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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Pumla Dineo Gqola and Nkosinathi Sithole win the 2016 Sunday Times Literary Awards

Pumla Dineo Gqola and Nkosinathi Sithole win the 2016 Sunday Times Literary Awards
Alan PatonBarry Ronge
RapeHunger Eats a Man

Alert! Pumla Dineo Gqola and Nkosinathi Sithole have been announced as the winners of the prestigious Sunday Times Literary Awards.

The winners were announced at a black tie event in Sandton. Apart from receiving the prestigious Sunday Times Literary Awards accolade, each author is also awarded prize money of R100,000.

Debut novelist Nkosinathi Sithole was awarded the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize for his book Hunger Eats a Man, published by Penguin Books.

Pumla Dineo Gqola received the Alan Paton Award for her book Rape: A South African Nightmare, published by MF Books.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela was the guest speaker at the event.

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize was judged this year by Rustum Kozain (chair), Angela Makholwa-Moabelo and Stephen Johnson.

Of Hunger Eats a Man, Kozain says, “This is something entirely new in South African literature, in terms of its language and style. The writing is exceptional in the way it bends English to its own purpose. It’s a beautiful, disturbing, highly original novel with touches of unexpected humour.”

The story is set in KwaZulu-Natal and highlights the plight of rural South Africans. Sithole has a PhD in English Studies and teaches at the University of Zululand.

The Alan Paton Award judging panel was chaired by Achmat Dangor, supported by judges Tinyiko Maluleke and Pippa Green.

In Rape: A South African Nightmare, Gqola investigates the history and causes of the epidemic of sexual violence in the country. “This is a fearless book that speaks a powerful truth of our times. Nuanced and cogently argued, it tackles the subject from every possible aspect in an attempt to deal with the unspoken,” Dangor says.

Gqola is a professor of African Literature at Wits University.

Sunday Times books editor Jennifer Platt says: “The Sunday Times Literary Awards have always acted as a sort barometer of the nation’s preoccupations, highlighting books that pick up and explore our concerns.

“There is an urgency reflected in the themes of the winning books this year: of poverty, hunger and the vapid promises of politicians and religion in one, and in the other the overt threat of toxic masculinity that pervades South Africa.”

Last year’s winners were Jacob Dlamini and Damon Galgut.
More about the books:

Hunger Eats a Man by Nkosinathi Sithole

Rape: A South African Nightmare


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RIP Adam Small (1936-2016)

Adam Small en Rosalie Small
GoreeThe Orange EarthKlawerjasVi' Adam SmallKrismis van Map JacobsKo lat ons singKanna hy kô huistoe

Poet, writer, academic and Black Consciousness activist Adam Small has died, aged 79, after complications arising from an operation.

Small was born on 21 December 1936 in Wellington. He matriculated in 1953 from St Columba’s High School in Athlone on the Cape Flats. In 1963 he completed an MA (cum laude) in the philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann and Friedrich Nietzsche at the University of Cape Town. He also studied at the University of London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Small became a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Fort Hare in 1959, and in 1960 he was one of the academic founders of the University of the Western Cape, when he was appointed Head of the Philosophy Department. In the early 1970s he joined the Black Consciousness movement.

In 1973 he was pressured to resign from the UWC, which prompted a move to Johannesburg, where he became the Head of Student Body Services at Wits University. He returned to Cape Town in 1977, where he was Director of the Western Cape Foundation for Community Services until 1983. In 1984 he returned to the UWC as the Head of the Social Services Department, a position he held until his retirement in 1997.

Adam SmallSmall made his debut as a poet in 1957 with Verse van die liefde. Some of his other well known poetry volumes include Kitaar my kruis (1961) and Sê Sjibbolet (1963). His best known theatrical drama is Kanna hy kô hystoe (1965).

He was awarded the Hertzog Prize in 2012, for his contribution to drama. The award, long overdue, was not without controversy as the prize is usually awarded to a writer who has published new work.

His play The Orange Earth, written in 1978 in the heyday of apartheid and two years after the Soweto Uprising, was published for the first time by NB Publishers in 2013. At the same time his first poetry collection in 40 years, Klawerjas, was also published.

City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille paid tribute to Small, saying: “It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the passing of one of our county’s dear sons, Adam Small.

“As a writer and poet, Adam Small used his craft to highlight the oppression suffered by the working class under the apartheid regime.

“Last year I was honoured to sit next to Adam Small and listen to his famous pieces, ‘Kô lat ons sing’ and ‘Oos wes tuis bes Distrik Ses’. Many years after he had written those pieces, his words and the emotions were still so vivid and touching. On behalf of the City of Cape Town, I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Adam Small.

“Rest in peace Adam Small. We will always remember you for your great contribution to literature and the Struggle.”

Books LIVE sends condolences to Small’s wife, Rosalie, and his family and friends.

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All the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlistees

2016 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist
Barry Ronge Prize

The winners of the Sunday Times Literary Awards will be announced on Saturday, 25 June, 2016.

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize is awarded to “a novel of rare imagination and style, evocative, textured and a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction”.

Who do you want to take the award? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!

The 2016 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize finalists are:

Boy on the WireThe Dream HouseThe Magistrate of GowerGreen LionHunger Eats a Man

Click here for the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction shortlist

Read interviews with all the shortlistees:

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All the 2016 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award shortlistees

2016 Alan Paton Award shortlist
Alan Paton Award


The winners of the Sunday Times Literary Awards will be announced on Saturday, 25 June, 2016.

The Alan Paton Award will be bestowed upon a book that presents an “illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power”, and that demonstrates “compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.

Who do you want to take the award? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!

The 2016 Alan Paton Award shortlist finalists are:

JM Coetzee and the Life of WritingPapwaTo Quote MyselfRapeShowdown at the Red Lion

Click here for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist

Read interviews with all the shortlistees:

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‘I don’t feel like I was ever a man’: Anastacia Tomson discusses her book Always Anastacia: A Transgender Life in South Africa

Published in the Sunday Times

Always AnastaciaAlways Anastacia: A Transgender Life in South Africa
Anastacia Tomson (Jonathan Ball)

She digs into her handbag for a pen. “Oh, that’s an eye pencil – that’s not going to work,” she says, grinning privately. “Ah, here we go.”

She opens her little notebook on a blank page.

“Let me explain,” she says. Then, in blue ink, she writes:

F/M (female/male)

XX/XY (chromosomes)

E/T (estrogen/testosterone – hormones)

U/P (uterus/prostate – internal reproductive organs)

O/T (ovarian tissue/testicular tissue – gonads)

V/P (vulva/penis and scrotum – external genitalia)

“So you know that the XX and XY chromosomes are only one of the biological determinants of sex, right?” she says. “There are actually five and, spoiler alert: they do not always line up. Have you ever actually tested to see which chromosomes you have? Have you ever seen inside your own body and actually identified a prostate or uterus? Have you had tissue sampled from your gonads?”

We’re about an hour into the interview and this response – Anastacia Tomson’s response – refers to an article I printed out and brought to the interview. The headline reads: “Johns Hopkins Psychiatrist: It is starkly, nakedly false that sex change is possible”.

The article was published last year, shortly after Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn, and in it writer Paul McHugh suggests that gender dysphoria is a kind of delusion and should be treated with psychotherapy instead of surgery.

“Let me stop you there,” Tomson says. The article is dangling from my fingers, swaying microscopically in the breeze of the restaurant’s aircon. “Was it written by someone called Paul McHugh?”


“Paul McHugh has been discredited universally by all his colleagues and the American Psychiatric Association has publicly decried him as a crack and a bigot. People like to harp on about his background at Johns Hopkins, like it gives him credibility, but the man is very well respected for bigotry and very little else. And a lot of his assertions have been debunked by scientific evidence.”

Tomson – as a trans woman who’s a doctor who’s Jewish who’s written a book about her gender conflict and transition – knows her shit.

Going into this interview I had a vision of pressing some or other red Anastacia button too often – asking, for interest and fact’s sake, whether Tomson aspires to be South Africa’s answer to Jenner.

“All the suffering, all the trauma, all the vulnerability and exposure – what could possibly be worth that?” she says. “What payoff could possibly make all of that worthwhile if I wasn’t in it for the right reasons?”

This makes sense. I won’t go into great detail because you should bloody well buy the book and read it (and this is not a PR punt from the publishers – it’s a mostly well-written book that’s worth the cover price to gain valuable insight into the complexities of transgenderism), but Tomson’s struggles have been severe. Never mind enduring nearly 30 years of gender dysphoria (Tomson had been aware of her dysphoria since childhood), she has also had to contend with an emotionally abusive father, a near absent mother and a community – both personal and professional – that received her dysphoria with ignorance, dismay or indifference.

“I think one of the more interesting aspects for me [since the publication of the book and subsequent publicity] is the delineation between the personal and the political – where does my personal life stop and the Anastacia brand begin? There is still a lot of conflict around that,” she says.

“I joke about being a professional trans person, but a lot of the time it feels like I am. There’s that struggle to say, ‘Well, I represent trans interests but I’m not representative of every trans person and I fight to defend human rights as they’re applicable to trans people.’ But where does that stop? And after you take that away, when I’m not ‘at work’ who am I and how do I not become typecast in that way?”

I imagine that when you have gender dysphoria you become pretty adept at self-examination, although while plenty of us have pondered the notion of self, very few of us have felt drawn into questioning whether we’re existing in the right body.

What’s so compelling about Tomson’s history is the very real idea that her past is basically irrelevant to her and that she has only become her true self in the year since her transition. From this come fantastic questions and insomnial conundrums regarding the true nature of one’s existence and whether it’s possible to shed one “false” existence and replace it with another, “truer”, one through physical or emotional means, or both.

Tomsons’s response to this is typically swift and thorough: “There are two sides to this. The one is the political thing about how a lot of trans representation feeds into some damaging tropes and one of the damaging tropes is male-to-female transgender. I don’t identify like that. I say I’m a trans woman, I say I was never male.

“A lot of transphobia stems from the idea that trans women are really men, or that they used to be men and that they’re deceiving and trying to fool everyone into being something they’re not. I’m not comfortable with identifying in that space. I don’t feel like I was ever a man. But when it comes to what was the ‘old life’ – and I try not to appropriate any experiences that aren’t mine – I liken it to bondage, slavery. I was imprisoned by a pretence that I had to maintain in order to survive at that time. I didn’t have a choice in it; it was on the rest of the world’s terms instead of my own. It reflects no truths about me – it was what I had to do otherwise there would be consequences.

“Why are you fixed on who I had to be instead of who I am? What is your fascination with it? It was inauthentic, it was a lie and a pretence and an act and I kept it up because I had to do it. Seeing photos of that time is a painful reminder. Does anyone want to be reminded of when they were in slavery?”

Tomson will not bring out photographs of herself taken more than a year ago. That person does not exist nor did they ever exist. What you’d be seeing is photos of ghosts. Tomson, too, will never reveal her “deadname” (her previous “male” name) and over the past year she has committed to the arduous effort of legally changing her name and her sex, and getting her medical certificate amended so that she can begin practising as Dr Anastacia Tomson.

She wants to be a doctor who people in similar situations can go to without fear of facing the ignorance and sometimes blatant prejudice she experienced. There might even be another book. But right now she’s off to the US to take her place in the Mandela-Washington fellowship, which will culminate in meeting President Barack Obama.

Interview over, we part ways. I stand for a moment to watch her make her way through the lunchtime crowd. Just another woman on her way home.


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2016 Media24 Books Literary Awards winners announced

2016 Media24 Books Literary Awards winners announced

Alert! Finuala Dowling, Ingrid Winterbach and Milton Shain were among the winners of the 2016 Media24 Books Literary Awards.

The awards recognise the best work published by Media24 Books – including NB Publishers and Jonathan Ball – during the previous year. More than 50 books published by Media24 during 2015 were entered for the awards, which offered prize money totalling more than R200,000.

The Fetch
The 2016 Herman Charles Bosman prize for English fiction went to Finuala Dowling for her novel The Fetch, published by Kwela. In their commendation, the judges lauded Dowling for “the strength of the writing, the subtlety and wit of the language, her descriptive powers and her skill at creating credible characters that are of real interest to us: complex, human, and quirky”.


A Perfect Storm
Milton Shain received the Recht Malan prize for nonfiction for A Perfect Storm: Antisemitism in South Africa 1930-1948, published by Jonathan Ball and described by the judges as history at its most compulsively readable. “In a time when violent xenophobia regularly rears its ugly head across the country, the continent and the globe, this marvellous book is a timely reminder of what can happen when politicians in pursuit of power demonise a vulnerable group,” the judges said.


The winner of the WA Hofmeyr prize for Afrikaans fiction is Ingrid Winterbach for her novel Vlakwater, published by Human & Rousseau. It is the fourth time Winterbach received this prestigious award. The novel, which is currently being translated into English, broadens an already impressive oeuvre, the judges said.


The Elisabeth Eybers prize for English or Afrikaans poetry went to Free State poet Gilbert Gibson for his fifth collection of poetry, Vry- (Human & Rousseau).


Elton Amper-Famous April en Juffrou Brom
The MER Prize for youth novels went to Carin Krahtz for Elton amper famous April en juffrou Brom (Tafelberg).


Die Dingesfabriek: Jannus en Kriek en die tydmasjien
The MER prize for illustrated children’s books went to Elizabeth Wasserman and illustrator Astrid Castle for Die Dingesfabriek 4: Jannus en Kriek en die tydmasjien (Tafelberg).


The judges were:

Herman Charles Bosman Prize: Johan Jacobs, Molly Brown and Ann Donald

The Recht Malan Prize: John Maytham, Elsa van Huyssteen and Max du Preez

The WA Hofmeyr Prize: Thys Human, Danie Marais and Bernard Odendaal

Elisabeth Eybers Prize: Henning Pieterse, Antjie Krog and Francois Smith

MER Prize for youth novels: Louise Steyn, Verushka Louw and Wendy Maartens

MER prize for illustrated children’s books: Lona Gericke, Paddy Bouma and Magdel Vorster.

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Kopano Matlwa’s new novel revealed!

Kopano Matlwa's new novel revealed!
Spilt MilkCoconut

Alert! Jacana Media has revealed the cover and title for Kopano Matlwa’s new novel.

Matlwa took the South African literary world by storm when in 2007, at just 21, she won the European Literary Award and the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature for her debut novel Coconut.

This title, an “instant classic”, went on to sell over 20,000 copies in South Africa alone.

“It has become part of our zeitgeist, testament to the realities, which she wrote about so movingly, the heartbreak of being a ‘coconut’ in a world of rapid flux,” Jacana says in a statement.

Coconut catapulted Matlwa onto the international stage with translations in French, Swedish, Italian and Dutch. Spilt Milk followed in 2010, an allegory of love lost between black and white South Africa. Dealing with relationships and histories, things unsaid and things undone, it too was published to great acclaim.”

And now, Jacana Media brings you Matlwa’s “most distinguished work” – Period Pain! Books LIVE editor Jennifer Malec got the scoop:

Professor Craig Mackenzie, Chair of the University of Johannesburg English Department, recommended the manuscript for publication with the following words:

Period Pain‘s greatest strength is that is is utterly compelling. The construction of the character is entirely convincing, and draws the reader in from the very start. By turns morbid, ironic, funny, irreverent and angry, Masechaba is someone we care about, and her experiences and perceptions are acute and engaging. Her narrative provides vivid insights into contemporary South Africa – from its under-resourced state hospitals, corruption and graft, to its racial tensions and prejudices against foreigners. We are thus given a no-holds-barred account of life in 21-century South Africa, and while it is not an attractive portrait is certainly is one that is accurate and engaging.

Be prepared for outrage, be prepared for mood swings, but most of all be prepared to have Masechaba get under your skin and into your heart!

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Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Alastair Bruce talks about the genesis of Boy on the Wire

Published in the Sunday Times

Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Alastair Bruce talks about the genesis of Boy on the Wire


Boy on the WireBoy on the Wire
Alastair Bruce (Umuzi)

The idea surfaced soon after I had finished Wall of Days. That novel examined how a nation could reimagine and reinvent a past it might not want. I found myself wondering how a person would cope, trying to make sense out of a traumatic event in childhood: how his recollection of events could change over time and, unfettered by outside influence, how a truth could grow out of a lie or at least, the lie of omission.

Having recently had a child, and with another born during the writing of this book, I was also remembering my own childhood. The house in the story is described from my memory of the house I grew up in. It was a magical space in many ways: a big house, a big garden outside the city with bush or scrubland at the back. But also, and here I suppose it might be a metaphor for South Africa in that period, it was a space isolated from the rest of the world, a space where unspeakable events took place perhaps partly because of that isolation.

The plot is unrecognisable from my first draft. What drove the novel was my desire to tell a story about a person, torn apart by guilt, but where that guilt may well be the ultimate measure of his own humanity.


I draw the bolt back. I can hear only my own breathing now. The voice has not come back. My breathing is quick. I push the door open. The room is dark, blacker than I remember.

“Hello?” My voice sounds strange, unreal. I think for a moment it has come not from me but from the blackness in the corners of the space that I cannot see. I wait for my eyes to adjust. There is no answer. A slight echo perhaps. I step towards the door and freeze. The song again, but from outside this time. I run to the window which looks out to the side of the property. I cannot see anything at first, but I open the window and stick my head out. Peering round towards the back of the house, I see something then. There, standing in the middle of the lawn, a boy. He is looking away from the house, towards the bush. He is too far away to see clearly and the window is at the wrong angle. I have to lean far out of the window and strain my neck to see him. The boy stands there. He is too far away to have made that noise, but I know it comes from him. Though it seems to start in my head, I know it is from that boy. I know the tune, though I cannot place it. The boy is still, his back to me.

I feel myself grow cold. I remember the open door behind me. I picture something emerging from it. Something dark, emerging into the light of the room, tiptoeing up to me crouched at the window.

Not just something. Peter. A sight more terrifying than anything I could imagine.

I turn. There is nothing. Still the cold.

I look out of the window again. The boy is gone. But then I look down and there he is, standing at the side of the house, pressed against the bricks. I pulled my head inside for less than a second. Or was it longer? It might have been longer. Have I been standing here for minutes, lost in a dream, before waking again?

I watch the boy and slowly he turns his head, turns towards me and looks up and meets my gaze. His eyes are black. The blackest things I have seen. The sun, perhaps, is in my eyes, and has burnt a patch in my vision so when I look at this child I see only blackness.

I pull my head inside and lean against the wall. It is cold in here. I edge along the wall, my face to it, so I cannot see behind me. I do not want to look.

The boy’s face. The face from the photograph.

I can still hear the nursery rhyme. Fly away, Peter.

Once out of the room, I run down the stairs and through the front door and round the corner of the house where I saw the boy, but he has gone. I circle the house and turn around and search the other way but it is all light here, no shadows, and I cannot see him.

The front door has closed behind me. I drop the keys as I take them out of my pocket, and when I bend down to pick them up, I see him again. Right next to me. I can see his feet, his calves, his knees. Just that. If I move quickly, lunge at him, I could catch him. I do not move. The legs do not move either. On his right knee there is a cut. It is healing, but it is deep. When it was cut, I could see bone.

He is barefoot. I stay bent to the ground, next to him, my skin tingling, expecting a touch. The boy’s feet have the brown skin of a child who spends all day in the sun. The nails are bitten. He moves a toe. No, he is trembling. He cannot help it. He is afraid. Scared to death – of what I do not know. It is I who should be fearful. I dare not look at him, dare not move at all.

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Alan Paton Award shortlist: Maxine Case talks about the importance of the story of Papwa: Golf’s Lost Legend

Published in the Sunday Times

Alan Paton Award shortlist: Maxine Case talks about the importance of the story of Papwa: Golf’s Lost Legend

PapwaPapwa: Golf’s Lost Legend
Maxine Case (Kwela)

Briefly outline Papwa Sewgolum’s life.

The reductive facts – illiterate caddie, champion of the black golfing circuit, three-time winner of the Dutch Open, Indian golfer who beat Gary Player several times, 1965 Natal Open champion forced to receive his prize in the rain – are also the facts I attempted to rise above. If Papwa is remembered at all, it is for one of these things. I wanted to show him as a nuanced character and contextualise him in his world.

His story has been told before. What new insights do you bring to it?

When writing and researching this book, I found myself constantly wanting to correct published inaccuracies around Papwa’s life. It bugged me if a reported score was a stroke out in one source, when three other sources had it as something else. More seriously, a previously published work has Papwa dying in a shebeen. While this is dramatic and makes for a good cautionary tale, I felt that the true, unplumbed details of his life were dramatic enough without need for embellishment. I like to think that I bring a woman’s perspective to a story that in some parts is seen as belonging to the domain of men – and golfers!

How did you go about the research?

I was able to interview several members of Papwa’s family and had access to more than 40 hours of video interviews and transcripts of his friends, family and fellow golfers – all of whom had their own opinions of what motivated Papwa and how he’d experienced certain pivotal events. In addition, I spent weeks going through various newspaper and magazine archives, so that much of what I wrote, or alluded to, stemmed from published interviews Papwa had given. I had a copy of Graham Wolfe’s unpublished autobiography, which detailed the intersection of his and Papwa’s lives. I also had access to an extensive library of photographs. When writing about him winning his first tournament, for example, I examined the photograph taken of an exuberant Papwa clutching his trophy and used that as a prompt.

Your debut novel, All We Have Left Unsaid, won several prizes. Were you keen to try your hand at non-fiction?

Initially, I began writing Papwa as a novel. However, the more I researched, the more convinced I became that the truth of Papwa’s life was more intriguing than any fictions manufactured around him, and so decided to write a biography instead.

Did you find the non-fiction form more difficult to write than fiction?

What was hardest was to cede my authority as a writer. In writing non-fiction, particularly in trying to re-establish the facts of a character like Papwa, who died so long ago, I had to rely on the memories, impressions and facts presented by others, as opposed to the freedom of fiction which allows me to make informed decisions regarding my character’s journey and the creative licence to make things up.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope readers will see that the book is about more than one man called Papwa Sewgolum. As a descendant, I wanted to tell the story of Indian South Africans. I set out to explore the effect of apartheid on an individual’s life, using Papwa as a vehicle for this, and in particular, the plight of sportspeople of colour during those years. I was interested to learn how boycotts and protests against the apartheid government’s sporting policies served as a catalyst for the dismantling of the entire system.

Transformation in sport is a contentious topic. How does your biography fit into the conversation?

It is my wish that the biography is a reminder of the great cost at which this transformation was achieved.

How has his family responded to this biography?

As far as I can tell, Papwa’s family are pleased, but you’d have to ask them. I could have taken a more salacious approach, but that was not the story I set out to write. That being said, I didn’t skirt around Papwa’s personal issues, or censor myself either.

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South Africa’s day of reckoning approaches: Ishtiyaq Shukri weighs up Brexit, the Tshwane unrest, privilege and poverty



There hasn’t been a day of reckoning in South Africa, but if things don’t change tangibly and soon, there will be. And when it comes, it will be horrific, but it will not be without cause.

Ishtiyaq Shukri considers the implications of Brexit, the American presidential race, hysteria around migration, and the recent unrest in Tshwane

Like so many people in the world today, I don’t live in a country, but between countries. Over time, I have developed an affinity with all of them. When I am physically present in one, the others are always on my mind.

South Africa and Britain are two of my countries, and while I no longer feel at liberty to travel to Britain physically, life is not only experienced through the movements of the body, but also in the workings of the mind. Despite my physical exclusion from the UK, I spend a lot of mental time there, particularly in London. I have lived for so long between my countries that they have begun to merge, no longer separate places on the map, but one place in my head. That is where they co-exist and where I hold them together.

Watching our capital burn, on the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising

This has been a particular difficult week for South Africa and Britain. In Pretoria, riots erupted on 21 June over the nomination of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s mayoral candidate in local elections scheduled for August. To see our capital city in flames isn’t easy, but in the case of Pretoria, it has been especially cutting to witness such fiery images coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising of 16 June, 1976. Those pictures of Pretoria in flames paint a thousand words, among them the following eight: All is not well. Something needs to change.

News from Britain has also been vexing. On 16 June, I was driving on a busy motorway and had turned down the radio to negotiate a convoy of trucks when five words filtered through the din of the highway to punch me in the ears – British Member of Parliament shot. In the immediacy of the moment, the announcement competing for my attention with the lorry ahead, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps the shooting had occurred in Afghanistan or Iraq. Isn’t that where such things happen? I slowed down and turned up the volume to hear the details: not Afghanistan or Iraq, but West Yorkshire, England. I remember looking at the radio and asking out loud, “What?”

This week, those words from the protest song by the British rock band Queen have going round in my head, the way songs sometimes do:

Is this the world we created? We made it on our own.
Is this the world we devastated, right to the bone?
If there’s a God up in the sky looking down
What must he think of what we’ve done
To the world that He created?

That they grow ever more poignant with the passing of time belies our assumptions of our age as the pinnacle of human progress and evolution. When I look around the world, particularly at the countries in which I have lived my life, I draw different conclusions about the state of the world and the language we use to describe it. We use terms like the “developed world”, the “first world”, the “industrialised world” to categorise, to elevate and to denigrate, whereas I have a growing sense of foreboding that only one descriptor is increasingly relevant to ever-expanding swathes of our planet – the devastated world – because that is how most people on Earth experience life. What meaning is there to any of our categories when the economic and foreign policies of rich countries in the “developed world” are directly responsible for the poverty and insecurity of poor countries in the “developing world”, their policies actively working against development to foster destruction and annihilation instead. Let me give just one example – Yemen – pulverised by Saudi Arabia with British and American weapons.

The dynamics of the contrived categories we impose on the world are equally at work in the horrendous language we use to talk about people we perceive as different. There are two current affairs items, which – along with Tony Blair – I have taken to muting. The first is news involving the American billionaire currently a front-runner for the Republican Party in the campaign for the US Presidency. I refuse to write his name. He has already had more media coverage than a bigoted idiot should. The other is the debate around Britain’s proposed exit from the European Union to be decided in a referendum on 23 June. No longer able to endure the vitriol of the “Brexit” campaign, I tuned out.

The myth of change in South Africa

Similarly, if anything belies the myth of change in South Africa, it is the language South Africans continue to use and the ways of thinking we continue to employ. Young privileged South Africans can frequently be heard arguing that they are not responsible for apartheid as they were born after it (supposedly) ended. This kind of thinking is born out of that of their parents, who similarly absolved themselves of responsibility through claims that they either did not know what was going on, or that they were merely abiding by the laws of the land, or that they were simply following orders. These deceptions continue to be peddled as truths in South Africa, where they are used by enormously privileged people trying to reconcile and legitimise the continued states of unequal favour they enjoy, and to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the enduring trauma tormenting the country. And even as they employ such duplicity, it is without any awareness of the converse being true – that if wealthy South Africans born after 1994 are not responsible for the state of the nation and therefore at liberty to enjoy their wealth, then poor South Africans born at the same time are not responsible for their poverty and therefore at liberty to protest.

In reality, the truth is more like this: around the world, but especially in South Africa, privilege and poverty are inherited, and like most inheritances, you get it from your parents. 22 years after 1994, who in South Africa still lives in townships? And how many township inhabitants are white? By what perverted thinking have privileged South Africans become innocent victims? Of Africa’s 10 richest people, three are South African – more than in any other country on the continent. All three are white (men). The notion that they are victims is the same kind of perversity that allows Israel to paint itself the victim of Palestinian aggression even while it has nuclear bombs and the most powerful army in the Middle East at its disposal, while Palestinians have stones and knives and crude Qassam rockets.

Britain is the most corrupt country in the world: Brexit deflects the real issues

Such flawed reasoning becomes the rationale through which we justify and perpetuate racist stereotypes and attitudes. Take corruption, for instance. Depictions of Africa as endemically corrupt are commonplace. And while corruption certainly blights our continent, according to Transparency International, Britain is in fact the most corrupt country in the world, and London the world’s “number-one home for the fruits of corruption”. But who cares about facts when they conflict with our ingrained notions of the developed world, of the west, of the first world and of Europe, which brings us another set of truths. Europe is in meltdown because of its supposed migration crisis, but it is in Africa where most of the world’s refugees live – more than 2.5 million. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, 26 percent of the world’s refugee population lives in Sub-Saharan Africa. And the countries that host the largest refugee populations are not in Europe, but in Asia and the Middle East – Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon.

The same language used by privileged South Africans has been on abundant display in Europe. European countries have colonised the world, yet they descend into crisis when a fraction the world’s most desperate and vulnerable people arrive at their borders, not as violent colonisers but as desperate refugees. On 4 April, 2016 the EU started sending migrants back to Turkey, some fleeing conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan, which EU member states like Britain actively helped plunge into war. In 2004 I was awarded the inaugural EU Literary Award. On 4 April, 2016, I felt nothing but shame. Today it is an award that leaves me with a deep feeling of embarrassment and betrayal.

In Britain, hysteria around migration has led to the prospect of a British withdrawal from the EU. In the wake of the assassination of the British MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair, there is now a petition sweeping across the UK to cancel the referendum on Thursday. I hope it will be called off, but that is unlikely. This referendum should never have been called for in the first place. If Britain wants to have a referendum, let it have one on ending the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia. Let it have one on ending its involvement in illegal foreign military interventions. If Britain wants to have a serious national debate, let it have one on ending the scourge of homelessness, poverty and exclusion, particularly white poverty and exclusion, because in Britain, white poverty is invisible. And when white poverty in Britain does appear on the national stage, it is usually as the butt of the joke in sitcoms like Little Britain. Vicky Pollard is a target precisely because she is poor white.

This referendum deflects such issues, and taking Britain out of the EU won’t improve things for Vicky, however much she has been promised that it will. It is a deceptive, indulgent and shortsighted campaign, set upon tearing up Europe and dismantling the world. It has revealed deep divides in British society. Should Britain leave the EU, how will its factions continue to cohabit an isolated island? And when the EU is no longer to blame, what will be the substitute piñata, and who will people like Thomas Mair feel at liberty to stab and shoot next? This parochial campaign has serious international consequences because a British exit from the EU will leave Europe weaker. The tragic killing of Jo Cox should also remind us of the global dangers posed by a weakened Europe should it all unravel.

On 28 June, 1914, a Slavic nationalist Gavrilo Princip fired a shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. The shot was fired in Sarajevo, but it travelled through Europe and around the world, igniting World War I. Should Thursday’s referendum go ahead, I hope British voters will consider their choice carefully. I hope they will look beyond their immediate horizons and consider the world as it is, a tinderbox, fragile, volatile and highly militarised. I hope British people will consider the sinister movements that will feel emboldened should the Leave camp win. The neo-Nazi nationalist movement National Action has already voiced support for the killing of Jo Cox. I hope that British voters will remember their history, and recall just how far the bullets of European nationalists like Princip and now Mair can travel.

There hasn’t been a reckoning in South Africa yet

And as Pretoria burns, let wealthy and powerful South Africans continue to dismiss and isolate themselves from the grievances of the township. The riots in Pretoria may have been sparked by the announcement of a mayoral candidate, but the level and spread of the violence suggests that it is fuelled by deeper unresolved issues. Many of those go back decades, some even centuries. There hasn’t been a reckoning in South Africa yet, and if you think 27 April, 1994 was a substitute, perhaps it’s time to think again. It may have been a kiss-and-make-up moment, but that’s clearly all it was – a moment. The good will of that day on which people felt they had achieved real change has gone. A new generation has grown up. They care little for the amnesties, or negotiated settlements or the rainbows their parents settled for. They are not impressed by some of the heroes of the struggle so admired by their parents’ generation. They weren’t there for the love-in, remember? 27 April, 1994 may have been your day of freedom, but it clearly isn’t theirs. And why should it be when they don’t live in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but in a township at the back of a hill? There hasn’t been a day of reckoning in South Africa, but if things don’t change tangibly and soon, there will be. And when it comes, it will be horrific, but it will not be without cause. No doubt, the pictures from that day will also paint a thousand words, among them the following three: Lord help us.

The Silent MinaretI See You

Ishtiyaq Shukri is the author of the EU Literary Award-winning The Silent Minaret and I See You

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