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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Dig a compost pit, build a green urinal and six other tips on waterproofing your home and garden à la Helen Moffett’s 101 Water Wise Ways

Three provinces in South Africa have been declared national disaster zones because of drought.

The way we think about water needs to change, and fast. This is especially true for those of us who have running water and flush sanitation piped into our homes. For millions of South Africans, water is already a precious resource that costs toil to collect and fuel to heat.

Our middle-class expectations that water will gush steaming from our dozens of indoor taps 24/7 are going to look as bizarre to future generations as the spectacle of Cleopatra bathing in asses’ milk. Our Roman-orgy relationship with water is over. This book will hopefully help to alleviate water panic and distress.

A “can-do” compendium, it’s meant to be a guide, not prescriptive – not all solutions or tips are one-size-fits-all. Think of it as an ally in your fight to save water and part of your survival kit, along with the firstaid box; Valium for water-worriers.
Helen Moffett is a poet, editor, feminist activist and academic, her publications include university textbooks, an anthology of landscape writings, a cricket book (with the late Bob Woolmer and Tim Noakes), an animal charity anthology (Stray, with Diane Awerbuck) and the Girl Walks In erotica series (with Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick under the nom de plume Helena S. Paige). She has also published two poetry collections – Strange Fruit (Modjaji Books) and Prunings (uHlanga Press), which won the 2017 SALA prize. Recent projects include the Short Story Day Africa anthology, Migrations, and a memoir of Rape Crisis. She lives in Noordhoek, Cape Town.


If you have a garden, consider yourself lucky. This is going to be a great ally in your water-wise mission. Any kind of outdoor space will help, especially if it has a washing line and place to store containers.

TIP 25
Dig a compost pit. It may sound off-track, but this will save you water. There are many composting systems, some involving earthworms, special containers (these are good for tiny gardens with little accessible soil), rotating drums and more. I simply dig a hole about a metre deep and a metre across, and dump everything biodegradable in it. Why? There are a thousand excellent reasons to keep garbage out of landfills and to feed organic matter back into the soil, but for now: it will save washing up. If you are shaken by the notion of licking your plate, or getting the family dog to do so (see Tip 64), then scraping your plate into the kitchen compost bucket after meals is the next best thing.

I compost fish bones and skin – tomato plants love these – and also chicken bones, but I can get away with this because it’s a rare occurrence. Generally, meat bones should be kept out of compost heaps unless you want visits from neighbouring dogs; bread might likewise attract rats. Consider thrifty ways to use leftovers – chicken carcasses for stock, and so on (see Tip 61) – or resort to the dustbin.

A compost pit is also a suitably earthy place to dispose of blood (from a mooncup, for instance, or biodegradable sanitary pads) or vomit. Sprinkle a good layer of soil or mulch over afterwards. Note that urine is good for compost heaps, but for reasons too complicated to go into here, this is not a safe place to dump your dump.

TIP 26
Dig a small, deep fire pit in which to burn certain kinds of refuse: food-soiled paper and cardboard (napkins, pizza and cake boxes), “pee” paper, used wet wipes and so on. Don’t burn any form of plastic or polystyrene. Obviously, proceed with extreme caution when lighting any fires: you don’t want to burn down your house or the neighbourhood.

TIP 27
Construct a home-made grey/black water filter if you have a veggie garden or plants you want to keep alive: Google will give instructions, but I made a small brick enclosure in my garden and layered stones, broken bricks and chunks of wood into it, then topped it with gravel, sand and mulch. This can receive your black water (see Tip 15). Note that some plants will thrive on this, others will hate it; this kept my spinach and chard going right through the drought, but the tomatoes turned up their toes.

TIP 28
Build a green urinal in your garden if you have the space. This is a tip from the National Trust in Britain, which has millions of visitors to its properties, and came up with this plan to stop half of them from flushing. All that’s needed is a bale of straw and a modesty screen. Set the straw down in a sheltered part of the garden away from any water sources. Ask feed stores or nurseries if they have any straw spoiled by mould or weeds – they may give it to you for free – or make your own bale. I compacted dead grass into a rectangle about one foot high and three feet long. Set up a waist-high screen of sticks around the straw – you can construct your own (I used discarded bamboo) or buy from a garden centre. The straw or grass deodorises the urine, the urine helps decompose the straw, and after several months, you can use it as mulch in the garden, and start again with a fresh bale.

TIP 29
You might already own equipment that could help in the quest to save and harvest water. Check your garage, attic or storage space for useful camping and gardening gear: camping showers, stoves and washers, garden sprayers, jerrycans, foot pumps, trailers, wheelbarrows or trolleys for moving containers of water around – all these are gold. You might have dustbins, tarpaulins, canvas tents, wheeled suitcases, cooler boxes, funnels and much more that could come in handy. And you can’t have too many buckets. There should be one in every shower and next to every toilet.

Bonus tip: visit camping stores to get ideas, and draw up a wish list (see p. 102) of equipment, along with a price list, so you can plan your water budget to fit your needs and pocket. Be aware that some “dream machines” are not as ideal as they sound: air-to-water machines, for instance, are expensive, noisy, gobble up electricity and need high levels of humidity to be effective.

TIP 30
If you have a pool, turn it from a liability into an asset: it can become a valuable water-storing facility. Set up a system that enables as much rainwater as possible to flow into it, cover it, and use this as back-up for flushing.

Bonus tip for the future: consult an expert about turning your pool into an eco-pond that requires no chemicals to maintain. This could become a beautiful garden feature with aquatic plants and friendly frogs to catch flies and mosquitoes. Keep an area clear so the family can dip in and cool off or do a spot of water aerobics. If you want to swim lengths, plan on doing so at the gym or public pool.

WARNING! All the usual warnings about pool safety apply even more in drought conditions: thirsty animals and curious children will be more than usually attracted to water. Be 100% vigilant and make sure that your safety features are in apple-pie order.

TIP 31
Get inventive. Tie a funnel to the “elbow” of your satellite dish and run a pipe down from it into a container. Harvest the water from your office air-conditioner. Set up your planters to act as mini water tanks. Save catering-size containers and paint-tins.

TIP 32
Stock up on the following toiletries: antiperspirant (Mitchum is the one exception to my no-brandrecommendation – worth every penny), dry shampoo, leave-in hair conditioner, disinfectant, hand sanitiser, hand lotion, talc (not just for Grandma: good for no-shower days), wet wipes.

Bonus tip: on the topic of wet wipes, remember that you shouldn’t flush these – NOT EVEN WHEN IT SAYS YOU CAN ON THE PACKET. Try to get biodegradable ones and put these in the compost, or make your own (there’s a great recipe under Resources). Note that “biodegradable” and “compostable” do NOT mean flushable.

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“He doesn’t do PDA” – read an excerpt from Jonathan Jansen’s Making Love in a War: Interracial loving and learning after apartheid

Can racism and intimacy co-exist? Can love and friendship form and flourish across South Africa’s imposed colour lines?

Who better to engage on the subject of hazardous liaisons than the students Jonathan Jansen served over seven years as Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State.

The context is the University campus in Bloemfontein, the City of Roses, the Mississippi of South Africa. Rural, agricultural, insular, religious and conservative, this is not a place for breaking out.

But over the years, Jansen observed shifts in campus life and noticed more and more openly interracial friendships and couples, and he began having conversations with these students with burning questions in mind.

Ten interracial couples tell their stories of love and friendship in their own words, with no social theories imposed on their meanings, but instead a focus on how these students experience the world of interracial relationships, and how flawed, outdated laws and customs set limits on human relationships, and the long shadow they cast on learning, living and loving on university campuses to this day.

Jonathan Jansen is Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Stellenbosch, after serving for many years as the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State. Jansen has a formidable reputation for transformation and a deep commitment to reconciliation in communities living with the heritage of apartheid. He holds an impressive collection of degrees and awards including the Education Africa Lifetime Achievement Award.


The case of Ingrid and Paul

Ingrid does not come into your office. She storms in, often with a loud greeting, as if the Vice-Chancellor were an old friend – ‘So, howzit?’ I could see my secretary freeze in the background and shake her head. This kind of breezy openness was unusual in the conservative Free State, even for staff. An English girl from Howick with a free spirit, Ingrid adjusted quickly to the mix of predominantly Afrikaans and black women in the residence, and would gain the respect of her fellow students. She rose to leadership in her residence and in the SRC during the difficult period of the 2015/16 student protests. Ingrid would introduce me to Paul, her boyfriend, a quiet and reserved young man who by his own admission took some persuading to show up for the interview.

Ingrid Wentzel
(BA Human Movement Studies 2013–2016)

I was born in Addington Hospital. I stayed and grew up in Durban, and went to Danville Park Girls’ High School in Durban North. I feel like my parents are very liberal. My dad is a bit of a hard-ass but I feel like they are chilled. They never pushed one belief down my throat or say, ‘Do not do this or do not do that.’ There is nothing that has really stopped me from doing what I feel, if I can explain it in that sense.

My school was very mixed. There were a lot more Indians, because it is Durban, as well as at my primary school, Atholton. I personally never noticed any form of racism at either school. Never. I go to Kovsie Kerk [the Dutch Reformed campus church] now and again. Mom is mainly from a Norwegian background, as if we are actually Lutheran, but mainly so. She will go to a Norwegian church, but I just go to Kovsie Kerk.

Paul and I met in my second year. I heard about him through Tyson Free – he was here via Kovsie FM radio station. Paul is a DJ, and he often played. Tyson asked me, ‘Do you know Paul Makuta? He has played at Origin, that club in Durban.’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t heard of him,’ but we had a lot of mutual friends. He knows one of my friends, Siya, who I literally knew since birth. And then we met at Intervarsity [sporting competition with other universities] because he was playing there. He was with someone else then.

We were friends; we always got on. Our sense of humour is kind of the same, and we always spoke on and off. We were always friends, like always. I would see him and just be like, ‘Oh, hey.’ It became serious last year. As a friend, he is so chilled and laid back. He is my type of person. He is definitely my type of friend. I just felt like he got along with everybody and was really funny, even if we just talk over WhatsApp. We would talk about stupid stuff, random things, and he would send me funny pictures and I would do the same thing for him. I think he is just so laid back and easy, completely easy to get along with. It just kind of happened. I think it was just continuous talking and then it just sort of developed from there.

Well, I was more forward than anything else. He was just chilling and I made the first move. He does not do PDA [public displays of affection] but we are working on that. I am working on it. I feel our relationship is very chilled. This is relaxed and I am so happy with it. I mean, this is the most laid-back relationship I have ever been in, and there is no pressure. I don’t feel like I need to get all dressed up to impress him. And we just do our thing, and it is a take-it-day-by-day, basically. It is slightly difficult being Prime, because there are so many commitments, and it does get a bit irritating because I just want to go and chill with him, just like bond, because I really do enjoy his company.

I would consider him as a best friend because we joke or whatever, that sort of thing. Being Prime does, however, put a bit of a spanner in the works, but we work around it. I try my best to make time for him and he does the same thing for me. Last week there was so much kak [nonsense] going on in residence and whatever. It is not nice when I always have to be at res the whole time. Don’t get me wrong, I love Prime and it is a great position, but sometimes I just want time for me and time to spend with him. I want to know that I can put in that effort and feel like I can give all that much, as much as he deserves for me to give.

It’s just little things that keep me busy. It’s worrying about academics and graduating, then it’s Prime, and then it’s GLS [Global Leadership Summit], and then I want to stand for SRC. So even though I want to achieve all that, like, I also feel as if sometimes I need to put my relationship first, because that is also important. Varsity and the goals that I have set up are important, but I don’t want to get blindsided and have my mind be clouded by just focusing on varsity. This relationship is also important to me.

I think one [notable] moment for me was telling my friend Sannie.* Sannie was in my first-year leadership team. She was responsible for social events and was very much a boeremeisie [farm girl], but she is from Betty’s Bay,* so it is kind of weird. I feel like she had strong views and I got the impression that she was a bit of a racist, I really did. Her husband, Jannie,* as well, but that was me making an assumption. She was Instagram-stalking me or something, and I put pictures up and posted comments, and she said, ‘I just want to tell you that I am happy for you and it does not matter, it doesn’t bother me. I could understand maybe why you didn’t want to tell me because maybe I gave you that impression, but it’s important to me that you are happy and if he makes you happy then that is completely fine by me.’ I felt a bit guilty for making that assumption about her, and that her reaction was completely not what I expected; she was so supportive.

It never actually crossed my mind that I must hold back now just because Paul is a different race. Why should I put down what I want to feel and what I want to do based purely on the fact that he may not be what people expect me to go for? At this point it does not bother me. My residence knows. I really – I do not have a problem with it. If you have your opinion, then that is fine, but I mean it’s very rarely that if we walk at the Waterfront someone is going to be, ‘Hey, that is dodgy.’

My friends have a big part to play in that I have never experienced any judgement with any of them, any of the girls in my res, nothing. They are fairly open to it. I have never experienced anything like: ‘Oh wow, that is wrong.’ I haven’t experienced any negative feelings within my own friendship circle. Maybe such negative feelings are found among the girls out of my friendship circle. I have honestly never felt that sense that people are looking at us. However, he doesn’t do PDA.

I think initially my mother’s response was how my dad was going to react. Good old Kevin – but it actually doesn’t bother me what he thinks. It really does not. I will respect him as a person; he is my dad and I am very grateful for everything. He pays for my education, so I am very grateful for that, but at the end of the day, my mom told me as well, she said, ‘If you are happy, that is fine; that is your thing; that is you.’ It’s the same with my dad. I haven’t told him because I haven’t seen him yet. We don’t have the kind of relationship where I would tell him that sort of thing. I talk to him and he wants to know how varsity is, but I don’t have that kind of relationship where I divulge everything.

Obviously, I am very close to my mom. They do not live together. My dad lives in Cape Town and my mom lives in Durban. They have been divorced for a long time, I think since I was ten. I mean it has been a while. And they have very different views. Similar in how I was raised, but I just think very different. In some aspects my dad is somewhat chilled, but I have found as I got older that my mom’s attitude is very much like, ‘It is your life, your decisions, and if you’re happy, that is the most important thing.’

I don’t see any reason our relationship should not go on. I mean, it’s not like we have planned it all out to be together for this long. It’s not like it is all planned out.

Paul Makuta
(BCom 2010–2015)

I was born in Lesotho, moved to Pretoria, and then came to high school here in Bloem. At home I am Roman Catholic but I go to CRC [Christian Revival Church] in Bloemfontein. I have a single mother who stays in Pretoria. I have been here on my own from high school. Most of my childhood was in Pretoria. I went to Arcadia Primary School for grades 1 and 2, and then moved to Cornwall Hill College. I think in my grade there were only three black kids. I was friends with the two other black children, but the majority of our friends were white kids in primary school. It was a private school, so I grew up around a lot of white children. You kind of pick up what they do, how they speak, and stuff like that.

High school was totally different. I got a big culture shock when I came to Grey. I didn’t even know what racism was until I got to Grey. Grade 8 was a big culture shock, having to learn Afrikaans and actually seeing how different people are. As time went from Grade 8 to Matric, you would see even the Afrikaans people who were not necessarily racist but very conservative. In Grade 8, people wanted to feel your hair; they didn’t know what it felt like. Some guys will even ask you if your blood is red, and stuff like that. They just really do not know. And as time went by we all kind of became friends, because we stayed in the hostel.

I think it was in Grade 8; there was a fight with a guy called Matthew. I think he is in this varsity now. I was in Dorm 19 and he stayed in Dorm 18. I went next door to ask for a plug to charge my phone, but I had to lean over his bed to pull out the plug. As I was leaving the room, I heard him say, ‘Nee, die kaffir sit op my bed’ [‘No, the kaffir is sitting on my bed’]. But I couldn’t understand because I didn’t know any Afrikaans, so I just went next door to ask my friends, ‘What does this mean?’ and then I asked him, ‘Are people actually allowed to say that?’ I got so angry. I actually got into a physical fight after that. But now, if you put us in the same room, we are like probably best friends.

I think it was at Intervarsity 2013 where Ingrid and I first met. It was just very briefly. I think I was about to go on stage to play. She was with other friends and then we kind of met through mutual friends there. It got serious a year later. I think we spent more time together last year. She made the first move. It was not really forward; it was more like subtle hints. I wasn’t really looking for anything, but we kind of got on and I thought maybe there could be something. And then we started spending more time together and it just evolved from there. I cannot really give a step-by-step. It was not a love at first sight. We get along. It’s not an effort to be around her. It just works. Even if we were just chilling, it felt like I had a good time. Even when we were friends. It doesn’t feel like this relationship is any effort; it just works.

I think if it was at an earlier stage, I would have been more worried, but I’m not really concerned with other people’s opinions. If they have a problem with us, nobody is going to come to me and say, ‘What are you doing?’ If they are not directly getting in my space, I don’t really mind what people are going to say or think. Nobody will come to your face and say, ‘This is wrong,’ even though you get a sense that people are looking at you, yes, always. I am a very private person, so maybe that’s why. If we are walking together, you can feel when people are looking. Unless somebody is coming to interrogate me or tell me something personally, I will not have a problem with it at all. They are entitled to their opinion. My mother is very liberal. She is very strict and stuff, but she is not prejudiced against anyone. My mom has never known about anyone that I dated. She will ask me, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ and I will be like, ‘Mom, relax,’ but I don’t really speak to her about girls. I think the only time I have ever told her I had a girlfriend was probably one-and-a-half years ago and I thought I might as well. (I don’t like speaking to people. Even this interview, Ingrid had to convince me.) I told my mom I am seeing this girl and the first thing she asked was, ‘Oh, is she white?’ I think she already knew before she asked that she was white. She didn’t seem too upset about it. And she asked, ‘Is she Christian?’ and stuff like that, and she was fine about it.

I cannot see any reason why our relationship would not continue. As far as I can see, unless I have to move away or something and be in a long-distance relationship, it might be a problem. Otherwise, I think the relationship would continue. We spoke about that the other day. Other relationships that I have been in feel like you have to put in so much effort to impress a person. Then you don’t really feel comfortable with things that they do. Let me say ninety per cent of what I am looking for I find in her. There are arguments, like small ones. I am happy and I think it can go on for quite a while.

Making Love in a War Zone

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Take a visual tour of Paul Shenton’s remarkable memorialisation of the great losses of the First World War

“The great military cemeteries found along the Messines Ridge and around the town of Ieper (Ypres) in Flanders, Belgium, are the last resting place of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died during the First World War…” – Regiments of the Dead

This locally produced title memorialises the great losses of the First World War with groundbreaking photography of the war memorials of Flanders in Belgium.

The extraordinary photographs were taken at different times of year to record the atmospheric and evocative memorials to the war dead of 1914–1918, in a manner not seen before.

Immaculately maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a lasting memorial to the fallen, the gravestones, when viewed from above, can be seen to resemble soldiers on parade. Paul Shenton’s interest in the battlefields and military cemeteries of the First World War began when he came across his grandfather’s medals representing his service as a sergeant with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards during 1914–1918.

This find prompted research into the engagements that his grandfather took part in and many trips to the battlefields and cemeteries of the Ypres Salient area in Flanders.

Paul Shenton has been a passionate photographer for as long as he can remember. Over the years he has captured a variety of subjects from extensive landscapes to intimate portraits. It was a natural step to combine his love of photography with his interest in the First World War. This has resulted in the spectacular portfolio of elevated mast photographs in Regiments of the Dead, which give a unique and breathtaking viewpoint of the Flanders cemeteries.

Take a look at a few of the awe-inspiring photos featured in Shenton’s remarkable book:

Bedford House, ©Paul Shenton.


Hooge Crater, ©Paul Shenton.


Menin Gate, ©Paul Shenton


Poelcapelle, ©Paul Shenton


Tyne Cot, ©Paul Shenton

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“Did he not know that you were … I suppose the term used now is ‘lesbian’?” Read an excerpt from The Lion & The Thespian

The Lion and The ThespianMargaretha van Hulsteyn (also known as Scrappy) is the daughter of respected Pretoria attorney Sir Willem van Hulsteyn, and she’s an aspiring actress. While studying in London after the Great War, Scrappy changes her name to Marda Vanne and enters into a relationship with one of the foremost actresses of her day, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies.

However, on a visit to her parents in the Union of South Africa, Marda meets Hans Strydom, an attorney and uncompromising radical politician with the soubriquet ‘The Lion of the North’. Their meeting changes the course of her life, at least temporarily… Strydom went on to become a principal progenitor of the harshest discriminatory legislation which endured for decades until his nephew, President FW de Klerk, in a volte-face, dismantled the laws of apartheid.

A work of biographical fiction, The Lion & The Thespian is based on the true story of the marriage of Hans Strydom, prime minister of South Africa from 1954 to 1958, to the actress Marda Vanne.

Veteran author David Bloomberg (former executive mayor of Cape Town, and founder of Metropolitan Life), following extensive reading and research, has adhered faithfully to the chronology of the lives of the main protagonists, their personalities and the historical facts with which they were associated. Creative license has allowed Bloomberg to recreate appropriate scenes and dialogue, complemented by reported sources and recorded speeches.

In this edited extract, Margaretha van Hulsteyn (also known as ‘Scrappy’) – an Afrikaans actress who had spent many years on the London stage – has a frank discussion about her own sexuality with fellow actress and eventual life-partner, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies:

Already one of the most acclaimed actresses on the English stage, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was inundated with offers of work and success followed success. Although Scrappy did not achieve the same level of stardom as her companion, Bernie Lewis had little difficulty in keeping her in work and she became an accomplished West End actress.

Settled in to a happy life of domesticity, the two were inclined to use their rare nights at home together to get to know each other a little better, explore their relationship a little further.

“Gwen, you have never identified – at least to me – the man who kept us apart all this time.”

“Oh, my darling, we no longer have any secrets. His name is Cecil Lewis, a war hero, much decorated – and married. I suppose I should feel very guilty about this romance, an adulterous relationship but, to be honest, I don’t.”

“What was he like?”

“Handsome and manly, courteous in the extreme, intellectual and a patron of the arts. For some reason, he was obsessed with me as an actress … came to any number of performances of every play I was in and afterwards spoke to me at length about the play, my role and interpretation. He was very profound and I always found his analysis interesting and gratifying. And, my darling, he was extremely virile.”

“Did he not know that you were … I suppose the term used now is ‘lesbian’?”

“Of course he knew. And I reminded him regularly, but his response was always to emphasise that homosexual experience did not exclude those whose preference lay elsewhere and that it was quite common for people to stray from their first gender of choice. He was convinced that I would be sexually unfulfilled and incomplete as an actress if I did not have what he called a ‘straight ding dong’! As far as his pleasure was concerned, he was equally straightforward, seeing no spiritual benefit for himself, merely gratifying himself with a married man’s dalliance.”

“Seems Cecil was very pragmatic about the relationship.”

“Oh yes. He alerted me when our affair was starting to dwindle – hinted that he was beginning to lose interest, that it was terminal. He probably thought that he had achieved his purpose and had ‘made me a better actress’. I had told him all about you and he liked what he heard and was reassured that you were going to take over where he had left off. Happy that you would sort of be taking his place. He wrote the most beautiful letter to me. His last letter stated that the burden of guilt had been lifted and he thanked me in the most poetic terms for the wonderful experience; he hoped that I had benefitted intellectually from the relationship and he wished us both the best of British luck for the future!”

“Did you reply?”

“Yes. I thanked him for the inspirational support he had given me during the period of our intimacy.”

While homosexuality in England in the early twentieth century was recognised and spoken of freely – despite the fact that it was a punishable offence – female sexuality was a subculture that was hardly mentioned in polite circles and the word ‘lesbian’ was not in common usage. The theatre, however, was regarded as a breeding ground for deviant behaviour.

Actresses particularly were at pains to ensure that insofar as theatregoers were concerned, they conformed to what generally was regarded as normality and that their life outside the theatre should be kept private and not come under public scrutiny. Prejudice was such that any woman who chose to be single and worked towards economic and social independence was regarded as tainted. From an early age, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies recognised and accepted her sexuality, but believed that it would not advance her professional career and consequently chose to exercise discretion and presented to the public a much-feminised personality and lifestyle. In her private life, where many of her friends were theatre colleagues, there was no concealing her identity but in public her selection of roles, her dress, manner and behaviour did much to disguise her true sexuality. When interviewed by a curious press she managed to present herself as the epitome of femininity and domestication. As far as Scrappy was concerned, Gwen, when pressed, referred to her simply as a ‘girlfriend’, at the time a perfectly run-of-the-mill reference to an innocent friendship.

Scrappy, on the other hand, was much less discreet. Although six years younger, she was more well informed on the controversies of the day, especially since she had read the work of English doctor and writer Havelock Ellis, whose Sexual Inversion had concluded that homosexuality was a congenital condition rather than a disease. But, keen on intellectualising these matters, she had also learned that the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, had dismissed Ellis’s theory, claiming that sexual deviation was indeed curable. Scrappy eventually dismissed all these theories and lived by what she regarded as fact – that all forms of sexuality were accepted and tolerated by those in the theatre. While on appropriate occasions she would dress conventionally, sometimes even glamorously, her preference was for a more masculine style and her hairstyle was often fashioned accordingly.

“So, my darling Scrappy, what goes on between us is our business and has naught to do with anyone else. I love you deeply for who you are and any frolic that accompanies our love is a by-product to be enjoyed. My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”

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Nomavenda Mathiane explains the genesis of her book, Eyes in the Night: An Untold Zulu Story

Eyes in the NightBookstorm has shared an excerpt from Eyes in the Night: An Untold Zulu Story by Nomavenda Mathiane.

In the book Mathiane tells the story of her grandmother, who lived through the gruelling events of the Battle of Isandlwana and through the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War as a young girl.

Her grandmother lived an extraordinary life, but her daughter – Mathiane’s mother – never spoke about it.

In this excerpt, Mathiane begins to explain why her mother kept silence, and how the idea for the book began to germinate in her mind.

Read the extract:


Six months before my mother died, she gave me her mother’s reference book and asked me to get professionals to reconstruct the photograph in the book. She pleaded with me to take good care of it because it was the only photograph she had of her mother. I thought it odd that she should entrust me with the task because she usually assigned important duties to Mzilikazi, my older brother. I took the book from her and chucked it in one of the boxes where I keep important documents and soon forgot all about it.

My mother died in July 2003 in Qunwane, an old rural settlement in the district of Hlabisa in KwaZulu-Natal. Qunwane is a village, like many in that region, populated by people who are steeped in their traditional culture and ways; where generation after generation has been led by the Hlabisa clan and has lived in harmony for years; where a death in one family is mourned by the entire community. One of the traditions strictly observed by this community dictates that as soon as it is known that a member of the community has died, men, women and youngsters busy in their fields will stop work immediately. They will be seen on the road heading back home, carrying their hoes, picks and scythes. Nobody will work in the fields until the deceased has been buried. This practice is to honour the departed and show respect for the ground where the body is to be laid to rest.

The Sunday after Mother’s funeral, when neighbours and acquaintances had left our homestead, the only people who had stayed behind apart from us, her children, were close relatives. They were there to help us with the cleaning of her house and to sort out her personal belongings.

It was a warm winter’s day and we were lazing around eating the food left over from the funeral as well as conducting a post-mortem of the funeral proceedings. My brothers and sisters – there are nine of us, six girls and three boys – were sitting in my mother’s dining room talking about what the speakers at the funeral had said about her. Some of the stories were hilarious while others were downright embarrassing. One speaker told the mourners that Mother boasted about her children and the way they looked after her, that she would say she was not a chimpanzee sitting under a tree wailing. She would tell locals that she had so much money that if she laid the notes on the ground she could walk on them from her house to Nongoma, which is a stretch of about thirty kilometres. Another speaker agreed with the previous speaker, saying she had once casually asked Mother where her son Mzilikazi was teaching and her answer had been: ‘Oh, that one is tired of teaching black children. He is now teaching white kids at the university.’ I mean, how politically incorrect could one be? These were some of the stories with which people at her funeral service had regaled the mourners. Mother was a colourful person, full of love, song and jokes. She was ninety-seven when she died and her send-off was more of a celebration of her life than a funeral.

I was sitting next to my oldest sister Ahh this Sunday morning. Ahh is short for Albertinah. She is my mother’s first-born child. Of all my mother’s children, Sis Ahh is extremely laid back, soft spoken and one of the most gentle people I have ever known.

I turned to her and said: ‘There is something I’ve never understood about Sister J.’ (We called our mother Sister J, her name being Joana.) ‘Do you know why she rarely spoke about her mother? For someone who used to entertain us with stories of OkaBhudu (our paternal granny, her mother-in-law), there was very little she shared with us about her mom. Do you know why?’

I don’t know whether or not I expected an answer. I was partly talking to myself and I was also half listening to the conversation that was taking place around the table.

‘It’s because her mother’s story was filled with too much drama, regret, guilt and, finally, triumph. That is why she did not speak about her mom,’ answered Sis Ahh.

Getting a reply from Sis Ahh surprised me. Her answer came out glibly and matter-of-factly. I paid little attention to it. And yet somehow it lingered in my mind.

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Herman Mashaba laments “sentimental allegiance” to the ANC – Excerpt from Capitalist Crusader


Capitalist CrusaderBlack Like YouRead an excerpt from Herman Mashaba’s new book, Capitalist Crusader: Fighting Poverty Through Economic Growth.

Mashaba is the founder of the Black Like Me empire and the author of the bestselling memoir Black Like You. He is also executive chairman of Lephatsi Investments (Pty) Ltd, Leswikeng Group of Companies and Phatsima Group of Companies and holds several other directorships.

Mashaba recently announced that he is making himself available as a mayoral candidate for the Democratic Alliance for the City of Joburg in 2016, saying: “For too long I have watched from the sidelines at how corrupt and self-serving ANC politicians have mismanaged Johannesburg.”

His offer was officially been taken up by the party on Saturday in an announcement by DA leader Mmusi Maimane. Mashaba beat Wits professor and DA councillor Rabelani Dagada to the candidacy.

Mashaba made some controversial comments at the press conference on the subject of Black Economic Empowerment. “If I have the powers to instruct Parliament to … remove all laws and policies that classifies me as a black South African, as a black human being … I can assure you I would do it tomorrow,” he told reporters.

Read the excerpt from Capitalist Crusader, in which Mashaba expresses concern about the allegations of corruption that exist at all levels of government, including cronyism, nepotism, and mismanagement and exploitation, specifically “on mines owned by Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) companies”.

* * * * *


Strong national policies and good governance are essential for the development of a healthy democracy; without them South Africa faces collapse on all levels. Fortunately, the South African Constitution was formulated and developed by top legal and social minds to provide for the human dignity of all South Africans, and is a remarkable democratic legislative framework for good governance. The Constitution came into effect in 1997 and really gave me a strong sense of national and social security, since I believed that by adhering to its provisions, South Africa was on a path of genuine, sustainable reform that would uplift its entire people and advocate good governance.

When Thabo Mbeki became president in 1999 I had a positive outlook on the future of the country, and my faith in the nation’s leadership was cemented when Mbeki eloquently advocated and promoted what was commonly known as the African Renaissance initiative, whereby Africans strive to surmount African challenges to achieve economic, cultural, and scientific renewal; an initiative that I and many other people embraced. The rebirth of our continent under South Africa’s leadership was an exciting prospect.

In 2000 the German government invited me to address a conference in Berlin to promote the African Renaissance initiative, which I understood under Mbeki’s leadership to mean encouraging the continent to embrace the fundamental cornerstones of democracy, namely democratic principles, respect for the rule of law, and freedom of the press. Moeletsi Mbeki and Tokyo Sexwale were also among the speakers at the same conference.

However, my faith in Mbeki’s leadership and his understanding of an African Renaissance were soon somewhat compromised when he supported (by his quiet diplomacy) Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programme, a venture that resulted in massive human rights violations when white farmers were stripped of their farms without compensation, and often violently so. I felt betrayed and disappointed, and further events triggered serious doubts in me about Mbeki’s political vision. In 2000 he appointed Jackie Selebi as the national police commissioner. In 2007 the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) issued a warrant for Selebi’s arrest on corruption charges. On the grounds of this investigation into Selebi, Mbeki placed him on extended leave in early 2008 and suspended Vusi Pikoli, head of the NPA. Mbeki’s handling of Selebi’s corruption and Pikoli’s suspension raised serious questions in my mind regarding Mbeki’s leadership and his lack of respect for the rule of law. How on earth could anyone justify maintaining the country’s Commissioner of Police with a cloud of criminal cases hanging over his head? These doubts were extended to the ANC when they recalled Thabo Mbeki as president of the country in 2008, only three months before the national election; I realised I could no longer vote for the party of Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu and all the other leaders who had helped to deliver the freedom we were enjoying. Later, upon reading Reverend Frank Chikane’s book Eight Days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki, I got a sense of how the ANC was prepared and determined to expel Mbeki, again with brazen disregard for the rule of law. The rule of law must be paramount in a society that wishes to be considered democratic.

When the Congress of the People (COPE) was established as a result of Mbeki’s expulsion, I was immediately suspicious of some members of its leadership, because it appeared that these individuals’ motives were driven by personal advancement rather than an intention to serve the people of South Africa. The main mandate a political party receives when it wins an election is to adhere to the will of its constituents. Voters are guided by the principles and the policies that a political party promotes, and if a party advocates promoting the economy, I expect to see their policies aligned to such advocacy. When a party fails to deliver on its election promises, and appears to have other agendas, it is time to reconsider supporting that party.

Was it just me who was disgruntled with government policy in the run-up to the 2014 election? I engaged in conversations with friends and family, trying to gauge their political opinions and sentiment. I was encouraged that lengthy and vociferous political debate was taking place in my hometown of Hammanskraal, since I believe that without engagement, critical thinking cannot develop and there can be no hope of solutions for the country’s problems. Even though I support everyone’s right to vote for the party he or she supports, I was depressed by some of the opinions I heard.

Many of my friends and family, from young to old, seemed to feel that the Economic Freedom Front or the Democratic Alliance were best qualified to tackle the country’s immediate local problems, such as employment or service delivery, because the ANC had failed to deliver basic human services, and protests seemed to have had no effect. Yet these same people felt that they could not abandon the ANC nationally, and upon further probing, I saw that their support for the ANC on a national level seemed to be motivated more by loyalty to the party that had delivered them from apartheid than by any belief that the ANC would actually deliver on promises. I drove home in a dark mood that night, dispirited by how sentimental allegiance might prevent the growth and development that South Africa so desperately needed. Just as I believe there is no place for emotion in the boardroom, I don’t believe emotion has a place in elections. When voting, we really have the responsibility of voting for the party that represents our perspectives and will provide good governance.

In the build-up to the watershed 1994 election, I had taken some time off from my business and involved myself in voter education. As a member of the previously disenfranchised, I found that putting my cross on the ballot paper represented more than just supporting a political party. Like the majority of black South Africans, I was also voting for the first time in my life and recognised it for the momentous occasion it was going to be. We were exercising a right that had long been denied to us. Those who voted for the ANC were finally able to say thank you, we believe in you to lead us into the new South Africa. Undoubtedly, for many voters that first vote was going to be emotionally charged. However, I was adamant that people should understand what their votes meant, and I wanted to ensure that everyone who wanted to vote knew the procedure involved. Prior to that first democratic election, education was vital, since, like me, the majority of South Africans had never imagined ourselves being granted the freedom to vote, and we had little to no knowledge of voting protocols. My company Black Like Me funded a voter education programme run by Dr David Molapo of the I Can Foundation. David and his team, including his wife Mmamiki and Abner Mariri, did a sterling job across the country educating the educators. Many other organisations embarked on voter education campaigns. Despite these combined efforts to encourage voting, only 56.38% of the population were finally registered to vote; but what was inspiring was that 86.87% of those registered voters did indeed vote.



I need hardly describe the attendant euphoria. Every South African remembers. Images of long lines of eager and patient first-time voters swept through the media across every nation during the three days of voting in this historic election. The whole world was celebrating with us as 19 million people voted for candidates in 19 political parties and the ANC swept to victory. Our votes were a hard-won freedom, but now voting is our right, and it deserves to be treated with mature thought and consideration for the future of our whole nation. As the 2014 election approached, I tried very hard to gauge South Africans’ commitment to voting; after all, we can hardly criticise an administration if we do not participate in it at the most basic level, namely by voting.

In this voting statistics table it is evident that there are discrepancies between the South African population, the voting age population, the registered voters, and the number of people who actually cast their ballots. If we look at the 1994 election, the discrepancy between the recorded voting age population and registered voters is in the region of about a million.

If we analyse the results across the 20-year period, we can see that there has been a marked decline in the number of registered voters actually casting their votes (from a difference of 3 million in 1994 to a difference of 7 million in 2014 between registered voters and ballots cast). Indeed even more worrying, we see a significant decline in citizens registering to vote (25 million out of a population of 48 million). The decrease in registered voters is disturbing; our electoral responsibility has decreased from 86% to 72%, which means that almost 15% of electorally eligible people have renounced their civic responsibility. This will have severe repercussions on the administration of South Africa, since these voters are effectively leaving other people to decide their futures. While we can acknowledge that there are obvious valid reasons for not registering to vote – access to registration, illness, remoteness, lack of education, and fear of intimidation – a 15% abstention is high.

I wonder what this abstention is saying about the South African voting age population? Which segments of the population aren’t registering to vote? Why aren’t they registering to vote? Are they apathetic or frustrated? Have they given up or have they emigrated? Are they satisfied or dissatisfied with the way that South Africa is being governed? How do we even begin to assess this abstention? We need to engage with our fellow South Africans who don’t vote and we need to examine their reasons for staying away from the polls, because votes are the way of ensuring that all voices are heard. Generations of South Africans never enjoyed this political freedom, and many suffered and died for this privilege. Not bothering to vote is both an apathetic shrug of one’s political shoulders and an insult to those who fought to secure voting rights for all. It is also political myopia to refrain from voting, and it irresponsibly eliminates one’s voice and one’s say in the political future of our country. While a single vote might be a drop in the ocean, collectively votes have weight and can transform the direction a country takes.

The people and the policies that South Africans vote for determine the country’s future. People who are against the government and refrain from voting are voiceless; their silences are not votes. Failure to vote will result in an administration that considers itself mandated by its population because of its policies. All the people who want to have a say in those policies must become responsible voters and must actively demand that their wishes be heard by voting for a party that will ensure the country is administered according to our Constitution. Being proactive and casting our votes means that we don’t have the retroactive battle of challenging a government that strays; reactive and retroactive responses are ignored by government simply because when voters had the chance to challenge government or its policies, they were absent instead of seriously showing their commitment to how South Africa is administered. I think Pericles put it aptly: ‘Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.’

From the voting patterns shown in the preceding table, it would seem that voter education needs to be sustained and that it is as important now as it was in the run-up to our first democratic election. If South Africans hope to have any say in the country’s administration and future, then we need to ensure that people vote, and we all need to know why we are voting and what the party we are voting for actually stands for, and what that party has delivered and what it intends to deliver.

As I engaged in conversations with fellow South Africans in the run-up to the 2014 election, I was frustrated with the responses from people who had decided to vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the ANC. Why couldn’t they see that the EFF was no better than the ANC, and that their economic policies, in particular their rhetoric about land expropriation without compensation and nationalisation of mines and banks, will certainly hurt the country? Why would anyone voluntarily support the ANC when it was led by a man refusing to face censure for his alleged corruption? How is it possible that our president managed to slip through the tight strictures of our Constitution? I tried to make sense of it. Was the ANC-led government’s failure to respond to voters a reflection that the ANC was no longer in touch with what the citizens needed, and as a result some people felt that the EFF was the only party still in touch with their needs? On the other end of the political spectrum, why was the Democratic Alliance (DA) perceived as an elite white party that only had room for the ja-baas blacks? Did people consider the ANC government’s misappropriation of the country’s money to be acceptable because then the whites got less, or did ANC supporters view it as a time for blacks to feast? After 20 years, were we finally seeing what white people had been afraid of when the ANC came to power – that the white population would be sidelined in every sphere of society? Did marginalised black people want to see suffering for both whites and so-called kleva blacks (who look down on African ways and subscribe to middle-class individualism)? How had the country failed so spectacularly that these underlying racial issues were taking precedence in decision-making?

Surely when we vote we need to exhibit maturity and responsibility. But when I think about friends who basically have not worked since we left school 36 years ago, men and women who are only sporadically able to support their families, I can understand that they are hoping Julius Malema and the EFF will bring the plight and fight of the poor to the forefront of political agendas, that it is emotion and desperation that motivate their support of the EFF. Considering that it is the new political party on the block, the EFF did well. It managed to achieve an astounding 6% of the votes cast, more than a quarter of the votes secured by the official opposition, the DA (22%). And the EFF beat diehard parties such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (2%), the United Democratic Movement (1%) and the Pan Africanist Congress (0.21%). I can hardly blame EFF supporters who feel that the EFF is the only party talking to them, because as far as those unemployed and poor people living in dire circumstances are concerned, no other political party is saying anything to improve their situation. But this is all the EFF is doing too: talking. The party has not actually achieved anything except to incite disharmony and promote Mugabe-style land grabs. So what sector of the electorate is it to whom the EFF appeals – the genuine poor or the bone idle?

In the run-up to the 2014 election, and indeed since then, paging through the major newspapers reflects the signs of a government not coping, a government that has spiralled into dysfunction. A president being accused of allowing his alleged benefactors to land a plane at a national key point during wedding festivities, a president using R246 million of taxpayers’ money to fund the upgrade on his personal property and refusing to repay the money despite the public protector’s recommendation that he do so. Cabinet ministers giving jobs to pals and contracts to partners and family members, metropolitan cops trying to coerce motorists into buying e-tags on behalf of the South African National Roads Agency, parliamentarians and their wives accused of earning ghost salaries and drug-dealing, mismanagement and staff being exploited on mines owned by Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) companies. The allegations of corruption at every level and in every sector and the hardships suffered by the poor fill our newspapers. But amid all these depressing and infuriating news items, is there something positive that I am missing? Is the government’s scorecard as poor as I imagined it is, and is that why people have stopped going to the polls – because they believe that their vote has no power to challenge or change government – or has the government achieved significant accomplishments that have given its supporters hope? Have the ANC actually delivered on the promises they made in their election manifestos?

Apartheid and its draconian policies systematically froze out black people until the onslaught had dehumanised them. Are the ANC and its leadership flouting the Constitution and doing the same to anyone who challenges them – intimidating people and freezing them out? If South Africans don’t demand adherence to the Constitution, namely democratic principles and adherence to the rule of law, where does our future lie? On the country’s 20th anniversary of democracy it seems appropriate to perform a thorough investigation of the government’s policies and adherence to the Constitution.

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“Biko Lied” – An Extract from Chapter 1 of Eusebius McKaiser’s New Book, Run Racist Run

Cover Reveal: The New Book from Eusebius McKaiser
Run Racist RunCould I Vote DA?DA of nie?A Bantu in My Bathroom

Bookstorm has shared an excerpt from the first chapter of Eusebius McKaiser’s new book Run Racist Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism.

The chapter is titled “Biko Lied”.

In the excerpt, McKaiser points out how “white people can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the reality of racism”.

McKaiser describes meeting a young white man who casually dismissed the importance of racism as a topic for a book, saying that he “did him a favour” when he “took him to the cleaners”.

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *

(Why) are black writers preoccupied with race and identity?

Is Literary apartheid a feature of local racism?

Does white privilege extend to the world of the writer?

I recently had a drink in Greenside, Johannesburg. A friend of mine, Amy, had my keys. I had forgotten these at a function we were at earlier in the day. When I picked up the keys, she asked me to stay for a drink. I obliged. She was with another friend of hers, someone I did not know. He was a white South African male, bisexual and dating a coloured woman. Amy is very charismatic and full of laughter, and she volunteered this information on his behalf within the first minutes of us meeting. I think it was an attempt to say, ‘Guys, get on with being comfortable with each other immediately because you have, like, stuff in common!’

Except, Amy miscalculated. This dude – call him John – asked me what book project I was busy with. I told him that, actually, it was a long and complicated story. He seemed eager and so I told him I was busy writing a book on illness, death and the meaning of life. He seemed genuinely fascinated by those themes and wanted to know how on earth I had chosen these topics, and what I was hoping to say and achieve in the book. Because he seemed so interested in my work, I told him about my decision to put that book on ice. Instead, I announced, I was writing an anthology on racism, a collection of essays that built upon the first part of A Bantu in my Bathroom.

Having almost completed the entire book at that point in time, I was excited to talk to an interested person – like John – about it. I was ready to explain how the book had demanded to be written, and why the kinds of issues I raise and explore were distinct from any of the questions I had tackled before, or had been discussed in any public discourse on race. But the fucker dampened my enthusiasm before I had a chance.

He rolled his eyes. ‘Racism! Aaaah. That’s so boring! Surely racism isn’t a thing anymore? No one cares about racism. Everyone cares about illness and death, though!’

I was raging mad. Not because, obviously, he would not help my book sales, but because he illustrated a brutal reality: that whites can afford to pretend that racism isn’t a thing. Just like men can pretend that sexism isn’t a thing, and just like homophobes can pretend that being gay ‘isn’t an issue anymore’; so, too, white people can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the reality of racism.

Not all whites were or are perpetrators of anti-black racism. However, all whites benefited, and still benefit, from the history of anti-black oppression. Two profoundly vicious consequences flow from this: many whites are blind to racism’s continued presence; and, related to this blindness, many whites rationalise their ignorance by thinking that black people are ‘race-obsessed’. Not only does John fail to examine how our collective experience of racism’s history affected him, personally, but he has the audacity to be casually and confidently dismissive of the possibility that racism could be a significant, horrid truth for other people, every day.

As my late mom would have put it, I took him to the cleaners. ‘Racism doesn’t matter to YOU, because you’re white and you can afford not to see racism or not even think about it. I don’t have that luxury, OK? It’s no different, buddy, from you and me dismissing women who write about sexism. Because we happen to be born with penises and the world is structured to advantage us and oppress women, we can roll our eyes at sexism. That’s exactly the same with racism. If you think it isn’t an issue any more, I suggest you take time to speak to black people instead of assuming you know our lives. Use it. Don’t use it.’

I have zero regrets about making him go red. He asked for it. He deserved it. No, I am perhaps slightly too generous here. He didn’t deserve me explaining to him what he ought to know. I did him a favour. I don’t think black people have a duty to convince whites that racism is a reality. We need to get on with strategies for dismantling racism’s legacy. White allies in the fight against racism are useful and important. But it is a bonus to have a black person explaining ‘race’ to you, or why and how you are wilfully ignorant about racism, and why racism matters. And I am not even sure John is an ally, let alone an ally with blind spots. So while I was mad at John, I actually did more than I needed to. I could, just as acceptably, simply have chuckled, not upset the convivial Greenside pub atmosphere, and said, ‘John, let’s drink bud! BARMAN!’

Amy was wrong in her unreflective assumption that John and I could get along because we were both not straight, and because he was in an interracial relationship. You don’t have to be straight to be bigoted or ignorant. And being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you grasp the ways in which racism continues to play out. And, for Amy, an additional lesson, perhaps, was that as an ally in the fight against racism, there is a greater level of vigilance required in spotting and rupturing non-bloody manifestations of racism among white friends than you might have realised.

The encounter with John has remained with me because I had all along felt ambivalent about writing this collection on racism, and his dismissiveness took me back to that place of doubt. I was, until I actually started working on it, excited about Searching for Sello Duiker, a book that was neither overtly about South African politics nor about race. It took enormous resolve not to care about people like John who would roll their eyes at another book on ‘the race question’. (Not that people like John have necessarily read any other books on race.)

What the Johns of the world do not know is that black writers who have any self-awareness about the world in which they live and work cannot just let go of the race question. Because race continues to haunt us. And while it would be wonderful to write about a greater range of subjects – and, to be sure, many black writers can and do – there will never be a shortage of black writing on race and racism.

So, in a way, this essay is a meditation on the black writer’s preoccupation with race. The legacy of racism is so darn powerful and ubiquitous that it extends as a matter of course to the world of the writer. Contrary to popular assumption, many of us do not wake up and freely choose what to write. Our writing is in part a reflection of the world we live in, coupled with unique biographical facts about each writer. I want to both describe and defend the apparent preoccupation of black writers with questions of identity in general, and with race in particular. It is, in complex ways, a preoccupation that flows from the history of anti-black racism itself, and that history’s reach into present reality.

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  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
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“Please Never Submit Again.” – Bestselling Author Gareth Crocker Shares His Experience of the Publishing World in Ka-Boom

Ka-BoomKa-Boom, the latest book by Gareth Crocker, is the perfect Christmas gift: fast-paced, punchy and funny.

In the book, Crocker describes his early years as a promising soccer player and poet, his first job – in the criminal underworld – the time he decided to run the Comrades, the time he decided to try out for the Olympics, and, ultimately, how he became the bestselling author of five books, having sold more than three million copies worldwide.

Two of Crocker’s novels, Finding Jack and Never Let Go, are being adapted for films in Hollywood.

In this excerpt from Ka-Boom, Crocker shares his experience of trying to find a publisher, during which time he amassed a chest full of rejection letters along the lines of: “Please never submit again.”

Gareth Crocker

Read the extract:

* * * * *


‘The only horror here … is your writing.’

So here, in brief, is my view of the modern book-publishing world.

To begin with, let’s look at the money (he writes, with a straight face). The reality is that if you plan to live on something even vaguely more substantial than tree bark and urine, you pretty much have to land an international publishing deal. Even then 99 out of 100 authors still can’t make a decent living out of their books. Those who claim they can are, in fact, often retired, boosted by a plump inheritance, lying their pants off or supported by a kind and hard-working spouse. Either that or they rob banks in their spare time. Part of the problem is that the buying public’s attention span has dwindled alarmingly over the past decade. This is further exacerbated by the increasing competition for people’s leisure time which, itself, is shrinking. The other difficulty is that, unlike at the cinema, say, where a moviegoer has maybe a dozen films to choose from, a large bookstore presents a buyer with 78-quadrillion titles. I maintain that it is an absolute miracle for a stranger to emerge from a bookstore clutching your novel in his or her mitts. It’s a wonder of such proportions that it feels almost biblical. There are very few industries where one has to compete not only against a sea of current competitors but against an ocean of rivals from around the world … many of whom have been dead for decades. It’s like running a race against every professional athlete in the history of the sport. And let’s not even get into the current e-book ‘pirating’ culture that is bayoneting the already gravely wounded and malnourished writer (feel free to cue the violins at any point).

After that cheery start it’s important to note that the South African book market is about as big as a postage stamp on a rhinoceros’s arse. Which may tempt you to try and land an international publisher. However this, as you now know, is far easier said than done. Here are several … shall we euphemistically say ‘hurdles’ … that need to be overcome. For the sake of brevity, I shall list only a handful of the key ones:

    1. Large international publishers (based mainly in London and New York) receive *47.356-trillion zillion (*audited figure) book submissions a day.


    2. Large international publishers already have full lists of their own authors and, in many cases, don’t have the capacity or the desire to take on new writers.


    3. Large international publishers have to invest heavily in new writers, given that it takes many years to build a writer’s name and reputation. So they have to be absolutely blown away by an unpublished author just to consider him or her.


    4. Large international publishers often take a dim view of authors living in the colonies and, subconsciously or not, prejudge writing that does not come out of the more cosmopolitan cities.


    5. Large international publishers do not accept ‘unsolicited manuscripts’. Which means that any manuscripts you send them … will never be opened at all.

Ah, right. So that’s quite a challenge then. After all, it’s unlikely that one of these publishing behemoths will offer you a multibook publishing deal if they have not, in fact, read your work.

So how then does one get published in this mystical world of closed doors and near-impossible odds?

Well, unfortunately, you need to find a reputable agent to represent you.

Agents are the publishing world’s ‘filtering system’. Simply put, they sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s actually rather brilliant. Given that the vast majority of reputable agents operate purely on a commission basis, this means that they will only take on writers who they feel have an actual shot of being published. In other words, their livelihood depends on their ability to spot and nurture talent.

The publishers then sit back and wait for these agents to find the next Patterson, Grisham and Crocker (ahem).

Which means that you, as the lowly writer, have no choice but to delve into the often slimy back alleys of literary agents. That sounds rather gross and sordid, which is quite right (more on this subject, anon).

Of course, I didn’t know this when I submitted Malevolence to every publisher on the planet at great financial and emotional cost. When I found out that I needed an agent to get my foot in the door, I was forced to delve even deeper into my already hefty student loan to print out and dispatch more copies. (These days, of course, most agents are content to receive email submissions. Hmph.)

You can’t imagine how ruinously expensive it was. Especially if you were as young and poor as I happened to be. Paper is very heavy. Posting or couriering off a 500-page, double-spaced manuscript is a little like sending a chair halfway around the world. You get charged a small fortune for it.

In the months and years that followed, whole forests would be stripped and laid bare so that rejection slips could be printed and posted to me (at my own cost, no less, as agents insist that you include a fully paid-for self-addressed return envelope with your manuscript so that you can also bear the financial burden of being stabbed in the heart). In the beginning I kept a file of my failure. But then, when the file got too heavy and threatened to collapse my writing desk, I upgraded to a large chest. The sort that you would find in the land of Narnia. This was better because I could close the lid and try not to think about how awful I was. And then, one day, the chest lid would no longer close.

A smarter person would have given up at this point. But not me. Oh no. I was going to ride the wheels off this train. Fortunately, the rejection notes themselves were often quite kind and supportive which would lift my spirits to no end. Here are extracts from some of the more memorable ones (I actually have them framed in my writing studio):

    – ‘Please never submit again.’
    – ‘I can’t work out if this is a horror novel or a parody of one. Either way, it’s woeful.’
    – ‘I’ve never seen so many clichés assembled together in one story. Reading your manuscript was indeed a dark and stormy night.’
    – ‘The only horror here is your writing.’
    – ‘No. God no.’

And then you would pick up a writer’s magazine where some famous author would relate his or her story of how they first became published.

‘So I decided to write my first book in 2004. I was convinced nobody would like it and so I very nearly never submitted it. But thankfully I did and immediately found an agent. He loved the book so much he set up a publishing auction and I was offered $43-billion by a dozen international publishers that very week. I really am so blessed.’

Let’s see how blessed you are when I ram my laptop down your throat.

The reality, of course, is that very few writers have an overnight ‘rags to riches’ story. It almost never happens.

Anyway, after every agent and his dog had tossed me out, I finally had to concede that all was perhaps not perfect with Malevolence. And so, I wrote another horror de force – The Pumpkin Hour. No, it wasn’t a book for children. It was a very serious and very scary adult novel. And another 17 834 rejection slips came flapping into my mailbox, not unlike that scene with the envelopes and the owls in Harry Potter.

Then came another literary weapon of mass destruction, In the Eyes of a Child.

Surely this was the one? I had grown so much as a writer. I couldn’t imagine this gem not being accepted. Well, whether I could imagine it or not, the rejection slips kept flooding in.

At this point I was considering opening up a recycling plant. Lord knows I could pulp myself into some real money.

And then, at my lowest ebb, the PR company I was working for (my day job) was kind enough to send me to an international PR Convention in Chicago. If I’m honest I only went to about three presentations and spent the rest of my time at Andy’s Jazz Club sipping Apple Martinis with my mate, Mitch Ramsay. Afterwards, however, I had a few days to spare so I decided to do the touristy thing and head out to Washington.

Top of my list was a visit to the Vietnam Wall.

While I was standing there, my eyes skimming over the names of the 60 000 or so US soldiers who perished in the Vietnam War, a man pulled up beside me. He was dressed in full military regalia. He remained perfectly still for a while before reaching into his jacket and pulling out a dog harness which he placed against the wall.

And then he started to cry.

I waited a few minutes until he had regained a measure of composure before turning to him. ‘I’m so sorry to intrude,’ I began (clearly not sorry at all), ‘but I have to ask you … why’ve you placed a dog harness against the wall?’

The former soldier then told me the heartbreaking story of the Vietnam war dogs and how some 4000 canine soldiers were sent over to help American soldiers in the war (by locating enemy patrols, finding bombs, sniffing out booby traps and so on). His eyes moistened again as he explained that, at the end of the war and due to the cost of the withdrawal, the US government declared the dogs ‘Surplus Military Equipment’ and they were ordered to be left behind together with the old tents and prefab buildings.

‘Our dogs saved the lives of at least 10 000 US soldiers, and dog handlers like myself were forced to abandon them. I had a gun pointed at me on the day I was bundled into a helicopter for the long trip home. It’s been over 30 years and I’ve never stopped thinking of my dog, Shadow. He saved my life – and the lives of my platoon – on at least three occasions. If it weren’t for him, my name would be on this wall.’

And in that moment, I knew what my next novel would be about. No more cheesy horrors for me. I would write a book that would a shine a light on this horrific injustice. It would tell the story of one brave soldier who refuses to abandon his dog and what he does to try and save him. Fiction told against a nonfiction backdrop.

I started writing the book that night in my hotel room. A year and a half later, Leaving Jack was completed. And this time when Kerry emerged with the manuscript in her arms, she was crying.

‘It’s beautiful, Ga,’ she whispered. ‘Absolutely beautiful.’

And just like that I knew my days of being rejected were numbered. My long apprenticeship would soon be over.

Or so I dared to believe.

* * * * *

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A Day in the Life of a Bread Company CEO: An Excerpt from Paige Nick’s Banting Satire, Death By Carbs

Facebook Reacts to the Murder of Tim Noakes: An Excerpt from Paige Nick’s Wickedly Funny Novel, Death By Carbs

Death By CarbsWhat happens if you’re the MD of a bread company during the Banting craze? Read an excerpt from Death By Carbs, Paige Nick’s new satire on low-carb culture.

Death By Carbs is a great stocking stuffer for Tim Noakes fans or anti-Banters since – spoiler alert! – the Prof is murdered on page one.

The real-life Noakes, however, says Death By Carbs is an excellent read, and even gave it a cover shout: “I was breathless right until the end.”

Nick is a columnist, award-winning advertising copywriter, and author of the critically acclaimed novels, A Million Miles from Normal (Penguin, 2010) and This Way Up (Penguin, 2011). She is also one third of Helena S Paige, together with Sarah Lotz and Helen Moffett, a threesome of authors with a series of choose-your-own-adventure erotic novels, now out in 21 countries. Pens Behaving Badly (Kwela, 2015), a collection of her Sunday Times columns and the wild letters they’ve inspired, came out earlier this year.

Read the Death By Carbs excerpt, Part 2 of our series (See Part 1 here!):

Wednesday 7:38am

Not a day went by that Trevor didn’t wish he’d gone into bacon. People would always like bacon, wouldn’t they? Most of them, anyway. Not the Jews and Muslims of course, although some of them seemed to be coming around to it.

Earlier that morning, Trevor had considered the road paint business; people would always need road paint. Well, as long as there were roads. And before that, in the changing room at the gym, he’d eagerly considered the towel business (although he would definitely make them bigger, he thought – everybody made towels too small these days). There was also the running shoe business, and at this point, even the showerhead business seemed attractive. Surely those industries would be less stressful than the one he was in right now? Hell, working as head of public relations at Eskom would be less stressful.

It wasn’t even eight am yet, and Trevor had already weighed up at least ten different career alternatives to being the Managing Director of a company that manufactured bread, baked goods and snacks.

It was sheer dumb luck that he’d managed to find his way into a dying industry. What an idiot. These days, carbs were the enemy. Bread sales had taken a serious beating as a result, and were at an all-time low. When Trevor had first started out as VP of sales at SnackCorp, seven years earlier, it had been the heyday of bread. Carbs were king. They’d all cruised to some exotic destination for their annual corporate bosberaad to play golf and pat each other on the back. Company life was a year-round, all-you-could-eat buffet of prawns, strippers, congratulations, narcissism and booze. And carbs. Truckloads of carbs.

But not anymore. Sales figures had plummeted, stocks had hit rock bottom, and the board was tightening belts left, right and centre. And now, three mass retrenchments later, they were still running scared and pointing fingers. Unless Trevor came up with something fast, it looked like they were going to use him as the next scapegoat. Trim the fat (ironically), lose the dead weight. And then what? Who in South Africa was going to hire a short, short-sighted, slightly overweight, fifty-six-year-old white man?

Trevor needed this job; he had his ex-wife’s maintenance to cover. And what about his Merc, and the penthouse? Trevor scratched at his balding scalp, then self-consciously tried to rearrange the wisps of hair that remained. It didn’t help that SnackCorp had a forty-nine per cent shareholding in the Central Soda Company. Sugar and carbs: just great. He’d backed the only two lame donkeys in a horse race. Why hadn’t he gone into the xylitol business instead? Then life would be sweet. But he had a plan, and he felt a warm surge of hope as he considered it. If all went well, an upturn was imminent.


* * * * *

About the book

When someone kills dieting guru Professor Tim Noakes, Detective Bennie September has more suspects than solutions.

Banting culture, otherwise known as the HFLC lifestyle (high fat, low carb), spearheaded by Professor Tim Noakes, has exploded in South Africa.

The Real Meal Revolution (Quivertree, 2013), has sold more than 200 000 copies and is still picking up speed. Noakes is constantly in the news for his controversial, game-changing theories. His new book on infant nutrition has just launched as an instant bestseller, and The Real Meal Revolution has gone global, launching in the UK in August.

In this hilarious novel, Paige Nick prods and pokes at both the fans and the detractors of South Africa’s biggest dieting craze. So whatever side of the debate you fall on, you’ll find something to laugh at.

With more twists and turns than a koeksister, this laugh-out-loud novel will have you spurting bulletproof coffee out your nose.

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Facebook Reacts to the Murder of Tim Noakes: An Excerpt from Paige Nick’s Wickedly Funny Novel, Death By Carbs

Facebook Reacts to the Murder of Tim Noakes: An Excerpt from Paige Nick’s Wickedly Funny Novel, Death By Carbs

Death By CarbsRead an excerpt from Death By Carbs, Paige Nick’s new satire on low-carb culture – the perfect festive gift for Tim Noakes fans and also, since the Prof is murdered on page one, anti-Banters!

Noakes himself endorses the book, saying: “I was breathless right until the end.”

Nick is a columnist, award-winning advertising copywriter, and author of the critically acclaimed novels, A Million Miles from Normal (Penguin, 2010) and This Way Up (Penguin, 2011). She is also one third of Helena S Paige, together with Sarah Lotz and Helen Moffett, a threesome of authors with a series of choose-your-own-adventure erotic novels, now out in 21 countries. Pens Behaving Badly (Kwela, 2015), a collection of her Sunday Times columns and the wild letters they’ve inspired, came out earlier this year.

In this excerpt from Death by Carbs, the “Banting for Life Facebook Page” learns of Noakes’ demise, although some are more cut up about it than others …

Read the excerpt, Part 1 of our series (Look out for Part 2 on Thursday!):


Wednesday 6:09am

Deborah Gogh I have terrible news for all my Banting friends and fans on this page. I just
read on Twitter that Professor Tim Noakes died after an attack in his home in
the early hours of this morning.

Phillip Stewart Is this somce kind of joke? Because if it is its not funny.
Like 46

Melissa Giles It’s true. I went to go look on Twitter. How did he die? Does
anyone know any other information or circumstances? My condolences go out
to us and his family.
Like 12

Like 19

Deborah Gogh From what I can see on Twitter, the police haven’t yet
released a statement. It’s such sad news. I just can’t believe it. I was reading
his book only this morning, it’s become my bible.
Like 42

Margie Oosthuizen Do they know how he died?
Like 2

Murray Bruvick I hope he didn’t have a heart attack!!
Like 31

Charte Tonder That would be really bad!
Like 19

Kwela McKaiser They’re saying he was murdered and there’s some pictures
of face full of blood from someone’s cell phone on the scene which is very
blurry. But it hasn’t been confirmed by the authorities yet.
Like 21

Murray Bruvick Phew, as long as he didn’t have a heart attack!!
Like 19

Joanne Sloanne My condonlenses go out to his whole family. This is tragic. I
feel like I’ve lost a close friend. We are praying for you all.
Like 12

Maureen Ewehout I can’t believe what I’m reading. Ever since my husband
died, this group and Banting have saved me. I’ve lost more than 27 kilograms,
and I feel like at the age of 60 I’ve finally found my calling and my purpose
in life, thanks to The Real Meal Revolution. I’ve made so many new friends.
This is the worst news I’ve heard since my husband’s passing. Tim Noakes
was my very good friend. Just before he died, we worked together on some
Marvellous Tim Noakes ENDORSED Real Meal Revolution Meal Plans. Get
yours for just R150 each. Direct message me to find out more. It’s terrible
news, but in his honour we should all dedicate ourselves to his incredible,
lifechanging, world-beating diet plan, with the help of my Marvellous Tim Noakes
ENDORSED meal plans.
Like 8

Bernard Lewis I know me too. He’s done so much for me. Banting has
changed my life. Ive also lost a whopping 24 kilograms since January and Im
speeding towards my goal wait. I’ve tried every diet known to mankind my
whole life, and nothing has ever worked for me before. Without the Prof, I’d
probably still literly be eating myself to death.
Like 35

Sheena Easting Hi Maureen Ewehout your diet plans does sound
interesting. Are they really endorsed by the Prof himself?
Like 3

Maureen Ewehout Hello Sheena Easting yes, I met the good Professor
at a Banting conference in Balito 18 months ago, and we’ve been working
intensely on these meal plans together for the last four to five months. We
were going to launch them soon. But with this tragic news of his death, I
know he would have wanted me to launch them now, to keep his work alive.
Message me if you’d like your very own Marvellous Tim Noakes ENDORSED
meal plans, for just R150 each.
Like 4

Deedee Wolhutter Hey everyone, join me in a celebration of a great man’s
life. Let’s each one of us light a candle tonight and put it in our windows in
honour of the great professor, who has touched so many lives, and changed
the way we think about food and about bacon.
Like 28

Dot Swart Hello, are candles on the green list?
Like 2

Doug Larter That has to be the most ignorant comment of the day, Dot
Like 11

Dot Swart No Doug Larter, I mean that candles are made of wax, and isnt
that made from bees and honey? And all Im saying is that if honey is on the
Red or Orange list, then I just think that to honor the professor and all his
work, and how hes changed our lives forever, then we shuddnt use them.
Like 15

Pauline Oppelt Honey is on the Orange List. You’re allowed one spoon of it
a day, so I don’t know if we should do the whole candle thing or not.
Like 22

Donna Kirsch Maybe just half a candle?
Like 22

Shana Kurz Hello clever banting people … a question about psyllium husk –
do you know, can you tell me is there a difference between all the products,
are some better than others … or are all psyllium husk brands pretty much
the same?
Like 0

View 1267 more comments


* * * * *

About the book

When someone kills dieting guru Professor Tim Noakes, Detective Bennie September has more suspects than solutions.

Banting culture, otherwise known as the HFLC lifestyle (high fat, low carb), spearheaded by Professor Tim Noakes, has exploded in South Africa.

The Real Meal Revolution (Quivertree, 2013), has sold more than 200 000 copies and is still picking up speed. Noakes is constantly in the news for his controversial, game-changing theories. His new book on infant nutrition has just launched as an instant bestseller, and The Real Meal Revolution has gone global, launching in the UK in August.

In this hilarious novel, Paige Nick prods and pokes at both the fans and the detractors of South Africa’s biggest dieting craze. So whatever side of the debate you fall on, you’ll find something to laugh at.

With more twists and turns than a koeksister, this laugh-out-loud novel will have you spurting bulletproof coffee out your nose.

Related stories:

Book details

» read article