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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

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.
 

What Will People Say

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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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Familicides – how apartheid killed its own: An excerpt from The End of Whiteness by Nicky Falkof

Nicky Falkof, University of the Witwatersrand

The End of WhitenessIn this extract from her book, “The End of Whiteness: Satanism and Family Murder in Late Apartheid South Africa”, the University of the Witwatersrand’s Nicky Falkof explores how during the height of apartheid family murders became what was termed a “bloody epidemic”.

The terms “family murder”/“gesinsmoord” only came into frequent use in South Africa in the early 1980s. Murders within families had, of course, happened before but had not been defined in this way. Those deaths were reported as individual tragic killings rather than as symptoms of a larger social problem. Family murder as a phenomenon was particular to the late apartheid era and developed when it did because it had meaning outside of itself.

By 1984, amid burgeoning cultural awareness of a national “problem” of family murder, the term was sufficiently entrenched to merit a three-page article in the popular Afrikaans magazine Huisgenoot, often a social barometer of white Afrikanerdom. This considered three recent murders, of Aurica Costin, Mirian Swanepoel and Talitha Hamman, all killed by estranged spouses who subsequently committed suicide.

These deaths, coming at the start of the panic, did not fit with ideas about family murder that became set as the decade progressed. Family murder was later characterised as something separate from domestic violence, an act that involved a family structure – always children, sometimes other relatives too – rather than just a couple, and almost always ended in the suicide of the killer.

Nonetheless at this early stage Huisgenoot referred to the Costin, Swanepoel and Hamman killings as “gesinstragedies” (“family tragedies”) and to the killers as “family murderers”. The magazine called the deaths a “bloedige epidemie” (“bloody epidemic”).

Paranoia at work

Huisgenoot’s article was part of an emergent repertoire of representation about family murder that included the exhortation for the public to watch out for the “warning signs” listed in the pages of popular publications. There was a certain paranoia at work here.

If the family murderer was always white, male and Afrikaans then it followed that each white, male and Afrikaans person could have the seeds of murder within him. The injunction to watch each other potentially accused all people who fitted into this mould. All white Afrikaans men could be marked with the possibility of this type of evil and it became everyone’s duty to observe them.

Huisgenoot also reported, “[Family murder is] a sign of a sick society, say psychologists.” Press responses to family murder turned to psychiatry and medicalisation early on. The notion of expanded blame – that society as a whole rather than just the killer was responsible for these deaths – also came to the forefront early in the coverage of these killings.

Similarly, family murder was understood as a sign of larger ills. In an article on South Africa’s “new brutality”, the right wing Aida Parker Newsletter, secretly sponsored by intelligence divisions within the South African Police, classified family murder alongside child abuse and other social ills as the consequence of a “sick society”.

That was a society newly filled with pornography, “enlightened” churches that preached politics instead of religious obedience, high divorce rates, “trendy” sex across the colour line and newly “liberal” attitudes towards abortion, homosexuality and lesbianism. All of these ills were contrary to the rights of the majority who wished to “live in an ordered, humane, civilised society”.

Death of a daughter

On November 4 1984 Gert Botha (38) shot and killed his ex-wife Maretha (35), their daughter Madaleen (15) and himself. Although there had been two similar cases the previous month, this one garnered far more press coverage, at least partly because of the idealisation of the murdered daughter.

“Madaleen, 15, was the beauty of the family. She had already won one pageant … Next year she would be a prefect. That night the family was torn apart. Mrs Botha lay dead. Madaleen was shot in the stomach and the eye when she ran into the bedroom after the first bullets were fired. Gert Botha turned the gun on himself,” reported Huisgenoot at the time.

Madaleen’s healthy normality was repeatedly emphasised in the press. Her gender and ethnicity were combined to depict her as a perfect white Afrikaans daughter. She was the model victim of a social plague. This was in contrast to parental dysfunction. Newspapers insisted that Gert and Maretha’s constant fighting should have alerted their community to the looming tragedy.

Saving families

Ideas about warning signs were part of the medicalisation of the family murder, the belief that there was a set of symptoms that could be spotted and avoided. This social-psychiatric narrative also implied that the unwary were to blame for disaster.

The Sunday Tribune, an English-language weekly newspaper published in what was then Natal province, went as far as to use the standfirst, “Family ignored danger signs – and paid with their loved ones’ lives”. Complacency and lack of communal care were blamed for the destruction of white South African youth. Society was failing to protect the young from dangers that could have been anticipated.

An editorial in the Afrikaans daily Beeld, titled “Kommerwekkend” (“Worrisome”), speculated that deaths like the Bothas’ were part of a national crime problem, the result of a society that was too violent, with firearms too easily available.

The Weekend Argus in Cape Town called the deaths part of a “frightening chronicle” of killings and printed a list of possible causes agreed upon by several unnamed psychologists: “unemployment, stress, sex, the availability of firearms, misplaced religious beliefs, immaturity, alcohol, fears about the future and ‘hot weather’”.

This list avoided the most influential, volatile and unsettling factor that affected South African society. Save from fear of the future, apartheid was given no place in a consideration of why family murders happened, although notions of Afrikanerness and gendered cultural identity crept in in the form of religion, immaturity and sexual issues.

Later in the period other experts suggested a different causal model for family murder that implicated the violence of apartheid as a primary factor. The family murder panic was thus part of a cultural shift. It helped to inaugurate a public discussion of the fact that apartheid could be dangerously brutalising for white people, allowing them to be critical of the system without having to acknowledge the far more damaging consequences it had had for black South Africans.

The Conversation

Nicky Falkof, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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‘You’re only as sick as your secrets’ – Read an excerpt from Sweet Paradise by Joanne Hichens

 
Sweet ParadiseJacana Media has shared an excerpt from Sweet Paradise by Joanne Hichens.

Sweet Paradise tells the story of Rae Valentine, the most compassionate but gullible PI in the business, who’s on a mission to find a missing teenager.

Rae’s investigation brings her to the Paradise Place Clinic, where no-one is who they appear to be and everyone has their secrets.

In Part One, we meet Vincent Saldana – Rae’s PI partner – and his fellow residents at Paradise Place during a group meeting. How did Vincent end up in Paradise Place and will he be able to convince Rae to spring him loose?

Read the excerpt:
 

* * * * *

 

PART ONE
You’re only as sick as your secrets

 

MONDAY: THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

 
A day in Paradise

Vincent Saldana bitterly regretted scrubbing his tongue with aftershave to get rid of the smell of booze. His throat burnt like hellfire. Hotter than the stagnant air building up in the room and the sweltering heat
outside in the Garden of Paradise.

     His head felt as if it had been hit by a brick.

     He sat in a circle with his new pals all rocking and fidgeting in their plastic chairs, each waiting their turn to spill their guts onto the beetleeroded pine floor, wanting recognition for their efforts.

     He raised his head and assessed the motley bunch: Sybilla from the US of A, a regte vet vreetertjie, glowering from the corner. Skinny expart-time-model Joleen, eye-candy if you were into stick insects. Paul the Polyphobic terrified of every damn thing. Jamiro the compulsive sex addict and pseudo airline pilot. The school principal who insisted on being addressed as Sir. A Sidney Poitier lookalike, he was dubbed Sir-with-Love, and most of that love came from Jamiro. Sir’s head was tightly bandaged today, Betadine and blood seeping through from the cut on his forehead.

     The morning’s excitement hadn’t helped Vincent’s hangover one jot.

     Sybilla farting at the breakfast table, then pulling the puke-pink Whoopee cushion out from under her fat arse. Jamiro spitting his doctored coffee over the table: ‘Who put salt in the sugar bowl!’ Followed by a burst of light and smoke. Sir held the jagged remnants of the rigged jar, blood streaming from his lacerated forehead, as clumps of strawberry jam dripped from the high ceiling. His howling had hardly diminished as Nina led him from the table.

     Vince was sick and tired of the practical jokes, but mostly he was sick and tired of shooting the breeze with addicts of every kind, of sex, food, pills, you name it, all lumped together like a packet of fruit mix.

     He wished bloody group was done.

     How’d he stuck it out so long in this bloody madhouse?
 
***
 
Doctor Max Kramer had fine-tuned the art of following the gist of the same-old same-old. He knew how to manipulate the sluice gates with his occasional ‘Mmhmm’ interspersed at proper intervals, his sotto voce teasing out the details of his patients’ miserable lives. His head settled at just the right angle, his ear perfectly cocked as if he was truly listening, he reminded himself of the goal: remain outwardly appreciative of the sharing, show concern at the right time… Yes, Joleen, I know how difficult it is to consume three jujubes, I know insects freak you out, Paul… As Sybilla’s lank hair fell across her forehead, as her triple chins quivered… As Jamiro stretched a toothy smile and spread his wings… As the Principal sat upright and uptight in his pinstripe pants and his lace-up brogues, blood stains still damp on the collar of his white buttondown shirt…

     ‘Let’s get to the matter at hand, shall we? Three days ago, it was plastic cockroaches in the dinner and red dye in the grape juice’ — the whole lot gagging at mealtime, and pissing “blood” afterwards — ‘since then there’s been itching powder sprinkled on mattresses,’ — Jamiro writhing in group, as if in the throes of continuous orgasm —‘cling film on toilets,’ — floors awash with urine — ‘now this. I’ve turned a blind eye to atrociously juvenile behaviour. This time, however, whoever is showing a penchant for destruction has gone too far.’

     Blank stares meant he’d get no satisfaction. He’d been down this route too many times. The lot remained the passive picture of innocence.

     He breathed deeply, an exemplar of patience. The fingernails of his left hand dug into the linked fingers of his right. He waited in vain for one of them to own up, even as Sir, fingering the edge of the bandage unravelling at his ear, blurted, ‘Someone will pay.’

     Max cared that Paradise should not explode in his face like the rigged jar. He felt his palms break out in sweat.

     ‘There’s nothing, per se, dangerous or illegal about humour, harmless pranks as a way of coping with the situation and with each other’ — his voice rose — ‘but pranks that lead to anger, bitterness, total humiliation or heightened paranoia, I won’t have it.’ He wanted to spit out Who’s the fucking joker in the pack?

     Could be any of them. Or a staff member, a cleaner, the gardener, the physiotherapist, any one of the freelance staff for all he knew. He unlaced his hands, stroked his fingertips down tracks of corduroy, his fabric of choice.

     ‘Pranks resulting in physical injury,’ he emphasised, ‘are a no-no. Whoever painted the jar with nitrogen triiodide had to know that when it dries you don’t move, you don’t even breathe for fear of the coated article exploding.’

     Blank stares.

     ‘It’s a hostile impulse, a comic façade belying more serious anger, the sort generally taboo.’

     He’d get no admission of guilt.

     ‘We’ll get on with other things, then, shall we? Let’s start with you. How’re we feeling today, Vincent?’

     ‘Top of the world,’ he played along.
 
***
 
Doc Max bobbed, a regular Noddy. Vince caught a glimpse of his bald patch every time he dipped his head. ‘I couldn’t be better,’ Vince lied. He hated most the carping on about feelings. How much longer could he put up with this bullshit? Couldn’t stand being kept under thumb: do this, do that, be here, be there, at group, at one-on-one. Every single moment planned. Eat this, swallow that. He took the mood enhancers and anti-depressants when he felt like it, but refused ever to stomach the platitudes, promises and the belief in a Higher Power supposedly there to help him. Too many steps, too much talk. All a bloody waste of time. He wanted to yell, wanted to break the news to every patient, to Mr Sexy, to Skinny Joleen, to Sir, to Paul the Petrified, he wanted to tell motor-mouth Sybilla with her grating American drawl picked up from the Bold and the Beautiful (he’d placed his bets she was no genuine American, that the closest she’d ever been to the USA was the TV soapies), he wanted to tell them all in no uncertain terms that rehab was as much good as his mom lighting a joss stick and praying for good fortune to the effigies laid out at her front doorstep.

     It was on the tip of his tongue to vent What the hell difference does any of this make? He blurted instead, ‘Just get me a sponsor so I can walk out of here.’ Yeah, the sponsor would carp on about Let Go and Let God, and he’d keep thinking what a load of bloody bullshit.

     ‘After only two weeks, perhaps you’re not quite yet ready for that,’ persisted Doc Max. ‘So share with us, Vincent, the jokes, have they affected you? How do you feel about what’s going on?’

     Vince knew the taste of the barrel of a gun, had cell memory of his tongue probing cold steel, tasting the black hole… suicidal ideation Max called it… South African cops were trigger happy. When they couldn’t handle crime any longer, or life, they turned too easily to find salvation in a blessed bullet… they took their families with them… the ultimate joke, the ultimate ‘fuck you’ to a fucked-up society.

     ‘How d’you think I feel?’ Vince hissed. ‘Everyone in this place would benefit from a fucking lobotomy!’ He pushed up from the plastic chair, sent it flying behind him. Enjoying the look of fear flitting across Max’s face, and letting go the red-hot fuck-you feeling, he shouted, ‘Fuck the practical jokes. Fuck therapy, fuck the Twelve Steps, and if God exists, I’ll bet he’s crying his fucking eyes out, poor God, the misery and the distress of this world would break his fucking heart!’

     Eyes stared wide with shock.

     He strode across the room. He let fly a volley of punches, every knuckle meeting its mark; he relished the beating he dished out to George. ‘Vincie!’ Admiration glinted in Jamiro’s eyes, the quick seductive lick of glossed lips not lost on the group. ‘Us pilots see that kind of boozeinduced aggro all the time.’

     Vince growled, ‘What’re you insinuating?’ He retrieved his chair and sat down. ‘If you don’t watch it, Jamiro,’ spat Vince, ‘you’ll be next in line.’

     ‘Oooh Vincie, I’d love a good going over…’
 
***
 
Max cleared his throat. ‘Negative transference is directed to where it can do the least damage. Anyone else with issues? You’re welcome to discharge any aggression at George.’ Indeed, the anger-management puppet was worked out regularly by Vincent Saldana, the problem patient, the cop with anger issues. ‘No-one else interested? Then we’re done,’ concluded Max. ‘But after this morning’s commotion and your emotional rendition of Nietzsche, Vincent, we’re certainly in need of a’ — Vince registered the dreaded words — ‘group hug.’

     Vince shuddered. Fun fun. This he hated.

     Sybilla’s bosoms quivered with anticipation in her floral XXXL T- shirt. Joleen froze, a bokkie caught in headlights. Paul the Polyphobic, terrified of death, of bugs, of different food groups touching on his plate, frightened of his own shadow, sat rigid and squeaked, ‘Don’t any of you dare touch me!’

     ‘How about on your studio,’ quipped Jamiro.

     Vince warned, ‘Get your hand off my arse.’ Group grope was the pits.

     ‘Don’t dare paw me.’

     ‘You’d give anything for the hair of the dog right now,’ Jamiro pressed his erection against his quarry’s thigh and licked Vince’s ear.

     ‘You sure smell like a distillery, Vince,’ drawled Sybilla, ‘no amount of aftershave will disguise the ooze from your pores.’

     ‘Ever noticed,’ smirked Vince, ‘how smug sober people are?’

     ‘The booze holds you hostage, Vincie,’ winked Jamiro.

     ‘The booze sets me free.’

     Vince pushed away the freaks. ‘I’m done, I’m packing my bags. I’m outta here.’ He looked at Max. ‘Your nurses, dieticians, psychologists with your blue uniforms and white coats and stripes and fob watches and answers for every fucking thing will no doubt have a field-day chit-chat about my borderline personality disorder, my self-destructive behaviour, my anger that forgot where it came from… To hell with the pranks and the petty squabbles. I’m turning my back on the loser-bin.’ He slammed the door.

     Doc Max sighed, ‘Vincent, you’re going nowhere.’ He turned to Tariq.

     ‘Go after him.’

     Max stared at the others. He was no closer to uncovering the truth.
 
***
 
     Vince complained: ‘Why can’t I just discharge myself?’

     ‘You signed on the dotted line,’ said Tariq. ‘You lose your PI licence if you don’t finish the programme.’ He squeezed Vincent’s arm as he escorted him up the main staircase to his room, handed him over to Nurse Nina.

     Vince said, ‘I’m happy to see you, darling.’

     ‘Bed rest for you, naughty boy,’ she settled him, plumped his pillows, ‘getting all riled like that, shame on you. Now settle down.’ She offered him a straw with his vodka in a geriatric’s spill-free cup. She patted his cheek. ‘Vincie,’ she whispered, ‘why on earth would you want to leave us when we treat you so well?’

     ‘Rehab’s too much like hard work.’

     ‘You won’t run away, now will you, Vincie? Stay put for the afternoon.’

     He missed the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke. Bar smell. Nothing quite like it. For now this would do. He pulled the duvet under his chin, sucked on the straw. He’d tried, he’d really tried. Had kept up with the steps. Had done whatever they’d asked him to. None of it had shifted his bleak outlook. He’d written the letters to his dead wife, to his mother, to his remaining PI partner…

     Dear Amber
I’m so sorry for every time I worked late, for every time I lied to you to you.
I loved you. I love you. You wanted me to come home early. We fought.
You said you’d follow my example, take yourself off for a drink. I’m sorry
I wasn’t there for you.

     Hey Ma
I’m sorry I didn’t amount to the son you wanted. I never learned Mandarin. I’m not interested in taking over the restaurant. Sorry for all the times I came home drunk and you cleaned up after me.
Sorry I don’t call you every day. I know you’ll say there’s nothing to forgive, but I need your forgiveness. I love you, Ma.

Hey Rae
I’ve let you down.
I’m sorry.

     I’m sorry sorry sorry, so fucking sorry…

     With Freaky-Deaky out the room he pulled his cell phone from under the mattress. He sucked at the booze for Dutch courage. He had to get out. Rae was no pushover. She’d be difficult to convince.

 
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‘I have many names …’ – Read an excerpt from Nwelezelanga: The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni

Nwelezelanga: The Star Child: The debut novel from writer, sangoma and trainee herbalist Unathi Magubeni

 
NwelezelangaNwelezelanga: The Star Child, the debut novel by writer, sangoma and trainee herbalist Unathi Magubeni, has recently been published by Jacana Media.

The story begins with Nokwakha giving birth at her village home, and when it is discovered that the child is an albino the midwife convinces her that it is a curse and she should snuff the life out of it before it takes another breath. The dreadful deed is done by the river, but the “all-knowing one” has other plans …

The novel has earned high praise from Thando Mgqolozana, author of A Man Who is Not a Man, Unimportance and Hear Me Alone:

Magubeni handles the sacred subject in a way that neither slants nor meddles. For this reason, when African traditionalists learn of Magubeni’s book they will be nervously curious but will discover that they needn’t have been. It will be a rare gift for the scholars, and we ordinary readers will not remember our lives before Magubeni happened.

Read an excerpt from the book:

I have many names; my mother calls me “Nwelezelanga” because of my golden hair. Some call me “Mhlophe” because of my fair, almost-ginger skin. One wise old woman of the tribe calls me “Mehlomadala” because of my big, round eyes that reflect oceans of untold stories, and the village girls who like to taunt me just calls me “That Albino Girl”.

I’m thirteen years old; however that’s a distortion on its own. I’m young yet old; I’ve experienced the cycle of birth and death many times than I care to count. I’ve donned and shredded many skin colours in my lifetime.

I’ve lived the lives of many; the lives of the poor and the healers of aBantu and served the divine purpose in countless ways. I have also visited this world before as a baobab tree and stood tall for over hundred years exuding all the wisdom in the known world. I’ve made short visits, sometimes as a carefree butterfly, showing off the innocence from beyond. One of my favourite incarnations is when I was a bird and would cross the oceans with my own kid reflecting the endurance of the immortals. On occasions, I have visited this world in less glamorous roles in the form of a worker bee and worked all my waking life giving the world the sweet honey of our hard labour.

I spend most of my time suspended in the hills of my humble village. I watch the clouds all day looking for messages from beyond. I watch them form into morphing countless symbols speaking the language of the Gods. I struggle to decode some of the messages at times. I have to be patient; there are hidden secretes in the knot of existence. Many think I’m crazy and find my favourite pastime as an excuse for being lazy.

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‘Ndohupenyu hwacho’ – Read our final excerpt from Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi (Part 3 of 3)

Sweet Medicine

 

We are very excited to present to you the final instalment in our series of excerpts from Panashe Chigumadzi’s debut novel, Sweet Medicine.

This gripping story shows a side of Zimbabwe not often seen and grapples with the daily experience of living in postcolonial society. Sweet Medicine takes place in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008. Tsitsi, a young woman, raised by her strict, devout Catholic mother, believes that hard work, prayer and an education will ensure a prosperous and happy future.

Out of university, Tsitsi finds herself in a position much lower than she had set her sights on, working as a clerk in the office of the local politician, Zvobgo. With a salary that barely provides her with a means to survive, she finds herself increasingly compromising her Christian values to negotiate ways to get ahead.

The first excerpt in our series saw Tsitsi sit down with her friend Chiedza, engaging in a robust conversation about the men in their lives. The second part took the conversation further, revealing an underlying tension between the two, with Chiedza saying that certain things had to be done in order for them to be where they are. “Ndohupenyu hwacho,” she says, which means ‘that’s life’ in Shona.

Read the final excerpt to see how the conversation between Tsitsi and Chiedza plays out:

 

* * * * * * * *

 

Sweet MedicineWords Mama had repeated so often throughout Tsitsi’s childhood. Ndohupenyu hwacho.
 
Chiedza’s eyes shone. She had long since lost her cheerfulness. Tsitsi wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol that had made her so sensitive, so emotional, but she was embarrassed and felt selfish for trying to unburden her own anxieties. She sat down again, pretending not to notice that Chiedza was upset, trying to make light of their current situation.
 
“Remember what we used to say in residence?” Chiedza didn’t answer, but Tsitsi persevered. “When things got tough, we would always say: ‘That is that. Sadza repa bhodha.’”
 
She laughed nervously, hoping that her invocation of their varsity days would cheer Chiedza up. Eventually she broke into a small laugh.
 
“Eii sha, but we suffered, didn’t we? Sadza ne beans. Sadza ne cabbage. Sadza ne ma potatoes.”
 
Chiedza eventually gave in and added, “Vakomana, sadza, sadza, sadza. When we were lucky, sadza ne mazai.”
 
They giggled together as if they were in their Swinton room. Feeling a little more sober and that the situation had been diffused, even just marginally, Tsitsi stood up again.
 
“ChiChi, it’s late. Zvobgo will be waiting for me. I’m sure James Bond is waiting for you too.’’
 
Chiedza rose to peck Tsitsi goodbye, “Well, you know, I like pushing my men to their limits. The longer he waits the better.’’
 
She saw the leaks of tears under Tsitsi eyes and wiped them away tenderly with her thumbs, kissing her on her cheek, reminding Tsitsi of the many times Chiedza had consoled her in their dorm room.
 
“See, Tsitsi? It’s easier when he’s an attached superior and stays that way. It’s when he starts suffocating me and makes too many demands that I leave. Simple. There isn’t a shortage of horny old men. For that matter, even young ones.’’
 
Before Tsitsi could respond, their waiter jogged clumsily over to their table. Fearing they were attempting to dodge the bill, he couldn’t afford the dignity of a graceful walk.
 
“Don’t worry, Sekuru, tichiri tese. I’m not going anywhere for a while. I’m sure you’ll have fun keeping me company,” said Chiedza with a wink.
 
He didn’t respond with the polite laughter of a grateful servant. He was not the cheerful and obedient servant their money had promised them. Instead he obliged with no more than a tight smile, which soon returned to a sour look of resentment, characteristic of a quick, intelligent mind trapped in the routine of menial tasks. He did what he was asked to do with a cold efficiency, nothing more.
 
“I’ll see you, Chiedza,” Tsitsi said.
 
As she drove home, she tried to shrug off Chiedza’s words, but they managed to linger and set themselves deep in her conscience. If Zvobgo could do it to Mrs Zvobgo, surely he could do it to her? It would be history repeating itself.
 
But this was different, she thought. His wife could well afford to respond to the rejection and the humiliation of infidelity by fleeing to Malaysia to live with their thirty-something-year-old daughters. If Zvobgo left Tsitsi, she would be destitute.
 
She toyed with the idea of his other colleagues, but she quickly dismissed the notion. They were all too busy with their current Small Houses and, even if they did take her in, she was sure they would not look after Sekuru and Mama in the way that Zvobgo did.
 
She had everything but that elusive certificate. Only important, because with titles come obligations, and more importantly, with rights. Rights and claims to property. Without that, what would she do about Mama and Sekuru? At best, she would be referred to Zvobgo’s relatives or to the traditional courts.
 
She snuck into the darkened bedroom without switching on the lights for fear of waking Zvobgo. The last thing she wanted to do was trigger a torrent of questions. She slipped off her dress and, without bothering to get her nightslip, sunk slowly into bed. Not hearing even a grunt from Zvobgo’s side of the bed, she reached out but felt only cold sheets. She remembered now that he had told her he was to be spending a few nights away with the rest of the executive members. She had forgotten. She felt disappointed, foolish, for having said all she had to Chiedza.

 

* * * * * * * *

 
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‘You look at me, and you judge me’ – An excerpt from Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi (Part 2 of 3)

Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi

 
As promised, here is another excerpt from Sweet Medicine, the debut novel by Panashe Chigumadzi.

Sweet Medicine is a thorough and evocative attempt to grapple with a variety of important issues in the postcolonial context: tradition and modernity; feminism and patriarchy; spiritual and political freedoms and responsibilities; poverty and desperation; and wealth and abundance.

Set in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008, Sweet Medicine is the story of a young woman raised by a devout Catholic mother who finds she has to compromise on her Christian values in order to get by.

This excerpt picks up where we left off in the first, with Chiedza having a rather uncomfortable conversation with Tsitsi:
 

* * * * * * * *

 

Panashe ChigumadziSweet Medicine

A burly man in a safari suit at the adjacent table spoke in nasal tones, “Look, Montreaux, the $300 000 US-made solar-powered irrigation system is rusting in a shed because they can’t maintain the damn thing and because they have that ‘Look East’ policy. So you can judge for yourself.”
 
Said the man next to him, “I’m a bit more optimistic. Though they’re playing an underhand game, I think this election will be a breakthrough. I can’t go into the specifics but there are encouraging signs. The cracks are beginning to show.’’
 
The two were addressing a taller colleague who was jotting down parts of their conversation on a dog-eared notepad. A mop of black hair, wet and greying at the edges, nose sunburnt and flaking, chest hairs peeking out of his white shirt. The archetypal Brit, born and bred, who had discovered this bit of Empire relatively late in life but nonetheless embodied a familiar colonial entitlement to the now independent territory, for it held a sense of romance and adventure ripe for mid-life crises. Romance held in the stubborn remnants of Rhodesia memorialised in a good number of British street names (Rotten Row included) that had managed to dodge the indignity of new native names while the natives themselves remained “extremely friendly and cheerful, which is remarkable under the circumstances”, “always joking”, “very hardworking, more so than the blacks from South Africa and Zambia I’ve encountered” and, like the noble savages so deigned by the British, “so well educated”. Adventure held in the TIA-ness of ‘The Decay of Africa’ and in the danger of imminent deportation for reporting the kind of things they were discussing now as the territory continued on its about- turn from the settlement secured by old Lord Soames.
 
Tsitsi decided she would report this to Zvobgo, and then turned back to Chiedza.
 
Chiedza took a long drag of her cigarette.
 
“Or …’’ Chiedza raised her finger, and her eyes grew bigger. “I’ve studied this before, I’ve got it!” She clapped her hands, startling the tables around them. “It’s necrophilia! He must be necrophillic. Where do you think all those missing people go to if they can’t be found at Mbudzi cemetery?” she said excitedly before dropping her voice to a whisper. “Fulfilling a fetish? Perhaps your living flesh can never satisfy him.’’
 
Hot tears pushed their way to Tsitsi’s eye sockets as she felt a surge of anger. Before she could string the words to tell Chiedza off for her insensitivity, her head began to pound even harder, paralysing her into resignation. She closed her eyes until the surge slowed, and found enough strength to stand up from her seat.
 
“Chiedza, you don’t need to act so happy at my situation.” Tsitsi’s eyes shone. She surprised herself with her words. She had never voiced that there was a ‘situation’. She couldn’t say it to Chiedza. By giving it a name, she felt she would give it the power to manifest itself and flourish in reality. If, instead, it remained in the limbo of unspoken words, it could surely be contained and eventually disappear of its own.
 
She felt the sensation she often felt when she drank, as if someone was pouring cement into her head. With these thoughts, it felt heavier and heavier.
 
“I’m not some little girl, a child, or someone’s whore. I’m a woman. A respectable one, Chiedza, so these things can’t concern me.”
 
Chiedza glanced at the adjacent table, checking to see if anyone had heard and then laughed.
 
“You know, Tsitsi, you are so quick to point out that you are not a prostitute. I just want to laugh because you are just falling into rank. You all should spare us your ‘morality’ that lauds ‘women’ over the supposedly lesser ‘whores’ and ‘girls’. That’s how society sees us. That’s how you see us. You want it to be that we are like coal, only to be loved in the dark and tossed like ashes come morning.”
 
She looked again at the table alongside, her hands fidgeting in her lap, manicured nails scraping at the buckle of her purse. Tsitsi could see tears well up in her friend’s eyes.
 
“You look at me, and you judge me. And I just want to ask, for what? I am fully in control. No one has a gun to my head. Why can’t this be my profession, one I have chosen for myself? I tell you, prostitutes are professional in their skills and practise it like the vocation of true apostles – and why shouldn’t they? What’s so different from the accountant or the doctor selling his time? I ended up in this profession in the same way someone might end up being a lawyer because they couldn’t get into engineering or dentistry, or because they couldn’t get into medicine, or even a banker who grew up telling everyone they want to be a soccer player. They do those things because that was what was available for their talents and their circumstances at the time. But do we pity them? No, because that’s lif—”
 
“Chiedza, I didn’t me—”
 
“No, Tsitsi, chimboterera. You of all people know the dreams that I had. The dreams that you had. Remember? I was going to be a businesswoman. I was going to be the chairwoman of Dairiboard, of African Sun, of all those ZSE companies. You wanted to be at the Reserve Bank, working on monetary policy and foreign exchange controls. But when we left UZ, things changed – the only spaces open were the NGO and the Ministry. And even that didn’t work. We had responsibilities to take care of, and this is where we are. Ndohupenyu hwacho, Tsitsi.”

 

* * * * * * * *

 

Watch this space for the third and final excerpt in this three-part series!

 
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Julian Brown argues for the positives of disruption in South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens

South Africa's Insurgent CitizensBusiness Day has shared an excerpt from South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of Politics by Julian Brown.

In his book Brown, who teaches Political Studies at Wits University, counters the political despair that is prevalent in South Africa at the moment, arguing that “politics is alive and well – if you know where to look”.

According to Brown, there is a “new kind of politics” developing on the streets and in the courtrooms of the country, made by a new type of citizen, an “insurgent citizen”.

Read the excerpt:

THERE is one story everybody knows about SA: how the violent struggle against apartheid gave way to concessions, discussions and negotiations at the end of the 20th century, and how the leadership of Nelson Mandela and others brought about the “miracle” of a peaceful post-colonial transition.

It is a story of how a civil war was averted and how a social consensus was built around a political project — the making of a “New SA”.

It is an unsurprisingly popular story. It has been told and retold in one medium after another. It can be found in textbooks and scholarly books; in the memoirs and autobiographies of SA’s leaders; and in biopics of politicians or famous sportsmen.

It is also a dated story. Apartheid ended in 1994: its political institutions were dismantled and politics changed. And yet, two decades later, SA is once again in flux — caught in a moment in which the boundaries of politics and society are unstable and liable to change without notice.

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“I lived like a rat in Johannesburg” – Read an excerpt from The Pavement Bookworm by Philani Dladla

The Pavement Bookworm

 
The Pavement BookwormBlackBird Books has shared an excerpt from The Pavement Bookworm by Philani Dladla.

“The Pavement Bookworm” is a former drug addict, who was out of hope and living on the street. But he used his love of books to change his life.

Dladla earned his nickname after he began reviewing and selling books to motorists on Empire Road in Johannesburg, pricing the books according to his rating. His story captured imaginations everywhere and went viral worldwide.

Today Dladla is a motivational speaker and runs a reading club for underprivileged children in Johannesburg. Visit pavementbookworm.co.za for more information on his ongoing projects.

The Pavement Bookworm tells his story, and was published towards the end of last year.

 
Read the excerpt from the book:

By the end of 2012, I had made enough money to go and visit my family in KwaZulu-Natal after many years. They knew that I was still alive because the Pavement Bookworm was doing the rounds in the media. At least I didn’t have to tell them my story. I bought everything brand new from head to toe and some gifts for uMa and my brothers. I still had uMa’s contact number but I didn’t call because I wanted to surprise them. After travelling for more than seven hundred kilometres crammed in a taxi we arrived at my beautiful hometown of Port Shepstone. I took another taxi to Oshabeni where my home is. It felt good being home again. My mum was happy to see me. My family had some questions for me – Where had I been? How had it been? Why it had been so long since I had made contact or sent money? Some asked if I had missed them. It was very emotional. People were very happy to see me again – even those who used to gossip about when I got stabbed, dropped out of school and tried to kill myself and called me a loser and a bad influence and nsangwini (weed addict). All was forgotten; it was like it never happened. It felt like I had a new body. My holiday was not very long because the City of Gold was calling me back, I had more dreams and they were bigger than the small town Oshabeni. If I wanted my dreams to come true I had to go back to the gold digger’s city. Look at this book you’re reading; it is one of my dreams.

I didn’t need to pack because I lived like a rat in Johannesburg. I took a bus from Oslo Beach that arrived at 5:30 am at Park Station in Johannesburg. I waited in the waiting area for the sun to rise and then went to get a few books from Henry’s place. On my way I received a call from a lady called Twanji Kalula who works for a morning show called Expresso on SABC 3. They wanted to do an interview with the Pavement Bookworm. I gave her the green light and she said she’d meet me at Empire Road with her crew at 9:30 the next morning. I was early as usual and arranged my books neatly. I started selling books while I waited for Twanji and the Expresso crew to show up. What I didn’t know was that the media attention had turned my friends sour. My own boys, my friends who lived under the bridge with me, came in numbers with new faces to attack me. They were led by Simon, popularly known as Lesiba – another heartless street king. After Bongani was stabbed to death, Simon replaced him. It was like the devil sent him to give me a hard time. He never liked me and he said I thought I was better than everyone else since I managed to quit drugs successfully. He expected me to relapse again and when that didn’t happen he started abusing me every day, calling my feeding scheme a Mickey Mouse business. He physically attacked me many times but I never fought back because he was expecting it, and then he would kill me with the okapi knife he kept in his pocket. I still have scars on my head, which are reminders of how he once broke a bottle on my head.

 
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Read an Excerpt from Andrew Salomon’s Short Sharp Stories Award-Winning Story, “Train 124″

Andrew Salomon, Joanne Hichens, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Bridget Pitt and Bobby Jordan

 
Incredible JourneyIncredible Journey: Stories that Move You, the third annual Short Sharp Stories anthology, featuring short stories by 20 writers, was released last year and launched at The Book Lounge.

This year’s winner was Andrew Salomon, who took home the R20 000 prize for his story “Train 124″.

In an interview with Two Dogs/Mercury, Salomon says: “A lot of ‘Train 124’ is borrowed from actual experience – more so than any other short story I have written – and I guess that confirms that truth is often stranger than fiction.”

The Mail & Guardian has shared an excerpt from the story. Read it here:

Neurodevelopmental disorder. Sensory hypersensitivity. These are medical terms and the first includes an eighteen-letter word. Too many. Words get awkward above ten letters. I have been diagnosed with both of these disorders by mental health professionals. On the screen in front of me – in easy-to-read tabular form – are the results from my latest biannual psychological assessment. The results show no discernible change in impairment from the same assessment twelve months ago. I could have just told them that.

The professional are wrong. I am not impaired. What I have are talents that happen to complicate my life. I close my laptop and pick up my bag. I have a train to catch.

It takes four hundred and sixty four steps from my gate to the spot where I wait for the train: by the yellow metal pole supporting the public announcement system on the platform at Kenilworth Station. This includes the steps down into and up out of the tunnel running under the tracks.

On the way to the station I pass the parking area on the corner of Kenilworth Road and Second Avenue. Stop there for DVDs, Chinese food and tapas. This time of morning there are only seven cars, covered in dew: three white, two silver, one black, one blue (scratched).

There is one person crossing the parking area: a one-legged man. No crutches. He hops instead. The empty trouser leg is pinned up to his waist. He covers about half a metre with each hop. The one-legged man stops and turns his face to me. I’m waiting for it. The middle finger.

The judges of this year’s competition are Henrietta Rose-Innes, Ken Barris and Makhosazana Xaba, with a foreword to the collection by Sindiwe Magona. The curator of the Short Sharp Stories Awards is Joanne Hichens.

 
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