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Take a visual tour of Paul Shenton's remarkable memorialisation of the great losses of the First World War

“The great military cemeteries found along the Messines Ridge and around the town of Ieper (Ypres) in Flanders, Belgium, are the last resting place of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died during the First World War…” – Regiments of the Dead

This locally produced title memorialises the great losses of the First World War with groundbreaking photography of the war memorials of Flanders in Belgium.

The extraordinary photographs were taken at different times of year to record the atmospheric and evocative memorials to the war dead of 1914–1918, in a manner not seen before.

Immaculately maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a lasting memorial to the fallen, the gravestones, when viewed from above, can be seen to resemble soldiers on parade. Paul Shenton’s interest in the battlefields and military cemeteries of the First World War began when he came across his grandfather’s medals representing his service as a sergeant with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards during 1914–1918.

This find prompted research into the engagements that his grandfather took part in and many trips to the battlefields and cemeteries of the Ypres Salient area in Flanders.

Paul Shenton has been a passionate photographer for as long as he can remember. Over the years he has captured a variety of subjects from extensive landscapes to intimate portraits. It was a natural step to combine his love of photography with his interest in the First World War. This has resulted in the spectacular portfolio of elevated mast photographs in Regiments of the Dead, which give a unique and breathtaking viewpoint of the Flanders cemeteries.

Take a look at a few of the awe-inspiring photos featured in Shenton’s remarkable book:

Bedford House, ©Paul Shenton.

 

Hooge Crater, ©Paul Shenton.

 

Menin Gate, ©Paul Shenton

 

Poelcapelle, ©Paul Shenton

 

Tyne Cot, ©Paul Shenton

Book details

Fiction Friday: read the opening chapter of NR Brodie's Knucklebone


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

 
Sangomas and cops don’t mix. Usually. But this is Joburg, a metropolis that is equal parts flash and shadow, and where not everything can be easily explained. Ian Jack, a disillusioned former police officer, teams up with Reshma Patel, a colleague from his old life, to investigate a routine housebreaking gone bad. But when they uncover links to a possible animal poaching and trafficking syndicate, things go from complicated to dangerous to downright evil.

Set against the richly textured backdrop of a livewire African city, this fast-paced thriller offers a disturbing contemporary take on justice and morality. To be read with the lights on.

‘A cracking novel. Brilliant original writing, free of clichés. The pace is insane – in a good way.’ – Sarah Lotz, author of The White Road, Day Four and The Three .

NR BRODIE is a veteran journalist and best-selling author of five books.

Read the opening chapter…

ARMED RESPONSE

Ian Jack fiddled with the chinstrap on his helmet and tried not to think about how much of an idiot he looked. The bowl-shaped cap fit badly, and the padding smelled of someone else’s sweat. The bulletproof vest was the same, sitting too high on his shoulders and cutting into his arms whenever he reached forward. He had a cheap Chinese gun strapped to his right hip: a 9mm knockoff with rough workings and a safety that wouldn’t stay put.

‘Piece of shit,’ he thought.

But Myburgh had been firm: no gear, no going on patrol.

It was a warm evening, and Ian could feel damp patches growing under his arms. The inside of the car smelled of something artificially sweet and tropical. He looked at the dashboard and saw a stick-on air freshener in the shape of a pineapple. The fruit smiled at him.

The car was an underpowered Korean compact, branded with the name of the security company. It was parked near a copse of trees on the edge of an undeveloped patch of land between two houses.

‘You spend a lot of time here?’ Ian asked the man next to him.

There was silence.

‘What’s your name – Duma? Dumisane?’ Ian tried again.

‘Thomas,’ the guard said.

‘Thomas,’ Ian repeated with a sigh. ‘Sorry. I’m … I’m Ian.’ He’d been about to say Detective Jack and caught himself just in time.

Thomas gave him a funny look anyway. ‘Mister Myburgh called you ‘cousin’. You family?’

Ian shook his head. ‘It’s like a nickname. I used to be a cop. My dad was a cop. Myburgh knew him. Knew both of us. You know he used to be a cop, right?’

Thomas nodded.

‘Anyway, I got out a couple of years ago,’ Ian said. ‘Now I’m at university. This is for research.’

Thomas kept staring. ‘Which university?’ he asked, the words rolling into each other.

‘What?’

‘Which university?’ Thomas repeated, slower this time, like he was speaking to a child.

‘Uh, Wits,’ Ian stuttered.

‘Honours?’ Thomas asked. ‘Masters,’ Ian said. ‘Political studies,’ he added, aware how full of himself he sounded.

Thomas paused. ‘You look old for a student,’ he said. ‘My sister, she’s at Wits. She’s studying social work. But she doesn’t carry a gun.’

Ian looked down at Thomas’s waist, and saw the same gun strapped to his side.

‘What’s your story?’ he asked, hoping to change the subject.

Thomas gave a snort. ‘I was in MK. Nearly. I stopped school in the eighties. Wanted to be a revolutionary,’ he said. The last word seemed to linger in his mouth. ‘After 1994, I went back and got my matric. But this was the only job I could get,’ he said. ‘I’m helping to pay for my sister to study. So she can get a job without guns.’

Ian flicked his thumb over the butt of the 9mm again.

‘You want to be careful,’ Thomas said, looking down at the pistol. ‘They’re not like the Z88s you’re used to. Sometimes the safety clicks off. And they jam.’

‘Ja, I know,’ Ian said. ‘I saw a few of these … before.’

‘Piece of shit,’ Thomas said, and he chuckled.

Ian laughed too.

Just then the radio crackled into life. Ian jumped. A woman’s voice came through, unintelligible behind the static. The radio buzzed, then went silent again.

Ten seconds later a ringing noise came from the cubbyhole. Thomas leaned over, flicked open the latch, and pulled out a dull silver phone with the face lit up.

‘Car Two,’ he answered. His smile had disappeared.

Ian could hear a voice squawking from the phone.

‘Yes. Yes …’ Thomas nodded as he spoke, switching the phone from his right hand to his left, keeping the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he put the car into gear and turned on the ignition. ‘88 Forest. Corner what?’

Another squawk.

‘Protea. Okay.’ Thomas ended the call, dropped the phone onto his lap, and pulled off with a slight jerk.

‘Panic activation,’ he said to Ian as he accelerated, leaning forward and fumbling under the dashboard. A second later, the street around them lit up with flickering shadows from the orange and white lights on top of the car.

‘Don’t worry,’ Thomas said, keeping his eyes on the road, not looking at Ian. ‘It’s mostly false alarms. Dogs. Trees. Someone sits on the panic button.’ He sighed like it was an old routine.

The radio started issuing orders again – the line still crackled with static, but now Ian could make out what the dispatcher was saying.

‘Calling Two. They say someone jumped into the garden. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Eight is on its way. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. Police have been called. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. House has an easy lock. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Acknowledge. Over.’

Thomas lifted up the handset and clicked. ‘This is Two. Over. Roger. Over,’ he said.

‘What’s an easy lock?’ Ian asked as Thomas felt under the dashboard again, bringing the sirens to life. The sound was surprisingly loud and tinny inside the car.

‘It’s a lock with a special key,’ Thomas shouted over the noise. ‘All these houses with big walls and spikes, electric fences – we can’t get inside when the alarm goes off. So we give them a special lock, and then we have the key. It’s all the same key. For emergencies.’

Trees flashed past. Ian could feel his heart beating faster, adrenaline starting to kick in. He forced himself to slow his breathing.

He opened his eyes as the car slowed in front of a face-brick h Two large orange ceramic eights were screwed onto the wall. One of them was hanging skew. An outside motion sensor light came on as the car pulled to a stop.

Thomas switched off the siren, but left the lights flickering. ‘Don’t get in my way, okay?’ he said as he climbed out. ‘Maybe you’re a cop, but there are different rules for us. Just follow me.’

Ian nodded. He closed his door and hurried behind Thomas to a small pedestrian gate to the side of a double garage door.

Thomas pulled a bunch of keys from his jacket pocket. He worked one of them into the lock and turned it slowly before easing the gate open. He stood at the entrance, eyes alert. ‘Dogs,’ he whispered to Ian, looking around. ‘They can’t tell the difference between a good black man and a bad one,’ he said, giving a small grin.

There were no barks, nor any other noises. A few seconds later, Thomas stepped through, leaving the gate open behind him.

The house was close to the street front. Ian saw the curtains twitch. A face appeared behind the windowpane.

‘Top Force Security,’ Thomas called, loud so the person behind the glass could hear him. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

The face nodded. Then a hand was raised, pointing to the right of the house, jabbing with urgency.

Thomas took his gun out of its holster, keeping his arm low. Ian wondered if he was supposed to do the same. He decided he would wait for Thomas’s say-so.

They were about to start walking down the side of the house when Ian heard the sound of another vehicle pulling up. Car doors slammed, followed by the sound of boots on bricks.

Two more guards – wearing identical outfits to Thomas and Ian – stepped in through the gate, their hands already on the guns at their sides. They nodded at Thomas and looked at Ian with blank expressions. To Ian’s surprise, behind them came three police officers, two men in uniform and one woman in plainclothes. The first cop held a semiautomatic rifle ready, up against his chest; Ian knew the others would have their pistols out. He thumbed his own gun again, checked the safety.

Thomas pointed towards the narrow alley that ran along the side of the house.

The cops moved fast, going past the guards. Thomas and the others followed, Ian staying close behind them.

The alley opened up into a large back garden with a massive willow tree just off centre. A floodlight at the base of the tree cast shadows through the branches, spidering out over the grass. Near the rear boundary wall, Ian could make out a garden shed.

Something moved there.

Ian tapped Thomas lightly on the arm. The guard looked at the shed and nodded. He caught the attention of the largest cop, the one with the rifle. Thomas pointed towards the shed with his left hand, his right still holding firmly onto his gun.

The officer signalled the others and started moving towards the far side of the garden. He stepped softly despite his bulk. A few steps behind him, the plainclothes officer followed, her gun out, providing cover. The other uniformed cop began to circle from the near side, eyes trained on the shed.

Ian still didn’t have his weapon out. Even if he was allowed to fire it – and Myburgh hadn’t exactly been clear on that – he wasn’t sure what the deal was with cops on the scene. He didn’t trust the gun to do the job anyway, not if he needed to shoot from any sort of distance.

From the side of the shed, a shape detached itself from the shadows and darted towards the thin pool of light cast by the flood lamp.

Ian could see it was a slight man – young, maybe even a teenager. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt. There was a dark smear near the shoulder, and Ian wondered if it was blood. He couldn’t see the kid’s hands, or make out if he was holding a weapon.

‘Phakamis’ izandla!’ the big cop called. Hands up. The kid didn’t respond, or didn’t hear. He didn’t even turn his head towards the sound. He just stayed still for a second, hovering between the light and the dark.

‘He’s going to run for it,’ the woman shouted, as the youngster dropped into a half-crouch – then headed straight into the gap where Ian was standing.

Ian acted without thinking. He launched himself forward, praying his safety stayed on, and intercepted the kid with a thump, landing on top of him in the middle of a perfectly manicured piece of lawn.

‘Down,’ Ian yelled as he pinned the kid on the grass, holding the boy’s arms behind him as he knelt on his back. ‘He’s down,’ he yelled again. He could hear running feet, the kid on the grass panting, the cops calling out to each other.

Then there was another set of hands reaching for the suspect, someone else grabbing the kid’s wrists and securing them quickly with cable ties.

Ian felt a tap on his shoulder as he stood up. He paused to brush a patch of mud off his knee before he turned.

‘Hello Reshma,’ he said, trying to breathe normally. ‘Or is it Lieutenant Patel now?’ he asked.

The cop squinted for a second, then her eyes widened. ‘Jesus! Ian,’ she laughed, punching him hard on the arm.

Reshma barely came up to Ian’s chin. She had a short, neat bob and a square fringe that framed a slightly round face. She was wearing dark pants and a pale cream pullover, over which she’d strapped her vest. ‘Actually, it’s Captain Patel now,’ she said. ‘I didn’t recognise you when we came in. It must be the helmet.’

Ian was immediately aware, again, of how ridiculous he looked – dressed head to toe in shades of beige and brown. Even in a bulletproof vest and fleecy top, Reshma managed to look neat, professional, serious. Like a cop.

‘I thought you were supposed to be at university,’ she said, eyes narrowing.

‘I am. I’m doing research,’ Ian started. ‘On private security,’ he added, wishing he could say something that sounded a little more clever, or important. He could feel his arms and legs tingle as the adrenaline started to fade.

‘Look, that kid might be injured,’ he said, changing the topic. ‘I saw blood or something on his shirt. Maybe you should check it out?’ he suggested.

Reshma shrugged, as if to say she’d think about it.

One of the security guards was already up at the house, talking to the homeowners – a middle-aged couple, both in dressing gowns, both wideeyed. The wife stood with her arms tightly folded, hugging herself. Her husband nodded as he spoke. Something he said made the guard stop and turn away, leaving the dressing-gown man with his mouth hanging open. The guard – Ian could now see it was Thomas – made his way to where Reshma and Ian were standing.

‘Officer,’ Thomas started. ‘The client, he says he saw the kid jump over the fence from the neighbour’s house.’

They turned to look at the prefabricated concrete wall that ran between the house and the neighbouring property, a two-metre high wall that had been painted what looked like dark green.

‘The neighbour’s not our client,’ Thomas said, turning back to Reshma. ‘We can’t get in there without the owner’s permission.’

Reshma nodded. ‘No problem,’ she said. ‘We’ll go over and ring their bell, check it out. Thanks for letting me know. Jimmy, Gift,’ she called out, ‘we need to go to the house next door and …’

Before she could finish, two shots exploded from the neighbouring house, cutting through the night like firecrackers.

Ian saw Reshma flinch. The next second, she was in full control again. ‘Go, go, go,’ she screamed, as the policemen left the cuffed kid lying on the ground and raced in the direction of the noise.

Reshma was the first to reach the wall, hauling herself up and dropping down the other side, nimble as a rat. The others didn’t make the jump quite as easily. The big cop was still trying to pull himself up and over when Ian started running. He could hear shouting behind him and hoped Thomas was smart enough not to follow. He caught the top of the fence and flipped over, landing heavily on hard-packed soil on the other side.

The neighbour’s garden was almost completely bare, except for one patch of bushes and a few outcrops of lawn. Ian could see Reshma running towards the back of the house where an outside light revealed a wide-open sliding door. The inside of the house was in darkness.

Ian didn’t wait to see if the other two cops had made their way over the wall yet. He followed Reshma, snaking his way across the yard. As he passed the bushes, a small white shape burst out under his feet. Ian swore as he jumped mid-stride, trying not to trip over whatever it was. The shape let out a terrified squawk. A chicken.

He kept moving, hoping there were no more surprise animals on the way, thinking about Thomas’s warning about dogs.

As Ian got closer to the house, he could hear Reshma shouting. He slowed down to unclip his gun, keeping it pointed towards the ground. His own breath was coming hard and fast now. He honed in on the sound of Reshma’s voice, talking now, no longer shouting.

‘Step away from him. Step away,’ she was saying as Ian reached the open doorway.

Ian could smell the sour tang of burnt gunpowder, and something else. Blood. He looked inside and saw a woman – heavyset, with long dark hair and pale skin – crouching over a small body on the floor. The woman was wearing a sleeveless top, her exposed arms thick with flesh. In her left hand, she held a small snub-nosed pistol. It reminded Ian of the old Makarovs.

The two cops – Gift and Jimmy, Ian remembered – eventually caught up. Ian stepped aside to let them pass, ignoring their glares.

Reshma carried on talking to the woman, her weapon still held at the ready.

‘Ma’am. You need to move away from him, now.’

The woman stood up slowly, looking dazed. She was in her late forties, Ian thought. Her face was square, a hint of jowl peeking out beneath the chin.

The room was small, sparsely decorated. Blank walls, a tiled floor. An almost empty bookshelf and a vertical wine rack half-filled with bottles.

The body sprawled on the tiles was a carbon copy of the kid they’d caught next door: dressed in T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, his skinny limbs lay in a pile of unnatural angles that said it all.

‘Is there anyone else?’ Reshma asked.

The pale woman shook her head.

‘Gift, check his signs,’ Reshma called. ‘Jimmy, check out the house.’

The woman jerked her head up as the shorter cop, Jimmy, moved around the body and disappeared through another door.

Gift, the larger officer, knelt down next to the teenager and put his fingers on the skin between the kid’s jaw and throat. ‘Nothing,’ he said after a few seconds. He rose, shaking his head.

Reshma kept her gun trained on the floor, and her eyes on the pale woman. If she was aware of Ian, she gave no sign of it. With her right hand she pulled a radio from the utility belt around her hips and called for an ambulance. Ian always forgot Reshma was left-handed, until she wrote something down, or it was time for target practice.

‘It’s a P4,’ Reshma told the dispatcher. Priority 1 was urgent, lifethreatening, requiring immediate medical attention. Priority 4 meant the person was beyond assistance, or already dead. There would be no sirens for that journey, Ian thought.

‘Are you okay?’ Reshma asked the other woman.

The woman nodded, staring at the body on the floor, her arms dangling. Ian noticed she was still holding her pistol. He bit back the urge to tell Reshma.

Whatever the woman was feeling about having just shot and killed somebody, she hid it well. Her face was blank, almost featureless except for a dusting of freckles across her nose. In the bleak half-light, her skin appeared almost grey, and Ian noted that she did not appear to have any eyebrows. She looked somewhere between a clown and a ghost.

He looked back at the body and saw the faintest spatter of blood on the floor, tiny black dots radiating outward on the white squares of the tiles.

‘I killed him?’ the woman asked, an accent audible in the corners of her words.

Reshma nodded.

‘He was going to rape me,’ the woman said. This time the accent was more noticeable. Something European, maybe Eastern Europe, Ian thought, which might explain the Makarov.

From somewhere in the house, Jimmy shouted the rooms were all clear.

‘What happened?’ Reshma asked, her voice sharp and alert. She was working the crime, Ian knew.

The other woman paused and looked around her as if she didn’t recognise the space she was in.

‘I … I left the sliding door open. Is for the cats. Then I heard noise,’ she said. Her voice had begun to tremble. She shuffled from side to side and a foot poked out underneath the long, shapeless skirt she was wearing. Ian could make out her exposed toes.

It was one of the things he had hated about being a cop; the nakedness that came with crime. Seeing people at their most unguarded and unprepared.

The woman started rambling. ‘I heard noise. I went to get my gun,’ she said. ‘The one man, he ran away. The other, he stayed. He said he had a gun in his pocket. He was telling me I had to do what he said. He was talking to me. I don’t know what he said,’ she whispered, the trembling getting worse. ‘Does he have a gun?’ she asked, her large eyes contracting.

Ian looked. The young boy’s hands were splayed, as if he had been trying to stop himself from falling. They were empty.

‘Is he really dead?’ the woman asked again. Then: ‘I shot him,’ she said, without waiting for an answer. She stared at her own hands and saw the gun in them, as if she had almost forgotten it was there.

Reshma stepped forward, her own gun pointing away, wanting to retrieve the woman’s weapon. The pale woman started at the movement and looked up, past Reshma.

‘Who is he?’ she asked, pointing at Ian.

‘Security guard,’ Reshma answered without turning back. ‘Your neighbour pressed a panic button.’

‘My neighbours, they are afraid of so many things,’ the pale woman said, almost mockingly. She reached up to scratch her face. The movement left a dirty trail across her nose, smudging the freckles. With a chill, Ian realised they were blood spatters.

‘You should get that checked,’ Ian said. ‘You’ll need to go on ARVs.’

The woman gazed at him, her eyes almost glittering, even in the darkness.

Reshma turned to face Ian. ‘You should get back,’ she said, pointedly. ‘There’s no reason for you to be here.’ She waited for him to leave. Ian put the safety back on his gun and holstered it before turning and walking away from the dead room.

Book details

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Sally Partridge's highly-anticipated fifth novel, Mine

Fin: On stage, I am Thor. Angry and invincible. I roar. Rage. I lose my mind. But for all my so-called potential, people always leave me. Now there’s Kayla. The only girl I’ve ever met who’s worth loving. The only one I’ve ever wanted to be worth something for.

Kayla: I’m the weird girl in school. I’m not special. I’m uncool. Unlovable. Love is all an act, anyway. A game. But Fin says he really loves me. I want to believe the world isn’t as bad as I thought it was. That I don’t have a reason to be sad anymore.

In each other they find the only place they have ever belonged. Until the ghosts from their past emerge to break them apart.

Read an exclusive extract from acclaimed youth novelist Sally Partridge’s Mine:






Mine

Book details

(Stranger than) Fiction Friday: an excerpt from John Maytham's Rapid Fire

What is the origin of the word ‘bluetooth’? How do you have sex in space? Which UK football ground is surrounded by Bloemfontein and South Africa roads? When walking round Rondebosch Common, why is it wise not to go widdershins?

These are just a few of the questions put to the formidable John Maytham by 567 CapeTalk listeners to test his remarkable general knowledge in the ever popular Rapid Fire insert on the afternoon drive-time show. Now, join the veteran broadcaster on a tour of some of the oddest, arcane and most surprising questions – and be tickled by the weird and wonderful answers.

“John Maytham may be the most erudite and interesting person on air, and if you read this book, a little John Maytham will rub off on you.” Darrel Bristow-Bovey
 
 
John Maytham is 567 CapeTalk radio station’s afternoon drive-time host. He is a trained actor who made the switch to radio more than 20 years ago, when he joined the news team at Capital Radio 604. He joined CapeTalk as news editor and breakfast host when it was started in 1997, and was the first person to speak on the station.

The following extract was originally published on Aerodrome:

Are there animals that can live without water?

The North American kangaroo rat is most often cited in internet discussions of this topic. These rats do need water to survive, but they have evolved such that it is possible for them to go through their entire life cycle, between three and five years, without ever drinking water. They collect seeds during moist conditions, and live off the nutrition and moisture stored in those seeds.

Then there is an extraordinary water-wise amphibian, the Australian water-holding frog. It stores water in pockets of skin all over its body, but holds most of it in the bladder. It is able to store double its body weight in water, and can live for up to five years without needing to take a drink. Local Aboriginals, if they’re thirsty while out in the bush, will try to catch one of these frogs and squeeze the water directly from the frog’s bladder into their mouths.

Why are weddings rings traditionally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand in many Western cultures?

This is based on a traditional (but incorrect) belief that there is a vein that runs directly from that finger to the heart. It was called the vena amoris, the “vein of love”.

What is the link between the musical works of Handel and Bach, and the one-rand coin?

The words Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone the glory) appear on the one-rand coin. Those same words are also part of the dedication of many works by the likes of Bach and Handel.

Can a vegan eat a fig?

Hmmm, lots of nuance in the answer! It depends – on the fig and on the vegan. Some figs, like the Smyrna, are pollinated in such a way that the female wasp dies inside the fig. The body will be dissolved by acid activity, but strictly speaking, there will be animal matter inside the fig. Some very strict vegans might see that as reason to avoid the fruit. Forgive me for being technical, but some fig species are parthenocarpic, which means they develop fruit-like structures that don’t require pollination. (Don’t worry, I don’t understand it either.) All vegans can eat these varieties with a clear conscience.

Bananas, on the other hand, are a different story. If they come from a field that has been sprayed with a pesticide like chitosan, then very strict vegans will look the other way because shrimp and crab shells are on chitosan’s list of ingredients. Did someone mention slippery slopes?

The first British astronomer at the Cape, Fearon Fallows, is buried in the grounds of the South African Astronomical Observatory in a suburb of Cape Town. His grave has one very unusual feature. What is it?

The grave is twelve feet deep. Fallows knew he was dying and, fearing that his burial site would be disturbed by grave robbers, he asked to be buried twelve feet down. As the observatory is on rocky ground, the digging must have been very hard work!

Continue reading here!

Rapid Fire

Book details

“Did he not know that you were … I suppose the term used now is ‘lesbian’?” Read an excerpt from The Lion & The Thespian

The Lion and The ThespianMargaretha van Hulsteyn (also known as Scrappy) is the daughter of respected Pretoria attorney Sir Willem van Hulsteyn, and she’s an aspiring actress. While studying in London after the Great War, Scrappy changes her name to Marda Vanne and enters into a relationship with one of the foremost actresses of her day, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies.

However, on a visit to her parents in the Union of South Africa, Marda meets Hans Strydom, an attorney and uncompromising radical politician with the soubriquet ‘The Lion of the North’. Their meeting changes the course of her life, at least temporarily… Strydom went on to become a principal progenitor of the harshest discriminatory legislation which endured for decades until his nephew, President FW de Klerk, in a volte-face, dismantled the laws of apartheid.

A work of biographical fiction, The Lion & The Thespian is based on the true story of the marriage of Hans Strydom, prime minister of South Africa from 1954 to 1958, to the actress Marda Vanne.

Veteran author David Bloomberg (former executive mayor of Cape Town, and founder of Metropolitan Life), following extensive reading and research, has adhered faithfully to the chronology of the lives of the main protagonists, their personalities and the historical facts with which they were associated. Creative license has allowed Bloomberg to recreate appropriate scenes and dialogue, complemented by reported sources and recorded speeches.

In this edited extract, Margaretha van Hulsteyn (also known as ‘Scrappy’) – an Afrikaans actress who had spent many years on the London stage – has a frank discussion about her own sexuality with fellow actress and eventual life-partner, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies:

Already one of the most acclaimed actresses on the English stage, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was inundated with offers of work and success followed success. Although Scrappy did not achieve the same level of stardom as her companion, Bernie Lewis had little difficulty in keeping her in work and she became an accomplished West End actress.

Settled in to a happy life of domesticity, the two were inclined to use their rare nights at home together to get to know each other a little better, explore their relationship a little further.

“Gwen, you have never identified – at least to me – the man who kept us apart all this time.”

“Oh, my darling, we no longer have any secrets. His name is Cecil Lewis, a war hero, much decorated – and married. I suppose I should feel very guilty about this romance, an adulterous relationship but, to be honest, I don’t.”

“What was he like?”

“Handsome and manly, courteous in the extreme, intellectual and a patron of the arts. For some reason, he was obsessed with me as an actress … came to any number of performances of every play I was in and afterwards spoke to me at length about the play, my role and interpretation. He was very profound and I always found his analysis interesting and gratifying. And, my darling, he was extremely virile.”

“Did he not know that you were … I suppose the term used now is ‘lesbian’?”

“Of course he knew. And I reminded him regularly, but his response was always to emphasise that homosexual experience did not exclude those whose preference lay elsewhere and that it was quite common for people to stray from their first gender of choice. He was convinced that I would be sexually unfulfilled and incomplete as an actress if I did not have what he called a ‘straight ding dong’! As far as his pleasure was concerned, he was equally straightforward, seeing no spiritual benefit for himself, merely gratifying himself with a married man’s dalliance.”

“Seems Cecil was very pragmatic about the relationship.”

“Oh yes. He alerted me when our affair was starting to dwindle – hinted that he was beginning to lose interest, that it was terminal. He probably thought that he had achieved his purpose and had ‘made me a better actress’. I had told him all about you and he liked what he heard and was reassured that you were going to take over where he had left off. Happy that you would sort of be taking his place. He wrote the most beautiful letter to me. His last letter stated that the burden of guilt had been lifted and he thanked me in the most poetic terms for the wonderful experience; he hoped that I had benefitted intellectually from the relationship and he wished us both the best of British luck for the future!”

“Did you reply?”

“Yes. I thanked him for the inspirational support he had given me during the period of our intimacy.”

While homosexuality in England in the early twentieth century was recognised and spoken of freely – despite the fact that it was a punishable offence – female sexuality was a subculture that was hardly mentioned in polite circles and the word ‘lesbian’ was not in common usage. The theatre, however, was regarded as a breeding ground for deviant behaviour.

Actresses particularly were at pains to ensure that insofar as theatregoers were concerned, they conformed to what generally was regarded as normality and that their life outside the theatre should be kept private and not come under public scrutiny. Prejudice was such that any woman who chose to be single and worked towards economic and social independence was regarded as tainted. From an early age, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies recognised and accepted her sexuality, but believed that it would not advance her professional career and consequently chose to exercise discretion and presented to the public a much-feminised personality and lifestyle. In her private life, where many of her friends were theatre colleagues, there was no concealing her identity but in public her selection of roles, her dress, manner and behaviour did much to disguise her true sexuality. When interviewed by a curious press she managed to present herself as the epitome of femininity and domestication. As far as Scrappy was concerned, Gwen, when pressed, referred to her simply as a ‘girlfriend’, at the time a perfectly run-of-the-mill reference to an innocent friendship.

Scrappy, on the other hand, was much less discreet. Although six years younger, she was more well informed on the controversies of the day, especially since she had read the work of English doctor and writer Havelock Ellis, whose Sexual Inversion had concluded that homosexuality was a congenital condition rather than a disease. But, keen on intellectualising these matters, she had also learned that the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, had dismissed Ellis’s theory, claiming that sexual deviation was indeed curable. Scrappy eventually dismissed all these theories and lived by what she regarded as fact – that all forms of sexuality were accepted and tolerated by those in the theatre. While on appropriate occasions she would dress conventionally, sometimes even glamorously, her preference was for a more masculine style and her hairstyle was often fashioned accordingly.

“So, my darling Scrappy, what goes on between us is our business and has naught to do with anyone else. I love you deeply for who you are and any frolic that accompanies our love is a by-product to be enjoyed. My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”

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"I was sure nothing could match the satisfaction of watching Madiba walk out of prison" - read an excerpt from Rehana Rossouw's New Times

 

From the acclaimed and award-winning author of What Will People Say? Rehana Rossouw takes us into a world seemingly filled with promise yet bedevilled by shadows from the past. In this astonishing tour de force Rossouw illuminates the tensions inherent in these new times.

Ali Adams is a political reporter in Parliament. As Nelson Mandela begins his second year as president, she discovers that his party is veering off the path to freedom and drafting a new economic policy that makes no provision for the poor. She follows the scent of corruption wafting into the new democracy’s politics and uncovers a major scandal. She compiles stories that should be heard when the Truth Commission gets underway, reliving the recent brutal past. Her friend Lizo works in the Presidency, controls access to Madiba’s ear. Another friend, Munier, is beating at the gates of Parliament, demanding attention for the plague stalking the land.

Aaliyah Adams lives with her devout Muslim family in Bo-Kaap. Her mother is buried in religion after losing her husband. Her best friend is getting married, piling up the pressure to get settled and pregnant. There is little tolerance for alternative lifestyles in the close-knit community. The Rugby World Cup starts and tourists pour up the slopes above the city, discovering a hidden gem their dollars can afford.

Ali/Aaliya is trapped with her family and friends in a tangle of razor-wire politics and culture, can she break free?

Told with Rehana’s trademark verve and exquisite attention to language you will weep with Aaliya, triumph with Ali, and fall in love with the assemblage that makes up this ravishing new novel.

Rehana Rossouw was born and rooted in Cape Town, but is currently in self-imposed exile in Johannesburg. She has been a journalist for three decades and has also taught journalism and creative writing. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Wits University.

Chapter Three

People don’t greet at The New Times, the white people in particular. They drop their heads and stare at the floor like the answer to the meaning of life is carved there when they hear my hello. What’s that about? How do you start a conversation with people who don’t greet? At The Democrat a morning greeting would be followed with a full account of everything that happened since the last sighting. Colleagues told each other what they made for supper, how long they struggled to get their children to bed, what they thought of what they watched on TV, what position had been taken in the marital bed, how many minutes they kept it up, what was discussed afterwards, should the bathroom be tiled this year or can it wait until after the driveway is paved?

The first of my greetings returned come from Luvuyo, Johnson and Thandiswa when I reach my desk at the back of the newsroom. Roger the white intern throws a casual howzit in my direction when he arrives but doesn’t stop to hear how I am. I teach him how to greet – molo for one person, molweni for many. Ask unjani? Wait for an answer. Most of the time the answer is ndiyaphila, everything’s fine. Roger seems interested in learning.

I retreat to the balcony with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a copy of the morning paper. The smoke soothes my nerves, the predictable political coverage in the paper boosts my confidence and the coffee warms my vocal chords. I head for my desk, flip open my contact book and hit the phone.

I call the national police spokesman; I’ve given up waiting for answers from the Western Cape. Mandla doesn’t sound too surprised that I’m asking about progress on the investigation into the Minister of Welfare’s corruption. He insists that I put my questions in writing and fax them to Pretoria, refuses to commit to when he’ll answer them. I know it’s a waste of time but I phone the Western Cape police spokesman again. Loftus won’t confirm or deny anything. The Welfare Minister’s secretary promises, for the third time, to tell him that I called and ask that he calls back. I phone Coen at the party’s headquarters and shake his cage again but nothing falls out, not a single word I can use.

My next call is to Andile Chiliza at the Air Force. He delivers on the promise he made at the farewell party. ‘Second Lieutenant Khanyiswa Patekile is available for an interview at fourteen hundred hours tomorrow.’ Only six months in the job and the military speak rolls off his tongue like a second language. ‘That’s a confirmation Ali; the story is yours exclusively. Bring a photographer; we want to pose her next to a Mirage fighter jet.’

Johnson introduces me to Bongani Khumalo, the office manager with a wide path parting his tight curls, his bright white shirt wrapped in a bottle-green cardigan with wooden buttons. He says ‘you’re welcome’ every time I thank him for the arrangements he makes to get me a new press card, business cards and transport. I book a pool car for two o’clock for the Steel Workers Union’s press conference and one for tomorrow to get to the Air Force base. ‘You’re welcome,’ Bongani says as I back out of his office with profuse thanks.

I pass Joy’s desk several times on my way to the printer and the fax machine. She’s glued to the phone, her face hidden behind a shield of oily hair. I drop a note on her desk as I leave for the press conference, telling her where I’m going. She doesn’t look up.

There are ten rows of chairs set out in the hall at Community House in Salt River, where the Steel Workers Union has offices. I get through ten pages of Chomsky while I wait for everyone else to show up, swept away by his description of how the US media ‘lost the war’ waged by their government in Vietnam. Lizo’s right, there’s a lot more I need to learn about the power of the media’s punch. I was sure nothing could match the satisfaction of watching Madiba walk out of prison. But journalism practised at a much higher level in America brought an end to a war waged by the mightiest army on earth.

The press conference starts forty minutes late with three reporters in attendance. Five union officials seat themselves at the table facing us, behind them a red banner with the union’s logo and the words ‘ORGANISE OR STARVE’ in bold black letters. It was put up minutes earlier, by two of the men in red union T-shirts at the table. There’s no photographer present to record their effort.

Steel Workers Union secretary John Carelse’s square face is scaffolded by a strong chin. His red T-shirt stretches across his wide chest, he is the perfect poster partner for Rosie the Riveter. Spit bubbles on his lower lip as he spews his rage towards the assembled journalists, slow enough so we can record his every word.

‘The capitalists refuse to pay equal wages to workers, regardless of race or gender, up to this day – a full year after we won our liberation. They made record profits last year when the world flocked to South Africa to do business with it again. We made that possible; our members sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives to destroy apartheid. But now, while our politicians enjoy equality down the road in Parliament, it is nowhere to be seen on the factory floor.’

I look up from my notebook when Carelse stops, gropes for a handkerchief in his jeans pocket and wipes foam off his mouth. I start taking notes again when he launches into his next round of fury but soon stop and raise my head. I’ve heard this several times before; it’s his favourite theme.

‘The huge salary gap between CEOs and workers is the result of capitalist greed. Capitalism claims that apartheid denied blacks a decent education, houses, healthcare, water and electricity. Our analysis reaches a different conclusion; they worked hand in hand with the apartheid regime so they could be provided with a cheap source of labour. Now that we have a democracy, what’s their excuse for blocking equity on the shop floor? The reason is clear my friends, and there is only one: capitalist greed.’

I raise my hand, I need to get a question in before Carelse starts on what always comes next, a short history of the exploitation of workers in South Africa since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, followed by a long recitation of their brave struggle. His forceful delivery draws militant roars at mass rallies, but we’re not here to be recruited. All I came to hear is what he is going to do about this mess.

New Times

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