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Amabookabooka releases unaired episode to coincide with 109th anniversary of the birth of Bram Fischer

Amabookabooka, the quirky podcast devoted to interviewing local authors about their work, recently released a special edition episode.

This episode is from a previous podcast series produced by the Amabookabooka-duo, Jonathan Ancer and Dan Dewes, called Extraordinary Lives and has been released to coincide with the 109th anniversary of the birth of Bram Fischer – described by Ancer and Dewes as the South African prime minister we should have had.

Lord Joel Joffe, a human rights lawyer, who was on the legal team that defended the Rivonia Trialists in 1964 talks about Bram, whom he describes as his hero.

Fischer’s daughter, Ilse Wilson, also joins in the conversation revealing a different side to the Scarlet Pimpernel – that of Bram the father.

Listen to the podcast here.

Bram Fischer

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The Bram Fischer Waltz


Fischer's Choice

Shortlist for Short Sharp Stories Awards announced

The shortlist for the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards has been announced.

The Short.Sharp.Stories Awards is an annual short story competition made possible by the National Arts Festival.

This year’s theme is “Trade Secrets.”

The judges have focused in the main on how successfully the story speaks to the brief, and have chosen stories which showcase a range of South African ‘voices’.

Congratulations to the following writers whose stories will be included in Trade Secrets and who are on the short list for this year’s awards.

2017 Short Sharp Stories Awards shortlist:

Olufemi Agunbiade
Darrel Bristow-Bovey
Jumani Clarke
Linda Daniels
Frieda-Marie De Jager
Ntsika Gogwana
Amy Heydenrych
Mishka Hoosen
Bobby Jordan
Sean Mayne
Mapule Mohulatsi
Kamil Naicker
Sally Partridge
Pravasan Pillay
Megan Ross
Andrew Salomon
Stephen Symons
Philisiwe Twijnstra
Philip Vermaas
Michael Yee

Trade Secrets will be published in June/July.

One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo

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Call it a Difficult Night


Sharp Edges


Tokoloshe Song


Questions for the Sea


"It brought me closer to her," says Shamim Meer on writing mother Fatima's memoir

Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books recently played host to the launch of writer, academic and anti-apartheid activist Fatima Meer’s memoir, Memories of Love and Struggle.

Sisonke Msimang was in conversation with Meer’s daughter, Shamim Meer, who wrote her mother’s memoir.

Msimang lead the conversation by asking Shamim Meer about her mother’s feminist principles, adding how crucial it is for African woman writers to be heard nowadays.

Shamim Meer replied that “she [Fatima] would never have called herself a feminist, but her whole life has been a feminist life; she was a woman who couldn’t be controlled.

“She was a woman to be reckoned with.”

Msimang mentioned Meer’s founding of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1954, the first inclusive women’s federation in South Africa, to which Shamim Meer asserted that her mother was “very conscious about racial unity,” even as a young child.

The subject of Meer’s youth was a recurring topic, as Shamim Meer regularly stated how much she learned about her mother’s childhood. The process of writing her mother’s memoir and discovering so much about her turbulent childhood was emotionally taxing, yet “it brought me closer to her.

“I saw the vulnerability of the child.”

Msimang remarked that, according to Memories of Love and Struggle, Meer couldn’t cook at all. This comment was met with laughter by the audience, yet prompted Meer’s youngest daughter, Shenahz Meer, who attended the launch, to stand up and proclaim:

“To us, as children, it appeared that there was nothing our mother couldn’t do. She could march, she could write, and she could cook!”

Meer’s statement was received with applause.

Msimang was curious to know what Meer’s stance would be on the current political climate of South Africa, especially in the light of nationwide anti-government protest marches which were to take place the following day (April 7).

“She would be in the frontline!” a relative laughed from the audience.

Shamim Meer replied that her mother would have said “let’s get up and continue, shouting, no matter how old or young you are.”

The audience made their agreement known by applauding, and interjecting with a few ‘whoops’.

Head of NB Publisher’s non-fiction department, Erika Oosthuysen, concluded the evening by thanking both Msimang and Meer, and declaring Memories of Love and Struggle an “amazing” book.

“Next time, we want to read your story,” Oosthuysen said to Shamim Meer.

To which we can only reply with a resounding ‘yes, please’.

Fatima Meer

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2017 Alan Paton non-fiction longlist

Published in the Sunday Times


Announcing the longlists for the most prestigious annual literary awards, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The shortlists will be announced in May.

This is the 28th year the Alan Paton Award will be bestowed on a book that presents “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power”, and that demonstrates “compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.

This year’s Alan Paton Award judging panel is Pippa Green (chair), Tinyiko Maluleke and Johann Kriegler.

2017 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award Judges

Pippa Green (chair) Green is communications and media manager of the Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth. Head of the journalism programme at the University of Pretoria from 2009 to 2014, she was educated at the University of Cape Town and Columbia University in New York City, where she earned an MSc in journalism. She is the author of Choice, not Fate: The Life and Times of Trevor Manuel (2008). Green is a recipient of many awards such as the Nieman Fellowship.
Tinyiko Maluleke Maluleke serves as adviser to the principal and vice-chancellor at the University of Pretoria, and is an extraordinary professor at the University of South Africa. He has been a visiting professor at various universities, including Hamburg University in Germany and Duke University in the US. He is an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, a columnist for the Mail & Guardian and Sunday Independent newspapers, and reviews books for the Sunday Times.
Johann Kriegler After 25 years at the bar and 20 on the bench, when Kriegler’s term as a Constitutional Court judge ended he looked forward to sitting on the stoep and catching up on all the books he’d missed out on. It didn’t work out like that. Having chaired the Independent Electoral Commission for the 1994 elections, he has been engaged by the African Union, the UN and a variety of NGOs in a range of electoral and judicial activities across the world. At home, arbitrations, advocacy training and his activities in human-rights and rule-of-law organisations occupy much of his time.

Chairperson Pippa Green’s remarks on the Alan Paton Award longlist:

There are 27 books on the longlist. This is more than usual but reflects the excellence and originality of many of the non-fiction books published in 2016. They include a number of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies, which tell the stories of intimate family relationships against a backdrop of the huge historical forces that have swept the last century. There are books about and by key public figures; there are those that focus on fascinating people who are not well known, such as stowaways, gangsters, police officers, miners, transgender people, and foot soldiers. There are important topics covered too: the history of the independent trade union movement, of science, of African languages, as well as key moments of disjuncture in our current society. The books raise critical questions about our past, present and future. Together they tell a story of our fractured and bound humanity, not only in South Africa but around the world and through time. — Pippa Green

Last year’s Alan Paton Award winner was Pumla Dineo Gqola for her book Rape: A South African Nightmare, published by MF Books Joburg. The winners of the 2017 Alan Paton Award and Barry Ronge Fiction Prize will each receive R100 000.


Two books to remember Ahmed Kathrada by

Ahmed Kathrada, former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist, sadly passed away this week on Tuesday 28 March after a brief illness. Kathrada dedicated himself to the struggle and remained politically active until his death. The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which he founded, continues to work towards promoting ‘the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa’. He will be greatly missed.

Here are two books to remember him by:

A Free MindA Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada’s Notebook from Robben Island

During his 26 years in jail, Ahmed Kathrada refused to allow the apartheid regime to confine his mind. Despite draconian prison censorship practices and heavily restricted access to the written word, Kathrada discovered a wealth of inspiring writings. A Free Mind presents extracts from poetry, novels, songs, sayings and letters that Kathrada transcribed and treasured as he served his life sentence in South Africa’s notorious Robben Island Maximum Security Prison. It includes quotes from Bertold Brecht, Mahatma Gandhi, Emily Brontë, Karl Marx, Olive Schreiner, Shabbir Banoobhai, Voltaire and many others.

Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn
Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn: The letters of Zuleikha Mayat and Ahhmed Kathrada 1979–1989

Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn is the compilation of the beautiful letters sent between Rivonia trialist and political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada and Zuleikha Mayat, a self-described housewife, during apartheid’s last decade. These letters tell the story – all the more powerful for its ephemeral character – of a developing epistolary friendship between two people to whom history has brought different gains and losses. The collection is rich, not merely in historical content and stylistic interest, but in the experience it offers to the reader of an unfolding conversation, reflecting both the immediate worlds of its authors and a tumultuous period of South African history.

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Shelves of discovery: To celebrate National Library Week, book lovers share their treasured memories

By Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Song for SarahJonathan Jansen: author, columnist, fellow at Stanford University, his new book, Song For Sarah: Lessons from My Mother is out next month
The sand dunes separated our council house from the new library next to the swimming pool in Retreat. I could walk there and back blindfolded for that well-trodden path to the library meant one thing only – escape. Escape from the harsh living of the Cape Flats into the beautiful world of bright ideas, interesting characters, complex plots and faraway places. While others stayed cool in the pool next door, I thought it was cool to be in that other institution on Concert Boulevard, the library. I never could understand why the librarians looked so serious and why there were signs everywhere committing you to silence. Years later I went back to that Retreat library that instilled in me a lasting love of reading. The packed audience thought I was there to launch my book. Actually I was there to say ‘thank you.’

What About MeeraZP Dala: author, latest book is What About Meera?
The Tongaat Central Public Library in my home town was my babysitter and my aftercare facility and my homework club and my social club. Both my parents were teachers in the nearby school and when I would finish my day (from pre-school right up to my high school) my brother and I would walk to the public library to wait for our folks to fetch us. Here I would become immersed in the world of books and board games, occasionally sneaking in a little hand-holding with a boy I liked underneath the wooden tables. I meandered through every section, the librarians never confined us to the kids’ books only, although the Mills & Boon Section was out of bounds. At the age of 11, I read Laurence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, a book that changed my life. And I often wound up engrossed in the non-fiction collections and atlases. There was no need to take books home, I read most of them sitting on the library floor. And even now, when I want to read, I head to a library and curl up somewhere. Every milestone of my growing up has the backdrop of the library in it – an old railway station converted into one of the most special buildings of my memory.

The God Who Made MistakesEkow Duker: author, latest book is The God Who Made Mistakes
Growing up in Ghana, it was somehow my misfortune to borrow books from the public library that had the words, “If you want to know my name, turn to…”. The words were scrawled in shaky letters across the page in pencil, or sometimes in blue ink. The instruction was repeated several times throughout the book and it was impossible not to do as it asked. I followed the trail like they were breadcrumbs on a forest path, anxiously turning the pages while knowing full well what awaited me. It was always the same, a torrent of foul mouthed abuse that spilled untidily over the margins of the last page and settled deep in my mind.

Pieter-Dirk Uys: from March 22, PDU will be at Pieter Torien’s Studio Theatre in Montecasino performing his memoir The Echo of a Noise
I was maybe 13. I would find my mother’s Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, steal one and smoke half of it behind the hibiscus-bush on the way to the Pinelands Library. There I would take out the Angelique books. They were in the grown-up section, but I managed to creep in and take it out of the shelf, hide it under my cardigan and then sign out my weekly Enid Blyton. I read them all eventually: Angelique; Angelique and the King; Angelique and the Sultan; Angelique in Love; and Angelique in Revolt. And I would puff at the other half of the ciggie behind the same bush on the way back. I think at home they more concerned about my reading Enid Blyton than smuggling in Angelique while smelling of Stuyvesant!

The Dream HouseCraig Higginson: author, latest book is The Dream House
At the age of 10, I went to boarding school. I remember the afternoon I discovered the library. The school was still frightening – with corridors and sharp corners and doors that would fly open. The library was detached from the school, with low chairs and afternoon sunlight. I sat down and opened a book and then another. Each time, it was like opening another window. I went there often in the afternoons. I was able to escape for a bit – and I always emerged feeling stronger, lighter, like I had a secret – access to magic windows to other worlds. I love the silence of libraries – the silence that lets the books begin to speak.

Kate Rogan: owner of Love Books, independent bookstore in Melville, Joburg
As children my mom would take all four of us (including my extremely unruly twin brothers) to the Rosebank library once a week. Mom would immediately escape to the adult section of the library. Somehow, they didn’t mind us there in the children’s corner – tearing through the shelves of Enid Blyton and whatever else they stocked in those days. I don’t remember the old lady librarians ever shouting at us (or the twins), though I think they were quite stern about putting books back. I remember the pine shelves, the sun streaming in through the windows and catching dust-mites in winter, the joy of unpacking book after book after book, before deciding what to take home. And oh the joy of the library card, and the stamp in the front of the book, with those old roller stamps, dipped in purple ink, carefully rolled to two weeks from today. And that tempting glue roller – golly I wanted one of those. I don’t really remember quiet, strangely – I remember talking to my sister, laughing about titles we misread or didn’t understand, jumping on dusty beanbags…

Bitter FruitAchmat Dangor: playwright, poet, novelist and political activist, his latest novel is Bitter Fruit, and his new novel Dikeledi will be released later this year
During Apartheid “non-White” schools endured severe restrictions, especially around what we could read. The system also drove us out of Fordsburg and I had to attend school in far away Roodepoort where a young man called Ahmed Timol taught. One of his responsibilities was “library watch” to ensure we conformed to the prescribed rules. His rebellious nature prevailed and he secretly introduced us to frowned upon works by “Third World” writers, including Chinua Achebe, Wole Sonyinka, Ngugi wa Thiongo, RK Narayan, VS Naipul, Alex La Guma, etc. That’s how my love for non-conformist literature was inspired.

Invisible OthersKarina Szczurek: author, latest novel is Invisible Others (her new book The Fifth Mrs Brink will be released in June)
I was already 13 and at school in Warwick, NY, when a caring librarian helped me discover the joy of reading. The activity had no appeal to me up to that point. I knew how to read, but took no pleasure from it. Mrs Nellie Fahy, the librarian of Irish origins, found me drawing pictures on the library’s computer and recommended I read a book instead. I obliged; she’d been kind to me and I felt it would have been rude to refuse. The book she suggested hooked me for life. I owe my passion for literature – my life – to Mrs Fahy.

Griffin Shea: owner of Bridge Books, an independent bookstore in Johannesburg CBD
As a teenager I found my library card hidden in a drawer, untouched for years. I didn’t take it, because I wasn’t nearly bold enough to actually check out the book I wanted, if it even existed. But I went and flipped through the H’s where a single card was labelled “homosexuality”. Buried on a bottom shelf, the book was full of letters and stories from gay teenagers who were like me but braver and, it seemed, happier. For the first time I really understood that I wasn’t alone in the world. Whenever I needed reassurance, I would hide among the stacks, and think about leaving my town to find these other people like me.

History MattersBill Nasson: leading South African historian, author – latest book is History Matters
As a Cape Town schoolboy in the 1960s, I lapped up books by the American satirical writer, Richard Armour, the author who reminded us that libraries are places where you lower your voice and raise your mind. The local branch of the city’s public libraries had a fat selection of his wonderful parodies, including Twisted Tales from Shakespeare. Posing such zany questions as ‘who was the greatest chicken-killer in Shakespearean tragedy’ – answer: Macbeth, guilty of ‘murder most foul’, Twisted Tales became an absolute favourite, borrowed repeatedly to be re-read and memorised. While in Oxford in the early 1990s I became bored while working in the famous Bodleian Library and in a moment of curiosity wandered off to see if it contained the works of Richard Armour – it did, including a copy of Twisted Tales. This was honey to an ageing bee. I wandered off in my damp socks as my shoes had got soaked while walking to the Bodleian through heavy rain, and I had removed them and left them under my reading desk. When I returned, my sodden shoes had disappeared. Presumably some mischievous student had decided to teach me to be more careful with my personal belongings. My reporting of the loss to library staff was met with polite incredulity. Their indifference was understandable. After all, what libraries worry about losing are books, not shoes. An English library had brought back the enjoyment of Armour’s Lady Macbeth, ‘who rubbed her hands with glee (a Scottish soap)’, but at a humiliating price.

This One TimeAlex van Tonder: author, latest novel is This One Time (new novel expected later this year)
As a child who grew up before the Internet in a small town outside Durban with a yearning for knowledge and experiences yet very little money, I remember my school library as not only a sanctuary for me, but a gateway to the world. I was there almost every break time, and would hide there during phys-ed or sewing class – which I hated! My librarians were kind enough to write notes saying I had “duties to perform”. I have one fond memory of my high school librarian telling a sports teacher she “had no idea where I was”, while I listened from one of the reading rooms upstairs. Thank you Mrs Rosario! My relationship with these sacred spaces has continued well into adult life. I am always hiding in libraries, though I won’t say where.

To find out about special events in libraries around South Africa this week, go to
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