

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Interview with Margie Orford: Freedom of Expression Can Never be Seen as a “Nice to Have” Right

Margie Orford

Margie Orford chatted to Books LIVE about her recent appointment to the board of PEN International, the work she is doing as head of SA PEN, and why her fans will have to wait patiently for her next novel.

Orford, a celebrated crime novelist and award-winning journalist, was appointed the head of SA PEN this year, and voted onto the board of PEN International this month. Orford says her work with the international chapter will focus on strengthening ties between PEN Centres from the north and the south, as well as looking at solutions to the worrying trend of threats to freedom of expression.

With much important work to be done, Orford admits she has little time for writing, but does reveal that she is working on two novels, saying: “books are like mistresses – eventually they make you spend the time and attention on them that they need”.

Water MusicLike ClockworkDaddy\'s GirlBlood Rose

Are you enjoying your new role as head of SA PEN? Could you tell us what projects have you been involved with so far?

I became president of PEN South Africa in May. It was really an honour as PEN SA’s membership is growing and our projects are expanding. We have three main areas of work – the first is on issues of freedom of expression. This grew out of work around the Secrecy Bill but we keep a close eye on infringements on the rights of journalists to work freely and more broadly in freedom of expression in other African countries. We have worked closely with PEN Zambia and PEN Ethiopia. We partner with Nal’ibali – a wonderful organisation that provides books, libraries, mentors and training for children in a range of South African languages.

PEN is founded on the idea that literature knows no boundaries and that linguistic diversity is crucial to creativity and a free society, so what we do is fund (as much as we can afford) translations of children’s literature in as many South African languages. Literary culture is, in my view, of great value and we also partner with Open Book and the Franschhoek Literary Festival – we have hosted a number of PEN Dialogues and brought some great writers to South Africa. There’s lots to do – check out our website and that of PEN International.

We are focusing our work in the near future on Criminal Defamation and Insult Laws, both sets of legislation that are used to limit freedom of expression in many countries. That will keep us busy.


Congratulations on being voted onto the board of PEN International. Did you expect it?

Thank you! Well, I was nervous – there were five candidates for two places on the board of PEN International. I was nominated by PEN Denmark and PEN Mexico – so it was a real honour to be elected at the PEN International Congress in Bishkek in Krygyzstan. The board is so diverse. (Click here to see the Board of PEN International.)

Have you met your fellow board members yet, or when is your first meeting?

Yes, I know most of them from previous PEN Congresses – these take place annually and I have worked closely with PEN International on a number of projects. My first board meeting was straight after the PEN Congress – very interesting working on strategy for the coming years and looking at ways of dealing with the increasing threats to freedom of expression that have come from mass surveillance (Snowdon blew that out of the water), the rigid legislation against LGBTI people that was pushed through in Russia and is now being passed in a number of ex-Soviet countries and in a number of African countries.

Freedom of expression – when you see how people are silenced and imprisoned – can never be seen as a “nice to have” right. It really is the foundational democratic right – it ensures the right to assembly, to privacy, to live out your life according to one’s own sexual orientation, it is crucial for women’s rights to a public life.

With board members from all over the world, what do you expect your contribution to be, or where do you feel your expertise lies?

I am an organiser and networker – so I think I will focus on doing that. We will be hosting a meeting of six PEN Centres from African countries in December with the Wits School of Journalism – and next year a large meeting of about 20 African PEN Centres. These connections are crucial for developing literary culture and an embedded notion of freedom of expression in the media on the continent. I believe in the strength that comes from working collectively and in building partnerships – so getting PEN Centres from the north and the south to strengthen their ties is crucial. PEN South Africa has worked closely with PEN America, PEN Norway and English PEN. These relationships – both organisationally and the friendships that develop between writers – are of great value.

You and Mohammed Sheriff of Sierra Leone are the only two board members from Africa. Considering the threats to press freedom that we see so frequently in Africa, do you feel you and Sheriff have a disproportionately large role to play for Pen International?

We have worked together before – Mohammed has done amazing work with PEN Sierra Leone – grassroots literacy work and organisation development. I think that we will complement each other well – South Africa is a very different place to work in, but I have worked in the grassroots education sector too and I understand its value. Mohammed also brings the wealth of francophone Africa’s literary heritage to the fore. So South and West – lots to cover – but we will manage. We collaborate with very interesting centres in Africa and are guided by the PEN African Network which is a wonderful network of African centres. Its not easy – resources are scarce and people are busy – but the network is energetic and great to work with.

Are you still finding the time to work on your fiction?

Ha ha! The joke question I guess. Not right now – but it will come – I needed a break. I have been writing like a mad woman for years now and I missed being in the world and busy. So its a good feeling to be doing this. I am going to have to carve out the time but my last daughter finished school this year – so I will have a different kind of time to play with. There are two books – novels – in the pipeline, a bit different to the Clare Hart series, but I am excited about writing something different, and books are like mistresses – eventually they make you spend the time and attention on them that they need …

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RIP Gerald Kraak (1956-2014) – Beloved Friend, Comrade, Mentor and Supporter of the South African LGBTI Movement

Gerald Kraak

Ice in the LungsGerald Kraak, author of Ice in the Lungs and prominent figure in the South African LGBTI movement, has lost his battle with cancer, passing away last Sunday.

The great number of tender tributes from various human rights organisations and prominent social activists bear testament to Kraak’s invaluable contribution to the South African society.

Zackie Achmat writes on GroundUp: “Gerald’s work, love, activism, intellectual contributions and personal generosity lives on in all of us.” The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) writes, “We will always remember Gerald’s rock-solid support, his careful and wise counsel and his wicked sense of humour. He will be sorely missed.”

In their tribute the organisation Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) stressed, “the sector as we know it would not have been possible without Gerald’s vision, courage and determination”. They continue, “There are very few LGBTI organisations that have not benefited from Gerald’s dream of a better world.”

Rest in peace, cherished Gerald.

Read the tributes:

Gerald Kraak (1956-2014), who was responsible for organising funding for many leading civil society organisations, died of cancer on Sunday night. Zackie Achmat pays tribute to his old friend.

Gerald Kraak was a friend, ex-boyfriend but above all a comrade to me and many others. As one of the leaders and organisers of the Committee of South African War Resisters in exile, Gerald helped divide white youth conscripted to the Apartheid army. Before that he was active in NUSAS in Cape Town.

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Gerald Kraak – a beloved friend, comrade, mentor and supporter of the South African lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) movement.

Gerald Kraak thought differently. He believed that South Africa’s transformation would not be possible unless all people – including LGBTI persons – could access their human and socio-economic rights. His broad vision for social justice encompassed all South Africans – from migrants and refugees to farm workers and activists fighting for freedom of information.

With profound sadness, SERI marks the untimely death of Gerald Kraak, former programme executive at the South African office of The Atlantic Philanthropies. Gerald was a fine scholar, a level-headed philanthropist and a deeply compassionate and supportive man. He played a crucial role in SERI’s foundation.

His creativity, passion and commitment to holding South Africa to its promise of rights and equality for all people was evident in all of his grantmaking for The Atlantic Philanthropies.

Our hearts go out to his family, colleagues and countless friends.

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New Podcast Series by Markus Wormstorm: Lauren Beukes on Internet Scams and Max du Preez on “The African Socrates”

Lauren Beukes and Max du Preez are the first two contributors to a new series of podcasts, produced by Markus Wormstorm for Honeymoon Studios.

\'A Chief is a Chief by the Grace of His People\'nullA Rumour of Spring

MoxylandZoo City (SA edition)The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters

Du Preez’s podcast is entitled “The Giants of Lesotho”, and focuses on Mohlomi, a leader and philosopher from the Free State/Lesotho region, who lived around 1730. Du Preez has dubbed him The African Socrates, and has written extensively about him in Of Warriors, Lovers and Prophets and A Chief is a Chief by the Grace of His People. Du Preez says Mohlomi is “one of the best examples of the brilliance of pre-colonial African leadership exactly because he never set eyes on a European”.

Du Preez, who won this year’s Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for his latest book A Rumour of Spring, begins the podcast by saying: “This guy that I’m going to tell you about is one of the most spectacular people in the history of Southern Africa. And I was so surprised when I discovered him, how few people knew about him. If this was any other society, Western society, we would be teaching about him in history class. And yet he’s very little known.”

Beukes, meanwhile, focuses on lying for money, specifically with regard to internet scams, which are a central plot point in her second novel Zoo City.

“I think I got into it in the early 2000s,” Beukes says, “I started getting a lot of very interesting email. I’ve always liked to believe that I’m special, and that I’m the chosen one, really, like Harry Potter. And these emails seemed to corroborate that. They said I’d been chosen specifically, that God had sent the sender directly to me … to help them smuggle gold of the the country or recover their family’s fortune.”

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Hans Pienaar Reviews Are South Africans Free? by Lawrence Hamilton

Are South Africans Free?Verdict: carrot

University of the Witwatersrand academic Lawrence Hamilton’s Are South Africans Free? pulls no punches and, in near to scornful language, tears apart the constitution and post-1996 politics as beholden to a human rights discourse of which the greatest danger is that it creates the false belief that individuals have the power to change their lot. While it has brought a liberal dispensation in which about 23% of the population, of all races, have some power, the rest are not free because they don’t have sufficient influence over their political or economic representatives.

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Pieter du Toit resenseer Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle deur Richard Poplak

Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political JungleUitspraak: wortel

Dís nogal hoe ’n mens in dié land oor politiek moet skryf: met kleur, geur en soms ’n tikkie sarkasme.

Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle deur Richard Poplak, ’n joernalis by die webtuiste Daily Maverick, is ’n skerpsinnige weergawe van die algemene verkiesing van 2014.

Hy skryf met groot smaak en baie detail oor die stof en hitte van ’n Julius Malema-saamtrek in ’n plakkerskamp, die steriele geveinsdheid van ’n DA-nuuskonferensie, en oor die leier van die Boerestaat Party se teenstrydighede.


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Donald Paul Reviews Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle by Richard Poplak

Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political JungleVerdict: carrot

The great joy of being on the campaign trail with Poplak though is not only the insights into Julius Malema but also the side characters. Take Kenny Kunene and his Patriotic Alliance Party. Poplak reminds us ofthe fact that Kunene “isn’t the biggest piece of shit in South Africa” and that his talk about “helping children as often as Michael Jackson did, which, I’ll admit, is always a cause for worry” are not really the issues. What is the issue is that “no one knows what he does” since he stopped his life of crime and “got into the Brave New South African economy of producing nothing”. (He “won tenders” apparently.)

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Book Bites: 28 September 2014

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tale)
Book buff
Rosemary still grieves over her beloved “twin” sister, who was mysteriously sent away when they were five and hasn’t been seen since. Sibling memories and minor mysteries abound in what seems like a lively but ordinary family tale – until a big reveal on page 77. There’s no way to review this book without spoiling a fantastic twist. Let’s just say that despite an outlandish premise, the book isn’t cutesy at all: it is smart, juicy, moving and funny, delving into family, animal rights, guilt, delusions and the big question that suffuses many engrossing books – who we are and how we came to be.
– Kate Sidley @KateSidley

Missing YouMissing You
Harlan Coben (Orion)
Book thrill
This time Coban’s subject is online dating: once the province of losers or predators, connecting this way has become the norm. NYPD detective Kat Donovan is reluctant at first, but when she finds a photograph of her ex-fiancé Jeff, who broke her heart and disappeared 18 years ago, she clicks. The only problem is he is using a different name and when she contacts him, does not seem to remember her … twists, turns, red herrings romance and murder are served with the dry humour and witty panache we expect from Coban in this edge-of-your-seat standalone.
– Aubrey Paton

Until Julius ComesUntil Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle
Richard Poplak (NB Publishers)
Book buff
A raucous, on-the-ground account of the wild times preceding this May’s national elections, in which Poplak serves up the thoughts of angry beer drinkers in Bekkersdal, BEE Black Diamonds in Bryanston, the residents of tornado-torn Sasolberg and many others. Helen “Braveheart” Zille, Mmusi “Barack” Maimane and Julius “Teletubby” Malema are memorably taken on, and Poplak’s overall message becomes clear: We the people of SA should declare for all our country and the world to know that we are a crazy bunch. Own it!
– Vuyo Mzini @vuyomzini

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The Place of Storytelling in Social Activism: Writers Get Real at Open Book 2014

Northern GirlsProfits of DoomDo Not Go Gentle

Sheng Keyi, Antony Loewenstein and Futhi Ntshingila spoke to Mervyn Sloman about the responsibility of the writer on the final afternoon of the Open Book Festival.

The international panel went into the intended and inspected responsibility of the author, as well as the place of storytelling in social responsibility and activism. The panelists also investigated the impact of writing on the reader.

Books LIVE’s Helené Prinsloo provided in-depth coverage of the discussion:


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Fantasy vs Crime Fiction, Political Cartooning and The Buckfever Underground at Open Book 2014

Open Book 2014: Crime Fiction and Fantasy
Magician's EndTokoloshe SongCobra

Raymond E Feist, Andrew Salomon, and Deon Meyer spoke to Greg Fried about fantasy and crime fiction, and how the two genres interact, at the Open Book Festival this weekend.

Salomon said the wonderful thing about fantasy is that everything can be larger than life, while Feist believes the reader will accept the impossible before they will accept the improbable.

Meyer said that real world crime has no relation to crime fiction because crime fiction is meant to entertain.

The writers spoke about their interaction with readers, their research process, and collaborations between authors.

Books LIVE’s Lindsay Callaghan covered the conversation:


Open Book 2014: Buckfever Underground
South AfricaSolank verlange die sweep swaaiDie Alibi Klub

Legendary music group The Buckfever Underground performed during a Poetica session on Saturday, and poets Toast Coetzer, Danie Marais, Shirmoney Rhode, Bibi Slippers, and Jaco van Schalkwyk performed their works.

Books LIVE’s Helené Prinsloo tweeted snippets and snaps:


Open Book 2014: Comic Fest
DemoCrazyJerm WarfareJust for Kicks!Don't Joke

Andy Mason spoke to Zapiro, Jeremy Nell and John Curtis about two decades of political cartooning and controversy.

Mason said Zapiro has spoken truth to power over a long period of time, and argued that being a cartoon artist is about building community. Zapiro said, “We were challenging. We had tremendous freedom.”

The conversation centred around freedom of expression, the rights of the cartoonist, perceived racism, and shooting the messenger.

Books LIVE’s Liesl Jobson covered the gig:


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Bootstraps Beat bullets: Ray Hartley Reviews Why States Recover by Greg Mills

By Ray Hartley for the Sunday Times

Why States RecoverWhy States Recover – Changing Walking Societies into Winning Nations – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe
Greg Mills (Picador Africa)

Weighing in at an even 689 pages (including the index), Greg Mills’ Why States Recover is in publishing’s heavyweight division. But is it a heavyweight champion.

The book seeks to answer perhaps the most important question facing a fractured world: what does it take to bring progress to states that are teetering on the edge of failure because of war, economic disaster and poor governance?

Mills gives the answer in the very first sentence of his introduction: “But outsiders cannot fix state failure. Insiders are largely as responsible for their recovery as for their decline, since it is local politics, customs and rules that overwhelmingly shape their choices and thus their destiny.”

It is a bold and surprising answer. Mills simply doesn’t buy the cliché that failing states need some sort of foreign intervention or rescue package. Aid and development finance is the only part of the solution. What Mills is advocating is the political equivalent of tough-love.

Until the key actors in a society stand up, take responsibility and make tough decisions, there is no way that outsiders can bring about progress. They will simply be feeding a fatally wounded beast with investor money “simply another faucet for redistribution and a free ride for party hacks”.

Mills’ day-job as head of the Oppenhemiers’ Brenthurst Foundation has seen him travelling the world to meet with presidents, bankers, businessmen and military leaders as an advisor.

What he accomplishes with this book is to take you along for the ride, giving you the sense that you are at his side as he tries to understand the challenges placed on the table by those along the “spectrum of fragility” he meets with.

In Argentina – Mills coins the term “Cristianista” to describe the supporters of president Cristina Kirchner – where hope of recover is being undone by rampant consumerism and low investment and what he describes as “stop-go, boom-bust political short-termism”, Mills blames the voters for the country’s malaise because they have elected leaders who have accelerated dysfunction.

In Afghanistan, Mills writes of his experience travelling on a truck in a convoy of 19 carrying 45 000 litres of fuel from Spin to Kandahar under the title “A little bit of ammo and a few other things” – the reply he gets when he asks his military escort what’s in a heavy bag behind the seat. It was a dangerous thing to do, but it gave Mills insight into the basic logistical problems and plenty of colour: “Pakistani music crackled on the cheap stereo, our load was never far from the mind, heightened by the cigarette always dangling from Sherafzal’s lips, and the gloep-gloep sloshing noise behind us.”

Where did it go wrong for Africa? “The easy answer is that many African countries have, by comparison to Southeast Asia, made poor policy choices, and often because this has been a way of ensuring control, power and wealth.”

He goes further: “In some respects, not least due to a relative lack of destruction that accompanied the continent’s anti-colonial struggle, African countries were better off than their Asian counterparts at independence. Few African countries, after all, can claim the bitter cost and damage wrought by the wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”

His advocacy, in his final chapter of a “buy, hold, fix” leadership which does not seek power at all costs, but owns its problems and makes the right choices is very difficult to argue with.

His book is, in the end, an astonishing work that is based on years of on-the-ground research that no-one who seriously wishes for a brighter future for Africa and the developing world can afford to ignore.

Follow @hartleyr

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