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Imagining ourselves into existence: First ever Abantu Book Festival in Soweto a roaring success

Words and images by Thato Rossouw

My Own LiberatorUnimportanceSweet MedicineAffluenzaNwelezelangaThe Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesRapeFlying Above the SkyNight DancerBlack Widow SocietyThe Everyday WifeOur Story Magic

“A conquered people often lose the inclination to tell their stories.”

These were the words of former Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke at the inaugural Abantu Book Festival, in discussion with readers about the importance of black people telling their own stories and having spaces where they can share them with one another. “We have stories to tell, they are important, and they are liberating in nature,” he said.

Moseneke’s words came as a preamble to compliment the authors Thando Mgqolozana and Panashe Chigumadzi, and the rest of their team members, for organising a festival that not only celebrated black writers, readers, pan-African book stores, and online platforms that celebrate African literature and narratives, but also gave them a safe space to speak freely about the issues they face in their struggle to liberate themselves.

The festival, which was themed “Imagining ourselves into existence”, came as a result of Mgqolozana’s decision early last year to renounce white colonial literary festivals. In an interview with The Daily Vox in May last year, Mgqolozana told Theresa Mallinson that his decision to reject these festivals came from a discomfort with literary festivals where the audience was 80 percent white. “It’s in a white suburb in a white city. I feel that I’m there to perform for an audience that does not treat me as a literary talent, but as an anthropological subject,” he said.

The three-day festival took place at two venues: the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre, which hosted free events during the day, and the Soweto Theatre, which hosted events in the evening. These evening festivities cost R20 per person and featured over 50 poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, literary scholars, screenwriters, performing artists and children’s writers from across Africa and the diaspora. Some of the writers and artists who were present at the festival include Niq Mhlongo, Unathi Magubeni, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Thandiswa Mazwai, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Lebogang Mashile and Chika Unigwe, among many others.

The first day of the festival began with a discussion featuring four black female Fallist writers, Dikeledi Sibanda, Mbali Matandela, Sandy Ndelu and Simamkele Dlakavu, titled “Writing and Rioting Black Womxn in the time of Fallism”. The discussion covered topics ranging from the role of the body, particularly the naked body, in challenging old narratives, to writing and rioting as acts of activism. It was then followed by a highly attended talk with Justice Moseneke entitled “Land and Liberation”, a concert by the group Zuko Collective at the Soweto Theatre, as well as speeches and performances at the opening night show.

Some of the riveting discussions at the festival were titled: “Land and Liberation”, “Women of Letters”, “Writing Today”, “Cut! Our Stories on Stage and Screen”, “Ghetto is Our First Love”, “Creating Platforms for Our Stories” and “Writing Stories Across and Within Genres”. The festival also included seven documentary screenings, poetry performances, a writing masterclass with Angela Makholwa and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and performances every night at the Soweto Theatre by Zuko Collective.

Dr Gcina Mhlophe gave the keynote address at the festival’s opening night, which was preceded by the singing of the decolonised national anthem and a rendition of the poem “Water” by poet Koleka Putuma. Mhlophe reminded the audience that, while it is important for us to celebrate young and upcoming artists, it is also important to remember and celebrate those that came before them. She sang and told stories about people like Mariam Tladi and Nokutela Dube and spoke about their role in the development of the arts. Dube was the first wife of Reverend John Langalibalele Dube who was the first President General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which was later renamed the African National Congress (ANC).

The festival ended with a sold-out event at the Soweto Theatre that featured a discussion on “Native Life in 2016” between Chigumadzi and I’solezwe LesiXhosa editor Unathi Kondile, facilitated by Mashile; a performance by Zuko Collective; and a Literary Crossroads session with Unigwe, facilitated by Ndumiso Ngcobo.

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The hashtag #AbantuBookFest was on fire for the duration of the festival and long afterwards:

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Kom vier die bekendstelling van Die leliemoordenaar deur Lerina Erasmus in Pretoria

Die leliemoordenaarHuman & Rousseau nooi jou graag na twee geleenthede ter viering van Lerina Erasmus se jongste roman, Die leliemoordenaar.

Mariëtta Kruger gesels op Donderdag, 24 November met die skrywer by O’Galito Zambezi Junction in Pretoria. Die ontbyt-geselligheid begin om 8:00 en kaartjies kos R100 per persoon. Jennifer Zamudio is die gaskunstenaar.

Donderdagaand kuier Erasmus en Kruger by Graffiti Boeke Menlyn Maine. Die geleentheid begin om 18:00 vir 18:30 en kos R60 per persoon. Eet- en drinkgoed sal bedien word.

Moenie dit misloop nie!

Uitnodiging na die bekendstelling van Die leliemoordenaar deur Lerina Erasmus



Uitnodiging na die bekendstelling van Die leliemoordenaar deur Lerina Erasmus


  • Datum: Donderdag, 24 November 2016
  • Tyd: 18:00 vir 18:30
  • Plek: Graffiti Boeke Menlyn Maine
    Central Square, Menlyn Maine
    Hoek van Aramist- and Corobaylaan
    Pretoria | Padkaart
  • Gespreksgenoot: Mariëtta Kruger
  • Verversings: Eet- en drinkgoed sal bedien word.
  • Koste: R60
  • RSVP:, 012 348 1835

Oor die boek

Johannesburg, 1985. Twee boesemvriende, ondersoekende joernalis Braam Brink en weermagman Adam Williams ontmoet vir ontbyt by ’n plattelandse kafeetjie. Adam onthul sy rol as moordenaar vir die staat, maar voor Braam se artikel verskyn, word sy liggaam gevind …

Só begin Die leliemoordenaar, ’n verhaal wat afspeel in hedendaagse Johannesburg, maar wat begin gedurende die doodsnikke van die apartheidsregime tydens die tagtigerjare. Topspeurder Daniella Hector volg die spoor van ’n berugte reeksmoordenaar: hy slaan elke paar weke toe, en span sy web al hoe nouer. Wie was verantwoordelik vir die dood van Danny se pa, Braam?

“Propvol warm intrige, spanning en onverwagse wendings.” – Leon van Nierop

Oor die outeur

Lerina Erasmus is gebore en word groot in Namibië, en studeer drama aan die Universiteit van Pretoria. As aktrise speel sy vir al die destydse streeksrade in al vier provinsies, en onderskei haarself in veral die klassieke rolle. Met die koms van haar seun lê sy haar toe op skryfwerk en verskeie radioreekse vloei daaruit voort, waaronder die hoogs suksesvolle Die Mannheim-sage. In 1986 verwerk sy dié reeks vir televisie ter viering van die Johannesburgse Eeufees. Die reeks word uiteindelik in boekvorm uitgegee.

Lerina is getroud met Günter Schmikal; hulle het ’n seun, Stefan. Lerina woon in Johannesburg, waar sy haar nou pal toelê op haar skryfwerk. Die leliemoordenaar is haar eerste boek sedert Die Mannheim-sage.


Jay McInerney: darkness falls over South Africa

For a hip New Yorker, Jay McInerney has a surprisingly red-neck view of our  beloved country.  McInerney comes to South Africa next week to promote his latest book, Bright, Precious Days, in which we get a bit part. One of its characters, Luke McGavock, acquires a wine farm and a game farm in South Africa as part of a private equity deal.   Says Luke: “I loved the idea of Africa. And I loved the reality too. Its primal, cradle-of-life, origin-of-the-species aliveness.  The smells, not just the fertile dung smell of the veldt; even the wood smoke, seared meat and raw sewage smell of the townships.”

But it soon all turns to shit.

“…late night farm invasions had become increasingly common to the north, armed gangs breaking in and murdering white families, with the tacit approval of the ANC, which advocated the redistribution of land and sent out periodic calls for ‘colonialists’ to abandon their farms. Rape, torture and mutilation were common features of these attacks, which usually began with the intruders cutting phone and power lines…”   Really?

Luke is portrayed as “a good man, a generous soul”, who builds clinics and schools in the townships. But the natives don’t deserve him.

He decides to pack it in in South Africa after being badly injured in a car accident. “I was in the car alone, coming home from Cape Town one night. I got hit by a van that crossed the line into my lane. The driver drunk, of course. He died, along with his passenger. Not my fault at all apparently….. that didn’t keep it from getting ugly. White survivor, two dead black men.” Really?

In McInerney’s version of it, South Africa has just two sides: primal idyll for jaded sophisticates or savage and lawless jungle.

His writing purports to authenticity with much real-life detail: the farm is in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Eskom is identified as being responsible for an erratic power supply.

The narrative this celebrated author conveys is influential.  It’s unfortunate that the one he presents is so ignorant.

To be fair, the South African strand is a very small part of a big and ambitious book and McInerney’s rendering of his main subject, New York’s literary and financial elite, is wonderfully subtle and acute. I’ve loved his earlier books. And Bright, Precious Days is a great read when McInerney sticks to what he knows. But brightness falls on Manhattan and South Africa remains dark.

I hope that when McInerney comes to Cape Town next week – he is speaking at the Book Lounge – he takes the time to discover that South Africa is every bit as richly complex and nuanced.

McGregor is author of Khabzela; and co-editor At Risk and Load-shedding: Writing on and over the Edge of South Africa (Jonathan Ball Publishers)





A very South African book: Irna van Zyl launches her new crime novel Moordvis at Love Books

Launch of Irna van Zyl's Moordvis/Dead in the Water
Dead in the WaterMoordvis

Irna van Zyl launched her new crime novel Moordvis (published simultaneously in English as Dead in the Water) at Love Books in Melville, Johannesburg recently.

Van Zyl was joined onstage by Ruda Landman, former presenter of investigative television programme Carte Blanche.

Rather than just telling a story, Van Zyl says her latest book is also an effort to break prevalent South African stereotypes.

“Some of the heroes are not white,” she said when asked whether white people saw the issue of crime as a black problem.

Van Zyl tied the problem to both races. Her explanation being that while criminals can be black, behind them might be white people.

Launch of Irna van Zyl's Moordvis/Dead in the Water

By using Storm van der Merwe as her female protagonist in her book, Van Zyl has broken away from the prevalent crime novel tradition of using males as lead detectives.

But, why a crime novel when we are any bombarded with crime news on daily basis? And why crime as a genre for a writer who has had more experience running media companies and working as editor for some well-known South African media publications? These were some of the questions Van Zyl wrestled with that night.

“Crime reading is a form of escapism,” Van Zyl said.

Launch of Irna van Zyl's Moordvis/Dead in the Water

Another topic Van Zyl commented on was the issue of low book sales in South Africa compared to overseas markets, like the United States, for example. While the Afrikaans market reported low sales, “South African English books suffer even more,” said Van Zyl.

Van Zyl, who set the book in a fictitious town of Grootbaai, described the book as “very South African”.

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Lungile Sojini (@success_mail) tweeted live from the event:

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Kom vier die bekendstelling van Swartval deur Martin Steyn in Pretoria

Uitnodiging na die bekendstelling van Swartval deur Martin Steyn

SwartvalLAPA en Protea Boekwinkel nooi jou graag na die bekendstelling van Martin Steyn se opwindende nuwe roman, Swartval.

Kom gesels met die skrywer oor sy derde spanningsroman op Saterdag, 17 September by Protea Boekwinkel Hatfield. Die geleentheid begin om 10:30 vir 11:00.

Steyn het in 2014 gedebuteer met Donker spoor en nie lank daarna nie het Skuldig op die rakke verskyn. Swartval vertel die angswekkende verhaal van ’n raaiselagtige ontvoering.

Moenie dit misloop nie!



Oor die boek

Haar brein jaag net so vinnig soos haar hart. Dis hy. Die een wat die blomme op haar kar gelos het. Hy het teruggekom. En hierdie keer het hy nie gekom om iets te bring nie, hy het gekom om iets te vat.

Vir haar.

En nou word Claire Winters iewers in ’n sel van sement gevange gehou. Eers plaas sy haar hoop op haar speurderbroer. Hy weet wie die man is wat haar ontvoer het. Maar nog ’n lang, donker dag eindig met ’n toebroodjie en ’n glas water en Derek kom nie. Claire besef hierdie keer sal sy haarself moet red. Voordat haar verstand heeltemal in die swart van die kelder oplos.

Die enigste uitweg is deur haar ontvoerder. Want hy het die kelder se sleutel. Maar net toe sy dink sy begin vordering maak, vind Claire uit waarvoor sy regtig aangehou word.

Oor die outeur

Martin Steyn het begin skryf nadat hy The Dark Half deur Stephen King gelees het en danksy mense soos Jeffrey Dahmer het hy geïnteresseerd geraak in reeksmoordenaars. Die vraag het by hom ontstaan waarom hierdie mans, wat net soos die buurman lyk, ander mense jag bloot vir die plesier daarvan. Hoe is dit dat hulle vir jare tussen ander mense bly en niemand vermoed iets nie? Dis toe dat hy ware-misdaadboeke begin lees het.

Op universiteit was Martin se hoofvakke sielkunde en kriminologie. Hy het ’n paar kortverhale geskryf, waarvan een, “Kira”, in Rooi Rose verskyn het. Na sy honneurs in sielkunde het hy Suid-Afrikaanse reeksmoordenaars en geweldsmisdade bestudeer en sewe ware-misdaadverhale aan die Crime Library, ’n CourtTV-webwerf (tans onder truTV), verkoop. Dit het onder meer gehandel oor Moses Sithole, die wrede verkragting en poging tot moord op Alison, en die Sizzlers-moorde in Seepunt.

Tog, fiksie bly sy eerste liefde. Deesdae interesseer die hele misdaadondersoek hom, en hy geniet dit veral om met plaaslike speurders en forensiese spesialiste te praat. Navorsing is ’n kritieke deel van misdaadfiksie, maar Martin het ook aan sy skryfvaardighede gaan skaaf onder leiding van Wilna Adriaanse. Donker spoor, sy debuutroman, het ontstaan as deel van hierdie kursus van die South African Writers’ College, wat hy met meriete geslaag het.

Dis wat Chanette Paul te sê gehad het oor Martin se eerste manuskrip: “Ek is bitter lanklaas so meegevoer deur ’n manuskrip soos met hierdie een. Dis ’n grusame verhaal waarin afskuwelike wreedheid en onmenslikheid afgewissel word met deernis en diep menslikheid. Die verhaalgegewe is plek-plek gewis nie vir sensitiewe lesers nie, maar die goeie en die bose word op skitterende wyse teenoor mekaar gestel. In sy geheel is die manuskrip van internasionale gehalte.”

Lees ook:



Book Bites: 28 August 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

The Private Lives of the TudorsThe Private Lives of the Tudors
Tracy Borman (Hodder & Stoughton)
Book buff
Whether it was the scandals in court or the constant beheadings, people can’t devour the grisly details of the Tudors fast enough. Historian Tracy Borman has pored over household records and first-hand accounts to reveal the most intimate details of life at court. Despite the enticing title, the book has no new secrets to tell, but instead focuses on the fascinating minutiae, such as how many attendants were required to witness the consummation of a marriage, childbirth, or even using the lavatory. A treasure-trove of facts and a must-have resource for history buffs. – Sally Partridge @sapartridge

Red DirtRed Dirt
EM Reapy (Head of Zeus)
Book thrill
Wasted on cheap wine, high on acid, weed and any other substance they can lay hands on, three young people run from their past in Ireland to make a fresh start in Australia. But it’s tough going, a constant struggle to make ends meet. One of the three jumps out of a moving car in the outback during a bad acid trip, another narrowly escapes becoming a sex slave, and the other kills a man. This refreshing debut novel from EM Reapy is vividly written in Irish brogue and tells of their aimlessness in the Oz underbelly. – Gabriella Bekes @Gabrikwa

Apartheid and the Making of a Black PsychologistApartheid and the Making of a Black Psychologist
N Chabani Manganyi (Wits University Press)
Book real
It has become apparent with urbanisation that depression, bipolar and stress-related mental issues affect us all. This opens a dialogue; a much-needed public awareness. This memoir – about an unsung hero in South African psychology – encourages that dialogue. It’s about how Professor N Chabani Manganyi grew up in Mavambe, Limpopo in the 1940s, how he went to Yale University, and how he became a clinical practitioner and researcher. It is also about how he was a dedicated black intellectual activist during the apartheid years and, finally, a leading educationist in Mandela’s cabinet. Although academic, it is inspiring reading. – Nondumiso Tshabangu @MsNondumiso

Cold Case ConfessionCold Case Confession: Unravelling the Betty Ketani Murder
Alex Eliseev (Pan Macmillan)
Book real
It all hinged on a chance finding. In the Johannesburg suburb of Kenilworth, peeling away the carpet tiles, Jeffrey Marshall discovers “an A4 sheet of paper folded in half, with other papers sandwiched in between”. If not for that, Betty Ketani would have been another missing-person case. And, just like that, a warped world begins to unravel. You may begin to suspect that you are reading a work of fiction but everything in this book actually happened. Journalist Alex Eliseev will take you on a ride comparable to any best-selling crime novel. – Chantelle Gray van Heerden @CGrayvH

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