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Louis Greenberg is working on a post-cyber noir novel

Acclaimed author, academic – he holds a doctorate in English literature from Wits – and specialist in the post-religious apocalyptic fiction of Douglas Copeland, Louis Greenberg, has a new novel in the making.

Greenberg recently blogged that he’s putting the finishing touches on his post-cyber noir novel, Green Valley. Exploring themes of truth and falseness, questioning who we can and can’t trust, and asking what we’re willing to risk for those we love, Green Valley is being marketed as “True Detective meets Black Mirror”.

As intrigued as we are? Read the first two paragraphs of the synopsis here:

The world has turned against digital technology in a neo-Luddite revolution. At its height, over eighty per cent of people in Stanton wore The I – to bank, to work, to shop, to ride. But for eight years, what’s left of Zeroth Corporation, The I’s developer, has been holed up in Green Valley, an enclave sealed in a concrete bunker from the rest of the world.

When Lucie Sterling gets a call from her ex-husband David in Green Valley, her complacent lifestyle in Stanton is shattered. She hasn’t told her partner Fabian Tadic, a high-power anti-technology campaigner, that she has a nine-year-old daughter – she let David take Kira into Green Valley and close themselves behind the wall and they faded into her past – but now David’s telling her that Kira is missing. Over the years there’s been a trickle of invisible kids through the Stanton morgue, Green Valley children who occasionally turn up dead outside the enclave, and who officially don’t exist to Stanton law enforcement. For Lucie, the invisible kids have suddenly become personal.

"The indications are that she was hanged" - read an excerpt from Martin Steyn's Dark Traces

Dark Traces

Dark Traces is the English translation of Martin Steyn’s first suspense novel, Donker spoor. When a child is murdered, it always seems as if a light has been extinguished in a parent’s eyes.

They find her decomposing body in the veld. A teenager. She was raped and tortured for days. She was hanged.

She wasn’t the first.

The South African Police Service’s Warrant Officer Jan Magson, estranged from his son and still grieving for his wife, is assigned to the case. He has to look the mothers and fathers in the eye. He has to answer their questions. And he can’t.

Headlines question the police’s ability to protect the community from this evil. A newspaper prints a mother’s heart-wrenching letter to the killer. A father offers a substantial reward.
And every time another lead reaches a dead end, Magson finds himself looking down at another dead girl.

Winner of the 2015 ATKV Prize for Suspense Fiction, Martin Steyn’s Dark Traces deals with two sides of homicide: sadistic murder and euthanasia: killing for pleasure and killing for love.

One
March 9, 2014. Sunday.

“Yet another Sunday lunch with the family interrupted by blood and maggots,” remarked Warrant Officer Colin Menck beside him. “What a great job we have, hey, Mags?”

Behind the wheel Warrant Officer Jan Magson did not respond. He simply continued along the meandering Vissershok Road out of Durbanville, looking for the murder scene.

“Casey has embarked on a grand campaign to get a horse for her birthday. Next year, when she turns ten. Because it’s a special birthday.”

Magson glanced at the horses looking out over the white wooden fence. Further on, on the opposite side of the road, a sign indicated the turn-off to the Meerendal Wine Estate. The rest was just vineyards, the green much too vivid. He didn’t want a new docket.

“So I’m talking to myself again today.”

Sometimes Menck was like a child whose mouth had to be in constant motion, opening and closing, emitting sound. “I didn’t sleep well,” said Magson.

“I don’t ask a lot. ‘Yes’. ‘Oh’. Even a grunt will do.”

The vineyards petered out, leaving only faded brown grass. Magson glanced in the rear-view mirror. The road was empty, but his eyes lingered. The Corolla’s dust-specked mirror turned his irises an even grayer green. There were lines etched in his forehead and cracks around his eyes. At his temples, the hair was receding. His moustache was edging away from brown towards gray.

He looked away.

There were two klagtebakkies at the side of the road, white pickups bearing the South African Police Service’s logo and emergency number, blue lights on the roof and a holding area in the back. A few unmarked vehicles as well. No houses in the light brown surrounds. Magson parked the Corolla and turned off the ignition. As they got out, a uniformed officer came to meet them. They showed their identification cards.

The uniform nodded. “Warrant Officers. She’s lying some distance in.” He pointed with all five fingers extended.

“Were you first on the scene?” asked Menck.

“Yes, Warrant.”

“Who found her?”

“A birdwatcher.”

“Is he still here?” asked Magson.

“It was a woman, Warrant,” said the uniform, now looking at him. “I kept her here until the first detective took her statement. He let her go when he was done. I have her details.”

“That’s good. Is Captain Kritzinger at the body?”

“Yes, Warrant.” He removed his blue cap and scratched his black hair with the fingers of the same hand. It was glistening with sweat.

“All right. Take us to him.”

“Wait,” said Menck, “let me just fetch your bib.”

“As long as you realize you’ll have to carry it around the whole time,” grumbled Magson. “Because I’m not putting it on in this heat.”

The temperature was only part of the reason — as Menck knew perfectly well. Magson loathed the stupid crime-scene vests. Besides, it said crime scene investigator on the ones meant for the detectives.

“The blue brings out your eyes, man,” said Menck with a smile revealing his teeth.

“My eyes are green.”

They walked up to the barbed-wire fence running all along the shoulder of the road. Magson noticed no signs of rust or disrepair, but here where most of the vehicles were parked, four of the posts had been overturned.

“I take it, it was like this?”

“Yes,” said the uniform.

They followed him through the opening. No tire treads. And the gap was too small for a vehicle to fit through. Had the victim walked? Or had she been carried?

Everything in the hilly environment looked the same — brown and dead, like the tall grass brushing against the legs of his trousers. Except for the snake of reeds, most likely following a small stream. In the distance was a clump of blue gum trees. The air was dry and the smell reminded him of chili, the flakes Menck was always shoving under his nose. Sweat trickled down his neck and he wondered how much further it was to the body.

Reaching the top of a hill, Magson saw the people. Members of the Local Criminal Record Center had begun to document the scene. Captain Henz Kritzinger was in conversation with a small group of people, one of whom was the forensic pathologist — she stood out like a beacon in her white overalls and the bright orange vest with the words forensic pathology services on it.

Captain Kritzinger grimaced. “Well, do what you can.”

The LCRC member nodded and walked off.

“Captain,” greeted Magson.

“The doctor thinks we have a problem.”

“She has already begun decomposing in this heat,” said Doctor Sinette Killian, brushing an errant brown lock from her forehead, “but the indications are that she was hanged.”

“Hanged?” asked Menck. “I can’t remember us ever having a murder by hanging.”

“I can.”

“That is the problem,” said Kritzinger.

“There was a girl, around September, October last year, I think, perhaps November,” explained Doctor Killian. “There were signs of sexual assault. She was also dressed, but her panties were gone.”

“But she wasn’t one of ours,” said Menck.

“I can’t remember who the investigating officer was, but as far as I know, the docket is still open.”

Two for the price of one, Magson thought. Fantastic.

The body looked like that of a teenage girl. She was clothed in a pair of shorts and a white top with spaghetti straps, but her feet were bare. Her abdomen was severely distended with gas and the exposed skin was a brownish yellow with dark green blotches. There was a lively presence of maggots, some quite large. Thick, dark fluid had seeped from her nostrils and mouth. The smell — something resembling rotten eggs and decaying meat coupled with that sweet smell unique to humans — was so strong that Magson could taste it at the back of his throat, and he knew it would be clinging to his clothes all the way home.

Doctor Killian knelt next to the body and gently turned the girl’s head away from them. Her swollen face did not look good — the first wave of blowfly females had targeted her eyes, nose, mouth and ears to lay their eggs. But it was evident from the lush dark brown ponytail that she’d had beautiful hair. A discolored furrow was visible in areas around her throat and neck, despite the attentions of the maggots.

“The furrow is high here against the throat,” indicated the pathologist. “Then it slants upward around the sides of the neck to the back.” She looked up at Magson and squinted against the sun. “This is where the knot would’ve been.”

He walked around the body and crouched on the other side. Blowflies buzzed around the girl, touching down, lifting off. The frenzied maggots were eating as if they knew their time was running out. The girl’s clothes were not torn. Everything was where it should be. “And you say it looks like the previous one, Doc?”

“I’d like to do the post mortem first and have a look at my report on last year’s case, but murder victims who were hanged are extremely rare, as you’re well aware. Death by hanging is pretty much always suicide. So it would be quite a coincidence if we’re looking at two different killers.”

“Coincidence,” said Magson. “Not likely. How long do you think she’s been lying here?”

“Five to eight days maybe.”

He placed his hands on his knees and pushed himself erect. All his hinges were in need of a few squirts of Q20. The left knee could do with some new parts.

Menck was looking around, rubbing his short dark brown hair, then stroking his moustache and goatee. “It’s far to those bloekomtrees. If she was hanged there, why drag her all the way over here?”

Doctor Killian rose as well. “There are indications that she had been bound.”

“But he untied her,” said Magson. “Probably after. No rope left with the body.”

“Feels more like a dump site,” said Menck.

“What’s the birdwatcher’s story?”

“She saw some or other bird and told her husband to stop,” said Captain Kritzinger. “Got out and followed the thing to hell and gone, binoculars in one hand, bird guide in the other. Her husband says it’s the story of his life.”

“And then she found the girl.”

“Hmm. I don’t think the husband will be stopping for a bird again any time soon.”

Menck chuckled.

Magson looked back towards the road, despite the hills hiding it from view. “I’m wondering about the fence.”

“Did he break it,” asked Menck, “or find it that way?”

“LCRC will have a look in any case,” said Kritzinger.

“Hanging.” Magson turned his attention back to the ugly furrow in the girl’s neck.

“It’s not just a way to kill someone. It’s also a form of execution.”

Book details

"The sound of gunshots shattered the stillness of the night" - read an excerpt from Chanette Paul's Sacrificed

Caz Colijn receives a phone call from Belgium that tears her out of her reclusive life. In Belgium, where she tries to trace her and her daughter’s family origins, it becomes clear that that country’s colonial past has had as much impact on her life as the apartheid years in South Africa did.

Sacrificed

Read an excerpt from Chanette Paul’s riveting Sacrificed here:

Prologue
17 January 1961
Katanga, Congo

The night air reeked of savanna dust, sweat and fear. Of betrayal, greed and the thirst for power. A stench Ammie knew well.

César’s left hand gripped her arm. The right hand was clenched around her jaw.

“Watch, bitch,” he hissed in her ear. “Watch!”

Elijah stood under an acacia, a hare in the headlights. It was new moon. At the fringes of the pale smudge between somewhere and nowhere loomed the vague shapes of more trees. Somewhere to the left something rustled in the tall grass. A jackal howled in the distance, its mate echoing the mournful cry.

A command rang out, followed by the distinct sound of four rifles being cocked. She wanted to close her eyes but she kept staring as if her eyelids were starched.

Elijah coughed and spat out a gob of bloody mucus. His vest, once white, was smeared with soil, sweat, saliva, blood. One shoe was missing. He wasn’t looking at the soldiers with their rifles. From behind the lopsided spectacles on his battered face his eyes searched out her own. The glare on the lenses made it impossible to read the expression in his eyes.
Another command. Rifles raised to shoulders.

Sweat rolled down Elijah’s temples. He strained against the ropes, tried to find some slack around his wrists and ankles but finally gave up. His knees twitched. His calves trembled. His lips were fixed in a stiff grimace.

Everything seemed surreal — what she was witnessing now, as well as the events of earlier that evening.

On her way to Elijah’s house to warn him, she had seen the column of smoke from a distance. When she arrived at what had been his house it was clear that nothing had escaped the inferno. Not his desk, with all his documents, nor the shelves with the books he valued so highly. Not the photograph, taken in better days, of Elijah and Patrice Lumumba laughing together. Not even his Immatriculation certificate, the one piece of paper that, only a year ago, had been worth more than gold to every évolué: the passport to a better life.

When a vehicle had pulled up beside her and she was dragged inside, none of the spectators feasting their eyes on the mayhem had lifted a finger to help her.

Now, in these moments before the inevitable took place, Elijah stopped being the eternal student, the teacher, the philosopher. He was no longer Patrice Lumumba’s friend, mentor and critic. Or the man who had helped feed, clothe and educate so many orphaned children. No longer the optimist who would simply face the odds and keep going.

He was just a man in a soiled vest, his spectacles tilted at an odd angle.

A man who knew too much. Who had too much influence on Lumumba.

Who had become a complication.

But more than anything, he was the man who loved her.

Another command. The words failed to get through to her, but the intention behind them was unmistakable.

The vice-like grip around her arm and chin tightened.

Did Elijah, at that moment, still believe in God’s will? The will of a God who had saved Abraham when he had been on the point of offering his son, but had not granted his own Son the same salvation? Nor Elijah today.

The sound of gunshots shattered the stillness of the night. Ammie screamed as if it were unexpected. And maybe it had been. Maybe she didn’t really believe that these white savages, that César, could be so debased.

Elijah’s body jerked, spun to the right, fell against a tree trunk and collapsed in a heap in the shallow grave he’d probably had to dig himself earlier that day. Flesh, sinew and bone serving no further purpose. Blood pumping through the heart one last time colored the vest crimson, hiding the smears of dust and saliva.

César shoved her aside. Pain shot through her knee and elbow as she fell on the gravelly earth, grass blades scratching her arms. César wiped his hands on his trousers as if they were contaminated. For a moment his pale blue eyes met hers before a stream of saliva shot from his mouth and splattered against her cheek.

Dimly she became aware of the sounds of Elijah’s body being covered with clods and rocks and gravel.

For a brief moment her world tilted.

“Elijah!” More than a scream, it was a raw sound from a place she hadn’t known existed.

The first boot struck her side. The second, her shoulder.

“Whore!”

Somewhere an owl was calling its mate.

The next kick exploded against her temple.

The pool of light grew dim, giving way to the mysterious sounds of nocturnal Africa.

One
Monday, September 1, Present day
Caz
Overberg, South Africa

Tieneke’s voice was as clear as if she were calling from the neighboring smallholding, instead of six thousand kilometers away. The words got stuck somewhere in Caz’s ear, their meaning distorted by some tube or bone or anvil. Tieneke? After so many years?

“I said: Mother is at her last gasp,” her sister repeated when Caz failed to react. Tieneke was impatient, even in this situation.

Caz remembered that about her. Though she had actually forgotten.

“I didn’t know Mother was still alive,” she finally found her voice. “She must be well into her nineties.”

“Ninety-eight. She’s been relatively healthy and quite lucid for her age until just a few days ago, when she suddenly went downhill. But she won’t hear of a nursing home. Not that I’d consider it. I’ve been taking care of her for most of her life, after all. Why not see it through to the end?” Reproach lay like thick sediment in Tieneke’s tone.

With unseeing eyes Caz stared at the splotch the Cape robin had left on the corner of the desk. Bloody cheek, eating Catya’s pellets, and then shitting all over the house.
What could she say to Tieneke? I’m sorry to hear Moth¬er is dying at the ripe old age of ninety-eight? I’m sorry you never got married—at sixty-five you’re probably too old now? I’m sorry I didn’t try to make contact again after being chased away like a mangy dog when I needed you most thirty-one years ago?

“Why are you telling me this, Tieneke?” The question sounded heartless. Would have been heartless in any other circumstances. Probably still was.

“Mother wants to see you before she dies.”

Everything fell silent—the sound of the wind in the wild olive tree, the din of birds, the soft hum of the computer—as if she had been robbed of her hearing in one fell swoop.
“What?” The word flew from her mouth.

“We don’t have much time. You’ll have to get a Schengen. Go to the Belgian Consulate. I presume you have a passport. You have to buy your plane ticket before applying for the visa. You probably don’t want to waste your time in Dubai or Istanbul, so forget about Emirates or the Turkish airline, even if they do fly to Brussels. KLM has a direct flight to Amsterdam and from there you can take the train to Ghent-Dampoort. It takes about three hours. You’ll have to change trains at Antwerp Central. From Ghent-Dampoort you take bus number three. Get off at . . .”

“Tieneke!” The sharpness in her voice stemmed the flood. Caz drew a deep breath, tried to calm down. “Why does Ma Fien want to see me?”

A deep sigh came down the line. It began in Ghent, trav¬eled through Belgium, across half of Europe, down the length of Northern Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and found its way to the cottage at the foot of the Kleineberg in the Over¬berg district.

“I don’t know. She won’t say. She gets terribly upset if I mention the possibility that you might not come. Is that how you want Mother to meet her Maker? So unfulfilled?”

Why should I give a damn about Josefien Colijn’s lack of fulfilment, Caz was tempted to ask. After all, Fien didn’t give a damn three decades ago when she turned her back on her month-old granddaughter along with Caz and sent them out into the world to face scorn and humiliation. But this Tieneke knew. She had been there.

The jacarandas had been blossoming in Pretoria. Also the one in front of her childhood home, where she turned for one last beseeching look at the two women on the porch. Stunned that her mother and sister could send her away like that, refusing even to hear her side of the story. Not allowing her to cross the threshold of the house where she had grown up.

The two of them just stood there. Floral dresses stretched tight over plump figures. Tieneke with the first signs of gray in her wispy blonde hair. Fien’s hair snowy white, stiffly permed. Longish faces, pale blue eyes, lips pursed over yellow teeth sprouting haphazardly from both sets of gums—a legacy of cruel genes.

Lilah had whimpered in her arms. And just then a jacaranda blossom had floated down and settled on the dark hair. That was how she got her new name: Lila, which later became Lilah when her modeling career took off. Hentie had wanted to call his daughter Johanna Jacomina, after his paternal grandmother, but Hentie’s father had forbidden him to have the baby registered. Just as well.
“Cassie, please.” These were possibly the hardest two words Tieneke had ever spoken in her life. The image of the women on the porch faded.

“Please what? Why now? Not once in the eleven years before you returned to Belgium did either of you call me or try to find out how I was doing. I had to learn from an at¬torney that you had gone back to Belgium and were living in Ghent. Not a single word after that either. And now you expect me to drop everything and fly over there?”

“I followed Lilah’s career.”

Anger robbed Caz of breath. For a moment everything grew dim. “Is that what this is about? Lilah’s success? Are you after her money?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We live comfortably. You know we believe in sobriety.”

Sobriety? Make that bloody stinginess. Caz had been eighteen before she could choose her own dress for the first time, a dress that wasn’t a Tieneke hand-me-down. One that didn’t have to be taken in and the hem let out to cater for the difference in weight and height. Caz had been a gangly giant in a family of chubby short-arses.

She took a deep breath. “Sorry, Tieneke, no go. Give Ma Fien my best, but I can’t travel halfway around the world just because she’s dying. I may be many things, but I’m not a hypocrite.”

Silence hummed across thousands of kilometers before Tieneke cleared her throat. “I think she wants to tell you the truth.”

“Truth?” The computer’s screensaver began its little dance. Multicolored bubbles rolling across the freshly translated text added to the out-of-body feeling that took hold of her. “What do you mean?”

“Come over here and find out, Cassie. Before it’s too late. I was only eleven when you were born. Only Mother can tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“Who your biological parents are.”

“My what?”

“Your birth mother didn’t want you, so Mother and Father took pity on you and offered to raise you. That’s all Mother said at the time. It’s all I know. You can contact us through the attorney to tell us when you’ll be arriving. Mr. Moerdyk, in case you’ve forgotten. In Pretoria. Good day, Cassie.”

The line went dead. The silence was pitch black. Like the spots dancing in front of Caz’s eyes.

Book details

Read the first chapter of Paige Nick's Unpresidented

In the irreverent tradition of her best-selling Death by Carbs, Paige Nick rounds up a fresh herd of sacred cows in another hilarious local satire. But this time it’s Number One who gets the treatment…

It’s 2020, and ex-president Jeremiah Gejeyishwebisa Muza has just been released from prison on medical parole, with a dangerously infected ingrown toenail. Now he’s back home with his two remaining wives, a skinny dog, a rapidly dwindling entourage, and a fire pool to maintain. Plus the municipality is demanding he pay a vast outstanding rates bill.

But Muza has plans – big ones – that include a memoir of alternative facts being ghostwritten by disgraced journo Matthew Stone. Will Stone meet his deadline, as publisher, agent, and drug dealer all breathe down his neck? Will Muza pay the money in time and succeed in his plans to conquer the world? Will his long-suffering parole officer stay one jump ahead of him? And which side is he limping on today?

Enjoy the first chapter of Unpresidented: A Comedy of Errors:

30 DAYS TILL DEADLINE
THE WRITER

‘Writer, did you type up all those words I gave you yesterday?’ The ex-President asks as he lumbers into the room without apology. I shouldn’t complain, he’s only forty-five minutes late. Better than yesterday, when I stared at the four walls and a damp-stained ceiling for an hour and a half before he and his entourage deigned to grace me with their presence.

‘I did, sir, but I need to discuss this with you…’

‘Excellent. Read those words back to me now, comrade, so we can hear how it sounds before we proceed with Chapter Two. I think this is going to be a very, very great book, a bestseller definitely.’

His gang all nod and two of them high-five each other. I try again, forcing respect into my tone: ‘Yes sir, but the thing is…’

‘Ah, you are intimidated by me, Mr Stone. And I understand, I know it must be unnerving being so close to a living legend, but remember, I am still just a man who is made of flesh, bones and blood.’

‘No sir, actually, that’s not it…’ I begin again.

‘And you don’t have to call me sir. You can call me Mr President.’

‘Ex-President,’ I mumble.

‘You can begin reading now, Mr Stone. I’m an important man, with a sore toe, and I’m sure you don’t want to waste any more of my time.’

Trying to reason with him appears to be useless. I roll my eyes so far back in my head I can see the wall behind me. When they roll back around again, I tilt my laptop screen to offset the glare, clear my throat, and read as un-sarcastically as possible. Which isn’t easy.

‘Chapter One,’ I begin. ‘It was a beautiful day outside, but I had to be patient when I was released from prison, because it took forever for the gates to slide open so I could step into freedom, wearing my expensive suit. Even from behind my tinted glasses, I had to blink away the glare of the sun and cameras. It would take me a while to adjust back into the world after my time away.

‘With all eyes on me, I overcame great pain from the considerable injury that resulted in my medical parole, and limped to the podium. I am from the people of the sky – amaZulu. We are warriors, and a great man does not allow something as inconsequential as a life-threatening physical injury to hinder him. It takes more than a small axe to fell a great tree.

‘During my time away I had lost the padding I gained during my presidential years, and replaced it with this lean, agile physique I have now. When I finally got to the podium…’

‘I believe it was “of a boxer”,’ Muza interrupts me.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The line you just read out, comrade writer: it’s supposed to say that I replaced my bulk with the lean, agile physique of a boxer. You said the words, “lean, agile physique”, but you must also include the boxer bit. It’s a very important detail.’

The ex-President’s men grunt. I type in his changes, bashing at the keyboard with two reluctant fingers, then reread the revised sentence in a monotone.

‘…During my time away I had lost the padding I gained during my presidential years, and replaced it with the lean, agile physique of a boxer.’ I look up to see if he’s satisfied. His double chins wobble as he nods, and his gang add their bobble-head-dog-on-the-dashboard nods, so I continue reading.

‘In the glare of hundreds of thousands of camera flashes, the first thing I saw from the podium, with my tireless lawyer, comrade Zwelani, by my side, was the massive crowd. In their excitement to be near their idol, thousands of people surged forward, roaring my name, “Muza, Muza, Muza!” The men were dancing, the women ululating. Some of the people in the crowd were even crying – with happiness, of course!

Fans threw flowers at me as the press jostled to get the best shot for the world’s newspaper covers the next day. They had to be pushed back by the police! I waited for the crowd to settle, so I could be heard over the cheering. Then I spoke directly to my people for the first time in three years, eight months and twenty-seven days. It is a triumphant moment I will never forget. In prison, not a day went by that I didn’t visualise my great resurrection! My holy revival! Viva Muza, viva!

‘The crowd hung on my every word. History will report that I am a great orator. And so, in this historic speech that will be quoted until the end of time, I did not shy away from the truth! I recalled the contentious circumstances of my detainment, outlining how my opponents and adversaries colluded and abused the ends of justice to bring me down! The crowd roared! They saw before them a man who could not be kept low! A man who would soon lead them once again!

‘Then other VIPs came to the podium. A preacher spoke of how I made this country great while I was President. Then a community leader bore witness to my charity and intelligence. Of course the press will not report on these things, comrades, because they are out to get me, spreading hateful propaganda. But believe me, I heard and saw these events with my very own eyes and ears.’

I peer over my screen as I come to the end of the chapter. The ex-President’s eyes are closed, and he’s mouthing the words as I read. When I’m done, he starts clapping, and everyone else joins in.

‘Very good, Mr Stone. Very, very good. You are clearly a talented writer. This is rousing, powerful stuff, don’t you agree?’

‘I would agree, sir, except … except, I didn’t write a word of it, and none of it is really true, is it?’

Muza glares at me as the room goes quiet.

‘What are you saying, writer?’

‘I’m saying, sir, Mr ex-President, sir, that what you dictated to me and instructed me to type up, isn’t exactly how things really played out on the day.’

‘How do you know what happened on that day, Mr Stone? You weren’t there from what I understand.’

‘No, you’re right about that part at least, I wasn’t there on the day you were released from prison.’

‘And neither were the millions of people who will be buying and reading this book, were they, Mr Stone?’ says the ex-President as he sips from one of the Cokes his men have handed round. I note that nobody has offered me one.

‘No, sir, once again you’re right, the people who will buy this book probably weren’t there on that day, but you see, the press were there, and they had cameras. People tweeted and Facebooked and Instagrammed about it. And from everything I saw, the events on the day were vastly different to the ones you’ve had me write down here.

‘For example, there were no speakers, and the crowd had to be held back because the police were concerned for your safety. You say people were throwing flowers, but there are only reports of some rotting fruit and veg flying around. And the bit about how much weight you lost, well, I don’t know how to put this delicately, sir, but many have referred to your parliamentary pillow…’ I say, noting his massive bulk. He’s wearing a grubby leopard-print vest with a hole just under the armpit and a pair of faded black tracksuit bottoms. His boep stretches the fabric of the vest to its limits. Boxer’s physique, my foot. Maybe in the heavyweight category. Float like an elephant, sting like a buzzard.

‘Comrade Stone, clearly you have a lot to learn about politics,’ Muza booms. ‘Just because the press says something doesn’t mean it’s true. If we believed everything the press have accused me of in the last twenty years, where would I be today?’

‘Probably still in jail,’ I mutter.

‘Exactly!’ he shoots back. ‘And I’m not, am I? I am here, back in my majestic, magnificent Homestead, where I belong. Working on some very big business plans and preparing to lead this great country once again. So you see, you can’t always believe what the press prints.’

‘Weeeeeell…’ I say.

‘And whose memories are these anyway? They are mine, not yours, Mr Stone. Mine,’ he snaps.

Muza’s veneer of charm is thinning. Not that I care. What’s he going to do, call SARS and have me audited? Fire me, hire someone else to do the job, fire them, and then hire someone new all in one weekend? Complain to Cyril? Set The Hawks on me? Hardly. He’d be lucky to find the power or the airtime to set a budgie on me. Although I don’t like the looks I’m getting from his heavies.

‘First of all, it’s a memoir, not memories, sir. And secondly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that you’re under contract with my publisher. We have a month in which you’re contractually obliged to tell me your story: the truth as it really happened, not a bunch of alternative facts that you’ve whipped up.’

‘And let me remind you, comrade Stone, that you TOO are under contract with MY publisher. You are supposed to write down everything I tell you.’

‘Yes, but right now there’s a rather big difference between everything you tell me and the truth.’

‘Are you calling me a liar, comrade Stone?’

We glare at each other, neither wanting to look away first. Until he starts his trademark chuckle, and everyone else in the room starts laughing too. I’m thrown; it’s not a reaction I was expecting.

All challenge leaves his eyes as he changes tack: ‘You must relax, comrade Stone. You worry too much. You will have your stories, and the publisher will get their book in time.’

‘Are you sure? Because we only have a month, and I’ve already been here for three days, and all you’ve done so far is keep me waiting, and then dictate a bunch of fake news, and make me write it down with a lot of exclamation marks. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to use any of it, unless the publisher decides to put this title on their fiction list instead.’

‘So, Mr Professional Writer, you don’t like the way I work. Why don’t you tell us all how you would like to do this instead?’

‘Well, for one, we’re going to need to spend a lot more time together if we’re going to get your story down in the time we have left. And you’re going to have to allow me to write it for you. What’s the point of having a professional writer if you don’t let me actually write anything? If your idea is to dictate your version of the story to me, then let’s rather just get a typist. But I think you’ll find I’m a damn good writer, if you give me half a chance.’

‘Perhaps you’re right, comrade.’

‘Really?’

‘Sure,’ he says.

‘So you’ll agree to meet with me every day for a few hours, and if you’re going anywhere or having any meetings, perhaps I can shadow you?’

Muza nods, and his entourage domino-nods.

I’m flooded with relief. I press record and place my dictaphone on the coffee table between us.

‘That would be brilliant. Why don’t we start with how it really felt to come back to the Homestead that day, after being away for so long? Did you know that three of your five wives had left you while you were in prison, and that you would be coming home to a much emptier Homestead than the one you left three years, eight months and twenty-seven days earlier?’

Muza stares at the dictaphone. He shifts in his seat and winces.

‘Those are interesting questions, comrade writer. You have given me a lot to think about and I need to consider my responses carefully. So I think that is enough work on the memories for today, don’t you?’

‘But it’s only eleven,’ I say as Muza makes a few false starts at getting to his feet, rocking backwards and forwards. Finally he clutches the armrest to heave himself out of the leather couch.

‘Can we talk again later?’ I ask.

‘I have a phone call with the Minister of Finance now, and then an important meeting with my campaign manager that I need to prepare for, so regrettably I will have to cut our work on the memories short today.’

‘Can I sit in on the calls?’

‘I would invite you, comrade, but it’s sensitive business. Top secret, in fact.’

‘Sir, Mr ex-President…’ I begin, my voice stern.

‘Alright, alright, I have a meeting with my parole officer in a few days. You can join us for that. One last thing before I go, comrade Stone.’

‘Yes?’ I say, hopefully.

‘You wouldn’t have a couple hundred I could borrow? A bottle of Johnnie Walker Black would definitely help me get my creative juices flowing, so we can write these memories together in time.’

‘That’s the point I was trying to make before, Mr ex-President. Please don’t flow with creative juices. I don’t want your juices. The creativity part is my job. I just need you to tell me the truth in your own words: how you feel and what you’re going through. People want to hear about the real man behind the legend.’

‘Precisely, comrade Stone, you are right of course. And I think a bottle of Johnnie Black would definitely help me find that man for you.’

‘Didn’t you just get a massive advance from the publisher?’ I ask.

His jaw sets. ‘Do you have any idea how much it costs to run a place like this?’ He indicates the mouldering ceiling and stained walls.

‘I think most of South Africa has some idea,’ I murmur. ‘Not to mention the legal fees from my early parole.’

Legal fees: that’s a euphemism if ever I’ve heard one, I think, as the ex-President puts his hand out, palm up. And he’s not waiting for a high five. I take cash out of my pocket and he grabs a corner of the wad. I grip my end of it tightly.

‘If I give you this, do you promise we can do some more work together later today, after your calls?’

‘Of course, comrade, you have my word,’ he says.

I let go of my side of the wad, and the cash is secreted in his tracksuit pants in under a second.

‘And if not today, comrade, we’re definitely on for tomorrow,’ he adds as he waddles out of the room, followed by his crew. He’s quick on his feet for a man with such a dangerously infected ingrown toenail that he’s been released from prison years early on medical parole.

I look around for something to punch, but everything in this room looks like it already had the life punched out of it ages ago.

Unpresidented

Book details

Lees ’n uittreksel van Lloyd Zandberg se spitsvondige debuut kortverhaalbundel Per Ongeluk

Lloyd Zandberg is ‘n opwindende nuwe stem in Suid-Afrikaanse satire.

Kyk één keer deur sy oë na die lewe, en niks sal ooit weer dieselfde wees nie.

Hierdie versameling kortverhale bied ‘n histeriese kykie op alledaagse situasies: ‘n tango-les in die platteland; die tannie “so eenvoudig soos ‘n ses-stuk legkaart”; ‘n besoek aan ‘n tandarts en sy assistent met wie hy meer as net ‘n spreekkamer deel.

Zandberg se debuut is ‘n boek vol deernis en humor, met vriendelike gebruiksaanwysings vir mense wat nie so goed lees nie.

Uittreksel uit “Inkopies”, ’n kortverhaal wat verskyn in Lloyd Zandberg se debuutbundel, Per ongeluk (Tafelberg, 2017).

Ek het al in my lewe geskenke gekry wat my laat bloos het vir maande aaneen, sielkundige toe gestuur het of net lelik laat laster het. Een jaar het ek by ’n vriend van my ’n springtou en ’n aero- bics manual gekry. Ek weet presies wat hy wou sê, maar dit was onnodig, hoewel my eating disorder geen staatsgeheim was nie.

Ouma, aan die ander kant, was briljant met die koop van geskenke. Dit was asof sy jou met R50 kom opsom. Elkeen in die familie het altyd iets kleins gekry, maar dit was elke keer in die kol. Tot die honde, katte, budgies, rotte, hamsters en vissie kry geskenke. Sy het nooit gemors gekoop nie.

Deur die jaar het sy al idees bymekaar begin gooi, en vroeg in November het sy oorgegaan tot aksie. Die geskenkkoopses- sies was gewoonlik ’n hele dag se storie.

So loop ek en Ouma die winkelrakke deur terwyl Bles Bridges ons in die agtergrond vermaak met sy musiek. Ek sê nou maar musiek, want dit speel oor ’n speaker, maar ek weet nie of dit as musiek geklassifiseer kan word nie. Bles moes liewer kyk na ’n modeling career of professioneel dans, want sy nommers maak my ongemaklik. Maar ek en Ouma gee Bles die benefit of the doubt en gaan aan met ons soeke na elkeen se geskenke.

Op daardie stadium het ons al vier-en-sestig Krismis-crack- ers teen ’n onverbeterbare prys gekoop. Daar is net agtien van ons, maar Krismis-crackers hou mos.
’n Paar minute later is ons in die afdeling vir persoonlike higiëne en ons staan voor die rak met die shampoo en con- ditioners. My ouma trek ’n bottel bubblebath vir my ma van die rak af en lees die label agterop. Dit is toe dat ’n vrou met liggaamsdele waarvan sy nie weet nie naderstap en my op die skouer tik.

“Waar kry jy die crackers?” vra sy.

Ek skrik, want skielik sien ek ’n deel van haar waarvan sy blykbaar onbewus is. Party mense noem dit ’n suikerpens. Die vrou wys met so ’n vienna-vinger na my ouma, wat met die mid- night blue bubblebath staan.

“Is dit jou ma?” vra sy.

“Nee,” sê ek, “dit is my ouma. En sy is kwaai.”

Ouma het aanbeweeg, sy is nie hier vir geselsies maak nie. “Sjoe,” sê die vrou, “sy is so jonk. Mevrou, jy is pragtig.” “Dankie en geseënde Kersfees vir jou,” sê Ouma, haar aan-
dag nou afgetrek deur ’n nuwe ekseemroom wat net vir my ouer broer se Kerskous bedoel kan wees.

Ek vra toe vir haar of sy bewus is van daai stuk wat so hang.

“Nee,” sê sy, “waarvan praat jy?”

“Daar hang iets onder jou bloes waarvan jy nie weet nie.” “O, my pensie,” sê sy en vat aan haar maag waar dit op die trollie rus.

“Dit is tannie se tupperware, my maag stoor alles daar wat te veel is,” lag sy asof sy in ’n advertensie vir haar maag speel. “As die oorlog kom, het ek genoeg rantsoen, my pens weet mos nie wat môre gebeur nie.”

My ouma loop ’n ent verder en ek bly staan en verkyk my aan die tannie wat sukkel om ’n koekie seep van die boonste rak af te haal. Dit is toe dat haar man om die draai kom met ’n slaapsak in sy regterhand en onder sy linkerarm knyp hy ’n kleinerige gasbottel vas, soos een wat wil steel. Ek kan sien hy het groot planne wat haar nie betrek nie. Sy weet dit net nog nie.

Ouma waai vir my dat ek moet kom. Sy wil weet of my suster se voete sal pas in die voetbadjie wat sy vashou. Ouma se trollie is al vol familie. Ek sien elkeen se gesig. Bles Bridges se “Reik na die sterre” begin speel.

Maar heeltyd hou ek vir Tupperware en Cadac dop. “My maggies, ons troulied!” sê Tupperware vir Cadac. “I’ll be damned,” sê ek.

“Moenie so staar nie,” sê Ouma.

Ek kan my oë nie glo nie. Die twee staan en langarm soos mense by ’n wildsfees – heel van ritme af en asof hulle gedwing word. Ek staan nader aan Ouma, want ek is bang. Nes Bles die chorus vir ’n tweede keer begin sing, skree iemand kliphard daar aan die ander kant van die winkel.

Ek dog nog daar is ’n special op brandewyn of Coke of iets en begin al Ouma se waentjie omdraai. Maar toe sien ek die man met die pistool. Hy sê op ’n dringende toon dat ons almal op die vloer moet lê. Dit lyk asof hy dit bedoel. Hy het daai uitdrukking op sy gesig van iemand wat nou ’n toilet nodig het.

’n Mens glo mos maar eerder so ’n persoon.

Ek gryp Ouma se hand en vra haar of hulle ernstig is. Sy kyk my net aan en ons albei besef dis nie speletjies nie. Ek en sy val soos slap kak op die vloer, maar Tupperware en die man gaan aan asof hulle van niks weet nie. Hulle dans so dat dit amper vir my mooi is.

ek reik na die sterre niks is ooit vir my te ver nie liefde
in my lewe laat my ook op plekke swewe iets om na te
strewe want dit is my hele lewe
ek wil aan jou vertel, maar ek dink tog jy weet dit wel jy is
my lewe


“Julle moet loop lê!” sis ek.

“Net op ons anniversary,” sê Tupperware.

“Jammer om te hoor, maar hulle gaan ons skiet,” sê ek.

“Ek was in die army,” sê Cadac. “Julle moet kalm bly, hierdie amateurs het nie ’n kans nie.”

“Jy was ’n week daar,” sê Tupperware. “Jy is ’n onderwyser, wat weet jy?”

“Ons gaan vrek,” sê ek.

Oral om ons lê almal tjoepstil soos kinders by ’n evangeliese kerkkamp terwyl party lyk asof hulle dalk in tale mag begin praat. Ouma lê langs my, maar sy is min gepla. Sy kon net so- wel op Hentiesbaai se strand lê.

“Ek sal op my rug moet lê,” sê ek, “my maag druk my ribbes dat ek nie asem kry nie.”

“Doen wat jy wil,” sê Ouma, “dit mag dalk jou laaste kans wees.”

“Moenie so sê nie, dit laat my nog meer sukkel vir asem,” sê ek. Toe ek omdraai om op my rug te lê, kyk ek op en sien die verskriklike hoë rakke wat hoog bo ons uittroon, asof ek in die middel van die pad in 5th Avenue in New York lê. Wolkekrab- bers vol shampoo en body wash.

“As hulle hier begin skiet, is dit ’n moerse skuimbad,” sê ek. Ek praat gewoonlik kak as ek nervous is.

Ons lê vir ’n verdere sewe minute. Intussen het Bles oorge- skakel na “Ruiter van die windjie” en ek sien hoe Tupperware se voet klop-klop saam met die chorus:

ruiter van die windjie wil ek bly vryer
as die voëltjies rondom my van verre
lande vertel ek
goue strande en die see, oho hoo

Die man met die pistool sien ek nie weer nie, maar ek pak intussen die R37,50 uit my beursie langs my selfoon as hy dalk sou belangstel. Van waar ek lê, kan ek onder die rak deur kyk na waar ’n tannie in ’n pastelkleurige kaftan lê en bid.

Skielik gaan daar ’n alarm af. Ek skrik my spoeg weg. Ek het geweet dit is die einde.

“Is ons dood?” vra ek vir Ouma.

“Nee, man,” sê sy, “dis Bles se jodelliedjie, ken jy dit nie?”

Boekbesonderhede

In light of the death of Karabo Mokoena, read an excerpt from It's Me, Marah in which Marah Louw writes about a similar experience

With the recent incident of Karabo Mokoena being killed and burnt by her boyfriend, Blackbird Books wanted to share the following excerpt from Marah Louw’s autobiography It’s Me, Marah, describing a similar incident of this horrific tragedy. Rest in peace, Karabo.

The beginning of May 1972 was the end of my family as we knew it. One morning around six, as I was getting ready to go to the technical college, there was a knock on the door. My father had already left for work but my mother was home. When we answered, David Mofokeng, my sister Mabasotho’s boyfriend staggered in. Both his arms were bandaged and he looked depressed and anxious. We had barely got over our shock when David started weeping and talking at the same time.

‘Dumelang mama.’

He continued to speak through his sobs, making it difficult for us to hear, let alone understand what he was saying. My mom pleaded with him to speak slowly and eventually, even though it was still hard to hear him, he said, ‘Re hlahetswe ke kotsi kwana ntlung Senaoane. Ho bile lekotsi ya setofo sa paraffin, Mabasotho o lemetse, le nna ke tjhele matsohong ke leka ho tima mollo.’

I looked him straight in the eye and asked him to repeat himself. My heart was beating fast and hard and I wanted to make sure that I had heard him right.

David and Mabasotho lived in an ordinary four-room house in Mapetla, a section of Soweto. Images of their house started flooding my head; I could not remember seeing a paraffin stove. They had electricity – all the houses in the township did – so where the hell did a paraffin stove come from? I had been to their house just two days earlier and remembered my sister cooking on the electric stove. Their house had two bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. The toilet was outside and there was no bathroom, just like the other houses in that township, and it was simply furnished.

I started shouting at David, demanding that he tell me where the paraffin stove came from. ‘Se tswa kae setofo sa paraffin maan?’

My rage would not let me wait for him to finish the story. I was already dressed for college, so I grabbed my bag and shot out of the door. All I could think of was that I had to get to Baragwanath Hospital.

Not much was happening in the streets besides a few people rushing to work. It was early in the morning and a bit misty; winter was coming. Instead of taking the train I was meant to catch to town, I sought a taxi that would get me to the hospital. Luckily, it was not a long wait. There are always taxis and buses passing below Mzimhlophe railway station, that part of Mzimhlophe called Ezi’Ndlovini. I flagged down one of the popular Chrysler Valiant taxis (the ordinary sedans). There was room for one more passenger. It was a bit squashed but I didn’t care; I needed to get to the hospital.

Baragwanath Hospital is the largest in the country. I arrived around 7am and since visitors are not normally allowed in at that time of day, I pretended to be a patient and security let me through.

I walked through the corridors, not sure where to go. At reception at the admissions ward, I spoke to one of the nurses, my heart racing. I told her my sister had been admitted that morning with burn wounds. I gave her my sister’s full name and surname. She told me to return during visiting hours but I insisted on seeing her. The nurse checked the registration book, found her name and directed me to the burns ward. It was a long walk, through other wards, and the smell was unpleasant. I didn’t really mind the smell though, because I needed to see my sister as soon as possible.

When I finally arrived at the burns ward a nurse pointed me to where my sister was, but I could not find her and started to panic, walking up and down, tears running down my face, talking to myself. I didn’t know what I was saying and struggled to even look at the many burn victims lying helpless on the beds. I returned to the nurse’s station, frustrated to the point of anger, and confronted one of them: ‘Nurse please ke kopa o mpontse hore Ausi wa ka o kae.’

She seemed a bit agitated with me and almost dismissive. I was tempted to shout at the nurses for traumatising me by watching me wander around the ward. Finally a nurse asked me to follow her. As we walked down the ward I started feeling weak at the knees, my feet tired, my shoes pinching my feet. I wanted to sit down and rest my legs but there was nowhere to sit.

I had little time to think about my sore feet, however, because she suddenly stopped and pointed at a person covered with bandages and lying elevated on the bed. My heart nearly stopped; I had walked past this person earlier.

I slowly approached this body of bandages, got as close to the ear as I could and whispered, ‘E be kewena Mabasotho Louw?’

With great difficulty, she managed to say yes. Her whole body, including her face, was covered with bandages. Only her mouth was exposed. Her lips were swollen. I wept as I spoke my name.

‘Ke nna Teboho.’

A nurse came up to me, pleading with me not to cry but to try to speak to my sister; she might respond to my questions.

I tearfully asked Trueblue, ‘Ho etsahetseng?’

She had difficulty breathing but murmured, ‘David.’

‘Abuti David? O entseng?’

It was a little while before she spoke again and said ‘Petrol.’

I was leaning so close to her that my face was almost touching her bandages. Her speech and breathing were laboured and I wanted to hear and understand her properly. Tears streaming down my face, I asked her once more, and then she says,‘O ntshisitseka Petrol,’ she said.

I felt numb as if my heart were about to stop beating. I was shaking, angry and in despair because I wanted to hug my sister but I was scared I might hurt her. I felt completely helpless. The nurse was still standing beside me and I asked her, ‘O lemetse hakakang?’

‘O na le,’ she said. ‘Third-degree burns.’

The emotions inside me intensified. My mind raced back to the time when my Trueblue was married to David Kunene and the physical abuse she endured. I was filled with anger and bitterness towards the men in her life, cursing everyone named David. I asked myself how I could have seen so much pain at a young age. I thought of my mother’s pain when, in a rage, Ntate had scarred her face with a broken mirror. It was too much to bear; I let out a loud cry, calling the nurses and asking them to call the police so they could take my sister’s statement. I begged God to spare her for me, weeping uncontrollably until the police arrived. I asked her to tell them what she had just told me.

A policeman asked Trueblue the same questions I had. She repeated her answers about David and the petrol. The policeman asked me if I knew the home address and I accompanied them in their van to the house.

Trueblue’s house was in Mapetla, Soweto. I didn’t have the keys, so we went around to the back of the house to try the back door. It was only partially closed. When I walked in I was hit by fumes and a strange smell I didn’t recognise.

‘Ke monkgo wa eng ona?’ I asked the police. They told me that ke monkgo wa ho tjha ha motho.

The curtains in the kitchen were burnt. There were pieces of what looked like flesh on the walls, even in the dining room. I told the police what David had told us – that a primus stove had burst and caused the fire. We could not find a primus stove. One of the policemen called us outside. He’d found a tin that smelt of petrol behind the outside toilet. I did not wait to see the rest; I told the police that David was at my home in Mzimhlophe, and we rushed there in the police van.

David was shocked to see the police. I wanted to hurt him so badly I ran out to the back of the house to fetch an axe. The police restrained me. A neighbour was already at the house and I told everyone what my sister had revealed at the hospital, and what we discovered at her house. David clearly hadn’t expected me to find my sister alive or in a condition to speak. The police arrested him immediately. There was so much sadness in the house.

I used a neighbour’s telephone to call my father at work. He came home and, together with my uncle the Reverend Mlibazisi Nkolongwane, they went to the hospital to visit my sister and see for themselves the condition she was in. They returned that afternoon with the news that she had died.

It was clear to me that God had kept her alive until someone in the family could hear the truth of what happened. I’m glad I got to the hospital in time to see and speak to her before she passed on, and for the police to hear the story for themselves so they could accompany me to the scene of the tragedy to gather evidence. We learnt the full truth of what happened that fateful night, however.

It was our family’s most traumatic week. Relatives arrived from Herschel and other parts of South Africa for the burial. Mabasotho Trueblue Louw’s funeral was something I will never forget. David came, escorted by the police. My family freaked out when they saw him and chased him away. We never attended the court case; my father refused, saying he couldn’t see the point because his daughter was gone. David was sentenced and spent a few years in jail. Many years later, I heard that he died there. Nobody from his family ever came to our house to pay their respects or show any sympathy.

Trueblue’s death left me with many unanswered questions.

It's Me, Marah

Book details