After listening to President Jacob Zuma’s 2014 State of the Nation Address, Andile Mchunu, a 17-year-old from Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, found himself unsatisfied with what he had heard. Consequently he started following politics and eventually sat down to write a novella titled The True State of the Nation.
Set in small town in South Africa, it follows the story of a young boy as he discovers the beauty and evils of his nation. It speaks boldly of the atrocities committed by the government and the governed.
The True State of the Nation is currently published as an ebook on Amazon.
Look inside Mchunu’s book and read the first few pages by clicking on the book cover on Amazon’s website:
On some days going to school is a tough ordeal, but on other days it’s a legendary tough ordeal. I am a normal South African boy in the sense that I go to public school, I have to travel a long distance in order to get to school and I grew up in a supposed “post-apartheid South Africa”.
It sounds better than it actually is because I grew up in rural Ntabamhlophe which roughly translated means “White Mountain”. It got its name from the colour it takes during the winter season as snow falls on its sides. It provides people who are passing by with a breath-taking experience and a picture perfect view, but that is the only place in which it is perfect, in pictures.
The story begins on a normal Monday morning. I get up, get dressed and begin my journey to school. The journey itself takes up three hours of my day because when the closest town in twenty five kilometres away we have to commute, but the nearest bus stop is two and a half kilometres away, which means by six o’clock I begin my journey to catch the seven o’clock taxi, which is rarely on time.
I do not have many complaints about the trip because I get to spend time with friends who sometimes have to travel a further five kilometres a day to a rural school and back. The journey is normally pleasant because after I catch the taxi I get to enjoy the music in the taxi.
Some of my friends usually joke about only being able to listen to music in the taxi because they do not have electricity at home. On rare occasions we would have gospel playing and the normal exchange of stories of sorrow would take place.
Mchunu spoke to Creamer Media’s Polity and Kaya FM‘s 180 with Bob team to discuss his book and what inspired him to write his own version of the State of the Nation Address.
Sane Dhlamini, for Polity, asks the young author how he decided to write about politics, the people and events that inspired his book, his writing process, his future plans and what he would advise the president in preparation for the 2015 State of the Nation Address.
Watch the video:
During his interview with Bob Mabena and Kuli Roberts, Mchunu says that he was moved to writing this book when he realised that the president was not giving South Africans the honest truth in his address. “I decided to write the book and give South Africa the full picture, from a student’s perspective,” Mchunu tells the Khaya FM listeners. He discusses his background and shares more about the characters and basic principles of The True State of the Nation.
Roberts and Mabena both praise Mchunu for his wisdom and way of thinking about South Africa which is remarkable for a man of his age. Listen to the podcast:
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Former National Police Commissioner and president of The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) Jackie Selebi has died in hospital in Pretoria, at the age of 64.
Selebi was born in Soweto in 1950, and was a struggle stalwart and top diplomat before becoming South Africa’s top cop and then head of Interpol.
Eyewitness News spoke to Selebi’s friend Schabir Shaik:
“I believe he’s been in an induced coma for some time now for about two-and-a-half weeks. He finally passed on between late last night and early this morning I believe,” he was quoted as saying.
“He was a good man,” Shaik said.
“I have good memories when I worked with him at [ANC headquarters] Shell House in the early 90s. I recall him to be a good comrade.”
Selebi was convicted of corruption in 2010, for taking bribes from convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. He suffered from kidney failure, high blood pressure and diabetes, and was granted medical parole after serving 229 days of his sentence in July 2012.
Many people were of the opinion that Selebi’s parole was politically motivated, and his story spawned a number of publications.
In their obituary, in which Selebi is called “a dedicated comrade who lost his way”, City Press staff reporters write that “most South Africans didn’t remember him as a committed ANC comrade, former MP and the country’s former most senior cop”.
Instead, many will remember that Selebi had a taste for expensive suits and shoes and enjoyed a good friendship with a convicted drug lord named Glenn Agliotti.
People will also remember that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) issued a warrant of arrest for Selebi in late 2007, and then NPA head Vusi Pikoli was suspended – because powerful interests were protecting Selebi and trying to shield him from prosecution.
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Forced to revisit the past: a brief look at Jacob Dlamini’s Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-apartheid Struggle
by Makhosazana Xaba
I agreed to be on the panel at the launch of Jacob Dlamini’s book at WiSER without having read the email properly. All that mattered in that moment was that he had a new book. I love books like children love toys, I like Dlamini’s writing and I often enjoy WiSER events.
Days later when a follow-up email arrived to let me know that the actual book would take longer than planned to return from the printers and that I would be sent a soft copy, I had more time to really read that email. The very word askari made me want to scream. “Why are they asking me to be on a panel discussing a book on askaris?” Waves of emotion began rolling one after the other in no discernible pattern: shock, confusion, anger, irritation. The only thing that stood in the way of my urgent need to change my mind was my integrity. It took everything in me to look my problem in the face and reframe it: this is a challenge, embrace it.
Askari gave me many sleepless nights, from the time I received the soft copy and read it in a weekend, to the many times I returned to it just to reread this or that chapter. But I will return to that later.
Let me begin with a reflection on my journey with Dlamini’s writing because this is not a typical book review. I first encountered his writing via his newspaper columns. Once I realised he was a regular columnist, I would start reading his article before reading anything else in the newspaper. I was fascinated by the energy I felt in his writing. There was something very attractive about a simple writing style that had the ability to carry such profundity. Dlamini’s commentaries, brief as they were, were never straightforward. They were nuanced and that is what I admired. In no time, I was addicted to his column.
And then, in 2009, a book entitled Load Shedding: Writing On and Over the Edge of South Africa, an anthology of personal essays edited by Sarah Nuttal and Liz Mc Gregor, was published. In Dlamini’s essay, entitled “The Bequest”, he wrote about finding out that his heart was on the right side of his body. My health background came flooding back as I tried to recall being taught about this very rare condition. Most of all, though, I was fascinated by the way Dlamini wrote about the “quirky location” of his heart, which engaged with the many themes of home, family, constant travel, personal and national politics, apartheid and, yes, nostalgia. I enjoyed the nuanced and multi-layered piece and was drawn to the personality that is his mother. Dlamini used his heart as a metaphor for home. He weaved a layered, textured, heartfelt tapestry, which was a window into his life as a child growing up in Katlehong, his family, and in particular his mother.
In the same year his book, Native Nostalgia, was published. Reading the essay about his right-heartedness and the essays from this book and thinking back to his columns, it was clear to me that Dlamini is committed ¬- as he clearly stated in his book – to reading our country. He recognises that the history of black people, in particular, is rich and complex, that it cannot be contained inside the master narrative and therefore should not be told as such. This is a sentiment I share and espoused in my essay “Serene in my skin”, published in Load Shedding, wherein I wrote about the complexity of being “Zulu in the time of Zuma”, as the back cover blurb put it.
This then, leads me to the book, Askari: a Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-apartheid Struggle, in which Dlamini tells the rich and complex story of Glory Sedibe, an MK operative with many names. I knew him as Comrade September. It was news to me to read he was also Wally Williams. I had heard of a Wally Williams but I had assumed that he was a different person.
The WiSER event took place on 29 October, 2014. The date, October 29, has been etched in every muscle of my body for 31 years. It was on the morning of 29 October, 1983, when an estimated 500 men – warriors of Inkatha, which was backed by Gatsha Mangosuthu Buthelezi – invaded Ongoye University (also known as the University of Zululand) and attacked students who had been protesting against the university’s plans to celebrate Cetshwayo Day on campus.
It was only in the early evening, when we finally managed to escape the campus grounds, that we went to Ngwelezane Hospital to visit the injured. One student was already dead. Three students died later that night. This was exactly two months, one week and two days after the national launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF). On our campus we had organised for the UDF. The climax of its launch was a proud moment of our student activist lives.
I was one of those students who protested against the university’s plans to celebrate Cetshwayo Day. And, as an elected leader, I had been part of the group that planned and led the protest. While we recognised that under the apartheid regime it was crucial to honour important historical events for black people and honour their heroes, we were opposed to the event taking place on the university grounds. As progressive anti-apartheid students we believed it was a clear demonstration of the university’s collusion with the homeland system that the apartheid regime was using to divide black people along tribal lines. Although our university was meant, according to the apartheid regime’s plan, to serve the Zulus, as a progressive student body we did not identify as Zulus. We identified as black South Africans working towards the end of a racially divided country.
What has this piece of history got to do with Dlamini’s book? Everything! In my mind it has everything to do with it. Not only did that event, now known as the Ongoye Massacre, remain etched in my memory and visit me in my dreams for at least two decades, but it also presented me with a complete political paradigm shift around what it meant to be black in the struggle.
Put differently, it presented me with the complexity that Dlamini writes about. Imagine this: black men like me, wielding spears and holding leather shields, running towards us as if in real combat. Yet we were young and unarmed. Black men like me, killing black students like me. Black men like me, leaving behind bodies of injured students, also black like me. Until then I had never had to confront that reality of our struggle. Until then I had not had to confront betrayal of that sort and of that magnitude.
I was not so naïve as to think that black people had never betrayed others like them. We were already dealing with the challenge that the homeland leaders were presenting, in what we viewed as collaborating with the apartheid regime. It was the context, the crass combat nature and the timing of that massacre that hit so hard, so deep, so devastatingly … that I was never the same again. And I was an older student, in my mid-20s; I had already completed a four year diploma at a nursing college.
Dlamini’s Askari, by telling a story of collaboration and betrayal in the anti-apartheid struggle, adds to a growing sub-category of books about the struggle that present readers with its layered complexity. I am thinking here of books I read recently:
- Mbokodo: Inside MK, a book by Mwezi Twala;
- Umkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a divided people, a book Thula Bophela and Daluxolo Luthuli;
- Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile history of the ANC and SWAPO, by Paul Trewela;
- External Mission: The ANC in Exile, by Stephen Ellis;
- Stones Against the Mirror: Friendship it the time of the South African Struggle by Hugh Lewin; and
- Death of an Idealist: In search of Neil Aggett, by Beverly Naidoo
I am sure there are more, but I list the six above because I have read them, some more than once. Different as they are at many levels, they are similar in that they remind us of the complexity, the nuance, the multiple layers and connections that Dlamini writes about. Some hint on collaboration and betrayal while others delve deeply into these themes.
How then does Dlamini write about collaboration and betrayal in his book? I could give a simple answer: exquisitely. In 299 pages, with 14 chapters entitled: The Insurgent, The Askari, The Farm, The Choice, The Inferno, The File, The Village, The Oaths, The Show Trial, The Location, The Archive, The Infamy, The Psychology and, finally, The Past, the Present and the Future.
So we read about Comrade September (I call him thus because that is the name I knew him by). We learn about his background, his home and his family, his village, his political awakening and how he joined the ANC. Dlamini gives us the context within which to understand him. Or, should I say, a context within which to try and understand him. And then Dlamini writes about how Comrade September turned; how he crossed the line and began working for the side he had been working against. He was in Swaziland, in 1986. This was when I paused. I paused when I read the details of his turning point because I was reminded of a slice of my own biography.
In December of 1986 I left for exile via Swaziland. I had been trained internally as an MK cadre and had worked for some years within my cell. I was captured by the Swazi police a few days after I landed. They put me in a holding cell. In all that time my biggest fear was twofold: rape, and being handed over to the apartheid security police. I never knew how exactly I would handle the rape and the torture that we had been trained to expect. The torture that would precede the handing over to the South African police had been a great part of our underground training. I, like many others and dare I assume Comrade September, had internalised, through this training, the suicide choice in the face of such torture. As it turned out I was “small fry” and “just a woman” (I overheard one of the prison warders say). I was released after a few days. I have never forgotten, though, how terrified I was of the possible rape and torture.
Dlamini invites us to consider Comrade September’s “choice” – collaboration or death. He gives us examples from Chile of people who faced a similar choice and decided to live and collaborate. In a sense, Dlamini suggests that Comrade September is not unique, that others like him can be found elsewhere in the world. There were a few times in the book when I thought the examples from other countries were a tad too many but, that’s not the point.
I was very curious about the chapter on “the psychology”. I was so curious that I read and reread it. Dlamini starts this chapter by quoting from Hugh Lewin’s book Stones Against the Mirror, where he wrote about his own torture and what he confronted then. Again I was reminded of my time in a holding cell in the Swaziland prison.
Dlamini’s telling of the story of Comrade September’s journey before and after what went on at the TRC – Vlakplaas, in the MK underground – all the time refuses to draw simple lines that connect neatly at targeted points. He shows the intricate webs and challenges to readers to look deep inside ourselves, inside our history and inside the future we are creating today. Here then is an excerpt from the last chapter (page 260) entitled, “The past, the present, and the future”:
The life of Glory Sedibe highlights something of the ‘fatal intimacy’ at the heart of human relations. To say that apartheid generated unwanted intimacy between individuals, and to challenge the claim that the struggle against apartheid was simply a racial war, is not to say that ‘race’ did not matter nor that race thinking had no salience. Race obviously mattered a great deal. But, it would be wrong to think that race determined the allegiances and loyalties of individuals in any simplistic way. Race might have been handy in the work of askaris, but far more potent was the personal and social intimacy that askaris could call on and generate in order to carry out their missions.
This paragraph speaks volumes and I would argue that it continues to be relevant in our current political times. However, I could not help thinking about how similar this “fatal intimacy” is to abusive heterosexual relationships, where the unequal power that exists in the couple means that the woman ends up serving the agenda that the man wants to pursue. Under apartheid, askaris were in fatal intimate relationships with white security operatives, as unequals serving the agenda of the apartheid state. Their agency was confined within the limits of gross power inequality. The very process of torture took place within the confines of the apartheid system’s organised apparatus. Torture was meted out by a whole system, on its home ground, against an individual. I wish Dlamini had delved into this in more detail.
Taking the analogy further, it takes the overriding context of the ideology of patriarchy to explain the collusion that women choose as they stay in abusive relationships. The overriding context of racism explains the collusion that askaris chose after they were turned. Apartheid – the now widely accepted crime against humanity – made it conceivable for victims of the very system to turn against their own in order to serve its ends. Therein lays the power of ideological domination of one group over another. When power is unequal in the first place, it is the wielders of that power that will “call the shots” by any means necessary, in this case torture. Is it conceivable that there could have existed, during the anti-apartheid struggle, a category of askaris who would have been turned without torture?
Let me close by returning to the sleepless nights that the book gave me. I had not expected to read about so many people that I knew personally and knew of, even though the book was mainly about Comrade September, of whom I had heard a lot. I, like him, had been part of what the ANC and MK called the Natal Machinery.
I did not enjoy being reminded of those times: the never ending suspense that lay at the core of our lives, the hanging threats that were part of the many activities we were engaged in. I did not enjoy being reminded of those times because even though we held onto the dream that we are now supposedly living, the skeletons of that period continue to rattle. The rattle deafens at times and we have not yet found the peace we thought would be an integral part of the dream. I did not enjoy being reminded of that past because my next collection of poetry revisits it. Writing it took its emotional toll on me. Submitting it gave me the longed-for break. I was relaxing in the comfort of my break from the past when Askari shook me awake.
Askari screams, limbs in the air, demanding attention. Through Askari the man with his heart on the right side of his chest reminds us that things are not always what they seem. He reminds us that the unexpected and often inexplicable demand our prodding. Askari is a significant part of our struggle archive.
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