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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Watch: late SA jazz legend Ray Phiri discusses the iconic Bassline

Last Night at the Bassline

Legendary South African jazz musician Ray Phiri recently passed away from lung cancer. Phiri was a regular performer at the iconic live-music venue, Bassline, opened in 1994 by Brad and Paige Holmes. Bassline, situated in the bohemian suburb of Melville in Johannesburg, soon became synonymous with cigarette smoke, great jazz and nights you wished would never end.

They later moved the club to Newtown where it grew in prominence as the ultimate venue for live music, hosting amazing artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Jimmy Dludlu, Lera, The Soil and Grammy
Award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

In 2016 word spread like wildfire that everyone’s favourite club was closing its doors forever; this place that held all the promises of a new South Africa, a place where people of all races could come together, share a drink, dance and fall in love was to be no more.

But as Bassline starts its new journey with Live @ the Bassline, yet another great story begins with Last Night at the Bassline, in which Phiri features prominently.

In this book, esteemed music historian Professor David Coplan tells the story of Bassline and the Holmes’s journey in it, thus giving musicians and jazz fans something to hold on to even after its closure. This book is a tangible piece of the magic to take home and savour. And those who were never there will be given a chance to experience this dream.

With more than fifty iconic photographs from Oscar Gutierrez and other great photographers. The book is more than just a memoir. It is a gritty, smoky, passionate slice of time. Bassline will always be a reminder of what it feels like to live the impossible.

Here, Phiri discusses this iconic night club:

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Book launch: If I Stay Right Here by Chwayita Ngamlana

What 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.
 

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Thabiso Mofokeng has created a character who makes the reader pause and consider his plight – Margaret von Klemperer reviews The Last Stop

This review was originally published in the Witness

THE central character of this short novel is Macko, an illegal immigrant who has been in South Africa for many years and who struggles to make ends meet by driving long distance taxis between Quaqua and Johannesburg.

As the popular stereotype of taxi drivers has it, he goes through stop streets and red lights, and in his unroadworthy taxi – the door keeps falling off – he is something of a menace to other road users and his passengers alike.

But Macko is not the villain of the piece.

His boss, Tabola, is the guy who is orchestrating taxi violence in an overtraded industry where to get rival organisations off the road means more cash for the winning bosses.

Tabola also has an interest in Macko’s girlfriend, so sending his driver off on badly-paid, dangerous long-haul trips offers him certain opportunities.

When the story begins, Macko is heading for the funeral of a child who was killed by a bullet meant for him.

He feels guilt and distress, and at the funeral, he seems to see the detective who has been investigating the killing, but the man vanishes.

And this is not the last time he sees someone who may or may not be there.

As these strange visions proliferate, they seem to give him a message: “Go home.” But where is home? It is many years since he saw his birthplace, and he no longer has contacts there.

Macko is rootless and lost.

The Last Stop
chronicles a life in meltdown, set in a world of casual violence, betrayal and despair, but a world that can also offer kindness and that can also offer kindness and generosity, particularly through well-drawn minor characters.

The novel gives a glimpse into something that many probably regard as a necessary evil as they try to get to and from their place of work, either as taxi passengers or fellow road users.

However, in Macko, Thabiso Mofokeng has created a character who makes the reader pause and consider his plight. He engenders pity as his life spirals out of control to a sobering conclusion.

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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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“Uneasy” is the word for the feeling I was left with when I put the book down – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Son

This review was originally published in The Witness

SOUTH African writer (and New Zealand resident) Neil Sonnekus tackles a tricky theme in this novel – what it means to be a white man in South Africa.

I have mentioned the author’s current home because emigration is a decision his central character, Len, wrestles with in the book and it’s not hard to see some personal connection between writer and character.

Len is a sub-editor on a Johannesburg newspaper in the Thabo Mbeki era. Recently divorced, he spends a good deal of his non-working time in pursuit of sex, usually with limited success. His attitude to women is deeply misogynistic, just as his attitude to his ancient father, who he reluctantly visits every weekend, is, at least at the outset of the novel, pretty unsympathetic. In fact, Len’s disconnect from the world around him is more or less total, though he does relate to his dog.

Sonnekus deals with the racial and sexual politics of South Africa in what is often a very amusing but also a melancholy way. The reader feels Len’s increasing despair, but also comes to see that his situation is not radically new: as he delves into his father’s past as a soldier and prisoner of war in Italy and as a policeman in apartheid South Africa, we begin to see similarities, not only between the two men but also between their lives.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the book moves with increasing speed – there are times in the first half where Len’s morbidly funny sex life and his sparring matches with his father seem to be going nowhere – to a shocking climax. Out of it comes, for Len at least, a degree of self-discovery and the possibility of a kind of peace, but it is only an uneasy one.

And uneasy is the word for the feeling I was left with when I put the book down.

Neil Sonnekus’s exploration of the role of Len Bezuidenhout in the angry, violent and intolerant society that South Africa seems to be becoming offers little to comfort the reader, even at the end. - Margaret von Klemperer

Son

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“I couldn’t for a moment discern another voice than Gerald’s”: launch of Shadow Play

Melville’s Love Books recently played host to the launch of Gerald Kraak’s Shadow Play, posthumously completed by Alison Lowry.

Lowry was in conversation with Michael Titlestad, a professor in the Department of English at Wits University.

Titlestad and Lowry discussed Lowry’s struggle to complete a text without the author’s guidance, with Lowry commenting that Kraak’s absence was tangible.

Yet, she added, not having to work with a stubborn author turned out to be a relief.

She attributed her involvement with Shadow Play to Dee Dee Moyle, a close friend of Kraak who approached Lowry after his untimely death.

After their session, an audience member and close friend of the late Kraak, commented that he couldn’t “for a moment discern another voice than Gerald’s.”

Lowry humbly responded that that was all she needed to hear.

Shadow Play

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If I Stay Right Here will touch anyone who has lost themselves to unhealthy, destructive relationships

What 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.
 

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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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2016 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award winner, Selling LipService, a remarkable, daring, exhilarating read

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

Daring in scope and exhibiting exhilarating virtuosity, it 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.’

About Selling LipService:

“I was one of them – just as stroke-stricken, equally lost for words. We were as kinbled as our brain MRIs 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.”
 
 
Since coming of haemorrh-age, Frith must wear a LipService patch to write or speak. The words the patch produces are not her own. Scripted by copywriters, they promote one sponsoring brand or another. With them, ‘You’ – a voice in her head that is the patch’s brand persona and her conformist alter ego – appears.

Through the noise of You talking a variety of different LipService brands, Frith struggles to find her way back to speaking for herself. She believes her tastures – her ability to taste things she touches – are the key. But other elements of this consumerist society are equally interested in tastures for commercial gain.

Tammy Baikie is a translator who is qualified with French and German as source languages and dabbles in Russian. After four years living and working in Germany, she returned home to South Africa where her translation career has continued with advertising and communications as her field of specialisation. Tammy attended the SUISS summer writing programme in Edinburgh and completed an MA in Creative Writing at Wits. She was longlisted in the 2010/2011 Fish International Short Story Contest.

Selling Lip Service

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Farah Ahamed and Sarah Waiswa joint winners of Gerald Kraak 2017 Award

Gerald Kraak

 

Sarah Waiswa and Farah Ahamed

 
The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation recently hosted the presentation of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Prize and the launch of Pride and Prejudice: the Gerald Kraak Anthology of African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice, and Sexuality, at Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books’ Social Kitchen and Bar.

The MC for the evening, Kojo Baffoe, proclaimed that “tonight is about celebrating Gerald Kraak’s legacy.”

Pride and Prejudice is a collection of the short-listed entries to the inaugural award, named after Gerald Kraak (1956–2014), who was a passionate champion of social justice and an anti-apartheid activist.

“This book is a shelter, a place where slums are not art, they are simply where we live. It’s a place where albinos are not unicorns, they are only beautiful and ordinary. And it’s a place where gays are pained and also completely conventional. In this book, strange choppers fly and Africa is a landscape not simply for the past but for projections of the future,” says Sisonke Msimang, Editor in Chief and Head Judge.

The Gerald Kraak Award is a joint initiative between The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation.

A judging panel made up of distinguished gender activist Sisonke Msimang, prominent social and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser and leading African feminist Sylvia Tamale selected thirteen finalists.

“The stories in the anthology fight for what is just and right,” Baffoe asserted.

Research co-coordinator for The Other Foundation, Samuel Shapiro, announced that Pride and Prejudice is the first of five anthologies to come about celebrating the LGBTQI community in Africa.

After the attendees were treated to a performance by Danielle Bowler, Msimang delivered a televised message to all the entrants, lauding them for their creativity and “bad-ass” approach to discussing gender and sexuality in Africa.

Matele announced the joint winners for the anthology: Farah Ahamed (Fiction, Kenya) for her short story “Poached Eggs” and Sarah Waisman (Photography, Kenya) for her photo series “Stranger in a Familiar Land.”

“Poached Eggs” is described as a subtle, slow and careful rendering of the everyday rhythms of domestic terror that pays homage to the long history of women’s resistance; yet with wit and humour and grit, the story also sings of freedom, of resistance and the desire to be unbound.

“Stranger in a Familiar Land” showcases the best of African storytelling. The images take risks, and speak to danger and subversion. At the same time they are deeply rooted in places that are familiar to urban Africans. The woman in this collection is a stand-in for all of us.

All 13 entries which were shortlisted will be published in the anthology. The overall winner will receive a cash prize of R25 000.


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