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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

‘I didn’t purposely aim to rile people’ – Lerato Tshabalala chats about her book The Way I See It

Published in the Sunday Times

The Way I See ItShanthini Naidoo talks to The Way I See It author Lerato Tshabalala, who has no regrets about speaking truth to power – or just to the regular man in the street, for that matter

The book’s been out for less than a month. What are people most offended by?

This is about bluntness. Being black, blunt, and a woman who swears when my culture suggests I should be polite and nice. I didn’t purposely aim to rile people. I am a journalist who comes from a newsroom, this is my language. My critics have asked, “Why are you an authority on anything?” It isn’t about that. It is my observations, what I see around me. No matter how you dress the truth, in ribbons and perfume, it is still the truth and it can be ugly.

What was the purpose of your book?

I wanted to start a conversation. Outside of the creative environment, where there is a sense of oneness, we South Africans are not where we should be. Anyone who thinks South African society is integrated is delusional. “Black people are appalled that [white people] wash your pets in the kitchen sink … yes, we know y’all think we don’t wash our hair, that we say Dennis instead of Denise and laugh too loudly in restaurants. We are aware of your stares, but some of us actually revel in your discomfort because, really, if you’ve lived in Africa all your life and still expect black people to speak in hushed tones, then you deserve to have your nice, calm evening disturbed by our blackness”. My job as a journalist is to be as reflective of the truth as possible. And I realise we need to have a sense of humour to get through it.

It reads as a memoir in some parts. Is it?

I basically tell you everything, my life’s fuck-ups, when I haven’t had money and hired dodgy service providers who left my pool brown and disappeared because I was trying to be cheap. Every bad decision I’ve made is in here.

Did you find it difficult to make light of these serious issues?

I wrote the book at a time when I had lost people in my life, including my dad. I was grieving but I had to find humour in every situation. That is who has written this book. Someone who is really interested in South Africa. Part of my being critical of people here, is me being invested in this country. If we do not diagnose what is happening in our country, how can we grow? When we start to change our way of being and the language that we use, if we can just be aware of what we do and say, we can move on. Also man, I want you to laugh, that this is how we are and what we do is sometimes crazy.

What does your mom say about some of the racy bits?

I was nervous when she told me she was reading about the sex. She texted me to say, “I’ve also lived on this green earth, my love, but thank God your dad isn’t alive to read about your genitals being landscaped.”

The following are edited extracts from the book:

On social media:

Back in the day you’d call your friend and tell her that you were having period pains – these days you post a pic with a caption that reads: “There’s a war inside my uterus. FML.” Do we really need to know that your womb is experiencing turbulence? Tell your girlfriends, not the world.

On domestic workers:

According to the dictionary, a maid is defined as a female domestic servant. Depending on where you are in the world, maids can look different. In America generally this will be a lady from Mexico; in France, this person could be from Eastern Europe; and in Africa, from, say, Diepsloot or Grassy Park. Nowhere in the dictionary does the word “maid” refer to a race of people. But the truth is, “maid” is a word that describes what someone does – it’s not derogatory in and of itself … the extent of our middle-class guilt as black people is so deep that many of us would rather spend hours sitting idly at Exclusive Books than be in the house when the cleaning lady is there. Only the truly emancipated among us will simply lift our feet and let her clean around us while we lounge about watching daytime television. If you’re like me, however, then you try to prove that you were raised well by tidying up just before she comes.

On racists:

We need to look at racist people the same way in which we regard stupid people. If you’ve ever encountered a truly stupid person, in the true sense of ignorance, you never take anything they say seriously; you’re always half listening and can be facetious without them even getting it. Racists are stupid. That is a fact. Rejecting labels and derogatory terms is taking back our power.

On friends with benefits:

Rainy days are especially cruel reminders of those deadliest of combinations: horniness and loneliness. I don’t mean three hours of rain – I’m talking about weeks in which you have four days of constant rain. You need what in the ’hood is called ingubo enamehlo, “a blanket with eyes” … someone with whom you can create body heat.

On gay people:

Something I love about gay men is that they don’t compromise. If you’re hanging with them, you’ve got to be hot to trot. No half measures. As women we’ll let our girlfriends go out in outfits that don’t fit or look crap simply because we don’t want to hurt their feelings, but a gay guy will tell you straight: “Lerato, where do you think you’re going? You’re certainly not getting into my car dressed like that!”

On dating:

A situationship lies in the grey area between dating and being in a relationship. You haven’t called it anything, so you exist in that no-man’s-land of non-relationships. A situation. It’s like an email stuck in the outbox – there’s very little you can do about it. When you’re in a situation, nothing is defined. But you are still seen in public together and may occasionally even hang out with his friends, and you’re usually introduced as just “Lerato” – nothing more, nothing less. For men, it’s about the convenience of having a girlfriend who knows she’s not really a girlfriend. As women, though, we feel like we’re on standby for a flight – the wait is killing us, we want to throw a tantrum, but we also don’t want to piss off the people whose mercy we require.

On the bill:

That moment when the bill comes and a woman reaches for her bag. Most of us ladies do this to prove that we didn’t come with expectations, that we’re independent 21st century women who can hold our own. Except, of course, that is not true, is it? When I’m reaching for my bag, I’m hoping that you’ll immediately say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” [or] that you’ll swiftly take the bill so I don’t see how much the meal has cost and then politely tell me to put my bag away.

Follow Shanthini Naidoo @ShantzN

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Why the first South African novel to be banned under apartheid law is also one of the worst ever written

Published in the Sunday Times

Rosa Lyster conducted a forensic-detective-style search for the author of the forgotten book An Act of Immorality, which despite its pseudo-liberal credentials she believes is one of the worst local novels ever written

In 1963, the state tried to take control of South African literature. While other legislation was already being used to censor “undesirable” material, the 1963 Publications and Entertainment Act was the first to make statutory provision for the control of locally produced work, allowing the apartheid state to operate one of the most comprehensive censorship systems in the world. It is difficult to communicate the scale of the endeavour, except to describe it as a kind of mania. The censors tried to read everything, were suspicious of everything, wrote dense and detailed reports on everything, in an attempt to neutralise the perceived threat of literature. They failed, ultimately. But they tried.

The first South African novel to be banned under the new legislation was titled An Act of Immorality, published by Trans-World in 1963, and written under a pseudonym: Des Troye. The book jacket advertises it as “A Startling Expose of Sex Across the Colour Line”, featuring a lawyer who “prosecutes offenders of the Immorality Act by day” and “by Night, under neurotic compulsion … breaks the immorality act.” The author is described as “a Johannesburg Attorney who holds a degree in psychology … He writes under the pen-name ‘Des Troye’ to avoid victimisation and publicity”.



An Act of Immorality sold 40,000 copies on publication, breaking previous records on South African sales by 25,000 units. In late 1963, an American film crew entered South Africa illegally through Swaziland in order to make a film of the book, drawing the attention of the Security Branch. Further scrutiny followed about six months later, when An Act of Immorality was submitted to the censorship board by the Police Commissioner. The novel was quickly banned. Censors’ reports describe it as “an attack on the National Party” and on apartheid. Attached documents reveal that the offices of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and the National Commissioner of Police were engaged in a joint effort to unmask Des Troye, who they had identified only as a white Johannesburg-based lawyer who might be working at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court. It is unclear, in these memos, whether this information has been gathered from analysis of the novel itself, or from other sources of intelligence. What is clear is that they badly wanted to find out who he was.

This is the first half of the story of An Act of Immorality. I have told it to a few people, and the response is always the same: they cannot understand why they haven’t heard it before. It’s such an interesting story, after all: anonymous author, 40,000 copies sold, first South African novel to be banned. The most interesting thing about Act though is that almost no one seems to know anything about it, even the people who should know. I can offer myself as a test case: I am in the process of completing a doctoral thesis about literary censorship during apartheid, and all I knew that the book was that it existed, and that it was long out of print. I had never read it, and I had no idea of the author’s real identity. It’s not just me – in wider discussions of literary censorship, the novel is mentioned only in passing, and only the pseudonym is provided. Peter McDonald, the author of The Literature Police (Oxford University Press) and an authority on the subject of apartheid censorship, didn’t know who Des Troye was, either. I asked him about it over email, shortly after I became interested in the case. He replied saying that he hadn’t been able to get to the bottom of it, and encouraged me to do some more digging.

I started with the book itself, which I read over two days in the National Library, sitting with all the people rustling their newspapers and doing their maths homework. I’m not sure what I expected it to be like. Earnestly liberal, maybe. Probably a bit racy, with some bad sex scenes and an implausible plotline. I didn’t think it was going to be good. I did not anticipate how bad it actually is.

An Act of Immorality is a very bad book. It begins with the sentence “It was afternoon, a warm, sensual afternoon”, and it is all downhill from there. Characters are coarsely drawn; description is weak; plot twists are produced at the last moment; whole characters exist only to illuminate the nobility of the protagonist, Johannes Burger, an obvious stand-in for the author; and dialogue is comically bad. It urgently needs an edit. The tone moves awkwardly between laboured raunchiness and long stretches in which characters have impossibly unlikely conversations about psychology. Remember the psychology thing, because it becomes important later.

Open Act at any page, and you will find something to cringe at. It’s not a sin, though, to be a bad writer. The real problem is that it is also a horrible book. The novel continually expresses views which are repellent, while also presenting its protagonist as an exemplar of liberal humanity. On the one hand, it weighs against the Immorality Act, calling it “an act of death”, and provides countless scenes of the damage the act wrought. On the other, it contains many sentences like these: “It was obvious to all present, even to the most ignorant African onlooker, that here was a man different from other men”; “[e]ven the most illiterate non-white in the gallery could see that Johannes was a man of conviction”; “her voice, poise and attire were extremely sophisticated for a black woman”. The protagonist’s desire for black women is described as a “neurotic compulsion”, and it is strongly implied that the root of this “compulsion” is his sexual abuse at the hands of his mother. It is further intimated that both parents were driven to suicide by their own “neurotic” desire for black men and women. White people’s desire for black people is continually depicted as pathological, the product of a troubled mind, and the root cause of the suicide of at least four white people in the novel. It is literally what kills them. The novel was banned on the grounds that it was “a slashing attack on the Immorality Act and apartheid,” but it could almost have been used as state propaganda.

Reading Act made me understand why the author had been so coy about his identity. I went back to the censor’s report hoping to find something, some clue about who he was. I found it: a typed memo at the back of a file I had looked at probably 20 times before, and yet somehow failed to properly see: “It may be mentioned that the ‘Sunday Express’ of the 29th September contains a report to the effect that an American film company is secretly filming the novel. The department has notified the SAP, and will be advised as to the authenticity of this statement. According to the Press report, the author is Mr Simon Meyerson.”

I can’t think of a more vivid example of the lunacies of the apartheid state than the fact that three state offices, between them, were apparently in doubt as to the identity of someone whose full name, occupation, and photograph had recently been published in a national paper. The secret of Des Troye’s identity was never a secret at all.

Ordering the microfilm from the National Library, I expected to find a small piece somewhere towards the back of the paper. It was on the front page. A screaming headline: SEX BOOK IS FILMED SECRETLY ON RAND: AMERICAN UNIT “SHOOTS” “ACT OF IMMORALITY” The article describes the author in the same terms used on the book jacket and states that “until today, his identity has remained a well-kept secret”. The writer goes on: “I am now able to disclose that the author is Mr Simon Meyerson, a 27-year-old student at the University of the Witwaterstrand”.

The subsequent interview of Meyerson makes for revealing reading. The writer of the article, Gordon Winter (subsequently revealed to be an apartheid spy), quotes Meyerson as insisting that the book was not “political” and instead was an interrogation into “the underlying psychological reasons … why people broke the Act in spite of its disastrous consequences.” In a follow-up report a week later, Meyerson insisted again that his motives were not political. Discussing an upcoming trip to London in order to negotiate world film rights for the novel, Meyerson stated: “I … wish to tell [the Minister of Information] that I do not intend being a bad ambassador for South Africa when I go to London on Thursday.”

It is difficult to say what he was thinking when he gave this interview. Also, it is important to remember that the writer of this article was an apartheid spy – he might have quoted Meyerson unsympathetically, or out of context. It is difficult to say. It looks very bad, though, especially the part about being an ambassador for the apartheid state.

Where is Meyerson now? An online search found a psychologist of the same name and age, also born in South Africa, who has an LLB and now lives in London. He did not respond to repeated email requests for comment, so it might be him, or it might not. Nowhere in this Meyerson’s biography or list of achievements is there any mention of An Act of Immorality.

Whoever wrote the book has succeeded in obscuring this part of his past. There is, in fact, very little remaining evidence that the book existed at all. It has fallen almost entirely from view. The question as to why this has happened might be easy to answer: this is a horrible story, and one that we would prefer not to remember.

Follow Rosa Lyster @rosalyster

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Interview with John Connolly on reading, writing and strange research

Published in the Sunday Times

A Time Of Torment•A Time of Torment
John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)

Which book changed your life?
The first book I ever read alone and unaided, which was a Secret Seven book by Enid Blyton. It took a child at a reading to point out to me that the first book I ever read was a crime novel.

Where do you write best?
I can write pretty much anywhere now. Out of necessity – because of travel – I’m less precious about it than I used to be. Still, I like writing in my office at home, with a couple of sleeping dogs.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
The most disturbing was visiting the Supermax facility at the Maine State Prison: 23-hour lockdown in a bare cell, possibly for the rest of your life. People, not surprisingly, go insane as a result.

What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?
I’ve just finished re-reading the Molesworth books by Willans & Searle, and Molesworth’s description of Armand, the little boy in his French textbooks, is perfect: “‘Are there boats on the sea?’ asks Armand, so you can see that i think Papa is only taking him to dieppe in order to drown him.” (Lower case according to Molesworth’s own peculiar spelling and grammar.)

What keeps you awake at night?
Apart from my mortgage? I find it hard to switch off when I’m in the final stages of a draft. Oh, and when I have a bad cold, I find that the lyric of a song will stick in my head and repeat itself over and over for an entire night. Sorry: overshare.

Do you keep a diary?
No. I suppose I consider my books a kind of record … also, diaries, with only a few honourable exceptions, are very dull.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
My friend Joe Long. His job is installing elevators.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?
Jeeves, although you can’t really have him without Bertie Wooster, who gave the world one of my favourite insults: “‘Very good,’ I said coldly. ‘In that case, tinkerty tonk.’ And I meant it to sting.”

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
At least one is unprintable, so we’d best move along from it. The other is probably “Yes”. I say “Yes” to too many things. It will put me in an early grave.

Which current book will you remember in 10 years?
Possibly DJ Taylor’s The Prose Factory, a history of writing, writers and publishing. I think it’s going to help me win a lot of arguments with literary purists.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?
Given the country that it’s in, I’ll pick Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol and Margie Orford. They’re all splendid company.

What are you working on next?
The Parker book for next year, and something a little more experimental, which may never see the light of day.

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Book Bites: 24 July 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Little WarriorLittle Warrior
Giuseppe Catozzella (Faber & Faber)
Book buff
This fictionalised version of the life of Samia Omar, who dreams of being a champion runner while growing up in Somalia, is a heartrending account of her triumphs and challenges. Despite the surrounding violence, Samia’s childhood in bomb-gutted Mogadishu is almost normal. She trains hard with her best friend Ali, wins several races and makes the national team. But as the encroaching conflict forces her to train under cover, and constrain her growth as an athlete, she decides to leave her homeland and make the perilous journey along the refugee route to Europe, in the hands of heartless traffickers. A sobering novel, sensitively rendered. – Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

A Tapping at my DoorA Tapping at my Door
David Jackson (Bonnier)
Book thrill
David Jackson is not in the big league yet but he soon will be: original, thrilling, and just slightly literary, he may do for Liverpool what Stuart MacBride did for Aberdeen — providing he continues to enthral readers with DS Nathan Cody. Cody is working as a regular policeman after his undercover career crashed to a horrifying end, leaving him with nightmares: what seems at first like a sick but routine torture/murder reveals itself to be an attack on the Liverpool police force. Literature, birds and the Hillsborough disaster all play a part in an unnerving tale. Despite the satisfactory conclusion, it ends on a question which, one hopes, indicates this is just the first of a series. – Aubrey Paton

Work Like Any OtherWork Like Any Other
Virginia Reeves (Scribner)
Book buff
Roscoe T Martin believes he can save his wife’s Alabama farm if he siphons off electricity to run the thresher. The plan works, until a young man electrocutes himself on the illegal lines. Roscoe and his farm labourer Wilson are sentenced to prison. Set in the 1920s, Work Like Any Other is an exploration of class, race, accountability and marriage. The prose is as dry as coal dust, revealing the stark everyday pains of survival. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

All Their Minds in TandemAll Their Minds in Tandem
David Sanger (Quercus)
Book buff
Set in 1870s West Virginia, in the shadow of the Civil War, Sanger’s debut novel is a pacy, character-driven exploration of how memory can be both a comfort and a burden to a wounded society. A stranger appears in a small town and takes lodgings in the house of three young sisters, charming them with his good looks and newfangled motion picture contraption. He has a familiar face and a mysterious past, and describes himself as a professional storyteller. He has a secret gift, however: the power to alter or erase memories. Both Western and supernatural thriller, as if a young Clint Eastwood was starring in a Murakami novel. – Jennifer Malec @projectjennifer

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2016 Lowveld Book Festival programme revealed

2016 Lowveld Book Festival programme revealed

Alert! The full programme for the 2016 Lowveld Book Festival has been revealed.

The festival will take place from 5-7 August this year in Mpumalanga.

Authors involved in the festival this year include Jayne Bauling, Mabonchi Goodwill Motimele, Joanne Macgregor, Arja Salafranca, Bontle Senne, Fiona Snyckers, Tony Park, Sindiwe Magona, Wynie Strydom, Pamela Power, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, Eric Miyeni, Jessica Pitchford – and many more!

Event Details

  • Date: Friday, 5 August to Sunday, 7 August 2015
  • Venue: Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre
    White River
    Mpumalanga | Map
  • Email:
  • Phone: 071 134 8172
* * * * *

2016 Lowveld Book Festival programme


10:30 AM – 11:30 AM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – by invitation)
Lenore Zietsman – African Dilemma – story for high school children

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM (Casterbridge Cinema – by invitation)
Elinor Sisulu – PUKU presentation to younger primary school children – musical storytelling workshop

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM (Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre Marquee – by invitation)
Elinor Sisulu – PUKU presentation to older primary school children – artist Khehla Chepape Magkatho facilitates an art workshop

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – by invitation)
Ida Gartrell – Spinner of Tales – storytelling

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre)
Opening cocktail party (with Dave Walters, Lenore Zietsman, Dr Mathews Phosa, Jenny Cryws-Williams)

7:00 PM – 08:30 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Nozizwe Cynthia Jele – introduces the movie Happiness is a Four-letter Word – a South African romantic drama directed by Thabang Moleya and written by Melissa Stack based on Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s novel of the same name

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre)
Casterbridge Music Development Academy – gentle background music

* * * * *


9:00 AM – 9:45 AM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R30)
Alita Steenkamp – Die vreugde en uitdagings om met woorde te woeker (the joy and challenges of working with words)

9:00 AM – 9:45 AM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – free)
Jayne Bauling, Kiran Coetzee, Bontle Senne – Launch of two youth novels and a group discussion

9:00 AM – 9:45 AM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – free)
Sue Kloeck – Children’s storytime

9:00 AM – 9:45 AM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Jessica Pitchford – Switched at Birth – Jessica discusses her book which is an insight into a story that gripped the public imagination, a story of living with the unliveable and how some decisions can never be unmade.

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Eric Miyeni – Interview by Jenny Cryws-Williams on literature, publishing and writing and about Eric Miyeni’s books specifically

10:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R50)
Joanne Macgregor – Workshop – Swinging both ways: a hybrid author speaks about self-publishing after being traditionally published

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – free)
Sue Kloeck – Children’s story time

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Wynie Strydom – A chat about his book My Bloed is Blou and he will share a few toerstories

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Boardroom – R30)
Hans Bornman – A well known historian who has written books about history, people and pioneers of the Lowveld, will talk about how he got into writing

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – free)
Mabonchi Goodwill Motimele, Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Arthur Sithole – Panel discussion on furthering literacy in our youth – facilitated by Bontle Senne

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R50)
Melanie Reeder-Powell, Elliot Ndlovu – A Sangoma’s Story: The Calling of Elliot Ndlovu – her book sheds light on Zulu culture and clarifies the misconceptions about traditional healing

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Bandstand – free)
Open Mic (Poetry and readings)

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Jacquie Gauthier – In conversation with Karabo Kgoleng – Igniting your passion and having the life you want

11:00 AM – 1:30 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Boardroom – R100)
Graeme Butchart – Workshop – Think out of the box. Author of The Genius Programme delivers a workshop about acquiring the tools to unlock your creative thinking.

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Tony Park – Interview by Jenny Cryws-Williams – Jenny will discuss Tony’s book An Empty Coast and his new book Red Earth and much more in between.

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R30)
Athol Williams – Poetry – Bumper Cars: a social, political and philosophical reflection on human conflict. Athol’s poetry discusses how love is central to resolving this conflict.

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Deanne Kim – Lifting the Veil – Author of the books Cinderbella Gets Divorced and The Cracked Slipper

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R30)
Siphesihle AfrikaWisdom Shabalala – Literature is life

1:00 PM – 1:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Sindiwe Magona – Untended Fires

1:00 PM – 1:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R30)
David Hilton-Barber – Footprints in the Lowveld – a book about pioneering people, interesting places and significant events

1:00 PM – 1:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Dr Arien van der Merwe – Managing Diabetes and other related health challenges – an holistic and integrative medicine approach

1:00 PM – 2:45 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Cindy Robertson – Verhaalwerkswinkel (workshop) – ‘n Liefdesverhaal … waar begin ek?

2:00 PM – 2:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Pamela Power – Having it all – just not all at once – an interview by Joanne Macgregor about Pamela’s book Ms Conception which compares breastfeeding with becoming a successful writer

2:00 PM – 2:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Enrico & Erna Liebenberg –
We are the Champions: Champion Trees of South Africa – The oldest and largest and most spectacular of trees in South Africa are afforded the title of Champion Tree and thus protected by law. Join Enrico and Erna Liebenberg on an armchair journey through South Africa and be captivated by the imagery of the sometimes gargantuan and sometimes familiar sights of these trees, some of which are way beyond a millennium old and be wowed by our Natural heritage in trees of which so few people are aware.

2:00 PM – 2:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R30)
David Patient – David will discuss his books Make a Plan … Possibility and Empowerment in a Time of Aids and Positive Health

3:00 PM – 3:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Samkela Stamper, Eric Miyeni, Sindiwe Magoma – Panel discussion lead by Karabo Kgoleng – Initiatives to Decolonise Literacy and Literature

3:00 PM – 3:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R30)
Linda Louw – Horses of Kaapsehoop – a six year project paying tribute to the wild herds of horses of the Kaapsehoop escarpment

3:00 PM – 3:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Walter Thornhill – Truth, Memory and Perception – talk weaves in and out of these three dynamics within the context of writing through the eyes of the child and the adult; questioning the relevance and veracity thereof (author of The Eye of the Child)

3:00 PM – 3:45 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Paul-Constant Smit – Do you really see? – a talk on how each one of us perceives things differently

4:00 PM – 4:50 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Ida Gartrell – Storytelling – The Fabulous Creatures of Zulu Mythology for adults and children alike

4:00 PM – 4:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R50)
Bontle Senne, Jayne Bauling, Fiona Snyckers – Who is reading and what?

4:00 PM – 4:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Katja Kowalec – Those Miraculous Sunflower Seeds: A Riveting Story of Faith, Hope and Love

4:00 PM – 4:45 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R30)
Darryl David – Co-author of 101 Country Churches of South Africa, author of A Platteland Pilgrimage and Church Tourism in SA, founder of the Richmond Literary Festival and Richmond Booktown

5:00 PM – 5:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Kim Wolhuter, Clyde Niven – Reminiscences of Jock, Fitz, Harry Wolhuter and some of the old timers in the Lowveld

5:00 PM – 5:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R30)
Athol Williams, Arja Salafranca – Poetry for Sundowners

5:00 PM – 5:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Judith Mason – The Mind’s Eye – Judith discusses how making art is as important and relevant as arithmetic and learning to read and that adult artwork is not only a pleasure but a form of philosophy

5:00 PM – 5:45 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
JJ Tabane – Interview by Karabo Kgoleng about his book Lets Talk Frankly: Letters to Influential South Africans About the State of Our Nation

6:00 PM – 6:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Jessica Pitchford – Carte Blanche – the stories behind the stories when Jessica was Managing Editor at Carte Blanche

6:00 PM – 6:45 PM (Casterbridge Bandstand – free)
Open Mic (Poetry and readings)

6:00 PM – 6:45 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R50)
Roger Webster – Fireside Chats – make yourself comfortable and listen to a few of Roger Webster’s fireside stories

6:00 PM – 6:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Samkela Stamper – This Woman’s Work … 60 Years On – a mini exhibition explores women in literature who have contributed to the landscape of South African literature

6:00 PM – 7:30 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Nozizwe Cynthia Jele – introduces the movie Happiness is a Four-letter Word – a South African romantic drama directed by Thabang Moleya and written by Melissa Stack based on Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s novel of the same name

7:30 PM – 9:00 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R150)
Nik Rabinowitz – Comedy show – What the EFF?

* * * * *


10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Paul-Constant Smit – Do you really see? – a talk on how each one of us perceives things differently

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – R50)
Roger Webster – Fireside Chats – make yourself comfortable and listen to a few of Roger Webster’s fireside stories

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – free)
Sue Kloeck – Children’s story time

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM (Casterbridge Cinema – R30)
Fiona Snyckers – Trinity series, the lighter side of fiction writing

10:00 AM – 12:30 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Boardroom – R100)
Graeme Butchart – Workshop – Think out of the box. Author of The Genius Programme delivers a workshop about acquiring the tools to unlock your creative thinking.

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Tracy Todd – Writing in Dragon – how using voice technology could aid both able and disabled writers

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – free)
Samkela Stamper, Arja Salafranca – A discussion about their approaches and writing styles, their favourite poems as well as a few readings

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – free)
Sue Kloeck – Children’s story time

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Pamela Power – This might be a very stupid idea … how stupid ideas become great storylines on TV

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Barnyard Theatre – R50)
Tony Park – Interview by Nicky Manson (editor of Lowveld Living magazine) about his new book Red Earth and discovering why he loves living in the Lowveld, how he develops his characters and his views on conservation

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Melanie Reeder-Powell, Elliot Ndlovu – A Sangoma’s Story: The Calling of Elliot Ndlovu – her book sheds light on Zulu culture and clarifies the misconceptions about traditional healing

12:00 PM – 12:45 PM (Casterbridge Art Gallery – R30)
Enrico & Erna Liebenberg – We are the Champions: Champion Trees of South Africa – The oldest and largest and most spectacular of trees in South Africa are afforded the title of Champion Tree and thus protected by law. Join Enrico and Erna Liebenberg on an armchair journey through South Africa and be captivated by the imagery of the sometimes gargantuan and sometimes familiar sights of these trees, some of which are way beyond a millennium old and be wowed by our Natural heritage in trees of which so few people are aware.

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM (Casterbridge Hollow Hotel Lounge – free)
Mabonchi Goodwill Motimele – Workshop for writers – The element of surprise in literature

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM (Casterbridge Cinema – R50)
Nozizwe Cynthia Jele – introduces the movie Happiness is a Four-letter Word – a South African romantic drama directed by Thabang Moleya and written by Melissa Stack based on Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s novel of the same name

Book details

Soccer SecretsKe a hwa, ke a ikepelaFault LinesUitsonderlike liefdeBeyond TouchPowers of the Knife
Now Following YouThe Gift of an ElephantAn Empty CoastChasing The Tails of My Father’s CattleWynie - My bloed is blouA Sangoma's Story
Ms ConceptionLet's Talk FranklyLoui FishGold Never RustsHere Comes the Snake in the GrassSwitched At Birth
At the FiresideBumper CarsLandslideWe are the ChampionsFootprintsTrinity On AirRecoil

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Secrets of identity: Michele Magwood interviews Susan Faludi about her book Into the Darkroom

Published in the Sunday Times

Susan Faludi interviewing her father after he became a woman, 2008


In the DarkroomIn the Darkroom
Susan Faludi (HarperCollins R360)
***** (5 stars)

Susan Faludi had not seen her father for a quarter of a century when, in 2004, she flew from America to see him in Budapest. The person who greeted her was wearing “a red cabled sweater, grey flannel skirt, white heels and a pair of pearl stud earrings … Her breasts – 48C she would later inform me – poked into mine.” At the age of 76 her father had undergone sex reassignment surgery. Steven Faludi, born István Friedman, was now known as Stefánie.

Susan Faludi is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, an authority on feminism and gender whose books Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man and Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women assay the increasingly fluid notions of gender. Now all of her academic understanding would be tested by bearing witness to her father’s life.

SF_driving car picSusan Faludi with her father Istvan

In The Darkroom is an astounding story of family, memory, guilt, nationality; of the lacunae that gape in our lives, and the secrets that get sealed over. Of how we perceive, and are perceived, how we create and how we erase. It is, essentially, a study of identity: personal, national and ethnic.

IstvanSteven Faludi might have been a Hungarian immigrant but to his family he was the all-American dad. He was a photographer specialising in pre-Photoshop retouching, a man who caught the commuter train every morning from their house in the New York suburbs, who spent his weekends in his workshop and who insisted their secular Jewish family celebrated Christmas and Easter to fit in with the Catholic neighbourhood. He was also a despot, forbidding his wife to work, dragging his daughter on mountaineering trips and cycling marathons.

Susan Faludi with her fatherOver the years his machismo turned violent, and his wife divorced him when Susan was in her teens. One night he broke into the family home and set about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend with a baseball bat and stabbed him with a Swiss army knife. He then convinced a judge he was the wronged party and had his child support payments reduced. This sparked not only the decades-long rift between daughter and father, but Faludi’s deep-rooted feminism, too.

“My father’s insistence on controlling his wife and children played a big part in my attraction to the burgeoning women’s movement of the time,” she writes in an email.

Cut to 2004 when Faludi receives a message from her father: “Dear Susan, I’ve got some interesting news for you. I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.” Attached to the email were photographs of her, after surgery in Thailand, in wigs and ruffles, skirts and heels. It was signed “Love from your parent, Stefánie.”

And then he asked – and Faludi from here on refers to her father as “she” – her to write her story. So began a decade of investigation, as Faludi visited her father in Budapest and exchanged letters with her, painstakingly tracking her history. She was a maddening subject: elusive and obscuring. “I think in many ways her holding back was part of a ploy to keep me coming back for more.” What was particularly galling for Faludi was her parent’s overt, girly femininity, a coquettish, simpering version of womanhood. She flounced about in frilly aprons and negligees, asked her daughter to help her with her zip, delighted in men holding open doors for her.

“We argued a good deal about that,” she writes, “but my father’s fascination with Doris Day girliness faded over time … it may be that she initially felt that she could only break out of extreme masculinity with the cudgel of extreme femininity.”

Gradually she learned how her father, a master manipulator of images in the laboratory, had manipulated his own identity all his life. And gradually she – and we – learn what a truly damaged person he was.

Istvan on stairsIt emerged that István Friedman had been born into a wealthy Jewish family in Budapest. His parents were cultured and glamorous and travelled a great deal, but they cared little for their only child, who was raised by nannies. He was a teenager when the Nazis overran Hungary and he hid on the streets, half starving, tearing off chunks of frozen horse carcasses to survive. His parents were taken away to await transport to the death camps – some 565 000 Hungarian Jews perished in the war – but he managed to rescue them by impersonating a Fascist soldier. They escaped to Israel but he cut ties with them – one of the myriad anomalies of his life. He eventually made his way to New York, changed his name to the “pure” Hungarian Faludi and enjoyed a respected career. He then inexplicably returned to Hungary after his divorce to live in sight of everything his family had lost: the apartments, the villa, the museums and opera houses they had frequented.

As much as this is a personal story, In the Darkroom is also an absorbing history of a deeply troubled and brutalised nation, and Faludi warns against the current political situation there. “A desperate desire to assert a national identity in Hungary has unleashed a resurgent and virulent anti-Semitism, xenophobia and authoritarianism.”

She says it is a mystery why her father returned to Hungary after a life and successful career in the US. “I think she was searching for a place where she felt she belonged, that felt like “home” to her.”

And as to why she chose to become a woman: “Part of it, I suspect, was a desire to be absolved from past sins. Another part was a yearning to be taken care of, treated as special – and maybe even to be loved.”

Stefánie died in 2014 but she chose not to read the book. “I don’t know that she would have loved every word of it – it’s hard for anyone to see themselves through the eyes of others. But I do think, ultimately, my father would have appreciated my portrayal. She wanted, more than anything, to be perceived.”

Read the extended interview with Susan Faludi, in which she discusses Donald Trump and the rise of the political strongman, the problems of the trans-rights movement and the complex notion of identity, below

Susan and Stefi on Siklo in Budapest
* * * * *

Faludi’s faves

As a very young woman, I was led to feminism by two famous works: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

Becoming a journalist meant imagining myself in that role when the archetype was a swaggering male reporter. Like a lot of female journalists of my generation, I early on turned to Joan Didion’s essays, and her collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was a touchstone.

Later, I became a devotee of Janet Malcolm’s work, especially The Silent Woman (about Sylvia Plath and the genre of biography).

Most recently, the world of Hungarian literature has opened up to me and changed my view of the world—and helped me to understand my father. I’m a great admirer of journalist/novelist Gyula Krudy, and love especially his very last collection of short stories, Life Is a Dream (although I have to say his depictions of women are not particularly feminist …).

I was deeply affected by Janos Nyiri’s Battlefields and Playgrounds, a coming of age story of a young Hungarian Jewish boy during the Holocaust, which has not got 1/10th of the acclaim it deserves.

* * * * *

The extended interview, in which Faludi discusses Donald Trump, the trans-rights movement and notions of identity

Michele Magwood: One of the most significant aspects of the story is that your father was a master at manipulating photographic images, which extended to him manipulating his own identity. Do you feel you ultimately came to know the “true” person?

Susan Faludi: I don’t believe that we can ever get to the core of someone else – or ourselves – and I’m not sure there even is such a thing as a “true” self. Who we are is multiple and layered and varies by the day and the situation. But I do feel that I came closer to understanding my father better by understanding her history and context-familial, religious, national, sexual-all of which helped me to understand her attitudes and behaviors and desires.

When discussing his WW2 novel Where My Heart Used To Beat I asked Sebastian Faulks why there are ever more fiction and non-fiction books about the war and the Holocaust. He said that it is only this next generation, the children, who are able to process the historical facts and the personal stories. Those who lived it could not express it or have the distance to analyse it. Would you agree?

I think it’s very difficult to describe a storm when you’re in the middle of it. The children of Holocaust survivors are more motivated to dig up the past and we have the safety of distance. We want to understand our parents-and need to, to understand ourselves. For so many victims of the Holocaust, it’s just too excruciating to open that door again-understandably they prefer to seal off the horrors; they are valiantly trying not to allow that unimaginable suffering to afflict the rest of what remains of their lives.

Why do you think your father wanted to become a woman? He had “passed” as so many other personae – as a Christian, as an all-American dad for example – do you think he wanted to cleanse or obliterate himself in some essential way? Or was he simply searching for kindness?

My father’s desire to become a woman was undeniable and persistent, and it went way back to earliest childhood. But at the same time, I think there were many submerged dynamics and motivations that went into my father’s decision to act on that desire when she did. Part of it, I suspect, was a desire to be absolved from past sins. Another part was a yearning to be taken care of, treated as special-and maybe even to be loved. My father wasn’t always conscious of her reasons, though she did repeatedly say to me that she had felt rendered almost mute as a man. “Now I can communicate with anyone!” she told me. I think the release from the isolation and loneliness she felt within the carapace of hyper-masculinity was a major draw of becoming a woman.

As an authority on feminism and gender did it gall you that your father chose a passive, “weaker sex” personality as a woman? Do you believe he understood what it was to be a woman and was he glad to be rid of that other person?

I was, indeed, often galled by my father’s preference for a 1950s frilly femininity. Playing the housewife and no-nothing “dumb broad” – as my father liked to call it – was just the kind of “womanliness” I’d rebelled against when I embraced feminism as a teenager. And we argued a good deal about that. But my father’s fascination with Doris Day girliness faded over time. She gave up the caricatures and settled into a presentation that was more ambiguous – and reflected more her character than a stereotype of a gender. It may be that she initially felt that she could only break out of extreme masculinity with the cudgel of extreme femininity. By the end of her life, though, she began to refer herself often as simply “trans”.

Would you say it was your father’s overt machismo while you were growing up that shaped your feminism?

SF: My father’s insistence on controlling his wife and children played a big part in my attraction to the burgeoning women’s movement of the time. But it was also the surrounding culture and institutions. The fact that the police and courts regarded my father’s domestic violence as a trivial infraction was another moment of feminist awakening for me. As was my witnessing what so many women in my neighborhood went through as they challenged their husbands, broke out of the domestic circle, returned to work.

Your father was, frankly, maddening. She asked you to tell her story and then held back, saying everything was “old history”. How did you break through?

Sheer bullheaded persistence! But also, she wanted me to perceive her. I think in many ways her holding back was part of a ploy to keep me coming back for more. I wondered sometimes if she feared that if I got all the information I wanted, I might go away. Which is heartbreaking, because actually if she had been more forthcoming, I’d have wanted to spend more time together, not less.

The more her personal history is revealed, the more sympathy we feel for your father and the person he became. Do you wish your mother had known more, would it have helped to deal with him when you were younger to know how truly damaged he was?

When my father was a young husband, he was so closed down that I don’t think anyone could have gotten inside his head.

How was your father’s transition viewed by your mother and brother?

My father asked me to write her story; my mother and brother did not. I showed both of them the manuscript and incorporated their suggestions and insights. But they are both private people, and I want to honor their privacy. Their stories are theirs to tell.

The core of the story is around issues of identity. Could you briefly share your thoughts on whether identity is inherited or constructed, or both?

Well, that’s one of those big chicken-or-the-egg questions, like nature vs. nurture. It is, of course, both, and impossible to unravel. We construct our identity from what we’ve inherited, even as we are reconstructing what we’ve inherited. I don’t believe identity is stand-alone; who we are is very much who we are in connection with other people, with the collective history and circumstances and conditions we share. I don’t see identity as singular – or stable.

One of the pleasures of the book is the sense the reader gets of your own discovery of family, a deepening of your Jewish roots. Are you greatly changed by the experience?

One of the greatest and unexpected gifts from this project was the revelation of this whole extended family I never knew I had. They so warmly took me into their homes and hearts, and I’m so grateful for their generosity and affection. I feel very lucky to know them. The other way it changed me, I think, is that it released me from the caricature I was carrying around about my father. As children, we so often see only our parents’ power over us, not their frailties and vulnerabilities. Through working on this project, I came to see my father not as a symbol but as fully human.

It’s difficult to comprehend why your father moved back to Hungary after a successful career and living in the US for so long, and to live in Budapest amongst what the family had lost. Do you think he was trying to heal his trauma in some way?

It’s an abiding mystery why my father returned to Hungary – and one my father’s fellow Jewish expats bemoaned endlessly. I think she was searching for a place where she felt she belonged, that felt like “home” to her, even though that home had been so brutal to my father as a child and so devastating to our family. Often, though, I wonder: Did my father return to Hungary to fit in, to “pass” at last as a “100% Hungarian,” or to finally thumb her nose at Hungarianism by flaunting her new trans identity in a country that was extremely hostile to LGBT people? It’s one of many questions about my father that I’ll probably never settle.

I found the history of Hungary – and its place in WW2 – fascinating, its place in Europe now even more so. Are you concerned with the current politics of the country and the dread rise of nationalism?

I’m deeply troubled by the current political scene in Hungary. And it’s a real cautionary tale about what happens when the identity quest goes awry. A desperate desire to assert a national identity in Hungary has unleashed a resurgent and virulent anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism. Instead of dealing with the real and difficult problems the country faces – and reckoning with its dark past – the Hungarian government has played shamefully on the electorate’s craving for a fantasized national identity and for a strongman to take care of them, a strongman who supposedly embodies that identity. But then, that’s a phenomenon we’re seeing all over the world, most notably right now in the US, where Donald Trump has entranced his followers with the same stew of anti-immigrant hatred, scapegoating, and hollow promises to “Make America Great Again.”

When you began researching the book in 2004 the subject of transsexuality was more marginal than it is now, post-Caitlyn Jenner. What are your thoughts on the prominence of the subject in the national discourse now?

Yes, when I started on this book, transsexuality was not on anyone’s agenda – it was seen as fringe at best. It’s remarkable, and heartening, how quickly a trans-rights movement have moved to the mainstream and to increasing acceptance. That said, we have a long way to go – witness the mass shootings at the gay nightclub in Orlando. And around the world, LGBT rights are facing attack in the name of national identity. This is what happens when two concepts of identity collide, one liberating, one oppressive, the first about self-discovery, the other about establishing your worth by attacking the “other.”

Your father wasn’t able to read the book before she died. Do you think she would have been pleased with it?

I don’t know that my father would have loved every word of it. It’s hard for anyone to see themselves through the eyes of others. But I do think, ultimately, my father would have appreciated my portrayal. She wanted, more than anything, to be perceived. And I think she chose me to do that because she knew I wouldn’t sanitize her story. She often bragged to others that “my daughter doesn’t pull any punches in her reporting!” When I had finished the manuscript, I called and told her it was ready, and she chose not to read it. She just said she was very excited that it was going to be published. In a funny way, she may have decided to let me present her as honestly as I could, without her interference, a remarkable and brave present she gave me, and, I hope, herself.

Follow Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

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Stephen Coan reviews Mzansi Zen by Antony Osler

By Stephen Coan for The Witness

Mzansi ZenVerdict: carrot

Mzansi “means, quite simply, ‘the South’. We are the people of the South. And we live at the southern tip of Africa.” How are we to live in this place, in this time? The question Antony Osler’s Mzansi Zen challenges us to explore.

The word “zen” is Japanese for meditation as well as the name of a particular Buddhist tradition, Zen Buddhism, literally “meditation Buddhism”, emphasising the practice that is its hallmark.

Osler’s own practice, study and teaching of Zen has paralleled his career as a human rights lawyer and an advocate. He was the first teacher at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo and thereafter spent some years as a monk at the Mount Baldy Zen Centre in the United States. Osler now lives on a farm in the Karoo where he and his wife Margie lead Zen retreats and run workshops for children in need.

Osler’s first book, Stoep Zen (2008), came with the subtitle “A Zen Life in South Africa”, which provided a springboard for Osler “to investigate how an ancient tradition sits in a new setting – in an African, South African, Karoo setting, right where I sit outside my house on the dusty Oorlogspoort road.”

Zen Dust (2012), subtitled “A journey home through the back roads of South Africa”, continued the detective work but broadened the focus: “In Stoep Zen I looked at the open spaces of South Africa through a Zen lens,” wrote Osler. “The open spaces are still there but the politics have changed – the heady days of the new democracy and towering presence of Nelson Mandela have given way to the slow, painstaking building of a society that is still asking who it is and how to do whatever must be done.”

Four years on those two questions seem even more pressing. Mzansi Zen. No subtitle necessary. “Those who predicted a troubled democracy see their certainties coming true. Those who wept with relief at the end of apartheid find the happy rainbow nation dissolving before their eyes.”

In Mzansi Zen (Mzansi meditation), as with his previous books, Osler has conjured up an addictive brew of stories, reflections, photographs, Buddhist lore, meditations and poems, both his own and others, among them Kobus Moolman, Steve Shapiro and Anne Shuster. You’ll also bump into Osler’s friends Breyten Breytenbach and Athol Fugard.

New to the mix are Osler’s line drawings depicting “cartoon monks” – wry visual comments to his stories; while each section of the book ends with “an experimental verse in a style I call Zen Doggerel” – part-Bob Dylan, part-Leonard Cohen, one hundred per cent Osler.

Osler’s inimitable voice rings true and bell-clear throughout Mzansi Zen, especially in the stories, drawn from direct experience and populated with authentic South African characters; self-deprecating, moving stories that never descend into feel-good bathos; funny stories, occasionally even laugh out loud, each one reinforcing, illustrating and inter-connecting with Osler’s over-riding concern: life in “the South”.

“The news tonight is a recital of collapsing infrastructure, financial mismanagement and violence. It feels as if we are sliding irreversibly towards a precipice. I am overwhelmed by discouragement.

“Because I have nailed my flag to the mast of things as they are, I can’t pretend all is well when it isn’t. I can’t run away from the suffering or deny it; I can’t invent a silver lining. No going forward, no going back. I am stuck so what now? How do I find my life in all this?”

Rather like being confronted with a traditional Chinese or Japanese koan. These, as Osler describes, are “teaching stories” from which are extracted questions that have no correct answer but serve to provoke the student into insight beyond intellect when “the habits of the controlling mind are exhausted into grace”.

Osler adds: “Our real koan – our life koan – is how we respond to the life we find ourselves in, whatever it may be. Can we face each situation with unflinching clarity, can we find a response that arises out of our connection to the world and our love for it? However we may falter along the way, this is our direction and we do our best, moment after moment after moment. This life we live here in Mzansi, with these people in this time; this is our koan. How will we answer?”

Mzansi Zen does not provide the answer. That has to be our own. But Osler does suggest a way in which the answer might be found.

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2016 Bloody Book Week crime fiction festival – programme revealed

2016 Bloody Book Week crime fiction festival - programme revealed
The Sunday Times Big Pub Quiz BookDark ForcesA Time Of Torment
DominionRecipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria MysteryCold Case ConfessionThe Griekwastad MurdersA Citizen's Guide To Crime Trends In South Africa

Alert! The programme for the 2016 Bloody Book Week has been released, including international authors Stephen Leather, John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard as well as local luminaries Sally Andrew, Alex Eliseev, Jacques Steenkamp, Anine Kriegler and Larry Benjamin.

The festival, which focuses on crime fiction and is organised by Jenny Crwys-Williams’s company Jenny & Co, will take place from Thursday, 28 July to Sunday, 31 July in venues around Johannesburg.

Check out the programme:


The Bloody Crime Quiz with Quiz Master Larry Benjamin

We test your knowledge of all things criminal. Crime cases, crime books, crime writers and of course, Jack Reacher! And Sally Andrews, author of Recipes for Love and Murder. Come have some fun.

Where: Stanley Beer Yard, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 6:30 for 7 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 long: 28.001041
Cost: R250 pp (price includes a prego roll and a glass of wine)

* * * * *


The Boys’ Own Breakfast with Stephen Leather chatting to Ben Williams

Be among the first in South Africa to read Stephen Leather’s latest book, Dark Forces.

Where: The Social Kitchen, Exclusive Books, Hyde Park
Time: 7 – 9 AM
Bookings: For Fanatics members only. To get a free seat, check correspondence from Fanatics and click to enter the draw ASAP.

* * * * *

The Girls’ Own Roedean Breakfast with John Connolly

Where: Roedean Senior School Library, Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown
Time: 7:15 for 7:30 AM
GPS: lat: -26.1779935 long: 28.0476069
Cost: R120 pp
Bookings: For old girls only. 011 647 3203 or

* * * * *

The Teenagers’ Own Adventure Time with John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

Where: The Auditorium, Roedean Senior School, Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown
Time: 10:45 – 11:50 AM
Bookings: For senior school pupils only

* * * * *

Veldskoene, Tannie Maria & Death on Route 62 with Sally Andrew

A first novel that wormed its way instantaneously into all our hearts – plus one of Tannie Maria’s best cakes!

Where: Delta Cafe, 20 Marlborough Road, Craighall Park
Time: 10 for 10:30 AM
Cost: R205 pp

* * * * *

Cold Case Justice with Alex Eliseev

Cocktails, canapes and readings from an extraordinary case.

Where: The Lobby, 54 on Bath, Rosebank
Time: 6 for 6:30 PM
Cost: R150 pp

* * * * *

Music & Murder with John Connolly & music man Charles Leonard

A unique evening of murderous music and tales.

Where: Stanley Beer Yard, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 5:30 – 7:30 PM, after which the public can join in!
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R195 pp (includes welcome drink)

* * * * *


In Their Own Words with Alex Eliseev

The cold case of the century through the words of the protagonists.

Where: JoziHub, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 10 – 11 AM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R90 pp (does not include drinks)

* * * * *

Konfyt and Murder with Sally Andrew & Andre Croucamp

In which author Sally Andrew is quizzed by delicious dress designer Andre Croucamp on veldskoene, dressing down and much, much more!

Where: Bean There Coffee Company, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 10 – 11 AM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R115 pp (does not include drinks)

* * * * *

Fresh Blood: Past, Present and Future with John Connolly

Raconteur and writer John Connolly talks crime fiction across the decades with Jenny Crwys-Williams.

Where: Antiques & Heritage of Europe, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 10 – 11 AM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R115 pp (does not include drinks)

* * * * *

Mind Over Murder with police forensic psychologist Gerard Labuschagne, Jacques Steenkamp and joint author of A Citizen’s Guide to Crime Trends in South Africa Anine Kriegler

Three experts in their field discuss crime SA-style.

Where: JoziHub, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R90 pp

* * * * *

In Conversation: Jenny Crwys-Williams engages with Stephen Leather: his life, his adventures, his books, and all …

Will Stephen Leather tell all to Jenny Crwys-Williams?

Where: Antiques & Heritage of Europe, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R115 pp

* * * * *

A Winter’s Tale … Dinner with John Connolly and Writers Write

Where: The Bowery, 3 Sandown Valley Crescent, Sandton
Time: 6 for 6:30 PM
Cost: R320 pp

* * * * *


The Killer Lunch: A Murderous Mix

Fancy having one of SA’s hottest crime writers at your table? Join Jenny Crwys-Williams and forensic psychologist Gerard Labuschagne plus eight authors in celebrating the world’s most popular literary genre: crime writing.

Where: Il Giardino, Stanley precinct, Milpark
Time: 12:30 for 1 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R480 pp

* * * * *

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Jacket Notes: Martin Plaut on Promise and Despair: The First Struggle for a Non-Racial South Africa

Published in the Sunday Times

Promise and DespairPromise and Despair: The First Struggle for a Non-Racial South Africa
Martin Plaut (Jacana)

This is a book that began from ignorance: my own and that of almost all South Africans I met.

Four years ago I came across an obscure reference which suggested that there had been a non-racial vote years before the end of apartheid. I was astonished. When I mentioned it to my friends they all thought I must have been mistaken.

But gradually it became clear that as early as 1853 – at least in the Cape – any male person could vote, as long as he had sufficient income or property. Race was not an issue.

An extraordinary group of political leaders came together to fight to extend the Cape’s non-racial franchise when the Union of South Africa was being debated in 1909. Men like John Dube, Walter Rubusana and John Tengo Jabavu joined “coloured” leaders like Dr Abdurahman and Daniel Lenders.

Led by William Schreiner (brother of Olive Schreiner and a former Cape prime minister), they took the fight to London, appealing to the British parliament not to entrench racism in South Africa’s constitution.

Gandhi was also in London at the time and gave encouragement and advice. Early leaders of the British Labour Party fought for a non-racial constitution.

In the end the delegation’s efforts were in vain, but the members returned to South Africa changed by what they had learned.

Discussions in London with men like Pixley ka Isaka Seme shaped the foundation on which the ANC was founded in 1912. Links were forged between the ANC and the party led by Dr Abdurhaman.

In his cabin on the journey back to Cape Town, Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj – the book that would destroy British India.

In the cauldron of events between the end of the Anglo-Boer War and World War I most of the major movements that would shape South Africa during the 20th century were formed. It was a moment of extraordinary flux.

Material for this book was found in some of the most unlikely places. The National Archive in Washington threw fascinating light on US involvement in the Anglo-Boer War. The Anglican archbishop’s letters revealed the depth of ignorance and racism in the church in this era.

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Peeling away stereotypes amid peals of laughter: Ayesha Kajee talks to Paige Nick about her new book Dutch Courage

By Ayesha Kajee for the Sunday Times

Dutch CourageDutch Courage
Paige Nick (Penguin)

When you’re invited to a book launch at Beefcakes in Illovo, rated as a bachelorette party venue for its shirtless waiters, you know this ain’t no ordinary book. When the author in question is the prolific and inimitable Paige Nick, you can be certain this will be a rollicking read with several laugh-out-loud moments.

Dutch Courage delivers on all these fronts, living up to the promise of its hilarious, raunchy launch, but also offering a humane, empathetic insight into the world of strip clubs and sex work.

Set in an Amsterdam club that features celebrity impersonators, it details the adventures of Grace, a sheltered young teacher from Cape Town, who arrives in Holland full of trepidation, having agreed to fulfil her sister’s contract to perform as a Rihanna lookalike for a few weeks. But her sister omitted to mention that this is a club where the entertainers take their clothes off …

Nick says part of her intention was to demystify the sex industry, given common misconceptions regarding strip clubs and associated ventures. She conducted extensive research in Cape Town, New York and Amsterdam, with special assistance from Amsterdam’s Prostitute Information Centre.

“It’s not all downmarket nor all glamorous,” Nick notes, a point that hits sharply home in the novel when Grace first enters the club’s dressing room. On the one hand it’s as though she’s backstage at the Grammys, with Madonna, J-Lo, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. On the other, there’s the surreal but sobering juxtaposition of smells – sweat, perfume, make-up and the acrid sting of Deep Heat (for the muscle pain that inevitably accompanies repeated strenuous pole-dancing).

Nick was also fascinated by the living arrangements of the strippers. Originating from all over the world, they share accommodation, so bitchiness and culture clashes over issues such as food are unavoidable; but the proximity also catalyses friendships that offer support and advice to bewildered newbies like Grace. Indeed, the book expanded my mental glossary to encompass “roasties”, and unprecedented uses for mundane items like baby oil and antibacterial wipes. Nick does a great job of transferring people’s quirks to the page, bringing to life the anomaly of a Paris Hilton lookalike who’s really a brunette with an Eastern European accent and a kind heart.

“It’s kind of amazing when you meet them, how real and normal their lives are,” Nick muses. “They could be the mothers you see dropping off their kids at school or in the queue at the pharmacy.”

Nick discovered that many women who choose this industry (as opposed to being forced or trafficked into it) find it very empowering, given that they can earn oodles of money in a relatively short time, while working hours that allow them to actively parent school-age children.

The novel tracks Grace’s evolution from a hesitant girl who allows her manipulative sister and controlling fiancé to make most decisions for her, to a woman who claims her power and revels in it, albeit in unexpected ways.

However, Nick also demonstrates that “this industry, even when legal, is not all roses, and a certain level of exploitation does occur”, especially in the form of demanding bosses and inebriated clients. The prevalence of alcohol and drugs as part of the night scene means that many performers become dependent on them, either as relaxants or stimulants at different times. Luckily Grace’s innate survival instinct helps her avoid the worst consequences of this type of Dutch courage and she wins through to her happy ending (pun intended).

With Nick’s trademark light touch, Dutch Courage compels the reader to reconsider ingrained stereotypes, provoking serious reflection on the world’s oldest profession.

Nick believes that the legalisation of sex work, done properly, can “dramatically improves the quality of life for people on both sides of the equation, but a country must be completely committed to it”. Problems such as trafficking and the spread of STDs would probably decrease exponentially with properly managed legalisation.

While she didn’t consciously set out to make most of the men in the book unsympathetic, Nick was determined to avoid a love triangle, as she wanted Grace to free herself rather than depending on a man to save the day. The novel’s brilliant resolution, with a totally unexpected twist, achieves this in style. It would make a great comedy flick, and if film rights are ever optioned, perhaps Rihanna could be persuaded to play Grace.

Dutch Courage is a fun, feel-good read that I laughed my way through one lazy Sunday, then found myself thinking about throughout the following week. – Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

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