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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

“These riots, when it came down to it, were all about one thing. Land.” Read an excerpt from Mphuthumi Ntabeni’s debut novel, The Broken River Tent

The Broken River Tent is a novel that marries imagination with history.

It is about the life and times of Maqoma, the Xhosa chief who was at the forefront of fighting British colonialism in the Eastern Cape during the nineteenth century. The story is told through the eyes of a young South African, Phila, who suffers from what he calls triple ‘N’ condition – neurasthenia, narcolepsy and cultural ne plus ultra. T

his makes him feel far removed from events happening around him but gives him access to the analeptic memory of his people. After being under immense mental pressure, he crosses the mental divide between the living and the dead and is visited by Maqoma. They engage in different conversations about cultural history, literature, religion, the past and contemporary South African life.

Read an excerpt:

The Gravediggers

The entrance to the Hangberg Multipurpose Sport Centre was unusually busy for a non-social grant payment day. Media cameras were everywhere. Their little village town had caught the attention of the nation, Phila thought, if not exactly the world.

“Ngawethu!”

The main speaker for the evening had entered the hall. While other speakers assembled on the podium Phila took a seat near the back. Although he regarded himself as part of this community, he felt somewhat out of place, as if he was faking his solidarity to leech onto the people’s pain.

It was soon evident that the community meeting had been hijacked by politicians and Phila had difficulty holding his concentration. A guy from something to do with Social Justice was saying something about the government marginalising and criminalising the poor. “The lies of the city and provincial officials who call us drug lords when we demand our constitutional rights shall be exposed!” he cried, becoming very animated.

He spoke for quite a long time, mixing English in Afrikaans. People clapped violently. Next a Rastafarian took the microphone, first hailing Haile Selassie and Jah and then dissing the “Babylonian governments and their system of oppression. Dem tell us to reconcile, meantime dem serve us snake for fish, and rocks for bread. Mandela se kak!” The crowd went wild. “Ons KhoiKhoi mense! We demand our land back …” There was something impressively radically anarchist about the Rasta.

As the meeting finally looked as if it was drawing to an end, after almost two hours, and the cameramen were packing up their equipment, Phila went outside to get some air and have a cigarette. He found himself reflecting on the reason for this meeting, the events of the past week which had culminated in what the media, with their flair for dramatic nostalgia, had called Black Tuesday. The police had come, around 2am, in what one of the speakers had termed ‘apartheid style’, to evict people who had illegally invaded land on the slopes of Hangberg. Phila wasn’t totally clear about the details but the violence had started when residents resisted the police. On his walk back home earlier, after having fish and chips at Fish-On-The-Rocks as the sun went down, his route took him close to where the events of Black Tuesday had unfolded. The place had looked like an abandoned movie set for the apartheid era. On his way he had stooped to pick up a used teargas canister shell, obviously from a police shotgun, and he’d slipped it into his pocket without thinking.

That speaker was right. The events of the previous week had introduced a reminiscent order of apartheid days in the streets of their village town. Phila himself had been there, doing what he could to help. When a TV newsman at the riot scene had asked him to give his opinion, on camera, he had wanted to sound revolutionary, to send a clear message that the impoverished should not be pushed around and criminalised for being poor. Instead, dogged by his middle-class timidity, he’d come up with a cautious statement about “the irony of the fact that when developers for the rich want to push mountain firebreaks it is done at the stroke of a pen, but now that the poor have run out of living space they are treated like brigands who are illegally occupying land.”

It irritated him that he was always so cautious, reasonable and unspontaneous. His mind was neither quick nor nimble; he lacked the gift of spontaneity, which was why he found it hard to improvise on the spot. At best he had keen powers of observation and some originality when given a moment to apply his mind, but his kind always got swallowed by the revolution.

He thought about how, a decade and a half ago, during the so-called rainbow era of Mandela, the country was full of hope and assertive belief in the renewal of its humanity. Now he saw the return of cynicism, suspicion, despair, and police terror, the suppression of freedom, with all the accompanying horrors. Community meetings with fired-up rhetoric. Loud-hailers on the streets, calling citizens to action – like the one on the red bakkie that had gone past his window and alerted him to this meeting tonight, urging residents to “do a postmodern on the BRUTALITY of the police last Tuesday, when they invaded our community APARTHEID style. Injury one! Injury all! The BOEREBOND is on the rise again!”

Outside he was joined by a podgy fellow who had been at the podium table and whom Phila was sure he’d seen somewhere else. Initially he couldn’t place him but then he realised: he was the security guard at the local supermarket, who usually greeted him when he went there for supplies, who sometimes helped him with the groceries, very politely, to the car. Phila always made sure to tip.

“Nice of you to join us, sir,” the fellow said with his usual politeness. Phila was glad to recognise a face in that sea of strangers. The fellow swapped his cigarette to his left hand before extending his right, and they ended up shaking hands for a little too long and more vigorously than was necessary.

“I never figured you as the revolutionary type,” Phila said, regretting the statement the moment it went out of his mouth. It turned out the fellow was a community leader of some kind. Inside, when people had kept referring to community leaders and shouting socialist slogans, they had been referring to him. An ironic twist surely – socialists guarding the doors of capitalism? Talk about capitalism producing its own gravediggers, thought Phila.

He was still turning fiery phrases over in his mind, of the type he could have used in front of the TV camera when he’d had the chance. The government is wiping our turned-up noses with the sword; our liberators have turned into our oppressors. A luta continua! Deep down he knew there was no way he could have said all of that. Even in his head it all sounded fake. He was no revolutionary; neither did he want to be one. He believed more in the evolution of the mind, the gradual progress etcetera.

The usual crap of weak characters who never want to be involved in the real struggles under the guise of being civilised. The irony was that he spent almost all his life trying to civilise his mind; now he was doing everything possible to escape the fate of Prufrock, the ineffectual, wellbred man during times of rising tensions and turbulences.

Irony struck him again as he said goodnight to the community leader and set off home. These riots, when it came down to it, were all about one thing. Land. The irony, in the twenty-first century, was that the players were still the same as before. You had the KhoiKhoi people on the slopes of Hangberg, and the Xhosas – mostly from the Eastern Cape, where their forefathers had fought the British colonial powers – on the slopes of Karbonkelberg where Imizamo Yethu informal settlement was situated. And then in the affluent valley down below were mostly the white people, progeny of the settlers from the 1800s.

Phila walked home under a maturing sheet of darkness. Moonlight cracked the sky with pale fissures of light.

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Read an excerpt from Tracy Going’s searing memoir, Brutal Legacy

Published in Sunday Times: Insight (26/02/2018)

Brutal LegacyWhen South Africa’s golden girl of broadcasting, Tracy Going’s battered face was splashed across the media back in the late 1990s, the nation was shocked.

South Africans had become accustomed to seeing Going, glamorous and groomed on television or hearing her resonant voice on Radio Metro and Kaya FM. Sensational headlines of a whirlwind love relationship turned horrendously violent threw the “perfect” life of the household star into disarray. What had started off as a fairy-tale romance with a man who appeared to be everything that Going was looking for – charming, handsome and successful – had quickly descended into a violent, abusive relationship.

“As I stood before him all I could see were the lies, the disappearing for days without warning, the screaming, the threats, the terror, the hostage-holding, the keeping me up all night, the dragging me through the house by my hair, the choking, the doors locked around me, the phones disconnected, the isolation, the fear and the uncertainty.”

The rosy love cloud burst just five months after meeting her “Prince Charming” when she staggered into the local police station, bruised and battered. A short relationship became a two-and-a-half-year legal ordeal played out in the public eye. In mesmerising detail, Going takes us through the harrowing court process – a system seeped in injustice – her decline into depression, the immediate collapse of her career due to the highly public nature of her assault and the decades-long journey to undo the psychological damages in the search for safety and the reclaiming of self.

The roots of violence form the backdrop of the book, tracing Going’s childhood on a plot in Brits, laced with the unpredictable violence of an alcoholic father who regularly terrorised the family with his fists of rage.

“I was ashamed of my father, the drunk. If he wasn’t throwing back the liquid in the lounge then he’d be finding comfort and consort in his cans at the golf club. With that came the uncertainty as I lay in my bed and waited for him to return. I would lie there holding my curtain tight in my small hand. I would pull the fabric down, almost straight, forming a strained sliver and I would peer into the blackness, unblinking. It seemed I was always watching and waiting. Sometimes I searched for satellites between the twinkles of light, but mostly the fear in my tummy distracted me.”

Brilliantly penned, this highly skilled debut memoir, is ultimately uplifting in the realisation that healing is a lengthy and often arduous process and that self-forgiveness and acceptance is essential in order to fully embrace life.

Read an edited extract from Chapter One…

“You’re not allowed here,” I warned him.

“I. Don’t. Give. A. F**k.”

Those were his words as he lumbered toward me with that loose, loping gait of a tall man. One who has spent a lifetime trying to shorten his stride so that others can keep abreast. He was not a man who could be quiet. His hands were lashing at the air, his shoulders twisting like shifting puzzle pieces. I was trying to put the pieces together, trying to make them fit, not quite certain how. My hands were still suspended, fixed in mid-flick, adjourned, a deferred gesture indicating that he may not enter, when I pressed the remote and soundlessly closed the garage door.

Perhaps he heard my silence because suddenly he calmed, the tension draining from him as his shoulders dropped. He ran his fingers through his tousled fringe and looked down at me with such tenderness.

“I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through,” he said, tilting his head. “Is there any chance of us getting back together?”

I was quiet.

“Please give me another chance.”

I said nothing as I absorbed his now familiar words.

“Don’t make me beg … But I’m asking you to give me another chance.” His voice a little harder, more determined. He was looking down at his feet.

I watched him. I wanted to see the truth in his eyes. I wanted to see whether I could believe him, whether I could trust that this time he truly meant what he said. I wanted to see my pain reflected there. But I couldn’t. He was still looking away.

Then suddenly something deep inside me shifted.

I was no longer lost in his dark, brown eyes with their thick, solemn brows. I no longer saw the definition of his chiselled jaw, his high cheekbones or the endearingly flattened tip of his broad nose. As his words melted and morphed, and the last five months moulded as one, his boyish nonchalance, his charm, dissipated.

All I could see were the lies, his disappearing for days without warning, the screaming, the threats, the terror, the hostage-holding, the keeping me up all night, the dragging me through the house by my hair, the choking, the doors locked around me, the phones disconnected, the isolation, the fear and the uncertainty.

I realised that it was never going to change. Never.

As I stood there in my own stillness, I knew that I had been holding onto something that never existed. I finally understood that this could no longer be my journey. I could no longer give credence and value to his distorted perspective.

Was there any chance of us being together? No, there wasn’t. There would never be. Not any more.

It was finally over.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said softly, trying to find my voice. I didn’t want to anger him.

It took a moment for my words to register, then his face contorted in fury and his rage erupted in a deadly torrent of vile.

“You bitch! You f**king c**t,” he screamed. “Give me the f**king air tickets.”

He’d bought two air tickets for me and my son to go away for a few days. It was supposed to be a healing getaway, to win me over after the night he’d driven me straight into my garage wall, shouting, “Tonight you’re going to die!”

It was an admission of guilt, a bartering for forgiveness, but I had preferred to accept it as a selfless and thoughtful expression of love and apology. He had also sent a bouquet of flowers, which had long since lost their allure and been discarded. The tickets were on my bedside table.

“I’ll get them,” I said quickly.

It was a short distance to my bedroom, but I moved slowly. I put one foot before the other and trod deliberately away from him. It was only once I was in my bedroom, out of sight, that I rushed forward and reached for the tickets. As I did so I snatched at the remote panic button alongside. I’d recently installed the alarm system and kept the panic button poised and ready just in case. I grabbed it and pressed down frantically, counting, one … two … three.

Not breathing. Four.

I hoped it was long enough to activate the signal, but not long enough to raise his suspicion.

I tossed the panic button aside and bounded back across the room, to the doorway, making up time before slipping back out into the passage. I was still trying to catch my breath as I glided back towards him, eyes lowered. The tickets were in my left hand, carefully caught between thumb and index finger, and I was holding them up high, presenting them ahead of me like a floating, paper peace offering.

But he was having none of it.

He was in the hallway shuffling from one foot to another, immersed in a private dance of rage, as he fuelled his own fury. Somehow, I met his rhythm, instinctively mirroring him, rocking ever so slightly from one side to the other, trying to make myself part of his harmony, trying to placate him, to send out a silent signal that I was not a threat and that I meant no harm. But it was a hollow synchronicity.

As my three-metre journey came to an end I didn’t need to look at him, to meet his eyes, to know that his huge, rough hands were splaying and fisting, that his jaw was clenched tight, his teeth grinding. But I lifted my head anyhow and as our eyes locked I saw the shine. I saw how his pupils had brightened with the icy glow of anticipation.

“Please don’t,” I said, my words nearly silent.

Please don’t hit me.

But he did.

He slammed his right fist into my eye.

The pain was instant. I screamed. My hands flew to my face and I spread my fingers wide as I tried to mask myself, but it was too late. He hit me again. I stumbled backwards, but quickly scrambled to my feet and fled to the lounge. I was in the corner, the curtain caught around me, when he upturned the coffee table. I was still screaming when he hoisted the TV cabinet off the floor and hurled it across the room. Then he lunged at me, his hand clamped over my mouth to keep me quiet. But I wouldn’t be quiet. He gripped my head and pounded it down into the floor.

He was over me, his face so close to mine that I could feel his spit on my cheek as it sprayed.

“You need your f**king face, don’t you?”

I felt the cold glass. A shard from the shattered coffee table, and he was holding it tight against my cheek.

Oh my God! He wants to cut me. Cut my face.

It took everything I had to twist myself from his grip. And then I ran.

It was my own dance of survival as I dodged him, the broken furniture, and my dog Garp.

I made it past the veranda, back out into the garden, before he caught up and I felt his hands slam down on my back and shoulders. He threw me to the ground and Garp moved in to protect me. I was caught, tied up in a frenzy of my flailing arms, his kicking feet, and a black furry body with a wagging tail. It was impossible to fend off the blows and recoil from wet dog licks at the same time. So I tucked my head in deep, curled up small and hugged myself tight. I left Garp to his nuzzling and him to his heaving, kicking and grunting as I drew my arms in to shield me. Each time I gave in to a strike from his foot I was grateful that he was wearing his brown suede and not his usual heavy, leather boots.

I was still screaming when I heard voices from over the wall.

My neighbours.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Shouting. Muffled voices. “Call the police.”

I heard pounding at my door, outside on the street. “Open up. Open this door!”

Thump. Crack.

I heard the wood splintering and I knew it was over. I was safe.

I stumbled to my feet and collapsed into the arms of my neighbour and his son. I sagged into them as they carefully lifted me and dragged me through the fractured wooden door. I dropped my head and brought my shaking hands up to hide myself from those who had already gathered on the pavement outside. My shouts had drawn passers-by. There were people standing on the other side of the road. The security guards had arrived and they too stood staring.

My neighbour and his son half dragged, half carried me past the gawking crowd, to the safety of their property. When they placed me gently on a chair it was only then that I looked up at them. They looked the same, both earnest and burly, just many years apart.

The kitchen was a cold, stark room, not the warm, cosy hub expected of a family home. It was immediately obvious there was no woman in the house. The linoleum floor was dated. So too were the chairs, with their spindly steel legs and black rubber tips. Remnants of an era long gone. But the kitchen was spotlessly clean, clinical almost, and I was glad. I didn’t want clutter. I wanted space and quiet so that I could try to gather my thoughts.

The son bundled a crumpled, wet dishcloth to my face, and I held it tight to my burning eye. The pain was throbbing through me and the cold cloth pressed against the heat of the swelling brought some relief. He then made sugar water but it sat swirling in the mug. I was unable to hold myself still enough to drink it.

Father and son had raised the alarm when they first heard my screams but the police were yet to arrive. I gave them my sister’s number. I knew my mother and her husband, John, were in Johannesburg for the afternoon and I wanted my sister to contact them so they could be with me.

There was no conversation between us as we sat there, waiting awkwardly. We just stared and waited.

I’d only met my neighbour a week earlier. When I’d knocked on his door, introduced myself and asked him to look out for me, it had been the first time I’d ever seen him. I had shamefully apologised for past disturbances and explained that I had a restraining order in place but that I feared for my safety.

As I sat there trembling, the pain stabbing at my temple, I wondered what would have happened had I not had that prefatory conversation. Would I even be sitting on his chair?

The police finally arrived and we made our way back to my home.

Again I kept myself tucked between my two neighbours. Passers-by still stood waiting and watching over the road and some of my other neighbours had come out too. I saw security patrol vehicles and police vans parked impatiently all along my grass verge.

The armed security guards had somehow prised open what was left of my door and had entered my property. They had also called for backup. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be men in uniform. I heard walkie-talkies and deep, unfamiliar voices.

My home had become a crime scene.

I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to see all the damage. I already knew that the lounge was strewn with shattered glass, smashed picture frames and ornaments, the splintered remains of furniture. I stayed outside. I left it to my neighbour to manage everyone around me and collapsed onto a chair on the veranda.

I needed to sit.

Garp followed me, but this time, as he moved in closer, there was no wagging tail.

We were both still. His head against my knee, my hand limp against his ear.

I leaned forward and held him tight before burying my head in the cold dishcloth, trying to numb the drilling pain and the horror of all that had happened.

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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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“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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“How we emerge from this terrible tragedy will depend on how seriously we take the challenges it has placed before us.” In line with the anniversary of the Marikana massacre, read an extract from Z Pallo Jordan’s Letters to my Comrades

In line with the anniversary of the Marikana massacre, read the following extract from Z Pallo Jordan’s Letters to my Comrades: Interventions & Excursions. Here Jordan wrote about the massacre and his views on the role of the ANC.

The book is scheduled to be in stores next week.
 
 

Remembering Bisho – and Marikana

September 2012

This (untitled) lecture was an address to the Eastern Cape legislature in September 2012, the tenth anniversary of the Bisho shootings, but also just weeks after the Marikana massacre.

The credibility of the ANC is probably the lowest it has been since 1990! The leadership has been stripped of its dignity! The best advice one can offer our movement caught in a hole is: ‘stop digging!’

How we emerge from this terrible tragedy will depend on how seriously we take the challenges it has placed before us.

It demonstrates the determination of the government to get at the truth that the President appointed a Judicial Commission of Inquiry within days of the shootings. Commendable as the appointment of the commission is, its primary concern will be to establish legal matters of fact relating to the specific events of that fateful day, August 16th. We are confident that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry will conduct its investigations with the appropriate rigour and uncover all the relevant facts.

But Marikana is symptomatic of a much deeper malaise. The all too easy recourse to lethal violence on the part of the Police tells its own terrifying tale. Besieged by new forms of violent crime perpetrated by criminals armed with military hardware, the South African Police Service has been exhorted to meet fire with fire by more than one minister and National Police Commissioner. This might have had the unfortunate consequence of encouraging the use of lethal force.

The sources of the tensions that led to bloodshed on August 16th go far deeper than the specific events that unfolded that day. I want to use this platform to call upon the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions to organise a Workers’ Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana tragedy. COSATU should invite the other two union federations to participate in such a Workers’ Commission that should investigate, amongst other things, the return to South Africa’s mining industry of the ‘native labour touts’, who pitted workers against each other for their own profit in yesteryear, in the shape of labour brokers. The ‘outsourcing’ of recruitment was through labour brokers prevalent in Marikana played a notorious role in piling up the dry tinder of conflict. It should also shed light on the manner in which the mining industry is evading its responsibilities to its work force who live in shanty-towns around the mines.

A Workers’ Commission should also be tasked with investigating the shockingly high levels of violence in our society. An aspect of this violence is the alarmingly high incidence of private gun ownership in this country. The close correlation between high levels of gun ownership and gun-related crime is now well established. The best way to curb gun related crimes is to move towards a gun-free society. The police service in a gun-free society will have no need to carry firearms.

Madam Premier,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Comrades and friends,

Does it sit easily with the membership of the ANC? Does it sit easily with the millions of ANC supporters here at home, and in the world at large that during its centennial year, the government, led by the ANC presided over the first post-democracy state massacre?

How do we explain to the shade of Uncle J.B. Marks that today it is bullets fired from the automatic weapons of our democratic police service that are creating widows and orphans in the villages of the eastern Cape, of Lesotho, of the North-West province?

Who will explain to the martyrs of Bisho that the Police service they laid down their lives to create, also fires live ammunition at demonstrators?

The tensions that erupted in the continuing strike that led to the events of August 16th are in many respects the result of the compromises the movement made to attain the beach-head of democracy in 1994. We substituted BEE for wealth redistribution; we persuaded ourselves to be content with less than what we had fought for, because it was much more than what we had had.

In another context I once raised the question: Will our Black captains of industry behave like the Randlords who incited the Anglo-Boer war and the atrocities of the Concentration Camps? Or will they behave like the latter-day White monopolists who mouthed liberal sentiments, voted for the UP while they profited handsomely from collaborating with apartheid? or would pioneer a new path of corporate responsibility by promoting better working conditions and wages for workers?

Regrettably, it would appear the emergent Black capitalist class have bought into and are being incorporated into the culture of White capital. It might be unpleasant, but the current ANC leadership and the government it leads must accept that it has probably presided over the years of the ANC’s most profound crisis. Which poses the matter of the quality of the movement’s leadership at this moment.

Every movement for political transformation has arrived at this moment of truth sooner or later. During the French Revolution it came on the 18th Brumaire; during the Russian Revolution it was Kronstadt.

Has that moment also arrived for South Africa in the shape of Marikana?

Let Marikana be the moment when to once again take hold of the movement of our people and steer it again towards the sound and sober strategies of the past.

The elective conference that the ANC holds at the end of this year must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership corps that has the will, the moral courage and moral standing to take on task of cleaning the Augean stables of corruption!

The elective conference of the ANC must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership corps that will restore the credibility of the movement amongst its friends and opponents.

The elective conference of the ANC must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership corps that will restore the movement’s reputation and record of compassion.

Only by correcting itself in that manner will the ANC regain the confidence of the democratic forces of this country and take us all on a higher trajectory to a better life for all our people!

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“Power is the thing that caused my face to swell. The thing that showed me love in its rawest form.” Read an excerpt from If I Stay Right Here

If I Stay Right HereWhat is Sex? Sex is a humid climate. What is Desire? Desire is snow. What is Loneliness? Loneliness is a badger trying to figure out why it looks different to an otter. What is Obsession?Obsession is trying to fix a broken chair without realising that the chair is just bent at the knees and that’s how it was born. What is a Dyke? A dyke is an intricate, indecipherable encryption.

Chwayita Ngamlana, in her electric debut book, explores the above questions through her characters as they struggle through the volatility of love, the danger of not knowing themselves and
discovering their voice in the world.

The story follows the characters, Shay and Sip, who are very different in class, style, character and education. Shay is a journalism student working part time as an intern on a site that has no clear sense of direction. Sip is an unemployed varsity drop out and ex-gang member.

Their vastly different lives make it challenging for them to be the kind of couple they so desperately want to be. Unable to get themselves untangled from the web they’ve created, Shay and Sip use money, other people and sex to fix things, but is this enough?

Ngamlama has created a world that is somewhere between the present day and a sub-world of delusion. The reader will want to watch both story and characters unravel. This book will touch anyone who has lost themselves or their loved ones to unhealthy, destructive relationships.

Chwayita Ngamlana was born and raised in Grahamstown. She is an only child who found comfort and companionship in reading and writing from the age of 10. She has a degree in music and has her master’s in Creative Writing. This is her debut novel – and it won’t be the last.

The Worst Power

In this place a fist represents strength, freedom and empowerment.

They told us that in those institutions for fragile minds. With only a few years on Earth, we listened attentively to experienced superhumans who dedicated their lives to showing us how to live.

We concluded that they must have dropped down on our planet to tell us what they see from above. We didn’t know much back then.

Small eyes looking up from wooden desks, scared that these superhumans would ask us questions or say the words “spot test” or check our homework to see if we regurgitated correctly.

They had a leader and the leader was their hero.

She was our hero too.

She was like the queen of the bee hive. Whenever people were sent to her office she banged her fist on the table. I had only heard about this fist, but eventually I too found myself seated across it. It was more terrifying than the fist the superhumans banged on their desks whenever we got a little too loud and excited.

Her fist put a lump in my throat and seemed to shake the ground beneath me. I didn’t have to go to her lair all that much, thankfully. I wasn’t as interesting as the bullies, thieves and back chatters. She saw them the most. I remember how she squeezed that bony fist until her knuckles whitened, her bones protruding through the skin, stretching it thin. She pounded it on her desk and used it to punctuate her words, to fuel them so they arrive quicker.

It was then that I learned how loud a fist against wood can be.

Then they taught us about a superhero who was bigger than she was. A man who had come out of a 27-year-long struggle. He told the nation that in each single fist are a thousand reasons to keep living, to persevere and to form a unity. That was the latest meaning of a fist and it stuck. Every knuckle, a symbol of the country’s colours and willingness to stand for something. We accepted the strength of the fist because we were told these things, we saw it in action and we read about it.

Years later I’m clenching my hand hard to see what a proper fist is supposed to look like. I want to feel its power.

I’m realising that a closed fist is not easy to make. Wikipedia told me to curl my fingers into my palm and then lock them in with my thumb. This is also supposed to help me with my anxiety and help me recall information. I’m pretty sure I’m not doing it right.

Nothing about it makes me want to stand tall, be proud and raise it to the sky.

All that’s happening is the escape of my blood and the surfacing of yellow fat.

It says that if I’m able to form a fist then I’ll qualify for a fist bump – “a display of acknowledgement and friendship, sometimes celebration or greeting” – and the list goes on. Whatever I can’t say through my mouth will be tucked away in between my fingers and then passed on through a collision with another fist.

So why five knuckles? Better to put a stamp with, my dear.

Knuckle no. 1 – to imprint a lasting, prominent dark mark.
Knuckle no. 2 – to add a shade of green to the mark.
Knuckle no. 3 – to release passion.
Knuckle no. 4 – to get you to hear me.
Knuckle no. 5 – to show the world what is mine.

Without these it would be impossible to show you how I love.

I imagined her telling me this when I came to on the ground. The car I had left idling, slowly dimming its lights now, trying desperately to hide me so that I may disappear into the night and pretend I was never there.

The car has a lazy eye.

The street lights worked against me. They didn’t know me enough to protect me or show mercy. The stones pricked my back, gave me tough love, pushing me to get up.

Still I lay there like an injured stray dog.

The breeze brushed over the dry streams on my cheeks and gently carried the news to whomever it may concern. I saw it struggle to carry this heavy mess and drop it where it found it. It decided to wait until I got finished off so it could take my spirit instead. Spirits are far easier to carry.

I didn’t know that even stars can form a fist – a replica for the five-knuckled bony fist that collided with my face earlier and left its residue on my heart. The sky became a mirror, the stars now forming hearts around the fist, mocking me.

This is how we take care of each other now. Raising fists in the air is no longer the ultimate gesture of power. Power is the thing that caused my face to swell. The thing that showed me love in its rawest form.

I lay there and closed my eyes, drifting deep into blackness and back again. This is the part in the movie where the girl clutches her T-shirt, rolls over to her side and gets into a foetal position while crying hysterically. She turns to her side so that the tears don’t get into her ears. There were no tears, though.

I was on my back, stones still pricking me, unable to move. The loud sound of a fist still ringing deep in my ears. I didn’t remember a fist against wood being that loud.

I turned my head to the side, took gravel into my left hand, formed a fist and watched the soil seep through.

Fists are so valuable they could be sold. The superhumans must have forgotten to tell us that.

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Read an excerpt from Tammy Baikie’s Dinaane Debut Fiction Award-winning novel, Selling LipService

Selling LipService, Tammy Baikie’s remarkable debut novel, was the winner of the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award in 2016.

Formerly known as the European Union Literary Award, the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award was established in 2004 with the intention of sustaining locally written fiction. The award is open to unpublished English-language fiction manuscripts by debut writers

Daring in scope and exhibiting exhilarating virtuosity, Selling LipService takes South African fiction into a space last seen with Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City.

Dr Pamela Nichols, a lecturer at the Wits writing centre, commented on behalf of the judging panel: ‘This is firstly technically very clever in its articulation and development of languages, which are already familiar and nearly formed in our daily lives.

The invention and play with ways of talking and thinking reminded me of Clockwork Orange. Secondly, it makes a convincing argument for the need to reassert the literary and the always partially unknown human, before we are swallowed up by ad men.

It presents a Huxley-like future conveyed with a Burgess-like linguistic skill: brilliant, and guaranteed to appeal to anyone who loves reading.’

Read an excerpt from Chapter One here:

I have been repackaged. My cellophane surface is so slick that not even the rain clings to it. But the package contents lie. This is not what I am. The gaudy veneer of bright words that declaim and cajole are not mine – they are yours. I am the perishable rawness beneath.

You materialised with my first LipService patch. Clammy gel sucked at the skin of my upper arm, and I had to swallow hard against the rancid oil in my throat. The neurologist overseeing the hospital ward of eighteen-year-olds newly come of haemorrhage was watching me with the squinting intensity of an eye to a keyhole. He had personally applied the transdermal patch to my upper arm, while nurses went around to the other patients. Had my revulsion betrayed me? Tinnitus echoed like a siren through the empty halls of my mind. Did he know?

I remembered him as being among the group of doctors that a week or two earlier had huddled around the glow of the light boxes near the door. As they pointed and gesticulated at the brain scans, a grotesque shadow pantomime unfolded on the adjoining wall. I lay with my eyes half-closed, blinkering my mind to all but the progress of an ant across my arm and the parallel passage of bergamot that it induced across my palate. But my skin was crawling with more than six tarsal claws. I opened my eyes to see the medicine men staring at me. They had been looking into my head and seen something. Something that merited monitoring.

Now, the doctor revealed nothing. He asked how I felt, and for the first time since waking in the hospital weeks earlier, a fully formed utterance tumbled out of my throat: ‘Bathed in Pristine radiance.’ It was my voice but I had to turn over the strange auditory artefacts in my mind several times before admitting that they really came from me. They were not the words I had strained to reach on the high shelves of my cranium. Someone had rushed in while I groped, filled my basket with items and pushed me through the linguistic turnstile. I was left staring bewildered at the shiny word packages. That person was You.

That very first LipService patch was programmed for the Pristine bodywash brand. My response to the doctor’s question was copywritten to reference the tagline: ‘Remain bathed in radiance, long after you leave the tub.’ Of course, I knew that greetings serve to identify a brand to interlocutors and provide a context for a speaker’s LipService drift. I knew that, just as girls’ bodies bleed on reaching maturity, the brain must also bleed to come of age and that after my haemorrhage I would need to consume LipService to produce language – written and spoken – like all adults. But I never really accepted that another would speak for me. Or that your tackiness would adhere to me, too.

In the months before the bloodbath in my brain, I was sure I could regain language after coming of haemorrh-age and refuse LipService as long as I retained my particular deviancy – the ability to draw up flavours through my skin. My first conscious thought on waking in a hospital bed was raw with fear that I had been flayed, in one stroke, of language and of my taste-budding skin. I roiled in the sheets, desperately trying to stir up the sediment of their aroma. At first there was nothing; my skin felt thick with tongue fur. But eventually I chilled out to the ricotta sluggishness of the bed linen. I still held the savour of myself behind pursed lips.

Was that what the doctor had been looking for, too? But instead of the perversity his eye had watered for, he had gazed on the banality of another newly bled. He had almost turned away from me when he remembered himself and said, ‘Congratulations on completing neural pruning. Welcome to LipService,’ patting me distractedly on the shoulder before moving off to check on the other patients.

When the doctor and nurses had gone, some of the girls in the beds on the opposite side of the room from me started chatting. The newly styled LipServants emerged from aphasia like women from Selling LipService beneath large bonnet hairdryers, cooing and clucking at each other in delight. Fragments of a variety of LipService brand languages floated across to me.

… wake up to the kiss of Prince coffee …
… cool mint …
… can’t wait to give her the antibacterial treatment …
… so swept up in aroma’nce …
… a string of pearly whites is the best accessory…

The shy plump one on my right looked hopefully at me and was even drawing in breath to speak, but I turned on my side with my back to her. I didn’t feel up to giddily pretending that You and I are the same. I wouldn’t just click with You like plug and socket.

I liked them less knowing I was one of them – just as strokestricken, equally lost for words. We were as kinbled as our brain MRIs suggested, pinned up on the wall of the ward. Each one with an almost identical inkblot lesion – a black mark against our names and the naming of all things. I was supposed to feel bound by blood to those who shared my coming of haemorrh-age day and ward. But they were all waterslide happy to be carried along on your slippery sales pitches. And I couldn’t be. Besides, with the variety of LipService patches tag-lining our tongues, we were differentiated into products: the Prince coffee girl, the Soundbites toothpaste girl, the HailChef home appliances girl … And crossing the aisle in our supermarket world is an act of treachery.

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In light of the death of Karabo Mokoena, read an excerpt from It’s Me, Marah in which Marah Louw writes about a similar experience

With the recent incident of Karabo Mokoena being killed and burnt by her boyfriend, Blackbird Books wanted to share the following excerpt from Marah Louw’s autobiography It’s Me, Marah, describing a similar incident of this horrific tragedy. Rest in peace, Karabo.

The beginning of May 1972 was the end of my family as we knew it. One morning around six, as I was getting ready to go to the technical college, there was a knock on the door. My father had already left for work but my mother was home. When we answered, David Mofokeng, my sister Mabasotho’s boyfriend staggered in. Both his arms were bandaged and he looked depressed and anxious. We had barely got over our shock when David started weeping and talking at the same time.

‘Dumelang mama.’

He continued to speak through his sobs, making it difficult for us to hear, let alone understand what he was saying. My mom pleaded with him to speak slowly and eventually, even though it was still hard to hear him, he said, ‘Re hlahetswe ke kotsi kwana ntlung Senaoane. Ho bile lekotsi ya setofo sa paraffin, Mabasotho o lemetse, le nna ke tjhele matsohong ke leka ho tima mollo.’

I looked him straight in the eye and asked him to repeat himself. My heart was beating fast and hard and I wanted to make sure that I had heard him right.

David and Mabasotho lived in an ordinary four-room house in Mapetla, a section of Soweto. Images of their house started flooding my head; I could not remember seeing a paraffin stove. They had electricity – all the houses in the township did – so where the hell did a paraffin stove come from? I had been to their house just two days earlier and remembered my sister cooking on the electric stove. Their house had two bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. The toilet was outside and there was no bathroom, just like the other houses in that township, and it was simply furnished.

I started shouting at David, demanding that he tell me where the paraffin stove came from. ‘Se tswa kae setofo sa paraffin maan?’

My rage would not let me wait for him to finish the story. I was already dressed for college, so I grabbed my bag and shot out of the door. All I could think of was that I had to get to Baragwanath Hospital.

Not much was happening in the streets besides a few people rushing to work. It was early in the morning and a bit misty; winter was coming. Instead of taking the train I was meant to catch to town, I sought a taxi that would get me to the hospital. Luckily, it was not a long wait. There are always taxis and buses passing below Mzimhlophe railway station, that part of Mzimhlophe called Ezi’Ndlovini. I flagged down one of the popular Chrysler Valiant taxis (the ordinary sedans). There was room for one more passenger. It was a bit squashed but I didn’t care; I needed to get to the hospital.

Baragwanath Hospital is the largest in the country. I arrived around 7am and since visitors are not normally allowed in at that time of day, I pretended to be a patient and security let me through.

I walked through the corridors, not sure where to go. At reception at the admissions ward, I spoke to one of the nurses, my heart racing. I told her my sister had been admitted that morning with burn wounds. I gave her my sister’s full name and surname. She told me to return during visiting hours but I insisted on seeing her. The nurse checked the registration book, found her name and directed me to the burns ward. It was a long walk, through other wards, and the smell was unpleasant. I didn’t really mind the smell though, because I needed to see my sister as soon as possible.

When I finally arrived at the burns ward a nurse pointed me to where my sister was, but I could not find her and started to panic, walking up and down, tears running down my face, talking to myself. I didn’t know what I was saying and struggled to even look at the many burn victims lying helpless on the beds. I returned to the nurse’s station, frustrated to the point of anger, and confronted one of them: ‘Nurse please ke kopa o mpontse hore Ausi wa ka o kae.’

She seemed a bit agitated with me and almost dismissive. I was tempted to shout at the nurses for traumatising me by watching me wander around the ward. Finally a nurse asked me to follow her. As we walked down the ward I started feeling weak at the knees, my feet tired, my shoes pinching my feet. I wanted to sit down and rest my legs but there was nowhere to sit.

I had little time to think about my sore feet, however, because she suddenly stopped and pointed at a person covered with bandages and lying elevated on the bed. My heart nearly stopped; I had walked past this person earlier.

I slowly approached this body of bandages, got as close to the ear as I could and whispered, ‘E be kewena Mabasotho Louw?’

With great difficulty, she managed to say yes. Her whole body, including her face, was covered with bandages. Only her mouth was exposed. Her lips were swollen. I wept as I spoke my name.

‘Ke nna Teboho.’

A nurse came up to me, pleading with me not to cry but to try to speak to my sister; she might respond to my questions.

I tearfully asked Trueblue, ‘Ho etsahetseng?’

She had difficulty breathing but murmured, ‘David.’

‘Abuti David? O entseng?’

It was a little while before she spoke again and said ‘Petrol.’

I was leaning so close to her that my face was almost touching her bandages. Her speech and breathing were laboured and I wanted to hear and understand her properly. Tears streaming down my face, I asked her once more, and then she says,‘O ntshisitseka Petrol,’ she said.

I felt numb as if my heart were about to stop beating. I was shaking, angry and in despair because I wanted to hug my sister but I was scared I might hurt her. I felt completely helpless. The nurse was still standing beside me and I asked her, ‘O lemetse hakakang?’

‘O na le,’ she said. ‘Third-degree burns.’

The emotions inside me intensified. My mind raced back to the time when my Trueblue was married to David Kunene and the physical abuse she endured. I was filled with anger and bitterness towards the men in her life, cursing everyone named David. I asked myself how I could have seen so much pain at a young age. I thought of my mother’s pain when, in a rage, Ntate had scarred her face with a broken mirror. It was too much to bear; I let out a loud cry, calling the nurses and asking them to call the police so they could take my sister’s statement. I begged God to spare her for me, weeping uncontrollably until the police arrived. I asked her to tell them what she had just told me.

A policeman asked Trueblue the same questions I had. She repeated her answers about David and the petrol. The policeman asked me if I knew the home address and I accompanied them in their van to the house.

Trueblue’s house was in Mapetla, Soweto. I didn’t have the keys, so we went around to the back of the house to try the back door. It was only partially closed. When I walked in I was hit by fumes and a strange smell I didn’t recognise.

‘Ke monkgo wa eng ona?’ I asked the police. They told me that ke monkgo wa ho tjha ha motho.

The curtains in the kitchen were burnt. There were pieces of what looked like flesh on the walls, even in the dining room. I told the police what David had told us – that a primus stove had burst and caused the fire. We could not find a primus stove. One of the policemen called us outside. He’d found a tin that smelt of petrol behind the outside toilet. I did not wait to see the rest; I told the police that David was at my home in Mzimhlophe, and we rushed there in the police van.

David was shocked to see the police. I wanted to hurt him so badly I ran out to the back of the house to fetch an axe. The police restrained me. A neighbour was already at the house and I told everyone what my sister had revealed at the hospital, and what we discovered at her house. David clearly hadn’t expected me to find my sister alive or in a condition to speak. The police arrested him immediately. There was so much sadness in the house.

I used a neighbour’s telephone to call my father at work. He came home and, together with my uncle the Reverend Mlibazisi Nkolongwane, they went to the hospital to visit my sister and see for themselves the condition she was in. They returned that afternoon with the news that she had died.

It was clear to me that God had kept her alive until someone in the family could hear the truth of what happened. I’m glad I got to the hospital in time to see and speak to her before she passed on, and for the police to hear the story for themselves so they could accompany me to the scene of the tragedy to gather evidence. We learnt the full truth of what happened that fateful night, however.

It was our family’s most traumatic week. Relatives arrived from Herschel and other parts of South Africa for the burial. Mabasotho Trueblue Louw’s funeral was something I will never forget. David came, escorted by the police. My family freaked out when they saw him and chased him away. We never attended the court case; my father refused, saying he couldn’t see the point because his daughter was gone. David was sentenced and spent a few years in jail. Many years later, I heard that he died there. Nobody from his family ever came to our house to pay their respects or show any sympathy.

Trueblue’s death left me with many unanswered questions.

It's Me, Marah

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Fiction Friday: read an extract from Rehana Rossouw’s award-winning novel What Will People Say?

Novelist Rehana Rossouw was the 2017 recipient of a Humanities and Social Sciences Award, hosted by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, in the category single-authored fiction for her debut novel What Will People Say?

Read an extract from Rossouw’s acclaimed novel about the Fouries – a family living in the heart of the Cape Flats at the height of the struggle era – here:

Kevin was waiting at the school gate when Nicky and Shirley strolled out arm in arm at the end of the school day. He stepped forward as they came near. “Greetings ladies, can I escort you today?”

Shirley giggled. “Of course you can, right Nicky?”

Nicky didn’t want Kevin walking with them. He was only after one thing. She hadn’t gone to the SRC meeting at second break; she was too busy sukkeling with Shirley’s problem. She still hadn’t found a solution. As she expected, it didn’t take long – two steps out of the gate and Kevin started on her.

“So Nicky, I was expecting to see you in the meeting this afternoon. There’s work to be done. We planning to bring the country to a stand still for the tenth anniversary of the ’76 uprising.”

Thick, dark irritation filled her face. What must she do to get Kevin to leave her alone? Nicky didn’t want him to escort her anywhere. She wanted to be alone with Shirley; she was planning on going home with her. Shirley shouldn’t be alone on a kak day like this. “I had other things on my mind, okay?”

“What can be more important than the struggle?”

Nicky stopped and planted her fists in her hips, staring daggers at Kevin. “A lot, you idiot. Shirley, for an example. She’s much more important than your blerrie struggle. She got a big problem. Her mother wants her to leave school and go work in the factory with her.”

Kevin turned to Shirley, his face squeezed up like a lemon. “You’ll be a semi-skilled worker fed to the machine to become another alienated unit of capitalist labour.”

Nicky felt like her head was about to burst open like a dropped watermelon, the irritation was so thick. No one could get to her like Kevin. “Speak English Kevin! This isn’t time for a political speech. Shirley needs help. She’s not an issue. She’s only sixteen and she must go work to feed her brothers. You such a blerrie fool!”

Kevin looked like a foster child on his way back to the orphanage.

“Of course I think that’s really kak, Nicky! There must be a way out. We must strategise, see what we can come up with.”

Shirley smiled at him. “You think you can see a way out of it?”

Kevin gave a couple of firm nods. “Let me think on it for a while. As Lenin would say: What is to be done? That’s what we must figure out.”

Nicky stared at their backs as Shirley and Kevin walked away without her. That boy had a nerve! Didn’t he see he wasn’t wanted?

She was going to come up with a solution for Shirley’s problem. They didn’t need him. Why was Shirley hanging onto his words like he was her saviour? She rushed to catch up with them.

The girls’ route home took them past the taxi rank at the Hanover Park Town Centre. The rank fed routes into town, Claremont, Wynberg and Mitchells Plain. Gaartjies shouted out destinations and ushered people into revving sixteen-seaters; pushing flesh and parcels inside as they slid the doors shut.

Nicky, Shirley and Kevin wove their way along the pavement between people streaming to the rank and the hawkers lining the sides. Most were selling vegetables, but there were also stalls with tinned goods, bags of bright orange chips and loose cigarettes. A bakkie blocked the pavement, its back piled high with snoek. A plump man covered with a red-stained, yellow plastic apron gutted and beheaded his silver, toothy catch while customers waited. The fish was wrapped in newspaper and exchanged for a five-rand note. Nicky could smell the sea on the bakkie as she walked past.

Continue reading at thisisaerodrome.com.
 

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The sinister implications of private security forces: Read an excerpt from Ishtiyaq Shukri’s novel I See You

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The Silent MinaretI See You

 
Jacana Media has shared an excerpt from Ishtiyaq Shukri’s 2014 novel I See You, which ties in with his open letter to Wits University Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib and the members of the Senior Executive Team.

Shukri’s letter, published on Books LIVE this morning, addresses the university’s deployment of private security on campus during the current fees protests.

 

In the excerpt, Leila Mashal, one of the book’s main characters, makes a speech in the Wits Great Hall announcing her decision to run for political office, seven months after the sinister abduction of her husband.

Mashal denounces the rise of the private security industry and the worrying influence of multinational conglomerates on the South African government.

“South Africa is being held ransom by covert undemocratic and unelected forces,” she says.

The excerpt is prescient. Read on:

ANA: Breaking news

Thank you.

When I was a student at this university, I was anxious about having to present my thesis to the panel of experts who would examine me, and worried about not knowing the answers to all the questions they might ask. My supervisor’s advice was simple: ‘State what you know simply and sincerely. Nobody expects you to know everything. If you don’t know an answer, state that simply too. Communicate that the question has opened a door, and demonstrate how you might use your skills to find a responsible answer. And don’t elevate the experts too much. Remember that they were once students too.’

I am mindful of her advice as I speak to you here at my old school tonight. It feels good to be back after all these years, this time with a very different kind of thesis. Before I lay it out, let me say that I don’t have all the answers, so if you’re moved by what I have to say and would like to help, perhaps you might consider joining my small team of volunteers. Before I start, I’d like to thank them.

*

I have not come here tonight with a long list of promises, few of which I would be able to honour, most of which I would almost certainly not. I don’t have a slick manifesto, written by a team of highly paid consultants in such bland and neutral language as to mean almost anything in almost any context.

I am not here as the candidate of a large political party, which makes decisions high up and far away from the people most affected by them.

I am not here to denigrate the other candidates in this electoral contest.

I am not here tonight to ask for your vote or persuade you of my suitability or assure you of my victory.

These are not my starting points.

I am Leila Mashal and I am here to start a conversation about what I feel to be the most serious threat to our constitutional democracy – such as it is. I am taking the opportunity presented by these elections to start the conversation. I have come to put what I have learned on the agenda for your consideration as you ponder where to place your vote.

I have just one issue for us to consider. You might find it peculiar, my single topic. There are many who would have us view it as ‘accomplished’. I believed them too. But that was until seven months ago.

There are many who are surprised at my decision to seek public office, when I seem to be best known as a ‘quiet wife’. So am I. Seven months ago I would not have envisaged giving up a career I love – the only job I have ever wanted to do – and certainly not for politics. I would not have foreseen standing here as an independent candidate seeking political office, against a party I have always supported.

But seven months ago, as you already know, I was at one end of a lobby in a Johannesburg hotel while at the other end of that same lobby my husband, Tariq Hassan, was being abducted. In the immediate aftermath of the abduction, the point of impact was personal and therefore private. But during the intervening months, it has become apparent that powerful clandestine and democratically unaccountable forces were involved, which, to my mind, in a transparent and accountable democracy, now makes the issue public.

Since 1994, free and fair elections have apparently become the means by which we determine our political process and the running of this country. But are real power and decision-making necessarily in the hands of the officials we elect? These last seven months I have come to realise that while South Africans hold the vote, they don’t hold the power. Our constitutional structures are being hollowed out, withholding power from the electorate and their elected officials and concentrating it in the grip of a secret and unaccountable cabal of oligarchs whose names and faces the electorate will never know. They have a secret ballot all of their own, which is called in a sphere galaxies removed from the reach of the ordinary voter.

Before I even speak the word that was our rallying cry for decades, let us note how unremarkable it has become. How cheap and hollowed-out by spin and slogans. How we have been force-fed the illusion of it by the deeply powerful, to the point of intoxication and trance so that it no longer strikes a chord.

But when the shock wave that took Tariq had retreated, leaving me standing with the realisation that my life had been levelled, that word struck me again – freedom – because ‘freedom’ always comes first.

‘Freedom’ receives priority treatment in our most binding documents. Article 1 of the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights both enshrine freedom first.

And for whom?

In the prior, ‘All South Africans are born free and equal’. All South Africans, not only the wealthy.

And in the latter, ‘All human beings are born free and equal’. All human beings, not only the powerful.

Freedom first.

For all.

But documents don’t ensure in reality the ideas they enshrine in theory. Because even as ‘freedom’ stands there on paper, foremost amongst the issues we hold most dear, is ‘freedom’ ever ‘done’, ever ‘achieved’, ever ‘accomplished’? In South Africa, while ‘freedom’ was a battle fought, has it ever really been a victory won? How free do you feel?

*

The operation was swift. Within a matter of minutes, Tariq was gone before most people in the room even knew what had happened. By the following morning, CCTV footage from the hotel surveillance system had vanished, so that the only records of the event are the blurred and shaky images filmed on cellphones and the conflicting statements of ‘witnesses’ at the scene, all of whom have since disappeared, none of whom the police have been able to trace for clarification or corroboration.

In the seven months since Tariq’s abduction, despite a high-profile police investigation and an ongoing media campaign launched fearlessly and selflessly and tirelessly by his colleagues and associates both here in South Africa and around the world, nobody has come any closer to determining either where Tariq is or what has happened to him. During these seven months, I have cooperated fully with the official police investigation, refraining from speculation in public, declining media interviews, withholding any comments that might either compromise the investigation or aggravate Tariq’s position. With the exception of endorsing the campaign spearheaded by his colleagues and associates, my silence has, as advised, been total.

*

On the morning after Tariq’s abduction, I did not feel free. During the seven months of his captivity, I have not felt free. I have started to wonder whether I ever was free or whether I ever will be. That is an astonishing reversal because, since 1994, I have gone to bed assuming – if I ever even thought about it – that we had arrived at that place called ‘freedom’. On the morning after Tariq’s abduction, I woke to the realisation that ‘freedom’ is not a destination at which one arrives to put up one’s feet.

‘Freedom’ is a journey, a very particular kind of journey. It isn’t a drive in a luxury car or a flight on a private jet. It isn’t a big house in a plush suburb. It isn’t private schools and shopping malls. It is an ongoing pursuit, an endeavour, a long and difficult walk.

So what am I to do now? Carry on the zombie talk and walk of the ‘peaceful transition’ when in fact there has been no transition at all, least of all a peaceful one? Continue to wave flags for the myth of the ‘rainbow nation’ when in reality we live in the most unequal country on earth, but actually I’m quite well off, thank you very much, so why should I care?

They say that the longest journey starts with the first step, so let me take that first step now, in front of you, and in so doing let me be clear: what happened to Tariq could happen to anybody. There are forces of deep power now at work in this country, manipulating its institutions, its systems and its structures. We are not ruled by a government. We are overseen by a cabal of deeply powerful conglomerates and our elected leaders are merely their enforcers. What happened to Tariq arose out of that cabal, with its tentacles tightly wound around every aspect of life in this country, including and especially our political processes. That invisible cabal of deep power has no truck with constitutions or manifestos or binding documents enshrining civil rights and liberties. Its only concern is the protection of its own interests, whatever the cost.

Such indiscriminate power does not affect Tariq alone.

It also affects you.

And so, in reality, this is not an issue only about Tariq, and I am very aware that his fate has made the news. That is something. And if he is never found …

And if he is never found, it will be a long time before he is forgotten. That is something too. But the shameful plight of most South Africans happens off the radar and far away from the cameras. They are the anonymous and the nameless, whose suffering we have come to hold in contempt and whose grinding poverty and insecurity we dismiss when it does make the news. The humiliation they suffered during the apartheid era, under a government they did not elect, is the same humiliation they suffer in the post-apartheid era, under a government they did. That makes it an especially bitter pill to swallow.

This is not only a story about Tariq. The default response of the ‘legacy of apartheid’ to explain away the suffering of most South Africans when this country’s largest post-apartheid expenditure has been not on housing, or education, or health, or development, or any of those safe electioneering issues you will soon hear bandied about, but on the illegal and corrupt purchase of weapons – which conservative estimates place at R30 billion within the first five years of the post-apartheid era. Then came the 2010 FIFA World Cup – from which street vendors were kept away by ‘exclusion zones’ and the homeless banished to ‘temporary relocation areas’ – now estimated to have cost more than R27 billion. That’s at least R57 billion not spent on housing or education or health, but on guns and football.

When did we forget that ‘people are the real wealth of a nation’, not markets or minerals or investor confidence? No, this is not a story only about Tariq. To make it so would be diminishment. It is a story about everybody, including you.

Let me tell you why.

In the months since the abduction, I have complied fully with the advice given to me by those conducting the official police investigation, which was to maintain public silence. I have, however, written privately and personally to the local member of parliament deployed to my area, to my premier, to the commissioner of police, to the minister of home affairs and to the presidency with information which suggests that:

  • the abduction was meticulously planned;
  • it was specifically planned inside the Republic;
  • it was executed by professionals;
  • crucial evidence was ‘lost’;
  • key ‘witnesses’ were staged;
  • in the absence of a ransom request, this was not a kidnapping for quick financial gain;
  • the level of expertise involved would have been expensive;
  • given Tariq’s total disappearance, in all probability to somewhere outside of the Republic, his abduction will have entailed third party knowledge, involvement and support, probably at the level of state or states; and
  • excluding agents of the state, in South Africa only a relatively small number of specially trained private military operatives would have the ability, resources and expertise to execute such a complex abduction so efficiently, thereby narrowing down considerably the list of potential perpetrators.

Do you feel free? How free should I feel?

*

As we approach this election, consider this. In South Africa today, the state no longer has exclusive rights to the use of force against its citizens. In fact, force has also become the prerogative of giant national and multinational corporations of privatised military and security expertise, which now exceeds that of the state by five to one. According to the Minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula, ‘The entire complement of people who are under arms in the private security industry is larger than the number of people in the armed forces.’

How free do you feel?

Consider that in South Africa today, for each state agent there are five private agents whose access to force is outside the control of the state. Neither you nor the democratic systems of the state – such as they are – govern those five agents. Instead, while they have the capacity to deploy levels of force that surpass those of the state, they have no democratic accountability to you or the state.

While state agents are accountable, should be accountable, to you, the electorate, private agents are accountable only to shareholders, shareholders for whom force is profit.

But why should this matter? Because if you are poor and faced with a daily barrage of urban violence and crime, what comfort do you take in the fact that your government, having transformed state responsibilities into market opportunities from which only a small elite profits, has privatised nearly every basic state responsibility, including its responsibility to protect you? Instead, if you are poor in South Africa today, you can’t expect to feel free, because you can’t afford to pay for the privilege.

And if you are wealthy, how free should you feel knowing that this private protection, which you have acquired by virtue of your resources, is not accountable to you? Private force is accountable only to private profit.

*

Such an arsenal of private force has the capacity to undermine and threaten the democratic procedures of the state. I say ‘democratic procedures’ because in transparent and accountable democracies, force should be public, the state strictly sanctioned in its use. I say ‘democratic procedures’ because in democracies, elected officials should be the guardians of force. Instead, in South Africa today, elected officials are the enforcers of multinational conglomerates whose neocolonial agenda for a new world order controls all the major institutions of this country. I say ‘democratic procedures’ because in democracies, agents of force should be accountable and constitutionally governed, the various arms of the state governing deployment, the state ultimately governed by you, the electorate. I say ‘ultimately governed by you’ because rich or poor, the deployment of force ultimately affects you because deployment ultimately affects your freedom.

In South Africa, where force should be under the scrutiny of civilian leadership, it is instead civilians who are increasingly under the scrutiny of private, unaccountable and unconstitutional force. When did this silent inversion in the balance of surveillance take place? Was it while I was in the cinema? Was it while I was visiting the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown? Was it when I was out shopping in the mall? Was it while I was on a family vacation in Plettenberg Bay? Was it when I was in a restaurant sharing a meal with friends? Was it that weekend I went to Oppikoppi? At which point in my life as a ‘free’ citizen did the balance of power over me shift from the people I elected to unaccountable forces whose faces I don’t know? Was it while we were out celebrating our freedom when really all we had been given was the illusion thereof?

When Tariq was abducted, I received messages of support from diplomats and ambassadors, celebrities and civilians, poets and preachers from around the world, but from my elected officials, nothing. The questions I ask are: Why the silence? Why my silence? Why the silence of my elected officials? In 1970 Ruth First wrote that ‘power lies in the hands of those who control the means of violence’. Who controls the means of violence in South Africa today?

*

These past seven months have led me to the following conclusion. In truth, when it comes to profit, our government is no nobler than governments the world over who have been left paralysed by the power of profit and held to ransom by the profit of privatisation. In the last decade, South Africans have witnessed the privatisation, or the attempt at privatisation, the marketeering, of nearly every primary state responsibility, including water, electricity, health care, housing, transport, communications and arms, the buying and selling of their core concerns. What we are beginning to witness in South Africa today are the workings of the deep force behind the ‘elected’ force, the deep power behind the ‘elected’ power. In the seven months since Tariq’s abduction, it has become clear that his capture was at the hands of that deep force now so woven into the fabric of our system as to have access to the highest offices in the land, where it can place unelected fingers on elected lips and ensure they remain silent.

*

My detractors argue that I have no chance of winning a safe municipal ward. Perhaps. But at this early stage, it’s not about winning. It’s about starting the conversation. My elected officials would not heed my correspondence. Perhaps they’ll listen to me now.

And so I wish to send a clear message to my government tonight. While it deals in silence, I do not. While it has been silenced, I have not. Instead, I will apply all my energy and resources towards injecting this issue into the public domain and onto the political agenda because South Africa is being held ransom by covert undemocratic and unelected forces.

Freedom?
Tariq is not free.
I am not free.
There is no freedom.
There is only the fight for freedom.

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