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"I weep for the black boys who were never given a chance'

IN A bizarre move, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has decided to withdraw funding for its academy in Port Elizabeth. It is one of four academies set up with great fanfare in 2013 with Lotto money in areas with substantial black rugby talent.

For the past two years, Saru has funded them. From next year, it will fund only the East London academy.

I spent last week in the Eastern Cape doing research for a film on transformation in rugby.

It rapidly became apparent that the Southern Kings are going to have difficulty fielding a credible Super Rugby team next year, never mind one that fulfils its promise of showcasing local black talent.

The Southern Kings team that lost to Western Province in a preseason Currie Cup friendly on Saturday was largely white and featured several players who have already been recycled through other unions.

The only bright spot for the Southern Kings on Saturday was their Under-19s, the one team to beat their Western Province counterparts. This is their third victory in a row. They have already won their games against the Cheetahs and the Bulls. Around half the Southern Kings under-19s team consists of black boys recruited from Eastern Cape schools and they are coached by a local player, former Sevens captain Mzwandile Stick.

The under-19s are products of the academy about to be cut adrift by Saru. There seems little hope of the Southern Kings taking up the slack. They are themselves in financial difficulties, unable to pay their players’ salaries for the past month.

It would be mortifying for SA if the Southern Kings’ Super Rugby venture were to be allowed to fail. Failure would partly be defined as fielding yet another team of largely white players bought in from elsewhere.

The bloated, 18-team version of Super Rugby that comes into being next year was created largely to accommodate their long-term inclusion. The reason Saru pushed so hard for it was to boost black rugby by giving the Eastern Cape its own team in the most competitive competition in world rugby.

They were right to do so. Not only will a successful Super Rugby team hugely strengthen black rugby but it will also limit the buying up of black players from the region by other franchises. If these players can achieve their dreams of making a Super Rugby or Springbok team in their own province, they will stay at home, where they will be a lot better off.

Speaking to rugby people in the Eastern Cape last week, I realised just how profound and widespread is the conviction that black players are deliberately excluded from professional teams. I was repeatedly given examples, for instance, of black players who could have shone in the place of some of the current Springboks incumbents.

“I have no problem with the white boys in the team,” said one. “They have worked very hard to get where they are. But I weep for the black boys who were never given the chance.”

Poverty and inequality are major culprits in keeping our teams white. For instance, a rugby coach at a mainly black former Model C school in Grahamstown said when his boys ran onto the field for practice at 3.30pm, he was very aware that they had been up since 4am for the long walk from township to school and that, in between, all they had had to eat was two slices of bread.

The same coach had been in charge of the Port Elizabeth Country Districts’ Craven Week squad the year before. He said the players had missed four meals before their first game because they weren’t given a travel allowance. This, before competing with players from some of the richest schools in the country.

But, on this trip, I also heard another view equally powerfully expressed: that, in fact, plenty of middle-class black boys were now also at good schools where they benefited from the same nutrition, education and sports facilities as white boys. And yet they were still not making it into professional teams.

These men I spoke to — intelligent, reasonable, passionate rugby fans — were adamant: a racial and cultural bias in mainstream rugby meant black boys were simply not being considered by a great number of white coaches.

In another development, it was reported at the weekend that the Super Rugby franchises are refusing to approve the allocation of broadcasting funds proposed for next year when the new deal kicks in. The proposal is to give the Super Rugby franchises R25m each a year and the eight small unions R15m. The big unions are balking at the share claimed by the other eight.

I hope the Super Rugby franchises stick to their guns. But I also hope this rebellion is part of a more ambitious plan to transform Saru so that it is better suited to serve South African rugby as a whole. The success or otherwise of the Southern Kings could be a litmus test of this.

The Southern Kings are clearly in need of help. I was told that, during Alan Solomons’s tenure as coach during the Kings’ first abortive Super Rugby stint, he established a clear progression path for players from under-19s to the senior team. In the succession of coaches who have followed him, this has been lost. As a result, the all-important development path for local players is interrupted.

Saru head office, which has until now so capably run the Eastern Cape academies, needs to take a more central role in the Eastern Cape. A hands-off attitude is not good enough. Cash that has been frittered away on professional teams run by the small unions should be diverted to development. Saru should not only continue to fund the Port Elizabeth Academy, but should expand it and establish others.

Anything less might make the allocation of a Super Rugby franchise to a black rugby-rich region look like a cynical gesture, setting them up to fail.

*This column first appeared in Business Day



Sunday Read: China Mieville is Back with a New Book, and a Nod From Ursula K Le Guin


Remember all the way back in January when we promised you a new book by China Miéville to look forward to?

Well now, at long last, the wait is over. Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories is a collection of short stories (yes, we know, we also wanted another Bas-lag novel but what can you do?) by the author of King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council, Embassytown and The City and the City.

Three Moments of an Explosion: StoriesEmbassytownKing RatThe Scar
Iron CouncilThe City and the CityPerdido Street Station


Ursula K Le Guin herself has given his stories a read, and writes in her review for The Guardian: “You can’t talk about Miéville without using the word ‘brilliant’.”

Le Guin is not someone who throws adjectives of praise around lightly. She’s the author of numerous fantasy novels, the most influential perhaps being the The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) which received a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. John Wray wrote in The Paris Review that “no single work did more to upend the genre’s conventions than The Left Hand of Darkness”.

So when Le Guin thinks your works is good, she means it. In the review, Le Guin comments on Miéville’s deft intellectualism, his strict adherence to Marxist principles of social equality, his ability to write a 500-page novel in five pages and his skill and mastery of the English language. In short, she calls it, “science fiction to the nth degree”.

Read Le Guin’s review of Three Moments of an Explosion:

Brilliance often lies in concision. As I read “The Rope Is the World”, I kept imagining the 500-page science-fiction novel that it could so easily have been: crammed full of detailed scientific and technological arcana, with a complex plot involving the machinations of the powerful and the fate of cosmic enterprises or empires, all routinely punctuated by descriptions of sexual activities. But Miéville didn’t take the easy route. He wrote it all in five pages.

The offhand density is superb:

Initial outlays were clearly gigavast, but lifting one ton of cargo out beyond everyday gravity to orbit by elevator was this or that many times cheaper – some absurd margin – than doing so by rocket, by shuttle, by alien indulgence. Now that the space elevators, the skyhooks, the geostationary tethered-dock haulage columns, were shockingly feasible, research projects were all human-spirit this and because-it’s-there that. As if, faced with them, the mere savings were as vulgar as they in fact were.

This is science fiction to the nth degree. To unpack all that would take hours.

If this dazzling review doesn’t make you hit the pre-order button ASAP, perhaps a description of the book will. Many of the 28 stories in Three Moments of an Explosion were first published in spurts on Miéville’s website, rejectamentalist manifesto, and are now contained in book form.

The book description on Goodreads reads as follows:

London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?

Salvage shared an excerpt from Three Moments of an Explosion, a short story entitled “The Dusty Hat”.

I have to talk to you about the man we saw, the man in the dusty hat. I know you remember.

Stop for a moment. I know you have a thousand questions, starting with Where have I been? What I want to start with is the man in the hat.

I was late to the conference. I’d had to stay in to watch a builder squint at the cracks in my outside wall and across my kitchen ceiling, cracks that had been there for a long time, ever since I moved in, but that started to spread about a year ago and were making me increasingly uneasy. And then the journey across the city was slow as a bastard so I arrived after the start and tried to creep quietly in to the lecture hall but everyone stared at me while I made my way to the seat you’d saved for me. I muttered something apologetic about subsidence. You mocked me sotto voce for being a bourgeois homeowner. I told you to hush and tried to pay attention.

But the man in the hat made us badly behaved. He was sitting in the audience right in front of us and when he got hold of the microphone and started speaking you leaned over to me and quietly pointed out quite how dusty his hat was. So I looked and that was me gone, I started giggling like an idiot and that set you off and we both had to look down at our hands as if we were taking careful notes. I don’t think we fooled anyone.

It was a wide-brimmed dark green felt hat like a cowboy’s or an adventurer’s. Even clean and new it would’ve been unlikely at a socialist conference in a university hall in south London: as it was it was extraordinary. It was old and pleasingly well-worn. It looked loved. But it was just filthy with dust.

‘His hat’s that dusty because he can’t take it off to clean it,’ you whispered. ‘Because his wife found out he gave her chlamydia and she put superglue in the brim.’

‘His hat’s that dusty because he’s arrived straight from tin-mining in Cornwall,’ I whispered. ‘Climbed straight out of a tunnel.’ I mimed flicking the hat’s brim and doubling over coughing.



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Image courtesy of Macmillan

7 Sunday Reads, Including Reviews of the 2015 Man Booker Prize Longlist and Beatrix Potter's Other Life as a Mycologist

The 2015 Man Booker Prize Longlist was revealed this week, with only two of the 13 authors hailing from Africa – The Moor’s Account author Laila Lalami, who identifies as both Moroccan and American, and Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen.

The Telegraph, despite expressing concern over the American dominance of the prize this year, has shared reviews of six of the 13 longlistees. For our first Sunday Read, dive into the Booker Prize longlist:

A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Spool of Blue ThreadLilaThe Green RoadThe Illuminations
Satin IslandThe Moor's AccountThe Fishermen


Marlon James’s novel A Brief History of Seven Killings begins in 1976 with the attempted murder of Bob Marley. The story is true, like almost everything in this vast and teeming story of Jamaican violence.

‘Like most families,” Anne Tyler says of the Whitshanks, the main characters in her latest novel, “they imagined they were special.” From some writers, this would be a remark pitched somewhere between the snide and the openly scornful. In Tyler’s case, it combines sharpness, tenderness, satire and rueful comedy in eight words — possibly with a touch of admiration thrown in.

When Lila steps into his church one rainy Sunday morning, the Rev John Ames is startled with embarrassment. He stops preaching, looks at her, then looks away.

You could see The Green Road as virtuosic but inconsequential, but in its loose ends is a bold and brilliant way to approach the sadness of a family that fails to connect.

A novel is a place where past and present versions of one person can coexist, and in his fifth novel Andrew O’Hagan movingly explores the way the “flotsam” of a life can rise to the surface as old age and memory go about their strange and poignant work.

Reading Tom McCarthy’s fiction induces a certain kind of mania. It demands to be unpacked and decoded, charted and mapped. Every chapter – no, every sentence – invites you to plunge deeper into the book’s dark pool, groping for the submerged pattern.

From The Atlantic: The authors in the running for Britain’s most prestigious literary award come from seven countries and include seven women writers.

Find out more about the 13 longlistees:

Who do you think will win the 2015 Man Booker Prize? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.

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  • 2. Portlander Ursula K Le Guin is Breathing Fire to Save American Literature
    From Portland Monthly: At 85, she may be Portland’s greatest writer. She may also be the fiercest.

    3. Confessions of a bad feminist
    From TED Talk: When writer Roxane Gay dubbed herself a “bad feminist,” she was making a joke, acknowledging that she couldn’t possibly live up to the demands for perfection of the feminist movement.

    4. This Week in Fiction: Heinz Insu Fenkl
    An interview with The New Yorker: Your story in this week’s issue, “Five Arrows,” follows a boy who goes to visit his uncle in the countryside of South Korea. Is this a landscape you know well? How important is the sense of place to the story?

    5. Beatrix Potter, Mycologist: The Beloved Children’s Book Author’s Little-Known Scientific Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms
    From Brain Pickings: “Imagination is the precursor to policy, the precondition to action. Imagination, like wonder, allows us to value something.”

    6. My Travels with Harper Lee
    From The Millions: How the release of Go Set a Watchman sent one reader on a literary pilgrimage to rediscover the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.

    7. ‘I’m No Longer Afraid’
    From New York Magazine: 35 Women tell their stories about being assaulted by Bill Cosby.
    And one more bonus Sunday Read, because who cares what the headline says?
    Hemingway as the Godfather of Longform
    From The New Yorker: Ernest Hemingway was one of the great innovators in literary form. His apparent renunciation of stylistic flourishes—the absence of lyrical rhetoric, the spare sketching of context, the paring of narrative voice to short, stark strokes—was the style of no style, an aesthetic obsession so fanatical and so closely linked to Hemingway’s sense of personal bearing and way of life that it comes off, in retrospect, as an inverse dandyism.


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    SABF Day 1: The Ins and Outs of the Publishing Industry, How Dictionaries are Made, and the Launch of Soccer Secrets

    The 2015 South African Book Fair kicked off with a bang today in the Turbine Hall in Johannesburg.

    The early risers were treated to a talk by Oxford University Press South Africa on the importance of mother-tongue instruction at foundation phase level.

    Professor Elizabeth Henning from the University of Johannesburg and Mrs Bulie Ndodane gave their views on multilingualism in schools. Henning spoke about the importance of teaching young students mathematical concepts like time, density, volume, space and so forth in their mother tongues. “Language has structure and function – there shouldn’t be too much of a mix in the early years,” she said.

    At 9 AM everyone gathered in the foyer to be welcomed to the fair by Brian Wafawarowa, the Executive Director of the Publishers’ Association of South Africa, MEC of Culture and Recreation for Gauteng, Molebatsi Frances Bopape, and PK Naicker, Programmes Executive at the FP&M Seta.

    WastedThe first session in the Brink room featured Wasted author Mark Winkler and Bookstorm publisher Louise Grantham.

    The author and publisher gave advice to writers on how to get published. Grantham said that the number-one rule is to conceptualise your book as a product. She said that writers must identify the correct publisher for their book and do intensive market research to find out who the book is aimed at.

    Winkler said that if a manuscript doesn’t adhere to submission guidelines it will be binned. His advice is to submit good, clean copy in the correct format.

    In the next session, Kathy McCabe introduced the “Talking Stories” programme – a learning tool that uses technology to improve literacy in classrooms. This initiative is powered by Macmillan Education.

    Soccer SecretsThe first day of the fair had a definite educational theme, with Jayne Bauling launching her book, Soccer Secrets, to a room full of primary and high school students. There wasn’t place for a mouse in the room as Bauling spoke about her Harmony High series. A group of students from Olico Youth performed a skit from Bauling’s previous book, Broken Promises.

    The day ended with a panel discussion on the making of dictionaries, with Professor Phillip Louw and Megan Hall from Oxford University Press Southern Africa, chaired by Sue de Groot.

    The three speakers discussed the evolution of the dictionary world, the excitement of publishing dictionaries in a multilingual country like South Africa, and shared some amazing South Africanisms that have made it into the latest South African Oxford Dictionary – e-tolls and loadshedding.

    Throughout the day there were hordes of children milling about, soaking up the literature, and publishers exhibited their books and services in the two main halls.

    A super day, and it’s only the beginning!


    * * * * * * * *


    See Annetjie van Wynegaard’s Twitter timeline for all the Book Fair action:



    Facebook gallery

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    2015 South African Book Fair Kicks off Today in Johannesburg

    It’s happening, it’s here. The South African Book Fair kicked off this morning at the Turbine Hall in Newtown. It’s Africa’s largest book fair, and incorporates 40 events, 44 new small publishers, and seven publishers from across the continent.

    With fire in their hearts and warm coffee in their hands, the Books LIVE team stepped into the book lovers’ equivalent of wonderland on this frosty Friday morning. Here are some tweets about the morning from Ben Williams (‏@benrwms), Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) and Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw):


    For more exciting stuff from the South African Book Fair, follow #SABF2015. Join the conversation by using the tag in your own tweets, and share your SABF experience!


    Here is a quick roundup of a few of today’s highlights:

    WastedGet published! – Mark Winkler talks about how he broke through the lit barrier and two publishers give their tips and suggestions on how to get published.

    Time: 10 AM – 11 AM
    Venue: Brink Room
    Mhla ugogo eya kovotaThe Day Gogo Went to VoteWhy is it important to talk to children in their own language? In this insightful talk, Elinor Sisulu, NLSA & PUO discuss “Children’s literature publishing in indigenous languages: How do we achieve a quantum leap?” Facilitated by the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.

    Time: 12 PM – 1 PM
    Venue: Achebe Room
    Soccer SecretsEver suspected that there is more to soccer than simply soccer? Want to discover the drama beyond the pitch? Cover2Cover launches Soccer Secrets, the latest in our READALICIOUS Harmony High series, with author Jayne Bauling & a secret celebrity.

    Time: 1 PM – 2 PM
    Venue: Brink Room
    The South African Oxford School DictionaryWhat is a dictionary corpus? How do new words make it into a dictionary? And why are some removed? Why make South African dictionaries? Join the Oxford University Press dictionary publishing team, Megan Hall & Dr Phillip Louw, as they chat to Sue de Groot about the fascinating process of dictionary making.

    Time: 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM
    Venue: Brink Room
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    Tune in to FMR for JM Coetzee's "Fine Minds" Radio Lecture about Hendrik Witbooi and the War for Namibia


    The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and PsychotherapyJM Coetzee and the Life of WritingThree StoriesJM Coetzee: Two Screenplays

    As part of their “Fine Minds” Radio Lecture Series, Fine Music Radio and the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Extra-Mural Studies will be presenting a lecture by JM Coetzee.

    In his lecture, Coetzee uses Hendrik Witbooi, a fierce and determined opponent to the German takeover of what is now Namibia, as a focal point in the discussion of that country and 19th century conceptions of war, from both European and African perspectives.

    The lecture will be broadcast on Monday, 3 August, at 6 PM. It is 55 minutes long, and will be available as a podcast after the broadcast.

    Don’t miss it!

    Event Details

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