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The 15 Best Local Book Covers of 2014: Do you agree with our selection?

Top 3 Announced in 2014 Etisalat Flash Fiction Competition: Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Neema Komba and Irabor Ikhide

The top three short stories in the Etisalat Prize for Literature, Flash Fiction category have been announced, including two Nigerian authors and one from Tanzania:

  • “I Saved My Marriage” by Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto (Nigeria)
  • “Setting Babu on Fire” by Neema Komba (Tanzania)
  • “These Words I Do Not Speak” by Irabor Ikhide (Nigeria)

These three stories were voted for by the public, emerging from the top 20 chosen by a panel of judges who came together for this new initiative from Etisalat, the Emirates telecommunications corporation behind the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

The winning author, to be announced on a date yet to be confirmed, will receive a £1 000 cash prize, as well as a Samsung Galaxy Note or iPad, and will have their published ebook promoted online and via SMS. The two runners up receive £500 each, and a Samsung Galaxy Note or iPad.

The winners of the main prize, Etisalat Prize for Literature for debut fiction – which sees two South African authors, Nadia Davids (An Imperfect Blessing) and Songeziwe Mahlangu (Penumbra), and Nigerian-American author Chinelo Okparanta (Happiness Like Water) on the shortlist – will be announced on Sunday, 22 February.

The prize for this relatively new award entails £15 000, an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen and a fellowship at the University of East Anglia. The inaugural Etisalat Prize was won in February by Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo, for her novel We Need New Names.

An Imperfect BlessingPenumbraHappiness, Like Water

Read “These Words I Do Not Speak” by Irabor Ikhide, one of the top three flash fiction pieces:

The air shuddered in the overbearing silence.

“I know you’re probably thinking it’s your fault, Gare, but
mommy left because she wanted to, okay?”

Gare sat quietly on the edge of her bed. She was a most peculiar child. Her class teacher had remarked on her last report card: She does not mingle with other students, and when her parents had read it, they had shared a hearty laugh.

“Of course, she didn’t mingle. She’s Gare!” her father had laughed.

And he had laughed a little at first when he broke the news to her. When he sat by her bedside and said, “Your mommy’s run away, Gare. She didn’t even leave a note.”

It had been a most peculiar laugh, too. Gare hadn’t thought it an appropriate thing to do, laugh while telling her that, but she was not given to words.

In fact, she hadn’t said a word since she had been born seven years ago.

“Drink your juice, Gare,” her father cooed and he rubbed her hair affectionately. She took a sip, then a gulp.

Soon the cup was empty, and sleep wrapped pervasively around her like a bristly shawl.

“Go to bed,” he said, and he turned off the bedroom light.

What Gare didn’t know was that daddy had been under a lot of stress lately, and that a long time ago, since before she was born, daddy had burned down his foster home.

What she knew, however, was that her mother hadn’t run away.

She knew her mother was under a pile of earth in the backyard.

But she was not given to words.

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Algerian Author Yasmina Khadra Comments on the Charlie Hebdo Attack: I Shouldn't Have to Feel Guilty

Yasmina Khadra
The Swallows of KabulThe AttackThe Sirens of BaghdadCousin K

Watch a video in which celebrated French-Algerian author Yasmina Khadra shares his views on literature, freedom of speech, and the fact that the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attack were Algerian.

Khadra, whose real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul, is a former officer in the Algerian army who adopted a female pseudonym – his wife’s name – to protect himself against censorship, only revealing his true identity in 2001 when he left Algeria for France.

It has been revealed that the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, were born in France to Algerian immigrant parents. But Khadra says he does not want to dwell on their nationality.

“For me, the murder doesn’t have an identity,” he says. “It doesn’t have a nationality. It is characterised, it is identified by its wrongdoing. So I shouldn’t suddenly have to feel guilty because he’s Algerian. We’ve got to stop making this link that shouldn’t exist between where a murderer comes from and his act. We have to focus on the act, and nothing more.”

Khadra says he was “shocked” by the attack, despite coming from “a country where 200,000 people died, where we went through a horribly dark time”.

Referring to the 70 journalists who were killed in the Algerian Civil War, Khadra said: “Algeria has lost more journalists than the rest of the world put together, you know?

“So I don’t have the right to be Charlie. I can only invite Charlie to join the rest of us. Because we were the first victims, and when Algeria lived through its tragedy, it was completely isolated from the world; no-one was interested, and our heroes were passed off as assassins, as criminals. In the 2000s, they used to say that Algeria didn’t have any terrorists, that it was the military that killed people, and I still pay for having defended the truth.”

Watch the video:

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Hussein Solomon on Boko Haram: African Leaders Have No Sympathy for Their Own Citizens (Video)

Against All OddsHussein Solomon recently spoke out against the lack of global concern about the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria.

The editor of Against All Odds: Opposition Political Parties in Southern Africa said that it’s particularly galling that Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, expressed his sympathies to the French government about the recent terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, but has not said a word about the 2000 people who died in the Baga massacre.

Solomon said that the fact that Nigeria and Cameroon have not coordinated forces to combat the insurgents is a cause for concern. He argued that African states are too protective of their sovereignty and despite the high death toll Nigeria still prefers to go at it alone. African political leadership doesn’t have much sympathy for their own citizens suffering the scourge of terrorism, he says.

Watch the video:

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"I am an African": Wilbur Smith Proclaims His Love for African History (Video)

Desert GodTop Billing recently visited Wilbur Smith at his home in Cape Town, which he calls “The loveliest city in Africa, and therefore in the world”.

“I am an African, it is the one place I feel comfortable and at home,” he says.

Smith, whose most recent book is Desert God, the fifth in his Ancient Egyptian series, which began with River God in 1994, and following that were The Seventh Scroll (1995), Warlock (2001) and The Quest (2007), says a lot of historical research goes into his writing.

“I used to read all African histories that I could lay my hands on, before I even thought of writing a novel about it,” he says. “So I had a firm background, and I’ve just enlarged upon that as I’ve gone forward.”

Smith also recalls the time he went to the UK as a young writer: “I went to London particularly to cover myself in glory and see the crowds cheering in the streets, but that didn’t happen.

“I went around the bookstores to see if I was on the number one bestseller list, and that didn’t happen. So I finally headed back to Africa, to my home, where I was loved.”

Watch the video for the end of the anecdote:

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The legendary African author Wilbur Smith invites Top Billing into his home and tells us about his extraordinary life and his new novel Desert God.

In this Top Billing exclusive, Nico visits the acclaimed author Wilbur Smith at his South African home. With about 50 years of writing experience and over 130 million books sold, Wilbur has quite the collection to show off to Nico. He shares some of his most prized memorabilia and relates anecdotes from the 1960s when he started out as a young writer. His work has been translated into 26 languages, he’s signed a ground-breaking deal to co-author six new books and at 81 he’s happily married, still travels the world and remains on top of his game. Find out how he does it and what his advice is to young writers while recapping his career thus far.

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Collected Writings of the Archetypal "Xhosa Man of Letters": William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali

William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembaliNew from UKZN Press William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali: Xhosa histories and poetry (1873–1888), edited by Jeff Opland, Wandile Kuse and Pamela Maseko:

William Wellington Gqoba (1840–88) was prominent among the African intellectuals emerging in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa towards the end of the nineteenth century.

By trade he was a wagonmaker, licensed preacher of the Free Church of Scotland, teacher, historian, poet, folklorist and editor. For much of his brief life he served on mission stations as a catechist, and ended his career as editor of the Lovedale newspaper Isigidimi sama-Xosa, to which he contrived to contribute subversive poetry outspokenly critical of Western education, the European administration of black people and the discrimination suffered by colonised blacks. Gqoba fashioned the figure of the Xhosa man of letters. Unrivalled in his time in the generic range of his writing, he was the author of letters, anecdotes, expositions of proverbs, histories and poetry, including two poems in the form of debates that stood for over fifty years as the longest poems in the Xhosa language.

This book assembles and translates into English all of William Wellington Gqoba’s clearly identifiable writings. They offer an insider’s perspective on an African nation in transition, adapting uncomfortably to Western mores and morality, seeking to affirm its identity by drawing on its past, standing on the brink of mobilisation to resist white control and to construct its social, political and religious independence of European colonialism.

About the editors

Jeff Opland recently retired after a career teaching at universities in South Africa, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. He is the author of numerous studies of Anglo-Saxon and Xhosa literature, and is currently editing and translating a series of texts drawn from his collection of Xhosa literature.

Wandile Kuse studied at the University of Fort Hare and the University of Wisconsin-Madison where, influenced by A.C. Jordan, he earned an MA on iziduko and izibongo and a PhD on S.E.K. Mqhayi. He returned to South Africa in 1983 as Director of the Bureau for African Research and Documentation at the University of Transkei and retired in 2001.

Pamela Maseko holds a PhD in Socio-linguistics. She taught at the University of Cape Town and is currently teaching Sociolinguistics and Applied Language Studies at Rhodes University.

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A Significant Part of Our Struggle Archive: Makhosazana Xaba Reviews Askari by Jacob Dlamini

Jacob DlaminiMakhosazana Xaba

Forced to revisit the past: a brief look at Jacob Dlamini’s Askari: A Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-apartheid Struggle

by Makhosazana Xaba

AskariI agreed to be on the panel at the launch of Jacob Dlamini’s book at WiSER without having read the email properly. All that mattered in that moment was that he had a new book. I love books like children love toys, I like Dlamini’s writing and I often enjoy WiSER events.

Days later when a follow-up email arrived to let me know that the actual book would take longer than planned to return from the printers and that I would be sent a soft copy, I had more time to really read that email. The very word askari made me want to scream. “Why are they asking me to be on a panel discussing a book on askaris?” Waves of emotion began rolling one after the other in no discernible pattern: shock, confusion, anger, irritation. The only thing that stood in the way of my urgent need to change my mind was my integrity. It took everything in me to look my problem in the face and reframe it: this is a challenge, embrace it.

Askari gave me many sleepless nights, from the time I received the soft copy and read it in a weekend, to the many times I returned to it just to reread this or that chapter. But I will return to that later.

Let me begin with a reflection on my journey with Dlamini’s writing because this is not a typical book review. I first encountered his writing via his newspaper columns. Once I realised he was a regular columnist, I would start reading his article before reading anything else in the newspaper. I was fascinated by the energy I felt in his writing. There was something very attractive about a simple writing style that had the ability to carry such profundity. Dlamini’s commentaries, brief as they were, were never straightforward. They were nuanced and that is what I admired. In no time, I was addicted to his column.

And then, in 2009, a book entitled Load Shedding: Writing On and Over the Edge of South Africa, an anthology of personal essays edited by Sarah Nuttal and Liz Mc Gregor, was published. In Dlamini’s essay, entitled “The Bequest”, he wrote about finding out that his heart was on the right side of his body. My health background came flooding back as I tried to recall being taught about this very rare condition. Most of all, though, I was fascinated by the way Dlamini wrote about the “quirky location” of his heart, which engaged with the many themes of home, family, constant travel, personal and national politics, apartheid and, yes, nostalgia. I enjoyed the nuanced and multi-layered piece and was drawn to the personality that is his mother. Dlamini used his heart as a metaphor for home. He weaved a layered, textured, heartfelt tapestry, which was a window into his life as a child growing up in Katlehong, his family, and in particular his mother.

In the same year his book, Native Nostalgia, was published. Reading the essay about his right-heartedness and the essays from this book and thinking back to his columns, it was clear to me that Dlamini is committed ¬- as he clearly stated in his book – to reading our country. He recognises that the history of black people, in particular, is rich and complex, that it cannot be contained inside the master narrative and therefore should not be told as such. This is a sentiment I share and espoused in my essay “Serene in my skin”, published in Load Shedding, wherein I wrote about the complexity of being “Zulu in the time of Zuma”, as the back cover blurb put it.

This then, leads me to the book, Askari: a Story of Collaboration and Betrayal in the Anti-apartheid Struggle, in which Dlamini tells the rich and complex story of Glory Sedibe, an MK operative with many names. I knew him as Comrade September. It was news to me to read he was also Wally Williams. I had heard of a Wally Williams but I had assumed that he was a different person.

The WiSER event took place on 29 October, 2014. The date, October 29, has been etched in every muscle of my body for 31 years. It was on the morning of 29 October, 1983, when an estimated 500 men – warriors of Inkatha, which was backed by Gatsha Mangosuthu Buthelezi – invaded Ongoye University (also known as the University of Zululand) and attacked students who had been protesting against the university’s plans to celebrate Cetshwayo Day on campus.

It was only in the early evening, when we finally managed to escape the campus grounds, that we went to Ngwelezane Hospital to visit the injured. One student was already dead. Three students died later that night. This was exactly two months, one week and two days after the national launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF). On our campus we had organised for the UDF. The climax of its launch was a proud moment of our student activist lives.

I was one of those students who protested against the university’s plans to celebrate Cetshwayo Day. And, as an elected leader, I had been part of the group that planned and led the protest. While we recognised that under the apartheid regime it was crucial to honour important historical events for black people and honour their heroes, we were opposed to the event taking place on the university grounds. As progressive anti-apartheid students we believed it was a clear demonstration of the university’s collusion with the homeland system that the apartheid regime was using to divide black people along tribal lines. Although our university was meant, according to the apartheid regime’s plan, to serve the Zulus, as a progressive student body we did not identify as Zulus. We identified as black South Africans working towards the end of a racially divided country.

What has this piece of history got to do with Dlamini’s book? Everything! In my mind it has everything to do with it. Not only did that event, now known as the Ongoye Massacre, remain etched in my memory and visit me in my dreams for at least two decades, but it also presented me with a complete political paradigm shift around what it meant to be black in the struggle.

Put differently, it presented me with the complexity that Dlamini writes about. Imagine this: black men like me, wielding spears and holding leather shields, running towards us as if in real combat. Yet we were young and unarmed. Black men like me, killing black students like me. Black men like me, leaving behind bodies of injured students, also black like me. Until then I had never had to confront that reality of our struggle. Until then I had not had to confront betrayal of that sort and of that magnitude.

I was not so naïve as to think that black people had never betrayed others like them. We were already dealing with the challenge that the homeland leaders were presenting, in what we viewed as collaborating with the apartheid regime. It was the context, the crass combat nature and the timing of that massacre that hit so hard, so deep, so devastatingly … that I was never the same again. And I was an older student, in my mid-20s; I had already completed a four year diploma at a nursing college.

Dlamini’s Askari, by telling a story of collaboration and betrayal in the anti-apartheid struggle, adds to a growing sub-category of books about the struggle that present readers with its layered complexity. I am thinking here of books I read recently:

MbokodoUmkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a Divided PeopleInside Quatro External MissionStones Against the MirrorDeath of an Idealist


  • Mbokodo: Inside MK, a book by Mwezi Twala;
  • Umkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a divided people, a book Thula Bophela and Daluxolo Luthuli;
  • Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile history of the ANC and SWAPO, by Paul Trewela;
  • External Mission: The ANC in Exile, by Stephen Ellis;
  • Stones Against the Mirror: Friendship it the time of the South African Struggle by Hugh Lewin; and
  • Death of an Idealist: In search of Neil Aggett, by Beverly Naidoo

I am sure there are more, but I list the six above because I have read them, some more than once. Different as they are at many levels, they are similar in that they remind us of the complexity, the nuance, the multiple layers and connections that Dlamini writes about. Some hint on collaboration and betrayal while others delve deeply into these themes.

How then does Dlamini write about collaboration and betrayal in his book? I could give a simple answer: exquisitely. In 299 pages, with 14 chapters entitled: The Insurgent, The Askari, The Farm, The Choice, The Inferno, The File, The Village, The Oaths, The Show Trial, The Location, The Archive, The Infamy, The Psychology and, finally, The Past, the Present and the Future.

So we read about Comrade September (I call him thus because that is the name I knew him by). We learn about his background, his home and his family, his village, his political awakening and how he joined the ANC. Dlamini gives us the context within which to understand him. Or, should I say, a context within which to try and understand him. And then Dlamini writes about how Comrade September turned; how he crossed the line and began working for the side he had been working against. He was in Swaziland, in 1986. This was when I paused. I paused when I read the details of his turning point because I was reminded of a slice of my own biography.

In December of 1986 I left for exile via Swaziland. I had been trained internally as an MK cadre and had worked for some years within my cell. I was captured by the Swazi police a few days after I landed. They put me in a holding cell. In all that time my biggest fear was twofold: rape, and being handed over to the apartheid security police. I never knew how exactly I would handle the rape and the torture that we had been trained to expect. The torture that would precede the handing over to the South African police had been a great part of our underground training. I, like many others and dare I assume Comrade September, had internalised, through this training, the suicide choice in the face of such torture. As it turned out I was “small fry” and “just a woman” (I overheard one of the prison warders say). I was released after a few days. I have never forgotten, though, how terrified I was of the possible rape and torture.

Dlamini invites us to consider Comrade September’s “choice” – collaboration or death. He gives us examples from Chile of people who faced a similar choice and decided to live and collaborate. In a sense, Dlamini suggests that Comrade September is not unique, that others like him can be found elsewhere in the world. There were a few times in the book when I thought the examples from other countries were a tad too many but, that’s not the point.

I was very curious about the chapter on “the psychology”. I was so curious that I read and reread it. Dlamini starts this chapter by quoting from Hugh Lewin’s book Stones Against the Mirror, where he wrote about his own torture and what he confronted then. Again I was reminded of my time in a holding cell in the Swaziland prison.

Dlamini’s telling of the story of Comrade September’s journey before and after what went on at the TRC – Vlakplaas, in the MK underground – all the time refuses to draw simple lines that connect neatly at targeted points. He shows the intricate webs and challenges to readers to look deep inside ourselves, inside our history and inside the future we are creating today. Here then is an excerpt from the last chapter (page 260) entitled, “The past, the present, and the future”:

The life of Glory Sedibe highlights something of the ‘fatal intimacy’ at the heart of human relations. To say that apartheid generated unwanted intimacy between individuals, and to challenge the claim that the struggle against apartheid was simply a racial war, is not to say that ‘race’ did not matter nor that race thinking had no salience. Race obviously mattered a great deal. But, it would be wrong to think that race determined the allegiances and loyalties of individuals in any simplistic way. Race might have been handy in the work of askaris, but far more potent was the personal and social intimacy that askaris could call on and generate in order to carry out their missions.

This paragraph speaks volumes and I would argue that it continues to be relevant in our current political times. However, I could not help thinking about how similar this “fatal intimacy” is to abusive heterosexual relationships, where the unequal power that exists in the couple means that the woman ends up serving the agenda that the man wants to pursue. Under apartheid, askaris were in fatal intimate relationships with white security operatives, as unequals serving the agenda of the apartheid state. Their agency was confined within the limits of gross power inequality. The very process of torture took place within the confines of the apartheid system’s organised apparatus. Torture was meted out by a whole system, on its home ground, against an individual. I wish Dlamini had delved into this in more detail.

Taking the analogy further, it takes the overriding context of the ideology of patriarchy to explain the collusion that women choose as they stay in abusive relationships. The overriding context of racism explains the collusion that askaris chose after they were turned. Apartheid – the now widely accepted crime against humanity – made it conceivable for victims of the very system to turn against their own in order to serve its ends. Therein lays the power of ideological domination of one group over another. When power is unequal in the first place, it is the wielders of that power that will “call the shots” by any means necessary, in this case torture. Is it conceivable that there could have existed, during the anti-apartheid struggle, a category of askaris who would have been turned without torture?

Let me close by returning to the sleepless nights that the book gave me. I had not expected to read about so many people that I knew personally and knew of, even though the book was mainly about Comrade September, of whom I had heard a lot. I, like him, had been part of what the ANC and MK called the Natal Machinery.

I did not enjoy being reminded of those times: the never ending suspense that lay at the core of our lives, the hanging threats that were part of the many activities we were engaged in. I did not enjoy being reminded of those times because even though we held onto the dream that we are now supposedly living, the skeletons of that period continue to rattle. The rattle deafens at times and we have not yet found the peace we thought would be an integral part of the dream. I did not enjoy being reminded of that past because my next collection of poetry revisits it. Writing it took its emotional toll on me. Submitting it gave me the longed-for break. I was relaxing in the comfort of my break from the past when Askari shook me awake.

Askari screams, limbs in the air, demanding attention. Through Askari the man with his heart on the right side of his chest reminds us that things are not always what they seem. He reminds us that the unexpected and often inexplicable demand our prodding. Askari is a significant part of our struggle archive.

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