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(Non) fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming


An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era.

As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.

With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.

Read an excerpt from the chapter ‘Wife & Independence’:

IT SOUNDS A little like a bad joke, doesn’t it? What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family woman who does not love solitude one bit?

The answer, I’m guessing, is probably the best and most sustaining answer to nearly every question arising inside a marriage, no matter who you are or what the issue is: You find ways to adapt. If you’re in it forever, there’s really no choice.

Which is to say that at the start of 1993, Barack flew to Bali and spent about five weeks living alone with his thoughts while working on a draft of his book Dreams from My Father, filling yellow legal pads with his fastidious handwriting, distilling his ideas during languid daily walks amid the coconut palms and lapping tide.

I, meanwhile, stayed home on Euclid Avenue, living upstairs from my mother as another leaden Chicago winter descended, shellacking the trees and sidewalks with ice.

I kept myself busy, seeing friends and hitting workout classes in the evenings. In my regular interactions at work or around town, I’d find myself casually uttering this strange new term – “my husband.”

My husband and I are hoping to buy a home. My husband is a writer finishing a book.

It was foreign and delightful and conjured memories of a man who simply wasn’t there. I missed Barack terribly, but I rationalized our situation as I could, understanding that even if we were newlyweds, this interlude was probably for the best.

He had taken the chaos of his unfinished book and shipped himself out to do battle with it. Possibly this was out of kindness to me, a bid to keep the chaos out of my view. I’d married an outside- the- box thinker, I had to remind myself. He was handling his business in what struck him as the most sensible and efficient manner, even if outwardly it appeared to be a beach vacation – a honeymoon with himself (I couldn’t help but think in my lonelier moments) to follow his honeymoon with me.

You and I, you and I, you and I. We were learning to adapt, to knit ourselves into a solid and forever form of us. Even if we were the same two people we’d always been, the same couple we’d been for years, we now had new labels, a second set of identities to wrangle. He was my husband. I was his wife. We’d stood up at church and said it out loud, to each other and to the world. It did feel as if we owed each other new things.

For many women, including myself, “wife” can feel like a loaded word. It carries a history.

If you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s as I did, wives seemed to be a genus of white women who lived inside television sitcoms – cheery, coiffed, corseted. They stayed at home, fussed over the children, and had dinner ready on the stove. They sometimes got into the sherry or flirted with the vacuum-cleaner salesman, but the excitement seemed to end there.

The irony, of course, was that I used to watch those shows in our living room on Euclid Avenue while my own stay-at-home mom fixed dinner without complaint and my own clean-cut dad recovered from a day at work. My parents’ arrangement was as traditional as anything we saw on TV.

Barack sometimes jokes, in fact, that my upbringing was like a black version of Leave It to Beaver, with the South Shore Robinsons as steady and freshfaced as the Cleaver family of Mayfield, U.S.A., though of course we were a poorer version of the Cleavers, with my dad’s blue city worker’s uniform subbing for Mr. Cleaver’s suit.

Barack makes this comparison with a touch of envy, because his own childhood was so different, but also as a way to push back on the entrenched stereotype that African Americans primarily live in broken homes, that our families are somehow incapable of living out the same stable, middle-class dream as our white neighbors.

Personally, as a kid, I preferred The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which I absorbed with fascination.

Mary had a job, a snappy wardrobe, and really great hair. She was independent and funny, and unlike those of the other ladies on TV, her problems were interesting. She had conversations that weren’t about children or homemaking. She didn’t let Lou Grant boss her around, and she wasn’t fixated on finding a husband. She was youthful and at the same time grown- up.

In the pre- pre- pre- internet landscape, when the world came packaged almost exclusively through three channels of network TV, this stuff mattered. If you were a girl with a brain and a dawning sense that you wanted to grow into something more than a wife, Mary Tyler Moore was your goddess.

And here I was now, twenty-nine years old, sitting in the very same apartment where I’d watched all that TV and consumed all those meals dished up by the patient and selfless Marian Robinson. I had so much – an education, a healthy sense of self, a deep arsenal of ambition – and I was wise enough to credit my mother, in particular, with instilling it in me.

She’d taught me how to read before I started kindergarten, helping me sound out words as I sat curled like a kitten in her lap, studying a library copy of Dick and Jane. She’d cooked for us with care, putting broccoli and Brussels sprouts on our plates and requiring that we eat them. She’d hand sewn my prom dress, for God’s sake. The point was, she’d given diligently and she’d given everything. She’d let our family define her. I was old enough now to realize that all the hours she gave to me and Craig were hours she didn’t spend on herself.

My considerable blessings in life were now causing a kind of psychic whiplash.

I’d been raised to be confident and see no limits, to believe I could go after and get absolutely anything I wanted. And I wanted everything. Because, as Suzanne would say, why not? I wanted to live with the hat-tossing, independent-career-woman zest of Mary Tyler Moore, and at the same time I gravitated toward the stabilizing, self-sacrificing, seemingly bland normalcy of being a wife and mother.

I wanted to have a work life and a home life, but with some promise that one would never fully squelch the other. I hoped to be exactly like my own mother and at the same time nothing like her at all. It was an odd and confounding thing to ponder.

Could I have everything? Would I have everything? I had no idea.

Book details

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Tsitsi Dangarembga's This Mournable Body

Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare.

For reasons that include her grim financial prospects and her age, she moves to a widow’s boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher.

But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival.

As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. This homecoming, in Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged novel, culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

About the author

Tsitsi Dangarembga is the author of two previous novels, including Nervous Conditions, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She is also a filmmaker, playwright and the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust. She lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Read an extract from Dangarembga’s latest literary tour de force here:

You climb out after Christine when the combi stops at Copacabana. She steers you eastward over a cavernous pavement in silence for the rest couple of hundred metres.

“He became quite rich,” she says in the end, as an afterthought. “It turns out he was good at what they called doing business. That’s what they called it after Independence. You know,” she observes, “it is better to call it April 18. What do we really know about independence? Maybe that it was just for people like my uncle.”

Her voice is sad now, rather than scornful, as she divulges how VaManyanga soon purchased a new dwelling in an area further to the city’s north, from another white person who was also departing to New Zealand, where there was not, nor could ever be – since all the earlier nations had been eradicated – any talk of indigenising anything.

It turns out that, just like you, everyone had applauded VaManyanga’s achievements. No one queried anything. Relatives and colleagues alike praised the way the newly independent businessman had turned his inheritance into hard currency and deposited it safely in a bank on the Isle of Man.

“What did they want? Of course, to borrow my uncle’s money from him,” Christine snorts. You shake your head and suck your teeth, genuinely outraged on behalf of your companion’s uncle.

“He was too shrewd. I admit he was clever,” shrugs your companion. “So hardly anybody got anything. So what did they start saying? That all that money he made could never just come from hard work, but that he had some wicked, blood-drinking goblins. So some of them started trying to find out what muti my uncle was using. Some wanted to neutralise it with stronger medicine, others wanted to use it themselves. More than one mouth said his charms contained pieces of kidnapped children’s bodies.”

As she mentions this, Christine confirms her uncle was the sort of man who might well have gone so far as taking the children’s parts to South Africa for sale or for imbuing with magical properties, or that he could very well have buried the organs in places where he wanted to establish further ZPNB depots.

VaManyanga, though, you find out to your satisfaction, did not let rumours derail his upward mobility.

He soon purchased more properties and moved out of his second home to enjoy a grander lifestyle. Visits to the village where their niece lived became less frequent. Christine tells you she was comfortable with that, as she had ceased to either like or respect her relatives.

Understanding with some impatience that Christine is speaking not only about the Manyangas, but about all people who harbour the same intense cravings for advancement, “This came with the war,” you say. “All of it. Nobody ever did things like that before you people went to Mozambique and went about doing what you know you did.”

“There is nothing any freedom fighter did,” your companion says, “that people didn’t do in the villages. You know they started doing those things themselves very easily. And all of them are carrying on. Me, when the war ended, I swore I would find something to do with my own hands. I pledged I won’t do that kind of thing anymore. No matter what happens.”

With this Christine walks ahead briskly, bringing you soon to the disco, whose vibrations curtail further talking. She talks her way past the outsize bouncers at the club door, who look you over, objecting with pointed questions to two women entering the club unaccompanied.

Down in the basement with the strobe going too fast and the music pumping a hallucinogenic rhythm, your companion surveys the room, weaves through dancers and tables to prop her elbows on the bar.

She gives the solitary man beside her a sidelong glance, demonstrating how to extract all the booze you want from men without having any parts of your body grabbed.

You discover you are good at it. It is marvellous to be good at something. You haven’t been good at much in a long time. Even the things you were good at, your education, your copywriting at the advertising agency – in fact one and the same thing – have in the end conspired against you, handing out a sentence of isolation.

Soon you are too drunk to think of anything but downing more.

While you drain glass after glass of vodka, Christine starts taking liquor with every second or third glass of Mazoe.

You lurch into a woman on your way back from the toilet. The woman has spiky hair. Her skin is white.

“Mind!” she says, setting her drink on a table, wiping dripping fingers on the back of her jeans.

You stare at her, your eyes attempting to focus. When the image is as clear as it is going to get: “Tracey!” you bellow.

“Excuse me?” says the white woman, giving you a tolerant smile.

“I know you,” you tell her. “I used to work for you. And we went to school together. Are you going to pretend?” you crescendo. “You know you know me.”

Even as you speak, you are aware this person is not that particular white woman, the executive from the advertising agency who schemed with her fellow white people to steal the ideas you sweated over and produced for copy.

With this knowledge, the hole in the universe yawns wide in front of you again and the woman who knows better than the one you hear roaring disappears into its depths. Making yourself as large as you can, you scream, “Don’t pretend with me, Tracey!”

“Katrin,” the woman responds, backing away. “Katrin.”

“Both,” you insist. “I mean, you’re my boss. From the advertising.”

The woman takes a deep breath.

“Not me,” she says, exhaling sharply.


She moves away onto the dance floor, joining a multiracial pocket of people, complexions ranging from ebony to pale marble. You follow her. She ignores you. You hear someone talking loudly, telling you she is not the woman who employed you at the advertising agency. You know this sensible voice is located in your brain. You don’t listen to it.

“You are lying. That’s what you are doing,” you keep shouting. As you shout you lunge. The white woman sees you coming. She dodges round you and you fall into a trio of dancers. Bracing themselves on their platform shoes, tossing their weaves, “Get away,” they shout, shoving you from one to the other.

The men from the door surge onto the dance floor. They clamp the flesh of your upper arm in their fingers, asking which you prefer, calming down and being reasonable or being prohibited. They have, however, reckoned without Christine.

Your companion plants her fists on her hips and informs the bouncers she is an Independence struggle ex-combatant, Moscow trained, and she can see half a dozen others still in fighting form around the bar; nor does it matter if some are not actually Soviet alumni but were trained in China, they are all comrades and fighters.

In spite of Christine’s intervention, the bouncers keep holding on to your arm, saying they are hired to end things; that when out-of-control women start beginning their messes with peaceful dancers, that is what they are ending. So Christine tells them you are under control and heaves you up the stairs and out onto the street.

You refuse to walk. Christine drags you away from the club.

You shout more and more loudly for her to release you. When she doesn’t, you scream that you will be damned if you ever go anywhere with her again. While you fling abuse at her, Christine manoeuvres you to the nearest bus stop.

She props you up on the termite-eaten bench, pushes a dollar note into your jeans pocket and tells you to take the first combi travelling towards Mai Manyanga’s.

Book details

Read an excerpt from David Bristow's The Game Ranger, the Knife, the Lion and the Sheep: 20 Tales about Curious Characters from Southern Africa

The Game Ranger, the Knife, the Lion and the Sheep offers spellbinding stories of some amazing, little-known characters from South Africa, past and very past.

Let us introduce you to some of the characters you’ll meet inside. Starting with Krotoa, the Khoi maiden who is found working in the Van Riebeeck household as both servant and interpreter.

In time she becomes the concubine of Danish surgeon Pieter Van Meerhoff and later his wife.

Then there is Mevrou Maria Mouton who preferred to socialise with the slaves than her husband on their farm in the Swartland. It was with these slaves that she conspired to murder him.

What became of them is … best those gory details are glossed over for now.

And the giant Trekboer Coenraad de Buys – rebel, renegade, a man with a price on his head who married many women (none of them white) and fathered a small nation.

The explorer Lichtenstein called him a modern-day Hercules.

Then there are the men of learning and insight, such as Raymond Dart and Adrian Boshier, who opened up the world of myth and ancient artefacts so we now better understand the ancients and the world they created for us to inherit.

Or James Kitching who broke open rocks in the Karoo to reveal creatures that inhabited this region long before even Africa was born. And so, without further ado, we give you our selection of stories about remarkable characters from the veld.

These stories will excite, entertain and enthral you! You will finish reading them wishing you had more!

George Mossop – Running the Gauntlet

A life lived to the fullest on the open veld

The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 is remembered almost entirely for two battles. The most famous one was at Isandhlwana where a Zulu impi inflicted a humiliating blow on a rear detachment of Lord Chelmsford’s grand imperial army. The second was a follow-up engagement later that day and all that night at Rork’s Drift store and field hospital where a rag-tag assortment of reinforcements, storemen, medics and the wounded put up a most heroic defence.

Whether before a battle, or an international rugby game at Ellis Park, the opening lyrics of the Juluka classic “Impi”, cool the blood and raise the hair on one’s arms.

Impi! Wo’ nans impi iyeza.

Obani benanthinta amabubesi?

War! O here comes war.

Who here can touch the lions?

However, the war that followed was no mere two-day event, lasting some six months with many other battles and skirmishes. At least as bloody and humiliating for the British forces as Isandhlwana was the battle of Hlobane Mountain. George Mossop, a sixteen-year-old British subject of South African birth, was among those who fought there. His recounting of the action, as well as the events in his life that led up to it, is one of South Africa’s best least-known sagas.

George Joseph Mossop was born near Durban or what was then Port Natal, in the Colony of Natal in the early 1860s. He spent his youth running barefoot in the veld around Umvoti where he was supposed to be attending the village school.

“Wanderlust was in my blood,” he wrote in his memoirs in 1930, using all the scraps he’d written throughout his extraordinarily adventurous life to bolster his memory. In 1875, at the age of fourteen, he left home and set off for the Transvaal where, he understood, the real wilds of Africa could still be found.

“I became a product of the veld and the wide spaces to which I still cling, for I have never lived in a town or near one.”

In 1937, the year before he died, when he wrote a preface to his notes he admitted he had never been to the cinema or seen a circus, although he had once seen an aeroplane sailing the sky like an eagle, “though no bird ever kicked up such a fiendish row”.

His first year of freedom was spent with a party of Boers shooting game for their skins and to make biltong.

The Eastern Transvaal Highveld, now Mpumalanga, was the last refuge of the huge herds of game that once covered the entire grassland biome in tens and hundreds of thousands. Before the arrival of white hunters the Highveld would have hosted a wildlife spectacle far exceeding the now more famous Serengeti Plains.

The region was also covered in wetlands where waterfowl gathered in vast flocks, and great numbers of other birds nested in the extensive reed beds. However, one by one the reed beds were burned to convert the land for grazing. The birds moved off, never to return, and neither did most of the wetlands.

When his hunting party reached the main body of the game migration near present-day Ermelo, the Boers made camp without any hint of haste – they had done this many times before. The Good Lord would provide. Oxen were unyoked, horses knee-haltered, tents pitched, fires made, then coffee and rusks were handed round. The game was on.

Mossop said of the migration: “The scene which met my eyes the next morning is beyond my power to describe. Game, game everywhere, as far as the eye could see – all on the move, grazing.”

It seemed to the inexperienced lad that the game appeared not to be moving but that the Earth itself was carrying the vast herd of animals along with it. As he watched he realised that within the great herd were smaller groups of specific species: a herd of some five hundred black wildebeest moved towards the wagons, stopped, wheeled as one with their heads facing the shooting camp, then up went their white tails and off they moved. Then another, several thousand strong.

Next came a group of about two hundred quaggas, which were called “the zebra of the bush veld”. Mossop describes them as being taller, of lighter colour and shaggier than their more common brothers. They charged towards the wagons and came to a stop about sixty metres distant, their hooves ploughing into the ground.

Their innate inquisitiveness made them easy to shoot and the writer reckoned this was likely the last of their kind to be seen anywhere.

There were also hundreds of thousands each of blesbok and springbok. Mossop was awed, rendered speechless by the scene, but the Boers calmly went about the business of readying for the slaughter as if it were just another day’s work, stretching riems between the wagons and poles on which hides and meat would be hung.

What must the country have looked like, Mossop pondered, before the shooting had begun decades earlier? Black wildebeest moved past them at a canter, hour after hour, making speech all but impossible.

The men shot and shot and shot until they could shoot no more. At one point he asked the leader of the group, “old man Visagie”, if he did not think it wrong to slaughter all the game to the verge of extinction.

“Can you tell me, Mister Heathen,” came the stern reply, “what good this game is doing, running wild over the veld? You dare to say that the Lord did not know what he was doing when He placed them here. It is a sin to listen to such words. Never use them again in my presence.”

A year later, in 1879, the Zulu War flared up so the sixteen-year-old George rode back to Natal to sign up for duty with the Frontier Light Horse (FLH), a rag-tag group of self-equipped colonials that was modeled on the Boer commando system.

Mossop’s Bushman companion of the previous year, Gerswent, pleaded with him not to leave. The wrinkled old man said the British had no hope of beating the mighty Zulus. He had seen the British, he said, stripping naked early in the morning in winter and washing in a river. They even put their heads under the water!

The young adventurer’s journey to join up with Colonel Wood’s column took him on a tortuous route back across the Highveld and down to the Lowveld.

He got caught in a storm on the Berg escarpment near Utrecht and he and his Basuto pony, Warrior, had to brave a night of wind and driving rain “camping” – hiding behind a rock until dawn came and the storm let up.

“Although my pony was only a few feet from me, I could not see him, so thick was the darkness, but I knew that he was standing there with his tail to the blast.”

Moans and groans seemed to grip the mountainside, rushing sounds becoming ever louder until they seemed to be upon the miserable young man. When a reedbuck appeared out of the squall and let out a shrill whistle, the man crawled up close to his pony for comfort. In his day people did not prepare padkos but took whatever they had to hand. Then it was usually just a strip of biltong. Mossop finished his while sheltering behind that rock in the storm.

On 6 January 1879 he crossed the Ncome River (site of the earlier pivotal battle of Blood River between the Boers and Zulu army in the time of King Dingane) and caught up with the British army just inside Zululand: endless wagons, teams of oxen, whips cracking, drivers yelling, horsemen galloping to and fro, general bedlam.

The procedure for joining went something like this:

Officer to lad:

“That your horse?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That your saddle and bridle?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you shoot?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where did you learn?”

“In the Transvaal, sir, with the Boers, shooting game.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen, sir.” (What was one year’s difference?)

“See him equipped, sergeant, and put him in a good tent.”

One seasoned soldier tried with some persistence to warn him to turn around and head back to from wherever he had come. The officer in charge of the Frontier Light Horse was Major Redvers Buller, later the general who led the British army at the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War when it got its imperial nose bloodied by General Louis Botha’s Boers on the Natal Front.

About the author

David Bristow grew up on the Highveld, north of Johannesburg.

Dreams of becoming an architect took a sharp turn on 16 June 1976 when “the other side” of Johannesburg seemed to suddenly go up in smoke. He resigned that day and went to study journalism at Rhodes University.

Just a few years into working as a journalist back in Johannesburg he did another 180 and resigned, this time to research and write his first book, Mountains of Southern Africa. It was an unexpected commercial success. Once again bags were packed, this time to read for a master’s degree in environmental sciences in Cape Town.

Some 20 coffee-table style books later (in between which there was a longish stint as editor of Getaway travel magazine), he decided to do what he really always wanted to: write paperback narratives about southern Africa. His first in the series of Stories from the Veld was Running Wild: The Story of Zulu, an African Stallion. This is the second.

Book details

Read an excerpt from Ivor Chipkin and Mark Swilling's Shadow State: The Politics of State Capture

The 2017 publication of Betrayal of the Promise, the report that detailed the systematic nature of state capture, marked a key moment in South Africa’s most recent struggle for democracy.

In the face of growing evidence of corruption and of the weakening of state and democratic institutions, it provided, for the first time, a powerful analysis of events that helped galvanise resistance within the Tripartite Alliance and across civil society.

Working often secretly, the authors consolidated, for the first time, large amounts of evidence from a variety of sources.

They showed that the Jacob Zuma administration was not simply a criminal network but part of an audacious political project to break the hold of whites and white business on the economy and to create a new class of black industrialists. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) such as Eskom and Transnet were central to these plans.

The report introduced a whole new language to discuss state capture, showing how SOEs were ‘repurposed’, how political power was shifting away from constitutional bodies to ‘kitchen cabinets’, and how a ‘shadow state’ at odds with the country’s constitutional framework was being built.

Shadow State is an updated version of the original, explosive report that changed South Africa’s recent history.

An extract from this definitive book on state capture was recently featured on the Daily Maverick:

In the classical texts, tyranny, as opposed to despotism, refers to a form of government that breaks its own rules.

This is a useful starting point for discussing political developments in South Africa in the past ten years and the civil society response to it. The ANC government under Jacob Zuma became more and more tyrannical as it set itself up against the Constitution and the rule of law in an effort to capture the state.

In moves reminiscent of events in the 1980s, independent journalists, social movements, trade unions, legal aid centres, NGOs, the churches and some academics have helped mobilise South African society against state capture. A new and varied movement has arisen, bringing together awkward partnerships between ideologically disparate groups and people.

What they have nonetheless shared is a broad support for the Constitution, for democracy and for a modern, professional administration, and they are all, broadly speaking, social democratic in orientation.

The publication of the Betrayal of the Promise report, on which this book is based, constituted a key moment, helping to provide this movement with a narrative and concepts for expressing a systemic perspective on state capture that helped its readers to, in the words of former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, ‘join the dots’.

The particular instance of so-called ‘state capture’ that we discuss in this book is part of a familiar and recurring pattern in the history of state formation in South Africa. It is, in fact, impossible to understand the evolution of South African politics and statecraft without understanding the deeper dynamics of what we refer to today as state capture.

There is a clear and direct line of sight from the origins of the state in the Cape Colony, when it was ‘captured’ by the Dutch East India Company, through to the era of Cecil Rhodes and ‘Milner’s Kindergarten’ – the name popularly given to the young British civil servants who served under High Commissioner Alfred, Lord Milner – in post-Boer War South Africa.

The world that the first generations of mining magnates, the so-called Randlords, built on the Witwatersrand provided the foundation for the election victory of the National Party in 1948.

The post-1948 state actively supported the build-up of Afrikaner capital in a process which effectively captured the state for decades, with the Electricity Supply Commission (Escom, now renamed Eskom) and the South African Railways (now renamed Transnet) at the very centre of that political project.

The corporate capture of the apartheid war- and sanctions-busting machine has been well documented, with arms manufacturer Armscor (renamed Denel after 1994) at its centre.

Also well documented is the powerful role played by corporate South Africa during the transition, to ensure that a democratic state could do little to change the basic structure of the economy.

This was a form of capture in that powerful elite interests subverted the broad vision of transformation that inspired the mass democratic movement that had brought down the apartheid state.

The most recent instance of state capture has galvanised a broad-based coalition of forces that share a commitment to building an uncaptured South African state.

This is what our Constitution envisages.

The choice must not be between different forms of capture, it must be between capture and no capture. In taking this stand we are going up against the defeatist view on both the left and right that ‘the state is always captured, so why the fuss?’

Continue reading here.

Book details

Intrigued by the Stellenbosch mafia's complicity in the Steinhoff scandal? James-Brent Styan reveals all in this extract of his latest book...

Stellenbosch is situated about 50 km from Cape Town on the banks of the Eerste River. After the Mother City, the Eikestad (City of Oaks) is the oldest town in South Africa, and its economy revolves mainly around tourism, a world-renowned university and the wine industry. Nowadays, Stellenbosch is also one of the hotbeds of technological innovation in South Africa, and is probably Africa’s top tech hub – a Silicon Valley for Africa, with many young Afrikaners going on to make their fortunes abroad using the ground-breaking technology they develop in Stellenbosch.

A report by the market research group New World Wealth shows that in 2017 there were 43 600 high net worth individuals in South Africa. These are people whose total wealth exceeds $1 million. The report further states that the Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch areas are the fastest-growing regions for the super-rich in South Africa, with a 20% increase in the number of dollar millionaires over the past decade. (Incidentally, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, including Umhlanga, are the three places with the most superrich individuals in South Africa, but many more people live in those cities than in the Boland.)

Stellenbosch is perhaps more famous for its old money than for its new.

This is where Afrikaner businesspeople have, over the decades, conceived giants such as Naspers, and where Rembrandt and Reunert grew into international empires. Many big names in the business world call this town home, including GT Ferreira, Jannie Mouton, Wendy Appelbaum and Koos Bekker.

The success of the people in Stellenbosch and the surrounding areas is often a target for criticism, especially from politicians and internet trolls. Long before the term “white monopoly capital” became popular, the wealthy elite of the Eikestad was given the unflattering nickname of the “Stellenbosch mafia”.

Julius Malema

The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, particularly enjoys chastising the “Stellenbosch mafia”. During the national election campaign in March 2014, he went on the warpath against the influence they allegedly exert. Malema addressed a crowd of 2 500 EFF supporters at Mandela Park, in Khayelitsha, and warned them not to underestimate the so-called Stellenbosch mafia.

“They control the judiciary, the economy, the land, the chain stores, the mines and the banks,” Malema said. “If the Stellenbosch boys don’t want you to be anything, you will never become something in life.”

When Malema was still a member of the ANC Youth League in 2014, he got into trouble with SARS and decided to target the businessman Johann Rupert, chairperson of the Swiss luxury goods group Richemont and the South African investment group Remgro, by saying that Rupert “controls SARS”. With this, Malema alleged that Rupert was at the root of his tax problems. “Rupert said the ANC Youth League is like an irritating mosquito in a room and it needs a Doom,” Malema complained.

In 2016, Rupert responded to the allegations when he was honoured at the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies Awards for his life- long contribution to the business world. Rupert said that Malema had made him relevant again. “I haven’t been given an award until Mr Malema arrived and he pointed out that I was running the ANC, the DA and SARS,” he quipped.

But in the same breath he cautioned Malema to stop telling lies about him. He also pointed out that he does not live in Stellenbosch: “I don’t know how I can be part of the Stellenbosch mafia. We live in Somerset West.”

Good company

Years before, when Rupert joined the Rembrandt Group, the company founded by his father, Anton Rupert, he decided not to make his home in Stellenbosch. Johann and Gaynor Rupert moved into the estate Paarl Vallei in Somerset West, not far from the Ruperts’ corporate head office in the historic and beautiful old Cape Dutch manor house Groot Paardevlei.

Today, one of Rupert’s old Stellenbosch University friends, GT Ferreira, is one of the richest businesspeople in Stellenbosch. Ferreira owes his success to the banking groups FirstRand and Rand Merchant Bank, established in 1977 by himself and two partners, Laurie Dippenaar and Paul Harris, with a mere R10 000 in capital.

A Cape asset manager relays a story about Ferreira’s penchant for luxury cars: “A few years ago, GT wanted a very unique car that was unavailable in South Africa; I think it was a Maybach. The problem was that the manufacturer said they could only help him if there were at least six buyers for the car in South Africa. GT called all his pals in Stellenbosch, guys who could afford such a car, but nobody would bite. The upshot of it all was that GT purchased all six cars. Later he gave five of them to his friends. But GT got his car.”

Ferreira did not want to comment on this anecdote. His wine farm, Tokara, is located just outside Stellenbosch on the Helshoogte Pass towards Franschhoek.

Another well-known and popular member of the Stellenbosch billionaires’ club is Jannie Mouton, founder of the financial services group PSG. After Mouton was fired in 1995 by Senekal, Mouton and Kitshoff, the brokerage firm he had helped to establish 13 years earlier, he established PSG.9 Mouton lived in the exclusive Koloniesland complex for a long time, but then bought the farm Klein Gustrouw in the Jonkershoek Valley.

Directly opposite Mouton’s place is the farm formerly known as Bengale, although today there are three farms that share this address. When one looks at the Steinhoff Group’s prospectus for the 2015 listing in Germany, it is salient that three of Steinhoff’s top executives specify this farm as their home address. Danie van der Merwe, Frikkie Nel and Markus Jooste jointly purchased the property in 2003 through a company known as Uhambo Property Investment.

“The purchase price for the three farms was R25,6 million,” said Netwerk24 business journalist Nellie Brand-Jonker, who investigated the story in conjunction with her colleague Nadine Theron.

The Jooste family relocated from Pretoria in 2011 and moved onto the farm. There is a rumour that this is where Jooste is hiding today. Nel, who was the group’s financial director for many years, confirmed to Netwerk24 that the three of them had renamed the farm Jonkersdrift.

“Van der Merwe and I still live on the farm and I unfortunately do not know where Jooste lives now. I communicate with Jooste via SMS regarding the farm’s administration,” said Nel.

Nel still works for Steinhoff as a director of certain subsidiaries. Since December 2017, Van der Merwe has been acting as the CEO of Steinhoff.13 “I have not talked to him since the crisis (in December 2017),” Van der Merwe told Netwerk24.

Van der Merwe did not want to comment for this book.

Maties and horses

With Jooste’s and Mouton’s Stellenbosch farms directly opposite each other, the two of them started making wine at Klein Gustrouw. In his memoir And then they fired me Mouton elaborates on his friendship with Jooste: “Despite our age difference we are friends, we cultivate wine together and trust each other in much more than business deals.”

Another old Stellenbosch friend who became an important business partner of Jooste’s is Rian du Plessis, later the CEO of the horse racing group Phumelela. He was friends with Jooste at university, and the two of them lived in Wilgenhof. According to various sources, Du Plessis and Jooste also worked at SARS in the 1980s after completing their studies. Du Plessis continues to act on behalf of Jooste’s personal trust in certain legal proceedings, and the two former Maties are major role-players in the world of horse racing.

“Markus was like a dynamite stick in the horse racing industry,” says someone who was close to Jooste for many years and still stands by him. According to this person, Jooste became involved in the horse racing industry “for his own pleasure”: “There can be no doubt. Markus put much more into horse racing than he ever got out. For every 100 he put in, he probably got out one.

For him it was just a source of pure joy and pleasure. He created work for thousands in the industry: jockeys, breeders, trainers. Markus brought horse racing in South Africa out of the dark ages into the 21st century.”

Chris van Niekerk, who later became chairperson of Cape Thoroughbred Sales (CTS), was another ally of Jooste’s in the world of horse racing. Van Niekerk stood by his friend for many years, and it seems as if he still supports him.

But Advocate Brett Maselle, also a horse owner, is critical of Jooste’s influence on the industry. He says Jooste had too much power and it disturbed the balance in the industry: “Money buys influence and he had a lot of money.”

The Durban July

One of the greatest wins in Jooste’s horse racing career was the 2016 victory of his racehorse The Conglomerate in the Durban July. It was the 120th running of the Durban July and Jooste’s horse wasn’t given much of a chance. Yet The Conglomerate, with the renowned jockey Pierre Strydom in the saddle, did not disappoint and won at Greyville.

It was the first win in the July for Jooste’s trainer, Capetonian Joey Ramsden, as well as Strydom’s fourth July victory. “It has been a couple of weeks to remember, culminating in The Conglomerate putting his best hoof forward and winning a smashing race,” Ramsden wrote in his personal blog in 2016.

Jooste was not in Durban to experience his horse’s moment of glory. He was in the USA on a business trip. Only his wife, Ingrid, their two daughters and his son-in-law, Stefan Potgieter, were there.

“July Day was special. For once the spotlight was on Mrs Jooste. The celebrations afterwards were even more fun. It was a great weekend’s racing,” Ramsden wrote.

According to tradition, Ramsden sent a cheeky “please call me” message to Jooste to tell him the news about the victory in the July (with its R4,25 million prize money).

Ingrid Jooste accepted the trophy from the guest of honour on the day, then president Jacob Zuma.

“In his typically charismatic style, winning trainer Joey Ramsden performed an elaborate bow and almost kissed the floor in front of a smiling Zuma,” writes the racing magazine Sporting Post.

Another highlight in Jooste’s horse racing career was the historic victory by his horse Variety Club in the epic Hong Kong Mile. Nobody gave Variety Club a chance and no foreign horse had ever won the Hong Kong race.

In total, Jooste recorded more than 1 000 winners in his career as a race horse owner.

Wiese and the cliques

Christo Wiese is also often described as a member of the Stellenbosch mafia, even though he has lived in the Cape Town suburb of Clifton for 42 years, just a few metres from the popular Fourth Beach.

Wiese would occasionally elaborate on the number of groups or cliques in Stellenbosch.

“There were the academics, the professors and the doctors, and they were a group on their own; then there was the Rembrandt bunch; they triumphed where business was concerned, and then there are also the wealthy wine farmers, although there is no longer such a thing as wealthy wine farmers, only wine farmers,” he teased.

He continued: “So you have all these groupings; it is a very difficult town to define as a single community. And yes, I’m friendly with the guys like GT (Ferreira).”

Wiese’s splendid farm Lourensford is in Somerset West, but for many years he also owned the historic farm Lanzerac in the Jonkershoek Valley (just a kilometre or two from Jonkersdrift). And it was this farm that marked the beginning of Wiese’s association with Steinhoff. In an interview in May 2018, he explained: “In 2011, I wanted to sell Lanzerac and Jooste comes to me and says they are a consortium that will buy it.

At the same time, he wants me to consider exchanging my PSG shares for Steinhoff shares, just like GT Ferreira and the other guys did. I said yes, I will look at it and in the end I did it. Then I was a fairly large shareholder in Steinhoff, probably around R1 billion. Thereafter they invited me to join the board, in 2013. And I became chairperson in 2016, a year before the smash.”

How friendships help

There are definitely several groupings with their own loyalties in Stellenbosch. One commentator says it is unfair to call them a “mafia”, because there are so many competing interests. The fact that the bonds of friendship between Stellenbosch businesspeople are often a great advantage can hardly be doubted. It is a network of people who do a lot of business together. The fact that they sometimes outmanoeuvre each other is also true.

Perhaps the picture is better sketched by means of an example. (Please note that all of the examples highlighted here are completely legal.) In 2008 Wiese exchanged the shares he owned in the Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika, better known as KWV, for the PSG shares referred to above. By 2011 Wiese owned close to 15,5 million PSG shares (a stake of about 9,2%). By that time Jooste had 20 million PSG shares (about 11,8%).

Shortly after the Lanzerac deal, Wiese and Jooste exchanged their PSG shares for Steinhoff shares. As a result, Steinhoff acquired a 20% stake in PSG.

By 2015, Steinhoff ’s stake in PSG had increased further. Jannie Mouton still served with Wiese and Jooste on Steinhoff ’s board that year.

In June 2015 two PSG directors, Jaap du Toit and Thys du Toit, exchanged their PSG stake for Steinhoff shares. The total value of the deal was about R1,8 billion. This also increased Steinhoff ’s stake in PSG.

A few months later, in December 2015, Steinhoff listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The share transaction had two interesting features. The first one is well explained by asset manager Magda Wierzycka, of the Sygnia Group.

She describes this move by the two directors, shortly before the Steinhoff listing in Germany, as a “cynical move by shareholders in PSG to, in a sleight of hand, swap their shareholding in PSG shares in South Africa for a suddenly- Frankfurt-listed Steinhoff, thereby externalising their wealth without the need for foreign exchange control approvals”.

The second story about the PSG directors’ share exchange is that Mouton did not know about the plans of his two board members. “Mouton was angry about it. Angry and disappointed. It was the first time that members of the PSG inner circle sold PSG shares,” says Doringdraad, the pseudonym of a well-known analyst who has long kept an eye on the PSG Group. In May 2016, Mouton resigned from the Steinhoff board and sold all his Steinhoff shares.

Social capital

The well-known political and economic analyst JP Landman says that if you have good contacts, you have a greater chance of achieving success in South Africa. He refers to this as “social capital”: “All the research indicates that social capital is vital to succeed, whether you are in Stellenbosch or in the Free State or in other parts of the country. Social capital is just the relationships, the trust or simply the people who talk to each other.”

Landman says he doubts whether it’s accurate to refer to the Stellenbosch elite as a “mafia” or a “club”: “I don’t know if it is really a club, we know of big fights between people who are evidently included in the group. I don’t think the guys spend Christmas Eve together. So, it’s actually a fictional thing, the notion of a club. What is actually important is to have and to build networks.” He says the Steinhoff saga would definitely have caused tensions between people who trusted each other.

Is there a new generation of super-rich on the way? Landman offers his view: “As the saying about billionaires goes, one third is entrepreneurs who build new businesses; one third works for large companies where they are well paid; and one third is the ‘lucky sperm club’ who inherit wealth. In all three categories, people can perform outstanding work and create value. So, yes, new players will emerge as the old generation moves on. The process will continue within, but also beyond Stellenbosch.”

The alleged affair

It was not only Jooste’s so-called business tricks that were exposed in December 2017. His alleged extramarital affair with a 34-yearold blonde polo player named Berdine Odendaal also made the news. On 13 December 2017, HuffPost South Africa reported that Odendaal drives around in a silver Bentley and a white Ferrari and owns ten multimillion-rand properties in the pristine Val de Vie polo estate near Paarl. She lives in a luxury apartment in Bantry Bay, near Clifton. Stefan Potgieter, Jooste’s son-in-law, apparently manages the apartment on behalf of a group called Coy’s Properties.

One Malcolm King, a friend of Jooste’s, owns Coy’s Properties. The Bantry Bay apartment was bought for R21,5 million in 2012, Huff- Post South Africa reported.
Odendaal did not want to talk to the media in December 2017, and in May 2018 she also declined the opportunity to comment. After the Steinhoff scandal broke, Odendaal disappeared from the public eye for months. In March 2018, she appeared in public again at Val de Vie for the Veuve Clicquot Polo Championship.

Two senior Steinhoff managers say Steinhoff chauffeurs regularly drove Odendaal around. “Many people in the group knew about the affair.”

Wiese says he was not aware of the relationship: “If it is true that he has a secret lover, I would never have trusted him.” He says that in his time as chairperson of the Pepkor Group he fired three senior executives because they cheated on their wives: “If a man can lie to his wife, he will lie to me too. Whitey sometimes had the same issue at Shoprite. He always said he could forgive a footprint, but not a footpath.”

Anger in Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch residents are angry about the reputational damage done to their town as a result of the Steinhoff scandal. Johann Rupert, chairperson of Richemont and one of the wealthiest people in South Africa, was born and raised in Stellenbosch. Rupert tweeted the following on 11 December 2017, a few days after the scandal broke: “Although I left Stellenbosch in 1975, it really irritates me that none of the so-called ‘Stellenbosch mafia’ who is causing so much damage to the town’s reputation was born or raised in Stellenbosch. All of them are ‘immigrants’.”
Rupert’s comment upset other Stellenbosch residents who were not born in the town.

“It is quite wrong to paint everyone who lives and contributes here with the same brush as Jooste and his men,” one well-known resident said.

Book details

"The blood of the woman on the stoep of my father's shop was redder than stoep polish." Read an extract from Harry Kalmer's A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg, shortlisted for the 2018 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize

Published in the Sunday Times

“My name is Alice and I am as old as the mountains.”

Richard Ho’s grandmother spoke into Cherie Sadie’s camera.

“As old as the mine dumps. As old as Mandela. We were born in the same year. So I am not exactly sure what I imagine and what I remember. Is there a difference? Not much, if you ask me.

“Sometimes when I am in bed, I think I hear the whistle of a steam locomotive. But there haven’t been steam trains in Johannesburg for years. So the train I hear is probably only my memory. Or my imagination.

“At night in Chinatown you could hear the trains shunting at the municipal market and in the Braamfontein Yard. Steam trains. Toot-toot. Clickety-clack. But my first memory is of another place.

“My father owned a shop next to a mine. It was during a strike. There was a Boer woman. Afterwards we heard that her husband was a scab. She was on the stoep of my father’s cash store when a piece of coal hit her in the eye. Nobody knew who threw it. I’m telling you, she screamed. She dropped to her knees and cried like a baby. I remember it like it was yesterday. She was wearing a white apron and one of those kappies that the poor aunties wore in those days. Blood spurted from her eye like a fountain.

“I seldom speak Afrikaans these days. But the pretty words come back all the time. Words like ‘fontein’ and ‘lokomotief’. Not words you hear a lot any more, if you hear what I’m saying.

“Anyway, I’m losing track of my thoughts. The blood of the woman on the stoep of my father’s shop was redder than stoep polish. My parents tried to stop the bleeding with a towel. Older Brother who died last year at ninety-five … or was it the year before last? Anyway, Dad sent Older Brother to call the soldiers. They came with a tank or lorry or something like that and took the poor white woman away. I don’t know who the woman was and I never saw her again. But I clearly remember her eye spouting blood like a fountain. That’s the first thing I remember.”

Book details