Anemari Jansen, Eugene de Kock, Annie Olivier at the Franchhoek Literary Festival
Lauren Beukes and Thabiso Mahlape spoke to Books LIVE about Eugene de Kock’s presence at the Franschhoek Literary Festival this weekend.
Eugene de Kock: Assassin for the State, a biography by Anemari Jansen written with the full co-operation and consent of the former Vlakplaas commander, was longlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award in April, and De Kock was in attendance at the shortlist announcement on Saturday night.
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De Kock, who was known as “Prime Evil” for his apartheid-era crimes, was spotted by Books LIVE at the French Connection restaurant on Saturday afternoon and also attended a panel discussion on Friday, as tweeted by Cover2Cover Books managing director Palesa Morudu:
According to Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko, De Kock was at the Sunday Times Literary Award event as a guest of the publisher of Anemari Jansen’s biography, not as a guest of the Sunday Times. “De Kock was not acknowledged in any way,” Siqoko says. “We only acknowledge the sponsors, authors and publishers at the Sunday Times Literary Awards events.”
Author and journalist Jacques Steenkamp tweeted from the festival:
Internationally acclaimed author and former journalist Beukes, who asked De Kock to leave the shortlist event, says: “There were black writers and publishers who were visibly upset that he was there, some of whom were victims of his operation, who had lost family members. There was talk of staging a walk-out in protest and maybe we should have done that.
“But I was angry that the writers should have to leave an event celebrating them. I walked over to him standing by the stairs and asked if he was Eugene de Kock. I said, ‘It’s inappropriate that you are here. People are in tears that you are here and I think you should leave.’
“He said ‘Thank you for telling me’, and left.
“But this story is not about me. It’s about the black writers and publishers who were traumatised by having him there.
“Yes, we need forgiveness and yes, he’s served his time. We also need compassion and sensitivity about inviting him to a private party where there are people who have suffered terrible loss directly because of him.”
Mahlape, a publisher at Jacana Media and the head of its new division BlackBird Books, says she was shaken when she realised De Kock was present at the announcement.
“I stayed away from the news of Eugene asking to be let out and eventually being let out,” she says. “I never imagined I would ever run into the man. In my head he would go find a farm and live as far as possible from people.
“When I heard he was at the festival and had even cried at a session I was quite detached. My one question is, why does he think he can just socialise? And then I saw him. I was standing with [Modjaji Books publisher] Colleen Higgs and [author] Rehana Rossouw. I saw Rehana’s jaw drop, I turned around and there he was.”
Mahlape says seeing De Kock brought to mind a number of other racially charged events, specifically Pretoria High Court judge Mabel Jansen’s recent remarks on rape and black culture, published on Facebook to widespread condemnation.
“My immediate response was to get away, so I went upstairs. But when the energy in the room changed everything last week came back. The judge had called my people culturally rapists or sadists and when he came up the stairs that hit me. There, right in front of me, was the man who was responsible for the breaking of so many black men and as a result black families. I wept, I never expected that to happen; my own feelings overwhelmed me.
“I had also been in altercation during the day with another man, a festival goer, so I may have been tired. But I cried, and that’s when Lauren went over to him and asked him to leave. And he said ‘thank you’ and left.”
Mahlape’s BlackBird Books recently published the debut novels of Panashe Chigumadzi and Nakhane Touré. She is also the publisher of Thando Mgqolozana, who was responsible for the Franschhoek Literary Festival making international news last year, when he publicly condemned South Africa’s “white literary system” and announced that he would be boycotting such festivals in future.
In the Sunday Times it was erroneously stated that De Kock left before his exchange with Beukes.
Main image: Esa Alexander