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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Launch: Beaten but not Broken by Vanessa Govender (12 September)

At the height of her journalism career, more than one million households across the country knew her name and her face. Her reportage on human suffering and triumph captivated viewers, and with it Vanessa Govender shot to fame as one of the first female Indian television news reporters in South Africa.

Always chasing the human angle of any news story, Govender made a name for herself by highlighting stories that included the grief of a mother clutching a packet filled with the fragments of the broken bones of her children after they’d been hacked to death by their own father, and another story where she celebrated the feisty spirit of a little girl who was dying of old age, while holding onto dreams that would never be realised. Yet Govender, a champion for society’s downtrodden, was hiding a shocking story of her own. In Beaten But Not Broken, she finally opens up about her deepest secret – one that so nearly ended her career in broadcast journalism before it had barely kicked off.

She was a rookie reporter at the SABC in 1999. He was a popular radio disc jockey, the darling of the SABC’s Lotus FM, a radio station catering to nearly half a million Indian people across South Africa. They were the perfect pair, or so it seemed. And if anyone suspected the nature of the abusive relationship, Govender says, she doesn’t believe they knew the full extent of the horror that the popular DJ was inflicting on this intrepid journalist. The bruising punches, the cracking slaps, and the relentless episodes filled with beatings, kicking and strangling were as ferocious as the emotional and verbal abuse he hurled at her. No one would know the brutal and graphic details of Govender’s story … until now.

In Beaten But Not Broken, this Indian woman does the unthinkable, maybe even the unforgiveable, in breaking the ranks of a close-knit conservative community to speak out about her five-year-long hell in this abusive relationship. Her story also lays bare her heart-breaking experiences as a victim of childhood bullying and being ostracised by some in her community for being a dark-skinned Indian girl. Govender tells a graphic story of extreme abuse, living with the pain, and ultimately of how she was saved by her own relentless fighting spirit to find purpose and love. This is a story of possibilities and hope; it is a story of a true survivor.

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Launch: Things We Don’t Talk About. Ever. by Desiree-Anne Martin (7 August)

In 1980s apartheid Cape Town, five-year-old Desiree-Anne is grappling with how she’s going to turn her tar baby doll’s skin into sweet, soft lily-white.

What she has learnt is that Whites are better than ‘Slamse’ and much better than ‘Kaffirs’.

She doesn’t know how to force her father to stop drinking or gambling or make her mother love her or get the boys and men to stop touching her in secret.

She learns how to soothe the pain: through secret masturbation and lying. She also gives her life and heart to Jesus every summer at Scripture Union camps.

As she grows up, she begins to understand the rules of living in her depressed family as well as in her fractured community: We Don’t Talk About It. Ever. In her teens, laden with the awkwardness of bushy, unruly hair, braces, and a body shorter and rounder than a Womble – and now firmly planted in a ‘White School’, Desiree-Anne is forced to confront her ‘Coloured identity crisis’.

She turns to self-harm, disordered eating, the thrill of petty theft and escapism through books and acting. Although she wins a place to study drama at UCT, sensing her parents cannot afford the tuition, she opts to go to the UK where she gets lost in bars, clubs and pills.

On her return to South Africa she embraces the “free love” Ecstasy trance club scene but when she meets Darren, a heroin addict, she turns to needles. Her search for love and acceptance descends into a self-destructive spiral as an intravenous smack addict.

This is a harrowing memoir on the darkness of addiction, but it is also a touching and sometimes humorous account of a little-girl-turned-woman’s deep need and reckless pursuit for love.

When Desiree-Anne finally finds recovery years later, she uncovers her real voice to talk and write about things that were previously left unspoken.
 

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“Other than my mom, I wasn’t scared of hurting anyone.” Christy Chilimigras on Things Even González Can’t Fix

By Mila de Villiers

The Instagram-era author and her bestselling-bambino.

 
With her dark tresses partly obscured by a pashmina, sipping on a Caste Lite, a lit Camel in hand, the 24-year-old Christy Chilimigras could easily be mistaken for yet another millennial patron at Melville’s #hip Hell’s Kitchen.

But there’s more to this South African Greek gal than meets the eye.

Despite not having reached a quarter of a century yet, Christy recently wrote her memoir (yes, you read that correctly) in five and a half months (yes, you read that correctly as well.)

Published by MF Books Joburg, author and journalist Melinda Ferguson’s publishing house, Things Even González Can’t Fix is an affecting, funny and searingly honest account of Christy and her older sister’s turbulent lives as the children of drug addicts – crack, in her dad’s case; marijuana, her mother’s.

Sisonke Msimang, who’s memoir Always Another Country was recently published, encourages her pupils to “Write from your scars, not from your wounds”. I ask Msimang’s fellow memoirist whether she relates to this…

“I love that so much, I’ve never heard that before,” Christy answers in her animated, unmistakably Joburg-bred voice.

“I mean I guess, sure, to a certain extent that was the case. Like when I had the [memoir] writing course with Mel [Ferguson], she came to me on the first day and she was, like, I was the only person in this room of, like, 14 people who hadn’t cried throughout. And she was like ‘This is how I know you really need to write this book’. It’s almost like I was at a point where I could … write about everything without fucking destroying myself all over again,” she responds contemplatively.

“So, sure. I guess maybe that was it. I’ve been writing about it and been thinking about it and talking about everything for so long at that point, that then you can kinda write about it more calmly, and more objectively, I think. So, sure. I think there’s a beautiful truth in that.”

Christy was concerned that she and Melinda, a recovered heroin addict who’s own memoir, Smacked, chronicles her years of substance abuse, would bash heads over her depiction of addicts.

“I was so worried she would hate me and I was fine with that, but I mean – growing up the way I did – I really can’t stand addicts and it just triggers me immediately.

“She would – I imagine, as a recovered addict – she would hope for kindness and understanding and I’m not there yet,” she continues, lighting another cigarette.

“But she was amazing and I think she was quite refreshed by it, in a sense, because I think she’s so used to addicts gravitating towards her to speak about their stories and I was coming from the other side of it. So I think I was looking at her to understand my parents more, and she was looking at me to understand her children more.

“So it was kind of serendipitous and lovely in that way and there were no hard feelings – from either of us.”

Christy’s admiration and respect for Melinda is near-tangible, supported by Christy’s powerful statement that “if anything, she’s challenged my ideas regarding addiction.”

After a brief pause and another sip of her suip, Christy continues.

“As much as she’s written about her experiences … it’s not like a chip on her shoulder, you know? I had an addict father who, like, feels like the world owes him something because he’s been through what he’s been through and he’s ‘clean’ now,” she says, air quoting ‘clean’.

“I say ‘clean’ because I don’t know. But ja, man. She challenged me. Which was cool.”

An impassioned “I don’t know how people write books otherwise! I swear to God!” serves as definite affirmation when I ask whether Melinda’s advice to write as if the people you’re writing about are dead is in any way sound.

“It was so fucking freeing because … I mean, my mom is my biggest fan and she’s always been the most supportive person. But she’s a fragile person, too.

“And that’s one of the things I love most about her. So that was really terrifying. And just hearing that … When I finished the course I didn’t think Mel would approach me about publishing my book. I didn’t think there was a book coming from it. I didn’t event want to write memoir.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to come in, learn as much as I can, and apply to fiction’. Fuck memoir. Memoir is the worst. How self-indulgent,” she exclaims, complemented with an eye-roll to end all eye-rolls.

“It’s sad that I needed that validation and that permission from someone to say ‘just write your truth’, but I think a lot of writers need that.”

Although Christy has been writing her whole life and writing about her family her whole life, she never thought that a book would materialise. It was a “sickening compulsion that drove me insane” which drove her to pen the past to paper.

Having always considered fiction writing as a possibility, she describes it as “bizarre” that she eventually wrote an autobiographical piece, without ever having considered writing a fictionalised account of her life.

“I never thought ‘let me dissect these characters, these real-life characters in my life, and turn them into fiction’,” she furthers. “It just happened and it happened really quickly – in five and a half months! – and I just ran with it.”

As our French friends across the pond can attest to, ‘mémoire’ literally translates to ‘memory’ and while Christy might only be 24 years old, there’s a heck of a lot to remember. How, tho?

“It’s odd,” she responds after a while.

“I mean, my sister and I – we were inseparable growing up and she was my rock in a lot of ways – and us speaking in our adulthoods now, it’s quite wild in that I’ll remember two specific years with such clarity and she’s completely blanked those out.

“It’s the same with me. So in those scenarios I didn’t write about anything that I didn’t remember. When I was younger I interviewed my aunt and my mom. And my mom’s a hard nut to crack, she didn’t want to tell me a lot of things. Um…”

She ashes her cigarette before continuing.

“I just have a really fabulous memory in regards to retaining these things – and also it’s tricky to forget. There’s things that are traumatic and that you block out. And all of those I was fine to not write about. I wasn’t about to” – her eyes drift towards the somber winter sky as she considers her words – “I wasn’t about to attack my sanity to try recover things but the things that were obvious, that were just sitting there neatly and that I knew to be true, I went with those. But ja, I’m sure there’s lots else I didn’t dive into.”

If the things Christy *did* dive into could be compared to oceanic depths, the Mariana Trench would be a suitable personification thereof. She unflinchingly writes about her parents’ drug use, her own alcohol abuse, her mother’s failed relationships and her own failed relationships with not a single doekie left omgedraai.

“Other than my mom, I wasn’t scared of hurting anyone. And I know that’s a selfish thing and I am fine with that,” she honestly states.

“I’ve been screamed at by many a person who loves me, who used to love me. I’ve been told by an ex that this was a betrayal of intimacy. But I said to him you’re totally right, it is a betrayal of intimacy. I fucking get that.”

The conversation is interrupted by a backfiring motorbike. Christy, noticing me skrik‘ing, laughs and mirthfully yells “Get down!”

Lolz aside…

There were times when Christy was convinced that she couldn’t publish her memoir for fear of it being “too much”.

“It’s going to fuck me up once this book is out and everyone knows it’s about me,” she explains.

“Because as much as I turn the lens on everyone else, I think I was quite hard on myself in how much I gave away. Especially with the ending. That fucked me up so much.

“I sat on my couch and my room mate got home and she was like, ‘What is wrong?’ I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t breathe, I was like, ‘I can’t publish this, my boyfriend doesn’t need to know this’. And I read it to her and she said ‘You cannot change it!’

“So you pretend to be brave. I didn’t feel brave writing this but I faked it and then eventually … Faking bravery, I suppose, has the same end-result as actually being brave and that’s what I found throughout all of this.”

A topic she unambiguously writes about is that of covert incest: from a young age, both she and her sister were subjected to sexualisation by their father, with whom Christy no longer has a relationship.

After having spoken about this at her launch, she woke up the next day to a message from a girl that she’s known for years, which read ‘Oh dear God, I didn’t know this was a thing; this is exactly what I went through’, Christy tells me.

“So actually hearing the term for it fucked her up in a big way, but in a good way. Which is exactly how I felt when I came across it online.

“But that … that form of abuse is so subtle and I think I wrote about subtly, as well.”

She stubs her cigarette out and proceeds to denounce the insensitive, in-your-face approach so prevalent in books about, or featuring, incest.

“It’s like everyone wants you to be as hectic as possible. And when I started writing, Mel was like ‘Ah! There’s this new book called The Incest Diary out, I really need you to read it’.

“Mila, it was the most traumatising thing I’ve ever done!” she cries. “Have you read it?”

An ashamed ‘no’ escapes my mouth…

“It’s wild! It’s literally – and I’m not here to bash anyone, the author stayed anonymous and I’m really glad that she did – but I was as … as a victim slash survivor slash whatever you want to call it, I didn’t find that story … really empowering. I’m sure some people did. I was like ‘is this porn for a paedophile?’” she questions.

“It was so graphic. It was really graphic and really triggering. And then I put that down and I was like ‘Oh my God, is this what Mel’s expecting of me?’ Cause I’m not ever going to be like that. I don’t see the point of traumatising women, or men, with this thing in an effort to tell my story. Abuse shouldn’t be salacious in my mind.”

Christy attaches immense value to consent and the necessity of teaching young children about this crucial aspect of relationships, acknowledging “how much we, as his sisters and as his mother, had messed up” upon finding out that her younger brother had never heard of the word before.

“I’d love to speak to women and have that discourse but I also think the conversation needs to happen at the roots of it. So in that way I’d love to – yassis! – just chat to young boys and young girls about what consent actually is.”

Penning her past wasn’t an enjoyable experience, citing that the only vaguely likable part of her narrative was writing about young Christy; the Christy who cherishes the memory of the years spent at her beloved Wendywood house with her mother and sister.

“I hadn’t really visited that in a long time and those few years in that house, when my friends speak about their childhood, I’m like ‘ja, that was it’.

“So that was really special. I felt like I was able to reconcile my child self with my current self, which I’ve been desperate to do for a very long time.”

As for everything else she wrote about?

“Deliciously painful” comes the assured answer.

“God … Memoir … God,” she laughs in disbelief. “It’s so severe. I don’t know how I put myself through that. I get to work and I’m, like, shaking and the world is still carrying on and everyone’s just talking to you about deadlines and you’re like ‘I’m bleeding here’.”

Writing Things Even González Can’t Fix was a fairly lonely process, especially as Christy chose not to disclose what she was putting in her book as “all my closest people in my life that I would have spoken to were featured in the book and then you don’t want to speak to them because you don’t want to give them the opportunity to sway you.

“I didn’t tell my mom about the hard things I was writing, because then she’d be like ‘Oh, don’t write about that. People shouldn’t know that’. So you’re almost just completely shut yourself off from everyone.”

Christy admits that there were a few hard weeks (which she expected) after her book had been read by her mom, sister and partner, adding that they didn’t really know “if they were allowed to be angry with me.

“And I was like, ‘Of course you’re allowed to be angry with me; it’s a very selfish thing I’ve done’. It’s not easy to put my sex life out there for my boyfriend, it’s not easy to put my sister’s story out because her story is my story. So it took us all a long time to compartmentalise our roles within our love. And I was, like, ‘I know you still love me even if you’re fucking furious with me right now, that’s okay’.

“So once we learned how to navigate that, they would scream at me with abandon. Never Daniel, Daniel doesn’t scream,” she quickly adds of her boyfriend of the past two years.

“But my mom! ‘Oh my God!’ And then she’d be like ‘Do you want tea? Do you want lamb? What can I make you?’ SO Greek! I swear… But amazing. My mom’s amazing.”

It wasn’t only the content of her memoir that elicited a strong response; the South African bookselling industry took issue with the original title, The tiger, the mouse and the furious masturbator.

Letting go of the title was a “really hard thing”, because it made her feel like “I’m too much,” Christy divulges.

“I really, genuinely wasn’t expecting people to be taken aback by female masturbation. And every time people would look at me and roll their eyes, I thought ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with ME?’ Why am I so willing to have this conversation or just to exist within this fact of life, but to everyone else – even women who I know flick the bean regularly,” she pointedly adds, “they’re still so taken aback by it.

“It wasn’t losing the title that upset me,” she muses, “it was that I felt like I was doing something wrong by wanting to speak plainly…”

Christy finds it incredulous that young girls in 2018 are being told that they’re ‘filthy’ for masturbating, querying “how the fuck” one reconciles this “‘filthy’ act that is so natural when you’re actually a sexual being later in your life … So I don’t know, man.

“Like now, I’ve also realised that I’m just going to say the damn thing and continue to talk openly, and if people don’t like how comfortable I am speaking about it – this isn’t the only topic I’m comfortable about. If you’re uncomfortable about me talking about masturbation, you’ll be uncomfortable with 80% of the stuff that comes out of my mind. So we’re probably not going to be great friends any way.

“So in that way I’m like ‘Wasn’t this a quick way we can cancel each other out? We know we’re not going to bond,” she laughs. “You just go home and Netflix and I’ll just go home and masturbate.” (LOL!)

Having covered addiction, family, masturbation, sex and relationships in her debut memoir of 256 pages, one cannot help but ask: What’s Next, Ms. Chilimigras?

“According to Mel and the back of my book, I’m working on my second book,” she grins.

“I’d really, really love to try my hand at fiction. I genuinely want to. I keep waiting for that moment of waking up from a dream and having it, having this thing and that hasn’t happened yet.

“I love scrutinising romantic love, that’s something that interests me a lot. And not even sexy love, but just humans trying to fucking make shit work. So we’ll see. I’m excited.

“But, ja. Fiction. My poor family…”

There you have it!

Book details
Things Even González Can’t Fix by Christy Chilimigras
EAN: 9781928420200
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Book talk: Killing Karoline by Sara-Jayne King (21 June)

Killing KarolineKilling KarolineKilling Karoline

Killing Karoline deals with important topical issues relating to adoption, identity, race, mental health and addiction.

Born Karoline King in 1980 in Johannesburg South Africa, Sara-Jayne (as she will later be called by her adoptive parents) is the result of an affair, illegal under apartheid’s Immorality Act, between a white British woman and a black South African man. Her story reveals the shocking lie created to cover up the forbidden relationship, and the hurried overseas adoption of the illegitimate baby, born during one of history’s most inhumane and destructive regimes.

Killing Karoline follows the journey of the baby girl (categorised as ‘white’ under South Africa’s race classification system) who is raised in a leafy, middle-class corner of the South of England by a white couple. It takes the reader through her formative years, a difficult adolescence and into adulthood, as Sara-Jayne (Karoline) seeks to discover who she is and where she came from.

Plagued by questions surrounding her own identity and unable to ‘fit in’ Sara-Jayne begins to turn on herself. She eventually returns to South Africa, after 26 years, to face her demons. There she is forced to face issues of identity, race, rejection and belonging beyond that which she could ever have imagined. She must also face her birth family, who in turn must confront what happens when the baby you kill off at a mere six weeks old returns from the dead.

Sara-Jayne King is a mixed-race South African/British journalist and radio presenter whose career spans over a decade and has taken her across the globe in search of remarkable stories and fascinating characters. While studying for an LLB degree in the UK, Sara-Jayne realised her passion lay elsewhere and, after graduating, she went on to complete a Master’s in Journalism in 2004. Her career began as a junior journalist in local radio in London and since then has included roles in the Middle East and Africa, most recently as a senior editor for news channel eNCA and presenter for Primedia’s talk radio station Cape Talk.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 21 June 2018
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Tokai Library, Tokai Road, (between intersections of Palm and Ebony Roads), Tokai, Cape Town
  • Book Details


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Launch: Things Even González Can’t Fix by Christy Chilimigras (7 June)

Things Even González Can’t Fix is the shockingly brilliant debut memoir of a 24-year-old Greek South African girl, Christy Chilimigras. It is nothing like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Although there are old women in black plucking stray hairs from their chins, the nuts in the baklava appear by way of a dash of crack cocaine, a sneaky brand of sexual abuse and cereal Tupperwares, packed to the brim with dagga. It is also very funny.
 
Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 07 June 2018
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Love Books, The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre, 53 Rustenburg Rd, Melville, Johannesburg | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Melinda Ferguson
  • RSVP: kate@lovebooks.co.za
     

    Book Details


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Do you want to write your memoir? Melinda Ferguson shares the know-how with Sara-Jayne King…

Melinda Ferguson, the author of memoirs Smacked, Hooked, and Crashed, is launching an online memoir writing course, ‘The Magic of Making a Start’.

Ferguson, an acclaimed publisher to boot, has been hosting writing workshops in both Cape Town and Joburg for the past 18 months.

She recently was a guest on fellow memoirist (Killing Karoline) and radio host Sara-Jayne King’s Cape Talk programme, during which the two discussed her digital debut.

Give it a listen!

Smacked

Book details

 
Hooked
 

 
Crashed

 
 
 

Killing Karoline


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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:


 

Book details


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“Not allowing myself to be classified by others has been crucial in working out my own identity” – Sara-Jayne King on Killing Karoline

Killing Karoline deals with important topical issues relating to adoption, identity, race, mental health and addiction.

Born Karoline King in 1980 in Johannesburg South Africa, Sara-Jayne (as she will later be called by her adoptive parents) is the result of an affair, illegal under apartheid’s Immorality Act, between a white British woman and a black South African man. Her story reveals the shocking lie created to cover up the forbidden relationship, and the hurried overseas adoption of the illegitimate baby, born during one of history’s most inhumane and destructive regimes.

Killing Karoline follows the journey of the baby girl (categorised as ‘white’ under South Africa’s race classification system) who is raised in a leafy, middle-class corner of the South of England by a white couple. It takes the reader through her formative years, a difficult adolescence and into adulthood, as Sara-Jayne (Karoline) seeks to discover who she is and where she came from.

Plagued by questions surrounding her own identity and unable to ‘fit in’ Sara-Jayne begins to turn on herself. She eventually returns to South Africa, after 26 years, to face her demons. There she is forced to face issues of identity, race, rejection and belonging beyond that which she could ever have imagined. She must also face her birth family, who in turn must confront what happens when the baby you kill off at a mere six weeks old returns from the dead.

Sara-Jayne King is a mixed-race South African/British journalist and radio presenter whose career spans over a decade and has taken her across the globe in search of remarkable stories and fascinating characters. While studying for an LLB degree in the UK, Sara-Jayne realised her passion lay elsewhere and, after graduating, she went on to complete a Master’s in Journalism in 2004. Her career began as a junior journalist in local radio in London and since then has included roles in the Middle East and Africa, most recently as a senior editor for news channel eNCA and presenter for Primedia’s talk radio station Cape Talk.

Here Sara discusses the ramifications of apartheid, South Africans’ innate need to classify, and the necessity of not allowing herself to be defined by others for 1001 South African Stories:

Book details


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A beautiful feminist mind divorced from self-indulgence – Kwanele Sosibo reviews Reflecting Rogue

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).

Kwanele Sosibo recently reviewed Reflecting Rogue for the Mail & Guardian. Here’s what he had to say:

In a section titled Departures at the back of her new book of autobiographical essays, Pumla Dineo Gqola, a professor at Wits University’s department of African literature, lists the topics not covered in Reflecting Rogue: Inside the Mind of a Feminist.

In some ways, Reflecting Rogue is defined as much by the things that are left out of its pages as by what is within. If nothing else, it confirms Gqola as a deeply private person, unwilling to commit the writer’s sin of betraying her loved ones in the name of forging intimacy with her readers.

In this sense, it is a principled book. More than being about biographical detail, Reflecting Rogue, Gqola’s fourth and “most personal” book, is about ideas and a celebration of the networks and examples it takes to sustain a living feminism.

Those expecting a memoir need to kill their inner voyeur, it turns out. There are no dewy-eyed reflections of her tenure at Wits, which started in 2007. There are no salacious, rare glimpses into the private life of a public individual. No self-congratulatory moments about writing books (in particular, A Renegade Called Simphiwe and Rape: A South African Nightmare) that have shaped South Africa’s public discourse in landmark ways and, disturbingly, little in the form of #FeesMustFall, especially with Wits being the epicentre of the economically focused incarnation of #RhodesMustFall.

The paragraph in which Gqola explains her stance is unnerving to a degree but perhaps it offers a glimpse into her headspace while she was selecting pieces for the book: “I am also still so raw from the violence unleashed on some university campuses in response to #FeesMustFall that I have included nothing in here about the Fallists, except in brief mention in some chapters … my position on #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall are both public knowledge, since I have written on it before.”

I had the fortuitous twin accidents of interviewing Gqola for a different project and acquiring an electronic copy of her book around the time of Women’s Day. The latter would have been an otherwise empty coincidence, except that Gqola’s chapter “On the Beauty of Feminist Rage” provides some timeous reflection on feminism in action, ensnared as it is by the fences of a patriarchal society.

The chapters in which Gqola details the sacrifices she and her circle of friends made in order to help raise each other’s children in the face of the rigours of professional life are more poignant than any academese. Her memories of the iconoclasts who shaped her formative years (like her nonconformist schoolmate Pam, who hated needlework but loved gardening) present feminism as both organic and malleable.

In “On the Beauty of Feminist Rage”, she turns to Caribbean-American poet, essayist and activist June Jordan’s 1980 Poem for South African Women. Gqola writes that “she [Jordan] reminds us that women’s action is easy to celebrate retrospectively for those who have no real interest in creating a world friendly to women, a world fully owned by all.”

Gqola’s pondering sets up a dilemma. “While we have clear ideas of the work women in different groupings did in order to make the historic march possible, we are often at a loss as to what a new women’s movement might look like,” she writes. Many have declared it dead, she says.

From the anecdotes Gqola segues into, one can surmise that, in the parlance of the day, she considers the movement to be captured by old modes and the overarching “matrix” of “heteropatriarchy” rather than being wilfully dead.

Gqola tells the story of the August 2012 ANC Women’s League-led march that was disrupted by activists from the One in Nine Campaign, which changed the tenor of that demonstration.

Then there was another momentous protest, far removed from the histrionics of August. The nationally recorded, savvy #RememberKhwezi silent protest by Simamkele Dlakavu, Tinyiko Shikwambane, Naledi Chirwa and Amanda Mavuso in April 2016 pointed at new modes of disruption.

But besides that moment, all four of those protesters are constantly engaged in feminist work, writes Gqola.

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Reflecting Rogue

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Killing Karoline follows the journey of the baby girl categorised as ‘white’ under SA’s race classification and her struggle with identity, race, and rejection

Killing Karoline deals with important topical issues relating to adoption, identity, race, mental health and addiction.

Born Karoline King in 1980 in Johannesburg South Africa, Sara-Jayne (as she will later be called by her adoptive parents) is the result of an affair, illegal under apartheid’s Immorality
Act, between a white British woman and a black South African man. Her story reveals the shocking lie created to cover up the forbidden relationship, and the hurried overseas adoption of the illegitimate baby, born during one of history’s most inhumane and destructive regimes.

Killing Karoline follows the journey of the baby girl (categorised as ‘white’ under South Africa’s race classification system) who is raised in a leafy, middle-class corner of the South of England by a white couple. It takes the reader through her formative years, a difficult adolescence and into adulthood, as Sara-Jayne (Karoline) seeks to discover who she is and where she came from.

Plagued by questions surrounding her own identity and unable to ‘fit in’ Sara-Jayne begins to turn on herself. She eventually returns to South Africa, after 26 years, to face her demons. There she is forced to face issues of identity, race, rejection and belonging beyond that which she could ever have imagined. She must also face her birth family, who in turn must confront what happens when the baby you kill off at a mere six weeks old returns from the dead.

Sara-Jayne King is a mixed-race South African/British journalist and radio presenter whose career spans over a decade and has taken her across the globe in search of remarkable stories and fascinating characters. While studying for an LLB degree in the UK, Sara-Jayne realised her passion lay elsewhere and, after graduating, she went on to complete a Master’s in Journalism in 2004. Her career began as a junior journalist in local radio in London and since then has included roles in the Middle East and Africa, most recently as a senior editor for news channel eNCA and presenter for Primedia’s talk radio station Cape Talk.

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