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Check out a Guide to the Best Stargazing Spots in the Southern Hemisphere (Excerpt from Offbeat SA) @PRHSouthAfrica…

Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Popping Corks and Scintillating Poems at Modjaji’s Eighth Birthday Party

Modjaji Books Birthday Celebrations

Pale gold and deep red sparkling wine filled the glasses of those who gathered in the Observatory Methodist church hall last Sunday afternoon. It was not the women’s auxiliary gone to seed that set Charles Wesley spinning in his grave but the presence of the rain queen, expressing her delight at the most exciting poetry event to date this year. Sponsored by Solms Delta, this was a party celebrating the tenacity and resilience of a remarkable institution.

By the end of 2015, Modjaji Books will have published 32 poetry collections by South African women since its inception in 2007. Added to that is a raft of other fiction and non-fiction that has established this small independent publisher on the South African literary landscape – not to mention the several significant literary awards and recognition that has been afforded its titles over the years. The delicious bubbly was the perfect accompaniment to the lush, robust and resilient verse that was read aloud by some of the city’s most talented poets.

The light filtering through the high windows on the late afternoon may have been muted but as each woman took the floor there was nothing mild about the poems read aloud, nor the topics they approached: the raw edges of childbirth and mastectomy, ageing and violence, were juxtaposed in a powerful expression of wit and eros, contemplation and courage.

Flowers decked the tables. Sumptuous chocolate brownies dusted with icing sugar, heart-shaped pecan tartlets, vegetable crudites and a delicious cheesecake decorated with rose petals and birthday candles was fitting fare for the celebration of the eighth year of Modjadji Books’ existence. Another aspect of the celebration was the launch of their most recent venture, the Modjadji Poetry Fund. This new project aims to provide a wider range of services to those who read, write and engage with South African women’s poetry in all its facets. Colleen Higgs, founder of the women’s press, said the intention was to create a new poetry prize (or prizes), mentoring opportunities, workshops, and honoraria for poets.

Malika Ndlovu

Emceed by the multi-talented performance poet and author, Malika Ndlovu, the poets who treated guests to their work included three Ingrid Jonker Prize recipients – Karin Schimke (2014), Beverly Rycroft (2012) and Megan Hall (2008). They were joined by Margaret Clough, Khadija Heeger, Helen Moffet, Christine Coates, Dawn Garisch, Colleen Higgs, Jenna Mervis and Kerry Hammerton.

These are the Lies I Told YouFourth ChildMissingLava Lamp PoemsHomegrown
Invisible EarthquakeBare and BreakingAt Least the Duck SurvivedStrange FruitBeyond the Delivery RoomDifficult Gifts


Each poet touched the audience with her remarkable offering.

In particular, these new works, as yet unpublished, struck a deep resonanace: Megan Hall’s reflections on her daughter at three weeks of age, and Helen Moffett’s chilling recollection of discovering armed men in her bedroom.

Margaret Clough’s hilarious account of an elderly woman’s driving skills, performed as a two-part rendition of a hair-raising car trip and Colleen Higgs’ observation of her young daughter’s antipathy to a house guest sharing her bedroom counterbalanced the more anguished verses, bringing a lighter note to the performance.

Here are some of the remarkable poems shared on the evening:

everything in our house

Kate thinks the lava lamp I bought her father for Christmas two years ago is
hers. She thinks everything in our house is hers.

Last night her great aunt, Tessa, from London, slept in her room. Kate doesn’t
want Tessa in her room.
“She’s not my friend,” she says.
“Not yet,” I say.
“She must go. When is she going Mama?”
“In a week or so.”
“But it’s my room.”
“Yes it is. But please let her use it.”
“Why can’t she sleep in your room with you and Daddy?”
“That’s a thought.”
And so on, until she concedes, “She can sleep in my room but she mustn’t
look at my toys. She must look at the wall.”
“OK, I will tell her,” I say.

Kate loves the lava lamp. It takes a while for the yellow wax to heat up and
fl oat languidly to the top where it falls again in bubbles and loops.
Sometimes we sit on the couch and watch the lava lamp in the dark.
It’s not like watching TV.
We’re not watching it exactly, we talk in that slowed down, profound,
goofball way.
Our eyes on the lava lamp.

- Colleen Higgs

What Life is Really Like

You need to toughen up
my father would complain
when I was small
I ought to take you to see
chickens having their heads
chopped off.
That’d teach you
what life is really like.

He’d seek me out
when one of his pigeons
-crazed for home or
mad with terror from a
roaming hawk-
would tumble into
the loft
mutilated by
wire or beak.

I was the one made to
clench my palms round
its pumping chest,
to keep it still while
my father’s hairy fingers stitched
its garotted throat
angrily to rights again.

You see life is a fight for survival
he’d shout, forgetting
he was not lecturing his students
or giving his inaugural address
You gotta roll with the punches.

I waited and waited for that bitter
roughness to spy me and circle
in to land
years and years
of flinching anticipation until
the day I came home from hospital

and my father dressed my wound.

Easing with practiced hands
the drip from my bulldozed chest
he renewed the plaster in breathing silence
never speaking never
once saying

Life’s a bastard
Toughen up.

- Beverly Rycroft

Sterkfontein Bones

The cave holds the bones
the cave and also the hospital
Sterkfontein, dust as old as stone.
She wondered if it had changed,
if there was concrete or
wooden walkways, a shop
that sold resin skulls for lamps.

The narrow opening still
concealed by kiepersol and wild olive,
she saw the bright bones –
a toe and a tooth.
It’s called The Cradle now
but it’s really a trapdoor –
animals fell in to die
on a heap of bones.

The other Sterkfontein
they called Groendakkies;
she sat with him on a bench there
under yellow apples of a syringa tree.
What men don’t understand, they
call madness,
she’d read it somewhere.
He wanted her to pick up the apples
that had fallen;
the silver apples of the moon
the golden apples of the sun,
but she would not.
Even if she did
she’d only have bones –
a tooth and a toe.

- Christine Coates

On Realising I am in Love with You

I wanted a man with a tall stride and
berry brown legs.
An adventurer.

A long haired surfer with an earing
and a six-pack.
A self-made man.

A millionaire. A bespectacled genius.
I am sure my ad said:
‘must love dogs’.

And I got you.

- Kerry Hammerton

Winter Interlude

Through wind, rain and hail
two daughters fly in to visit,
bringing laughter, wine and
an alpaca knee rug.
I’m told this is the worst weather
in Cape Town for decades.
But for me,
wrapped up in joy,
drenched in love,
it’s sparkling

- Margaret Clough

Two Gifts

I’ve lived in my body in this city all my life
yet have not known this simple pleasure:
you took me to a lake on a fynbos berg.
I entered like a dream, plunging.

We sat on white sand playing
with shoals of meaning that shift
when you lift the lid off words.
You chose to sit alone while I went in.

The mountain offers up this cup
for gulls and clouds to drink; I, mere fly,
baptised my life within its living liquid,
emerging blessed. I heard you say

women want more than you can give; a man
was drowning in your eye. We walked back,
caressed by sensuous air. Your mouth
was tense. I shook your hand goodbye.

- Dawn Garisch

This article will be updated with more contributions, including Ndlovu’s moving tribute to Modjaji Books; and poems by Karin Schimke and Helen Moffett


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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event:


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On 29 March Modjaji Books celebrated her 8th birthday with a poetry reading and party at the Methodist Church Hall in…

Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 31 March 2015


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Penny de Vries Reviews Love Tastes Like Strawberries by Rosamund Haden

Love Tastes Like StrawberriesVerdict: carrot with criticism

The storyline and the characters were intriguing and showed promise; I was interested in discovering how all the strands would come together. Unfortunately, the development of these strands was unsatisfactory. The switches in time and perspective were a little jerky. The characters were either too bitchy (Ivan), too wacky (Luke and Jade) or too ineffectual (with the exception of Francoise, the most authentic character). Stella, in particular, was annoying in her wallowing over the past and her mother. Then to top it all, the ending of the novel was bizarre and barely explicable.

There may be some that would enjoy this book, which was well written, but for me it was like watching your favourite rugby or football team playing so brilliantly in the first half that you know they will win and then it all falls apart in the second half; disappointing when it promised so much.

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Free Wi-Fi and Internet Coming Soon to Joburg Libraries

Johannesburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau has announced the rollout of free internet and Wi-Fi in libraries across the city in a project called e-World.

The announcement, which was made at the Sandton Public Library, follows similar initiatives in Tshwane, Robertson, Stellenbosch, Atlantis and the Western Cape Garden Route.

“Internationally, we are in a digital race,” Tau said. “However, as a city and a country we are not running nearly fast enough. Through this programme we are lacing up our digital running shoes and providing free technology and internet access for all, essentially providing a mechanism to accelerate local social and economic growth.”

At present, e-World accessibility is available at the Jabavu, Noordgesig, Orange Farm, River Park, Diepsloot and Sandton libraries, with another 38 libraries to be added by June 30. The programme will be rolled out over the next 18 months.

Image courtesy of Nelson Mandela Square

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Johan Anker resenseer Spoorvat saamgestel deur Riana Scheepers en Leti Kleyn

SpoorvatUitspraak: wortel

Die tekste is nie spesifiek geskryf as kortverhaalmateriaal nie, maar daar is ’n hele paar wat myns insiens hul plek sal volstaan in enige Groot kortverhaalboek: stories soos onder andere Clinton V. du Plessis se “Dubbelvisie”, Heilna du Plooy se “Die foto”, Rita Gilfillan se “Ydelheid der Ydelheden”, Maretha Maartens se “ Die sagte oë van beeste”, Myra Scheepers se “Tuiskoms” en Jan van Tonder se “Die Queen se operator” verdien ’n tweede lees. Ander lesers sal moontlik ’n ander keuse uitoefen, maar dit is hoekom dit so lekker is om te lees
en te onthou.


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Candess Kostopoulos resenseer Matriks deur Joan Hambidge

MatriksUitspraak: houtwortel

Die lykdigte in afdeling IV, veral “Maria”, verbeeld weer die onsterflikheid van die kuns, terwyl die ­tema van vertaling as ’n tipe kreatiewe verdraaiing in afdeling X ondersoek word. Die drie “verdraaiings” in hierdie afdeling – “Anna Akhmatova I”, “Anna Akhmatova II”, en “Dorothy Parker onthou:” – is besonder effektief, en laat die leser met ’n begeerte na nóg van hierdie tipe gedigte.

Die bundel is egter in sy geheel oneweredig wat kwaliteit en diepte betref, hoofsaaklik vanweë die feit dat sommige afdelings beduidend swakker is as ander. Die ekfrastiese of “beeldgedigte” (afdeling III), asook talle terugskouende gedigte oor die digter se jeug kon, byvoorbeeld, gesnoei word.


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A Future Jozi – Three Science Fiction Authors Launch Their Books by Candlelight at Wolves

A Future Jozi

The setting for last Wednesday evening’s science fiction book launch in Illovo came straight from a dystopian novel, with candlelight casting dancing shadows on the walls.



But the Wordsmack publishing team and the folk at Wolves would not allow loadshedding to darken their spirits, and Abi Godsell, Mico Pisanti and Jason Werbeloff introduced their books to the gathering crowd.

A Future JoziPisanti’s new book, The Folds: Krokodil, is set in 2030, and he said of it: “Think of the worst-case scenario and hope like hell it doesn’t come true. 2030 is not that far off …”

Werbeloff’s book, Hedon, is also set in the near future, but imagines a world where happiness is compulsory.

All three books are based in Johannesburg – or, in the case of Hedon, in an alternative city with problems symbolically aligned to those in South Africa. Louise Cosgrave, who runs Wordsmack with Leani le Roux, asked: “Is there still an audience for books set in Joburg?”

Werbeloff said that South Africa has an “amazing market” for books, and Pisanti agreed: “It’s a growing industry and Joburg is never dull, it tweaks the imagination. Joburg is a new city, we’re all a forward-facing bunch.”

Godsell, author of Idea War and a town planning student at the Wits University, said that Joburg’s future is everybody’s story: “As writers and readers we need to tell publishers about the stories we want to hear and the people we want to hear about. Wordsmack is poised at the brink of something very exciting.”

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After the launch Books LIVE asked each author five questions about their books:
1. In a nutshell, what is Hedon about?

Jason Werbeloff: In 2051, the Bhutanese Empire rules post-apocalyptic Shangri with iron-fisted Buddhist compassion. Happiness is compulsory, but making everyone happy isn’t easy in an overpopulated world. Breeders are ghettoed, homosexuality is mandatory, and Shangrians’ happiness levels are strictly monitored by hedometers implanted in their heads. Become depressed, or feel too happy without helping others feel the same, and The Tax Man will get angry. Very angry.

The lovechild of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, Hedon is gritty satire on a dystopia drunk with bigotry and positive thinking.
2. Why did you use the specific space (Joburg) and time as a setting for your story?

Although Hedon isn’t set in Johannesburg, I use the fictional country of Shangri to illustrate many of the challenges that we face in Joburg and in South Africa. The story is full of wanton violence, and the oppression of a majority group – in Hedon the group is heterosexuals; in South Africa, it’s people of colour. These issues plague South Africa, even 20 years after the exit of the apartheid government.

3. This “compulsory happiness” factor sounds legit cool and not too far off. What made you think of it?

My experience living in South Africa today is that I’m surrounded by a ubiquitous gathering of people and media outlets that promote positive thinking. I find it nauseating, and I wanted to write about why I experience it this way. More than that though, I believe positive thinking is dangerous, and damaging. It encourages us to think that we are responsible for everything that happens to us, including the traumas some people face. This leads to victim-blaming, something that I explore in Hedon.

4. Who are your favourite authors or what are your favourite books?

While writing Hedon, I was inspired by two of my favorite novels – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I love the way Huxley is able to create an emotionally gripping dystopia, and how Atwood manages to make us despise gender inequality. In Hedon I tried to combine the ethos of these books, but in a new setting.

5. What do you think about the future of science fiction in SA? Are we going to take the world by storm?

We have superbly talented South African sci-fi writers. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have a good consumer-base. My experience is that it is much more difficult to sell a novel in South Africa than it is to sell in the United States and Europe. Johannesburg in particular offers an incredibly fast-paced lifestyle, and this isn’t conducive to giving readers time to read. South African authors may take the world by storm, but they’ll probably do so without the knowledge of the South African public.

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1. In a nutshell, what is Idea War about?

Abi Godsell: Idea War is a narrative exploration of different ways of looking at power, politics and national identity. It uses the journey of the the 16-year-old protagonist, Callie Baxter, to unpack some of our own prejudices and blindness through the ways she interacts and is forced to change her interaction with the Chinese Custodial Authority members who have put her city (Johannesburg) under military occupation, forcing it to secede from South Africa and become its own Sovereign City-State, and who she has dedicated her life to fighting against.

2. Why did you use the specific space (Joburg) and time as a setting for your story?

I love this city that I live in, and for me, working in spaces I know, can visit and map, helps me extrapolate and chunky and believable (I hope! I’m kinda biased in that regard) futures. I also wanted to write a book for the people who live in this city, and want to see their street/school/building/favorite park in print (albeit in a junk-punk, dystopian light).

3. How did you come up with Idea War? What inspires you?

Getting around the city and seeing the amazing places and spaces here. Talking to people here. As a writer, I feel spoiled for material just from the place I live.

4. Tell me about the artwork for your book, how did you and the artists come up with the graphics?

That was all the artists involved. Almost. So there are three main pieces of art associated with the book: Covers, prints and the future Joburg map. The covers were jointly organised by Wordsmack and Louisa Pieters from Fool Moon Design. We wanted to emphasise the setting yet keep all of the main characters off the cover, so that people could freely imagine them in the way that they chose.

The prints were commissioned from Greg Nel, a freelance graphic artist and illustrator. Basically I gave him the text to work with and he developed an image he felt was strong from it.

Finally, the map was made by me, drawing lines on Google Earth (not at random, taking some cues from my current urban and regional planning studies) and sending those through to Louisa to make look as lovely as it does.

5. What do you think about the future of science fiction in SA? Are we going to take the world by storm?

It’s very bright. We have a voice here, a rawness, a diversity, that international readers are beginning to crave. Definitely!


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1. In a nutshell, what is The Folds: Krokodil about?

Mico Pisanti: Krokodil is episode two in a longer series called The Folds. It follows from Episode 1: Miss Universe and precedes Episode 3: Blink. In a nutshell it’s set two years from now, and it shows how a dangerous street drug – the Russian “krokodil” (which exists) is enhanced by a shadowy character known as Guillotine. “Krokodil” becomes a world epidemic which in turn starts a world war – a chemical war.

It also deals with small beginnings which butterfly effect into huge world events – and how the word terrorist can be misused or wrongfully used to fit a darker agenda. Plus there is an intriguing lethal whisper from the future towards the end, and a hint on what The Folds could be.

Oh, and it’s seen through your eyes.

2. Why did you use the specific space (Joburg) and time as a setting for your story?

Quite simply I used Joburg because it’s the city I was born in and it’s the city I know. But added onto that Joburg is an exciting, frustrating, wonderful, energy driven, take-no-prisoners kind of city. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to see how a city like that becomes central to world events and how it copes collectively and geographically in a world war situation?

3. How did you come up with the story for The Folds series? Where do you find inspiration?

This is usually the trickiest question of all as creativity and inspiration are very difficult to quantify.

All I can say is, it started with an image of a world filled with crippled, broken, half humans confined to a venue and forced to look at beautiful beauty pageant contestants. I wondered what kind of world that is? And who are these people? Why are they in this situation? The story grew from that scenario.

4. Who are your favourite authors or what are your favourite books?

Hilary Mantel, Cormac MacCarthy, Brett Easton Ellis, Tana French, Stephen King, John Connolly, Philip K Dick, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, JK Rowling, George R R Martin, Tolkien … There are so many. These are the greats that live in my heart.

5. What do you think about the future of science fiction in SA? Are we going to take the world by storm?

I think the “future” of science fiction is here now. There has been a groundswell of speculative fiction over the past 10 years or so. And I think we are very privileged to be on the crest of that wave in many respects.

Are we going to take the world by storm? Why not? South Africa has always been a fertile ground for great writers and world class authors. Perhaps the time of science fiction and speculative fiction has come. But no matter how good the stories and the writing – support and readership is key.


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Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted from the dark using #livebooks:



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Join Hans Beukes for the Launch of Long Road to Liberation at The Book Lounge

Book LaunchL Long Road to Liberation

Long Road to Liberation: An Exiled Namibian Activist's PerspectivePorcupine Press would like to invite you to the launch of Long Road to Liberation: An Exiled Namibian Activist’s Perspective by Hans Beukes.

The anti-apartheid activist will relay his tale of struggle and victory on Tuesday, 31 March, at The Book Lounge. The event will start at 5:30 for 6 PM.

Come and listen to Beukes’ tale of winning a scholarship to study at the University of Oslo in Norway and having his passport confiscated the moment he left his homeland.

Don’t miss it!

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About the book

In the late 1950s Hans Beukes, a native of the then South West Africa, was a student at the University of Cape Town when he won a ‘solidarity scholarship’ tenable for three years at the University of Oslo in Norway. ‘At your age, Mr Beukes,’ his professor in Constitutional History told him, ‘it ought to be an adventure.’

And so it turned out. As he was about to board an ore carrier bound for Oslo from Port Elizabeth, the South African government confiscated his passport. Back in Cape Town he met an American activist who would become a key figure in the US Civil Rights movement. Allard Lowenstein had no words of comfort for him, but a challenge: ‘Unless some of you are prepared to leave the comfort of your homes to go to fight the regime on the world stage, where they now monopolise opinion, you can forget about getting rid of apartheid.’

Beukes accepted the challenge. Thus was launched ‘the Beukes case’ in the annals of the international tug-of-war about the future of the Territory that would become Namibia.

The author paints a memorable picture of the protracted struggles against the apartheid government and of the ceaseless work done in mobilising international public opinion against the repressive regime.

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Francois Verster Reviews War and Society: Participation and Remembrance by Albert Grundlingh

War and Society: Participation and remembranceVerdict: carrot

Grundlingh has made a name for himself by focusing on social history, such as the interaction between particular communities, rather than describing the normal politically generated patterns of cause and effect. As a champion for the underdog, he has chosen here to illuminate the impact of war on black participants in the Great War, as the First Wold War (1914–1918) was known until the Second World War (1939–1945) was over.

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Penny de Vries Reviews Weeping Waters by Karin Brynard

Weeping WatersVerdict: critical carrot

The pace is good, the dialogue convincing, the sense of place well described and the different strands, such as Freddie’s disturbing art pieces and elements of Griqua history that were woven into the text, add some interesting dimensions to this novel. Some of the actions of the characters do not always make sense such as a fearful character visiting an isolated farm alone when there is a murderer at large. This stretched my credibility.

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Bennie Griessel resenseer Ikarus deur Deon Meyer

IkarusUitspraak: wortel met kritiek

Namate die boek einde se kant toe staan, begin dit egter duidelik word dat die twee spore van die verhaal nie parallel aan mekaar loop nie, maar besig is om geleidelik nader aan mekaar te beweeg. Waar hulle ontmoet, volg die verrassende ontknoping, wanneer die los drade een-een deur Bennie saamgevat en die antwoord op meesterlike wyse aan die verdagte (en aan die leser) onthul word.

Hoewel Ikarus nie ver vir Meyer se vorige boek, Kobra, hoef terug te staan nie, is laasgenoemde steeds vir my ’n beter boek. Een rede hiervoor is die feit dat ’n groot gedeelte van die huidige boek handel oor Bennie se stryd teen die drankduiwel.


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