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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

Poetry Offers Us a Language When Our Other Languages Fail – 2015 Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award Winner Athol Williams

Athol Williams wins the 2015 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award for "Streetclass Diseases"
The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology 2011The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IVThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

Athol Williams was recently announced as the winner of the fifth Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award for his poem “Streetclass Diseases”. He was not able to attend the ceremony in Johannesburg, as he is currently based in the UK, but he has shared some thoughts about the award and poetry in general.

Williams is a poet and social philosopher from Cape Town who has published two volumes of poetry and a children’s book, Oaky and the Sun. His poems have been published in anthologies and literary journals in the UK, USA and South Africa. He holds five degrees from Harvard, MIT, LSE, LBS and Wits, and is currently registered at Oxford.

“Portrait of a Mother and Indiscretion”, by Sindiswa Busku-Mathese, was awarded second place, with “Baleka, what do you know”, by Jim Pascual Agustin, in third.

The winners were presented with their awards by head judge and chairperson of the Jacana Literary Foundation Mongane Wally Serote and at an award ceremony hosted by Poetry Africa in October.

Watch Williams’ acceptance speech:

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Read the transcript:

A message from Athol Williams:

Hello from Oxford University, where I will be spending the next few years.

My apologies for not being there with you this evening to celebrate at this award ceremony.

It is such an honour for me to be among the award winners of such a prestigious poetry award as the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award for 2015.

Poets don’t write poems to win awards, but recognition such as this certainly encourages us to keep writing, and to keep improving our craft.

This is the third time that I am entering, so the adage “third time’s a charm” certainly holds true.

Such an award serves not only to encourage poets, but also to raise the profile of poetry in society, and maintain its place amongst the arts.

I believe that poetry is special among the arts, because it uniquely is able to test and transcend the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual; to tie yesterday to tomorrow, in hope, and to link memory with imagination in important ways that the other arts don’t.

Poetry contains lines and words packed with concentrated human experience, and offers us a language when our other languages fail to express our greatest hopes and joys, and indeed, our darkest horrors.

So there is a beauty, a special beauty of the human spirit, that poetry alone seems able to express. Surely our lives are richer for having poetry in it, both as individuals, and as society.

And so I am grateful for a poetry prize such as the Sol Plaatje EU Award, and I commend the sponsors – the European Union, the Jacana Literary Foundation – for having the vision for this prize, and for putting resources behind it.

I would like to thank the judges for their dedicated and time-consuming effort to select the winning poems, and for seeing the beauty of the human spirit and the challenges of our social context in my poem, ‘Streetclass Diseases’.

I would also like to extend a special thank you to Dr Mongane Wally Serote, as the head judge, who I regret not being able to meet tonight.

This award means the world to me. It is the highlight of my 20-year poetry career, and will certainly keep me going for the next 20 years.

Thank you!

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Read the Three Poems in the Running for the 2015 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award

2015 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award Winners Announced
The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology 2011The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IVThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

Jacana Media has shared the three winners’ poems from this year’s Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award.

The 2015 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award winners this year, as chosen by head judge Mongane Wally Serote, are Jim Pascual Agustin, for “Baleka, What do You Know of Tenders and Thieves? Or Cockroaches for that Matter?”; Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese, for “A Portrait of a Mother and Indiscretion”; and Athol Williams, for “Streetclass Diseases”.

How these poems have been placed, and the overall winner, will be announced at an event hosted by Poetry Africa at 6 PM on 17 October, 2015, at Rivertown Beerhall in Durban. The anthology will be launched at 3 PM on the same day, at 8 Morrison Street, Durban.

Read the poems:

* * * * *


Baleka, What do You Know of Tenders and Thieves?
Or Cockroaches for that Matter?

Jim Pascual Agustin

“If food is scarce, adolescent cockroaches can live on a very reliable resource – their parents’

There are lessons that a parent
can teach a child. The first few steps,
how to listen, read, and write. Seldom
how to be tender as you plunder
and rape, how to deal with the spoils,
the leftovers, something sharp
scraping the bottom.

“The New Zealand Y2K Readiness Commission gave out a recipe for cockroaches
in case the world ended on New Year’s Eve, 1999. ‘Simmer cockroaches in vinegar.
Then boil with butter, farina flour, pepper and salt to make a paste.
Spread on buttered bread.’”

You are suspicious of concoctions
from the West, for there are countless
ways of nourishing a nation. You
have secret recipes you’re unwilling
to share. We’re eager to know what lies
squirming in your mind. What’s that
bulging under your sleeve?

“Scientists claim some female cockroaches prefer weaker partners because they like gentle sex.
A University of Manchester team has concluded stronger male cockroaches are too aggressive and often injure their partners.”

There are consequences, you say,
for not heeding the pliant rod
of your word. In a chamber
echoing an empty order, no king
will want to speak. So you had to
stamp your feet without even grinding
your teeth this time around.
A flick of your hand and the beating
instantly began.

“A cockroach could live a long time, perhaps a month, without its head.”

Thugs go through the academy of thuggery. The ABC’s
of how to swing a stick, a panga. How to aim a gun
that need not be fired, except on a whim. One head
may roll, and another. Yet bodies keep kicking,
running even, as if they weren’t missing anything.
Because cockroaches breathe through the holes
in their skin, living on nothing for weeks
on end. But they do, eventually, wilt.

“Cockroaches have been present on the earth for more than 400 million years.”

How did you get so far up
that ladder, appearing to know
so little? Perhaps your mind
cannot even go back as far
as Rwanda, when cockroaches
were grafted onto human flesh.

Quoted cockroach facts from Thaibugs.

Poem refers to Baleka Mbete calling Julius Malema a cockroach.

* * * * *


Portrait of a Mother and

Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese
My mother smells of indiscretion
– in fact she smells of strange
things. Not camphor or Zam-Buk;
not of anything familiar.

My mother walks slowly,
crossing the bedroom in high-
heeled shoes. In my grey window
I see the sky. In the sky the moon
is round. She hides her smile
behind the curtain lace and
whispers, “My child sees

I’m waiting for her to hang her
winter coat. I am eager to
glimpse her body. Her buttons
fall away. She is kneeling at my
bedside, upright. Her hand on
mine. It’s raining. She is
lipsticked and caressing my face.
The moon is dead. Her hands
don’t feel the same anymore. The
stars have gone out. I turn and
bite her sad hand; she flies
backwards. I am loud and yellow
laughter. I whisper back, “My
mother wears a disguise for my
eyes only.”

My mother is an old woman. She
is no longer young. Yet I smell
her indiscretion. I have smelt it
on her for days. She has been
laughing and smiling without


* * * * *

Streetclass Diseases

Athol Williams
Abeeda’s toothless mouth sprays saliva as
she paints a picture of her thirteen years
on Cape Town’s streets. He feels her spit in
his face, on his nose, on his lip, arousing
his middleclass concern over streetclass
diseases. At sixty two, she’s never been
to a doctor or hospital; he goes twenty times
a year. Distracted by her dark purple
gums, he misses part of her sermon chastising
him for his pagan life of walking past sick
children drowning in ponds and admiring
his large shadow on cave walls and buying
signed first editions of dead poets while
old women starve on Cape Town’s streets. She
tells of her walk with her god, her simple
life beneath bridges, clearly boasting
about her immunity to his diseases. He offers
her cash. She scoffs and carries on digging
through the garbage bin where he found her.

* * * * *

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Video: Paul O’Sullivan and Marianne Thamm Discuss To Catch A Cop

To Catch A CopMarianne Thamm recently published her book on forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan, To Catch A Cop: The Paul O’Sullivan Story, which tells of how he managed to help apprehend Jackie Selebi. Thamm and O’Sullivan were interviewed about the book on Morning Live earlier this month, with Thamm explaining how part of her research involved going through the “classic Paul O’Sullivan dossier”.

Thamm says that the dossier is his “collection of affidavits and email and various other documents that he had gathered over a period of eight years in his pursuit of, first of all, justice to clear his own name and it was in the course of that that he discovered that there were these concentric circles of interest that were intersecting, criminal circles of interest”.

Watch the interview:

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Marianne Thamm on Paul O’Sullivan, Radovan Krejcir and the Foiled Assassination Plot

To Catch A CopLast month four people were arrested for an assassination plot against forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan and others involved in “toppling the extensive criminal empire of one of the most dangerous criminals in the country, Czech-born fugitive Radovan Krejcir.”

In an article for the Daily Maverick, Marianne Thamm writes about how Paul O’Sullivan first came across Krejcir while investigating top cop, Jackie Selebi, who he was instrumental in bringing down. Thamm recently published To Catch A Cop: The Paul O’Sullivan Story, which details this case.

Thamm describes how O’Sullivan’s name was on Krejcir’s hit-list during the time she spent with him researching the book. “The thing about the Selebi and the Krejcir narrative and the intersection between organised crime, police and even politics is that is it so deep, wide and complicated that it is almost impossible for someone outside of it to fathom just how much kak we are in,” she writes.

On 10 September 2010 at around 6.30pm, Paul O’Sullivan was in Dublin when he received a call on his cellphone. He answered in his usual manner: “O’Sullivan, good day.” The caller at the other end paused momentarily before speaking.

The man, recalls O’Sullivan, had an Eastern European accent and said “Hello, clown. You want to fuck with me? I will show you who is Radovan. When you will come back to South Africa, I will make you suck my cock, then I will kill you, to show you you fucked with the wrong guy.”

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Rosamund Kendal, Author of The Murder of Norman Ware, Treats Writing as Therapy

The Murder of Norman WareKelly Ansara of It’s A Book Thing interviewed Rosamund Kendal, author of The Murder of Norman Ware, about her previous Grey’s Anatomyesque novels and what makes her latest novel her best one yet. Kendal also admits that, had she not kept writing, she would “probably have been admitted to a psychiatric unit long ago”. She treats writing as therapy, something she enjoyed from the first time she wrote a story as a nine year old.

1) When/What was the crowning moment when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

We had to write a short story when I was in Standard 3. I remember sitting down to write and completely losing track of anything and everything around me. It was the most incredible experience. The final product was ten pages long, a decent effort for a 9yr old. I handed my finished product in and declared that I wanted to be a writer. My teacher read the short story and made some very gentle and valid criticisms about the ending (She woke up and it had all been a dream!) and, in a fit of despondency, I crumpled up the manuscript and threw it away, swearing never to write again. But I think the seed had been planted.

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Nozuko Poni Interviews Thando Mgqolozana, Author of Hear Me Alone

Hear Me AloneNozuko Poni of Unbranded Truth spoke to Thando Mgqolozana, author of Hear Me Alone, about the controversies his writing often raises:

Nozuko Poni: Who is Thando Mgqolozana?

Thandi Mgqolozana: I’d like to think of myself as an ordinary, big hearted underachieving rural bumpkin who enjoys reading books and pretends to be writing stuff that other people may read, which they don’t.

NP: What is your earliest memory of literature?

TM: My maternal uncle was a teacher, and I say ‘was’ because I don’t know what he is now; possibly nothing, like my dad. So this guy was a teacher and read a lot. His big books, his name appended on the inside cover of all, were all over the place in our village home. You might imagine that I’m about to say he inspired me, he didn’t; I didn’t like him. But that’s my earliest memory of literature. At school I remember the title of a certain poem and its author. I think the musical way we began reciting the poem is what moved me; we said, ‘Children’s Rain Song, by Musaemura Bonas Zimunya…’ then I’d go blank. But then came the year, much later in school, when I read Troubled Waters by Joseph Diescho. This was in the final year of school. I read this book several times, for pleasure, and I have never stopped reading since then.

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Audio: Terry Westby-Nunn Discusses the Many Mysteries of The Sea of Wise Insects

The Sea of Wise InsectsIn the following interview, Terry Westby-Nunn discusses her debut novel, The Sea of Wise Insects, which centres around a couple of mysteries.

Readers will be intrigued to find out why Alice and her mother don’t get along, why Alice’s relationship with Ralph disintegrated and what happened in the accident where her brother’s fiancée was killed.

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Podcast: Hard Talk with Ronnie Kasrils on Social Integration and Growing Up in South Africa

The Unlikely Secret AgentIvor Blumethall of Chai FM’s Hard Talk spoke to Ronnie Kasrils, former Intelligence Minister, anti-apartheid activist, and author of the award-winning The Unlikely Secret Agent. In the following podcast, Kasrils discusses social integration and growing up Jewish in South Africa:

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Kopano Matlwa Talks About Her ‘Light Bulb’ Moment

CoconutSpilt MilkEU Literary Award-winning author Kopano Matlwa spoke to Brenda Nyakudya of Afropolitan about her novels, Coconut and Spilt Milk, and her “light bulb” moment.

Matlwa said that if there was such a “light bulb” moment, it must have been when she seriously started thinking about sending the manuscript for Coconut to publishers. She says the story was about to “eat her up inside” if it wasn’t told:

When did you discover your passion for writing?

I’d always read a lot from a very young age, and writing was almost a natural extension of that for me. I never knew it was anything special. I thought everyone wrote! It was so normal, so necessary, so it was quite a surprise when I got a little older and realised that there may be something there.

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Obie Oberholzer Discusses the Photographic Philosophy Behind Diesel & Dust

Diesel and Dust

Diesel & DustRenowned photographer Obie Oberholzer recently spoke to the Citizen‘s Bruce Dennill and by Oliver Roberts of the Sunday Times, about his new book, Diesel & Dust.

Oberholzer explained to Roberts the meaning behind the book’s title, saying that “Diesel and Dust” has always been his philosophy. For Oberholzer, the smell of diesel and dust is the smell of freedom: “It’s in the search that is the beauty: A to B via Z,” he says. “We all seek our Utopia, we all seek our Nirvana, and hopefully I never find mine because, when I do, it’s over.”

Speaking to Dennill about his choice of photographic location (usually small towns), Oberholzer says, “I like to go where the landscapes are still reflected in people’s faces”:

Movember – the month when men the world over grow moustaches as an act of male unity – has just ended. Obie Oberholzer, though, doesn’t need a silly observation like Movember to grow a moustache. He was born with one, grew it in the womb. No photograph exists of him without it.

A magnificent specimen, Obie Oberholzer’s moustache is. It’s perched atop his upper lip like an industrial-strength wire scourer, the kind you buy specially from Builder’s Warehouse to scrub away at manly fluids such as grease and oil and diesel.

Initially, women must want to run screaming from the thing – this heavily follicled mass of testosterone that smirks and squirms and collects wayward debris that blows in from storms.

Photographer Obie Oberholzer’s new book Diesel & Dust differs dramatically in its presentation to his classic collections.

For one thing, his trademark hand-written script and captions are missing, something that, along with a couple of other design changes, gives this book a starker appearance than its predecessors.

“My publisher in the Netherlands did a bit of a survey,” says Oberholzer, “and found that many people found my writing difficult to read.

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Photo courtesy Obie Oberholzer

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