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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Zapiro launches his new book Dead President Walking at The Market Theatre

Dead President Walking

 
Jonathan Shapiro, the cartoonist popularly known as Zapiro, launched his new book, Dead President Walking, at the John Kani Theatre at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg recently.

 

The book could have been titled “Buy the Beloved Country” in reference to Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and the alleged Gupta influence on national issues, Shapiro said.

But because the state capture report had been the biggest story of the year, with potential to ultimately topple Jacob Zuma, Shapiro had decided to focus on the president instead. And while the African National Congress (ANC) at times criticised itself, Shapiro said the party finds it difficult to deal with ridicule and differing opinions.

Shapiro produced a few giggles from the audience when he presented his most provocative cartoons, which he accompanied with sometimes cutting commentary.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was “Mr Paranoid”. His successor, Zuma, “Mr Complete Idiot”. University activist, Chumani Maxwele, “an interesting guy, but a bit psychotic”. Hlaudi Motsoeneng, now head of Corporate Affairs at the SABC “thinks he’s God”.

 

Another public figure to have been subjected to Shapiro’s ridicule is Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. While the pair have sorted out their differences, Shapiro believes Dikgang Moseneke, the former Deputy Chief Justice, would have made a better Chief Justice.

Asked whether he didn’t find his work hurtful to targets, invading their privacy, Shapiro said that because they are public figures, “I absolutely don’t care.”

 

Zuma has sued Shapiro in the past, but Shapiro stands by work – no matter how offensive. He did however single out a cartoon that “brought him grief”. The cartoon depicted Shaun Abrahams as a monkey and Zuma an organ grinder.

Black people had been offended and called him racist, he said. But people who subscribed to this view had selective memory, Shapiro insists, as his work has depicted and ridiculed those who stepped out of line regardless of race.

 

“The real racists are out there,” he said, adding that it was unfair to be compared to Penny Sparrow, a former estate agent who came under fire for describing black people as monkeys earlier in the year.

Themba Siwela, cartoonist with the Citizen newspaper, found nothing wrong with the cartoon. But Shapiro could have looked at the “timing” before publishing, Siwela believes.

Shapiro said cartoonists have an important role to play in any democracy, and that South Africa is one of the countries in the world that has made an impact with its cartoons.

“We put a lot of pressure on someone who is stepping out of line.”

 

Elections produce rich material for cartoonists, Shapiro said: “Local government elections are hot stuff.”

In one “hot” cartoon, Shapiro shows Motsoeneng approving good news footage and ignoring violent protests. But Shapiro condemns destructive protests, and believes it is counterproductive to burn things.

On last year’s statue demolitions, Shapiro said the statues had no right to be in prominent sites: “Why the hell should they be in our urban spaces?”

 

Zapiro also revealed his naughty side – a side his editors and lawyers have to put up with when dealing with him. “There’s a certain adrenaline fighting editors and lawyers,” he grinned.

Deadlines were a pain, he said, commenting that sometimes his cartoons would be late or just in time for publication.

Dead President Walking is Zuma’s 21st annual; “A remarkable feat for anyone to achieve,” Jacana, his publisher, said.

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Announcing the shortlist for the 2016 Gerald Kraak Award for African writers and artists

 
The Jacana Literary Foundation and The Other Foundation have announced the African writers and artists shortlisted for the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.

Drawn from a range of African countries, these written and photographic pieces on the topics of gender, human rights and sexuality on our continent represent a new wave of fresh storytelling.

The shortlist will comprise the resultant anthology, titled Pride and Prejudice, which will be published and distributed by Jacana Media and its project partners across Africa in May 2017.

Judges Sisonke Msimang (chair), Eusebius McKaiser and Sylvia Tamale reviewed close on 400 anonymous individual entries over the past four months in order to select the 14 pieces for the shortlist.

Msimang says:

In the current political environment, we are hopeful that expressions like the ones we have chosen – that do not shy away from pain but that are also deeply inventive – find their way into the public consciousness. We think Gerald Kraak would have smiled at a number of these entries, and above all, we have aimed to stay true to his love of fearless writing and support of courageous and grounded activism.

In alphabetical order by surname, here are the shortlisted authors and entries, and short judges’ notes:

  • Poached Eggs by Farah Ahamed (Fiction, Kenya)

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.

  • A Place of Greater Safety by Beyers de Vos (Journalism, South Africa)

Covers, with empathy and real curiosity and knowledge, underground issues that are seldom discussed in the South African LGBT+ movement – homelessness, poverty, as well as attraction and violence.

  • Midnight in Lusikisiki or The Ruin of the Gentlewomen by Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese (Poetry, South Africa)

This poem hums with sadness and sings with anger. It is full of the sort of melancholy that marks the passing of something very important. It provides an opportunity to connect the themes of gender this collection takes so seriously, with issues of poverty and political corruption.

  • Two Weddings for Amoit by Dilman Dila (Fiction, Uganda)

A fresh piece of sci-fi, written in a clear and bright way, that surprisingly draws on covert and subversive love.

  • Albus by Justin Dingwall (Photography, South Africa)

The choice of exquisitely beautiful high-fashion models to represent people with albinism – who are so often depicted as unattractive, as others – is just breath-taking. It makes its point and leaves you wanting more.

  • For Men Who Care by Amatesiro Dore (Fiction, Nigeria)

A complex and thoughtful insight into a part of elite Nigerian life, as well as the ways in which buying into certain brands of patriarchy can be so deeply damaging – and have direct and unavoidable consequences.

  • Resurrection by Tania Haberland (Poetry, Mauritius)

An erotic poem that is powerful in its simple celebration of the clit.

  • Intertwined Odyssey by Julia Hango (Photography, South Africa)

A solid and thought-provoking collection. The range of poses force questions about power. The photos make the lovers (or are they fighters?) equal in their nakedness and in their embodiment of discomfort.

  • Dean’s Bed by Dean Hutton (Photography, South Africa)

An important contribution to conversations about bisexuality, attraction, age and race.

  • On Coming Out by Lee Mokobe (Poetry, South Africa)

Literal and lyrical, this powerful poem draws one in through its style and accessibility.

  • You Sing of a Longing by Otosirieze Obi-Young (Fiction, Nigeria)

A thoroughly modern epic but with bones as old as time. This is a story of love and betrayal and madness and music that is all the more beautiful for its plainspoken poignancy. Yet there is prose in here that steals your breath away.

  • The Conversation by Olakunle Ologunro (Fiction, Nigeria)

Provides valuable insight into issues of intimate partner violence, family acceptance and the complexity of gender roles in many modern African contexts.

  • One More Nation Bound in Freedom by Ayodele Sogunro (Academic, Nigeria)

An informative piece that gives a crisp and “objective” voice to the many themes that cut across this anthology.

  • Stranger in a Familiar Land by Sarah Waiswa (Photography, Kenya)

This collection of photos 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.

The winner, who receives a cash prize, will be announced at an award ceremony in May 2017, hosted by The Other Foundation and attended by the authors of the top three submissions as well as the judging panel and project partners.

For more information visit www.jacana.co.za or email awards@jacana.co.za.

This project is made possible in partnership with The Other Foundation: www.theotherfoundation.org.

 

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Nakhane Toure’s Piggy Boy’s Blues to be taught at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee

Nakhane Toure

 
Piggy Boy's BluesBlackBird Books has announced that Piggy Boy’s Blues by Nakhane Touré will be taught at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, United States.

Piggy Boy’s Blues has been adopted for the spring 2017 course “The Contemporary African Novel”.

The news comes just a week after Touré was longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Known for his music, Sama award-winning musician Touré has changed tune with the release of his debut novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues. The novel, which has been described as reading fragments of a recurring dream, centres on the disastrous consequences of a man’s return to his Eastern Cape home town of Alice. Touré’s work is poetic with sensuous prose.

* * * * *

 
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Panashe Chigumadzi reacts to winning the 2016 K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

Panashe Chigumadzi

 
Sweet MedicineSweet Medicine, the debut novel by Panashe Chigumadzi, won the 2016 South African Literary Awards K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award recently.

The winners were announced on 7 November 2016 at a gala dinner at Unisa. Chigumadzi shared her award with Willem Anker, who was honoured for his book Buys.

On receiving the award, Panashe had this to say:

It is deeply affirming whenever you receive external validation for what is most often a solitary and isolating experience. This award in particular is an honour because it bears the name of one of South Africa’s literary greats. Over and above that, as someone with Pan-Africanist ideals, I’m deeply humbled that South African readers were able to find resonance with a story set in Zimbabwe, despite what many prospective publishers had said to me. I’m truly grateful to be a writer who has been allowed the space to bring all of herself and her experiences and to have that appreciated by a reading audience.

Sweet Medicine is a thorough and evocative attempt at grappling 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.

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The 2016 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award and Kraak Writing Grant winners announced

The 2016 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award and Kraak Writing Grant winners announced

 
The judges’ decision was unanimous: Tammy Baikie has won the 2015/16 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award for her distinctively clever novel, Selling LipService.

Baikie receives a R35 000 cash prize and the publication of her book by Jacana Media, with the title being launched as part of Exclusive Books’ Homebru campaign in June 2017.

Not to be forgotten, runners-up Saul Musker (No Word Like Home) and Thabiso Mofokeng (The Last Stop) both narrowly missed being awarded the accolade for their exceptionally well-written and creative manuscripts. We have no doubt that their work will be picked up for publication, so keep an eye out!

For the first time, the Kraak Writing Grant was also awarded. That went to Andile Cele, author of Braids and Migraines. The grant is valued at R25 000 and dedicated to the memory of Gerald Kraak. It offers the recipient mentoring and intensive coaching from editor, publishing expert and writer Alison Lowry, enabling the author to refine and develop their work still further.

The aim of these awards is to ensure that great southern African fiction continues to be published, by making possible new literature which may otherwise not have come about – not because of its merits, but because of the market forces which constrain us all in the book world. If you entered your manuscript, showed an interest or if you buy these books, you are keeping local fiction alive – the JLF thanks you!

 

The 2016 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award and Kraak Writing Grant winners announced

About the book

In Frith’s consumerist world, everyone has a stroke around the age of 18. After this coming of haemhorr-age, writing and speaking is only possible if you’re wearing LipService transdermal patches. Sponsored by corporations, the language of each patch is scripted by copywriters so that every utterance promotes the brand. For Frith’s mother, who lives and breathes the Frisson Froufrou lingerie brand, nothing could be more natural. But Frith hates everything that comes out of her own mouth.

Frith had hoped to escape the haemorrhage because of her tastures – the sense of taste that accompanies everything she touches – but she hasn’t. Experiencing the world differently has alienated her. But her inability to express herself is all the more galling because she knows language has greater range and potential than limiting LipService. Her father worked as the custodian at the book repository – where printed literature written before the branding of all narratives is quarantined. There, Frith read books that haven’t been available to the public in decades. On her father’s death, he secretly leaves her a volume of the stories they both love.

Desperate to articulate her identity as distinct from any product, Frith experiments with pushing the limits of LipService and developing her tastures. But other elements of this consumerist society are equally interested in them for commercial gain.

About the author

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

Dub StepsThe Story of Anna P, as Told by HerselfKhalil's JourneyDeeper Than ColourSaracen at the Gates
Till We Can Keep An AnimalCoconutBitches' BrewIce in the LungsThe Silent Minaret

 
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Bestselling author Kopano Matlwa publishes her third novel, Period Pain

The return of one of SA’s bestselling fiction authors

Bestselling author Kopano Matlwa publishes her third novel, Period Pain

 
Period PainKopano Matlwa stole South Africa’s heart with her debut novel Coconut. With almost 25,000 sales, this award-winning title cemented her position as one of South Africa’s bestselling authors.

With her follow-up novel, Spilt Milk, Matlwa continued to amaze us with her ability to intimately address complex political issues through relatable characters.

This year she brings us her best novel yet, Period Pain: a compelling story about how the broken continue to survive.

In Period Pain Matlwa has poignantly captured the heartache and confusion of so many South Africans who feel defeated by the litany of headline horrors: xenophobia, corrective rape, corruption and crime and for many the death sentence that is the public health nightmare. Through this story we are able to reflect, to question and to rediscover our humanity.

Matlwa is a brand in her own right, and to celebrate her latest release all three of her titles will be re-branded and jacketed. Look out for the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic.

About the author

Kopano Matlwa is one of South Africa’s most vibrant young writers and winner of the 2007 European Union Literary Award. A medical graduate, Matlwa is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Coconut, and Spilt Milk which won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in 2010. She has recently returned to South Africa after completing an MSc in Global Health Science and is currently reading for a DPhil in Population Health at the University of Oxford.

 
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The new Madam and Eve has landed

Madam and EveJacana Media is proud to present the new Madam and Eve collection: Take Me to Your Leader, by Stephen Francis and Rico:

This year we are in for a treat, with Madam & Eve back with more cartoons looking at domestic life and politics in the New South Africa.

It is hard to believe the Anderson family and their domestic sidekick, Eve, have been part of our daily landscape for 23 years. Dip into these cartoons for a much-needed chuckle.

Madam & Eve cartoons appear regularly in the Mail & Guardian, The Star, The Saturday Star, Herald, Mercury, Witness, Daily Dispatch, Cape Times, Pretoria News, Diamond Fields Advertiser, Die Volksblad, EC Today, Kokstad Advertiser and The Namibian.

I am always amazed by the energy and passion displayed by this writing-and-drawing duo that manages week after week to come up with fresh comedic ideas on which to make their point and build their powerful punchline.

- Business Day

About the authors

Stephen Francis is the writing half of the Madam & Eve team. Born in the United States in 1949, Stephen moved to South Africa in 1988. In 1992, witnessing the interesting and often funny dynamic between his South African mother-in-law and her domestic housekeeper, he conceptualised the Madam & Eve strip. Stephen Francis is also an award-winning script writer, and radio and TV personality.

Rico forms the other half of the creative team – as illustrator. Born in Austria in 1966, he now lives and works in Johannesburg, and has been drawing cartoons ever since he was old enough to hold a pencil. Besides his work on Madam & Eve, Rico also produces illustrations for a wide range of other publications.

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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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2016 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award announced – a second win for Athol Williams

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Athol Williams has won the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award this year, for the second time, for his poem “Visit at Tea Time”.

Athol WilliamsWilliams is a poet and social philosopher from Cape Town. He is the chairman of Read to Rise, a youth literacy NGO that he co-founded after many years as a business strategy advisor. His poems have been published in anthologies and literary journals in the UK, USA and South Africa and he has published three poetry collections. He is also the author of the Oaky series of inspirational children’s books, and Pushing Boulders, his memoir, was published this month.

 
Williams grew up in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town and has been educated at Oxford, Harvard, MIT, LSE, London Business School and Wits University.

As the winner he receives a cash prize and, for the first time this year, a three-week residency at the NIROX Foundation in the Cradle of Humankind, which includes fully serviced accommodation in a beautiful studio, free full board, and a serene environment in which Athol can focus solely on his craft. We are delighted to be able to add this rare privilege to the award.

The NIROX Foundation was established to foster the arts in their widest sense. Poetry was from inception within our diverse focus, but it is a quiet craft that can often be overshadowed by its popular siblings – the visual and musical arts, for which NIROX is best known. And so it is a great pleasure for the Foundation to make a residency available to the winner of this year’s Sol Plaatje Award. We hope that this is the start of a long association. Athol Williams is a worthy winner. We look forward to the opportunity of working with him amongst our other artists in residence in the coming year.

- The NIROX Foundation

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

 

The runners-up, who also received cash prizes, are Siphokazi Jonas, in second place for her poem “MamBhele’s Harvest” and Charles Marriott, in third place for his poem “Cape Town”.

The award ceremony took place on Sunday, 9 October, at the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival in Newtown. Senior judge and chairperson of the Jacana Literary Foundation (which administers the competition and publishes the related anthology in partnership with Jacana Media), Professor Mongane Wally Serote, as well as the European Union Ambassador Designate, His Excellency Marcus Cornaro, presented the prizes to the winners during the event. A wonderful poetry performance by longlisted poets Zewande Bhengu, Siphokazi Jonas, B-Lyrical, Thabiso Mohare, Pieter Odendaal and Kori Strange, as part of the 6th Word N Sound International Youth Poetry Festival, kicked off the proceedings.

The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award aims to reveal the political and social attitudes of our time. The annual Award, supported by the European Union, is now in its sixth year. Named after Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1876-1932), it recognises the life and vision of this highly respected political and social activist. As in previous years, Volume 6 of the series anthologises the three winning poems (selected by the iconic poet Serote) along with some 90 other longlisted poems in Afrikaans, English, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, isiXhosa and isiZulu and accompanied by English translations where relevant (selected by a jury of three notable South African poets: Goodenough Mashego, Thabiso “Afurakan” Mohare and Pieter Odendaal). The submissions are judged blind.

The anthology was launched at the same event.

 
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Watch: Hagen Engler visits Bridge Books to chat about his new book, In the Maid’s Room

In the Maid's RoomHagen Engler recently visited Bridge Books, a new independent bookstore in Johannesburg, to chat about his new novel, In the Maid’s Room.

Engler starts with a spoken word poem called “When talking, voting, swallowing your pride and patient hoping fails”:

The Last Poets, of Chuck D or not, were not right in this case. A revolution had been televised, since first the flu of freedom flew, as such things do tend to do, through our fragile neighbourhood.

Even we, freed before though we might have been, are not immune. Are those complaints, those demands of our North African semi-brethren, any different to ours? Do our youth have prospects any better than the million men in Tahrir square? Are their certificates any less useless? Less meaningless? Has economics failed them any less than it has us?

Are we not smoking cigarettes of silly, privileged apathy in flammable frustrated nations suffused with fumes of anger, crushed hopes, deferred dreams and any-minute-now igniting points?

In the Maid’s Room is set in Port Elizabeth, and tells the story of Disco, a South African hipster who’s battling to make the rent. He moves into the maid’s room on his property and rents out the main house to Sizwe.

Sizwe starts dating Disco’s ex-girlfriend, and get the media job Disco had his eye on.

“Disco’s this guy who feels like everything he’s entitled to is being taken from him, and he’s trying to deal with it,” Engler says. “Which is probably a quest that a lot of people are on.”

Watch the video:

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