Published in the Sunday Times
The Sunday Times books team asked an array of notable South Africans which books they will be taking with them on holiday.
THE COLUMNIST – Darrel Bristow-Bovey
I’ll be reading Luke Alfred’s When the Lions Came to Town (Zebra Press), about the 1974 British Lions’ tour of South Africa, because Luke is a sportswriter with heart and flair and tells a good story. I also have Paradise by Greg Lazarus (Kwela Books), a smart, funny and cosmopolitan local pair of novelists. Each year for the past two years has seen the release of a new volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway (Volume 2, 1923-1925 – Cambridge University Press). Last year’s volume 2 took us to 1925, and I’m desperately hoping volume 3 is about to be released. I’ll also be obsessively re-reading my own book, One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo (Zebra Press), to check for spelling errors and typos.
THE PUBLIC PROTECTOR – Thuli Madonsela
I intend reading these books during the holidays: The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Pax Librorum, R80), Love is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald Jampolsky (Celestial Arts), Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership by Laurie Beth Jones(Hyperion) and The Richest Man Who Ever Lived by Steven K Scott (Broadway Books).
THE TRAVEL WRITER – Bridget Hilton-Barber
First up is Stoep Zen: A Zen Life in South Africa by Antony Osler (Jacana), whose blurb says it’s Lao Tzu meets Oom Schalk Lourens. The question Osler poses is how do we reach down through swirling emotions into a quieter space where we can see a little further and love a little deeper? The other little gem that awaits on my bedside table is an illustrated book called Yoga for Chickens by Lynn Brunelle (Chronicle Books). “Feeling fried? Feathers ruffled? The birdbrained wisdom in this little book will have you clucking like a spring chicken in no time.” And finally, I am going to get stuck into Lost and Found in Johannesburg by Mark Gevisser (Jonathan Ball Publishers).
THE INTELLECTUAL – Eusebius McKaiser
I have already started on my holiday reading because, well, why wait?! I’m halfway through Jacob Dlamini’s Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle (Jacana). It is narrative writing at its lyrical best, and the moral philosophy student in me is intrigued by the complexity of black people who betrayed black communities during apartheid. I will also read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (Vintage Books), a classic on race relations in America. In the wake of Ferguson, revisiting this masterpiece is compulsory.
THE FESTIVAL DIRECTOR – Ann Donald
My summer reading will be a continuation of my reading all year: the books of authors who’ll be attending the Franschhoek Literary Festival in May, including The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press), Esther’s House by Carol Campbell (Umuzi), Tales of the Metric System by Imraan Coovadia (Umuzi), Askari by Jacob Dlamini, Unimportance by Thando Mgqolozana (Jacana), and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Little, Brown).
THE HISTORIAN – Tim Couzens
For me Christmas starts very early, so I have just read Ray Hartley’s Ragged Glory (Jonathan Ball Publishers), an overview of the last 20 years of South Africa political history, which is characteristically sane and balanced. I am now reading – recommended to me by Corina van der Spoel who ran the Boekehuis before it was closed in act of barbarity not seen since the ransacking of the churches during the Reformation – WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (Vintage Books) which, from the depths of his erudition and his appreciation of the complexities of history, moves seamlessly from the very local to the exciting diversity of the human and natural world.
THE CELEBRITY – Gareth Cliff
Surprisingly, despite starting CliffCentral.com this year, I have found some time to read. From Barry Bateman and Mandy Wiener to Pamela Stephenson to Jerm the cartoonist, there is so much great stuff being published that it’s hard to narrow things down to just one book. But to be really self-indulgent, I have to admit that my current obsession is a book by Sir Hugh Roberts, Director of the Royal Collection, about the furnishing and decoration of King George IV’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. It’s called For The King’s Pleasure (Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd).
THE GONZO ESSAYIST – Bongani Madondo
I will be reading a lot! Ok, maybe I will be lucky to finish at least three of the following: Mandla Langa’s latest novel The Texture of Shadows (Picador Africa); The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown); You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town by Zoë Wicomb (Umuzi); I Would Die 4U: Why Prince Became An Icon by Touré (Free Press), and Stokely: A Life by Peniel E. Joseph (Basic Civitas Books), which is the latest biography of the revolutionary Stokely Carmichael (Miriam Makeba’s one time husband … one of the five exes). I don’t think I will get halfway through the list though. There’s just so much to do, especially with family demanding its pound of flesh of your time.
THE INDIE BOOKSELLER – Kate Rogan (Owner of Love Books)
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Jonathan Cape). I cannot wait to get my teeth into this. It’s just won the Samuel Johnson prize, which is the biggest thing in non-fiction awards – and it’s the first ever memoir to do so. In a nutshell, Helen Macdonald loses her father, and in her grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. My ears pricked when someone said it was the next The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto & Windus,). Whatever it turns out to be, it’s the kind of book that needs the time I can only give it while on holiday.
THE EXCLUSIVE BOOKS CEO – Benjamin Trisk
Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning (HarperCollins). For students of the Holocaust there is a fascinating debate between Browning and Daniel Goldhagen about the culpability of ordinary Germans caught up in the implementation of the Holocaust. Also in a historical vein is Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (Alfred A Knopf). Hastings concentrates on the accidents of timing and long-held simmering nationalisms that coalesced in that fateful year. I am an adequate amateur cook, love cookbooks, and the best local cookbook that I have seen for a long time is Kobus van der Merwe’s Strandveldfood (Jonathan Ball Publishers). I think it is sensational.
THE TREND-SPOTTER – Dion Chang
I have earmarked the following for my festive break: The latest Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage (Harvill Secker). I am a huge fan and will read anything that he writes. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. I’m fascinated by Japanese culture (hence Murakami being on my list) and this biography also explores the exquisite art of “Netsuke” – tiny but intricate wood or ivory carvings. Ai Weiwei Speaks (Penguin Special) – a collection of interviews by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist that follows Weiwei’s incredible installation “S.A.C.R.E.D” at the Venice biennial, depicting scenes from his 81-day incarceration by the Chinese government. Finally, for much needed escapism, I’ll also be tackling The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling, Little Brown).
THE NOVELIST – Imraan Coovadia
I’m reading The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Tor Books), a great Chinese science fiction writer, the Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson (Copper Canyon Press), translated by WS Merwin, Microcosms by Claudio Magris (Gallimard Education), Plenty More by Ottolenghi (Ebury Press) and Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi (Canongate, R180). Five books which promise to be miraculous. I just finished Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Boyhood Island (Alfred A Knopf). Great.
THE MAVERICK – Marianne Thamm
I have quite a neglected stack next to my bed, including Martin Meredith’s The Fortunes of Africa: A 5 000-year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour (Jonathan Ball Publishers). This “vast and vivid panorama of history” offers a renewed opportunity to engage with the backdrop to contemporary political developments. I’m halfway through Jonny Steinberg’s extraordinary A Man Of Good Hope (Jonathan Ball Publishers), which charts the journey of refugee Asad Abdullah from Somalia to Cape Town. And in a further attempt at understanding the physical, political and intellectual geography of South Africa, there is Imraan Coovadia’s novel, Tales of the Metric System, Mandla Langa’s The Texture of Shadows and Jacob Dlamini’s Askari.
THE LIT MAG EDITORS
Alex Matthews, editor of Aerodrome
I’m a huge fan of both lighthouses and Marguerite Poland, so The Keeper (Penguin) is therefore an irresistible prospect. I also can’t wait to finish Mark Gevisser’s Lost and Found in Johannesburg, which is an eloquent, vivid merging of maps and memories.
Helen Sullivan, editor of Prufrock
One of the best things about summer for me is magazines. Thick Christmas issues full of beautiful things, and stories and articles that seem to be more moving when it’s the end of a year. I’ll also be looking out for South African literary mags like Prufrock – uHlanga (an anthology of poetry from KZN – R50 on uhlangapress.co.za), Aerodrome (R140 from aerodrome.co.za) and New Contrast (R90 on newcontrast.net).
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Julius Sello “Juju” Malema owned 2014.
This according to Daily Maverick contributor Richard Poplak, author of Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle, in an article explaining why Malema deserves to be crowned 2014 Daily Maverick South African Person of the Year.
“Jacob Zuma brought the ANC a fifth landslide win at the polls. Thuli Madonsela kicked that win in the crotch and nailed the Nkandla debacle firmly to Zuma’s clammy forehead. Oscar Pistorius pretty much walked. All three of these notable South Africans said something important and lasting about their country in 2014, but they said it in the shadow of a giant floating onesie,” Poplak writes, referring to the now iconic red overall worn by Malema and other members of the EFF.
Various books on the topic of Malema and his party has been published, including:
Read Poplak’s article to understand why Malema was elected as Daily Maverick’s 2014 South African Person of the Year:
The EFF under Malema has always been undergirded by a radical leftist line, and identifies its enemies as “political parties whose agenda and political programme is to continue with white supremacy and the imperialist domination of South Africa.” To this end, the party has erected seven “cardinal” non-negotiable pillars that include the expropriation of land without compensation, nationalisation of all mines, banks and “strategic sectors of the economy” without compensation, and some very big sweeping of “economic development”, whatever that may mean when no one owns land and the government runs the banks.
The Daily Maverick Person of the Year runner up is Jacob Zuma, and the second runners-up are Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani.
Earlier this year New African included Malema on their annual list of 100 Most Influential Africans of 2014:
Julius Malema has completed the transition from being ready to “die for Zuma” to being his most vociferous critic. If his opponents thought that Malema’s expulsion from the ANC and legal difficulties with the taxman would finish him off, 2014 will have disappointed them. Malema’s new political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won a respectable 25 seats in this year’s general election and has since caused waves in parliament. The EFF has highlighted how removed the political debate is from much of the population by wearing bright red workers’ clothes and by breaking with parliamentary Most Influential Africans Politics and Public Office procedure by shouting down President Zuma with calls to “pay back the money” for his Nkandla homestead (see Thuli Madonsela entry below). This brand of populist politics divides opinion nationally but attracts big crowds wherever Malema goes. Despite his personal legal troubles, he may have spawned an organisation that, perhaps along with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which was expelled from Cosatu in November (see pages 58-9), can provide serious opposition to the ANC from the left, as the Democratic Alliance does from the liberal right.
Image courtesy of Liberty Voice
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By Nick Mulgrew for The Sunday Times
Jacob Dlamini (Jacana)
By now, Jacob Dlamini can claim to be a specialist in confronting and destabilising the narratives that people are told – and tell themselves – about apartheid. Native Nostalgia, his first book, trod controversial ground by examining how and why black South Africans might remember parts of their lives under apartheid with fondness. His latest, Askari, tackles one of the most under-articulated phenomena of struggle politics: the hundreds of men and women who defected and “collaborated” with the apartheid state against their former comrades. Pretty messy stuff – but as Dlamini writes, “Saying that things under apartheid were messy is not saying much.”
Askari centres on people who told stories in order to live, primarily that of Glory Lefoshie Sedibe, better known as, variously, Comrade September and Mr X1. In 1986, Sedibe was abducted from his hideout in Swaziland and tortured until he collaborated with apartheid security forces. In later testifying against his former comrades in court, Sedibe became perhaps the most despised (albeit under an alias) of all apartheid collaborators.
In tracking Sedibe’s transformation from “an impimpi catcher to an impimpi himself”, Dlamini hopes not only to humanise collaborators, but also to explore the afterlives of the secrets they both kept and betrayed.
Why would Dlamini want to do this, though? Would this not be valorising an especially heinous species of traitor?
Understanding, however, is not condoning. Stories of collaboration and betrayal have already made their way into evocative first-hand narratives, like as Hugh Lewin’s Stones Against the Mirror and Elias Masilela’s 43 Trelawney Park: KwaMagogo. But what marks Askari out is Dlamini’s authorial balance between empathy and an almost impassive, academic thoroughness. He is not an actor in this story; he is a narrator.
Askari cannot claim to be a definitive, know-all account of askaridom, nor of the life of Sedibe or the dozens of other collaborators Dlamini names and discusses. While his book is the culmination of a 26-year-long obsession Dlamini has had with askaris, Sedibe himself has been dead since 1994, and most askaris – still wary of public reprisal and condemnation – are reluctant to speak about their experiences. Further, the people he is able to speak to (like Eugene de Kock, who directed a legion of askaris) can’t be taken at their word. It is a jumble of unreliable sources, told by unreliable narrators – including Dlamini himself, by his own admission.
But Askari does not have to be definitive or perfect in order to achieve its aims. Dlamini delves into and explores the multi-faceted nature of betrayal and collaboration, not only during apartheid, but also during other times of political turmoil in other countries, via extensive detours into the psychology of interrogation and the remarkable and myriad follies of apartheid politicians.
He ultimately argues that “condemning Sedibe to hell would offer no insight” into our collective understanding of collaboration during apartheid. In humanising askaris, Dlamini shifts extra blame to the apartheid state. It is, after all, through torture that apartheid agents made comrades “choose” to collaborate.
Once he was turned, Sedibe was said to take visible relish in betraying ANC secrets. But, Dlamini argues, his askaridom was not an anomaly: it was not only the few hundred askaris, but millions of black South Africans who, at various times, were forced to work within and in support of apartheid structures – whether as teachers of bantu education, or as civil servants in homelands – and who made up a veritable spectrum of collaboration, from the benign to the dehumanising to the fatal.
Askari is one of the most important, probing and virtuosic works of non-fiction published in South Africa this decade. In ambition he is rivalled by only a handful of writers; in doggedness and audacity, even fewer.
Follow Nick Mulgrew on Twitter @nichmulgrew
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