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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Giveaway! Win a copy of Storytime: 10 South African stories for children

BooksLIVE, in collaboration with Nal’ibali, will be giving away 10 copies of Storytime: 10 South African stories for children – and just in time for the impending 2018 school year!

The first Sunday Times Storybook was launched three years ago to allow children from disadvantaged backgrounds to experience the magic of stories, especially in their own languages. The Sunday Times has distributed two million copies of the first book in all 11 official languages free of charge to school, libraries and reading clubs across the country.

Storytime is a delightful collection of new stories by skilled writers such as Wendy Hartmann, Chris van Wyk, Maryanne Bester, Carole Bloch, Kagiso Legeso Molope, and Tuelo Gabonewe. Various illustrators contributed to the selection of enchanting stories, including Joan Rankin, Paddy Bouma, Shayle Bester, with a gorgeous cover by none other than Madam & Eve‘s Rico!

“We have been fortunate to work with a number of talented South African authors and illustrators in putting together this magical collection of stories. A treasured storybook can be just the thing to spark a love of reading in children and this is precisely our intention – to skill children to become readers for life,” comments Patti McDonald, publisher of Times Media Education’s supplements.

“Books and stories deepen our thinking and understanding by stretching our imagination while encouraging creative problem-solving. To have stories that our children can relate to in their home languages is an invaluable asset that we need to keep growing in our country,” adds Dr Carole Bloch, Director of PRAESA.

If you would like to receive a copy of Storytime, simply tell us why it’s so important to nurture a love of stories and reading among school children who have limited access to books. E-mail your answer to Patti (, and always remember the profound words of Nelson Mandela: “It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all children in the world may experience the wonder of books, and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories.”

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“The state-capture years have been the most inglorious in South Africa’s democratic history,” writes Claire Bisseker

Published in the Sunday Times

On the Brink
Claire Bisseker
Tafelberg, R280

I started writing On the Brink soon after Nhlanhla Nene was fired. Initially I thought it was going to be the story of South Africa’s fiscal demise – how years of low growth and unsustainable spending had pushed us to the brink of a debt trap.

Instead, Nene’s replacement, Pravin Gordhan, went on a crusading warpath to wrest back control over the fiscus and to save the economy from President Jacob Zuma’s mismanagement.
Hope surged, but as the Hawks swooped on Gordhan I found myself writing a political thriller for which South Africa’s fiscal unravelling was the mere backdrop.

The story was gripping, depressing and exasperating in equal measure. At times, the news cycle was so rapid I had to park the manuscript and let events play out. Sections that said “if Gordhan is axed”, and “if South Africa’s credit ratings are junked”, had to be rewritten almost as soon as the ink was dry.

My only solace as the country’s investment case collapsed was that at least I had a bloody good story to tell.

The state-capture years have been the most inglorious in South Africa’s democratic history. My book gives an overview of the political and economic trends that have brought South Africa to its knees, and suggests how to get the country working again.

On the Brink is essentially journalism. And, perhaps like all journalists who end up writing a book, I wrote it because I had to – and because I could. As an economics writer I was well placed to understand that South Africa was approaching a point where politics and debt would collide. I had the benefit of having covered nearly 15 years of national budgets. I also had my own stories to draw on, as well as a wealth of contacts who were as appalled as I was by the country’s needless descent.

It could have been a depressing book, but I wasn’t depressed when I wrote it. Towards the end I was so caught up in the creative process I could hardly sleep.

In my weakest moments I fear that South Africa’s story is going to end in tears. The country clearly cannot continue on its current path, but it’s not too late to arrest the slide.

With the right leadership South Africa could fly. And so we remain poised, on the brink.

Book details

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Book Bites (3 December)

Published in the Sunday Times

My Absolute DarlingMy Absolute Darling
Gabriel Tallent, HarperCollins, R250

It wasn’t the repulsive violence of this novel that defeated me. By now everyone knows that it features incest between a father and his 14-year-old daughter. It was never going to be a comfortable read, but judging by the euphoric reviews one expected something trenchant and thought-provoking. Instead the characters are straight out of central casting — ghastly gun-toting father spouting undigested philosophy before raping his daughter; she the tough tomboy with little interiority; kindly grandfather, caring-but-puzzled teacher. Tallent ladles on description with a palette knife, perhaps in an attempt to lift it to the heights of “literary fiction”, but ultimately it’s a hollow, crassly prurient book. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The Dying Game
Asa Avdic, Penguin Books, R295

Set in 2037, a faceless government coldly manipulates its citizens into overworking at the expense of their personal lives. The central character is Anna Francis, emotionally damaged from a mission on the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. On her return to Stockholm she is promised freedom if she completes one final mission – a high-pressure exercise to test the character of citizens being vetted for a top-secret intelligence post. Anna must travel to an island with an alcoholic colonel, a shallow TV host, one of Sweden’s richest men, a hyper-sensitive HR specialist and a key figure from her past who she thought she’d never encounter again. On the first night she will fake her death then monitor the reactions of the candidates. This well-paced Scandi Noir will certainly keep most readers captivated until the final chilling scene. – Efemia Chela @efemiachela

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic
Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, R285

Hoffman’s prequel to her bestseller Practical Magic is the delightful backstory of the magical Owens sisters’ eccentric aunts, Jet and Frances, and their mysterious brother Vincent. It’s late ’50s New York and the three children are brought up in a strictly no magic house by their parents. But their power cannot be harnessed and when they find out who they are, disaster happens. They realise they can’t love without consequences due to an ancestral curse. A fantastical tale of doomed love. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

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Jürgen Schadeberg’s memoir gives us insights into his career as one of SA’s premiere photographers, writes Nadine Dreyer

Published in the Sunday Times

Dolly Rathebe posing on a mine dump. ©Jürgen Schadeberg

The Way I See ItThe Way I See It
Jürgen Schadeberg
Picador Africa, R310

Jürgen Schadeberg grew up in Berlin during World War 2. His mother had a rather elastic interpretation of parental responsibilities, to say the least. While the model-actress flitted from one romantic intrigue to the next, young Jurgen was left to navigate the horrors of war on his own. It’s tempting to conclude that the quick-witted instincts a youth requires to dodge fanatical Nazis, murderous Russians, terrifying bombings and looming starvation were excellent training for the cruel, dystopian world of apartheid South Africa.

Whatever the truth, the Drum photographer fell down the rabbit hole into an adventure that would see him document some of the most important moments in South Africa’s history and the characters that shaped it.

In his dry, understated style Schadeberg reveals the anecdotes behind some of his iconic photographs.

At Drum, Schadeberg worked closely with Henry Nxumalo, the pioneer of investigative journalism in South Africa. Their most famous exposé was the notorious potato farms in Bethal where workers were treated like slaves. The background to this assignment was the murder of a farm labourer in 1929. A farmer had been found guilty of hanging the man by his feet from a tree and flogging him to death. More than two decades later nothing had changed.

Nxumalo went undercover as a labourer and Schadeberg had to track him down (his German accent was a handy weapon against suspicious Afrikaners). Eventually he traced Nxumalo to the potato fields on Sonneblom farm in the Bethal district. There the “boss boy” was cracking his whip while weary workers stooped to gather the crop. Schadeberg surreptitiously snapped photographs with his telephoto lens until Nxumalo dropped his basket and ran to the car.

Schadeberg covered many political moments. At the ANC conference in 1951 he encountered Nelson Mandela, a young charismatic leader tipped for great things. He hired a small plane to cover the funeral of the victims of the Sharpeville massacre.

On a lighter note there’s the day he got arrested with Dolly Rathebe on a mine dump.

After looking for a Johannesburg backdrop that would resemble a beach, the bikini-clad bombshell posed for him on top of a dump. After finishing the shoot they were accosted by four cops accusing them of contravening the notorious Immorality Act.

Wat doen jy hier, seuntjie?” a sergeant demanded.

He then turned to Rathebe: “Ek wil jou broek sien!

After lifting her dress to show she was in fact wearing panties, Rathebe was thrown in the back of a pick-up van. (Schadeberg was pushed into a police car.)

At the police station a cop lectured him: “We don’t mix with these people. You should know, as a German, they are different.”

Drum proprietor Jim Bailey was pathologically loath to hand out money, despite being one of the wealthiest men on the continent. He’d leave his poorly paid subordinates to pick up the tab for a night’s binge drinking with township mafia bosses. Editor Anthony Sampson was a Jeykll and Hyde character – and his Mr Hyde side could be horribly creepy (read the book).

The Drum world was full of characters who still loom large today. Driving with the magazine’s music editor Todd Matshikiza was a terrifying experience because he was so short he almost disappeared behind the wheel of his Morris Minor. The two of them hung out with Kippie Moeketsi in an underworld where “gangsters danced with guns and knives and thought gambling, shooting and stabbing were normal”.

Abnormal times that produced both the best and the worst.

Book details

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A Twist in the Tail for township kids: Meet Chloe De La Harpe, children’s literacy activist and head of the ‘Story Tails’ initiative

Nal’ibali Column 19: Term 4. Originally published in the Daily Dispatch (4 December 2017) and Herald (7 December 2017)

By Carla Lever

Chloe De La Harpe

Tell us a little about the work you do.

I work with building remedial classes within schools and after school programmes with children in Imizamo Yethu: an informal settlement in the greater Hout Bay Valley in Cape Town. This year, we relocated into an informal crèche within the township itself. We focused on the 4-6 year olds with emergent literacy in isiXhosa. We work with two incredibly passionate isiXhosa-speaking local teachers, both of whom are currently studying through UNISA. We have found the children grasped the isiXhosa letters and sounds easily and at a wonderful speed. They’ll be entering school next year with a great foundation for literacy in their home language.

You’ve said before that your primary role as a teacher is to advertise books – enthusiastically and incessantly. Why is that?

I read a survey once that changed my life. It stated that the one factor that affects a child more than reading to them is living in a home where parents read for their own personal enjoyment. I’d never heard this before. I wanted to jump up in public and shout out loud! It was my ‘AHA moment’! Everything else in our life is marketed: clothes and technology and hair products, but reading is never marketed. I truly believe the saying that ‘no child is born a reader: an adult makes a child a reader’ and so it is our job, as an adult or teacher, to advertise books!

You bring such a range of creative approaches to learning activities – you make it a form of play. Tell us about some of those.

What we truly wanted to look at was how to create a desire to read – for a child to grow the motivation to pick up a book independently of being told to do it. So two ways we attempt this are through The Cocoa Club and Story Tails.

The Cocoa Club was a small, read aloud book club with blankets, pillows and hot chocolate among school-age kids. Club members got warm and comfortable and slurped noisily as all of us read aloud to each other. The feeling of exclusivity, of being part of ‘a family’ and sharing a safe space created the perfect environment, but it was the books donated to us by FUNDZA that really stole the show. Stories written by locals about local township experiences just amazed and hooked the students immediately! It was lovely to see a list of students wanting to be in the Cocoa Club grow and grow – I’m pretty devastated that we won’t have enough funding to carry this project on in 2018.

We will be carrying on our Story Tails project, though, and it’s a real winner! Students visit with the wonderful DARG animal shelter in Hout Bay and do facilitated story time with the cats and dogs, making the experience a real treat. Additionally, DARG selects special Reading Assistant Dogs which I take into one local primary school library to sit and listen to shy students read during story time. There’s no listener as non-judgemental as a dog and anxious students really respond to reading aloud to them! We are so grateful here to be donated books by the awesome Book Dash charity for this project, who have them in a fantastic range of languages.

So to look back on our goals: there’s a special experience, there’s a new association to reading and there’s the adult joining in by reading their own books alongside everyone else.

Where do you access new books? What resources do you make use of?

We have been hugely lucky to receive resources from Fundza, Book Dash, Word Works and much help from Shine on launching. I love the way all the projects share the same goal and same love!

Do you find that having access to books in the kids’ mother tongue makes a big difference in how they are able to engage?

I am a massive fan of mother tongue books and the need for mother tongue story time as early as possible. I personally have found they make a huge difference! I adore the childrens’ wonder, enjoyment and sparkle in their eyes. Every day I do this is rewarding.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit:

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A tough, nuanced read that raises uncomfortable topics – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Joyce Carol Oates’s A Book of American Martyrs

Published in The Witness

A Book of American MartyrsI must admit this novel was neither easy to read nor to review. Both subject matter and Joyce Carol Oates’s way of handling it can make a reader somewhat queasy, but there is no doubt that its 736 pages (American writers are remarkably keen on having their readers in for the long haul) are a formidable achievement.

The story opens in 1999 in the American midwest, when Luther Dunphy, a fundamentalist Christian and hardline pro-life activist, shoots dead Dr Gus Voorhees and his bodyguard outside the abortion clinic where Voorhees works.

The first part of the book is narrated by Dunphy, and Oates is too skilled a writer to make him a one-dimensional hate figure. You may not like him, or what he stands for, but by the time he is sentenced to death, you have a certain understanding of him. And his execution reminded me forcibly of The Green Mile, the only film I have ever walked out of, unable to stomach the electric chair scene. If nothing else, A Book of American Martyrs makes a compelling argument, if one is needed, for the abolition of the death penalty.

Voorhees, Dunphy’s victim and polar opposite is no saint either. He represents another brand of fanaticism, one that is prepared to sacrifice pretty well anything for his crusading ideals and whose outward calm rationality hides a terrifying ruthlessness. He and Dunphy are the martyrs, seeking their own martyrdom.

However, the main thrust of Oates’s book is the effect of the two deaths on the two families, particularly the wives of the men and their daughters, both entering adolescence at the time of the killings. The stories are told through a variety of voices, ranging from an impersonal third person narrator to first person sections and verbatim transcripts of interviews and trials.

Both the Voorhees and Dunphy families are destroyed, and the latter part of the book deals with Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy as they both, in very different ways, struggle to find their own paths to survival, and to deal with the legacy forced upon them by their fathers. One, who becomes a documentary film maker, may be educated, clever and articulate while the other – an exploited and vicious woman boxer – is barely literate and hardly able to function in society, but their lives are intertwined for ever.

A Book of American Martyrs raises all kinds of uncomfortable topics – religious fundamentalism, the abortion debate, gun crime and the death penalty. It is particularly pertinent at this time, calling up issues that are currently fracturing American society and that of other places as well. The telling is complex and nuanced but, as I said at the outset, it is a tough read. Oates is one of those writers – an ever-expanding list – who are regularly tipped for a Nobel prize, though whether she ever will or ought to win is another matter. But this book should do her chances no harm. – Margaret von Klemperer

Book details

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Buy discounted Book Dash titles and donate to the SHINE Literacy Trust!

Via Book Dash

Have we got a festive season surprise for you!

Ten of your favourite Book Dash titles will be sold in top Woolworths’ stores for just R25 each, or R60 for three!

But that’s not all: even at that low price, for every book bought, another gets donated to the SHINE Literacy Trust to give to kids and caregivers involved in their programmes. That means that if you buy six books for just R120, six more get given to a kid who needs them. Isn’t that awesome? Look out for them in a store near you, and we thank you in advance for support!

As always, thanks to our amazing creative volunteers: you are at the heart of this organisation.

All income generated will be channelled into creating, translating and printing more free books for kids. And finally, to Woolworths for jumping on the Book Dash bandwagon: moving ever closer to our vision of every child owning a hundred books by the age of five! #bookdash #everychild #100books

The list of shops are, Western Cape: Constantia Village, V&A Waterfront, Tygervalley and Milner Road, KZN: Gateway, Westville Pavillion, Delcairn, Balito Lifestyle Centre, Mackeurtan Avenue, Lillies Quarter. Gauteng: Sandton City, Nicolaway, Norwood Mall, Lonehill, Hydepark, Maroun Square, Lifestyle Crossing, Kyalami Mall, Farrarmere and Meyersdal

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Book Bites: 26 November

Published in the Sunday Times

Dan Brown, Bantam Press, R320

Fast-paced, action-packed, relentlessly informative, Origin is a riveting read from start to end. Dan Brown’s famous character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, is back to unravel yet another mystery with the potential to upend the entire world. Only this time he has the Spanish military, royal palace and Catholic Church hot on his heels, not to mention an anonymous hacker who’s always five steps ahead. Langdon’s friend and former student, the brilliant futurist Edmond Kirsch, makes a fascinating scientific discovery, one that provides unequivocal answers to two age-old questions: “Where do we come from? Where are we going?” On the eve of his announcement, dark forces intervene to quash his discovery and Langdon finds himself in a mad race to Barcelona, with the alluring future queen of Spain by his side. Brown blends science, technology, art and religion in a story that entertains and mystifies. – Anna Stroud @annawriter_

Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie, Bloomsbury, R290

Antigone, the Greek tragedy, is artfully reimagined in our modern world in this 2017 Man Booker longlisted novel. Two sisters lose their brother Parvaiz to their father’s jihadist past. Isma flees to America and makes friends with Eamonn, the son of the British Home Secretary. When Eamonn returns to the UK, he visits the younger sister, Aneeka, delivering a packet of M&Ms from Isma. Thus, the families of the sisters and Eamonn become tangled as personal choices, beliefs and grief is dragged into the political landscape. A timely read that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Boy Who Saw
Simon Toyne, HarperCollins, R285

The brilliant Solomon Creed is a paranoid schizophrenic with no memory of his past: the only clue is his beautifully made jacket, with the name of the tailor, Josef Engel, on the lapel. Creed tracks down the tailor, but the old man has been tortured to death. It seems likely that his murder is linked to his granddaughter Marie Claude’s research into the Holocaust and The Tailors’ Camp, a concentration camp from which Engel was one of only four survivors. Creed, Marie Claude and her son Leo journey through France to find the survivors – and learn something about Creed’s past – before the rest of the tailors are killed, along with the answers. – Aubrey Paton

Book details

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Philip Pullman revels in writing about bad guys and dark forces, like the ones we have now, writes Jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times

La Belle Sauvage
Philip Pullman
Transworld, R290

His Dark Materials is not as famous as the Harry Potter series – maybe because there’s something much more insidious and dark in Philip Pullman’s multiverse than in JK Rowling’s magical world. (Also, only one book was made into a movie – The Golden Compass, which was not successful.)

La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in the new trilogy, The Book of Dust, which is a prequel to His Dark Materials. But over the phone from the UK, Pullman is quick to remind me of his book ’s motto: “It’s not a prequel or sequel, it’s an equal.”

It’s been 22 years since the first Dark Materials novel, Northern Lights, where we were introduced to his heroine Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. (Daemons are a person’s soul, externalised as an animal.)

The trilogy begins 10 years before Northern Lights, and in La Belle Sauvage we’re taken back to the beginning, when Lyra is just six months old. She is taken to a priory to be hidden from the power-hungry religious force, The Magisterium, that will do anything to control the world.

In His Dark Materials, Lyra went on a quest to save children from having their daemons sliced from them by The Magisterium. She became a saviour. She gets to know that there is something called Dust (with a capital D, not the stuff that needs a feather duster) and that she would somehow expose the truth and let the world know what Dust is. But His Dark Materials ends before everything is neatly solved – before we find out what Dust is. Pullman promises we’ll know more about Dust in this trilogy.

“I was writing about Lyra for the past 10 years because there’s all these things to still happen,” Pullman says. “How did Lyra develop? How was she placed in Jordan College? There is still so much more to tell about Lyra and it’s all very exciting.”

But there’s not much of Lyra in this first book. Pullman focuses mainly on his two new characters who need to save Lyra from the Magisterium. They are 11-year-old Malcolm, curious, bright and oh-so-good, who works in his family’s pub called the Trout. His daemon is Asta – not yet settled in form as he is still a child. And then there’s Alice, 15, a dishwasher, difficult yet steadfast and an annoyance to Malcolm. This sets up the two protagonists – male and female – which is integral to Pullman’s writing; everyone’s daemon is also of the opposite sex.

“It creates a pubescent dynamic, a very basic human dynamic,” he says. “This is all about living and growing up. It’s a form of discovery and change. The characters have to learn and finally come into adulthood.”

But the Magisterium is tightening its grasp – afraid of what the scholars of the world are saying. The church uses whatever means necessary to control and destroy those with opposing opinions. It has formed the League of St Alexander, which is brainwashing children into feeling that it is their duty to spy on their parents, teachers and friends. This is what gets Pullman so excited.

“The League of St Alexander was a way of including the way communist societies asked children to spy on people. It’s based in truth.

“In the last year and a half we have seen lies, fraud and stupidity take over the world and governments. We have allowed a stupendous folly to happen, one that we can still scarcely believe – Brexit. This great European project was ravaged by lies and stupidity. A reckless decision. And then what happened in the US.”

But there’s not just the church that Malcolm and Alice have to save Lyra from. There’s a far darker, more disturbing look at the evil of men found in the character of Gerard Bonneville. He seems indestructible, a sinister presence that keeps on coming after them even though they thought he was dead. His daemon is a one-legged hyena. He has escaped prison and is after the six-month-old Lyra as well. Revenge against her mother, perhaps?

“He was a great surprise to me, a great gift,” says Pullman. “I could never have based this character on anyone … I do enjoy writing the bad characters.”

To make things even worse, Malcolm and Alice have to survive an epic flood that sweeps the country. They take refuge in Malcolm’s boat, La Belle Sauvage.

Pullman says he based this trilogy on the model of The Faerie Queene, the Edmund Spenser poem first published in 1590.

“It’s this classic poem that is told in multiple different ways. This is epic storytelling. The structure is what I really want to take with me on how to write the books.” The poem is allegorical, which fits in with the layers in La Belle Sauvage. We learn more about the universe that Lyra has to survive in and about the forces of evil that try to control her world.

As for the second book in the trilogy: “I have written it, and it is being edited now.” – @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

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Literary Crossroads: Tsitsi Dangarembga & Achmat Dangor (6 December)

Literary Crossroads is a series of talks where South African writers meet colleagues from all over the continent and from the African diaspora to discuss trends, topics and themes prevalent in their literatures today. The series is curated by Indra Wussow and Sine Buthelezi.

Writer, filmmaker, teacher and cultural activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga lives in Harare, Zimbabwe where she directs the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust, an institution focusing on the role of all arts disciplines in development, which she founded in 2009. She is currently working on her 4th novel, dystopian young adult speculative fiction Sai-Sai, Watermatker.

She began writing plays at the University of Zimbabwe, where The Lost of the Soil (1983) and She No Longer Weeps (1984) were first staged. The first volume in the Tambudzai trilogy, Nervous Conditions, appeared to critical acclaim in 1988. Its sequel, The Book of Not was published in 2006. Her third novel This Mournable Body is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.


Achmat Dangor a writer by vocation, has also been a political activist from a young age. During the turbulent 1970s, he together with 13 other writers, founded a group call “Black Thoughts.” Its mission was overcome the rigid education system the Apartheid government had imposed on Black schools, forcing children to learn in Afrikaans, and severely restricting what they could read. “Black Thoughts” did readings in township schools and churches, introducing scholars and the public to the work of “3rd World” writers, included South African books that had been banned.

The “Black Thoughts” writers themselves were “banned” by the Apartheid government, which prohibited them from attending any gatherings. Achmat found employment under the Leon Sullivan code with the American company Revlon, where he was trained as packaging engineer. He subsequently entered the development sector where he was CEO of various organisations, including the Kagiso Trust, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He was also Director of Advocacy at UNAIDS, and the Ford Foundation’s Southern Africa Representative. He continued writing throughout the years. Now retired, he is devoting himself to his writing.

He received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Literary Awards (SALA).

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 06 December 2017
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Goethe-Institut South Africa, 119 Jan Smuts Ave, Parkwood, Parkwood, Johannesburg | Map
  • Speakers: Tsitsi Dangarembga, Achmat Dangor

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