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Jacket Notes: "In this man we are offered a cracked-mirror version of ourselves as a nation" - Ralph Mathekga on When Zuma Goes

Published in the Sunday Times


When Zuma GoesWhen Zuma Goes
Ralph Mathekga (Tafelberg)

South Africa’s democracy counts among the most celebrated world experiences since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the ’90s. Just over two decades later, it’s interesting to observe how we South Africans have been relating to our democracy. This inspired me to write When Zuma Goes, which I have been working on since 2007.

I’m fascinated by the complexity of South African society. The majority of people are conservative — across racial lines. Our constitution, however, is one of the most progressive when it comes to the protection of human rights. South Africans have thus far improvised and reoriented themselves to co-exist in a system of law that challenges their orthodox predisposition.

We are stranded in the middle of democracy and we have to keep on pushing forward, embracing the values that come with the democratic system, despite our misgivings and occasional frustrations with it. As a nation, we are reluctant democrats, to some degree. We embrace democracy when it favours us, and at times show half-hearted commitment when it comes to uncomfortable issues such as transformation, affirmative action, abortion, and same-sex relationships.

What I find curious about South Africans is that we love being politically correct – until it’s brought to our doorstep. We like to declare our commitment to racial harmony, towards transformation, until we are personally affected. This is when we stick our heads back in the sand. But there is one man who is consistent and open about his beliefs.

This is the man who openly expresses his frustrations with democracy and never holds back. In this man we are offered a cracked-mirror version of ourselves as a nation. It is in this man that we are faced with that uncomfortable part of us. This is the man whose political leadership since 2007 has got me thinking: what if we are just sophisticated versions of Jacob Zuma? This is man on whose leadership I decided to anchor my book; where I aim to reflect on us as a nation and how we relate to institutions of democracy and its value system.

As I write these lines, it’s 3am. This is the time I always wake up and say to myself: “Now you are Jacob Zuma. Think like him and try to find logic in his methods.” I hope my book brings out a kind of logic as a way to reflect on this great nation.

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Check out the programme for this year's Franschhoek Literary Festival!

The quaint Western Cape town of Franschhoek will be accommodating South Africa’s literary greats from Friday 19 May to Sunday 21 May.

This annual literary festival’s 2017 line-up can only be described as one which skrik’s vir niks.

Festival-goers can expect discussions and debates featuring Rebecca Davis, author of Best White and Other Delusions, in conversation with agricultural economist Tracy Ledger (An Empty Plate) and African diplomacy scholar Oscar van Heerden (Consistent or Confused) on the ever-dividing rift between South Africans; the Sunday Times‘ contributing books editor Michele Magwood asks publishers Phehello Mofokeng (Geko Publishing), Thabiso Mahlape (BlackBird Books) and short story writer Lidudumalingani Mqombothi (recipient of the 2016 Caine Prize Winner for Memories We Lost, published in The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things) whether there’s a shortage of black fiction authors; and poet Rustum Kozain (Groundwork) will discuss Antjie Krog, Lady Anne: A Chronicle in Verse with the acclaimed poet herself.

And that’s just day one!

Find the full programme here.

Tickets are available from


Best White and Other Anxious Delusions

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Lady Anne


An Empty Plate


The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories

  • The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2016 by Caine Prize
    EAN: 9781566560160
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!


Consistent or Confused

Shelves of discovery: To celebrate National Library Week, book lovers share their treasured memories

By Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Song for SarahJonathan Jansen: author, columnist, fellow at Stanford University, his new book, Song For Sarah: Lessons from My Mother is out next month
The sand dunes separated our council house from the new library next to the swimming pool in Retreat. I could walk there and back blindfolded for that well-trodden path to the library meant one thing only – escape. Escape from the harsh living of the Cape Flats into the beautiful world of bright ideas, interesting characters, complex plots and faraway places. While others stayed cool in the pool next door, I thought it was cool to be in that other institution on Concert Boulevard, the library. I never could understand why the librarians looked so serious and why there were signs everywhere committing you to silence. Years later I went back to that Retreat library that instilled in me a lasting love of reading. The packed audience thought I was there to launch my book. Actually I was there to say ‘thank you.’

What About MeeraZP Dala: author, latest book is What About Meera?
The Tongaat Central Public Library in my home town was my babysitter and my aftercare facility and my homework club and my social club. Both my parents were teachers in the nearby school and when I would finish my day (from pre-school right up to my high school) my brother and I would walk to the public library to wait for our folks to fetch us. Here I would become immersed in the world of books and board games, occasionally sneaking in a little hand-holding with a boy I liked underneath the wooden tables. I meandered through every section, the librarians never confined us to the kids’ books only, although the Mills & Boon Section was out of bounds. At the age of 11, I read Laurence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, a book that changed my life. And I often wound up engrossed in the non-fiction collections and atlases. There was no need to take books home, I read most of them sitting on the library floor. And even now, when I want to read, I head to a library and curl up somewhere. Every milestone of my growing up has the backdrop of the library in it – an old railway station converted into one of the most special buildings of my memory.

The God Who Made MistakesEkow Duker: author, latest book is The God Who Made Mistakes
Growing up in Ghana, it was somehow my misfortune to borrow books from the public library that had the words, “If you want to know my name, turn to…”. The words were scrawled in shaky letters across the page in pencil, or sometimes in blue ink. The instruction was repeated several times throughout the book and it was impossible not to do as it asked. I followed the trail like they were breadcrumbs on a forest path, anxiously turning the pages while knowing full well what awaited me. It was always the same, a torrent of foul mouthed abuse that spilled untidily over the margins of the last page and settled deep in my mind.

Pieter-Dirk Uys: from March 22, PDU will be at Pieter Torien’s Studio Theatre in Montecasino performing his memoir The Echo of a Noise
I was maybe 13. I would find my mother’s Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, steal one and smoke half of it behind the hibiscus-bush on the way to the Pinelands Library. There I would take out the Angelique books. They were in the grown-up section, but I managed to creep in and take it out of the shelf, hide it under my cardigan and then sign out my weekly Enid Blyton. I read them all eventually: Angelique; Angelique and the King; Angelique and the Sultan; Angelique in Love; and Angelique in Revolt. And I would puff at the other half of the ciggie behind the same bush on the way back. I think at home they more concerned about my reading Enid Blyton than smuggling in Angelique while smelling of Stuyvesant!

The Dream HouseCraig Higginson: author, latest book is The Dream House
At the age of 10, I went to boarding school. I remember the afternoon I discovered the library. The school was still frightening – with corridors and sharp corners and doors that would fly open. The library was detached from the school, with low chairs and afternoon sunlight. I sat down and opened a book and then another. Each time, it was like opening another window. I went there often in the afternoons. I was able to escape for a bit – and I always emerged feeling stronger, lighter, like I had a secret – access to magic windows to other worlds. I love the silence of libraries – the silence that lets the books begin to speak.

Kate Rogan: owner of Love Books, independent bookstore in Melville, Joburg
As children my mom would take all four of us (including my extremely unruly twin brothers) to the Rosebank library once a week. Mom would immediately escape to the adult section of the library. Somehow, they didn’t mind us there in the children’s corner – tearing through the shelves of Enid Blyton and whatever else they stocked in those days. I don’t remember the old lady librarians ever shouting at us (or the twins), though I think they were quite stern about putting books back. I remember the pine shelves, the sun streaming in through the windows and catching dust-mites in winter, the joy of unpacking book after book after book, before deciding what to take home. And oh the joy of the library card, and the stamp in the front of the book, with those old roller stamps, dipped in purple ink, carefully rolled to two weeks from today. And that tempting glue roller – golly I wanted one of those. I don’t really remember quiet, strangely – I remember talking to my sister, laughing about titles we misread or didn’t understand, jumping on dusty beanbags…

Bitter FruitAchmat Dangor: playwright, poet, novelist and political activist, his latest novel is Bitter Fruit, and his new novel Dikeledi will be released later this year
During Apartheid “non-White” schools endured severe restrictions, especially around what we could read. The system also drove us out of Fordsburg and I had to attend school in far away Roodepoort where a young man called Ahmed Timol taught. One of his responsibilities was “library watch” to ensure we conformed to the prescribed rules. His rebellious nature prevailed and he secretly introduced us to frowned upon works by “Third World” writers, including Chinua Achebe, Wole Sonyinka, Ngugi wa Thiongo, RK Narayan, VS Naipul, Alex La Guma, etc. That’s how my love for non-conformist literature was inspired.

Invisible OthersKarina Szczurek: author, latest novel is Invisible Others (her new book The Fifth Mrs Brink will be released in June)
I was already 13 and at school in Warwick, NY, when a caring librarian helped me discover the joy of reading. The activity had no appeal to me up to that point. I knew how to read, but took no pleasure from it. Mrs Nellie Fahy, the librarian of Irish origins, found me drawing pictures on the library’s computer and recommended I read a book instead. I obliged; she’d been kind to me and I felt it would have been rude to refuse. The book she suggested hooked me for life. I owe my passion for literature – my life – to Mrs Fahy.

Griffin Shea: owner of Bridge Books, an independent bookstore in Johannesburg CBD
As a teenager I found my library card hidden in a drawer, untouched for years. I didn’t take it, because I wasn’t nearly bold enough to actually check out the book I wanted, if it even existed. But I went and flipped through the H’s where a single card was labelled “homosexuality”. Buried on a bottom shelf, the book was full of letters and stories from gay teenagers who were like me but braver and, it seemed, happier. For the first time I really understood that I wasn’t alone in the world. Whenever I needed reassurance, I would hide among the stacks, and think about leaving my town to find these other people like me.

History MattersBill Nasson: leading South African historian, author – latest book is History Matters
As a Cape Town schoolboy in the 1960s, I lapped up books by the American satirical writer, Richard Armour, the author who reminded us that libraries are places where you lower your voice and raise your mind. The local branch of the city’s public libraries had a fat selection of his wonderful parodies, including Twisted Tales from Shakespeare. Posing such zany questions as ‘who was the greatest chicken-killer in Shakespearean tragedy’ – answer: Macbeth, guilty of ‘murder most foul’, Twisted Tales became an absolute favourite, borrowed repeatedly to be re-read and memorised. While in Oxford in the early 1990s I became bored while working in the famous Bodleian Library and in a moment of curiosity wandered off to see if it contained the works of Richard Armour – it did, including a copy of Twisted Tales. This was honey to an ageing bee. I wandered off in my damp socks as my shoes had got soaked while walking to the Bodleian through heavy rain, and I had removed them and left them under my reading desk. When I returned, my sodden shoes had disappeared. Presumably some mischievous student had decided to teach me to be more careful with my personal belongings. My reporting of the loss to library staff was met with polite incredulity. Their indifference was understandable. After all, what libraries worry about losing are books, not shoes. An English library had brought back the enjoyment of Armour’s Lady Macbeth, ‘who rubbed her hands with glee (a Scottish soap)’, but at a humiliating price.

This One TimeAlex van Tonder: author, latest novel is This One Time (new novel expected later this year)
As a child who grew up before the Internet in a small town outside Durban with a yearning for knowledge and experiences yet very little money, I remember my school library as not only a sanctuary for me, but a gateway to the world. I was there almost every break time, and would hide there during phys-ed or sewing class – which I hated! My librarians were kind enough to write notes saying I had “duties to perform”. I have one fond memory of my high school librarian telling a sports teacher she “had no idea where I was”, while I listened from one of the reading rooms upstairs. Thank you Mrs Rosario! My relationship with these sacred spaces has continued well into adult life. I am always hiding in libraries, though I won’t say where.

To find out about special events in libraries around South Africa this week, go to
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Neurotic noir: William Saunderson-Meyer reviews two chilling crime thrillers

It’s a fiction that most of us are sane most of the time. These two crime novels put psychosis front and centre, writes William Saunderson-Meyer for the Sunday Times

Good Me, Bad MeGood Me Bad Me
Ali Land (Michael Joseph)
The Ice Beneath HerThe Ice Beneath Her
Camilla Grebe (Zaffre)
A New Zealand study conducted over 44 years recently confirmed that contrary to the complacent assumptions of most of us, robust mental health is actually uncommon.

Fewer than a fifth of people live their lives unafflicted by psychological problems. More than 40% experience one or more mental disorders lasting at least several years.

Given this ubiquity, it is surprising how relatively rarely mental trauma is touched upon in crime novels, except tangentially. These two titles, both by debut authors, are exceptions. Both are disturbing narratives about a young female protagonist teetering on the edge of breakdown and criminal insanity.

Or are they, indeed, teetering? The suspense and ambiguity are such that it is not clear until the end, whether they might not already have been pushed over the edge.

Ali Land’s acclaimed Good Me Bad Me, already translated into more than 20 languages, is a dark exploration of the troubled mind of the teenage daughter of a serial killer.

The murderer is her mother, who is awaiting trial after being given up by Milly, as she is now known after being placed with a foster family under a new identity. Milly, herself abused from early childhood, will have to give evidence.

Unsurprisingly, the teen carries an enormous burden of guilt, because she was forced to help lure the nine victims. She is isolated and alienated, filled with a self-loathing that she can only ease by secret self-harming.

Nor is her new home life easy. Phoebe, her jealous new “sister”, is unaware of Milly’s past but is scratching around, hoping to find something she can use to hound the troubled teen from her new home and school.

If Milly is to hang onto her dreams for the future, she must first come to terms with her past. For although Milly ignored every filial instinct to go to the police, she is only too aware that she shares her genes and history with a killer.

The Ice Beneath Her also revolves around the frail internal lives of ostensibly “normal” people. Camilla Grebe weaves the kind of bleak, tangled web of suffering that underpins so much of the noir Swedish oeuvre.

Here is a depressive detective with a visceral antipathy to his own son. There’s also a female psychological profiler who is edging towards dementia and whose one chance at happiness — escaping from a controlling marriage — the detective wrecked 10 years earlier, when he stood her up.

But the focus is Emma Bohman, a young shop assistant in a clothing chain who is seduced by Jesper Orre, the CEO of the company. Orre, who is widely loathed because of his ruthless managerial style, demands absolute secrecy regarding their liaison.

Soon, however, the passion curdles. He is demanding. He borrows Bohman’s life savings but neglects to repay her.

Bohman’s one possession of any value, an inherited painting, mysteriously disappears. Her cat is thrown from the third-floor window of her flat.

And then Orre himself disappears and the police find in his home a beheaded woman, replicating a decade-old murder that was never solved. The puzzle that has to be unravelled by the dysfunctional detective and his profiler former mistress, is to establish who is hunter and who is hunted. — @TheJaundicedEye

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Want to learn how to write non-fiction? Join the Writing Masterclass with Christa Kuljian at Bridge Books


Join us for Jacana Media’s new series of Masterclasses for aspiring writers.

Christa Kuljian, author of Darwin’s Hunch and Sanctuary, will present the Masterclass at Bridge Books and share her insights on writing, non-fiction writing in particular.

Contact Bridge Books or visit for details.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 30 March 2017
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Bridge Books, 85 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg
  • Guest Speaker: Christa Kuljian
  • Cover charge: R150
  • (includes a copy of her book)

  • RSVP:, 079 708 4461,


  • Darwin's HunchBook details

  • Sanctuary
  • Theme for Short Story Day Africa Prize 2017 announced!

    Short Story Day Africa’s theme for 2017 is “ID”. This year the judges will be looking for innovative short fiction that explores identity, especially (but not limited to) the themes of gender identity and sexuality.

    In early psychoanalysis, the “Id” was postulated as being one of three aspects of personality, and the only one over which we have no control. Often hidden and home to the unconscious, the Id is the core of the self, our instinctual nature, our deepest desires. The I before ego, the earliest version of ourselves, the who we are before we have had time to be.

    In modern Africa, our identities are too often defined for us and not by us, trapped by society, biology and history. In 2017, we hope to see work that seeks to break and redefine the strictures put onto our identities, as individuals and as peoples. Fiction that looks beyond the boundaries of expectation, and peers into the truest definitions of ourselves.

    Submissions open 1 June 2017.

    Visit their website for more information.