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Archive for November, 2017

Watch: Pumla Dineo Gqola discusses Reflecting Rogue, normalising freedom and undoing patriarchy on Afternoon Express

Reflecting Rogue is the much anticipated and brilliant collection of experimental autobiographical essays on power, pleasure and South African culture by Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola.

In her most personal book to date, written from classic Gqola antiracist, feminist perspectives, Reflecting Rogue delivers 20 essays of deliciously incisive brain food, all extremely accessible to a general critical readership, without sacrificing intellectual rigour.

These include essays on ‘Disappearing Women’, where Gqola spends time exploring what it means to live in a country where women can simply disappear – from a secure Centurion estate in one case, to being a cop in another, and being taken by men who know them.

‘On the beauty of feminist rage’ magically weaves together the shift in gender discourse in South Africa’s public spheres, using examples from #RUReferenceList, #RapeAtAzania and #RememberingKhwezi.

Reflecting Rogue takes on both the difficulties and rewards of wilfully inhabiting our bodies in ‘Growing into my body’, while ‘Belonging to myself’ uncovers what it means to refuse the adversarial, self-harming lessons patriarchy teaches us about femininity.

In ‘Mothering while feminist’ Gqola explores raising boys as a feminist – a lesson in humour, humility and patience from the inside. In ‘Becoming my mother’ the themes of fear, envy, adoration and resentment are unpacked in mother-daughter relationships. While ‘I’ve got all my sisters with me’ explores the heady heights of feminist joy, ‘A meditation on feminist friendship with gratitude’ exposes a new, and more personal side to ever-incisive Gqola.

Reflecting Rogue comes to a breath-taking end in ‘A love letter to the Blackman who raised me’.

Gender activist, award-winning author and full professor of African Literature at Wits University, Pumla Dineo Gqola has written extensively for both local and international academic journals. She is the author of What is Slavery to Me? (Wits University Press), A Renegade Called Simphiwe (MFBooks Joburg) and Rape: A South African Nightmare (MFBooks Joburg).

Here Pumla discusses normalising freedom, undoing patriarchy, and the state of South Africa’s universities with Jeannie D and Bonnie Mbuli:


 

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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

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“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

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Launch: Hasta la Gupta, baby! by Zapiro (27 November)

No little thorn in the flesh or irritating fly in the ointment, Zapiro just cannot be ignored.

It’s been one helluva year. We’ve held our breath thinking Zuma may resign. We’ve seen Juju re-booted and Zille tweeted out. Racial tensions rise, tempers and fires flare. Still the rich get richer and the poor get Khayelitsha.

We’ve seen Trump’s megalomania, Bell Pottinger’s spin and Pravin’s fightback, cadres captured and Cabinet’s relocation to Saxonwold Shebeen.

GuptaLeaks threaten to drown us and as the flood rises the rodents scatter.

And who better to make sense of this than Zapiro, political analyst, cartoonist and agent provocateur.

He has the ability to knock the air out of us, to rock us back in our seats, to force us bolt upright with a 1000-watt jolt of electrifying shock. He makes us angry, he makes us laugh and he makes us think. He shines a light on the elephant in the room, presents the emperor in all his naked glory. Impossible to brush off, he is determined to provoke a response.

When all around is crumbling, when fake news and zipped lips conceal the truth, Zapiro comes to the rescue. With the dissecting eye of a surgeon, the rapier-like point of his pen exposes flimflam, and reveals with a line what lies behind the action.

Zapiro is Jonathan Shapiro. Born in 1958, he went through architecture at UCT, conscription, activism, detention and a Fulbright scholarship to New York before establishing himself as South Africa’s best-known cartoonist. He has been the editorial cartoonist for the Sunday Times since 1998 and Daily Maverick starting 2017. Previously he was editorial cartoonist for Mail & Guardian and for The Times. He was also editorial cartoonist for Sowetan and Independent Newspapers. He has published 21 best-selling annuals as well as The Mandela Files, VuvuzelaNation (a collection of his sporting cartoons) and DemoCrazy (his cartoon collection on SA’s 20-year trip.)

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Listen: Raymond Suttner discusses Inside Apartheid’s Prison on Drivetime

Inside Apartheid's PrisonRaymond Suttner, author of Inside Apartheid’s Prison is one of a small number of white comrades who played a substantial in bringing apartheid to an end.

Suttner, who lives in Johannesburg, is a part-time professor at Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at the University of South Africa. Initially a legal academic, he later obtained an interdisciplinary PhD in history, political studies and sociology.

During the apartheid era he was jailed for his activities as an ANC underground operative, as described in this re-issued edition. His other titles include The ANC Underground (2008) and Recovering Democracy in South Africa (2015), both published by Jacana Media.
 

Suttner recently was a guest on Shafiq Morton’s Drivetime show. Listen to their conversation:

 

First published by Oceanbooks, New York and Melbourne, and University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, in 2001, Inside Apartheid’s Prison was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton award in 2002.

In the public imagination the struggle that saw the end of apartheid and inauguration of a democratic South Africa is seen as one waged by black people who were often imprisoned or killed for their efforts. Raymond Suttner, an academic, is one of a small group of white South Africans who was imprisoned for his efforts to overthrow the apartheid regime. He was first arrested in 1975 and tortured with electric shocks because he refused to supply information to the police. He then served eight years for underground activities for the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP).

After his release in 1983, he returned to the struggle and was forced to go underground to evade arrest, but was re-detained in 1986 for 27 months; 18 of these being spent in solitary confinement.

In the last months of this detention Suttner was allowed to have a pet lovebird, which he tamed and used to keep inside his tracksuit. When he was eventually released from detention in September 1988 the bird was on his shoulder.

Suttner was held under stringent house arrest conditions, imposed to impede further political activities. He however defied his house arrest restrictions and attended an Organisation for African Unity meeting in Harare, where he remained for five months. Shortly after his return to SA, when he anticipated being re-arrested, the state of emergency was lifted and the ANC and other banned organisations were unbanned.

The book describes Suttner’s experience of prison in a low-key, unromantic voice, providing the texture of prison life. This ‘struggle memoir’ is also intensely personal, as Suttner is not averse to admitting his fears and anxieties.

The new edition contains an afterword where Suttner describes his break with the ANC and SACP. But he argues that the reasons for his rupturing this connection that had been so important to his life were the same ethical reasons that had led him to join in the first place. He remains convinced that what he did was right and continues to act in accordance with those convictions.

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Launch: New Times by Rehana Rossouw (22 November)

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.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 22 November 2017
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Love Books, The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre, 53 Rustenburg Rd, Melville, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Heather Robertson
  • RSVP: Savannah Lucas, rsvp@jacana.co.za
     

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Zapiro’s back. His target? 2017, aka the year of Juju’s reboot, Zille’s tweets, and a certain shebeen in Saxonwold…

No little thorn in the flesh or irritating fly in the ointment, Zapiro just cannot be ignored.

It’s been one helluva year. We’ve held our breath thinking Zuma may resign. We’ve seen Juju re-booted and Zille tweeted out. Racial tensions rise, tempers and fires flare. Still the rich get richer and the poor get Khayelitsha.

We’ve seen Trump’s megalomania, Bell Pottinger’s spin and Pravin’s fightback, cadres captured and Cabinet’s relocation to Saxonwold Shebeen.

GuptaLeaks threaten to drown us and as the flood rises the rodents scatter.

And who better to make sense of this than Zapiro, political analyst, cartoonist and agent provocateur.

He has the ability to knock the air out of us, to rock us back in our seats, to force us bolt upright with a 1000-watt jolt of electrifying shock. He makes us angry, he makes us laugh and he makes us think. He shines a light on the elephant in the room, presents the emperor in all his naked glory. Impossible to brush off, he is determined to provoke a response.

When all around is crumbling, when fake news and zipped lips conceal the truth, Zapiro comes to the rescue. With the dissecting eye of a surgeon, the rapier-like point of his pen exposes flimflam, and reveals with a line what lies behind the action.

Zapiro is Jonathan Shapiro. Born in 1958, he went through architecture at UCT, conscription, activism, detention and a Fulbright scholarship to New York before establishing himself as South Africa’s best-known cartoonist. He has been the editorial cartoonist for the Sunday Times since 1998 and Daily Maverick starting 2017. Previously he was editorial cartoonist for Mail & Guardian and for The Times. He was also editorial cartoonist for Sowetan and Independent Newspapers. He has published 21 best-selling annuals as well as The Mandela Files, VuvuzelaNation (a collection of his sporting cartoons) and DemoCrazy (his cartoon collection on SA’s 20-year trip.)

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Cape Town launch: A Simple Man by Ronnie Kasrils (13 November)

A Simple Man

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“Comrades, I want to address aspects about Jacob Zuma” – an excerpt from Ronnie Kasrils’s A Simple Man

A Simple ManRonnie Kasrils’s insights into Jacob Zuma in A Simple Man, both shocking and revelatory, are vividly illuminated through this story, from their shared history in the underground to Kasrils’s time as minister of intelligence and his views on South Africa now. Our understanding of Zuma the struggle hero, now perceived as having sold his soul to the devil, becomes clearer through this narrative.

This fast-paced, thriller-style memoir outlines the tumultuous years that saw Mbeki’s overthrow and replacement by Zuma, Nkandlagate, the growing militarisation of the police and the Marikana Massacre, the outrageous appointment of flunkies to high office, the ‘state capture’ report and his relationship with the Guptas. We relive the Schabir Shaik corruption trial, Kasrils’s relationship with Fezeka Kuzwayo (Khwezi), Zuma’s rape trial accuser, the email and spy tapes saga, conspiracy and betrayal.

‘Yes, comrade President, I think Russia will stand by Iran,’ I was mouthing, though my thoughts were mesmerised by the swinging pendulum. The fifteen-minute chime. The clock needed oiling. A big gulp of the amber fluid. Aziz was rattling on. Mbeki was thoughtful. The man was oblivious to the passing of time … nine interminable minutes more and his presidency would be over.

‘Uncle Ronnie, Jacob Zuma has raped me,’ was the call I received on my mobile phone. The woman added, ‘This is Fezeka.’ My body geared to the shock as though someone was pointing a gun at me: blood ran cold, neck hairs prickled, throat turned dry, mind strove to focus.

While Kasrils explains the enigmatic contradictions of Jacob Zuma, he also explains that corruption and the abuse of power does not begin with Zuma. His story points to the compromised negotiations of the 1990s, which he refers to as a ‘Faustian Pact’. This is a story told from the inside, and after reading it, you will understand not only the many machinations of power, but also how one man’s struggle for the truth can have such an impact on the political outcomes of the nation.

Ronnie Kasrils is author of the best-selling memoir Armed and Dangerous, which has been translated into German, Russian and Spanish and the Alan Paton Award-winning The Unlikely Secret Agent, which has been translated into French. A commander in Umkhonto weSizwe from its inception in 1961 until 1990, he served in government from 1994 to his resignation as minister for intelligence in 2008. He describes himself as a social activist and lives in Johannesburg.

The following extract was published by The Daily Maverick on nine November:

We had gathered at Party headquarters in downtown Johannesburg for a regular executive committee meeting but since insufficient members had turned up the gathering was postponed. While we chatted over coffee, I suggested that instead of dispersing, we discuss the situation that had arisen over Mbeki’s recent dismissal of Zuma as the country’s deputy president on 14 June 2005.

The disgraced Zuma, who had never disagreed with Mbeki’s policies, raised the spectre of a conspiracy against him hatched by “counter-revolutionaries”, and his supporters seized that idea with alacrity. Those in the SACP and Cosatu opposed Mbeki on ideological grounds, and although some had personal reasons too, I did not lump them into the same group as those I characterise as crony capitalists. The fact that the SACP supported Zuma spoke volumes about the extent to which he had succeeded in exploiting their antagonisms to Mbeki and their belief that he was a suitable man for the left and for the country. The situation was ugly and fraught with unforeseen consequences.

I studied the group of battle-hardened comrades with whom I had worked for several years to change South Africa and the world. Foremost among them were the Party general secretary, the feisty Blade Nzimande; the chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, a weather-beaten former mineworkers’ leader who did not mince his words; and the gently spoken poet and ideologue, Jeremy Cronin, whom I had once trained in London for underground work. As I was not just a comrade, the old “ANC Khumalo” and MK veteran, but an Mbeki appointee and the intelligence minister at that, I could feel sure that despite obvious respect they showed me, there was an element of doubt about my motives.

“Comrades, let’s be perfectly open with one another,” I requested. “I’m going to open my chest, and although this discussion should be confidential, if what I say gets to Zuma, I couldn’t care less.”

I had eyeballed the secretary of the Young Communist League (YCL), Buti Manamela, an up-and-coming youth leader who was pro-Zuma, and wondered just how far he would be swallowed by personal ambition. The Cosatu president, the heavily bearded Willie Madisha, shuffled perceptibly and looked down. I guessed he was unhappy with the growing adulation of Zuma and was in the process of falling out with Blade, who had a tight grip on the party.

“Comrades,” I continued, “I want to address aspects about Jacob Zuma, such as tribalism; the question of morality; the fact that he is no working-class hero; and the issue of conspiracy and security.”

Blade nodded with puckered mouth, beckoning me to proceed. Outside, the city hummed under a bright winter sky. Through our upper-floor windows we had a commanding view of downtown Johannesburg’s skyline: skyscrapers, mining houses and financial centres long past their glory days. The capitalist values that once had their fountainhead in the City of Gold had taken flight to the new capital of Mammon – the gleaming towers of Sandton City on Johannesburg’s northern edge. I wondered whether we communists could adjust to the times.

Continue reading here.

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“Zuma is symbolic of the rottenness of this country” – Ronnie Kasrils at the launch of A Simple Man

“Why did you decide to include the subtitle?” An audience member asked towards the end of the launch of Ronnie Kasrils’s A Simple Man: Kasrils and the Zuma Enigma on the second of November.

The answer is simple:

Was Jacob Zuma truly this ‘simple man’ people are making him out to be? A working-class hero (in the most simplistic sense); or someone with ulterior motives, who succumbed to the allure of power? Kasrils’s memoir explores their shared history in exile, and covers his years as minister of intelligence, the overthrowing of Mbeki, and his current views on the state of affairs in contemporary South Africa.

Kasrils’s initial impression of Zuma, upon meeting during their years of exile in the 1980s, is far removed from the one he presently holds; he remembers Zuma as an engaging, pleasant man; “a well-dressed activist”. The cover image of the book has managed to elicit response – the smiling, young man (with a substantial amount of hair…) can be regarded as the antithesis of the corrupt figurehead we call our president.

It is precisely the flawed nature of Zuma which encouraged him to write the book; to question whether he truly is/was the ‘simple man of the people’.

“Where cometh the flaws?”

Kasrils is intrigued by the nature of flaws, and does not believe that one is born flawless. In A Simple Man he attempts to gauge how Zuma’s flaws went unnoticed, and what led to his demise as an immoral, corrupt politician. Could it be that he was a ‘great guy who fell from grace?’ Or was he corrupted by the allure of money and power?

A continuous theme of A Simple Man is Kasrils’s concern of how South Africa came to be a country in dire straits, with Zuma’s role of the demise of the country explicitly stated. “I want to explain to people who this is man is and how we came to be where we currently are.”

Kasrils mentioned Jacques Pauw’s recently published The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison (Tafelberg, 2017), lauding Pauw for writing a book set in the “now”, adding that Zuma is “symbolic of the rottenness of this country.”

In keeping with the subject matter of Pauw’s book, Kasrils declared that Zuma is made powerful by “his cronies and flunkies; this is a country entrenched in corruption.”

Despite outright declaring Zuma as a corrupt human, Kasrils does not believe in John Acton’s axiom that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”; according to Kasrils power reflects character. And, no, ‘power’ does not only apply to those ‘in power’ (eg. heads of states, CEOs, etc.) It can even be something as simple as your relationship with your domestic worker, he stated.

Zuma’s abuse and disgusting misappropriation of power was evident during his rape trial in 2005. When Kasrils received a phone call from Fezeka Kuzwayo (Khwezi) – who both he and Zuma helped protect in her parents home during their years of exile in Swaziland – telling him “Uncle Ronnie, Jacob Zuma has raped me”, Kasrils described Zuma’s defense as “utterly sordid”. His chauvinistic nature was exposed, and he took “so much away from this young woman, deeply disturbed by the events.”

“It was a glaring example of this man who showed himself to be a predatory monster – and more.”

Another element of Kasrils’s book, other than revealing the true nature of Zuma, is what he calls the Faustian Pact. Referring to Goethe’s tragic play in which his protagonist, Faust, sells his soul to the devil, Kasrils appropriates this classic tale — Zuma is the ‘protagonist’ who sells his soul to the devil(s): the Guptas.

The book does end on a positive note! Kasrils promises.

“Fundamental change is possible.

“Mass involvement between all South Africans managed to overthrow apartheid,” Kasrils said, and he believes that the inequalities currently experienced in the country can be eliminated. Unlike the Faustian Pact between Zuma and the Guptas, Kasrils firmly believes in the ‘People’s Pact’: a pact between South African citizens which gets into the roots of society, and is based on the ideals of eliminating illiteracy, uplifting our management of resources, and embedded in including the 60% of the population who live in abject poverty.

Viva, the People’s Pact, viva.

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