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"I have PTSD and this novel was my outlet" - Rehana Rossouw at the launch of New Times

Apartheid, religion, homosexuality, Mandela The Sellout, politics of the newsroom, corruption in the UDF – Rehana Rossouw and Heather Robertson discussed the contents of Rehana Rossouw’s new novel (yes – it’s a novel!) in all its gritty detail at the recent Love Books launch of New Times.

As Kate Rogan, co-owner of Love Books, rightly stated – “it’s fantastic to see such a turnout for a work of fiction.” And a turnout it was.

Give them Rehana Rossouw, and they will come.

Robertson, previous editor of The Herald, and Rossouw’s personal and professional relationship spans over 30 odd years, when they met in the newsroom of anti-apartheid newspaper, South.

The 1980s was marked with terrible violence, Roberston stated.

“We attended far too many funerals…”

Robertson described Rossouw’s protagonist, a young, “shit hot reporter” Aaliyah – who goes by Ali in the newsroom – as a “fantastic character.

“You’ve created universal characters we can all relate to. They’re people we’ve all met.”

Robertson also lauded Rossouw for the beautiful prose, which “touches on humanity and what it means to be human.”

Two characters in the novel, including Ali, suffer from PTSD. Robertson commented that 1995 (the year in which New Times is set) was a year devoted to the ideals of the rainbow nation and reconciliation, yet those who bore the brunt of apartheid were inherently damaged.

“I have PTSD,” Rossouw replied. “This novel was an outlet for what I was going through. I’ve seen too many things that have had lasting effects.”

Rossouw’s PTSD manifested as flashbacks to bomb blasts, during which “I’ll be pulled out the present and taken into the past.

“I’ve witnessed too much and I can’t live with those memories.”

There was no time to process the violent acts she witnessed; “tomorrow we’ll bury another body, tomorrow there’ll be another shooting.”

She mentioned how an SADF member confessed to her how traumatised he was by the crimes he perpetrated.

“Trauma was experienced on both sides of the struggle, yet the SADF had little support. At least we had the comfort of victory… The SADF were left alone with the their memories. Nobody talks about it.”

Rossouw’s engagements with students committed to the FeesMustFall movement also influenced the contents of New Times.

“They were arguing for violence. That’s a dangerous thing; it has repercussions.” Furthermore, the Fallists perpetuated the idea of Mandela as a sellout; “I had to look at that.”

Tymon Smith, features writer at the Sunday Times, commented in a review of Rossouw’s novel that 1995 was the ‘beginning of our demise’.

“Do you agree?” Roberston enquired.

“Absolutely,” Rossouw forthrightly stated. She attributes South Africa’s demise to the lack of communication between the country’s political parties, a reluctance to accept democracy (“People were still waving the old flag”) and tender corruption, among others.

When asked to elaborate on her personal encounters with Mandela, Rossouw responded that she was tasked with covering the first year of his presidency, but added that he was hardly ever in the country. “I was so bored!”

Not only did she critique his absence from the country, but also his lack of engagement with people in the townships, adding that he was too focused on pacifying Afrikaners.

Robertson’s next remark on the substantial amount of sex scenes (“There’s a lot of sex in the book!”) elicited hearty laughter from the audience.

And not only in the newsroom (think editors, journalists, and office tables), but out of it as well.

Another pivotal part of the novel is that Ali is a lesbian. A Muslim lesbian.

When she goes home – the Bo-Kaap, where both Rossouw’s grandmothers were born – she’s “a different person.

“She finds it comforting – the culture, her home, her religion,” Rossouw explained, adding that there’s “no space for that [lesbianism] at all” in a community like the Bo-Kaap. She even (semi) joked that, although it’s 2017, you’ll still find people in the Bo-Kaap community who’ll claim to not know any gays or lesbians. The burden of this “hidden shame” from the community is a “stumbling block and a cause of her breakdown,” says Rossouw.

Robertson elaborated on the “unspoken shame” faced by lesbians, yet moffies are regarded as fun, flamboyant and accepted into society. Homosexual women still have to conceal their sexuality; why bring this up? “The moffies and the letties?”

Not only was the Nelson Mandela Foundation an invaluable source of material on Mandela for her book, Rossouw responded, but their South African history archive proved to be equally informative.

“AIDS was another big thing in 1995,” Rossouw said. “It was the year when the heterosexual community started to be affected by the virus, but those that were dying were gay.

“Thus the character campaigning for AIDS had to be gay.”

And her views on the current state of journalism, as compared to the ’80s / 90s?

Rossouw is of opinion that the sense of camaraderie doesn’t exist anymore; the stories are the same – “we’re still reporting on poor black South Africans, the government still doesn’t care”; those in charge don’t provide essentials such as transport, or expect journalists to pay for their own data when forced to work from home when, say, the internet’s down; and – this she emphasised more than once – “PEOPLE DON’T READ. They’re not bad journalists, but THEY DON’T READ.”

An audience member was curious as to whether we can expect an autobiography or memoir from Rossouw…

A definite ‘no’ substantiated with “I’m not interesting enough!” had the whole audience unanimously respond with what can only be described as an onomatopoeic version of ‘Ja, right, Rehana.’

Oh, how she blushed.

New Times

Book details

Book Bites: 26 November

Published in the Sunday Times

Origin
****
Dan Brown, Bantam Press, R320

Fast-paced, action-packed, relentlessly informative, Origin is a riveting read from start to end. Dan Brown’s famous character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, is back to unravel yet another mystery with the potential to upend the entire world. Only this time he has the Spanish military, royal palace and Catholic Church hot on his heels, not to mention an anonymous hacker who’s always five steps ahead. Langdon’s friend and former student, the brilliant futurist Edmond Kirsch, makes a fascinating scientific discovery, one that provides unequivocal answers to two age-old questions: “Where do we come from? Where are we going?” On the eve of his announcement, dark forces intervene to quash his discovery and Langdon finds himself in a mad race to Barcelona, with the alluring future queen of Spain by his side. Brown blends science, technology, art and religion in a story that entertains and mystifies. – Anna Stroud @annawriter_

Home Fire
****
Kamila Shamsie, Bloomsbury, R290

Antigone, the Greek tragedy, is artfully reimagined in our modern world in this 2017 Man Booker longlisted novel. Two sisters lose their brother Parvaiz to their father’s jihadist past. Isma flees to America and makes friends with Eamonn, the son of the British Home Secretary. When Eamonn returns to the UK, he visits the younger sister, Aneeka, delivering a packet of M&Ms from Isma. Thus, the families of the sisters and Eamonn become tangled as personal choices, beliefs and grief is dragged into the political landscape. A timely read that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Boy Who Saw
***
Simon Toyne, HarperCollins, R285

The brilliant Solomon Creed is a paranoid schizophrenic with no memory of his past: the only clue is his beautifully made jacket, with the name of the tailor, Josef Engel, on the lapel. Creed tracks down the tailor, but the old man has been tortured to death. It seems likely that his murder is linked to his granddaughter Marie Claude’s research into the Holocaust and The Tailors’ Camp, a concentration camp from which Engel was one of only four survivors. Creed, Marie Claude and her son Leo journey through France to find the survivors – and learn something about Creed’s past – before the rest of the tailors are killed, along with the answers. – Aubrey Paton

Book details

Philip Pullman revels in writing about bad guys and dark forces, like the ones we have now, writes Jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times

La Belle Sauvage
***
Philip Pullman
Transworld, R290

His Dark Materials is not as famous as the Harry Potter series – maybe because there’s something much more insidious and dark in Philip Pullman’s multiverse than in JK Rowling’s magical world. (Also, only one book was made into a movie – The Golden Compass, which was not successful.)

La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in the new trilogy, The Book of Dust, which is a prequel to His Dark Materials. But over the phone from the UK, Pullman is quick to remind me of his book ’s motto: “It’s not a prequel or sequel, it’s an equal.”

It’s been 22 years since the first Dark Materials novel, Northern Lights, where we were introduced to his heroine Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. (Daemons are a person’s soul, externalised as an animal.)

The trilogy begins 10 years before Northern Lights, and in La Belle Sauvage we’re taken back to the beginning, when Lyra is just six months old. She is taken to a priory to be hidden from the power-hungry religious force, The Magisterium, that will do anything to control the world.

In His Dark Materials, Lyra went on a quest to save children from having their daemons sliced from them by The Magisterium. She became a saviour. She gets to know that there is something called Dust (with a capital D, not the stuff that needs a feather duster) and that she would somehow expose the truth and let the world know what Dust is. But His Dark Materials ends before everything is neatly solved – before we find out what Dust is. Pullman promises we’ll know more about Dust in this trilogy.

“I was writing about Lyra for the past 10 years because there’s all these things to still happen,” Pullman says. “How did Lyra develop? How was she placed in Jordan College? There is still so much more to tell about Lyra and it’s all very exciting.”

But there’s not much of Lyra in this first book. Pullman focuses mainly on his two new characters who need to save Lyra from the Magisterium. They are 11-year-old Malcolm, curious, bright and oh-so-good, who works in his family’s pub called the Trout. His daemon is Asta – not yet settled in form as he is still a child. And then there’s Alice, 15, a dishwasher, difficult yet steadfast and an annoyance to Malcolm. This sets up the two protagonists – male and female – which is integral to Pullman’s writing; everyone’s daemon is also of the opposite sex.

“It creates a pubescent dynamic, a very basic human dynamic,” he says. “This is all about living and growing up. It’s a form of discovery and change. The characters have to learn and finally come into adulthood.”

But the Magisterium is tightening its grasp – afraid of what the scholars of the world are saying. The church uses whatever means necessary to control and destroy those with opposing opinions. It has formed the League of St Alexander, which is brainwashing children into feeling that it is their duty to spy on their parents, teachers and friends. This is what gets Pullman so excited.

“The League of St Alexander was a way of including the way communist societies asked children to spy on people. It’s based in truth.

“In the last year and a half we have seen lies, fraud and stupidity take over the world and governments. We have allowed a stupendous folly to happen, one that we can still scarcely believe – Brexit. This great European project was ravaged by lies and stupidity. A reckless decision. And then what happened in the US.”

But there’s not just the church that Malcolm and Alice have to save Lyra from. There’s a far darker, more disturbing look at the evil of men found in the character of Gerard Bonneville. He seems indestructible, a sinister presence that keeps on coming after them even though they thought he was dead. His daemon is a one-legged hyena. He has escaped prison and is after the six-month-old Lyra as well. Revenge against her mother, perhaps?

“He was a great surprise to me, a great gift,” says Pullman. “I could never have based this character on anyone … I do enjoy writing the bad characters.”

To make things even worse, Malcolm and Alice have to survive an epic flood that sweeps the country. They take refuge in Malcolm’s boat, La Belle Sauvage.

Pullman says he based this trilogy on the model of The Faerie Queene, the Edmund Spenser poem first published in 1590.

“It’s this classic poem that is told in multiple different ways. This is epic storytelling. The structure is what I really want to take with me on how to write the books.” The poem is allegorical, which fits in with the layers in La Belle Sauvage. We learn more about the universe that Lyra has to survive in and about the forces of evil that try to control her world.

As for the second book in the trilogy: “I have written it, and it is being edited now.” – @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Times

Book details

"It's a sexy, sexy book!" - Eusebius McKaiser and Angela Makholwa discuss The Blessed Girl

When you are accustomed to the finer things in life – designer shoes, champagne, VIP lounges, exotic holidays abroad, a luxury penthouse, expensive wheels – what independent young woman in her right mind would want to let them go? Certainly not the beautiful, ambitious and super-streetsmart Bontle Tau, the girl who has used her good looks and winning charm all her life to get exactly what she wants. The lifestyle doesn’t come cheap, though, nor does maintaining the body that allows it (just ask Dr Heinz at the beauty clinic).

Luckily, Bontle has a degree in MENcology, and there is no shortage of blessers at her penthouse door, eager to give her all the love and (financial) support she needs.

Papa Jeff might be overweight and getting on a bit, and receiving some unwanted attention from the Hawks; and Teddy might not have fully come through for her on that messed-up tender business; but Mr Emmanuel, the Nigerian businessman with deep pockets and the possibility of conferring second wife status … could that be love? Keeping all her boyfriends happy and living a fabulous life is not without its challenges.

With so many people clamouring for Bontle’s attention – from her shebeen queen mother Gladys in Mamelodi, who is taking strain bringing up her teenaged brother, Golokile, on her own; to her girlfriends, Iris and Tsholo; not to mention her soon-to-be ex-husband, the ever-patient, ever-loving Ntokozo, Bontle barely has time to post on Instagram these days.

Sooner or later something’s got to give …

Angela recently was a guest on Eusebius McKaiser’s 702 Literature Corner show. Listen to the juicy conversation:

Book details

Literary Crossroads: Tsitsi Dangarembga & Achmat Dangor (6 December)

Literary Crossroads is a series of talks where South African writers meet colleagues from all over the continent and from the African diaspora to discuss trends, topics and themes prevalent in their literatures today. The series is curated by Indra Wussow and Sine Buthelezi.

Writer, filmmaker, teacher and cultural activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga lives in Harare, Zimbabwe where she directs the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust, an institution focusing on the role of all arts disciplines in development, which she founded in 2009. She is currently working on her 4th novel, dystopian young adult speculative fiction Sai-Sai, Watermatker.

She began writing plays at the University of Zimbabwe, where The Lost of the Soil (1983) and She No Longer Weeps (1984) were first staged. The first volume in the Tambudzai trilogy, Nervous Conditions, appeared to critical acclaim in 1988. Its sequel, The Book of Not was published in 2006. Her third novel This Mournable Body is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.

**

Achmat Dangor a writer by vocation, has also been a political activist from a young age. During the turbulent 1970s, he together with 13 other writers, founded a group call “Black Thoughts.” Its mission was overcome the rigid education system the Apartheid government had imposed on Black schools, forcing children to learn in Afrikaans, and severely restricting what they could read. “Black Thoughts” did readings in township schools and churches, introducing scholars and the public to the work of “3rd World” writers, included South African books that had been banned.

The “Black Thoughts” writers themselves were “banned” by the Apartheid government, which prohibited them from attending any gatherings. Achmat found employment under the Leon Sullivan code with the American company Revlon, where he was trained as packaging engineer. He subsequently entered the development sector where he was CEO of various organisations, including the Kagiso Trust, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He was also Director of Advocacy at UNAIDS, and the Ford Foundation’s Southern Africa Representative. He continued writing throughout the years. Now retired, he is devoting himself to his writing.

He received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Literary Awards (SALA).
 

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 06 December 2017
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Goethe-Institut South Africa, 119 Jan Smuts Ave, Parkwood, Parkwood, Johannesburg | Map
  • Speakers: Tsitsi Dangarembga, Achmat Dangor