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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

A literary tap dance: Pearl Boshomane reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses

Published in the Sunday Times

Black MosesBlack Moses
Alain Mabanckou (Serpent’s Tail)

The cliché that comes to mind after reading Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses is “better late than never”, because I had previously never heard of him or his works. And I’m glad that I’m tardy to the party rather than never having cracked an invite at all. The novel, which made the Man Booker longlist, is a delicious read – even if its premise is a tragic one.

The Black Moses of the title is a boy who was named by a priest, Papa Moupelo, when he was a child in an oppressive orphanage. His full name is actually a sentence: Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko, or “Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors.” While this name might seem almost ridiculous, Moses tries to live up to its meaning – as someone who will lead the lost out of the proverbial desert.

But after Papa Moupelo is plucked from his life and a Marxist-Leninist revolution erupts in 1970s Democratic Republic of Congo, Moses joins a street gang and reinvents himself as Little Pepper, before eventually appointing himself Robin Hood.

Black Moses shows a character at various stages of their life in what feels like a series of screen grabs. That’s not a criticism – it’s one of the things I love about it.

Mabanckou is a delightful writer whose long sentences (much like Moses’ name) are pretty rather than pretentious. Even when he writes about Moses’ descent into madness, it’s hard not to find pleasure in its description, as tragic as the subject matter is.

Example: “My memory problems affected my gait and I started to walk in zigzags because it completely slipped my mind that the shortest route from one point to another is a straight line, which is why, as they say around here, drunkards always come home late.”

If writing really is like dancing as Zadie Smith said, then Black Moses is a literary tap dance.

Follow Pearl Boshomane @pearloysias

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Twists and shouts: Anna Stroud talks to Fred Strydom about his latest novel The Inside-Out Man

Fred Strydom’s new novel explores identity through characters who are striving to find peace. By Anna Stroud for the Sunday Times

Photo © Joanne Olivier

The Inside-Out ManThe Inside-Out Man
Fred Strydom (Umuzi)

Fred Strydom was a kid who always asked, “Why?” He started writing as soon as he could read, and in high school he wrote Pulp Fiction-style plays with his friend Sean Wilson that smashed the tedium of traditional school productions. It’s only natural then that his inquisitive mind and subversive streak should culminate in a book like The Inside-Out Man.

“Both The Raft and The Inside-Out Man are books about identity,” Strydom said about his debut and second novel. “[They’re] books about people being scared of who they are.”

The narrator is jazz genius Bently Croud – aka Bent, “the misshapen state” – who meets billionaire Leonard Fry. Leonard presents him with an unusual proposal: live in my house for a year while I lock myself in a room, and let’s see what happens.

Strydom’s characters are unnervingly honest. “Always write from the perspective of the person you trust the most,” he said. He spent the most time with Bent, but there’s also a part of him – a part that scares him – that identifies with Leonard. “Leonard does represent a twisted, idealistic version of how I wish I could sometimes be… to act on impulse, to say ‘to hell with it’, to make rash decisions, to be totally confident and to let the chips fall where they may.”

The setting is Krymeer, a countryside mansion – a three-dimensional character with a locked door at the centre of the narrative.

“Something can only be constricting if it’s alive,” Strydom said. Bent is trapped by the city, the countryside, and the deal he made with Leonard. “Each trap is presented to him as an option out… but it isn’t.”

Bent struggles to cope with the residues of an unhappy childhood – an absent father and an unhappy, alcoholic mother – and his own lack of self-awareness. The one thing he wants, Strydom said, is peace. “I think we’re more aware of how Bent’s past affects him than he’s aware of it.” Leonard, on the other hand, “represents somebody who’s trying to find peace with himself by keeping himself from a world that he can’t fit in with.”

The tension in The Inside-Out Man is maintained by the three characters in the house – Bent, Leonard, and Jolene (Bent’s girlfriend) – and their secrets. Strydom drew on influences like Edgar Allan Poe, the irrational horror of HP Lovecraft, Alfred Hitchcock’s film noir, and Raymond Chandler’s gritty dialogue. “There’s a femme fatale you can’t trust, there’s an anti-hero and there’s a mystery at the heart of it.”

There are strange parallels between Bent and his mother and Jolene and her son. He gets sucked into her world, and soon he can no longer recognise himself in the mirror.

Strydom writes his stories in his head, and finds the act of putting words to paper the “least interesting” part of writing. He wrote a third of The Raft during a road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg. “If it’s good it will stick and if it’s not good it will go,” he said. “It’s just a case of getting a hold of your story.”

Strydom wants his work to inspire people to pursue their own talents. “We should have the courage to be pure storytellers,” he said. “I don’t mind if my book isn’t the best book of the year, but it’s really great if it invites people to take a stab at it.”

If one book can inspire others, it’s The Inside-Out Man. Multilayered, honest and, as promised, a hell of a trip. Don’t try to label it, but if you must, forget about it being speculative fiction. That raft has sailed.

Follow Anna Stroud @annawriter_

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Book Bites: 23 July 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Kill The FatherKill the Father
Sandrone Dazieri (Simon & Schuster)
Book thrill
Dante Torre always thought his life could be divided into before and after. During his 11 years as the abused hostage of a faceless man known only as the Father, every day was caged. After his escape, he seeks to help others and live as normal a life as possible. However, when detective Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli knocks on his door and asks for his help in a case involving the abduction of a child, Dante realises that perhaps there was no “after”. Italian crime writer Sandrone Dazieri is a master of the macabre, weaving a satisfying adventure and creating a sense of lingering paranoia. – Samantha Gibb @samantha_gibb

The Boy on the BridgeThe Boy on the Bridge
M.R. Carey (Little, Brown)
Book fiend
This is sort of a sidelong prequel to The Girl With All the Gifts. Not a sequel. But read Girl first and don’t panic when none of the characters is familiar. They become so quickly. Once again Carey writes with a light touch when it comes to the gore and the zombie/“hungries”. Once again there is a humane feeling of empathy with the lead character – this time an autistic boy, Stephen Greaves, who is supposed to save the world with the help of a bunch of scientists. Once again, Carey writes something that will become an important part of apocalyptic references. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

The Fire ChildThe Fire Child
SK Tremayne (HarperCollins)
Book fling
SK Tremayne follows in the grand tradition of the Gothic romance in which an isolated woman, an iffy love interest, and the welfare of a child make for compelling reading. In a whirlwind romance, Rachel from the “sarf of London” marries rich, handsome widower David and moves to his historic family mansion in Cornwall, where she lives with her delightful stepson Jamie. David is home only for weekends though, and Jamie changes, becoming remote and claiming his late mother Nina is going to return. Is Jamie hallucinating? Eerie, scary and compulsive reading. – Aubrey Paton

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Curmudgeon dressed as Lamb: Sue de Groot speaks to crime novelist Mick Herron about his irascible antihero in Spook Street

Published in the Sunday Times

Spook StreetSpook Street
Mick Herron (John Murray)

When Mick Herron wrote Spook Street – the fourth in his series of spy novels about a cluster of misfits in Britain’s intelligence service – the Westminster terrorist attack had not yet happened. Nor had the attacks on London Bridge, in Manchester and at Finsbury Park.

All these subsequent events make Herron’s plot even more eerily relevant. Spook Street begins with the bombing of a shopping centre in the UK. (“It lasted seconds, but never stopped, and those it left behind – parents and families, lovers and friends – would ever after mark the date as one of unanswered phone calls and uncollected cars.”)

There is a grim echo, in the deadly flash mob at Westacres “pleasure dome”, of JG Ballard’s dystopian Kingdom Come – but where Ballard’s work is queasily alienating, Herron’s is warmly human.

His characters are flawed and vivid, particularly Jackson Lamb, head of a team of MI5 oddballs nicknamed “slow horses” (their office is in Slough House) and one of the most irresistibly unpleasant men ever to let loose a loud fart.

Herron, who on the phone is thoughtful and polite and about as far from Lamb as it is possible to get, says he has a lot of fun writing Lamb’s political incorrect dialogue.

“It’s kind of a safety valve,” he muses. “Lamb says all the things that you know you can’t say in public – you wouldn’t WANT to say them, you would never want to address other people in the way that he does – but there’s a great deal of fun and mischief to be had in doing it in fiction and knowing that for all the nasty things he comes up with, he’s saying them for effect, to annoy people. If he was behaving like that without being aware of how offensive he was, and actually believed the things he was saying, then he would be a different kind of person entirely.”

Lamb, like all the best characters in fiction, has slipped the bonds of his creator’s keys and taken on a life of his own. Herron says he often wonders what lies beneath the irascible old spy’s obnoxiousness.

“I know that there are things in his past that I haven’t fully uncovered. A key line to his character, from a previous book, is ‘when the Berlin wall came down he built another one around himself’. And there’s a line in what I was writing just this morning [the fifth book in the series will be published in 2018] where one of the other characters says Jackson ‘spent half a lifetime going to battle for what he believed in, and the second half of his life revenging himself on a world that seemed to have screwed things up anyway’.

“I think there’s a great deal of disappointment and bitterness there, and being obnoxious is his way of coping with it all, but I’m not sure I want to uncover the exact reasons behind the bitterness. I think one can destroy a character by probing too deeply into the reasons why they are how they are. I think it’s more fun just to let them get on with it. I’m very much enjoying winding him up and watching him go.”

Herron has the same attitude towards the universe in which his plots play out. He can be prescient about the real world but does not set out to write social commentary. In Spook Street he writes that the mall attack became “a made-in-Britain version of all those headlines, which had shrunk over the years to a page-7 sidebar, about events in distant marketplaces. Nothing brought the meaning of ‘suicide bomber’ home quite so hard as familiar logos glimpsed through the rubble.”

Having previously written successful crime novels, Herron turned to the world of spying because he “wanted to look at a broader canvas. One of the things that drove me to that was the bombings in London, the 7/7 bombings, that brought home to me how these huge events impinge on the lives of all of us, and that you don’t have to be a particular expert to have an opinion and to write about that sort of thing.

“These things are now happening … it’s not unusual to pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio and find that something very like that has happened – it’s chilling, and it now seems to be an ever-present danger, so that’s what I wanted to write about, the fact that we have those dangers there among us all the time.”

His focus, however, is always on the story. “I’m a novelist, and I do want to entertain, and the fact that I’m drawing the source of my entertainment from the real world is obviously a very important part of it, but I don’t feel that I have anything especially to warn people about or to tell them about, I’m just writing about how I perceive things to be. I don’t think anybody’s going to learn very much from my books, I do hope they will be entertained, thrilled, maybe shocked occasionally.”

Who should play Jackson Lamb?
Given the growing popularity of Herron’s novels, there will undoubtedly be several screen versions of the world’s rudest spy. When it comes to the actor who would best portray Lamb, Herron says: “If we went right through anyone who ever lived, it would be Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958). Physically, I think he looks like Lamb in that film; and his voice tone would also be about right.”

Not so silent: Lamb quotes
“The next sound you hear will be me, expressing confidence.” He farted, and reached for the cigarette behind his ear.

“So you’re the boss of the famous Slough House,” Flyte said. “Isn’t that where they keep the rejects?”

“They don’t like to be called that.”

“So what do you call them?”


“That is quite possibly the worst cup of tea I’ve had anywhere. And I’m including France in that.” – All said by Jackson Lamb in Spook Street

Follow Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

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Book Bites: 16 July 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The CowsThe Cows
Dawn O’Porter (HarperCollins)
Book fling
It’s OK not to follow the herd. That’s the premise of The Cows, a powerful novel about three women judging each other, but also judging themselves and their ideas of children – wanting one, having one, and not wanting them. Tara, Cam and Stella are living their lives as best they can, but being constantly pressured to conform, they find it hard to like what they see in the mirror. When an extraordinary event brings them together, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all. This is a surprisingly funny novel. – Nondumiso Tshabangu @MsNondumiso

Here Comes TroubleHere Comes Trouble
Simon Wroe (Orion)
Book buff
Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian flair is reborn in Simon Wroe’s Here Comes Trouble. Kyrzbekistan, a fictitious Eastern Bloc country, is caught in the thrall of political turmoil that may sound all too familiar to many South Africans and Americans. As load-shedding seems to become permanent, troubled teen Ellis Dau attempts to rise to the occasion by restarting The Chronicle, his father’s independent press. Ellis’s humour (both intentionally and otherwise) is snort worthy. An excellent read for YA and new adult readers. Those over 30, however, may feel that they’ve heard this tale before, despite the fact we are living it today. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Last StopThe Last Stop
Thabiso Mofokeng (BlackBird Books)
Book buff
Macko just managed to escape with his life after a bullet that was meant for him killed a child instead. His body may have survived but his mind is lost. He keeps seeing “things” and his stress is made worse by his dodgy taxi-owner boss and his money-grabbing girlfriend. Thabiso Mofokeng has done a sterling job of bringing to life the very real struggles of a taxi driver. It’s a poignant read and if you, like many, choose to forget the serious issues engulfing our country, this book will force them upon you. Thabiso, sir, never stop telling these very important truths. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

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An improbable page-turner: Margaret von Klemperer reviews Fiona Snyckers’ Spire

Published in The Witness

SPIREBACK in the mists of time when I was at school, the thrillers of choice were those by Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean – for me the latter’s Ice Station Zebra. And it was that book kept coming to mind when reading Fiona Snyckers’ Spire. It isn’t just the icy setting – this time the Antarctic rather than MacLean’s Arctic – but also the breathless plot-driven nature of the story.

Here the background is eco-war rather than Cold War. South African Caroline Burchell is a virologist who is spending the winter at Spire, a remote research station on the frozen continent, as one of a multi-national team involved in a variety of projects. But shortly after their arrival, her companions start dying off from all kinds of nasty diseases like Ebola, the plague, smallpox and bird flu, all bugs which Caroline brought with her in sealed vials. Soon she is apparently the only one left alive, her sole contact with the outside world via Skype or radio phone, when the weather allows.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the project bosses in distant New York suspect her of bumping off everyone for some loony reason of her own. Caroline has to try to clear her name before the Antarctic summer allows rescuers and investigators to come in. And she slowly becomes aware that, in fact, she is not alone. Considering that she’s a brilliant scientist, she becomes aware remarkably slowly, and she’s not alone several times over, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Snyckers is inclined to over-egg her pudding, and by throwing everything at the plot, she compromises some of the tension her story ought to create. Caroline has to struggle with keeping herself alive, dealing with dozens of corpses and keeping the facility running, coping with being suspected of mass murder, personal problems, investigations into the lunatic fringe of eco-warriors on the dark web – she obviously has a better internet connection than some of us in less remote places – and the realisation that someone nearby is toying with her. But somehow, Spire lacks the creepiness and sense of foreboding all that should engender. It is just too improbable. Still, there is enough here to keep the pages turning. I’m not sure who Snyckers’ target audience is, but thinking back to my Alistair MacLean days, Spire could well resonate with readers looking for an escape from schoolwork. Margaret von Klemperer

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Far-right words: Kate Sidley talks to Tammy Baikie about her debut novel Selling LipService

Published in the Sunday Times

Selling Lip ServiceSelling LipService
Tammy Baikie

In the world of Tammy Baikie’s debut novel, Selling LipService, language is a commodity and a source of control. After the coming of haemhorr-age at around 18 years old, people can only speak if they’re wearing LipService transdermal patches, sponsored by corporations and scripted by copywriters so that the wearer’s every utterance promotes a brand.

The protagonist, Frith, experiences tastures – a sort of synaesthesia, whereby she experiences a taste with everything she touches. In addition, she has been introduced to literature by her father, who works in the repository where books are quarantined (they are no longer available to the public). She is eager to hold onto these meaningful experiences and escape the constraints of branded communication. She wants to silence “You” – the patch’s brand persona and her conformist alter ego – and to speak for herself. The plot deals with Frith’s attempt to circumvent the powers who control language in this consumerist society and to exercise her own voice outside of the brand babble.

Baikie is multilingual – German, French, Russian – and works as a translator, which she describes as a kind of ventriloquism. “It’s bizarre. You know you ‘wrote’ the words, but you are speaking for someone else.” This idea of speaking for someone else was the spark for this very original book.

It is oddly apt that we meet to talk about a book about language and the power that comes from defining how we talk about things on a day when the news is full of the language manipulations of Bell Pottinger and WMC and fake Twitter. “People don’t realise how carefully words are selected by PR and ad agencies,” says Baikie. “I notice it, too, when I listen to talk radio. A select vocabulary will be used around an issue or event and it is quite eerie to hear how those words come to be mimicked.”

Baikie thinks deeply about language, and the novel considers it in its many forms – as communication, as advertising copy, as art form; as a means of control or commerce or human connection. This is a big concept work, unusual and thought-provoking around those issues. And yes, you follow Frith’s struggle for speech and agency and connection. But for many readers the delight in this book is in the author’s inventive use of words themselves.

The commercial-speak of the LipService wearers, and the inner workings of Frith’s mind, provide rich opportunities for wordplay and the creation of words. Portmanteau, the melding of two words, is a key mechanism and something which Baikie notes is having a resurgence in our own era, with words like “frenemies” or “Brangelina” (which she calls “those celebrity shmoosh names”). She plays with verlan, a form of French slang which transposes syllables. Or she will retain the recognisable shape of an idiom, but swop out a word. It’s an ambitious high-wire act that at its best is quite thrilling for word nerds.

One wonders at the author’s seemingly endlessly linguistic manipulations. She puts it down to her training in and obsession with languages. “I’ve spent years of my life learning vocabulary. I read widely, mostly foreign authors, and have a taste for slightly weird stuff. Some of this has been useful in this book. I have hundreds of scraps of paper with word lists, lists of synonyms, rhymes, created words that I’ve fiddled with, putting them together…”

Here’s an example, in which a copywriter speaks: “Given the choice, focus groups prefered a whip-sharp quip to the old ad-lib. They like being able to twinpoint members of their own social tribe.”

Selling LipService was the winner of the 2015/16 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award. Anyone who loves books and words and wordplay, or is fascinated by the power of language, will find this book intriguing and often entertaining. You can be fairly certain you’ve read nothing else like it.

Follow Kate Sidley @KateSidley

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Book Bites: 9 July 2017

The Sun In Your EyesThe Sun In Your Eyes
Deborah Shapiro (HarperCollins)
Book buff
This story of a complex friendship between two women comes spangled with praise from American critics. Years after leaving college, Vivian and Lee set off on a road trip to untangle the great tragedy of Lee’s life: the death of her father, Jesse Parrish. Lee was still small when Parrish, a leading singer/songwriter, died in a car accident. His life and death have become mythical, especially as the tapes of the album he was working on disappeared on the night of his death. Lee’s whole life has been burdened by his memory and it is time to deal with it once and for all, and to sever, or renew, her foundering relationship with Vivian. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

Reservoir 13Reservoir 13
Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury)
Book biff
Fans of Jon McGregor know he is a painter who uses words rather than watercolours. Reservoir 13 is a portrait of English village life. A collection of everyday people whose everyday lives are shifted and haunted after a 13-year-old girl vanishes while on holiday with her parents. Each chapter begins a new year, with the characters slowly moving forward. It is we human beings who exist in routines that tend to alter at a gradual pace with age. This book is a work of art for readers who read for the pleasure of words and do not require tidy narratives with no loose ends. This novel is an echo of life. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Secret History of Twin PeaksThe Secret History of Twin Peaks
Mark Frost (Macmillan)
Book thrill
Twin Peaks – the TV series by David Lynch and Mark Frost – aired in 1991, and we were introduced to the town of Twin Peaks, the murder of Laura Palmer, and the cultish strangeness surrounding the killing. In 2016, 25 years after the series was aired, Lynch and Frost have collaborated on another season, and writer Frost has brought out his third book in the franchise. Presented as a dossier of FBI documents, photos, letters, newspaper clippings, and transcriptions, which may – or may not – elucidate the new series. But it’s pretty damn good, as Special Agent Cooper might say. – Aubrey Paton

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Acts of useless beauty: Bron Sibree talks to Tim Winton about his new memoir The Boy Behind The Curtain

Published in the Sunday Times

The Boy Behind the CurtainThe Boy Behind the Curtain
Tim Winton (Picador)

Tim Winton refers to his new memoir, The Boy Behind the Curtain, his 28th book to date, as a midlife “looking over the shoulder”. Yet it’s difficult to conceive of more a revealing work from a novelist so revered by his fellow countrymen, but so renowned for shunning the limelight. It is a companion volume to his 2015 non-fiction meditation on the role of Australian landscape on his own fiction and that of the Australian psyche, Island Home.

Yet, this collection peels back the curtain on his life as a man and a writer in far more revealing ways. It also surprised Winton with what the book unveiled. “What sticks out for me,” he says, referring to a body of work that has earned him two Booker Prize shortlistings, “is just how unlikely it all is, having come from this modest, working-class background where no one had ever finished school”.

He writes of his sadness that members of his family remain illiterate in a chapter in The Boy Behind the Curtain, that also probes his concerns about the growing divide between rich and poor. For this is no conventional memoir, but a series of profoundly personal essays in which the 56-year-old author of such novels as Eyrie, Breath, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and The Riders, attempts to make sense of the world, his childhood and the unconscious patterns of his fiction. “You are drawing on real stuff as a fiction writer whether you know it or not, so it’s me trying to acknowledge and also make plain some of those strands that make up the rope.”

Some of that rope’s most significant strands are those of his childhood. The book takes its cues from its titular chapter in which Winton recalls himself before he found words: a troubled, inarticulate 13-year-old who took to aiming his father’s .22 Lithgow rifle at “innocent passers-by” from behind the curtains of his parent’s bedroom. “When I think of that kid at the window, the boy I once was,” he writes, “I get a lingering chill.”

In another he recalls his fears as a nine-year-old, clinging to the steering wheel in the aftermath of a road accident in which his traffic cop father gave his son a job to do while attending an injured motorcyclist. Winton was an adult before he realised his fears related to an earlier traffic accident: one in which his father had been so badly injured that then six-year-old Winton felt he’d been robbed of the father he knew. “That scene,” he reveals, “has puzzled me all my life. Haunted me, in a way.”

That those childhood events remain so resonant in his life and work also surprised Winton . “To recognise myself as the little boy still clinging to the steering wheel, and also to recognise in this long-ago boy holding the gun behind the curtain, that he’s been and gone in one sense, but he’s still present. The people that you’ve been in your life are still with you. They still inform you and you have to be mindful of them, learn from them and not pretend that they’re not there.”

Then there is his obsession with “useless beauty” as he describes his passion for the natural world. “I realised late in life, just from surfing, that in indulging in all those thousands of mornings and afternoons surfing, I was essentially indulging in acts of useless beauty.”

He writes of his abiding need to tap into the power of the ocean in a dance he calls “the wait and the flow” in this memoir. And to read it is to swim marginally, fleetingly, closer to comprehending the miracle of Winton ’s preternatural ability to harness the power of the natural world to the page. For he writes just like he surfs. “And the feeling is divine.”

Follow Bron Sibree @Bron Sibree

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Jacket Notes: Niël Barnard discusses the backstory of his book Peaceful Revolution

Published in the Sunday Times

Peaceful RevolutionPeaceful Revolution
Niël Barnard (Tafelberg)

There was no shortage of inspiration for this book, a sequel to Secret Revolution (Tafelberg, 2015). In fact, here and there I was asked to tone down my “enthusiasm” for some politicians and their not-so-admirable ways.

From a young age I never shied from the heat at the proverbial coalface. To be honest, I was attracted to it – not for the sake of sensation but for the opportunity to make a contribution where and when it really mattered.

While lecturing in political science at the age of 30, I was asked to head the National Intelligence Service. A defining part of my stint there was the secret talks, started in May 1988, which I held with Nelson Mandela while he was still in prison. This led to his release, the unbanning of the liberation movements and almost four years of tense transitional negotiations – the topic of Peaceful Revolution. For good reason the subtitle speaks of the “war room” at the negotiations. Fight, we surely did, and not only with political opponents but also among ourselves on the government’s side. So much was at stake: a lasting conflict or prospects for peace, for starters.

I try to shed light on the real issues, the personalities and the forces that determined the outcome of the peace process. As a member of the government’s negotiating team and having had the experience of (informally) negotiating with Mandela, I was in a unique position to observe, take part in and assess the momentous events leading to April 27 1994.

Acquaintances will know that I am a straight-talker who doesn’t mince words. I see no reason to spare ex-president FW de Klerk or his security czar, Kobie Coetsee, any criticism – the former for his wavering and lacklustre leadership and the latter for his baffling manoeuvres. The same applies to the obstinate Mangosuthu Buthelezi (often equalled by Cyril Ramaphosa) and the sometimes petulant Mandela.

But despite the heated debates and public posturing on all sides we shared a deep commitment to work towards peace and prosperity.

On numerous occasions this patriotic spirit provided the glue which kept the process on track.

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