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Sunday #Infographic: Read your way through South Africa's democracy:

No quarter for quotas

IN THE current hullabaloo around Fikile Mbalula’s quota threats, the 20-year anniversary celebrations of the first democratic vote and other election point-scoring, it’s a good time to take a deep breath and retreat to a quiet corner of the library at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

In two cardboard boxes in the Mayibuye-Robben Island archives housed there are a set of documents which show how the men pivotal to our democracy went about organising sport.

It’s an object lesson in how to identify goals and then go about achieving them.

It is also a heartening reminder of how good we can be at this, if we just go about it in the right spirit.

The documents reveal how Robben Island functioned as a laboratory for the exploitation of team sports as a unifier of disparate interest groups. After Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and the rest of the Rivonia trialists were imprisoned on Robben Island in 1964, they were joined by successive waves of young men whose hectic, meaningful lives had been brought to an abrupt halt.

The leaders recognised that sport could help provide both entertainment and a common purpose.

So prisoners divided themselves into soccer — and, later, rugby — teams, each of which had to contain a member of each of the political parties forced to share this confined, straitened space, from the nationalist Pan African Congress to the South African Communist Party to the South West African People’s Organisation.

Establishing the necessary facilities required co-operation as it all had to be done by stealth. Clumps of grass were cultivated outside the cells until enough had been grown to create a pitch. Prisoners given building jobs would secrete enough cement and sand to build benches for spectators and paint to draw the lines. For soccer nets, they would knit together ropes discarded by ships. The quarry provided lime.

New bonds were created through the formation of rugby and soccer leagues. Rule books were compiled; heroes and personalities were created across political, race and class lines.

It also worked as an organisational tool. The cardboard boxes at UWC include the original polite but persistent letters to prison officials, which, by the end of the ’70s, led to certain privileges becoming enshrined: such as Saturdays off from the daily grind of stone-crushing in the quarries as well as permission to erect moveable poles on the makeshift pitch. This was necessary because the pitch had to accommodate the different lengths needed by rugby and soccer.

Warders were drawn in as referees. This mutual absorption in the game enabled black prisoners and white warders to recognise what they had in common, rather than what differentiated them.

Steve Tshwete was the first president of the Island Rugby Board (IRB) and Sedick Isaacs, a practising Muslim who gained his PhD while on the island, was the secretary. Both signed the founding IRB constitution, a poignant document — handwritten in impeccable English on rough, lined paper — in 1972.

Upon his release in 1978, Tshwete was catapulted into the messy real world where sport — particularly rugby — had remained profoundly divisive.

But he built on what he had learnt in prison: when the United Democratic Front was formed in 1983, Tshwete became president of its Border branch and, together with the South African Council on Sport and the South African Rugby Union (which was mostly composed of coloured teams until it affiliated with the mostly African Kwazakhele Rugby Union), drove an acceleration of the international sports boycott, a significant factor in the downfall of apartheid.

It was on his island experience that Mandela drew when, as president, he reached out to the white community through rugby.

The point of churning up all of this history is to show that we have deep institutional knowledge of how to get it right.

The challenges now are different: we need sport — and particularly rugby — to unify and strengthen us as a nation. But we also want it to boost national pride by producing world-beating professional teams.

We should cherish the depth of rugby talent and passion in the Afrikaans community. We should also acknowledge that it is not only apartheid that is to blame for the ongoing failure to adequately develop black talent.

The Eastern Cape, the reservoir of black rugby talent, is still handicapped by poverty. Statistics South Africa’s 2014 report shows that almost one in five people in the Eastern Cape live below the poverty line. A dysfunctional education department means most schools aren’t developing young athletes.

Instead of all the grandstanding and finger-pointing, all the stakeholders in rugby should sit down together, hammer out a common objective and then work together to make it happen.

A good place to start would be to recognise that in 2014, there needs to be a sharp distinction made between professionalism and development.

We should be giving our top athletes everything they need to make us shine in the international sporting arena. And we should give every South African child the opportunity to play rugby — or any other sport — even if only for the love of it.

• McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok

This column first appeared in Business Day






Ben Okri to Receive Honorary Doctorate in South Africa

Ben Okri

Alert! Nigerian author Ben Okri will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria next week.

The Famished RoadSongs of EnchantmentInfinite RichesDangerous LoveWildTales of FreedomIncidents at the Shrine

It will be the first time an African university has honoured Okri, one of the continent’s most prominent voices. The author won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Road in 1991.

Okri will receive a DLitt (honoris causa) on 25 April, during the university’s autumn graduation ceremonies.

The degree is meant, in the words of Vice Chancellor Prof CM de la Rey, to serve as a token of the fact that Okri is “widely recognised as an international writer and scholar”, and also to acknowledge Okri’s “contribution to the contemporary world of literature”.

Okri’s will be the second honorary doctorate awarded by a South African university to a major writer in recent times. In December, the University of the Witwatersrand conferred an honorary degree on JM Coetzee.

Here’s the press release from the University of Pretoria:

Ben Okri, Honoris Causa, University of Pretoria by Books LIVE

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Image courtesy the Guardian

NoViolet Bulawayo Gives Her Etisalat Prize Fellowship to Runner-up Yewande Omotoso

We Need New NamesBom BoyNoViolet Bulawayo, winner of the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature for debut fiction, has announced that she will be giving the fellowship included in the prize to the runner-up, Bom Boy author Yewande Omotoso.

The fellowship consists of four months at the University of East Anglia in Norwich under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland. It was announced yesterday by the Etisalat Prize that Bulawayo “has, in a genuine demonstration of sportsmanship, gifted her runner-up, Yewande Omotoso the Fellowship attached to her winning”.

“I have gifted it to my runner-up, Yewande Omotoso in the hope that her participation would further promote the values that Etisalat Nigeria sought to achieve with this literary prize,” Bulawayo says, explaining that her Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University means that she would not be able to take advantage of the other fellowship.

Bulawayo has been on a roll this year with her debut novel We Need New Names winning the Etisalat Prize in February, the 2014 PEN / Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction in March and the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes this month.

Winner of the maiden edition of the Etisalat Prize for Literature, NoViolet Bulawayo has, in a genuine demonstration of sportsmanship, gifted her runner-up, Yewande Omotoso the Fellowship attached to her winning.

Expressing her magnanimity, the author of ‘We Need New Names’ Bulawayo said “My prior commitment to a fellowship at Stanford University will not permit me to take advantage of the Etisalat Fellowship aspect of the prize and I have gifted it to my runner-up, Yewande Omotoso in the hope that her participation would further promote the values that Etisalat Nigeria sought to achieve with this literary prize”.

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Images courtesy Boston Review and Charlotte’s Web

Mary Sibande's The Purple Shall Govern to Conclude Tour at Standard Bank Gallery

Space: Currencies in Contemporary African ArtMary Sibande’s exhibition The Purple Shall Govern will conclude its national tour at the Standard Bank Gallery this month.

Sibande, whose work is featured on the cover of Thembinkosi Goniwe’s Space: Currencies in Contemporary African Art, won the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art last year.

Press release:

The purple shall govern, the exhibition of work by Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for 2013, Mary Sibande, concludes its national tour at the Standard Bank Gallery.

This exhibition takes Sophie, the elaborately costumed figure for which Sibande is best known, to a new level: a deeper, somewhat darker exploration.

Sophie, the complex alter ego through whom Sibande has negotiated the personal narratives of three generations of women in her family, has served Sibande well as the vehicle through which she has explored the construction of identity in a post-colonial South African context.

Now Sibande has decided that it’s time to move on, to ‘let Sophie go’ and allow new ideas to take root and grow.

The transition is dramatically staged. A terrible beauty is born (2013) shows Sophie clothed in purple, being stripped of the white apron and bonnet that symbolise her domestic servitude, by the Non-Winged ceiling beings (2013) which extend from her body and garment and to which she appears to be giving birth. Sophie appears to be in a trance, occupying a space of uncertainty.

The admiration of the purple figure (2013) reveals a different relation of the subject to the crowd that surrounds her: a moment of welcome and veneration. The ‘new’ Sophie looks more in control and the creatures that crowd around her feet appear to be looking up in admiration, vying for her attention and rejoicing at her emancipation.

The struggle to let go of the old, and welcome the liberation it brings, is further evidenced in A reversed retrogress scene 1 (2013), in which we see the ‘old’ Sophie and the ‘new’ in an encounter that is unequivocally tense but veiled in ambiguity.

Viewers who have seen The purple shall govern in galleries in other parts of the country are in for a surprise: new works have been created specifically for the exhibition at Standard Bank Gallery!

Sibande’s new artworks invite viewers to meditate on the meaning of the self in a state of transition, and to wrestle with the internal conflicts that arise in the struggle to let go of the past in order to give birth to new ideas and new identities.


Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 23 April to Saturday, 7 June 2014
  • Time: Monday to Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Saturday 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM
  • Venue: Standard Bank Gallery
    Cnr Frederick and Harrison streets
  • RSVP:, 011 631 4467

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JM Coetzee, Ivan Vladislavić and NoViolet Bulawayo to Attend the Worlds Literature Festival in Norwich

Writers’ Centre Norwich will host an evening with JM Coetzee, Ivan Vladislavić, NoViolet Bulawayo, Chinese-British novelist Xiaolu Guo, and German author Julia Franck as part of the Worlds Literature Festival.

The Childhood of JesusDouble NegativeWe Need New Names
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for LoversThe Blind Side of the Heartnull

The star-studded event will take place on 19 June, at the Norwich Playhouse, Norwich, England, with tickets costing £12 (+/-R210).

Press release:

Writers’ Centre Norwich would love you to join us in welcoming Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee back to Norwich, City of Literature, for a very special Worlds Literature Festival event.

In years past Coetzee has wowed Playhouse audiences with sharp new prose and an even sharper presence, and this time will be no exception. The Man Booker prize winning author of Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace is highly sought-after the world over but rarely appears; we’re promised a special and electric evening that you won’t want to miss.

Coetzee will be joined by international talents NoViolet Bulwayo (We Need New Names), Xiaolu Guo (A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers), Julia Franck (The Blind Side of the Heart) and Ivan Vladislavić (Double Negative) for an evening of world literature that will invigorate and absorb you.
Book your place now.

About the authors

JM Coetzee was born in South Africa in 1940. He won the 1983 Booker Prize for Life & Times of Michael K and then again with Disgrace in 1999. In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Coetzee lives in Australia.

Julia Franck was born in 1970 in Berlin. She studied Ancient American Studies, Philosophy and German Literature at the Free University Berlin. Her books include The New Chef, Love servants, Stories to Touch and Campfire. Her novel The Mittagsfrau Franck was awarded the 2007 German Book Prize and has sold over 1 million copies.

Xiaolu Guo was born in a fishing village in south China. She studied film at the Beijing Film Academy and published six books in China before she moved to London in 2002. Her first novel written in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. In 2013 she was named as one of Granta‘s Best of Young British Novelists.

Ivan Vladislavić is the author of the highly praised The Restless Supermarket, as well as award-winning non-fiction, Portrait with Keys, which won the Alan Paton Award. Originally part of a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, Double Negative won the University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize 2010/11. Vladislavić currently lives in Johannesburg.
(Supported by And Other Stories)

NoViolet Bulawayo was born and raised in Zimbabwe and recently won the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature for her acclaimed debut novel We Need New Names. In 2011 NoViolet won the Caine Prize for African Writing and her work has also been shortlisted for the 2009 South Africa PEN Studzinsi Award. She earned her MFA at Cornell University, where she was also awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship, and she is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

“Her honesty, her voice, her formidable command of her craft – all were apparent from the first page” – Junot Díaz on Bulawayo


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Images courtesy of Writers’ Centre Norwich

Pictures from Kingsley Holgate's Trip to Lake Ngami in Botswana

Africa: In the Footsteps of the Great ExplorersSimon Morgan from Wildlife ACT spent the last few months in Botswana and met up with adventurer and humanitarian Kingsley Holgate for a trip to Lake Ngami. Wildlife ACT has partnered with the Kingsley Holgate Foundation on its Rhino Art project.

Holgate, author of Africa: In the Footsteps of the Great Explorers, last visited the lake when it was a dustbowl, which was the case for decades, and shared stories about what the lake was like before.

View Morgan’s photographs and read his account of the trip:

During our explorations I was lucky enough to meet up with Kingsley Holgate who is one of the worlds most travelled explorers and humanitarians, having criss-crossed Africa in various forms handing out hundreds of thousands of mosquito nets to abate the spread of deadly malaria. During his travels he has visited each and every country on the Continent, circumnavigated the globe along the Tropic of Cancer and recently the rim of Africa by Land Rover.

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