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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Launch: An Image in a Mirror by Ijangolet S Ogwang (22 May)

‘Strange, how humans desire to see themselves in a mirror image: staring back from the glass, their parts reversed, but their colours reflected.’

Achen and Nyakale: twin sisters, separated from childhood to inherit different destinies.

In the hope of inheriting a better life, a mother makes the heartwrenching decision to send one child, Nyakale, to South Africa to be raised by her well-off sister, the child’s aunt, who has no children of her own. The other child, Achen, stays in Uganda to be raised by their mother in a village.

An Image in a Mirror is a richly told and deeply intimate African story about the becoming of two young women, who are, the same as much as they are different.

When the sisters, at the age of twenty-two, finally cross their respective worlds to meet, how mirrored will each feel about the other?

Heralding a new female voice in fiction, An Image in a Mirror is a profound debut novel.

Ijangolet S Ogwang was born in Kenya to Ugandan parents and raised South African, more specifically in a small town in the Eastern Cape called Butterworth. She is most passionate about women empowerment and the development of Africa. She co-founded Good-Hair and works as an analyst for Edge Growth, a company focused on growing small businesses in South Africa. Between this and “adulting” she makes up stories.

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt:

The Gravediggers

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

“Ngawethu!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Image in a Mirror is a richly told and deeply intimate African story about the becoming of two young women

‘Strange, how humans desire to see themselves in a mirror image: staring back from the glass, their parts reversed, but their colours reflected.’

Achen and Nyakale: twin sisters, separated from childhood to inherit different destinies.

In the hope of inheriting a better life, a mother makes the heartwrenching decision to send one child, Nyakale, to South Africa to be raised by her well-off sister, the child’s aunt, who has no children of her own. The other child, Achen, stays in Uganda to be raised by their mother in a village.

An Image in a Mirror is a richly told and deeply intimate African story about the becoming of two young women, who are, the same as much as they are different.

When the sisters, at the age of twenty-two, finally cross their respective worlds to meet, how mirrored will each feel about the other?

Heralding a new female voice in fiction, An Image in a Mirror is a profound debut novel.
 
 
 
Ijangolet S Ogwang was born in Kenya to Ugandan parents and raised South African, more specifically in a small town in the Eastern Cape called Butterworth. She is most passionate about women empowerment and the development of Africa. She co-founded Good-Hair and works as an analyst for Edge Growth, a company focused on growing small businesses in South Africa. Between this and “adulting” she makes up stories.

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The Dinaane Debut Fiction Award: Call for Submissions

If you are an aspiring author and want the chance to get published, then this is the opportunity you have been waiting for.

For the past 14 years, first as the European Union Literary Award and now as The Dinaane Debut Fiction Award, the submission process has unearthed great new South African literary talent. The books that have been published under this award have reflected the many strands of conversation that are woven together in the common language of fiction. The latest winner, Selling LipService by Tammy Baikie, is longlisted for this year’s Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.

This year, the prize is not only open to South Africans but also citizens of all SADC countries.

The overall winner, selected by a panel of judges, stands a chance to win R35 000, be published by Jacana Media, get great coverage as a debut author and be part of Exclusive Books’ Homebru campaign.

The JLF will also present the Kraak Writing Award, dedicated to the memory of Gerald Kraak. Valued at R20 000, it offers mentoring and intensive coaching from a published author, editor or a publishing expert, enabling the author to refine and develop their work further.

Submissions will be open from the 1 April 2018 to 30 June 2018. Enquiries can be directed to: awards@jacana.co.za.


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When Morning Comes explores the issues of race and culture through the eyes of teenagers on the eve of the Soweto uprising

It’s 1976 in South Africa.

Written from the points of view of four young people living in Johannesburg and its black township, Soweto – Zanele, a black female student organiser, Mina, of South Asian background working at her father’s shop, Jack, an Oxford-bound white student, and Thabo, a tsotsi – this book explores the roots of the Soweto Uprising and the edifice of apartheid in a South Africa about to explode.

In the black township of Soweto, Zanele, who also works as a nightclub singer, is plotting against the apartheid government. The police can’t know. Her mother and sister can’t know. No one can know.

On the affluent white side of town, Jack Craven plans to spend the last days of his break before university burning miles on his beat-up Mustang, and crashing other people’s parties.

Their chance meeting changes everything.

Already a chain of events are in motion: a failed plot, a murdered teacher, a powerful police agent with a vendetta, and a secret network of students across the township. The students will rise. And there will be violence when morning comes.

Introducing readers to a remarkable young literary talent, When Morning Comes offers an impeccably researched and vivid snapshot of South African society on the eve of the uprising that changed it forever.

Arushi Raina grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. So far, she has also lived in Egypt, Nigeria, India, the US, UK and, most recently, Canada. She likes intricate plots, flawed characters, chases, escapes, and sentences that just make you stop and wonder. Besides writing, Arushi enjoys travelling, arguments and long car rides. As a day job, Arushi works as a consultant. One day she’ll explain what that means.

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And our sunshine noir author for March is … C.M. Elliott!

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview C.M. Elliott for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

C.M. Elliott, author of the popular Sibanda-series.

 

Here’s what the two thriller aficionados chatted about:

C. M. Elliott (everyone calls her Scotty, but she says the reason why makes too long of a story) writes a series of mystery/thrillers set in Zimbabwe near the Hwange National Park. She certainly has the perfect background for it, having spent 40 years in Zimbabwe with her game-ranger husband pioneering a tourism business based in and around the national park. She says she lived in the park continuously for 20 years “in an assortment of tents, tree-houses and bush dwellings, dodging a hodgepodge of charging elephants, rhino, buffalo and a rather angry spitting cobra” before moving to Bulawayo. Along the way, she has won literary prizes and awards, and the books have just been optioned for a TV series.

The first novel, Sibanda and the Rainbird, featuring the redoubtable Detective Inspector Jabulani Sibanda, was published in 2013 to an enthusiastic reception. It was followed two years later by Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth, and last year Sibanda and the Black Sparrowhawk was released. The books have a wonderful sense of place as a backdrop for the gritty crimes and action.

It’s clear from your writing that you have a deep knowledge of, and affection for, the people of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. How did you come to know the area and the people there so well?

I’ve lived in Matabeleland for 40 years and most of that time has been in rural locations. I’m fascinated by people and culture and the Ndebele are a particularly warm and welcoming nation, always smiling despite recent adversities. It’s hard not to admire and store away instances of such stoicism, good humor, ingenuity, and tradition.

What motivated you to write a series of detective novels set in Gubu, a fictitious small town close to the national park?

When I started this creative journey, I hadn’t a clue what to write about, but I knew the setting was going to be the African bush. It’s no secret that Gubu is the nom de plume for Dete, a village near the park that I know really well.

Sitting in front of a blank computer screen, I set myself the exercise of writing short stories in as many different genres as I could think of. My first attempt was crime, a serendipitous pick. I never progressed to sci fi, romance, or historical et al, because I became completely engaged by my characters. They wouldn’t let go and led me on a merry dance through an entire novel!

While I was reading the book, President Mugabe was deposed after 37 years ruling Zimbabwe. Where do you think the country is going in the future under the new president?

Onwards and upwards. Anyone who watched the peaceful transition in Zimbabwe, where up to a million people took to the streets with no incidence of looting or violence and no arrests, could not fail to be moved by the determination and unfettered joy of the people. With a ground swell like that behind him our new president must succeed.

Continue reading their conversation here.
 

Sibanda and the Rainbird

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Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth

 
 
 

Sibanda and the Black Sparrow Hawk


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Margaret von Klemperer reviews Rehana Rossouw’s New Times

By Margaret von Klemperer for The Witness, 31/01/2018)

Rehana Rossouw’s glorious debut novel, What Will People Say? set a very high standard for her fiction career.

In New Times, her second novel, she has shifted the action forward nine years to 1995, Mandela’s second year as President and the time of the rugby World Cup. It was also when the first patches of tarnish began to stain the bloom of the rainbow nation – the silence over Aids, an economic vision that was not what many of the poor had longed for and hints of bribery and corruption in the top echelons of government.

Rossouw places her central character and narrator into this scenario. Ali (short for Aaliyah) Adams is a political journalist, starting a new job at a weekly paper, The New Times. Rossouw, writing here about something she knows well, is excellent on the atmosphere and internal politics of a busy newsroom – and this is important as the investigative stuff Ali is involved in is often complex and potentially indigestible in a fictional setting, and the human reality around Ali is necessary to keep the story moving.

The other very human strand is Ali’s home life in Bo-Kaap, where she lives with her mother, suffering from depression since the death of her husband, and her strong-minded grandmother, whose expectations of Ali are not something she can fulfil. As in her earlier novel, Rossouw draws a compelling and affectionate picture of a community with its own dynamics and characters.

There is a lot to like in this novel with Rossouw tackling a period when the idealism of the transition to democracy was taking its first hard knock. And in Ali, she has created a character who is going to have to face up to her own personal circumstances – living in a community where conformity is the watchword, particularly for women, is one problem. Hopes unfulfilled in both her own life and the wider society are taking their toll.

But Rossouw doesn’t always manage to mesh her themes successfully. As the political part of the novel veers perilously close to didacticism, in an effort to keep the storytelling lively Rossouw offers too many descriptive flourishes that tend to stop the reader in their tracks. Particularly towards the end of the book, the two strands of her story sit a trifle uneasily together.

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#SaveOurStories: Storied’s crowdfunding campaign is live!

 
 
Jacana Media presents Storied. The project aims to create a long-term impact of keeping African stories thriving and reaching worldwide audiences. Through your investment, Storied will raise the money to help publish more African fiction and poetry which will cater for a diverse reading community and audience scaling up sales margins which will be shared with investors.

As Jacana Media publisher, Bridget Impey, explains:

We came up with this idea of Storied, and Storied is going to be the mechanism for changing fiction publishing in this country; not just for us, but for writers, for other publishers, for everybody.

This is what started it all…
 


 


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“I have PTSD and this novel was my outlet” – Rehana Rossouw at the launch of New Times

Apartheid, religion, homosexuality, Mandela The Sellout, politics of the newsroom, corruption in the UDF – Rehana Rossouw and Heather Robertson discussed the contents of Rehana Rossouw’s new novel (yes – it’s a novel!) in all its gritty detail at the recent Love Books launch of New Times.

As Kate Rogan, co-owner of Love Books, rightly stated – “it’s fantastic to see such a turnout for a work of fiction.” And a turnout it was.

Give them Rehana Rossouw, and they will come.

Robertson, previous editor of The Herald, and Rossouw’s personal and professional relationship spans over 30 odd years, when they met in the newsroom of anti-apartheid newspaper, South.

The 1980s was marked with terrible violence, Roberston stated.

“We attended far too many funerals…”

Robertson described Rossouw’s protagonist, a young, “shit hot reporter” Aaliyah – who goes by Ali in the newsroom – as a “fantastic character.

“You’ve created universal characters we can all relate to. They’re people we’ve all met.”

Robertson also lauded Rossouw for the beautiful prose, which “touches on humanity and what it means to be human.”

Two characters in the novel, including Ali, suffer from PTSD. Robertson commented that 1995 (the year in which New Times is set) was a year devoted to the ideals of the rainbow nation and reconciliation, yet those who bore the brunt of apartheid were inherently damaged.

“I have PTSD,” Rossouw replied. “This novel was an outlet for what I was going through. I’ve seen too many things that have had lasting effects.”

Rossouw’s PTSD manifested as flashbacks to bomb blasts, during which “I’ll be pulled out the present and taken into the past.

“I’ve witnessed too much and I can’t live with those memories.”

There was no time to process the violent acts she witnessed; “tomorrow we’ll bury another body, tomorrow there’ll be another shooting.”

She mentioned how an SADF member confessed to her how traumatised he was by the crimes he perpetrated.

“Trauma was experienced on both sides of the struggle, yet the SADF had little support. At least we had the comfort of victory… The SADF were left alone with the their memories. Nobody talks about it.”

Rossouw’s engagements with students committed to the FeesMustFall movement also influenced the contents of New Times.

“They were arguing for violence. That’s a dangerous thing; it has repercussions.” Furthermore, the Fallists perpetuated the idea of Mandela as a sellout; “I had to look at that.”

Tymon Smith, features writer at the Sunday Times, commented in a review of Rossouw’s novel that 1995 was the ‘beginning of our demise’.

“Do you agree?” Roberston enquired.

“Absolutely,” Rossouw forthrightly stated. She attributes South Africa’s demise to the lack of communication between the country’s political parties, a reluctance to accept democracy (“People were still waving the old flag”) and tender corruption, among others.

When asked to elaborate on her personal encounters with Mandela, Rossouw responded that she was tasked with covering the first year of his presidency, but added that he was hardly ever in the country. “I was so bored!”

Not only did she critique his absence from the country, but also his lack of engagement with people in the townships, adding that he was too focused on pacifying Afrikaners.

Robertson’s next remark on the substantial amount of sex scenes (“There’s a lot of sex in the book!”) elicited hearty laughter from the audience.

And not only in the newsroom (think editors, journalists, and office tables), but out of it as well.

Another pivotal part of the novel is that Ali is a lesbian. A Muslim lesbian.

When she goes home – the Bo-Kaap, where both Rossouw’s grandmothers were born – she’s “a different person.

“She finds it comforting – the culture, her home, her religion,” Rossouw explained, adding that there’s “no space for that [lesbianism] at all” in a community like the Bo-Kaap. She even (semi) joked that, although it’s 2017, you’ll still find people in the Bo-Kaap community who’ll claim to not know any gays or lesbians. The burden of this “hidden shame” from the community is a “stumbling block and a cause of her breakdown,” says Rossouw.

Robertson elaborated on the “unspoken shame” faced by lesbians, yet moffies are regarded as fun, flamboyant and accepted into society. Homosexual women still have to conceal their sexuality; why bring this up? “The moffies and the letties?”

Not only was the Nelson Mandela Foundation an invaluable source of material on Mandela for her book, Rossouw responded, but their South African history archive proved to be equally informative.

“AIDS was another big thing in 1995,” Rossouw said. “It was the year when the heterosexual community started to be affected by the virus, but those that were dying were gay.

“Thus the character campaigning for AIDS had to be gay.”

And her views on the current state of journalism, as compared to the ’80s / 90s?

Rossouw is of opinion that the sense of camaraderie doesn’t exist anymore; the stories are the same – “we’re still reporting on poor black South Africans, the government still doesn’t care”; those in charge don’t provide essentials such as transport, or expect journalists to pay for their own data when forced to work from home when, say, the internet’s down; and – this she emphasised more than once – “PEOPLE DON’T READ. They’re not bad journalists, but THEY DON’T READ.”

An audience member was curious as to whether we can expect an autobiography or memoir from Rossouw…

A definite ‘no’ substantiated with “I’m not interesting enough!” had the whole audience unanimously respond with what can only be described as an onomatopoeic version of ‘Ja, right, Rehana.’

Oh, how she blushed.

New Times

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“I was sure nothing could match the satisfaction of watching Madiba walk out of prison” – read an excerpt from Rehana Rossouw’s New Times

 

From the acclaimed and award-winning author of What Will People Say? Rehana Rossouw takes us into a world seemingly filled with promise yet bedevilled by shadows from the past. In this astonishing tour de force Rossouw illuminates the tensions inherent in these new times.

Ali Adams is a political reporter in Parliament. As Nelson Mandela begins his second year as president, she discovers that his party is veering off the path to freedom and drafting a new economic policy that makes no provision for the poor. She follows the scent of corruption wafting into the new democracy’s politics and uncovers a major scandal. She compiles stories that should be heard when the Truth Commission gets underway, reliving the recent brutal past. Her friend Lizo works in the Presidency, controls access to Madiba’s ear. Another friend, Munier, is beating at the gates of Parliament, demanding attention for the plague stalking the land.

Aaliyah Adams lives with her devout Muslim family in Bo-Kaap. Her mother is buried in religion after losing her husband. Her best friend is getting married, piling up the pressure to get settled and pregnant. There is little tolerance for alternative lifestyles in the close-knit community. The Rugby World Cup starts and tourists pour up the slopes above the city, discovering a hidden gem their dollars can afford.

Ali/Aaliya is trapped with her family and friends in a tangle of razor-wire politics and culture, can she break free?

Told with Rehana’s trademark verve and exquisite attention to language you will weep with Aaliya, triumph with Ali, and fall in love with the assemblage that makes up this ravishing new novel.

Rehana Rossouw was born and rooted in Cape Town, but is currently in self-imposed exile in Johannesburg. She has been a journalist for three decades and has also taught journalism and creative writing. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Wits University.

Chapter Three

People don’t greet at The New Times, the white people in particular. They drop their heads and stare at the floor like the answer to the meaning of life is carved there when they hear my hello. What’s that about? How do you start a conversation with people who don’t greet? At The Democrat a morning greeting would be followed with a full account of everything that happened since the last sighting. Colleagues told each other what they made for supper, how long they struggled to get their children to bed, what they thought of what they watched on TV, what position had been taken in the marital bed, how many minutes they kept it up, what was discussed afterwards, should the bathroom be tiled this year or can it wait until after the driveway is paved?

The first of my greetings returned come from Luvuyo, Johnson and Thandiswa when I reach my desk at the back of the newsroom. Roger the white intern throws a casual howzit in my direction when he arrives but doesn’t stop to hear how I am. I teach him how to greet – molo for one person, molweni for many. Ask unjani? Wait for an answer. Most of the time the answer is ndiyaphila, everything’s fine. Roger seems interested in learning.

I retreat to the balcony with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a copy of the morning paper. The smoke soothes my nerves, the predictable political coverage in the paper boosts my confidence and the coffee warms my vocal chords. I head for my desk, flip open my contact book and hit the phone.

I call the national police spokesman; I’ve given up waiting for answers from the Western Cape. Mandla doesn’t sound too surprised that I’m asking about progress on the investigation into the Minister of Welfare’s corruption. He insists that I put my questions in writing and fax them to Pretoria, refuses to commit to when he’ll answer them. I know it’s a waste of time but I phone the Western Cape police spokesman again. Loftus won’t confirm or deny anything. The Welfare Minister’s secretary promises, for the third time, to tell him that I called and ask that he calls back. I phone Coen at the party’s headquarters and shake his cage again but nothing falls out, not a single word I can use.

My next call is to Andile Chiliza at the Air Force. He delivers on the promise he made at the farewell party. ‘Second Lieutenant Khanyiswa Patekile is available for an interview at fourteen hundred hours tomorrow.’ Only six months in the job and the military speak rolls off his tongue like a second language. ‘That’s a confirmation Ali; the story is yours exclusively. Bring a photographer; we want to pose her next to a Mirage fighter jet.’

Johnson introduces me to Bongani Khumalo, the office manager with a wide path parting his tight curls, his bright white shirt wrapped in a bottle-green cardigan with wooden buttons. He says ‘you’re welcome’ every time I thank him for the arrangements he makes to get me a new press card, business cards and transport. I book a pool car for two o’clock for the Steel Workers Union’s press conference and one for tomorrow to get to the Air Force base. ‘You’re welcome,’ Bongani says as I back out of his office with profuse thanks.

I pass Joy’s desk several times on my way to the printer and the fax machine. She’s glued to the phone, her face hidden behind a shield of oily hair. I drop a note on her desk as I leave for the press conference, telling her where I’m going. She doesn’t look up.

There are ten rows of chairs set out in the hall at Community House in Salt River, where the Steel Workers Union has offices. I get through ten pages of Chomsky while I wait for everyone else to show up, swept away by his description of how the US media ‘lost the war’ waged by their government in Vietnam. Lizo’s right, there’s a lot more I need to learn about the power of the media’s punch. I was sure nothing could match the satisfaction of watching Madiba walk out of prison. But journalism practised at a much higher level in America brought an end to a war waged by the mightiest army on earth.

The press conference starts forty minutes late with three reporters in attendance. Five union officials seat themselves at the table facing us, behind them a red banner with the union’s logo and the words ‘ORGANISE OR STARVE’ in bold black letters. It was put up minutes earlier, by two of the men in red union T-shirts at the table. There’s no photographer present to record their effort.

Steel Workers Union secretary John Carelse’s square face is scaffolded by a strong chin. His red T-shirt stretches across his wide chest, he is the perfect poster partner for Rosie the Riveter. Spit bubbles on his lower lip as he spews his rage towards the assembled journalists, slow enough so we can record his every word.

‘The capitalists refuse to pay equal wages to workers, regardless of race or gender, up to this day – a full year after we won our liberation. They made record profits last year when the world flocked to South Africa to do business with it again. We made that possible; our members sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives to destroy apartheid. But now, while our politicians enjoy equality down the road in Parliament, it is nowhere to be seen on the factory floor.’

I look up from my notebook when Carelse stops, gropes for a handkerchief in his jeans pocket and wipes foam off his mouth. I start taking notes again when he launches into his next round of fury but soon stop and raise my head. I’ve heard this several times before; it’s his favourite theme.

‘The huge salary gap between CEOs and workers is the result of capitalist greed. Capitalism claims that apartheid denied blacks a decent education, houses, healthcare, water and electricity. Our analysis reaches a different conclusion; they worked hand in hand with the apartheid regime so they could be provided with a cheap source of labour. Now that we have a democracy, what’s their excuse for blocking equity on the shop floor? The reason is clear my friends, and there is only one: capitalist greed.’

I raise my hand, I need to get a question in before Carelse starts on what always comes next, a short history of the exploitation of workers in South Africa since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, followed by a long recitation of their brave struggle. His forceful delivery draws militant roars at mass rallies, but we’re not here to be recruited. All I came to hear is what he is going to do about this mess.

New Times

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