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Alert! The programme for this year’s @OpenBookFest has been revealed! Click here to see it: fb.me/3EVHbDBFa

Street Fighter Not Tweet Fighter: Ray Hartley Chats to Tony Leon About Opposite Mandela

By Ray Hartley for the Sunday Times

Opposite MandelaOpposite Mandela
Tony Leon (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
****

This book represents another step in Tony Leon’s transformation from party partisan to dignified national eminence.

The first step was captured in his book Accidental Ambassador, about his time as Jacob Zuma’s man in Argentina. For the first time, Leon found himself representing the nation, and not a political party, and it was an adjustment he found surprisingly easy to make. When he returned to the country to launch his book, he had mellowed.

Now he has mellowed some more. Opposite Mandela goes back to the uneasy time he spent as leader of the opposition in a Parliament dominated by a man who had for all intents and purposes been canonized for his role in the transition to democracy.

When I meet Leon in the foyer of the Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg, he has a ready anecdote to illustrate his new position above the buzz of party politics.

“Lindiwe Mazibuko, Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane all attended my book launch in Cape Town,” he says. Mazibuko had resigned from the DA to take up a Harvard scholarship amidst talk that she was to be replaced as parliamentary leader by Maimane. Leon apparently offered all sides refuge from a party where the air was thick with intrigue and hurt.

But he can’t resist getting a mild dig in. “I would have just wished Lindiwe well and moved on,” he says of Zille’s decision to address her party caucus with a list of Mazibuko’s weaknesses.

Leon expresses relief that he was a leader “in a pre-Twitter age”, sparing him Zille’s sometimes ill-considered 140-character responses to some or other baiting on the social network.

“I often felt deeply wronged,” he says. But he had senior party leaders who talked him down before he took the fight to the streets (or, in Zille’s case, the tweets).

In Mandela, Leon found his toughest challenge. “He was the fiercest of ANC partisans and I don’t think any organisation came close to eclipsing it. On the other hand, he genuinely had strong democratic impulses. Mandela was a leader. He was quite prepared to go against the grain,” he says.

Leon lists the events that illustrate this: The decision to begin negotiations with the apartheid government; the decision to wear the Springbok jersey at the 1995 World Cup; His reconciliatory response to the Chris Hani assassination; and his decision to abandon nationalization.

It was, he says a different time. “When Mandela was president, the ANC was just starting out in government and not as surefooted as now. There were titans in the world then – Donny Gordon, Harry Oppenheimer, Anton Rupert. The business community was thought to be a very important stakeholder.”

The DA, which then had the reputation as the party with the ear of business, punched above its paltry 1,7 percent of the 1994 vote. It was, he says, “a small party with all the disadvantages of a large party”.

By the time Mandela’s term of office ended, this had all changed and Leon was the de facto leader of the opposition as the National Party began to disintegrate, caught between its role in the government of national unity and its place on the opposition benches.

The result was that Leon found himself courted by Mandela, who kept in close contact and even once offered him a cabinet position. There are few who would have turned down such an offer from the uber statesman, but Leon said no.

Far from breaking his relationship with Mandela, this had the effect of strengthening it. Mandela knew he was tempting Leon to abandon his principles in exchange for the proximity to power and when Leon turned it down, Mandela respected him more for his stance.

Leon and Mandela shared, it turned out, the desire to take the road less travelled. “Maybe constancy is for the dull,” he says.

Follow @hartleyr

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Book Bites: 24 August 2014

Midnight CrossroadsMidnight Crossroads
Charlaine Harris (Orion)
***
Book fling
This is the first of a trilogy set in the dusty, one-traffic-light town of Midnight, Texas, where the residents are an eclectic, supernatural bunch – all with secrets. Among them is online psychic Manfred Bernando, his witch neighbour Fiji, and Lemuel, a vampire living in the basement of a pawn shop. This is not just fantasy, it’s a murder mystery with perhaps a tad too many red herrings and hackneyed rednecks as the bad guys. Yet, it will satisfy Harris’s die-hard fans.
- Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

The Steady Running of the HourThe Steady Running of the Hour
Justin Go (William Heinemann)
****
Book buff
The title comes from a poem by WWI poet Wilfred Owen, and one of the three interlacing time periods in the novel is 1916 and the Somme campaign. The other two are 1924 and the British Everest expeditions of that year, and 2004. In the last, one Tristan Campbell’s life is overturned by news that he will inherit a huge fortune if he can prove his descent from a certain Ashley and Imogen, who enjoyed a dizzying week of intimacy before Ashley was shipped off to the Western Front in 1916. The novel is part-love-story, part-double quest, and lots more besides. It’s difficult to do justice to its huge tapestry.
- David Pike @pikedavey

Kill Yourself & Count to 10Kill Yourself and Count to 10
Gordon Torr (Penguin)
*****
Book buff
This is about Greefswald, a camp in the Northern Province where anyone considered unfit for the Nationalist army’s Calvinist-scripted needs was sent for “rehabilitation”. The humiliation, degradation and physical privations of the conscripts makes for sickening reading. The frothing-mouth madness of the apartheid regime is fully on display here – a madness that enabled a rogue psychiatrist to build a camp for his favourite broken toys. And the writing! It is filled with shaking rage, splattering the page with disgust and sorrow, speaking for those who no longer can’t, or won’t, or don’t know how.
- Zoe Hinis @ZoeHinis

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Fiction Friday: Extract From David Platt's Nova Short Story Competition-winning Entry "Doppleganger"

Tech-Savvy ParentingConquestRead an excerpt from David Platt’s short story “Doppleganger”, which took first place at last year’s Nova Short Story competition in the South African section. His winning story appeared in Probe 159, cover art courtesy of Jürgen Zimmerman.

The competition is organised by Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa (SFFSA) and this year’s closing date is 30 September 2014, at midnight. Tech-Savvy Parenting: A Guide to Raising Safe Children in a Digital World author Arthur Goldstuck will judge the South African section, and Jenny Ridyard, co-author of Conquest, will judge the General section.

Read an extract from “Doppleganger”:

Chased him for months; promotion material.
One of two known Struggle leaders. The young one, charisma machine, apparently.
Not too charismatic with his face leaking. Mouth so swollen by now he couldn’t talk if he wanted to – China went one step too far hitting him with debilitator-shot early, cut off muscle reception, sealed his fate. Rookie error – literally. Now we don’t get intel – just the impact of a clandestine death.
Got him through infiltration, in a fucking hole in Mozambique. – untested biotech to lift classified MK intel. Traced a death threat on Security Minister Burger.
Me + van Staden: “Cheese”; top photo op for higher-ups.
Hero cop. Apartheid dog. I like both names equally.
Over now though, save the Wurm.
Rookie clips the crystal biosphere to Mphila’s neck, miniature claws cutting miniature holds into flesh. Press down. Hiss. Wurm burrows his way from synthetic plasma sludge to bloodstream. Convulsions.
Involuntary vomit, shits his pants, not pretty, Rookie leaps away. Botha laughs – one of the meanest motherfuckers I’ve ever met. Good cop; better assassin.
Wurmpie writhes under the skin.

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Celebrate South Africa's Women with Book Dash in Cape Town

Who is your South African female role model?

On Saturday, 30 August Cape Town’s writers, illustrators and designers will come together for a special Women’s Day-themed Book Dash in collaboration with Rock Girl and the African Storybook Project.

Each team will create a book that tells the story of an amazing South African woman. Teams will receive raw material and work together with input from experts.

Last month Book Dash launched three new children’s books for Nelson Mandela Day. Read Liesl Jobson’s inspiring write-up of that event here.

Find out more about Book Dash’s Women’s Day project.

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Bulawayo, Oduor, Huchu, Kahora and Chela Tackle the Tricky Subject of African Writing, and Hail the Rise of Afro-futurism

NoViolet Bulawayo, Okwiri Oduor, Tendai Huchu, Billy Kahora and Efemia Chela have all been in the news recently, contemplating the controversial topic of African writing.

Feast, Famine and PotluckThe Gonjon Pin and Other StoriesWe Need New NamesAmericanahGhana Must Go

Zimbabwean Bulawayo, whose debut novel We Need New Names won the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature, was a guest at the Writivism Festival in Kampala recently.

Bulawayo took part in an event hosted at the FEMRITE Readers and Writers club, alongside Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and 2014 Writivism regional winners, Kelechi Njoku and Ssekandi Ronald Sseguja. On the question of African literature, Bulawayo said that despite seeming reductive the classification still has an important place. Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire, who chaired the event, describes the conversation:

Abubakar tells us that whether African Literature exists or not is not important. He thinks that the debate is exaggerated. He says that when he is writing, he never tells himself that he is writing an African story. He just writes. The rest is the business of the academics. Kelechi agrees with him. He is not bothered by the debate. Any position is fine. NoViolet takes a strong stand on the matter. African Literature exists to her. She is interested in where literature comes from. She notes that African literature was never recognized by gatekeepers of so-called ‘human’ literature. Its existence is thus in itself a protest against what was essentially ‘European’ literature masquerading as universal ‘human’ literature. She adds; “Literature does not become less of literature because it is African. I am Zimbabwean and so everything I produce is African”. Ssekandi agrees. I am pleased. How can literature, cultures of a whole continent disappear? I want to thank NoViolet for spelling out why African Literature will never disappear, but I restrain myself. I must remain a balanced moderator.

In a recent article by CNN, entitled “These are the African writers you should be reading right now”, the very African writers quoted emphasise the problems and pitfalls associated with the term.

Oduor, winner of the 2014 Caine Prize, said: “I don’t know what ‘African Literature’ means, but I think there are many ways of thinking about it. I would hope for it to diversify – I’d like to read more science fiction, multiculturalism.”

Zimbabwean Huchu, Kenyan Kahora and Zambian Chela, who were all shortlisted for the Caine Prize, agreed that there is a need for experimentation with genre fiction, and argued against the over-simpiflication of the idea of African literature.

“I would hope for more diverse literature – by this I’m saying a lot more stuff in different genres,” he explains. “There’s the pulpy, entertaining stuff that goes to the masses but at the moment, we have a situation in which you do a story and someone says: ‘What does this tell you about Africa?’ which is problematic.”

For Zambian writer Efemia Chela, also shortlisted nominee, just talking about African literature is “a bit of an absurd idea.” She explained: “You could say European literature is like talking from Russia all the way to the Hebrides – no one really does that and it’s a bit tricky with African literature. It’s 54 countries and so you know, there’s so much scope and range of voices.”

Meanwhile, Kahora, also shortlisted for this year’s Caine Prize, said that this desire for different styles and genres was already on its way – and growing.

“A lot of people now are very interested in afro-futurism,” he said. “A lot of sci-fi, a lot of fantasy, a lot of erotica, and then a lot of cross genre — a kind of cross pollination of genre,” added Kahora. “You will also see [more] forms — you will see some straying to visual storytelling online that attempts to do what a book does.”

But despite these complications, most Africans would not deny feeling a twinge of pride when a writer from the continent bursts onto the world scene. In this spirit, we share Flavorwire’s recent list of “50 Excellent Novels by Female Writers Under 50 That Everyone Should Read”, which includes three African novelists:

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you haven’t heard of Adichie, you haven’t been paying attention. Hell, Beyoncé sampled her TED Talk, so you really have no excuses. Americanah is a breathtaking and dare I say important novel about race, identity, and love, and I know I’m not the first to tell you to read it, so, you know, go read it.

We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo

A powerful debut novel — shortlisted for the Booker, no less — that tells the story of a ten-year-old girl’s journey from Zimbabwe to America, and all the things she didn’t expect when she gets there. Fierce and sometimes terrifying in her prose, Bulawayo is one to watch.

Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi

An elegant novel about a splintered family painstakingly stitching itself back together.

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Make the Best Comment and Choose a Book!

Win a book

Inspired by a recent comment thread, we at Books LIVE have decided to start rewarding our readers – with books!

Books LIVE community members and commenters are the heart and soul of the site, so from this month (August) until we run out of books to give away (!), we will be selecting the best comment every month, and sending that person a book of their choice, from a selected list.

The first round of books, which all come from the Exclusive Books Homebru collection and are therefore proudly South African, is:

Doing Life with MandelaThe ThreeLondon – Cape Town – JoburgIncognitoCall It Like It IsBroken MonstersVyf-en-veertig skemeraandsange uit die eenbeendanser se werkruimte

 
For a chance to win one of these great titles, sign up for Book Chat and start voicing your opinions:

Thanks to Books LIVE community stalwarts Alex Smith, Colleen Higgs, Louis Greenberg, Helen Moffett, Máire Fisher, Tiah Beautement for brainstorming the competition.

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