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The ghost of Ahmed Kathrada will haunt his corrupt successors, writes Richard Poplak for The Atlantic

In a recent article for The Atlantic, journalist and author Richard Poplak examines South Africa’s democratic future – and the future of current ruling party, the ANC – in the aftermath of Ahmed Kathrada’s death.
“South African democracy has failed to craft a coherent nation from the wreckage of apartheid,” Poplak wrote, asking “[i]f Zuma does fall, what will replace him?”
An extract from The Quiet Death of an Anti-Apartheid Hero:

In a relentless attempt to control every aspect of the state, the day after Kathrada’s funeral, and for the second time in 15 months, Zuma unilaterally fired his finance minister. The casualty on this occasion was Pravin Gordhan, something of a superstar among the global financial elite, who was just settling into his second stint atop the ministry. The sacking was premised on a widely dismissed, undercooked intelligence report claiming that Gordhan wanted to undermine Zuma.

But from the moment he assumed the position in December 2015, Gordhan has faced an unrelenting assault from Zuma stemming from his refusal to sign off on spending initiatives in various ministries and state-owned enterprises. His removal, along with a wider cabinet reshuffle, has precipitated what could be one of the major crises of the democratic era.

Kathrada’s funeral, meticulously curated by his family, was a pre-emptive response to Gordhan’s axing, designed as a rebuke for an inevitable act of political sabotage. The Kathrada family had made it clear to Zuma that while his presence at the ceremony would be tolerated, he would not be asked to speak.

This was not the first of Uncle Kathy’s political broadsides.

At the outset of last year’s treasury crisis, Kathrada sent Zuma an open letter culminating with the line, “Submit to the will of the people, and resign.” From a wooden box draped in the ANC flag, Uncle Kathy was leading calls for the president’s removal, voluntary or otherwise. In this way, it represented a national first: a state funeral without a state president.

Read the full article here.
Poplak’s Continental Shift has been longlisted for the Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction.

Continental Shift

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"If we do not remove Zuma and his sinister associates, the consequences will be dire," writes Mathews Phosa

Lawyer, activist, politician and author of Deur die oog van ‘n naald, Mathews Phosa, recently wrote a column on South Africa’s current political climate under the rule of Jacob Zuma. Read an extract here:

On waking up last Friday morning, we learnt that our trusted finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, had been removed under the cover of darkness at the stroke of midnight.

Following the disastrous appointment of Des van Rooyen on December 9 2015, Gordhan was handed a poisoned chalice and worked tirelessly to prevent our beloved South Africa from being downgraded to junk status.

Since 2000, South Africa had enjoyed the benefits of a good credit standing. It took hard work and dedication to gain an investment-grade rating following the ruinous legacy of apartheid.

The finance team which effected this result was initially led by Chris Liebenberg.

He was succeeded in 1996 by Trevor Manuel. During his 13-year term, Manuel was a household name here and became the flagbearer for our stable economy on the global stage.

When Gordhan took over from him, the protracted honeymoon that we had enjoyed since the dawn of our democracy, April 28 1994, was over.

Continue reading For the sake of the poor, just go at

Deur die oog van 'n naald

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Jacket Notes: Jassy Mackenzie on writing with James Patterson

Published in the Sunday Times

Private Gold•Private Gold
James Patterson and Jassy Mackenzie (Penguin Random House)

Writing a James Patterson-branded Bookshots thriller was an incredible experience, made extra challenging by the short format. A normal length novel is 75 000 to 10 0000 words — a Bookshots novel is only 25 000 — but there has to be just as much action in the Bookshots.

To start with, I had to submit a synopsis good enough to persuade Patterson to consider the full manuscript. This meant I had to throw my hero, Joey Montague, right into the thick of things, and make sure trouble kept on coming.

There can be no unluckier person, I discovered, than the star of a Bookshots thriller. I thought I’d made Joey’s life as bad as it could be, with a side order of life-threatening disaster for Isobel, the female lead — but the message came back from Patterson: We like it, but more action in the first half, please.

Back to the drawing board I went, and erased the only moment of peace and quiet that Joey had. Instead, he became the victim of an attempted mugging during a violent thunderstorm.

I wanted the book to have a topical theme. Since it was set in Joburg, I decided to tackle the subject of illegal gold mining. I was fascinated to learn how prevalent it is and how much crime occurs as a result. It’s a high-risk activity undertaken by desperate people. Toiling in the dark, they risk suffocation, injury, being trapped under the surface, or being murdered by rival gangs.

Originally, I called the book 26 Degrees South, after the co-ordinates of the mine Joey helps Isobel reach when she suspects foul play. However, when Patterson read the full manuscript, he thought it would work as part of his famous Private series. Instead of being an independent PI, Joey could head up the SA branch of Private, the international investigation firm.

I went ahead with the changes. Luckily, the book’s short format made this easier. Changes like this might sound small and simple, but they have a knock-on effect and can mean many hours of rewriting, and rethinking.

The new title was originally Private Johannesburg, but given the subject matter, the team decided Private Gold would work even better. I loved it — short, catchy and descriptive.

Having written in collaboration with James Patterson, I can also say, confidentially, that midway through the edits, as we were sitting side by side at his big mahogany desk, he leaned towards me and whispered that I must please call him Jim.

That’s not true, actually. But then, I am a fiction writer.

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Book Bites: 9 April 2017

Terry Goodkind (Head of Zeus)
Book fiend
Imagine you could spot a murderer just by looking at a photograph of his face? Not only recognise him, but know the intimate details of his crime. Kate Bishop discovers she has this ability — as did her recently murdered brother. Then there’s author Jack Raines, who is an expert on evil, with unique abilities of his own. Jack and Kate make a formidable team, posing a real threat to the world’s “super-predators”, but becoming targets themselves. Goodkind is famous for his epic fantasy series The Sword of Truth and although Nest is not fantasy, it’s the first in a solid series. – Aubrey Paton

Born on a TuesdayBorn on a Tuesday
Elnathan John (Cassava Press)
Book buff
I love unadorned writing. Quite often it’s more effective than the purple prose and over-writing favoured by the likes of Ben Okri. In his debut novel Born on a Tuesday, the twice Caine Prize-nominated Elnathan John writes as simply as he does devastatingly. His coming-of-age novel follows the story of Dantala, a Muslim boy in northern Nigeria who finds a home first in a gang that commits atrocious acts of violence (described in detail with unnerving nonchalance) and then within the belongingness of religious extremism. Dantala is reminiscent of the protagonist in Albert Camus’ The Stranger, except instead of world-weariness, his emotional distance from the world around him seems to be the result of a lack of emotional growth. Dantala is an observer of not only others’ behaviour and lives, but of his own too. This is a dark and intense read, but there’s also a strange beauty at its core that shines through when you least expect it. – Pearl Boshomane @Pearloysias

Eyes Like MineEyes Like Mine
Sheena Kamal (Bonnier)
Book thrill
Thrillers set in unusual places seem to have a certain edge – the environment being another fascinating character to get to know. This debut novel is set in Vancouver, Canada, where the constant rain and drabness of the city in winter is another adversary that taciturn loner Nora Watts has to deal with. She is contacted by the parents of Bonnie, a teenage girl she gave up for adoption as a baby and who is now missing. Nora has to confront what happened to her 15 years ago and how to save Bonnie from her violent past. At first, the story is dense and Nora’s character is not easy to like but then she becomes firmly stuck in your mind – like Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s books. Thank goodness Kamal is writing a sequel. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

The Child GardenThe Child Garden
Catriona McPherson (Little, Brown)
Book thrill
Gloria’s small and simple life is changed when she narrowly avoids a head-on collision with her childhood crush, Stig. The meeting leads them to poking around at the secrets surrounding a 30-year-old tragedy. As truths begin to emerge, it becomes clear that what began with only a single life lost is still claiming bodies to this day. This bucolic Scotland has a sinister edge, where rocking stones are rumoured to house the devil and bridges might steal your soul. An eerie tale with more twists and turns than a garden maze. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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A midwife of our history: Helen Moffett reviews Dene Smut's memoir Patriots & Parasites: South Africa and the Struggle to Evade History

Published in the Sunday Times

Patriots Patriots & Parasites: South Africa and the Struggle to Evade History
Dene Smuts (Quivertree)

It’s always a challenge to finalise a book whose author dies before it is quite complete. Books emerging from the resulting valedictory labours of love are often flawed, but no less valuable. Dene Smuts’s daughter, Julia Smuts Louw, herself a writer of exceptional flair, probably has something to do with the elegance of this book – which has also been carefully copy edited. It was she who chose the title, taken from Emily Hobhouse’s words describing “those who live in the country, and love it, and those who live on it”.

Nevertheless, for those familiar with Smuts’s writing from her journalism days, there is no mistaking her forthright and mordantly funny voice, her ability to skewer, her crisp prose. Her account of the property clause in the Constitution as “a kind of mermaid [with a] long and fishy tail of subclause after subclause” is vintage Smuts.

This memoir, a history of 25 years in Parliament and a valuable account of the making of the Constitution, is an important marker on the map of South African political analysis. The reminders of what many of us have forgotten or never knew, the insider views, and her trademark fearlessness more than compensate for the unpolished or truncated passages.

Smuts wrote this book after her “retirement” in 2014, with characteristic passion for her ideals, but surprising lack of heat given that she often describes herself as “incensed” or “incandescent with rage”. There is none of the score-settling that can mar political memoirs – although she takes no prisoners. Thabo Mbeki, in particular, is not spared, although her critique of his legacy focuses on his interest in keeping open the wounds of racism, rather than his shameful obtuseness on HIV/Aids, which cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives.

One might not agree with Smuts’s liberal politics, and I remain unconvinced by her arguments on hate and “hurt” speech – it is not enough to dismiss the Sparrows of this world as pathetic and irrelevant – but there is no denying the integrity of her principles, and the terrier-like tenacity with which she guarded those principles – particularly equality – as part of the backbone of the post-1994 political dispensation.

For those idealistic about our Constitution, reading Smuts’s insights into the horse-trading, panel-beating, and vigilance that was necessary to enshrine and safeguard it in its current form, is eye-opening. As the ConCourt swooped recently to save the poorest of South Africans from the Sassa grants morass, with a judgment stingingly critical of the executive bungling, incompetence, arrogance and worse, this book reminds us of how much we owe those, like Smuts, who insisted on the robustness and clarity of constitutional rights.

Increasingly, as we look to our courts to save us from an unaccountable and uncaring government, we have reason to be grateful to the midwives of our legislation.

Smuts did an extraordinary job in extraordinary times, and her memoir disproves the truism about it being best not to know what goes into the making of laws and sausages: her account of the gristle, filler and corn syrup that went into our key legislation also reveals the warm spice contributed by remarkable individuals and a unique history. – Helen Moffett @heckitty

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"It brought me closer to her," says Shamim Meer on writing mother Fatima's memoir

Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books recently played host to the launch of writer, academic and anti-apartheid activist Fatima Meer’s memoir, Memories of Love and Struggle.

Sisonke Msimang was in conversation with Meer’s daughter, Shamim Meer, who wrote her mother’s memoir.

Msimang lead the conversation by asking Shamim Meer about her mother’s feminist principles, adding how crucial it is for African woman writers to be heard nowadays.

Shamim Meer replied that “she [Fatima] would never have called herself a feminist, but her whole life has been a feminist life; she was a woman who couldn’t be controlled.

“She was a woman to be reckoned with.”

Msimang mentioned Meer’s founding of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1954, the first inclusive women’s federation in South Africa, to which Shamim Meer asserted that her mother was “very conscious about racial unity,” even as a young child.

The subject of Meer’s youth was a recurring topic, as Shamim Meer regularly stated how much she learned about her mother’s childhood. The process of writing her mother’s memoir and discovering so much about her turbulent childhood was emotionally taxing, yet “it brought me closer to her.

“I saw the vulnerability of the child.”

Msimang remarked that, according to Memories of Love and Struggle, Meer couldn’t cook at all. This comment was met with laughter by the audience, yet prompted Meer’s youngest daughter, Shenahz Meer, who attended the launch, to stand up and proclaim:

“To us, as children, it appeared that there was nothing our mother couldn’t do. She could march, she could write, and she could cook!”

Meer’s statement was received with applause.

Msimang was curious to know what Meer’s stance would be on the current political climate of South Africa, especially in the light of nationwide anti-government protest marches which were to take place the following day (April 7).

“She would be in the frontline!” a relative laughed from the audience.

Shamim Meer replied that her mother would have said “let’s get up and continue, shouting, no matter how old or young you are.”

The audience made their agreement known by applauding, and interjecting with a few ‘whoops’.

Head of NB Publisher’s non-fiction department, Erika Oosthuysen, concluded the evening by thanking both Msimang and Meer, and declaring Memories of Love and Struggle an “amazing” book.

“Next time, we want to read your story,” Oosthuysen said to Shamim Meer.

To which we can only reply with a resounding ‘yes, please’.

Fatima Meer

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