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Wordsetc Number 7: South Africa Literary Magazine

Wordsetc Number 7: South Africa Literary Magazine

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Wordsetc Number 7: The Crime Issue, featuring Margie Orford on the cover
South African literary magazine
http://wordsetc.book.co.za/blog
http://lwb.book.co.za/blog
Wordsetc Number 7: The Crime Issue, featuring Margie Orford on the cover
South African literary magazine
http://wordsetc.book.co.za/blog
http://lwb.book.co.za/blog

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Profiles | Fiction | Book Reviews | Features | Essays

www.wordsetc.co.za
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South African Literary Journal | First Quarter 2010
wordsetc
Margie Orford
THE QUEEN OF CRIME FICTION
Editorial
2 wor dset c | Fi r st Quar ter
I
n a fascinating non-fction title Crime Fiction, author John Scaggs writes:
“Unseeing, oblivious individuals and nations block out unpleasant realities,
whether it’s the disenfranchised homeless man on the corner or the
latest genocide.” But in South Africa we do see. Ten we write. We write
editorials, opinion pieces, non-fction and fction, much of the writing refecting
a multi-cultural developing world in which exists racism, irreverence, fraud,
corruption, killing – all part of the “culture of crime” to which we’ve largely
devoted this issue of Wordsetc.
When it comes to real-life experience, Tembelani Ngenelwa’s thought-
provoking “Letter to my killer” is a powerful exposé of his personal journey
through an ordeal of crime. After I’d pushed Tembelani – ever so gently, I hope!
– to write to a tight deadline, then to lengthen his letter by a third, he sent this
reply via email: “Tank you for making me do this, it’s the closest I’ll ever get
to confronting my attacker.” In turn, I’d like to thank Tembelani for facing his
attacker yet again to give us an insight into not only the physical experience of a
dying victim, the psychological shock and horror, but the lingering questions that
might never be answered – the why of it.
Although true-crime and crime fction are diferent genres, the “seed” from
which fction grows is often rooted in reality. Megan Voysey-Braig’s short story
“Burning” was written “as a sad kind of helpless response” to the murder of
Touch of Madness waiter Oscar Paulo, well-known by members of Of Te Wall
poetry circle frequenting the restaurant. Te story will give you a gut-wrenching
reality check about the numbers of people lost to crime, the senselessness of
murder, and the lingering sense of futility as we mourn countless victims.
As part of Jennifer Crocker’s astute appraisal of South African crime fction
heavyweight Deon Meyer, he reminds us that “crime is about disorder and
alienation, but crime fction is very often about the quest to rectify this state –
and this quest is such a wonderful source of confict and tension”.
Writing and reading crime fction, perhaps, allows us to set straight what
is more difcult to set straight in reality. Many esteemed authors, including
fabulous cover girl Margie Orford, have shared insight into the creation of
their fctional worlds and their crime-busting characters, their inspiration, their
thoughts. Trough the process of gathering material for this Wordsetc issue, we
may also have won over several writers to the dark side: editor and poet Helen
Mofett prefaced her razor-sharp short story submission with this note: “I decided
the only way to get over my gingerishness re krimis was to write one. Here’s a
little something that brewed in my head while visiting my mom’s garden.” (Who
would have thought it possible!).
In this print issue and in the online companion issue at www.wordsetc.co.za,
Wordsetc features a host of voices and opinions, each a unique take on South
Africa’s “culture of crime” – insights on the proliferation of, and the inevitable
stories that spring from crime. As we are honest about real-life crime, writing
about how it afects us all in diferent ways – as can be read in the feature
“Perscpectives: the meaning of crime” – perhaps’ we’ll fnd ways to infuence
our society for the better, all the time, of course, never forsaking the writing of
cracking good fction.
Joanne Hichens, guest editor
A culture of crime
Setting straight in fction what is disorderly in life
P0b||sher aod ed|tor
Phakama Mbonambi
60est ed|tor
Joanne Hichens
£d|tor at |arge
Mike Sager
0reat|ve d|rector
Zamani Xolo
Ass|staot creat|ve d|rector
Carol Cole
0perat|oos maoager
Sampoyana Mthanti
$0bed|tors
Bronwyn McLennan
Germaine Moolman
ProoIreader
Silvanus Mabaso
0o||oe correspoodeot
Linda Gabriel
Editorial enquiries must be addressed to:
The Editor
Wordsetc
P.O. Box 2729
Saxonwold
2132
E-mail: info@wordsetc.co.za, or
flamencomail@gmail.com
Website: www.wordsetc.co.za
Fax: 0860 510 5716
For advertising: advertising@wordsetc.co.za
For letters: letters@wordsetc.co.za
For submissions: submissions@wordsetc.co.za
For happenings: happenings@wordsetc.co.za
For backcopies: info@wordsetc.co.za
For subscriptions: subscriptions@wordsetc.co.za
This edition is sponsored by Kgolo Trust.
Visit us at www.wordsetc.co.za. We are on a
constant lookout for writers. Please enquire
beforehand about submission guidelines.
Wordsetc is a product of Flamenco Publishing.
© 2010 Flamenco Publishing.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in any manner in
any language in whole or part of this journal without
prior written permission is prohibited.
Reg. No: 2007/023519/23
VAT No: 4380234973
www.wordsetc.co.za
Contents
wor dset c | September 2009 3
Na|os
Persooa| ootes: F|rst |oves
Justice Malala remembers the crime thrillers of his youth 8
£ssay: 0I heroes aod v|||a|os
Jassy Mackenzie sizes up diferent characters in krimis 13
8ea| ||Ie: w|th best |oteot|oos
Andrew Brown on the humiliation of an innocent man 16
Feat0re: 0scar rep||es
Te intrigue of Bubbles Schroeder’s murder continues 20
7YVÄSL!;OLX\LLUVMJYPTLÄJ[PVU
Margie Orford lets the blood fow on her pages 24
£ssay: A ||tt|e b|t oI 0|trav|o|eoce
Richard Kunzmann fnds it unavoidable, even necessary 54
£ssay: 0omm0o|ty matters
Novelist Joanne Hichens guards her neighbourhood 58
£ssay: $ex aod cr|me
Te portrayal of prostitution in local crime novels 68
£ssay: F|ct|ooa| j0st|ce
Sarah Lotz on the growth of the legal thriller 73
8ea| ||Ie: A |etter to my k|||er
Tembelani Ngenelwa relives the day he almost died 76
8ea| ||Ie: 0r|mes oI pass|oo
Poet Fungisayi Sasa ponders this ugly British stain 70
7LYZWLJ[P]LZ!;OLTLHUPUNVMJYPTL
Five South Africans ofer their views on the scourge 78
8eg0|ars
Letters
How readers feel about us 6
F|ct|oo: 80ro|og
A short story by Megan Voysey-Braig 35
8ook rev|ews
A look at the latest local and international reads 40
Appra|sa|: A mao oI o0r t|mes
How Deon Meyer revived the local crime thriller 62
F|ct|oo: Poppy
A short story by Helen Mofett 56
how | wr|te: Ny ||Ie oI cr|me
Roger Smith examines the “what ifs” in his stories 65
L|Iesty|e
;YH]LS!<W[OL9P]LY5PNLY
Joanne Rushby journeys to Timbuktu the hard way 86
;YH]LS!([HZ[LVM9\ZZPH
Bronwyn McLennan’s enchanting visit 90
Food & dr|ok: $erved 0p the 0h|oese way
Emma Chen on her life, love for good food and book 94
IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE
AND MARKETABILITY.
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Other courses starting in February 2011.
Tel: +27 (0) 11 717 9500/01/02/03 www.witsplus.wits.ac.za www.witsplus.wits.ac.za
For further information contact:
Contributors
4 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
8roowyo NcLeooao is a
book editor and writer working
for various general trade
publishers both in-house and on
a freelance basis. An enduring
interest in Russia culminated
in a three-week trip there in
August last year. In “Unravelling
Russia” (page ninety), she
recounts her impressions of this
fascinating country.
$am 8eckbess|oger holds a
BA (Hons) in English from the
University of Cape Town and
works at a communications
company. Sam is fascinated
by the idea of the internet,
changing models of education,
science, gender and modernist
poets. On page twenty-four she
has written an eloquent profile
of eminent crime thriller writer
Margie Orford.
Joaooe h|cheos, our guest
editor and writer of “Community
matters” (page fifty-eight) has
worked as an artist, lecturer,
and counsellor at a psychiatric
hospital. A full-time writer and
editor, Joanne co-authored
crime-thriller Out To Score (with
Mike Nicol), reprinted in the US
as Cape Greed. Her youth novel
Stained appeared recently in
Britain. She edited the crime-
thriller short-story collection
Bad Company.
Aodrew 8rowo practises as
an advocate in Cape Town, and
is a reservist sergeant in the
South African Police Service
(page sixteen). His first two
novels were Inyenzi, about the
Rwandan genocide, and the
crime thriller Coldsleep Lullaby,
which won the 2006 Sunday
Times Fiction Prize. His work of
non-fiction, Street Blues, about
his experiences as a police
reservist, was shortlisted for
the 2009 Alan Paton Award. His
new novel is Refuge.
Negao Voysey-8ra|g is the
author of Till We Can Keep
An Animal. Winner of the
European Literary award
2007/2008. Shortlisted for the
Commonwealth Writers’ Prize
for Best First Book Africa region
2009. Longlisted for the Sunday
Times Fiction Prize 2009. She
lives in Berlin, Germany. She
has been invited to write for the
Association of Concerned Africa
Scholars, their bulletin focusing
on sexual and gender-based
violence (page thirty-five).
he|eo NoIIett is a recovering
academic, an escaped editor
and a closet writer. “Poppy”
(page fifty-six) is her first krimi,
inspired by her mother’s garden.
All of the plants are real; all of
the people are imaginary.
Thembe|ao| hgeoe|wa is the
author of The Day I Died, an
autobiographical account of
his near-death experience in
2003. On page seventy-six,
he writes a letter to his killer,
seeking answers. He also
does motivational speaking in
schools and prisons.
8oger $m|th, born in
Johannesburg, lives
in Cape Town. Mixed Blood,
his debut thriller, was published
internationally last year.
His second book, Wake Up Dead,
will be released in February
2010 (page sixty-five).
J0st|ce Na|a|a is an award-
winning former newspaper
editor. Malala currently heads
up Avusa’s magazine stable. He
writes regular weekly columns
for The Times newspaper and
Financial Mail magazine. He
also presents a weekly political
talk show (The Justice Factor)
on e.tv’s eNews Channel.
His work has been published
internationally in newspapers
such as The Wall Street Journal,
The Guardian, Financial Times,
The Independent, Forbes,
Institutional Investor, The Age
and The Observer. On page
eight, he reminisces about his
youthful obsession with crime
thrillers.
Contributors
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 5
8|chard k0ozmaoo (page
fifty-four) published his first
book in the UK at the age of
twenty-six, and Bloody Harvests
was short-listed for the Crime
Writers Association’s lucrative
J.C.W. Creasy Award for Best
New Novel in 2004. Publication
of two more novels followed,
while his fourth is experiencing
an excruciating birth process.
He has written short stories
and articles for magazines and
newspapers. He also dabbles in
film scripts and plays chicken
with London traffic on his
mountain bike. He has no cats,
no dogs, not even a gold fish,
but does blog as much as he
can at: http://richardkunzmann.
wordpress.com
Joaooe 80shby co-owns
and runs Ike’s Books and
Collectables, an antiquarian
and out-of-print bookshop and
haven for bibliophiles in Durban.
She studied Russian and East
European languages at Leeds
University, and has worked in
Bulgaria and North Yemen.
When not dreaming of her next
adventure (page eighty-six), she
also works as a freelance editor
and book restorer.
0ar|a 0ha|t (page twenty)
received an Honours degree in
Physiology from the University
of the Witwatersrand and
went on to study Nutrition and
Dietetics at the University of
Cape Town.
F0og|say| $asa is a
Zimbabwean poet and writer
living in the UK. She is the
author of The Search for the
Perfect Head, a children’s book,
and she is currently working on
a series of short stories and a
poetry collection. Fungisayi is
alarmed by the rise in crimes of
passion in her adopted country
and the obvious gender bias in
the law (page seventy).
$arah Lotz (page seventy-
three) is the author of Pompidou
Posse, Exhibit A and the
forthcoming Tooth and Nailed.
She lives in Cape Town with her
family and other animals.
hora kr0ger was born in 1983
and raised in Germany and
Canada. She studied German
and English for teaching, with a
major in South African
literature and cultural studies.
Since 2008, she has been
a PhD student in English
Literature at the RWTH Aachen
University, Germany. Her PhD
focuses on “the portrayal of sex,
prostitution and rape in South
African literature, visual and
performing arts from the 1890s
until 2010” (page sixty-eight).
£mma 0heo is the author of
Emperor Can Wait, a book about
her life and love for food (page
ninety-four). She is the owner
of Red Chamber, a Chinese
Restaurant in Hyde Park Corner,
Johannesburg. She lives in
Emmarentia with her husband
and six children (four dogs and
two cats). She also has a pond
full of tadpoles. Other than food,
her hobbies are beading and
Chinese calligraphy.
Jeoo|Ier 0rocker edited the
book page for the Cape Times,
one of the best parts of her job
as a former Assistant Editor
of the newspaper. She holds
a degree in journalism from
Stellenbosch and works for
HWB Communications as an
account director. Crocker is
happiest when she has a book
in her hands and is highly
impressed with Deon Meyer’s
work (page sixty-two). She
continues to write book reviews
for the Cape Times.
Jassy Nckeoz|e is the author
of Jo’burg-based thrillers
Random Violence and My
Brother’s Keeper (page thirteen).
She lives in Kyalami with her
partner Dion and, when not
writing, she is employed as a
servant by her two cats.
Letters
6 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Reading fiction is
always considered
to be indulgent,
something to do
when you have
nothing more
important to do …
People do not have
enough time to
read, and fiction
is denigrated. But
fiction is real.
Nourishment of the soul
To say I am overwhelmed by Wordsetc
is an understatement. When I laid
my eyes on it for the frst time, it
reminded me of my sons’ books in
Grade One because of its thickness. I
couldn’t help but wonder how other
people manage to write so little while
others can write the whole Bible. So
it is true – dynamite comes in small
packages. I fnd the whole concept of
a literary journal very fresh and mind-
provoking.
Te publication is defnitely an
unexplored territory that will be en-
joyed by literary giants for some time
about this fascinating topic, wherein
a magnifcent book could be rendered
worthless by a missing dust jacket.
Joy Watson’s appraisal of Ruth
First (“Her story’) was powerful, rivet-
ing and disturbing reading – again, I
wish it had been longer and contained
more details about her life beyond the
1950s.
Kevin Bloom’s “Te realist”
raises some crucial issues about South
Africa, and the interview with Andile
Mngxitama, “Actually, I’m not (that)
angry”, about his ideas and his New
Frank Talk press, was fascinating (and
yes, after having exhausted branding
Che Guevara, I guess Steve Biko had
to be next).
Literary publishing in South
Africa is no easy task. I sometimes
wonder what makes us persevere
in what is often a thankless task.
Nevertheless, I draw strength from the
advice of Aryan Kaganof: the work
itself is the reward.
Tank you.
Gary Cummiskey
Dye Hard Press
Johannesburg
Celebrating fiction
I am a writer of fction. As a person
who engages with words daily, loves
their sound and their arbitrary mean-
ings, I am so appreciative of the jour-
nal Wordsetc which I came upon in a
bookshop a year ago.
I am appreciative of the magazine
as one of the few South Africans who
makes time for reading. Judging by
the bulk of South African magazine
publishing, most people enjoy sala-
cious, gossipy books about local
celebrities and their sex lives, whereas
Wordsetc is the only real literary jour-
nal around. It is the McSweeny or Te
Paris Review of South Africa.
Te publication showcases local
talent, informs readers about authors
and what they write, dedicates several
pages to the review of books and gives
opportunities to writers whose voice is
denied by the ever-relentless need for
most publishers to pursue economic
targets rather than quality content.
Most of all I enjoy the fact that
to come. Te articles are enjoyable to
read and well-researched. I also en-
joyed the fact that the style of writing
is articulate yet accessible.
For a long time I had forgotten
that I was a writer myself, due to a
lack of platform to interact with other
“custodians of the written word”, but
Wordsetc has reignited that passion
within me. Each quarter I fnd myself
dying to lay my hands on the next
edition and read more about knowl-
edge treasures of our country.
Reading Wordsetc makes me realise
that one cannot master the art of writ-
ing but can polish that skill by read-
ing, reading and reading.
Te pen being a powerful tool for
any writer has enabled me to be part
of other writers’ worlds and it has
been made possible by this amazing
publication.
Te articles are so inviting, you
cannot read it without being part of
it; it makes you feel like you are at-
tending some journal club or you are
sitting with the person over a glass
of wine trying to get to know him or
her better. Te articles tell you more
about the writer as a human being
than as a picture on the jacket of the
novel. Take the Nadine Gordimer
profle (“A life of letters”, May 2009):
it is so well-written you can visualise
the scenes or the setting as you read
along.
Te emotions, excitement and
passion that the writing in Wordsetc
evoke are truly unimaginable. Tank
you so much for nourishing our souls
with some good stories.
Mmabatho Mokoka
East London
Excellent edition
Congratulations on an excellent edi-
tion! What an excellent opening with
Zackie Achmat’s recollections of his
political activist days as a teenager in
the 1970s, and his bitter-sweet rela-
tionship with his father (“My father’s
touch”).
On a less sombre note was Alistair
King’s piece about book collecting
(“Te collector”). I wish it had been
longer as I wanted to learn more
Letters
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 7
Wordsetc gives writers of fction a
space such as “Alles van die beste”
in the last edition and thoroughly
profles writers (“Master of ambigu-
ity”). It also explores literary trends
(“Fiction in a fash”).
Reading fction is always consid-
ered to be indulgent, something to
do when you have nothing more im-
portant to do. In our work-consumed
society, where value is determined in
relation to how hard you work and
how much money you make, people
do not have enough time to read, and
fction is denigrated.
But fction is real; it is no more
or less real than, for instance, history,
sociology, accountancy and law – for
what are these disciplines except
stories? Wordsetc recognises that the
writer of fction has no less authority
than the historian, the lawyer, the ac-
countant, for the discourse of these
disciplines is only as real as the story.
Writers of fction, unlike the histo-
rian, sociologist, accountant or lawyer,
consciously call into question truth
and reality. Tey shake our security
and say that no knowledge or truth is
sacred; there is no innocence.
I like it that there is such a journal
as Wordsetc, that its publishers recog-
nise that writers and literature need a
space, albeit small, and I like it that in
the face of consumerism, economics,
ersatz experiences and simulated life-
styles, it keeps on being.
Barbara Adair
Johannesburg
On the literary side of things
By happy chance I found your
magazine while browsing in Exclusive
Books recently, and treated myself to
a copy.
I must say I was pleasantly sur-
prised to fnd an upmarket literary
publication. Literary magazines are
usually not found in mainstream
format, and often the contents, while
literarily worthy, are somewhat pedes-
trian. Again, I had a happy surprise.
You have created a refreshing mix of
articles, stories, humorous pieces and
reviews in your magazine.
As an avid reader, I appreciated
your large section devoted to book
reviews, but for me the real pièce de
résistance were the two travel stories.
I particularly enjoy travel articles, and
it was great to read two well-written
articles, especially the fresh take on
Barcelona and the account of travel in
less-well known (by Westerners, any-
way) Bangladesh.
I was also delighted to fnd the es-
say on Alistair King’s obsessive book-
collecting passion – we seldom get a
chance to sample essays.
Your in-depth articles made for
fascinating reading and I can’t wait
for the next issue of Wordsetc. I have
warmly recommended your magazine
to the members of two writers’ groups
that I run, as a prospective outlet for
their work.
Every best wish for continued
success.
Alison M. Smith
Cape Town
A diamond in the rough
Literary journals are hard to come by.
Most literary journalists and lovers of
literature will attest to the fact that
getting one’s hands on a literary jour-
nal requires some creative personal ac-
counting (how many cappuccinos to
forego, how many deadlines to meet
before you allow yourself to part with
almost one hundred rand for the latest
London Review of Books). Te trouble-
some economy has also meant that
newsroom subscriptions have been
slashed, with the literary journal sub-
scriptions being among the frst to go.
I have the luxury to complain
because, unlike most South Africans,
I get to read plenty, while getting paid
to do it (I present a literature pro-
gramme on radio). With books being
so expensive, it makes a big diference
if the public has access to a quality
publication that helps sift out the
gems from the gravel.
Wordsetc could not have come at a
better time. Not only are the articles
well-written, they are accessible and
informative. Readers also get the
privilege of getting into some of the
fnest minds from this continent and
abroad. Each edition is a collectors’
item that one should hold onto for
posterity. Te last issue of Wordsetc
was no diferent, with an informative
write-up on Imraan Coovadia (one
of the dreamiest, cleverest writers
in South Africa today) and Victor
Dlamini’s outstanding photographs
(why one person should be allowed so
many talents boggles the mind).
I was in two minds whether to
attack my copy immediately or wait
for a Highveld storm on a Saturday
afternoon and savour it while listen-
ing to music. Delayed gratifcation is
sometimes overrated, so I chose the
former, with no regrets.
To the Wordsetc team: many be-
lieved in your dream, but we’re a cyni-
cal lot and I’m so glad that our worst
fears have not materialised!
It’s always a joy to read Wordsetc
and your presence at the cream of
South African literary events makes
us all proud. Keep up with the ster-
ling work. My hope is that one day
Wordsetc will be read the world over
just like the London Review of Books
and similar publications.
Karabo Kgoleng
Johannesburg
Great design
I’m impressed by your publication. I
especially like the design: while aus-
tere, it’s clean and engaging, obviously
well-suited to a publication of this
nature.
Te black and white picture in
Lindiwe Nkutha’s play (“Sheila’s jour-
ney”) in your September 2009 edition
is stunning. I like how colour has
been drained out of it, leaving only
the red of the dress worn by Sheila,
who, looking lost in a big city, gazes
forlornly into the distance, with her
all her belongings next to her.
I also enjoyed “Fiction in a fash”
by Lauri Kubuitsile about telling a
story in as few words as possible.
Keep up the good work.
Judy Lelliott
Johannesburg
For views on Wordsetc, write to
letters@wordsetc.co.za.

Many houses one home
Krog explores questions of change and becoming, coherency and connectedness
in a book about moral, historical, philosophical and geographical journeys.
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Many houses one home
Personal Notes
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 9
K
illing was really only my
second love. Te blood,
the gore, the messiness of
it, well, that had its own
weird attraction. And the fact that the
killing was part of the denouement,
the fnal piece of the puzzle, brought
a certain satisfaction with it too. All
loose ends were tied; the villain was
dead. As a young boy, my mind and
moral compass still somewhat unde-
cided, it taught me this: death could
be good.
But my frst love was the hunt.
I vividly remember the frst time
I held Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury, in
my hands. I was sad and ecstatic at
the same time. I had been searching
for the book for fve years and, fnally,
when I was nearly seventeen, I had
found it. I could not read it.
I just held it, happy that I had
fnally laid my hands on it, sad that
an obsession that had driven me for
so long had fnally come to an end. In
the slim novel, when I fnally read it,
the detective Mike Hammer’s friend is
shot in the stomach, the killer doing
First
loves
How I spent my growing
years collecting and
devouring crime
thrillers
By Justice Malala
At ten I had a collection of about
two hundred “comics”, heaps and
heaps of lurid picture stories starring
statuesque blondes named Tessa and
hard-boiled detectives who always got
the girl. I would buy them, read them
quickly, pass them on or exchange
them for something more exciting or
valuable.
If I was broke, I would hang out
with my brother Eric and his friend
Tikkie and, their guard down, I would
surreptitiously pocket Tikkie’s books,
stuf them down my trousers and run
back home to read them.
I
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a
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so deliberately to make sure he suf-
fered before he died. When Hammer
fnally fnds the villain, he shoots her
in the stomach too.
I spent my growing years collect-
ing and devouring crime thrillers. I
started with what we called “comics”
(picture stories) when the written
word started meaning something to
me, around age eight. By the time I
was nine, I was trading books with
Michael Bokaba down the road from
home and having fghts with Silly
Sepogoane because he never returned
my books in good condition.
Personal Notes
10 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
T
he frst detective I fell in love
with had been right there in
front of me all my life and I had not
bothered to pick him up. My father
had a glass-fronted bookshelf that was
always kept locked. In fact, he had
two, but the frst was destroyed when
my cousins Matlakala and Sarah had a
massive fght, screaming and scratch-
ing and biting and beating each other.
Matlakala ran outside and came
running back into the house with a
brick in her hand.
It all happened when we frst ar-
rived in Hammanskraal, north of
Pretoria, and lived, temporarily, with
my aunt and her three tempestuous
daughters and her herbalist husband.
I remember the shattering of the glass
when the brick hit the bookshelf,
shards of it fying like spray into the
air and connecting with Sarah’s arm.
She was about eighteen at the
time. Tere was blood everywhere,
and screaming and shouting. It was
mid-week. My father was away at
work in Johannesburg.
All my father’s books were stufed
in the one bookshelf that remained. It
had a lock on it. We were not allowed
to open it.
So the frst book I read was not
a detective thriller. It was a Western,
brought home by my brother Eric.
Eric was beautiful. He was tall, he was
handsome, he could speak to girls, he
played football and he knew every-
thing. He was my brother, and he was
four years older than me. Eric taught
me everything.
Eric could also read. He started
reading the book on our one sofa and
would smirk and look at me and my
sister as if we did not know what was
really happening. He would smack
his lips and moan with delight. “Yo,
yo, yo!” he would say, excited, as he
read on.
By the time he fnished reading
that novel we were begging to read
it. He would whisper the name of
the villain, an Apache warrior named
– and I remember this from memory
– Tats-ah-das-ay-go. He would regale
us with tales of the man’s exploits. We
in turn walked around savouring the
name: Tats-ah-das-ay-go!
When my brother fnished the
novel, he put it at the top of the
kitchen dresser where we could not
reach it. Every day for weeks my sis-
ter and I would talk about the book,
Louis L’Amour’s Shalako and how
much we wanted it. Every day he
would tell us we were not ready yet.
When he fnally relented and al-
lowed us to read it, I fnished it in
three days because my sister was kick-
ing me to pass it on to her.
Ten I turned to my father’s book-
shelf. For a man who had had to leave
school at standard four because his
mother died (his father had moved
on to another woman) and he had to
work to feed his siblings, my father
was widely read.
Along the way he spoke in a
unique, hip style in which he “wise-
cracked” about the baddies and
charmed the ladies.
Caution was one of a kind, one of
the most compelling detective charac-
ters I have yet read. Cheyney went on
to write more than ten Caution nov-
els. I may have read them all.
After Caution, Cheyney went on
to invent other leading men, notably
Slim Callaghan, an English “gum-
shoe” who solved murders and – of
course – got rid of the baddie and got
the girl in the end. I remember that
Slim was an ankle man – sight of a
woman’s perfectly-formed ankle was
enough to get him all worked up.
At the time I had no clue what
he found so exciting about an ankle,
but have to confess that I, too, am an
ankle man today.
I must have read these books over
about six months, and re-read them
again and again over school holidays
and lazy days in the summer heat in
Hammanskraal. It was never about
catching and killing the villain. Tese
books were not like that. It was all
about the how, the hunt. Tat is why
I have never really liked Dame Agatha
Christie. Sometimes, one wants to
know what kind of animal one is
hunting down.
A
fter about six months I had read
all of my father’s crime novels.
Among them was a novel by a
writer called James Hadley Chase. It
was nothing like the hard-boiled de-
tective thrillers of my father’s shelves.
Tis was crime. Te villains were hor-
rifc, the murders gruesome and the
tension ceaseless. My dad had only
one Chase.
One day, while at Tikkie’s house, I
saw a novel with a semi-naked woman
on the cover. I grabbed it and read the
blurb. It was called Te Soft Centre.
It was my second Chase, and
after that I was obsessed. Chase was
something else. Most of the time you
got into the head of the criminal,
generally a guy in fnancial trouble
who tried for some insurance fraud or
some other crime. Ten you watched
On his bookshelf lay the Complete
Works of William Shakespeare, collec-
tions of poetry, massive dictionaries
and an encyclopaedia. Every week he
would bring pile upon pile of newspa-
pers from his work in Johannesburg.
Somehow I was attracted to a
writer he seemed to love – a crime
writer called Peter Cheyney. A whole
shelf was dedicated to Cheyney’s
work, with book spines seducing me
with names such as Dames Don’t Care,
Te Urgent Hangman, Dangerous
Curves and Tis Man is Dangerous.
Cheyney was a master of the de-
tective thriller. Te frst book I read,
attracted by the name and the racy
cover, was Tis Man is Dangerous
– starring the FBI agent, Lemuel
“Lemmy” Caution. Lemmy was a
man who went into dangerous situ-
ations, saved the day, made a British
friend and got the “dame”.
It was never about
catching and killing
the villain. These
books were not like
that. It was all about
the how, the hunt.
Personal Notes
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 11
him disintegrate. Once you started a
Chase, you couldn’t put it down. You
just had to get to the end of the book
to know what happened to the villain.
Chase was one of a kind in an-
other way, too. In a country and
community which did not have that
many novels, Chase was probably the
most accessible and available author
in Hammanskraal and in any other
South African township. He was not
in the bookshops – there were none.
He was just the only author one was
most likely to fnd in any house in
those villages. Once I started reading
Chase, my world changed.
I was a shy kid. I could not speak
to strangers, had very few friends and
did not know how to start a conversa-
tion. When Chase came into my life I
found a community, a village, a coun-
try, of fellow crime readers. I could
meet someone and spot them for a
Chase reader within minutes. Tey
would be my friend almost immedi-
ately as we discussed the tens of books
we had each read by the man.
Within two years of my frst read-
ing Chase, I had a stash of ninety-two
of his novels in the suitcase – given to
me by my mother – where I kept my
books. Tey were traded, exchanged,
but never bought. If you had one
Chase you could read them all – you
just kept trading it. Some guys had
more than one copy of a single Chase
novel and would happily donate it
to a curious kid. I still go home to
Hammanskraal and get accosted by a
stranger wanting his book back.
Tere was some pinching along
the way too.
Te problem with Chase was that
very often you would fnd that the
same novels were circulating. At some
point I had three copies of a Corgi
edition of Te Soft Centre. Te upside
was that you could swop. Te down-
side was that most people had read or
owned Te Soft Centre.
Chase also kept you going, beg-
ging for more. Te most famous
Chase novel is without doubt No
Orchids for Miss Blandish, one of his
frst novels published in 1939. I have
found and read Te Dead Stay Dumb
and He Wont Need It Now, both pub-
lished in 1939, but could not fnd No
Orchids for Miss Blandish.
Finding Chase was a full-time job,
a search for clues about fellow readers
and lovers of the man. I remember
my friend Saki Tshetlho telling me
once about a man in Stinkwater, the
village next to ours, who was said to
be hoarding a stash of Chases. We re-
solved to go and fnd him.
Armed with about fve books
each, we intended to exchange what
we had for books we had not read
among his. We arrived there after an
eight kilometre walk only to fnd that
the man had one Chase and a stash of
porn novels. He could not read and so
donated the porn to us. We retreated
in shock and dismay after reading a
few pages.
M
r. Nchabeleng was watching
television on a warm summer’s
evening when the bullet hit him in
the head. Te shooter had stood out-
side the window, aimed and pulled
the trigger once. He did not need to
pull it a second time. Nchabeleng
died instantly.
Te year was 1982. I was twelve.
He was the frst person I knew who
was murdered. He was also the frst
person I knew who appeared in a
newspaper. Te headlines reported
his death breathlessly. Te Bantustan
newspaper used the term love triangle.
Nchabeleng was always frst. He
was the frst philanthropist I ever
knew. When the Catholic parish-
ioners decided to build a church, it
was agreed that every family would
contribute twenty rand towards the
building costs. But it was not enough.
Te parishioners were too few and the
project too big.
Nchabeleng contributed eight
massive steel window frames, the mas-
sive door frame and door, and two
hundred rand towards the building of
the church. I was nine years old, and
remember listening to all the older
people speaking admiringly about
Nchabeleng.
Nchabeleng’s was also the frst
television in the village. When it was
frst bought, when there was only one
channel going, we used to go to his
house and huddle around just to see
this strange, wondrous thing. Ten
the next day we would recount the
experience to our friends.
Nchabeleng was also the frst man
to buy a car with a sun-roof in the vil-
lage. It was a golden brown Mercedes
Benz with slanted headlights, afec-
tionately and reverentially called a
“China Eyes” when I was growing up.
It was beautiful.
Nchabeleng was a welder. He
made iron gates and he fxed car ex-
haust pipes, putting a torch to them
and closing holes and stopping loud
clapping noises from emanating from
perfectly good cars.
He worked days and he worked
nights. He was always in dirty over-
alls, except when he went to church.
In the short six years I knew him, I
saw Nchabeleng either lying under a
jacked-up car, welding away, or bent
over a steel pipe, blue light sprouting
from his blow torch. I never saw him
at leisure. He never even bothered to
put a rug on the foor to protect his
overalls. He just lay fat on the ground
and got on with it. He was always
dirty, dusty or covered with soot from
his coal yard.
His welding business made him
enough money for him to buy a truck
and start selling coal. Soon there were
two trucks and workers running up
and down delivering coal to house-
holds. In a village without electricity,
business boomed, particularly in the
numbingly cold winters. A third truck
was purchased and the business spread
to the nearby Stinkwater village.
Te village itself was spreading, so
Nchabeleng started selling wood poles
and corrugated iron sheeting for the
building of new houses.
His yard was a mess. Piles of long
wood poles, coal and coal dust every-
where, broken-down cars and trucks
everywhere. All cramped into his yard,
with people arriving all the time for
car repairs and workers milling about.
Tere were fve kids. I was in the
same class with one of the two girls.
Zozo was the eldest, a tough guy who
Personal Notes
12 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
looked uncannily like his father as a
child and as an older man, when he
became known for stealing cars and
spending time in jail.
All the mothers disliked Shai,
Nchabeleng’s wife. She smoked and
she drank and she put on lipstick. She
was younger. She wore sexy loose-
ftting blouses and she was the frst
woman I ever saw in pants. Tey were
white bell-bottomed jeans. I was seven
at the time. I remember staring at her
dancing the “bump jive” to a fast-
paced soul tune.
Shai had an afair with one of
Nchabeleng’s truck drivers. He got
ideas. Nchabeleng had a gun. Tis is
conjecture: she gave her lover the gun,
or he stole it. No matter. He stood
by the window, watched Nchabeleng
watching television. Te gun pointed
through the open window, maybe
Nchabeleng was laughing at some-
thing on the television.
I have heard the clap of a gun in
a silent place before. Maybe this gun
made the same sound. I can imagine
so. I don’t know if Nchabeleng fell
onto the hard foor, or if he fell back
into the sofa. I do know that he died.
Te truck driver, the shooter, was
sentenced to death and was hanged in
1985. Over and above his dastardly
deed, everyone used to comment
about his name. His name was Rape.
T
o get into school in our village
one had to have a birth certifcate
from a church. My father knew one
man when we arrived in Hammans-
kraal. Nchabeleng.
We were baptised in a quick
ceremony by a white Catholic priest
whose name I cannot remember,
whose name no one can remember,
not even my mother. My two sister’s
godmother was a Catholic nun, Sister
Anne. For my brother Eric and I,
Nchabeleng was the godfather.
W
hen you write you become
interested in how others write,
too. Chase’s oeuvre was so vast that
it was inevitable that as a young boy
I became interested in his prowess.
Tere were many occasions when I
would fall upon a Chase that was not
usually listed among his works at the
front or back of novels. With Chase,
there was always a surprise, a new
book.
A guy from Limpopo came to visit
our neighbours, the Magages, once.
I paid him no mind. Ten one day
I saw him reading a book, curled up
under the tree in their front yard. I
jumped over the fence and went over
to where he was sitting. He was read-
ing a Chase.
He wasn’t just reading a Chase. He
was reading a Chase I did not have:
Have Tis One on Me, one of a bunch
of novels Chase wrote about the ex-
ploits of hero Mark Girland.
“I’ve got some Chases in the
house. How about you read one of
those and I read yours,” I said to him.
“I am still reading it,” he said.
He was way older than me. Isaac
was his name, and he was taking his
time. I sat down next to him and
instantly became his friend. He had a
lot of Chase novels under his belt so
conversation fowed endlessly.
Every time I see journalists being
lazy, I think about Chase. He never
stopped. Tat is why I never stop.
O
n Christmas Eve of 1986 I went
to visit a friend of my brother,
Shwai Mangope. I had run out of
things to read within three weeks of
school holidays starting, and had been
reduced to reading and re-reading
even my Mills & Boon novels.
Mangope, as everyone knew him,
had arrived in the village about six
months before and was an instant sen-
sation. For months after he arrived he
stayed indoors.
I knew about him frst because his
half-brother, Willie, was a primary
school friend of mine although by
then we rarely saw each other.
When he emerged into the sun-
light he had a massive, swollen wound
to the side of his head and a badly-
swollen cheek.
Stories were whispered about
Mangope. He had short dreadlocks
and spoke English perfectly. He had
been at university or technikon out-
side South Africa. He had joined a
liberation movement.
My brother told me that the huge
swelling around his face had been
caused by a hand grenade that had
gone of in his hand after being boo-
by-trapped by the apartheid regime’s
spies. I had heard that Mangope had a
stash of books. So we shot the breeze
for a while, and I asked him about his
books. He told me that unfortunately
he had burnt all his books in case he
got raided by the police.
“But I have something here which
you might like. It’s a classic,” he said.
He handed over a tattered
novel with a lurid blue cover called
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
It had a few pages missing and
looked moth-eaten. To say I was crest-
fallen is to under-state the case. I was
devastated. I got home, patched the
book up as best I could and settled
down to read. Catch-22 is an anti-bu-
reaucracy, anti-war, anti-establishment
book in which the air force pilot,
Yossarian is constantly trying and
failing to impose reason on the world
around him. It was written in a man-
ner I had never seen before.
I did not see or celebrate
Christmas of 1986. I did not go to
midnight mass with my family as
we generally did. I did not do all the
things we did at Christmas. I spent
the whole day on the sofa, my siblings
screaming at me to come and help
with chores, reading and laughing to
myself. Tat is the day when my inter-
est in crime fction began to wane.
I
went to my mother’s house the
other day. Tere was only one Had-
ley Chase in the house. Tere is a lot
of worthy stuf by Ngugi wa Tiong’o
and there is a full but slightly tattered
set of my father’s Peter Cheyney col-
lection. No Chase, except for a hard-
cover that belonged to my father. It
preceded all the others I collected over
time, and has outlasted them all.
I still have not read nor found
Chase’s classic frst novel No Orchids
for Miss Blandish.
Perhaps it is time to go on the
hunt. Again.
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 13
Of
heroes
and
villains
The characters in today’s
FULPHÀFWLRQ
books show that everyone
has an equal
licence to be good or evil
By Jassy Mackenzie
G
oing way back in time, I
discovered that the frst-
ever crime fction hero
was a vizier called Ja’far
from the Arabian Nights tales, as told
by Scheherazade in the 1001 Arabian
Nights. In this story, which Schehe-
razade called “Te Tree Apples”, a
fsherman found a big chest foating
in the Tigris River. He took it to the
caliph, and when he opened it, he
discovered it contained the body of
a young woman, cut into nineteen
pieces. In true Arabian Nights style,
Ja’far was told by the caliph to solve
the crime or else get put to death
within three days. Tat crime ended
up being solved when the murderer
came forward at the last minute and
confessed to his deed.
As a reward for his superb detect-
ing skills, the vizier was given another
crime to solve and another three-day
time limit in which to do it or be
killed. By chance, he discovered an
important clue that allowed him to
solve the crime through reasoning,
and save himself once again from cer-
tain death. I’m not sure if he was given
yet another case to solve after that,
but I think this story is interesting be-
cause it’s the only incident I know of,
anywhere in fction, where a vizier has
ended up being a hero.
Usually, as soon as you hear the
words “Grand Vizier”, you know for
sure he’s a villain and he is shortly, and
going to commit a series of dastardly
crimes involving serpents and poi-
soned sherbet and hidden trapdoors
and turbanned thugs wielding scimi-
tars. Te role of the vizier has def-
nitely evolved as far as crime fction
is concerned, and so have the roles of
heroes and villains right here in South
Africa.
Te infuence of apartheid on
South African writing can be com-
pared to the infuence that Hitler and
the Nazi regime had on Germany.
Tis had the same lasting repercus-
sions on the culture and society it
afected, and the way that everybody
involved ended up perceiving them-
selves. Books are still written today
featuring Nazi war criminal villains
who have somehow managed to live
in hiding and go unpunished for de-
cades until their past evils catch up
with them.
Occasionally you also get a mod-
ern thriller set in the Nazi era – Jefery
Deaver’s Garden of Beasts is one of my
favourites, and Fatherland by Robert
Harris is a brilliant example of a
thriller set in a fctitious Germany a
couple of decades after Hitler had won
the war. One of the most wonderful
touches in that book was the way that
Harris still had Barbara Cartland writ-
ing romances, only because Britain
had now been conquered by Germany,
they had titles such as Te Kaiser’s
Ball.
Te same thing is happening here
in South Africa. Some crime fction
villains have their roots buried in the
rotting carcass of apartheid, and some
of today’s books are still set in that
era. I’d love to read the equivalent
of Fatherland, set in this country. It
would feature a heroic police ofcer,
a fgurehead feared by society as an
oppressor and a perpetrator of the
violent apartheid regime, but who
discovers the truth about the country’s
past while investigating a seemingly
unrelated crime, and manages to ex-
pose the atrocities committed by the
ruling party and bring the whole sys-
tem crashing down.
Tat made me wonder what he-
roes and villains would have been
like in South African crime fction if
apartheid hadn’t ended. I think these
characters would have ended up being
as formulaic as the ones you fnd in a
Cartland novel or a modern Mills &
Boon, because there would be such a
narrow mix of people and plots that
would get past the censor’s scissors,
and there would be an army of censors
keeping an eagle eye out for any signs
of subversive literature.
A writer in the “new old South
Africa” would have two choices for
their hero. He would either be the
hero white South African police detec-
tive, or he would be the heroic white
South African private citizen. Note
that I say “he”. A blonde, beautiful
and curvaceous heroine would cer-
P
i
c
t
u
r
e
:

S
u
p
p
l
i
e
d
Jassy Mackenzie
Essay
14 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
tainly feature in these books, but she
couldn’t possibly be the protagonist,
because otherwise it would have to be
a romance novel. You see, in this fcti-
tious “new old South Africa”, women
would know their place.
Pitted against the heroic white
hero would be, of course, the evil
black South African criminal, who
had committed an unspeakable crime,
so terrible and vile that it would not
even be revealed in the frst book in
the series, but only in the sequel work-
ing title, Te Mealie Tief Returns.
Luckily, the end of apartheid has
done one very important thing for
crime fction characters. It’s levelled
the playing feld, giving everyone
equal licence to be good or evil. Evil
characters have always fascinated me,
and I must say that when I do have
to kill a baddie of in one of my own
books I feel really sad about it. As a
writer, it’s good to have such a wide
feld of races, cultures, personalities
and backgrounds to choose from
when creating another one.
However, when crime writers sit
down to dream up the cast of heroes
and villains for their next books, they
must bear in mind that although
apartheid is ofcially over, it is not yet
entirely dead. It exists in the minds
and attitudes of many people from all
walks of life, and its legacy is still af-
fecting society. So we post-apartheid
writers have to take this into account
when creating our characters, whether
they are good or bad. We don’t have
complete carte blanche; we are bound
by a set of unwritten rules that dictate
that each character must be a plau-
sible product of the society they come
from, with a background and a set of
belief systems that will not seem out
of place.
Interestingly, South Africa’s apart-
heid history has allowed us to create
more complex characters that combine
elements of good and evil in a way
that everybody can now understand
better. Tey’re either fawed heroes
in the very best traditions of Greek
tragedy, or they’re sympathetic villains.
When I dream up my villains, I like to
give them plausible backgrounds. I’d
like the reader to think: if I had grown
up in those conditions, would I have
turned out any diferently?
Whiteboy, the villain in my frst
book, Random Violence, sufered hor-
rifc abuse at the hands of his mother
when he was a child and, not surpris-
ingly, grew up to be a psychopath
with a fondness for torturing people.
Paul, the villain in my next book,
My Brother’s Keeper, also had a rough
childhood. As a youngster, he was
beaten by his father, a violent criminal
and borderline alcoholic, but Paul’s
real hatred was for his mother, who
tried to protect his baby brother Nick,
but would not protect him.
Paul was actually inspired by a real
character, a violent, sadistic man who
is in prison now after being arrested
by top cop Piet Byleveld. Tis man
beat up his mother and abducted an
ex-girlfriend, keeping her imprisoned
for about three weeks before she man-
aged to escape. Te poor girl commit-
ted suicide shortly afterwards. At the
time, when this real-life character was
arrested, he was driving down Rivonia
Road in Johannesburg’s northern sub-
urbs in the early hours of the morn-
ing with his new girlfriend in an old,
beaten-up Toyota. Tat fascinated me.
What does that say? It says that
crime and violence doesn’t always pay.
It also says that even a man who’s an
abusive criminal and an ex-jailbird,
who drives a crappy car, will still have
girls running after him. Tere’s simply
no justice in the world.
Anyway, enough about villains.
Let’s move on to the far more appeal-
ing crime fction hero. Now, there are
four main archetypes when it comes
to heroes in this genre, because almost
all crime fction heroes will, at some
stage of the book, have to try to solve
a crime. Bear in mind that although
stereotypes in thriller writing are to be
avoided at all costs, archetypes are dif-
ferent. Tey provide a useful overview
of the various breeds of character that
are likely to be found in a crime story.
Te frst archetype is the amateur
detective. Although they are not
involved in law enforcement, these
characters have an uncanny knack of
walking into situations where crimes
take place and dead bodies are found.
In real life, a character like this would
be someone to avoid and defnitely
to leave of your dinner party list un-
less you want corpses keeling over
for inexplicable reasons in between
the main course and the dessert. Of
course, these characters do stretch
the limits of plausibility somewhat,
especially if they are used in a series of
books, because how often can Average
Joe keep stumbling over dead bod-
ies? One of the best examples of this
archetype is Agatha Christie’s Miss
Marple, who met with approximately
two corpses per year without leaving
her village. In fact, that quiet little vil-
lage of St Mary’s Mead was described
by one critic as having “put on a pag-
eant of human depravity rivalled only
by that of Sodom and Gomorrah”.
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is an
amateur detective, and so is the char-
acter who inspired him, Travis McGee
from the John D. McDonald novels.
Tey’re both drifters, which makes
the high body count in their lives that
much more believable.
In South African fction an excel-
lent example is Lucy Khambule from
Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink. She’s a
journalist and PR consultant until
the convicted serial killer Napoleon
Dingiswayo summons her to C-Max
to talk about his life. Ten, as a se-
ries of terrible events start taking
place around her, she has to start
digging deeper into the background
of Dingiswayo and his connections.
Another of my favourites is Lemmer,
the bodyguard hero in Deon Meyer’s
Blood Safari. He starts of being hired
to guard the beautiful Emma le Roux,
but when she’s seriously injured by
an unknown assailant, Lemmer takes
matters into his own hands and sets
out to solve the mystery surrounding
her long-lost brother, and fnd out
who’s trying to kill Emma.
Te second archetype is the pri-
vate investigator, like Spenser in the
Robert B. Parker novels or the famous
Hercule Poirot. Hercule Poirot had
very high standards, and only liked
to solve crimes if they took place in
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 15
upmarket locations like the elegant at-
mosphere of an English country house
or a private compartment on the
Orient Express. In America, thanks
to writers like Raymond Chandler
and Mickey Spillane, the opposite
happened. Te private investigator
devolved into the “hard-boiled” ste-
reotype.
Tese heroes are tough loners
that seldom speak, and when they do
will only utter deadpan quips. Tey
frequent shady late-night bars and are
often mysteriously short of money.
Tey always carry guns and, although
they drink heavily, they are never too
drunk to defend themselves in hand-
to-hand combat or, if necessary, shoot
the bad guys right between the eyes.
Tere are some fantastic examples of
these heroes in South African crime
fction, and two of the best charac-
ters are Jefrey “Mullet” Mendes and
Vincent Saldana from Out to Score, by
Mike Nicol and Joanne Hichens.
Although not quite as hard-
boiled, my heroine Jade de Jong from
Random Violence also falls into this
category. She’s a tough lady with a
distressing tendency to shoot frst
and ask questions later. She’s sexy in
a gung-ho way, but not particularly
feminine, and although she can iden-
tify any type of gun on the market
from ffty metres in the dark, she’s
hopeless when it comes to birds – she
wouldn’t know a turkey from an os-
trich unless it ended up on her dinner
plate. I’m busy editing the sequel to
Random Violence, Stolen Lives, and do-
ing my best to curb all these distress-
ing tendencies, but unfortunately Jade
will always be Jade.
Te next archetype is the police
detective. One of my personal fa-
vourites on the international scene
is Detective Superintendent Roy
Grace, who’s the creation of British
writer Peter James. Tis detective is
an especially interesting character be-
cause he has a wife who disappeared
in mysterious circumstances a few
years ago, and four books later, we are
still wondering where she is, if she is
still alive, and what really happened
to her. South African writer Richard
Kunzmann has created a pair of cop
heroes, Jacob Tshabalala and Harry
Mason, who’ve played lead roles in all
his books so far. Tshabalala is a native
South African from a family of tribal
priests and healers, and Harry Mason,
his partner, was born in England.
Te last archetype is the foren-
sic specialist, such as Temperance
Brennan from the Kathy Reichs novels
or the famous Kay Scarpetta who was
created by Patricia Cornwell. And,
in South Africa, although she doesn’t
actually wield a scalpel, we do have
a heroine who gives this category a
whole new dimension, and that is the
police profler, Dr Clare Hart, created
by Margie Orford (see main profle on
page twenty-four).
One of the most enjoyable aspects
of writing post-apartheid crime fc-
tion is that South Africa is back on the
world stage.
Tis means that crime fction writ-
ers can write a compelling story for
an international audience as well as a
local one without having to turn our
books into struggle literature.
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Real Life
16 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
With the best intentions
Sometimes good policing is not enough
By Andrew Brown
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wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 17
A
well-dressed man bursts
through the doors of the
charge ofce, shouting out
for attention. My shift is
only just beginning, the dusk light
slowly fading outside as night ap-
proaches. We are still flling in the
paperwork for our hand radios and
frearms, the desk strewn with forms,
coloured pens and bullet holders.
None of us looks up as the duty
constable approaches the agitated man
on the other side of the counter. He
has just been robbed, the man gasps.
Still we chew our pens and mark the
columns with our force numbers.
“At gunpoint,” he adds.
Te inspector looks up with a
frown. Our captain sighs quietly to
himself and stops typing on the sta-
tion computer.
“And I have the registration num-
ber of the car,” he says, looking at us
triumphantly.
Now we have something, I think,
feeling the frst futters of anticipation
for the night ahead. Te inspector
takes down the details. Te victim
had been walking along Durban Road
when he became aware of a vehicle
following behind him. As he turned
to see who it was, the vehicle acceler-
ated alongside him. Tere were three
black men in the car. Te passenger
jumped out and grabbed the victim
by the arm. He pushed a gun against
his head – the victim at the charge
ofce presses his fnger against his
temple in demonstration. Ten the
robber took his cellphone, his wallet
with fve hundred rands in it and his
house keys. Ten they drove of. Te
car is a white Mazda Sting with regis-
tration number CA 323 323 .
Our captain calls up the vehicle
tracking system on the computer
and types in the number. Te licence
number matches the vehicle described
by the victim. It has not been reported
stolen. It is registered in the name
of Mr Bengu, resident in a housing
complex in Maitland. Tis is all good
news, we know.
Te captain nods to the inspector.
“Brown, take the R5 rife with
you,” is all he says to me. We leave
him to open the docket, the strap
of the assault rife weighing on my
shoulder.
Te housing complex is a large
built-up estate of three-storey build-
ings, with a security hut and booms
at the entrance. “Yes, Mr Bengu does
live in one of the apartments,” the
security guard tells us, whispering as if
someone will hear above the howling
wind. “He comes from the Congo.
Yes, he drives a white Mazda Sting.”
Te guard points to an empty parking
place near one of the stairwells. But
Mr Bengu left with two of his friends,
about an hour ago, the guard adds.
“Tey are also not from here.”
We understand, we say. We radio
back to the captain with the good
information. Commands crackle out
thirsty, listening to the chatter on the
radio, and playing with the safety on
the rife.
At one in the morning, we get a
call from a Flying Squad vehicle. Tey
have spotted the Mazda parked out-
side a club in Main Road, Sea Point.
Tey will keep it under surveillance
until we arrive. We startle the security
guards as we hoot for the boom to be
opened. Tey rub their faces and wave
goodbye. We race along the highways,
past the breaking waves at Tree
Anchor Bay and into the neon-lit strip
of the main road. We pull in behind
the Flying Squad vehicle.
Tey point out the vehicle, parked
in the orange glow of a street light
about three hundred metres up the
road. Tey leave, pulling a tight U-
turn and disappearing down a side
alley to wait out of sight. Another
marked car radios in with their loca-
tion a few blocks away.
We park alongside an all-night
petrol station. Te cheerful lights
on the cofee machine wink at me.
After thirty minutes and a silent nod
from my inspector, I sprint across the
forecourt. Two large styrofoam cups
of instant cappuccino. I hurry back,
frothed cofee slopping over the sides.
As I reach the passenger door, my
inspector gesticulates to me. I look up
to see the Mazda pulling away from
the kerb, three occupants inside.
Two large cofees hit the gutter,
spraying the side of the car and my
boots with brown mud stains. Fuck,
so much for cofee. Te tyres squeal
as we turn in behind the retreating
Mazda. Te rife makes a solid clunk
as I pull the bolt back and release it,
forcing a round into the chamber. I
grip the stock tightly, watching for
movement inside the feeing car. We
close in on them. Te passenger in the
back of the Mazda turns in his seat
and looks back at us. He says some-
thing to the driver.
Is he reaching for something at his
feet?
Hurried commands on the radio
as the Mazda turns sharply down to-
wards Beach Road: “Block them of at
the intersection.”
over the radio: No police vehicles to
come anywhere near the complex; the
registration number of the vehicle to
be distributed throughout the metro-
pole; an unmarked car will meet us
nearby and we will swap vehicles; we
are to stake out the apartment from a
distance and call for back-up once the
suspects arrive back.
We haven’t had supper, we have
no drinks, not even cigarettes. “Any
chance of cofee?” we enquire, looking
about the desolate car park, the wind
pushing the sand towards us in waves.
“Don’t push you luck,” replies our
captain.
We position the unmarked car at
the other end of the complex. We can
see the empty parking space between
the trees. We push our seats back and
wait. It is the endless ambiguity of
policing: the tedium that pervades
the grinding shift, punctuated by
moments of panic. I sit, bored and
His face seems
screwed up in anger.
He lifts his hands
outwards towards
me.
18 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Real Life
13
th
TIME OF THE
WRITER FESTIVAL
Durban, South Africa
9-13 March 2010
The Time of the Writer international
writers festival, coordinated
annually by the Centre for Creative
Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal)
will bring together South African
and African writers in a week-
long programme of stimulating
literary events. Evening readings
and discussions take place at the
Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, with
daily activities at various tertiary
institutions, community centres,
schools and other venues.
The festival will include a
tribute evening to the life,
creativity and activism of the
late Dennis Brutus.
The complete list of past
participants and details of previous
festival programmes may be
viewed on the C.C.A website:
www.cca.ukzn.ac.za
Enquiries to 031-260 2506/1704
or email: cca@ukzn.ac.za
Te Dog Unit roars past us on the
left, the faces of the two ofcers stern
and focused. Tey cut in front of the
Mazda, forcing it to brake heavily. Te
front dips down and I can smell the
rubber from the tyres. I jump from
our car before it comes to a standstill,
rushing at the driver’s door.
“Get out of the car, keep your
hands where I can see them. Out, out,
out now,” I bark.
Te driver is thick-set, but he
moves with agility. His door opens
with a rough push and he springs
from his seat. Too quickly for my lik-
ing. His skin is dark and gleams with
sweat. His right hand drags slightly
behind him as he leaves the car. Tere
is something in his hand, a chunky
black object that I can’t make out in
the light. Te rife sights are pointed
at his chest and my fnger slips onto
the trigger. I can feel its greasy line on
the pad of my fnger.
“Put your fucking hands where I
can see them.”
His face seems screwed up in
anger. He lifts his hands outwards
towards me. Te trigger has a pressure
that pushes back, until the moment it
will suddenly give. Tis is when things
will change forever, I think. Whatever
happens now, nothing will be the
same again.
He opens his hand and an old-
style cellphone falls from his grasp,
clattering onto the tarmac. He is
staring at me in terror, his eyes wide
with fright and disbelief. His hands
are shaking, fapping up and down in
short jerks. His face is contorted into
a cry. I let the front of the rife drop.
“Get on the ground.”
My voice cracks with emotion.
Relief perhaps, but more with hor-
ror at tragedies so closely evaded. He
lies meekly on the ground. Tere is a
smell of urine about him. I can hear
a strange noise, like a foreign bird
clucking to itself. It is him, trying to
say something, but the words won’t
form and he spits out a strangled
sound, over and over again.
“I’m sorry,” I say quietly as I
search him.
He has nothing on him. Te
adrenaline pours out of me in a tor-
rent, leaving me nauseous and weak.
Te others rough up the two passen-
gers, screaming at them and rolling
them over on the tar. Tey also have
nothing. Tere is beer and liquor in
the boot, still cold. Tere is some
money in the car. An empty bag of
Kentucky Fried Chicken. Te uphol-
stery smells of fried chips.
“What is this about? the one pas-
senger asks, more indignant now.
“You committed a robbery in
Durban Road earlier this evening,”
the inspector tells them.
Te man protests. “It wasn’t us.
Who says it was us?”
We open the Kentucky packet. At
the bottom, smeared with grease, lies
the till slip. Mowbray Kentucky. 7.30
pm. Today.
We process the three arrested
suspects at the station. Our captain
is pleased and grins at our stories. He
laughs when he hears about the cofee.
“I’ll buy you some myself,” he says.
But I’m on my way to bed, as soon
as I fnish the paperwork. I climb
into bed just before the sun comes
up, smiling uncertainly. A good job, I
think, hopefully.
Te next day I go back to the
station to fnish statements. Mr
Bengu has been released, the duty
constable tells me. Together with his
two friends. Because there was no rob-
bery. Tere was no victim. Te man
who ran into the police station was
a business associate. A deal had gone
sour. He saw his adversary driving in
Durban Road and saw an opportu-
nity. With the registration number,
the description of the occupants and
a reasonable talent for drama, he
launched us of as his eager weapon.
I sit on a faded blue chair in the
charge ofce, trying not to tremble.
But not with real anger, I don’t think.
Just with desperate regret.
I wish I could go back to the
intersection, keep my rife behind
me and treat an innocent man with
respect.

All names, numbers and identifying
details have been changed for this story.
A REBEL, A REPORTER, AN OBSERVER AND A HERO
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theextraordinary decency
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“When it comes to writing, Malan is
dangerously good and there is no
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From the international best-selling author of My Traitor’s Heart

Feature
20 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
O
n the morning of 17
August 1949 the body of
Bubbles Schroeder was
discovered in the Bird-
haven plantation. Bubbles had spent
the last night of her life entertaining
three Jewish youths – Morris Bilchik,
Hymie Leibman and David Polliack.
Te three were implicated in the mur-
der. Johannesburg’s high society was
stirred and young Mimsy wrote to
tell her brother, Oscar, of the events
(“From Mimsy”, Wordsetc, issue fve).
He responded some months later.
16 December 1949
My dearest Mimsy,
Word has just reached me that the
two accused – Polliack and Leibman
– have been acquitted. You must be
relieved. But how to pick up after that,
Mimsy, I cannot imagine. Even if the
boys didn’t “do” it (and I am frmly
with you that they did not) how to live
with oneself after such an ordeal, such
an open spectacle? How to dress in the
morning, eat one’s breakfast, brush one’s
teeth and go about one’s day as if noth-
ing at all had happened, as if everything
itself were perfectly normal. How, how?
It’s not pity that I feel for them,
Mimsy, but a deep and weighty heavi-
ness in my heart; a weight on the shoul-
ders, a sickness in the pit of the stomach.
Nevertheless, I expect that one day in
the not-too-distant future the boys will
disappear into oblivion; become doctors,
dentists, move with their spouses to go
and live in Melbourne or Florida or San
Diego (where is it that people go to these
days?). Teir lives will go on (lives will
be resumed) and the greedy public will
sink their teeth into yet another juicy
Oscar replies
A civilised conversation about the mysterious Bubbles Schroeder murder
By Carla Chait
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Feature
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 21
scandal, whatever it is that may be.
But also, Mimsy, I predict telling
our children about the incident. I imag-
ine that books (book chapters) will be
written on the subject. Why the case has
caused such (arguably disproportionate)
fanfare, I can only speculate: young,
Jewish boys from well-to-do families,
a call girl from the “wrong side of the
tracks”, an unsolved murder mystery.
It’s the mystery that I feel has people re-
ally enraptured, though. Tere’s nothing
quite like a mystery to send the mind
rolling, is there? To set the imagination
free. Oh how people like to talk! How
well we know this.
Mother has told me that still
Sunday afternoon jaunts involve visits
to Birdhaven, the “scene of the crime”,
or the aftermath of it, at least. Four
months after the crime! As if the answer
to the puzzle lies in the plants’ new roots
and shoots. What do people expect to
fnd there exactly, Mimsy? A detailed
letter that takes one from point A to
point B? An answer? A solution to the
problem?
Here we are treading on familiar
ground, that is peoples’ morbid fasci-
nation with death and killing. Plain
old, undressed suicide and homicide. I
daresay that a good carbon monoxide as-
phyxiation will secure a spot for itself in
the newspapers. To dramatise for a mo-
ment: “Well-established economist found
dead at the wheel of his car” – and
the best part left to last – “by his own
hand”. Mother would chill; Granny
Nora would platz; Father would turn
over to the sports section. Let’s see what
else we can up with: “Trill-seeking
journalist stabbed by angry mob” and,
later in the text, “Dies in the arms of
his photographer friend.” Or, “Angry
mob stampede kills eight.” Or the one
to really get Granny Nora in the kish-
kas, to give her diarrhoea for a week,
“Homicidal/suicidal maniac” – the sen-
sational tone is intended – “shoots nine
and then turns the gun on himself.”
Tese examples are not to be out-
done, of course, by war and genocide. I
will not expound; you are aware of the
fatalities. But where are we going with
this? Te exploitation of catastrophe.
Where are we taking it to? “To new
heights,” I can hear you say. Although
this is nothing new. One need only think
of blood sport to relate. An obvious
reference, but still. I fnd it hard to be-
lieve that tragedies that are so viscerally
disturbing, even haunting, are at once
appealing. Appealing to the basest sense
of human voyeurism, I expect.
And so, like you, Mimsy, I hope that
the acquittal releases these young men
into a world in which they have an op-
portunity to make a life for themselves.
I am not so concerned about justice for
justice’s sake. If Polliack and Leibman
have been deemed to be innocent, which
as I understand they have, for heaven’s
sake, let them go!
In the meantime, I slog away with
my own cadavers, these ones defnitely
cold to the touch. I am not so sure what
we are digging for, either, to tell you
the truth, Mimsy. I’m not entirely
disillusioned with medicine, but the
unpacking of a dead body feels crude to
me. It makes me wonder how I would
like to leave my own remains on this
earth. I always imagined that it would
be to medical science. “To furthering
the understanding of the human body,”
you can remember me saying as an
adolescent when I hadn’t any idea of the
workings of my very own body. But to
hold another man’s liver in one’s own
hand, Mimsy, … how many people will
hold my liver in their hands? Where will
my liver end up? My God, in whose ab-
dominal cavity?
Tis must sound terribly selfsh,
I realise, but it is, after all, my liver.
“Whoever heard of a Jew donating their
liver to charity?” Granny Nora is saying.
“Do you want to give me a tsura? As it
is, your mother already killed my hus-
band when she announced that she was
going to marry your father. Do you want
further guilt on your family’s name?”
She will roll in her grave, our
Granny Nora, fully intact. I recall
myself as a precocious, cocky youth who
would torment our grandmother with,
“Is it such a crime to believe in some-
thing other than Hashem, Nora?”
I don’t think that Granny Nora
ever believed in anything else besides
herself (and Crystal’s Kosher Bakery in
Doornfontein). “Why does he call me
Nora?” she would turn to our mother
and pale. “I’m his grandmother, for
goodness’ sake, his grandmother!”
But I digress. Te matter for consid-
eration is the disposal of a body after it
has ceased to be. Tere is more decorum
in a cofn and a gravestone, surely.
Would the “outraged”, the “horrifed”,
the “sympathetic” amongst Bubbles
Schroeder’s supporters be appeased if her
body were laid properly to rest? Perhaps
so. Much fuss is made over a proper
burial. Along with “proper” so are the
words “dignifed” and “respectable”
bandied about. “A respectable burial for
a disreputable young lady.” How’s that
for a headline? You get my point. So, I
ask, do we really have ownership of our
organs? (But, oh Mimsy, my liver, my
liver.)
I question, Mimsy, for once the
last breath has been exhaled and the
life force extinguished, what is actually
left but meat and bones? I’ll spare you
the anatomical detail (I’m sure that it
would bore you) but we are talking fesh
and blood. Sinews and cold blood. I’ve
witnessed it, on the autopsy table: blue
and stif and smiling (the skin of the
mouth and cheeks pulls away from the
teeth). A dead body is, in a word, in all
its allusions: dead.
What if Bubbles simply vanished? If
there weren’t a corpse – a stufed throat,
a bruised neck, torn underwear? Might
the reaction have been diferent? I will
leave it up to you to decide. You can
guess my opinion, no doubt. Te people
of the world are impressed by facts.
“Hard facts”, to use the term: numbers,
data, graphical information, textual in-
formation, statistics. Every person wants
to see it with their own eyes, to feel it
with their own hands. To witness. Te
image brought to mind is of a seven-
year-old boy pushing and prodding his
own loose milk tooth until it is both ex-
cruciatingly and satisfyingly painful, the
child enjoying himself all the while.
We are all too familiar with the
mysterious death of eighteen-year old
Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder: collected
from Dorchester Mansions in Rissik
Street at 7.30 p.m., dead at 2.30 a.m.
We want to know – we have the right
to know – during that last half an hour,
Feature
22 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
who was Miss Schroeder with? My
pen bleeds with ink from my shaking
hand when I write these words. I won’t
pretend to you, Mimsy, that my heart
doesn’t beat faster when the lights go out.
Yes, better not to think about this in the
dark; better to write to you of it in the
daytime.
But better to not think or write of it
at all? I cannot claim for myself any of
the higher scruples of consciousness here.
I am, as everyone else is, a victim of the
human condition (the nature of which
is not uncovered by cutting through the
fesh, as you suggest in your letter). I
want to know. You wouldn’t believe the
to-ing and fro-ing in my mind. Like
you, I have role-played the fateful night
of 15 August many times over: Leibman
killed her/Polliack killed her/a stranger
killed her.
Our younger sister Sadie has come
up with one, fnal proposition: Mrs
Grifn, Bubbles’s pretty hostess, did it.
Sadie contends that Mrs Grifn was
jealous of Bubbles’s many benefactors.
Mrs Grifn is said to have often com-
plained about Bubbles’ laziness and her
self-indulgence. Bubbles was a charming
and excitable personality, but give her
a few drinks and she became as def-
ant and truculent as a baby. (Between,
there have been other instances in which
Bubbles has insisted on driving a car
while she was drunk, much to the alarm
of the company that she was keeping at
the time. Tere was one occasion where
she forced a driver to halt his car so that
she could get out and walk. Tese are
the same circumstances of Leibman’s
alibi, most likely true then.) Sadie pro-
poses that one of Mrs Grifn’s “men” was
sent out to collect Bubbles and to get rid
of her. I fnd the theory thin and hard
to believe. Mrs Grifn must have been
questioned and cleared by the police
and, anyway, she was one of the most
perturbed by Bubbles’s disappearance
(before they discovered the body). What
is the likelihood of Mrs Grifn having
got Bubbles killed when she could have
just asked her to move out of the fat?
Put that to Sadie.
So you see the paths lead to cul-de-
sacs and the ideas boomerang. Mimsy,
could the only real answer to the who-
dunnit be “We will never know?”
Mother sent me the newspaper clip-
ping with the photograph of Hymie
Leibman and his parents after the fnal
judgement was passed in the Magistrate’s
Court in Johannesburg. (Tat’s how I
came to know of the boys’ release.) You
are right – Leibman could have been a
friend of mine (of ours). Tink of the
Leibman family album: “Hymie, aged
fve, at Bobba and Zeida Leibman’s sap-
phire wedding anniversary in February.
Pictured here on his mother’s lap.”
“Hymie with Granny Esther next to her
luminous bathing box on Muizenberg
beach. Grandpa of to the side wearing
navy swimming trunks.” “Hymie with
sixteen-year old Marion Levy on the
way to a school dance.” Could he be the
quintessential “nice Jewish boy”? Sweet-
looking, smart and with chen. Flip to
the last page: “1949, Hymie with Mom
and Pops just after being acquitted. No
sufcient case.” Can you imagine? Te
stuf nightmares are made of.
I suppose that the question on
everybody’s lips now is: “Will the case
ever be reopened?” Weeks, months, years
from now. Will a sliver of corroborat-
ing evidence either way, a new witness,
an old suitor, suddenly slip into the
spotlight? Will they fnd a missing clue,
forge a new direction? As I’ve written
before, Mimsy, I suspect not. I read that
at the close of court the magistrate him-
self came down to shake Leibman and
Polliack’s hands. A handshake between
the accused and their judge. Tis cannot
be very common practice and the impli-
cation is plain to see.
On being recognised and gawked at
in public, Leibman has said: “I’m used
to it now. At frst I was embarrassed
by the stares whenever I walked into a
room or blew my nose. Now I take no
notice. Some people seem to have a lot
of time to waste.” And this, I think,
Mimsy, is the crux of the matter. Bilchik
may have wanted Bubbles for himself.
Leibman may not have comprehended
the full gravity of the case pitched
against him. Polliack may have done all
that he could to fnd the girl, and the
murderer, whoever he was, may have
disposed of the evidence – overcoat, shoes
and handbag – very cleverly.
Whatever transpired on the night of
15 August, the morning of 16 August
and the hours leading up to the discov-
ery of Bubbles’s body in the plantation at
Birdhaven on 17 August, people want a
good story. I have heard, as outrageous as
it is, that when they arrested Leibman
in October, the policemen carried away
with them a book that they had found
in his bedroom – a book of detective
stories. It was to be used as one of the
exhibits.
In two days’ time, Mimsy, on the
eighteenth, we will turn twenty-one
years old, the age of Leibman, Polliack
and Bilchik. Ofcially, we’ll be adults.
Able to answer for ourselves and to
take account of our actions. “But still
spring chickens,” as Mother would put
it, “with the best years yet to come.” I
hope that Mother makes your favourite
marble cake with the icing sugar dust-
ing. I shall celebrate the day with a cup
of cofee and a textbook in front of the
heater, I’m afraid. But I will be think-
ing of you.
Who knows what will happen to
Birdhaven, Mimsy. Maybe some in-
dustrious property developer will clear
it of forest, tar it for a road, pave it for
a parking lot or uproot it and build a
hospital. Anything is possible. Te name
of Bubbles Schroeder will carry through
the wind and the dust in the air. She
has come to represent the high life of the
city, the unpredictable drive for pleasure,
the brevity of the gratifcation and the
ultimate downfall.
When Polliack introduced Leibman
to Bubbles, he asked her what she did
for a living and her response was: “Do
you mean what I do during the day?”
Bubbles’s life was lived in momentum
and at the last she failed to keep up with
it.
My love to Ma, Da, Sadie, Granny
Nora, Max and the extended family,
tickles to our cats behind their ears, and
greetings to our mutual friends. Happy
birthday to you, my dear sister, Mimsy
(and to me!).
I hope to be there for the wedding in
April. Meanwhile, I study for my exams.
Your brother,
Oscar.
Profile
24 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Margie Orford is one the leading crime writers in South Africa. She’s best known for her serial
protagonist, Dr Clare Hart, in her books Like Clockwork, Blood Rose and Daddy’s Girl. “It’s only
recently that people have become interested in the genre,” she says. “There is a buzz around crime.”
Margie Orford enjoys
OHWWLQJEORRGÁRZ
on the pages
of her crime thrillers
By Sam Beckbessinger
Profile
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 25
P
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s
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Profile
26 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
I
t has been ffteen years since the dream of the
rainbow nation became a working blueprint.
In that time, South African literature has
undergone a crisis in self-defnition. Te
protest novel, which had been the only really
acceptable form for so long, was suddenly
made redundant. Many have said that the
frst decade after 1994 was a generally sterile period for
South African writers, as we sat in bewilderment, waiting
to see whether this new democracy we had given birth to
would be living or stillborn. But over the past few years,
South African publishers have seen what began as a trickle
turn into a food of local books, as our writers fnally felt
free again to write about subjects other than race. We
are witnessing the re-humanising of our writers: they are
remembering about love, about family, about greed and
sex, and about the dark parts of the human mind.
If the past ffteen years of South African literature has
been about coming to terms with our past, then it seems
that we are fnally starting to come to terms with our
present. And our present, as we all know, is defned by
crime. Tus it should come as no surprise that some of
our highest grossing local writers write about murders.
Margie Orford sits outside her writing cabin, surrounded by a lush garden, at her home in Cape Town
Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol, Jassie Mackenzie, Andrew
Brown and Richard Kunzmann are just a few of the
writers who are making a killing by writing killings. One
writer who seems to be emerging as a major fgure on
the local scene is Cape Town-based crime writer, Margie
Orford, whose third novel, Daddy’s Girl (Jonathan Ball),
hit the shelves last October.
Daddy’s Girl is also the third novel to feature serial
protagonist, Dr Clare Hart – who is an investigative jour-
nalist who assists the South African Police Services (SAPS)
as an occassional criminal profler. In the latest novel,
which is a prequel to the frst two, Like Clockwork and
Blood Rose, Clare must assist her not-yet lover, Captain
Riedewaan Faizel, a maverick cop, to fnd his missing
daughter who has become embroiled in the Cape’s gang
wars that her father has made it his mission to fght. It’s
a cracking read, and you’re likely to whizz through it in
nine thrilling hours or so. But the woman behind the story
is almost as interesting. On a recent stormy afternoon in
Johannesburg, while she was up launching her latest book,
I spoke to Orford – who is an eloquent, energetic woman
with a twist of irony in her smile – about her own novels,
and about the trend of which she is a part.
Profile
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 27
GIVE PLOT A CHANCE
Y
ou know, I’m properly educated,
so I should have written literary
books,” Orford smiles. And indeed,
she received the sort of South African
literary education that even the most
snobbish of literary bufs couldn’t turn
their noses up at: Orford graduated
from University of Cape Town’s litera-
ture department in the J.M. Coetzee
days before receiving a Fulbright
scholarship to study at the City Uni-
versity of New York. And yet, Orford
still feels the stigma of writing within
a “low-brow genre”.
But things are changing, largely
driven by the fact that more and more
intelligent people are coming out the
closet with admissions of their own
crime writer addictions (it is still
looked upon as an addiction).
“When I started writing, no one
had really been writing crime fction
in South Africa except Meyer. And
then my frst book came out and
there were suddenly a few, and then
suddenly there were more and more.
When I started out I didn’t think:
‘Ooh, I’m going to write a crime nov-
el, that will sell.’ I would have been
mad to have thought that.”
Tese days, Orford fnds herself
approached by more and more literary
writers who are thinking of turning to
crime. “It’s only recenly that people
have become interested in the genre,”
she says. “But now, at book fairs and
things, there defnitely seems to be a
buzz around crime.”
Te appeal of writing crime fc-
tion, Orford says, has little to do with
the sense of writing within a genre, at
least for her. “I didn’t set out wanting
to write a crime novel. I just wanted
to write about the cities I know.”
And in a country such as South
Africa, crime fction seems to be a par-
ticularly honest way in which to do
that. “You have to cut the crap – that’s
something about good crime writ-
ing. You get rid of all the adjectives
and you get rid of all the bullshit...
You get rid of so much of the wafe
that you fnd in other South African
books. I never, ever want to read an-
other bloody South African childhood
memoir. Tese white memoir stories;
it’s writing up until the end of the age
of innocence, and then apartheid hap-
pens, and the book ends. What they
are doing is writing themselves loose
from the blame.”
“I don’t think about writing
within a genre, per se,” she continues.
“Because there are no rules, really.
Te only distinguishing feature about
crime fction is that there is a manilla
folder in it, somewhere. Tink about
it: [J.M. Coetzee’s] Disgrace is about
rape, but it’s not crime fction because
it doesn’t have a folder. I don’t worry
too much about whether I’m fol-
lowing the rules of the genre: what
I get radically stressed about is not
being able to write a book that grips
people.”
Orford believes that people are
becoming tired of the linguistic games
of postmodern novels, which leave a
reader unable to trust the writer to
deliver a plot. So many literatis believe
that a plot-driven book must be an
inferior book. But, as an increasing
number of readers can attest, the
snobs are missing out. Although plen-
ty of crime writer shlock no doubt ex-
ists, the good writers, such as Orford,
produce books that are sophisticated
in style, display beautiful experiments
in pacing, character and pared-down
language.
Orford is an expert in multiple
points of view. At diferent times in
her novels we are given insight into
the minds of the victim, the murderer
and the investigators. “To write well,
you have to be amoral,” she says. “You
have to suspend what you fnd right
or wrong to go into that place of your
character. When I fnished this book,
I felt like I’d wrung myself out.”
Where Orford does praise the ar-
chetypal structure of the crime novel
is in the possibilities for redemption
ofered by (most) crime endings.
Orford began to write crime fction
after returning to South Africa with
her young daughters, after living in
the US. “I took it very personally
that people were trying to kill me,”
she says. “Writing crime fction was
sort of voodoo thinking, for me – if I
wrote the worst, then it couldn’t hap-
pen... You know how a crime novel
will end from the start. You know
that whoever did the bad thing in
the beginning is going to be brought
to book and everything’s going to be
explained. Real life is chaotic: there
is no closure, there are no borders in
things. In reality, it takes a long time
to heal after a trauma. It can take a
rape victim years of counselling before
she can make love again without her
body going into a freeze. No one’s
ever tried to do a calculation of all
those lost orgasms, no one’s tried to
quantify that loss of desire. But crime
fction is a comforting genre. You
explain, and order, and eliminate the
bad. You recognise your world, and
then this nice writer comes along
and bliksems all the baddies and puts
things to right.”
Orford says that this is the reason
that South Africans, for whom crime
is a daily, all-too-real experience, are
still drawn to crime fction. She is
proud of the fact that she has a lot of
fans who live in the Cape Flats.
A SAFE SEAT FOR A BUMPY RIDE
A
large factor in the reader’s ability
to stomach the violence of the
crime novel, Orford says, is the serial
protagonist, which (along with the
manilla folder) is one of the character-
istic features of crime fction. Orford’s
serial protagonist, Clare Hart, shares
much of Orford’s background and
perspectives. “I see through Clare
Hart,” Orford says. “She’s like my
prosthetic eye. Tere’s so much to
write about that you have to choose a
particular vision. Readers seem to like
a serial character because they know
that even though the story might be
a bumpy ride, they’ve got a safe seat.
Tey trust this person. Some crime
writers in South Africa choose to
make all of their characters bad, but
then where do you place yourself as a
reader?”
Clare Hart is quite a protagonist.
Independent, sexual, active and ferce,
she has the ability of the journalist
(and the writer) to enter the minds of
other people, whether victim or
Profile
28 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
criminal. She has access to the power
and the legitimacy of the police force,
but is not bound by their rules, unlike
her partner, Riedewaan Faizel, who is
a member of the SAPS’s gang unit.
Much of Orford’s fction is
concerned with the psychological
complexities of being a police ofcer
in South Africa. “What interests me
about the police is that they work in
the most unbelievably high-stress situ-
ation,” Orford says. “Tey become
very tightly knit to each other. And
they have such complex relationships
to the communities they work in.
If you’re a cop, here, you have to be
a social worker, a counsellor and a
soldier. It’s fascinating, because these
are the people we have charged to
implement the rainbow nation on our
behalf. Implement it, and then police
it to ensure that a very unruly society
abides by the rules.”
Te irony of this situation is not
lost on Orford, who has had personal
experience of the darker history of the
SAPS – “with its roots as an apartheid
police force, and prior to that as a
colonial force” – having been detained
at Pollsmoor prison as a student for
her involvement in National Union
of South African Students. Because of
this, she says, she felt she could not
cast her protagonist as a police ofcer:
“South Africans have too uncomfort-
able a relationship with the police. I
wouldn’t be sure how you could write
an entirely good guy within the cops.”
Nonetheless, Orford makes it clear
that writing about the police force is a
way to question the realities of imple-
menting South Africa’s constitutional
ideals. Tus, it was important for her
that her protagonist have access to
the policing system. “Still,” she says,
“I had to position my main character
outside. I had to do that, structurally,
because she needs to know things the
police wouldn’t. Te solution came,
one day, when I was researching police
procedures and was told that police
hire experts from outside the force,
where necessary. Tat gave me the gap
I was looking for.”
Orford spent a great deal of time
with the SAPS while researching her
novel (as a journalist, like her protago-
nist, rigorous on-the-ground research
comes naturally to her, a fact that
lends her work a great deal of weight).
Her voice becomes hard as she de-
scribes how, being in the thick of the
action with local police, one’s sympa-
thies become naturally synchronised.
“When you go out with the cops,
people shoot at you, so you really
align yourself with them. You want
them to shoot back,” she says.
Orford’s ambivalence about writ-
ing from within the police force is one
of the typical things that defne South
African crime fction; it is a concern
heavily debated by Orford’s contem-
poraries. One of our most widely
read crime writers, Mike Nicol, in
his History of Crime Writing in South
Africa, describes how this was one
of the powerful limitations on crime
writing before 1994, and stunted its
growth. “No self-respecting writer was
going to set up with a cop as the main
protagonist of a series,” Nicol says. “It
was akin to sleeping with the enemy.”
Pioneering local crime writers,
such as Jane Drummond in the late
1950s, got around the dilemma by
casting her protagonist as an amateur
sleuth. Te ending of apartheid, says
Nicol, is one of the major reasons for
the recent surge in crime fction. “Te
cops, for one thing, are no longer an
invading army,” he says.
On a structural level, Orford ar-
gues that it is necessary to write the
main characters of a crime novel as
policemen or as journalists.
“Tere are only three types of
people who can really go anywhere
in South Africa,” she says. “Cops,
journalists and ambulance drivers.”
By casting her protagonist as both
journalist and police ofcer, Clare
Hart is, in a sense, able to navigate the
country fully.
“Being a journalist erases your
skin colour. As a journalist, your
whiteness, or whatever colour you
are, is not important. As a journal-
ist, Clare is able to navigate from
Oranjezicht, to Seapoint to Valhalla
Park, and no one will question her
right to be there.”
NORTH VERSUS SOUTH
I
t has been said so many times that
it has almost become a truism:
crime fction, perhaps more than any
other genre (apart from travel writ-
ing), is about setting. Rebecca Ser-
vadio, a publisher’s scout for Koukla
MacLehose, once called it “tourism
with a twist and a bite in its tail”. Te
reason for this is that crime fction, in
order to be believable, requires it to
make sense of the full mix of sociol-
ogy, psychology, history and politics
that creates real crime in particular
places. Tis may be more true for
South African crime writers than
most, as crime is one of the major de-
fning facts of our reality.
Orford argues that it is precisely
this parochialism – this unique ability
to delve into the social web that cre-
ates a place – that allows crime fction
to be so internationally successful.
Orford is a great fan of crime writer
Ian Rankin, the Scottish writer who
produced the bestselling Rebus series,
and she describes the frst time she
ever visited his home city, Edinburgh:
“I’d never been to Edinburgh but
I’d read all Rankin’s novels. And you
know what? I could fnd my way
around the city without a map. Te
way he describes Edinburgh – that’s
exactly how it is. It’s that sense of
place that makes a crime novel suc-
cessful.”
And recently, Orford says, South
African crime fction – like American,
British or Scandinavian crime fction
– has begun to develop its own pow-
erful sense of place, too.
In Orford’s fction, the cities of
Cape Town and Walvis Bay are major
characters in their own right. She
describes both places – having lived
signifcant portions of her life in
both – with meticulous attention to
detail: not only of the physical places,
but also of the social histories that are
written into them. Whether it is the
marginalisation of the Herero and
the impact of the South African army
in Namibia or the ghettoisation of
Coloured communities in Cape Town
under apartheid, Orford’s awareness
of history pervades her fctionalised
Profile
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 29
Crime fiction is a
comforting genre. You
explain, and order, and
eliminate the bad. You
recognise your world,
and then this nice writer
comes along and bliksems
all the baddies and puts
things to right.
Crime fiction is a
comforting genre. You
explain, and order, and
eliminate the bad. You
recognise your world,
and then this nice writer
comes along and bliksems
all the baddies and puts
things to right.
Crime fiction is a
comforting genre. You
explain, and order, and
eliminate the bad. You
recognise your world,
and then this nice writer
comes along and bliksems
all the baddies and puts
things to right.
Profile
30 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
cities. A dead body or two, it some-
times seems, is simply an excuse to
explore a place: its past, its people, its
politics. Tis potent combination is
one she labels “psychogeography”.
“Te past is geographical,” she
says. “It’s where you live ... which
roads you cross. In Daddy’s Girl,
there’s a scene where Clare drives from
the Cape Flats where there are no
pavements, and she goes from pavings
to shrubs to beautiful tree-lined av-
enues and gardens. You don’t have to
write, ‘Well, there was apartheid and
it was really unfair and people were
treated badly,’ you just take her down
Voortrekker road. Luckily, in crime
novels, people have to drive around
a lot.”
But crime, Orford argues, does
not locate the reader just anywhere.
Particularly, she says, it is the most
urban of genres. “Tat’s why I wanted
to create crime fction. I mean, most
South African [literary] fction is set
on a farm. What the fuck happens on
a farm? I grew up on farms, nothing
happens there. Except menopause.”
Orford has a point. Indeed, the
farm setting, whether in its early form
as the Plaasroman or later experiments
in the childhood memoir Orford so
loathes, ofers great psychology but
little sociology. Crime fction, on the
other hand, melds the two, and over-
lays it upon concrete literary maps,
thereby vitalising it into an almost
physical experience of the abstract
through fction.
Orford is not alone in having
chosen Cape Town as the home of her
protagonist. Many of the country’s
top crime writers, including Barbara
Erasmus, Joanne Hichens, Meyer and
Nicol, are similarly obsessed with the
darker tendencies of the Mother City.
Tis trend seems to intrigue critics,
particularly Joburgers (who may, after
all, just feel a bit left out). But there is
more to it than the tired Cape Town
versus Jo’burg debate, or that the ma-
jority of local writers live there.
It is important, precisely because
setting is so key to the success of
a crime writer. So, why, although
Jo’burg is commonly felt to be the real
crime capital of the country, has Cape
Town proved to be such richer ground
for fctional crime? “In Jo’burg you
have ‘real’ crime,” Orford proclaimed,
to the amused crowd at her a Jo’burg
launch of Daddy’s Girl. “In Cape
Town, we have ‘psycho’ crime. Crime
in Jo’burg is like the hair of the ladies
in Sandton: big and bling. In Jo’burg
it takes twenty-fve men with machine
guns to rob the Spar. In Cape Town,
it takes one guy with a knife.”
It makes sense that Johannesburg,
a city unashamedly powered by the
pursuit of wealth, will produce more
fnancially motivated (and more
random) crimes. And, indeed, this
seems to have been refected in the
writing of Jo’burg by writers such as
Kunzmann and Jassy Mackenzie. On
the other hand, Cape Town fction has
typically focused more around psy-
chological, obsessive crimes, although
Orford’s work defnitely features a fair
amount of bad guys who are in it just
for the money – although these char-
acters are often foreigners.
Although Orford’s frst novel,
Like Clockwork, and her upcoming
novel (yet to be written), Te Quarry,
both deal with “psycho” criminals
(sex fends), her work has also consid-
ered the efects of human trafcking,
corrupt politicians and the trade in
weapons and guns. Her recent work,
Daddy’s Girl, is a detailed look at the
infamous numbers gangs, with im-
pressively perceptive investigations
into the emotional efect on their
families and a look at the twisted code
of honour that bounds them.
In Daddy’s Girl, Orford clearly
shows how the line between the gangs
in prison and the gangs who run the
cities is increasingly permeable. “In
the old days, life in prison meant
life,” she said, in a recent interview.
“Nowadays gangsters go in, join the
numbers gangs, and get out... A
study by the Institute of Security
Studies showed that one hundred and
ffty thousand people are directly em-
ployed by the gangs in Cape Town.”
Some of the most shocking scenes
in Daddy’s Girl enact this: where Clare
and Riedewaan come face-to-face
with a criminal underbelly outside of
the prisons which functions without
fear of retribution.
Some years ago, Orford ran a cre-
ative writing workshop in Pollsmoor
Prison, a project which produced
the harrowing 15 Men published by
Jonathan Ball. Working with such
intimacy with the prisoners, she feels
her perception of violence changed:
“Before working with them, I had
this idea of a pervasive evil in South
Africa. Working with them made me
realise that the violence was specifc,
contained in specifc bodies. Tat
made it better, in a way. More human.
But we live in such a violent society.
We’re a violent species. And I fnd it
very interesting how it marks people,
how it shapes people. If you look at
children who’ve experienced violence,
it’s like it puts them on a particular
groove. Violence will always be their
default.”
It seems to be more than Orford’s
journalistic instincts that lead her
to seek out the darker, more violent
aspects of Cape Town. It seems to
be her passion for the city itself, a
desire to be truly intimate with it: for
good or bad. “Cape Town is a city I
can navigate easily,” she says. “You
also have the access of the sea, which
makes it more open to the world, it
seems. And the past is right there;
the traumas are visible. You can see
where people were moved from here
to there. You can see the destruction
of those communities, to this day, in
places like the Cape Flats. But I never
could get a handle on Johannesburg.
Tere are just roads and car shops and
shopping malls. It’s Carmaggedon.”
Although she has seen the darker
side of Cape Town more closely than
most white women her age, Orford
refuses to allow fear to hold her hos-
tage in her own city. “I go everywhere.
Actually, the most spooky areas in
Cape Town, for me, are Claremont
and Constantia,” Orford says, describ-
ing Cape Town’s traditionally wealthy
and conservative districts. “I went to
boarding school there. When I drive
through, I get terrifed that I’ll stop at
a robot and a twinset with pearls will
Profile
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 31
just clamp onto me, and my hair will
go blue,” she grins, wryly.
Ironically, it may be that Cape
Town’s seductive beauty lies at the
heart of its appeal to crime writers.
Contrast and oppositionality lie at the
core of the genre’s rules: whether be-
tween good and evil, strong and weak,
or – often – man and woman. Orford
claims that, for her, a large part of
Cape Town’s appeal as a setting for
crime fction lies in the juxtapositions
it ofers. “Tere’s a hinge between this
beautiful, perfect tourist world and
this underbelly of Cape Town which
will really provide you with anything
you want,” Orford said in an inter-
view late last year with local crime
fction patron, Jenny Crwys-Williams
from 702 Talk Radio. “My novels are
about fnding these hinges and going
through.”
At some stage, Orford plans to
write a Clare Hart thriller set in New
York – another city she once called
home. “New York is also a port city,
and I see strong similarities between
it and Cape Town. Tey’re the same
age, actually. And there’s a bit of
Amsterdam in [her work in progress]
Te Quarry, I lived in Amsterdam for
a while. I guess I’m slowly working
my way through the cities I’ve lived
in and scattering bodies in them,” she
smirks.

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
A
lthough her books set out to
lift the hinges and penetrate the
darker sides of her cities, Orford’s
vision of humankind is ultimately a
positive one. “You know, when they’re
not trying to kill you, South Africans
are the nicest people out there,” she
smiles. “Most people are kind in
South Africa, that’s the weird thing.”
Orford is highly aware of her
moral choices as a writer, too. One
debate among the local crime fction
community that she has particpated
in vociferously is the question of when
fctionalised violence against women
and children can cross a line into por-
nography.
“Tat’s a big moral question I
faced with Daddy’s Girl,” she says.
“How do you write about violence
towards a child without participating
in the spectacle of that violence? It’s
pornographic. We all, on some level,
like the display of torture. It’s so much
a part of our visual aesthetic... but it’s
too much on the borderline of what’s
exploitative. And yet, I had to convey
the terror that the child feels.”
Her solution was to locate the
violence in small physical details, a
technique that she uses to great efect
in all of her writing.
“During my research process, I
spent a lot of time at the morgue. Tis
story was about missing girls, so I’ve
seen far too many pictures of little
dead people. One of those patholo-
gists... she’d done lots of autopsies of
little girls, and this little boy who was
kicked to death in his stomach – he
was the same age as her son. She was
the most contained, ordered person;
the most emotional thing she ever did
was tuck her hair – gently – behind
her ears. Details like that – they’re
little gifts of insight people give you.
“I once met a cop at the ballistics
unit. He was so tense, he smoked and
smoked. He was this shouting maniac,
he just shouted at everyone. But then,
someone told me that his daughter
had been targeted by gangsters, and
now she was a tik addict. He was
the model for one of my characters,
Clinton van Rensburg. Te way that
his stress manifested on his body was
in his nails. He had bitten them right
down to the quick. And I thought,
that’s where this man’s stress goes. And
that’s the only thing you need to show
about that man. Te thing with crime
novels is that you should have no
interior monologue. It’s a very visual
genre: you have to show pictures.”
Clare Hart is such a refreshing
heroine precisely for this reason. She
is concerned with action, not with her
own emotions. Orford says that she is
very much like this, too. “Te genre
is very masculine, I guess. It’s about
doing,” she says. “It doesn’t really mat-
ter what you think; you just have to
produce the goods. Clare is busy, she’s
organised and she locks away a lot.
Personally, I think that’s good.”
Clare has a twin sister, a trauma-
tised recluse who is paralysed by her
emotional pain. “Tat was my way
of splitting of what is usually very
annoying about female characters,”
Orford asserts. “When I’m writing,
I’m obsessed with the technicalities of
it. How character tension is created,
and all that. Ten, once I’ve written
a book, I stress about whether it will
sell. But I suppose I should be care-
ful what I wish for, because now I’ve
sold books and have the money to
write more. I now ofcially tell fbs
for a living. Te creative thing is so
fragile and irrational and I’m a highly
rational, coherent person. I stress that
the whole edifce of publishers and
booksellers, they’re all going to starve
to death because I haven’t written my
book ...”
With her three novels selling
well in nine countries, having been
translated into twelve languages, it is
unlikely that Orford’s publishers are
going to starve any time soon.
When asked if she has any advice
for budding crime writers in South
Africa, she is characteristically blunt:
“When people show me the stuf
they’ve written, it’s often terrible:
unfnished, rough, frst ideas handed
in as a complete story. Usually, what
I say to people is, work harder.” But
then she smiles, and it becomes obvi-
ous that this woman who walks the
line between violence and redemption
is motivated, in the end, by a desire to
tell the stories of our damaged, hope-
ful nation, with no bullshit.
Although she has called many
cities on three continents her home,
Margie, her husband and three daugh-
ters have settled in Cape Town, where
she spent much of her youth.
She escapes the mayhem of fam-
ily life into a “Room of her Own”: a
wooden cabin, built by her husband,
in the midst of a lush garden. In this
tranquil setting Margie brews her de-
mons.
Margie Orford plans to write eight
books in the Clare Hart series. A movie
of her second novel, Blood Rose, is cur-
rently in development.
“I’ve interviewed many victims and tried to understand how they endure violence, how they put their life back together afterwards.”
Crime is a
fantasy genre
By Eva Hunter
Profile
32 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
In our recent telephone conversation you said that, returning
to SA after some while away in New York and Namibia, you
saw yourself, through your writing, as claiming a space in a
misogynistic society. Could you expand on this?
When I came back here after leaving in 1988 – I’d gone
to London, had a baby and then come back to live in
Namibia, had another two children there and then went
of to the States; so I’d come back and forth to South
Africa but I’d lived away for a very long time. When I frst
came back here I had this overwhelming sense of wonder-
ing why people were trying to kill me. Te crime was so
bad, rape statistics so high, and I’ve got three daughters. I
took this very personally, this constant assault on my per-
sonal space and the fear that you’re going to be attacked.
But I also did want to come and live here. I was an inves-
tigative journalist and so I investigated all sorts of things:
sex trade, human trafcking, police, murder statistic, rape,
the things that besieged me. And partly that was to try to
order that amorphous fear and to understand what it was
and what had happened since I had left.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was born in London, by accident, to South African
parents, and then we lived all over, moving to Namibia
in 1972. I started school in Klerksdorp, which was very
frightening. It was this miners’ school and my grand-
parents had a school on their farm so by some strange
Klerksdorpian logic we must be communists. Ten I went
to school in Namibia until 1979 and then I came down
here, as a boarder, at Herschel. Which was a massive shock.
And then I was at university here.
A massive shock because you had to be a young lady?
Well, the girls from Namibia and Zambia and Zimbabwe-
about-to-be and Botswana had elocution and deportment
lessons, because we were the wild Africans.
I believe you wrote your final university exams in SA in
prison.
I did, in Pollsmoor. I got detained in 1985. I was study-
ing for my English exams, and a state of emergency was
extended from the PWV, as it was then, to the Cape. I
had been involved in National Union of South African
Students and the Women’s Movement but not in anything
more than student politics. A whole lot of people got
detained. I fainted. I was running away from the police-
men and I fainted. For me that prison experience was the
before, of my life, and then the after. A watershed. I found
it unbearable being incarcerated. We were strip-searched
when we went it. Tey didn’t hit us or anything but I
remember taking of my clothes, and bangles, and taking
of everything and I felt like my whole body turned to a
piece of meat, like a piece of meat in a supermarket, with a
purple stamp.
Profile
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 33
It was almost a kind of rape?
Yes, that’s what it was. It turned me completely dead. I
couldn’t feel anything on the surface of my skin [runs her
fnger over her skin], I couldn’t eat, anything I ate I threw
up. Tey thought I’d gone on hunger strike and I hadn’t.
My body felt so ... dislocated, as if my soul had become
dislocated from my body.
Ten I was in solitary confnement, which was bet-
ter for me because I could maintain myself. But then I
was put in a communal cell, with about eighteen others.
I found that unbearable. Tey were all political detainees,
but it was just my own reaction to the lack of privacy, no
doors on the toilets ... You completely lost all control over
your simplest bodily functions. I found that unbearable.
Ten we got interrogated at night. Te security police-
men would wake us up and question us one by one in that
classic technique – the dynamic was very sexual – one nice-
ish man questioning you and the other one in your body
space so that you can feel the heat of another person’s body
and pretending that they’re not there.
And you were how old?
Twenty, twenty-one. Tat stayed with me, the exertion of
power. It informed a lot of what I think about, and the
use of sexual power. A weird thing, this guy would say to
me, “Why do you do this?” as though I’d been unfaith-
ful, when we are protecting you from all these black men.
While the whole dynamic was that of the threat of male
power.
You said prison was the before and after for you – in relation
to what?
So as to deal with the experience: while you’re there you
have to absolutely coalesce what is the centre of your-
self. Usually, as you grow older it coalesces over time.
Sometimes a very traumatic experience can mean extreme
heat put onto something, like turning sand into glass. I
just had to form myself as a counter to this threat.
Writers tend to be surrounded by a certain mystique that
is assigned to them by the reading public. I suspect that in
South Africa this mystique has also asked them to be serious,
or worthy writers, not to care about earning a living. Could
you comment on this? I had a sense, at the recent discussion
on mass fiction at the Cape Town Book Fair, that some of you
were saying: “They expect us not to want to earn money.”
Well, I think most people are fabbergasted that you earn
money out of writing fction. Tere is that idea of wor-
thiness and that South African writers had to be cultural
workers. You had a lot of people writing who came out of
academia or the left who didn’t make a lot of money out
of it. I think with popular fction, if you earn money, then
you have money to be worthy with. You can aford time to
do things for free, which is what I’ve done with the prison
writing. It was a good feeling for me to be able to recipro-
cate with my skill, my ability to teach and write.
I think that people seemed surprised that someone who
writes something that people would enjoy reading might be
interested in understanding how the society works. [They
think] that things that are worthwhile reading are not going
to be fun and that things that are fun to read, or gripping,
or entertaining are not going to be worthwhile. I think that
it’s been important in South Africa to surmount that distinc-
tion, and this is why South Africans are buying South African
books: there’s more pleasure, there’s more fun.
Exactly. I often think that people want you to open doors
for them. A comment I often get is: is it true what you
write about? Have you seen these things? Tey’re fascinated
by this view of, say, how the police work or what happens
to people, they want to understand. But they want to be
shown them; they don’t want to be told. A lot of South
African writing wants to tell you, again and again and
again.
Do any of your readers write to you confirming that your work
does, to some extent, help them to cope with the psycho-
logical burden of violence in the country? Do you get much
feedback?
I get a lot of feedback. I have my website and, unless it’s
freaky, I reply. I get a lot of e-mails from people who are
completely outside of my social milieu, so it’s not my
cousin’s mother writing to me. And I’ve had some very
moving e-mails about what I’ve written, about rape, for
instance, about helping people to understand what hap-
pens or about writing about it in a way that doesn’t make
it shameful for the survivor. And I’ve had quite a few about
the police, people saying they like the way I write about
the police because it helps them understand the stress that
they are under. I did get an hilarious e-mail from a young
guy who said: great book, great characters, blah-blah,
but where is that strip club that you write about in Like
Clockwork? So I had to write back to him and say it’s all in
my mind.
Could you say something about the extent of the research you
have conducted for these two novels. For instance, did you
work with the police, visit police stations?
Yes, I do a lot of very meticulous research. I used to make
documentary flms, have been a journalist and I write non-
fction as well, so that pattern is ingrained into me. If you
want to understand something, for me, you have to fnd
out exactly how it works. And not just the mechanics but
how people do the jobs that they do, how human beings
coalesce around the things they have to do. Tat’s the nov-
elist’s material often. If it’s guns, or DNA, or an autopsy,
or how an interview is conducted, I will go into all of that
and I do spend quite a bit of time with the police. Tey
have been the shock troops of the “rainbow” nation; it’s
sort of armed social work that they have to do. We have
such a violent, malfunctioning, drug-ridden society. I love
the science, the ballistics, the forensics, of police work,
but more interesting to me is the alchemical moment
Profi le
34 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
when you have – say, a crime happens, and you’ve got the
victim, you’ve got people yelling and shouting, you’ve got
cops coming and needing to do their stuf, you’ve got an
ambulance, you’ve got this immediate drama, and then to
capture that – do you know Guy Tillim’s photographs? He
always takes photographs of something that’s happening
just away from the main hoo-ha, just on the periphery.
And that’s often, for me, where you fnd access to the
drama. How a policeman, for instance, copes with a stress-
ful situation. Michael Connelly told me that his segue
from journalism into crime fction was interviewing a cop
who was completely calm and then this man put his glasses
down and he saw that on the one side he’d bitten almost
completely through his glasses. You have to spend time
with those little details, otherwise it’s very lifeless. And I’ve
interviewed many, many victims and tried to understand
how they endure violence, how they put their life back to-
gether afterwards. Crime is a fantasy genre, you want this
point of restoration at the end, order is restored, and part
of that is seeing how people survive.
Mike Nicol said at the recent book fair that he felt that South
Africans in particular had a need for their crime fiction to
bring closure, either through revenge or solving the crime,
whereas in real life, and in some crime fiction, this is not
always achieved. Do you agree with this?
Yes, I do. I have a strong, quite simple sense of justice. I
believe that people should be punished for doing harm-
ful things and that good people should have space in the
world to take their dogs for a walk or send their children
down the road. Mike looks at crime fction more as a
genre; for me it was more as a means to write about this
society that I live in now and to deal with a sense of justice
and how things should be resolved. I feel very much that
the solution to injustice, the state has lost that moral do-
main, and that people who do survive deal with it in their
own personal, individual capacity. And the cops do that
as well. We’ve got Jackie Selebi, who’s a criminal allegedly,
and there’s a lot of corruption within the police, but the
police are the ones who do try to soldier on with that ethi-
cal spirit of doing right.
You’ve been an award-winning journalist, as well as an au-
thor of children’s fiction, non-fiction and school text books.
But only recently have you turned to adult fiction. Why have
you chosen not to pursue your research into, say, violence
against women through journalism; what do you believe you
gain through using fiction instead?
In journalism you tell the facts, correctly, and in fction
you can tell the truth, for me. Te turning point was ... I
was interviewing a whole lot of woman who had been traf-
fcked into South Africa from the Democratic Republic of
Congo. One particular women features in Like Clockwork,
she made such an impression on me, she told me the
whole story about how she’d got here: that where she came
from had imploded, she’d been traf cked, she’d been held
as a sex slave in Gugulethu, and that morning she’d got
her HIV status. She was negative and she just radiated this
light of survival. She’d fnally also made contact with her
thirteen-year-old daughter whom she thought she’d lost.
So, I wrote down all the facts and included them in a story
that I did for Marie Claire, which won an award, but I
thought that I could not tell the truth about this woman
unless I wrote fction. Te emotional truth. Her whole
story was so melodramatic. I still write for magazines and
the press. Because I’m now a writer, I can write factual sto-
ries in a very personal and intimate voice that is completely
factual but emotionally can catch people.
Dr Hunter is a research fellow at the English
Department, University of the Western Cape.
Tis interview was conducted on 27 June 2008.
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Fiction
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 35
Burning
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Fiction
36 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
A
unt Agnes would be
waiting for me at the
train station. I looked
at my wrist watch, hot
metal disc burning a red ring. It said
2 p.m. I was running late. Te train
had already been delayed, sitting idle
on the tracks for two hours and no
one had informed us or told us why.
I had loosened my tie, fanned myself
with a newspaper, watched other com-
muters do the same with whatever
they had, a piece of tissue, a magazine,
a dog-eared book, and if they had
nothing, they used their hands. Sweat
trickled from my forehead, others
struggled to get windows open.
Te sound of screaming from an-
other carriage, the sound of a struggle,
the casual policeman in our carriage
scratched his face, looked at his fn-
gernails. Others whispered a little,
shifted in their seats.
No one got up.
A man running now across the
tracks, with a woman’s handbag; he
had jumped from the carriage, the one
where we had all heard the screaming,
but stayed seated. Ten loud shots
rang out, one two three, the man fell.
No one finched when the shots rang
out. I watched a bead of sweat form
on a man’s lip; it looked like fear, as
if he had drawn that single bead of
sweat from the scared desolate pits of
his being. He wiped it away with his
sleeve.
A woman ran out from the car-
riage onto the tracks asking for her
handbag which the policeman was
holding casually in his hand. His foot
on the dead man’s leg.
“Ha, I want to see him, this cock-
roach, show me his face, I want to spit
in it!”
Te policeman obliged, rolled the
lifeless body over, eyes turned up to
the blue sky.
Te woman reached deep down
into her guts, hawked and spat.
My stomach turned, others turned
to the next page of their newspapers,
someone blew his nose. We were all
hot, burning up in the carriage that
now resembled an oven. Te heat was
unbearable. Te waiting was too.
Te woman took back her bag,
scratched around in it like a chicken
in the dirt making sure all of her pos-
sessions were still there. She walked
back onto the carriage, some people
cheered, I could hear her laughing.
Te policeman spoke into his
two-way radio. I couldn’t make out
what he was saying, but as he spoke
he rolled the dead man back onto his
stomach, kicked him a little with his
boot, making sure he was dead.
Aunt Agnes had called me a week
earlier, saying, “Tat sister of yours,
she’s gone mad! My niece is making
me old, I don’t know what to do any
more!” Aunt Agnes thought that be-
cause I had been to university I would
know what to do, I would know how
to fx anything.
she had dressed up. Aunt Agnes al-
ways dresses up when she leaves the
house, as if she is going to church. In
stockings and hat, even in this heat.
She waved to me as I stepped of the
train, and she did look older, as if she
went grey and wrinkled overnight.
She greeted me with her usual distant
manner, touching my hand briefy.
Aunt Agnes and my sister lived in
an RDP house that was falling down
already. When we arrived she showed
me the cracks in the wall where the
wind came in, the chunks of concrete
falling from the lintels above the
doors, the loose windows in warped
frames, the walls that didn’t join up
properly, the foors that seemed to be
shifting.
“Ha, I can build a better shack,
Xolile!”
I nodded my head, always mindful
that it was better to agree with what-
ever Aunt Agnes said.
“We have tea, then I show you
that sister of yours!”
She spoke as if my sister was
somewhere else, on display, that I
would have to pay an entrance fee to
see her or talk to her. I drank my tea,
which burned my already parched
throat even more.
“Come.” Aunt Agnes took a key
from a hook screwed into the crum-
bling-down walls.
She led me to a little corrugated
iron shack she had built on her prop-
erty, a small distance from her pink
painted house with the blue roof. “I
keep her here you see, she too much
trouble otherwise, if I let her out.”
I looked at Aunt Agnes with alarm
in my eyes, questions, accusations,
but the look in my eyes didn’t seem to
have any impact on her. She went on
regardless, unlocking the heavy lock
on the wooden door.
A swell of fetid air escaped from
the shack and found its way into
my nostrils. I gasped for breath, dry
retched, I reeled and struggled to fnd
my balance.
“She be a stinky one dis girl. Your
brother be here, you make yourself
look nice now!”
“Aunt, please, what is going on
Te dead man had started to at-
tract fies in the heat. Settling on his
nostrils and in the cracks of his lips.
No one had yet thought to cover him.
Well none of us cared really, he was
a thief wasn’t he? A cockroach, like
the woman had said. All of us sitting
in this carriage, cooking in our seats,
we had all agreed. We nodded to
ourselves, bringing our hands to our
faces, our fngers shaking a little like
we had palsy, but we agreed and when
the train began to move again, we all
breathed out a sigh of relief, grateful
for the breeze that lifted the foul dank
air.
I
spotted Aunt Agnes before the
train came to a halt at my station,
Her eyes looked
like hollowed out
versions of what they
had been, sinking
deeply into her face,
as if they were trying
desperately not to
see, to retreat into
nothingness.
Fiction
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 37
here, what have you done to my sis-
ter?”
“Don’t ask me, she done it to her-
self!”
I went inside, though I didn’t
want to, the stench of human faeces
and urine was enough to make me
want to run, I could be on that train
for the rest of my life if it meant not
having to enter this place.
My sister was sitting on the edge
of a ragged looking bed, she was
dressed in a soiled white summer
dress that looked like it had not been
washed in months. She was rocking
herself back and forth, chewing ner-
vously on her nails. Her eyes looked
like hollowed out versions of what
they had been, sinking deeply into her
face, as if they were trying desperately
not to see, to retreat further and fur-
ther into nothingness, ignorance, a
state of numb bliss.
Tere was an old battered leather
suitcase next her on the bed, the kind
you fnd in second hand shops in
town. Te kind of suitcase you want,
as you think it looks distinguished,
eccentric. You would take it with you
on your travels and wonder about its
history. But the owner has packed it
on the top shelf, above all the other
old things creaking and sagging on
the shelves, gathering dust.
You think you might venture to
ask him for it, but he tells you he
would need a ladder, and it is too
much trouble you see and his back
is not what it used to be, and if he
moved that case, it would disturb
everything else he had taken so long
to pack in a neat orderly fashion, it
would, he assures you, all come crash-
ing down if he were to move it. You
walk away, thinking “distinguished”
was a silly dream anyway.
My sister saw me from her hollow
eyes, looking at the suitcase, she made
a motion to protect it, put her arms
around it, not wanting it to come to
any harm.
I asked her where she got the suit-
case from, hoping, praying that she
was still able to speak, converse.
Her voice came out dry and whit-
tled. “I found it abandoned in a feld,
I never stole it, honest, I just found it,
Aunt, she hates me to talk about the
suitcase and what is in it, she beats me
every time I want to show her.”
Yes I had noticed those crude beat
marks on my sister’s legs, probably
further up if I was allowed to look.
From a stick I assumed. Aunt Agnes
had always liked a stick. It took all
of my will power to not run out of
there and ram my aunt up against a
wall, beat her with that stick too, my
hands, kick her with my feet, punch
her, hurt her for doing this to my sis-
ter. I ground down hard on my teeth,
tasted blood.
“You fnished, Xolile? She don’t
speak much.”
I told my sister that I would be
back, I would help, I would fx things.
She looked at me as if I was lying,
as if I made no impact on her at all.
Out again into the bright sunlight
and my eyes had to adjust from the
darkness of the shack.
“What are you doing here with
her, are you mad!” I wanted to put my
hands around her neck and squeeze.
She smiled at me and said, “So
what evil do you think is in that girl?
I beat her but it stays inside of her,
people say she is witch, I can’t have
people talking, dis is why she stay
here, sometimes she likes it there, I
say come out girl and she stay inside
like a dog.”
Aunt Agnes moved to lock the
door again but I wrestled the key from
her hand.
“And now, now what are you do-
ing?”
“I will call the police on you, for
locking her up!”
“You make me laugh, I don’t care
any more, you stuck with her now!”
Aunt Agnes walked away, after
spitting at my feet, like the woman
had on the cockroach.
I went in search of a bucket and
water, I had a bar of soap in my suit-
case which I managed to retrieve from
the prying eyes and hands of my aunt,
who was looking for a little cash in
the side pockets, saying that sister of
mine had cost her money and what
was I going do about it.
Entertaining Stories
Short stories were Nicholas Yell’s
way of recording his impressions of
the quirky characters he met when
he first moved to the Karoo. While
living in Aberdeen in a lovingly
restored ‘platdak Karoo-huis’, he
drove thousands of kilometres of dirt
tracks, always in search of a story
and characters which he could later
weave into his fictionalized accounts.
But many of his trademark ‘twist in the
tale’ stories reflect only the vaguest
of truths and rely solely on his own
off-beat imagination to entertain the
reader.
“People-watching in the Karoo is
a fascinating business,” says Yell.
“Not only those whose hand-to-
mouth existence makes for poignant
observations, but also the other
embattled city souls and so-called
‘free-spirits’ that go there to try and
find, or, more often, lose themselves.”
Veteran journalist and author, Harvey
Tyson, said of the book: “When I first
read some of Nick’s short stories
they reminded me a bit of O.Henry’s
writings of the late 1800s. But Nick
has his own subtle style and his stories
are usually laden with unique layers
of innuendo and meaning which are
often revealed only when you reach
the ending.”
Containing 13 short stories as well
as evocative black and white
photographs, this short anthologyis
enthralling and entertaining.
For more information visit:
www.springbokpress.co.za
Fiction
38 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
I brought the bucket and the wa-
ter and the soap to my sister, telling
her it would make her feel better.
She looked at me with a resigned,
almost embarrassed look on her face,
as if she had suddenly become aware
of the stench she carried around with
her, the stench she lived in.
She took the soap from my hands,
asked me to leave, to wait outside.
I sat on the ground outside her
shack that she had made home for
God knows how long, I lit a cigarette
and watched the smoke curl lethargi-
cally through my fngers, too tired
to even breath it in. I listened to the
sound of cars starting up, doors slam-
ming, more gun shots.
Hours seemed to have passed be-
fore she eventually called me back in
again.
She had found a clean dress, one
with horizontal red and yellow stripes
on it. It made me feel dizzy. Te air
smelled marginally better, she had
cleaned up a little, perhaps burying
her excrement in the sand that passed
for a foor.
She held the bucket in her thin
arms, the water brown and scummy
with dirt, and walked outside with
it on her stick thin legs. Trew its
contents out onto a struggling bush,
shrivelling in the sun. Te surround-
ing cracked earth drank up the water,
absorbed it as if it was good and fa-
miliar.
My sister went on about forgetting
the sun, about blindness and the pain
in her eyes, but still it was nice to sit
here with me, resting and warming
her back against her shack.
“What is in that suitcase of
yours?”
“I show you, wait here.”
She disappeared into the arranged
hanging darkness again and I heard
her struggling with the efort of pick-
ing up that battered suitcase that
looked as if it would fall apart as soon
as you touched it.
I got up to help her, stretched
my hand out to the suitcase but she
screamed at me as if I had hurt her
or would hurt her. I jumped back in
fright, apologised, tried to tell her it
was OK above all the blood-curdling
noise that she was making, that I
meant no harm to her.
She stopped screaming and went
back to the business of lugging the
suitcase outside, as if it was all nor-
mal, as if she hadn’t just been scream-
ing herself hoarse.
She sat down with it, carefully
unclasping the rusted metal catches. I
sat down next to her, minding not to
look threatening or menacing.
She looked at it a while before
opening it, as if she was preparing her-
self once more, as if she hadn’t opened
it a thousand times already, that the
contents was new to her every time.
She lifted the lid and a strong
smell of newspaper flled the sur-
rounding air.
“I collect them, Xolile.”
“What, Zanele?”
“Can’t you see?”
I took a closer look, trying not to
touch anything, or without leaning
in, from the side of my eyes, glancing.
Looking away again.
She had saved all the newspaper
clippings that told of the victims of
crime. Meticulously cutting them out,
saving them, keeping them in this
suitcase.
“I read them all every night, I
wonder about the families and the
friends the murdered left behind, the
stolen lives, all the dreams. Tink
about the dreams. Tink about the
loss. It’s when Aunt Agnes started to
lock me up in here, because I never
stopped crying, saying something had
possessed me. Making me feel like I
was mad for feeling how loss must
feel. Saying a lot of it was lies anyway,
I got up to help
her, stretched my
hand out to the
suitcase but she
screamed at me as
if I had hurt her.
it isn’t like that, isn’t that bad. She
beats me for it all the time.”
She snapped the lid shut again.
Got up and dragged it back inside. I
followed her. It had become too hot
and uncomfortable outside.
She sat on the edge of her bed,
took to rocking herself again.
“See, I went to the streets in the
beginning, taking some of the dead
with me. I would stop anyone, press
the papers to their chests frst and
they would push me away. I would
hold it up then, ask them if they
knew who this was, did they recognise
this person. All shook their heads,
they asked me to leave them alone,
to go away, to stop bothering them.
Someone’s spouse I said, someone’s
child, someone’s lover, someone’s
friend I said. Still they shook their
heads, I tried to press the paper to
their chests again, maybe thinking
that their hearts would break, that
they might cry.”
I wanted to take that suitcase away
from her. I thought if it was gone my
sister’s bloodshot eyes would return to
how I remember them.
I was quick, I gave her hardly any
time to react and I was out onto the
streets running with the suitcase in
my arms, tears streaming down my
face and I could hardly see where I
was going, but I kept running and
running. I had no idea where I would
leave it, bury it, but she would feel
better wouldn’t she, if she didn’t read
the newspapers?
She was behind me, screaming
at me, telling me to give her suitcase
back to her. I kept on running, feeling
my chest burn, my heart exploding.
I felt an excruciating agony tear
into my back, the pain was so great
it brought me to my knees, and then
another and another and I fell to the
ground, the suitcase slipping from
my hands, bursting open as it hit the
ground, scattering the place where
I fell with its contents. My blood
seeped out of me, someone’s father,
someone’s brother, someone’s hus-
band. I watched the paper absorb my
blood as the day dimmed around me,
absorbed it as if it was familiar.
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Book Reviews
40 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Only when in a desert Manuscript was still raw Get it Must be on your bookshelf Get more than one copy
of her lover – Chief of Sex Crimes,
Jaime Berger – and there are a host of
new specialists in the various crime-
related felds, each with a fascinating
understanding of their job.
Despite Cornwell’s reputation for
stomach-churning details, this edition
falls really fat when it comes to juicy
violence and decomposing bodies. Te
means of intimidation are lightweight
and even the fnal murder scenes lack a
realistic description.
While Cornwell does not
sufciently return to the title and the
interesting premise she sets up with the
media’s involvement, the background
symphony of chords does pull together
nicely to reveal an international
picture where the real baddies of
organised crime are playing and we
learn that something altogether more
sinister bonds the bomb, a missing
millionairess, a dead jogger and a
disgusting celebrity who has a special
fascination with morgues.
It’s a book best avoided if you
don’t like details, her writing of men
may be bland, almost all of her women
are masculinised and tough (and only
vulnerable with their signifcant other),
anyone under the age of forty will have
to skim over some of the technological
details (how a video streams online,
what buttons you need to push on
a BlackBerry to access data), but if
you’ve noticed that the plots on CSI
are spurious and can make a plan for
a new reading position to support the
hefty volume then the false notes don’t
matter.
8£V|£w£8: kathryo wh|te is a freelance
copywriter, published author and sometime
journalist. Her second novel Things I Thought I Knew
will be out in 2011.
No one likes being disappointed by
a favourite character and writers of
series are under serious pressure when
releasing a new title. Patricia Cornwell
has been under such scrutiny and had,
unfortunately, failed Dr Kay Scarpetta
in her last few books.
Cornwell also has direct in
programmes such as CSI, in a medium
that champions the lack of details
and unfeasible coincidences that
scriptwriters employ to keep a plot
pacy and concluded in the allotted
time (forty-eight minutes).
Make no mistake, this book is
so heavy that one gets wrist fatigue
but, instead of giving up, I changed
my reading position for the four-day
long bonanza of crime, gore and
international intrigue.
Cornwell sends Scarpetta to a
trashy CNN show where the doc
hopes she can sort out of some of
the public’s misconceptions about
forensics (one being that DNA is the
golden nugget that solves all crimes)
while also tempering the media hype
that accompanies new homicides in
New York. After appearing on a show
and being harassed about cases that she
cannot discuss, Scarpetta returns to her
apartment and receives a parcel that
could be a bomb. Benton, Scarpetta’s
ex-FBI forensic psychologist husband,
suspects that the parcel is from a
deranged psychiatric patient of his, but
cannot say anything as he is also on a
no-chatting-about-work moratorium.
In this story it is Benton’s dark
past that the plot reveals, but Benton’s
Title: Scarpetta Factor
Author: Patricia Cormwell
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Genre: Crime thriller
character is rendered aloof – a pity
because aloofness is a complex (and
annoying) trait and Cornwell does not
sufciently develop the impenetrable
surface that Benton presents us with.
Tere is also much missed fodder
in his patients – from the suspected
prankster Dodie who claims witch-
status and voodoo powers to the
international crime familia – Benton’s
reactions to these characters are
underplayed and one-dimensional.
Cornwell also gives us a major
villain who is old, crumpled and not
in the least bit interesting. So much so
that, when he fnally dies, you really
want to push him of the bridge, hard.
Tere is more strength in the
writing of the favourites: Marino is
back even though he tried to rape
Scarpetta while under the infuence of
drugs (believe it), Benton is bristling
with fury about the reappearance of
Marino while still struggling with his
unfair dismissal from the FBI, Lucy is
keeping her own secret while becoming
even more paranoid and suspicious
Great reads
A browse through some of the latest local and international releases
Book Reviews
Until recently, I was reluctant to
read anything other than fction –
instruction manuals and newspapers
aside. Memoirs like Te Last Resort
not only make me think I might
be missing out, but remind me
that creative non-fction is often
as entertaining, enlightening and
uplifting as the fnest fction.
Moreover, sometimes it’s even more
fantastic, and just as barely believable.
Rogers sets the tone perfectly in
the opening chapter when he recalls
telephoning his parents in Zimbabwe
from a friend’s birthday party in
Berlin. He’d just heard that a white
farmer (from the same region as his
parents) had been murdered, and had
called home fearing the worst. At frst,
his mother’s hysteria seems to suggest
his fears might be justifed – until he
realises her distress is due to the poor
performance of the local cricket team
rather than fear and despair.
Te rest of the book follows
suit: almost every tragedy is ofset
by humour, be it via the increasing
absurdity of life in an imploding
country and the bizarre circumstances
it forces on people – an albino frog
that takes up residence in his parents’
kitchen – or the fact that Rogers is
frequently more alarmed about events
than his parents are, despite the fact
that he, unlike them, always has an
escape plan.
Of course, like many of their
neighbours, Rogers’s parents don’t
particularly want to escape. Despite
seemingly insurmountable odds,
increasing pressure on all sides and
perpetually dwindling signs of hope,
Rogers’s parents cling to their lives,
their lifestyle and their land until the
very end, making the title’s double
meaning all the more poignant. Te
more literal infuence is the fact that,
prior to the land reforms, they ran
a highly successful backpackers’ and
game lodge.
Rogers’s success with his tale lies
in the fact that he is wry without
being fippant, empathetic without
being glib, and shares the deeply
personal without being self-indulgent.
While the last of these might seem
unlikely in a memoir, the focus for
the bulk of Te Last Resort is on the
Rogers family: staf, friends and those
who cross their path over the decade
or so that the book covers.
Tis is not only a well-told story
but also an enormously humbling and
inspiring one. While it is impossible
to divorce a book about Zimbabwe
from the politics that led to its
decline, Rogers seems to realise that
is a path trodden bare already and
that his skills are better applied to
the specifc than the general. Rogers
doesn’t ignore the tragedies, he simply
focuses on the comedies instead – like
his father growing pot instead of crops
and the lodge becoming a brothel in
lieu of backpackers. Ultimately, this
is a story about people in untenable
situations making a plan. Rather than
being sentimental, it’s hilarious.
I read half of it in a single sitting,
and then rationed myself for the
remainder, concerned it would be
over all too soon.
8£V|£w£8: 0ra|g w||soo is a writer and
photographer for various publications specialising in
new media, the arts and travel.
Title: The Last Resort
Author: Douglas Rogers
Publisher: Jonathan Ball
Genre: Memoir
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Book Reviews
42 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Title: The Private Patient
Author: PD James
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Crime thriller
Te Private Patient by PD James is
written in a formal, classic detective-
novel style, á la Agatha Christie. It
is quintessentially English, and has
higher aspirations than just being a
slick “airport bookshop” thriller.
I was surprised by the universal
and philosophical conclusions James
came to as she wove a complex and
well-characterised plot. For example,
the novel’s end paragraph contains
the spiritual, and quite idealistic
musings of a marginal character: “Te
world is a beautiful and terrible place.
Deeds of horror are committed every
minute and in the end those we love
die … But we have love. It may seem
a frail defence against the horrors of
the world but we must hold fast and
believe in it, for it is all that we have.”
Tis was my frst encounter with
Commander Adam Dalgliesh, poet
and investigator. I imagined him to
be somewhat like BBC’s Inspector
Morse, taciturn, recalcitrant, noble,
not a show man. In this book
Dalgliesh, the lover, marries Emma,
a Cambridge blue-stocking, once
he has fulflled his role as detective
and solved the murder mystery at
Cheverell Manor, a private clinic for
cosmetic surgery in Dorset.
Te victim is Rhoda Gradwyn,
journalist, who went there to have
a facial scar removed. Te list of
suspects is intriguing and James takes
care to explain the possible motives
and backgrounds of each character in
a plausible way. Tere is Gradwyn’s
friend Robin Boyton, who sees her as
a substitute for the mother he never
had but who also may have an interest
in money Gradwyn has left for him
in a will.
Ten there is Sharon Bateman,
who has killed before (her sister, in
a ft of jealousy) and may have killed
again. Robin’s cousins, Candace and
Marcus Westhall, live and work at the
Manor too. Teir father, Peregrine,
recently deceased, leaves a contested
will, which adds depth and darkness
to the tale. Gradwyn writes an
investigative piece about plagiarism
that results in the suicide of a young
and promising novelist (whom
Candace Westhall knows) – perhaps
that is a lead Dalgliesh should follow?
Ten there is the worldly surgeon
himself, George Chandler-Powell,
who owns the manor and is not
above suspicion. Te reader is left
on tenterhooks (I could not put this
book down, and read it in a night).
I was disappointed, though, by the
denouement: the narrative that reveals
the murderer and his or her motive
falls fat, and the manner in which the
villain is disposed of is unconvincing.
Credit must be given, though, to
James for tracking the protagonists,
caught up in the drama at the manor,
after the murderer is revealed. Tis
takes the story forward in a way that is
new to the detective novel genre.
James’s attention to detail is
commendable. Tis is a well thought-
out book that could have been written
early in the last century. It is as if
the author has transposed the ghost
of British detective novels onto a
modern template, keeping the best
of the old world and setting a strong
direction for the future.
8£V|£w£8: $arah Frost is an editor and poet
living and working in Durban.
Tis book is exactly what it promises.
Te blood-red cover, the author’s
surprisingly appropriate surname –
we have expectations of this book as
readers, and they are met. It’s not
too long and not too short, just like
Goldilocks, in fact; it’s perfect for
chilling you down on a hot day on
the beach. Let me be clear. I am not
a fan of slasher-movies, horror or
B-grade schlock anything unless it’s
very, very witty. I had extremely low
expectations, and I was pleasantly
surprised. Perhaps (gasp) I have even
become a convert.
Tania Carver is not Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie or even
Patricia Cornwell. But she is a capable
writer, and a clever one.
Te story opens with a double
homicide, and we learn that it is the
third in a pattern not yet allowed to
be termed “serial killing”. As readers,
we are very intimately introduced to
these victims and are as shocked as the
police at the scene after their murder,
which is particularly gruesome.
Title: The Surrogate
Author: Tania Carver
Publisher: Sphere
Genre: Crime thriller
Title: Nairobi Heat
Author: Mukoma wa Ngugi
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Crime thriller
Tis brilliant and fast-paced novel is
centred around a young and beautiful
white woman who is found murdered
on the porch of a Rwandan professor
who teaches genocide and testimony
at an American university in Maple
Bluf in Madison.
 African-American detective
Ishmael Fofona knows immediately
that it will be the news event of the
year. Te prime suspect is former
Rwandan school headmaster Joshua
Hakizimana, a hero who risked his
life to save the innocent during the
Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Book Reviews
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 43
told in a colourful, straightforward
manner, and we are reminded
of facts by the characters in their
conversation, which I found helpful. I
certainly recommend the book – it is
not an easy read in some places, but it
is delightful and even laugh-out-loud
at times. Te author’s second book,
Te Creeper, has just been published,
and I will be reading it.
8£V|£w£8: h|co|e horva| is a practising
attorney and committed reader who lives in
Johannesburg.
Te sexy Detective Inspector
with a fractured past arrives with his
investigating team, and while the
attractive Phil Brennan might be the
Chief Investigation Ofcer, he reports
to an arrogant, good-in-front-of-the-
media superior with a bias against
psychology’s usefulness to police
work.
Two more investigators – one
good, one not so good – complete the
police team, and Brennan’s estranged
love interest, the just-as-sexy crime
profler, is brought in to work on the
case and butt heads with Brennan’s
superior.
Te author sets up an interesting
strong-women versus sensitive-men
theme, with some characters held up
as examples, and others contrasted
with them. Because readers feel
emotionally invested in the characters,
the story becomes less about the
sensational crimes being committed
than how the various people deal with
the events unfolding.
Te emotional investment we
make is important for two more
reasons: frstly, recent market research
indicates that, by far, the largest
book-buying audience is women,
and we apparently prefer emotionally
accessible characters above those of
the flm noir/hard-boiled detective
sort. Secondly, the trend towards
psychological thrillers creates the
unfortunate result that the bad guys
are almost always explained and,
therefore, possibly sympathetic. But
we don’t want to be emotional about
the perpetrators of the crimes, so
rooting for the good guys because
they are more relatable is preferred.
As far as the plot is concerned, you
might think you know what happens,
and you might be partly right, but
you won’t be completely correct.
Again, a good move by the author,
as we experience the twin satisfaction
of being right and surprised. Because
I liked the characters so much (they
weren’t angst-ridden, or I wouldn’t
have had the patience), I found myself
badly wanting a happy ending to the
story and, worse, getting increasingly
anxious that one wouldn’t happen.
Tis is exactly what made a series like
CSI such a blockbuster – what you see
is what you get, it’s interesting and
it entertains you rather than disturbs
you.
Tis is a typical, fast-paced crime
novel and an excellent debut. Te
taut, short chapters contain good
descriptions and good dialogue, but
nothing feels overdone. Te story is
Hakizimana is now a poster boy
for the Never Again Foundation – an
organisation he founded after the
genocide.
Fofona has to solve the case and
handle its racial dynamics.“If you
want the truth, you must go to its
source. Te truth is in the past. Come
to Nairobi,” an anonymous caller tells
Fofona. Tat’s how he fnds himself
in Nairobi.
“Soon enough I found myself
outside the airport in what felt like
a market – a wall of people shouting
and heckling, selling newspapers,
phone cards, even boiled eggs. But it
wasn’t the people that stopped me in
my tracks, it was the heat. Te heat
made New Orleans on a hot summer
day feel like spring. Humid, thick and
salty to taste, that was Nairobi heat.”
In Africa, Fofona not only
discovers the details of the case and
Rwanda’s violent past but also fnds
love and friendship. Fofona and his
Kenyan partner David Odhiambo go
to Kenyan slums and suburbs to fnd
out how Hakizimana and the dead
woman are connected.
Tey discover a multimillion-
dollar scheme of extorting money
from guilt-stricken organisations and
people who looked the other way
during the genocide.
It’s a gripping tale of intrigue,
murder and deceit.
Mukoma wa Ngugi is the author
of an anthology of poetry titled
Hurling Words at Consciousness
(2006), as well as Conversing with
Africa: Politics of Change (2003).
Nairobi Heat is his frst novel.
8£V|£w£8: Tebogo Nooama is a journalist
and an avid reader of literature.
Book Reviews
44 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Title: Fever of the Bone
Author: Val McDermid
Publisher: Little Brown
Genre: Crime thriller
Title: My Brother’s Keeper
Author: Jassy Mackenzie
Publisher: Umuzi
Genre: Crime thriller
My Brother’s Keeper kicks of with
a car crash with a missing body, a
double amputation and a murder –
and ups the ante from there.
Not for nothing has Jassy
Mackenzie been dubbed the “queen
of slashers”, but while her second
novel may be violent in parts, this
is no gratuitous murder porn. It’s a
smart, intricately plotted novel, part
heist drama, part thriller, that doesn’t
waste a word as it hurtles towards
the inevitable showdown between
brothers.
In a neat twist on the genre,
Mackenzie’s protagonist, Nick
Kenyon, is a paramedic rather than
your bog standard police detective, PI,
coroner, profler, lawyer or middle-
aged lady writer with a typewriter and
a nose for dead bodies, which adds a
sense of immediacy to the unfolding
drama. Nick’s not investigating stuf
after the fact, he’s frst on the scene
and caught up in the heat of the
action, and when his patient has her
throat slit in a Johannesburg General
Hospital ward, it’s only natural
that he should feel compelled to get
involved, particularly as he still has
her cellphone.
But Nick is not just any
paramedic. He has a dodgy past as
a mercenary medic in the war in
Angola, an abusive criminal father,
now in jail, and a psychopath for an
older brother, Paul, who is out for
revenge after Nick’s testimony several
years ago landed him a hefty prison
sentence.
Add to the mix his personable
partner Laki, he of loud shirts and
mysterious dating habits, a messy
relationship (naturally) with his
ex-wife Rachel, a teacher from the
sticks who has come to the city to
help out one of her students, Sipho,
whose brother Khani was killed in a
nightclub robbery the night of the
accident, and Clinton Ramsamy, a
well-intentioned family man who is
heading for a world of trouble.
Mackenzie creates not only very
credible, interesting and fawed
characters, but also paints a detailed
portrait of the city, veering across
Johannesburg from Norwood to
Newtown, Germiston to Yeoville,
taking in tenement slums, larney
mansions and authentic, divey Greek
tavernas along the way.
Her understanding and insight
into the various operations that
tangle throughout her plot, from
private ambulance services to the
Fever of the Bone is the sixth
instalment in the bestselling crime
thriller series by acclaimed crime
writer Val McDermid. As in the
previous titles, the main characters
are once again criminal psychologist
Tony Hill and Detective Chief
Inspector Carol Jordan.
In this latest instalment,
something sinister is happening in
the town of Bradfeld – teenagers
are disappearing, later to be found
murdered and mutilated. At frst
glance, the victims have no apparent
connection to each other, but Tony
soon discovers that they are all
members of RigMarole, a popular
social networking website.
As if trying to catch the elusive
killer is not difcult enough, Carol’s
Major Incident Team is faced with
a slew of other challenges – her new
boss is pushing budget cuts and uses
this to block her from using Tony’s
prodigious profling talent. Te future
of the team itself is also called into
question.
McDermid uses an efective
technique to bring across the
horrifying nature of the murders –
letting the reader in on the events
leading up to them and then
describing the bodies being found,
while leaving the actual murderous
act mostly up to the imagination of
the reader. She also has an unnerving
talent for illustrating the devastating
efect the murders have on the
victims’ families.
Tony is called away to help the
West Mercia CID in Worcester with
a criminal profle in a teenage murder
case – a case that has eerie parallels
with the murders in Bradfeld.
While in Worcester, he stays a
night in the house that his father
left him and, despite his professed
disinterest in the man who abandoned
Book Reviews
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 45
security sector, build on that sense
of authenticity, driving it towards a
smashing heist sequence and a truly
harrowing denouement.
Te plot threads twist and twine
like the ribbons on a corset, knotting
together tighter and tighter so that by
the time the novel reaches the action-
packed and unsettling end, the reader
is breathless.
But that’s not to say the corset
doesn’t pinch in places either. In the
tautly woven plot, there’s a few too
many startling coincidences and when
Nick resorts to murder (admittedly
in self-defence), his colleagues are
unreasonably quick to leap to protect
him from the police (and potentially
become accessories to murder), no
questions asked.
But my only real complaint about
the book is how it’s let down by its
tacky cover, which is less gritty crime
thriller and more sensationalist You
magazine crime feature.
8£V|£w£8: La0reo 8e0kes is a scriptwriter,
journalist and author of Moxyland and Maverick:
Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past. Her
new novel, Zoo City, is out in June.
him as a baby but left him a
substantial inheritance, starts to
uncover previously hidden parts of his
past.
Fever of the Bone is mostly well-
paced and keeps the reader turning
pages, although McDermid does
at times revert to overly detailed
descriptions of her numerous
characters’ backgrounds and
motivations, aspects that might have
been better revealed by what the
characters do and say.
Te book is a prime example of
what McDermid does well: delivering
a dark crime tale with plausible
characters doing their best to bring
justice to a world of violence.
8£V|£w£8: Aodrew $a|omoo is an
archaeologist and writer living in Cape Town. He was
one of the PEN/Studzinsky Literary Award winners
in 2009. His short story “A Visit To Dr Mamba” is
currently being made into a short film.
Title: Beasts of Prey
Author: Rob Marsh
Publisher: Human & Rousseau
Genre: Crime thriller
Beasts of Prey is a work of proper
nouns. Beginning with the discovery
of the mangled body of Johan Coetzee
in the Kruger National Park, the
novel moves between the landmarks
of Johannesburg, Phalaborwa and
Rundu and involves, as its main
characters, members of the South
African Defence Force and the South
African Police Force.
Special Branch operative Russell
Kemp, having been “exiled” to
Phalaborwa after an altercation with
his superiors, is called in to investigate
the death of Coetzee at Shingwedzi
camp. Te case looks too obviously
like a suicide but, as with all good
crime fction, all is not as it seems.
While location (setting the
scene, evoking the genius loci) is all-
important in a work of fction, recent
South African novels have tended to
overplay this, and Beasts of Prey is no
exception. One gets the sense that
Marsh, having grown up in England
(though with thirty years in Africa to
his name), is still clutching at place.
Intrinsic to this is the author’s reliance
on racial expletives as a means of
description. Marsh describes a party
where “clumps of expensively dressed
men and women – black, Coloured,
and white – [are] chatting in small
groups”. Not only is the inclusion
of race unnecessary but the use of
parentheses makes “black, Coloured,
and white” stand out. Marsh has
made proper nouns out of adjectives.
Furthermore, the novel is set in
1988 South Africa, with segments
dedicated to memories of police
brutality in townships. What Marsh
means to say is that this is apartheid
but he does so elliptically, via the
marker of race. Marsh’s erratic
mention of race keeps it on the tip
of the mind throughout what might
otherwise be an enjoyable read.
What saves Beasts of Prey is history
(excuse my Marsh-like Proper Noun).
Te main text is accompanied by
a non-fction addendum, disguised
as the author’s note, which tells us
that although most of the events and
characters are fctional, the novel is
partially steeped in reality. Yet this
simply renders the insistence on
location even more unnecessary.
Why press hooks of reality into
a story that is reality? Perhaps a
degree of temporal anonymity, some
mythicalness, would have been more
appropriate. Te taxi violence, drug
abuse and rape that haunt the work
as sub-plots are not fction, they are
strong reminders of the trauma that
South Africa faces daily.
Tese weaknesses are tempered by
good writing. Marsh’s sentences fow
smoothly, events happen propter hoc,
and his dialogue is convincing. He has
also come across a story that is in itself
criminal and exciting. So why add a
death to the mix?
Te pleasure we get from reading
a work of crime fction is in being able
to identify with the main characters,
to recognise a potential realness, while
knowing that what we are reading
is fction, that it is not real. Beasts
of Prey struggles to provide enough
distance to make the experience of
fear pleasurable; it snuggles in a bit
too close.
8£V|£w£8: $ophy koh|er is the Cape
Assistant Editor of BOOK Southern Africa.
Book Reviews
46 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Title: Refuge
Author: Andrew Brown
Publisher: Zebra Press
Genre: Thriller
Andrew Brown’s third novel revisits
the core themes of his literary debut
Inyenzi: A Story of Love and Genocide
set against the backdrop of 1994
Rwanda. Prejudice, intolerance and
violence towards the “other” in our
society are skilfully packaged into a
gripping thriller propelling the reader
into a dire landscape of betrayal,
exploitation and abuse.
Te main storyline takes place
during the xenophobic attacks of
2008, a deep concern of the author.
Refuge is a novel about entering new
worlds remote from, yet not entirely
dissimilar to, one’s own; about people
seeking refuge in another country
and other human beings; and about
the abyss of desperation and despair
to which this can lead. Beautifully
narrated, its protagonists painted in
fnely chosen images, Brown’s book
is not only immensely topical, but of
high literary quality.
Richard Calloway, a middle-
aged white South African, is a
successful criminal lawyer increasingly
dissatisfed with his professional
and private life. Unfulflled in his
“tiresomely bland” marriage and
disillusioned with his stressful job,
he feels trapped on “an island of
expectation between lanes of trafc”.
When his client, the Russian gangster
Svritsky, urges him to visit a massage
parlour, Richard knowingly uses the
opportunity to step of the island; but
he is taken on an unforeseen journey
beyond his control.
Infatuated with the Nigerian
masseuse Abayomi, Richard fnds
himself caught up in the violent
world of deceit and corruption at the
fringes of the formal economy into
which Cape Town’s immigrant and
refugee community is thrust. When
Abayomi’s husband Ifasen, who tries
Title: Native Nostalgia
Author: Jacob Dlamini
Publisher: Jacana Media
Genre: Treatise/memoir
Reading Native Nostalgia engages you
directly with the author, hearing his
voice and understanding what he sees
and is saying and why. Even if you
difer with him in many ways, I found
putting the book down a very unlikely
and unpleasant proposition.
Trough every chapter, starting
with the interviews of old township
inhabitants and their hankering to
a better past under apartheid and
the author’s biographical sojourns
through his native Katlehong, I
wanted to journey with him to
discover and understand his truth,
notwithstanding my forebodings.
Te conversation Dlamini engages
his reader in demands brevity. You
need the strength and fortitude to
deal with yourself in one of his pages
through a thought thrown carelessly
and haughtily at you. Te author is
not unapologetic, though. He often
explains his actions and views, as I
imagine he realises the dangerous
and contested terrain of memory and
its meaning he traverses. However,
he is bold in his views on the reality
stalking us as a society coming out of
the throes of our apartheid past, and
its contested meaning.
Leaning on his wide reading and
sound reasoning, complemented by
his formidable academic background,
he disarms critics before they’ve
had the time to form a contrary
argument to his observations and
pronouncements.
In his deft and skilfully deployed
narrative and creative engagement
with issues, he places himself at
the centre of his views. No one can
contradict him in this regard. He then
reinforces his views, interpretations
and thoughts through the support
of serious and acknowledged
thinkers to garner his arguments.
Trough the uncontestable power of
autobiography, he enables himself a
space to speak his truth, clearly and
loudly, and forces the reader to pay
attention.
I like Dlamini very much. His
tone and temperament remind me
of the sharp, incisive wit and charm
of Can Temba writing about
Sophiatown during the Drum period
of the ffties and sixties.
Dlamini gives us back our past
in forceful and colourful ventures,
rejecting the simple dependence on
the physiology of sight, sound, taste,
and touch. He interrogates these
senses, applying his interpretations
with deft to that “liminal space” we
call the township. By reclaiming the
meaning of the township diferent
from its traditional treatment in
literature and history over time,
Dlamini engages in a discourse to
reposition the black experience within
the context of his disillusionment
with historic and particularly
contemporary condescension on what
it means to be an urban black from
the townships.
In Dlamini’s treatment of
nostalgia, while admitting that life
under apartheid was bad, he reasons
that it was not all that bad because
he, and many others, have good
memories of life in the township
during apartheid. He extends his
argument to position Afrikaans the
Book Reviews
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 47
language of nostalgia for the urban
black South African, particularly those
in the regions of the country where
Afrikaans was more prevalent.
Unlike Dlamini, I believe the
undeniable humanity of people
is what made life happen in the
townships and gave us these
experiences he reclaims for us, in
spite of and notwithstanding the
boldly declared and vicious intentions
of the architects of these urban
communities, regardless of what we
want to and do remember.
And herein lies the biggest
shortcoming of the entire tour de
force of Dlamini’s treatment of the
idea and concept of nostalgia in
relation to the memories we carry of
life under apartheid.
We lived, were happy, loved,
broke our hearts, discovered new
truths and understanding about
ourselves, our families and our
communities in the townships. But
it can never be said we would elect to
have been in these spaces and lived
the lives we were forced to live, had
we the choice. For all it is worth,
disillusionment is the handmaiden of
to survive by selling plastic mobiles
on the side of the road, is falsely
arrested for drug dealing and thrown
into Pollsmoor’s brutal awaiting-trial
section, Abayomi asks Richard for
help. Although in the middle of a trial
with Svritsky, and wary of allowing
his private adventure to encroach
upon his professional world, Richard
agrees to take on Ifasen’s case.
However, all forces seem to
conspire against him: the more he
tries to keep these worlds apart, the
more they become entangled and
charged with the risk of destroying
both his marriage and his legal
practice.
At the heart of the novel lies
the ancient trope of the sexual
temptress causing the downfall of
an “honest” man, plus the colonial
fantasy of unbridled African sensuality
epitomised in the hackneyed naming
of the massage parlour “Touch of
Africa”. Yet Brown moves beyond
the mere iteration of prejudice
and stereotype by including in his
narrative feeting moments in which
Richard leaves behind his “othering”
gaze and seems to show a genuine
interest in Abayomi as a person,
realising in shock how little he knows
about the continent where he lives.
For the most part, however,
Richard is as much a player as
Abayomi and the other characters,
using the people around him for his
own ends. Brown has said that the
core idea for the novel arose from his
critique of the legal profession as one
that stands in judgement of others
without itself being part of the game.
With its sympathetic yet not
uncritical portrayal of the Nigerian
characters, Refuge can be read as a
counter to the unrelieved depiction
of Nigerians as less human/humane
than aliens in Bloomkamp’s District 9,
and the stereotypical demonisation of
Nigeria as a county of criminals and
conmen. Yet, although Abayomi is at
times able to transform her objectifed
body into a site of agency and resi-
stance, she and her husband seem to
be cast too univocally in the role of
dominated and marginalised refugees.
Conversely, the Russian Svritsky is
painted throughout as a demon with
just a minor glimpse of something
human inside him towards the end of
the story.
Te major strength of Brown’s
carefully crafted novel lies in its
readiness to weave his own country
into the fabric of the African
continent, an enterprise sorely lacking
in much contemporary South African
writing.
8£V|£w£8: 8ebecca Fasse|t is a doctoral
fellow at the Free University Berlin, currently
conducting research at the University of Cape Town.
nostalgia as attended by Dlamini.
Notwithstanding these
shortcomings, Dlamini succeeds
in providing us an important lens
through which to consider and
understand our past and reclaim that
which sustained many during those
times when blacks weren’t worth
the paper our births were registered
on. Trough his bold attempt and
thinking about our condition and
past, Dlamini succeeds in returning
the meaning of home or “edladleni”
and clearly demonstrates that
there are no counter-revolutionary
tendencies in harbouring fond
memories of the good times we had in
our communities in the hundreds of
townships many black South Africans
remember as home.
He also enriches the master
narrative by enlarging it with a
vignette, masterfully crafted, real
and alive, to confrm the nuances life
presents. No simple narrative will
ever capture the varied and colourful
lives we lived under the all-pervasive
apartheid grip. Our lives refuse to be
reduced to such simplicity.
Dlamini’s excellent attempt raises
the level of refection and meditation
on critical issues central to our nation-
building enterprise.
South Africa is in dire need of
such engaging discourse on issues of
race and identity.
8£V|£w£8: £dw|o $m|th is the director of the
Mamelodi Campus of the University of Pretoria and
head of Tuksdorp, the University of Pretoria’s post-
graduate and international students’ residence.
Book Reviews
48 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Title: Robben Island
to Wall Street
Author: Gaby Magomola
Publisher: Unisa Press
Genre: Political memoir
I’ve been dreaming of writing a book
like this since my own time on and
release from Robben Island and other
torture chambers. I had always wished
to tell the story of the journey from
innocence, parachuted to Africa’s
Alcatraz – through medieval-like road
transportation, manacled man-to-man
for more than a thousand kilometres
and shipped, like animals due for
slaughter, while being gun-guarded
from air, sea and land as if you were
an armed enemy battalion.
Gaby Magomola’s memoir Robben
Island to Wall Street stirs all these
memories in me as if these experiences
happened just yesterday and not half a
lifetime away.
It’s a story I wish I could have
written. I’m glad someone who
went through a similar experience
as me has. It’s an important tale
in the preservation of memory,
however painful that exercise may be
sometimes.
Indeed, Magomola’s book could
prove a useful template for many a
former prisoner whose unique stories
ring true in this bridgehead. It’s a
great pity since countless others paid
the ultimate price before they could
leave us with this legacy, a tangible
evidence for posterity. 
As one would expect in a
memoir, the book runs the gamut of
Magomola’s life: from his upbringing
in a dorpie called Bekkersdal, west
of Johannesburg, to his political
awakening, his arrest and serving
time on the infamous prison island
and how, afterwards, he picks up the
pieces of his life and goes to study
in the US on a scholarship. He later
becomes a renowned banker on Wall
Street, hence title of the book.
While in exile, he assimilates to
life in the richest country on earth
and becomes a member of a family
of South African exiles in New York.
Tis part of the story makes for
particularly interesting reading, he
Title: Resident Alien
Author: Rian Malan
Publisher: Jonathan Ball
Genre: Essays
Evidently, the eighteen years since
Rian Malan wrote his searing novel
My Traitor’s Heart have done nothing
to douse his anger. Resident Alien,
a collection of twenty-seven articles
for magazines as esteemed as Te
Spectator, Rolling Stone and, ahem,
Fair Lady sees Malan true to his
contentious form. His most thorny
preoccupation over the past decade
has been his belief that AIDS fgures
are grossly infated in Africa. It is an
obsession that gives rise to two of
the book’s best articles and one that
appears to have cost him his marriage.
Malan might have been called
everything from deceitful to racist to
foul-smelling, but you won’t hear him
being accused of half measures. 
In a column for Te Spectator that
didn’t make it into this collection,
Malan describes sitting down to
write the foreword to Resident Alien:
“Wednesday night – I chain-smoke
and stare at a blank screen. Tis has
been going on for weeks now. I’m
supposed to be writing the foreword
for a collection of my scribblings. I
simply can’t think of anything to say.”
Tis is scarcely believable, because
the impression you get from Resident
Alien is that you’d struggle to ever get
him to stop. Tis is a man with a lot
to say, and more beef than is probably
healthy. 
Malan’s style of journalism is
in the vein of gonzo legend Hunter
S Tompson as the book’s cover
somewhat hopefully proclaims – but,
where Tompson took pot shots at
the establishment that no one worth
their salt would have taken seriously,
Malan demands attention though
tireless research and gathering of facts.
His chief talent, though, is in making
convoluted and potentially dreary
stories come to life. I have not read
a more illuminating account of the
Jackie Selebi saga than Malan’s feature
for the defunct Maverick magazine. 
Elsewhere, Malan seeks justice
colourful people he meets, including
the likes of drummer Max Roach and
singer-pianist Nina Simone.
But, due to a posting in
Johannesburg, he and his family had
to turn their backs on a comfortable
life in the US, where they had become
naturalised citizens, and come back
to South Africa at a time when state
repression was at its severest and
opposition to it at its staunchest.
He makes it clear that the
decision was not easy to make, given
the dire conditions back home, but
the determination to help change
conditions for millions others won the
day. True to his fears, on returning
he and his family have to contend
with a new environment where the
word freedom is an anathema, where
gender roles are rigidly defned, where
his children, who had been born in
the US, have to struggle their way in
learning new African languages.
He joins Barclays bank and
quickly climbs up the ranks. Trough
his entrepreneurship, he forms part of
a clique of black Soweto businessmen
who would move on to play a
Book Reviews
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 49
Whether loving or hating himself
you get the impression that Rian
Malan thinks Rian Malan has
something very important to say.
Tankfully, he does more than
enough in Resident Alien to convince
us that he might have a point.
In fact, Malan’s introspection and
come-clean attitude to his writing
make his articles all the more inviting.
He appears not simply to tell us what
he discovered but to share those
discoveries with us. At times, he is
almost touchingly sympathetic to us.
With this collection, as with My
Traitor’s Heart, Malan attempts to
shine a torch into the dark corners
of South African society and scare
out the rats and cockroaches nobody
else has the guts to touch. What he
fnds is not pretty, but then the truth
seldom is.
8£V|£w£8: Natthew Freemaot|e is a
freelance writer and editor
business community were reached in
an illustrious corporate career that
would be envy of many.
Magomola does not forget to
recount the social aspect of a changing
South Africa. For example, in an act
that tested the fangs of the Group
Areas Act, his family was one of the
frst ones to move out of Soweto in
the late 1980s to live in formerly
white suburbs. Tey chose Sandton.
It was a move fraught with
apprehension: would their white
neighbours be receptive to them?
In all of his life’s travails, his
wife, Nana, forms his backbone. It’s
enchanting, even humourous, how
they meet for the frst time on a train.
Robben Island to Wall Street is
touching, bittersweet and is narrated
with sensitivity, thoughtfulness and
candour. Magomola’s generosity to
those less fortunate is boundless, a
mark of a man with the best interest
of the country at heart.
8ev|ewer: 8aks Norakabe $eakhoa is a
poet and a cultural activist who spent a portion of his
youth on Robben Island for political activism.
pivotal role in laying the blueprint
for economic emancipation of their
countrymen when apartheid fnlly
ended.
When Barclays disinvested from
the country as part of economic
sanctions against South Africa,
Magomola, a top banker then, helped
to found First National Bank, the
replacement for Barclays. Other
achievements and milestones in the
for the family of Solomon Linda, the
Zulu singer who created one of the
world’s most famous tunes but whose
family could not aford a stone for his
grave, takes a swing at Mbeki (and
turns his failure to foor him into a
riveting piece in its own right), and
delivers paragraph after paragraph of
obsessive, fearless truth-telling that is
likely to outrage as many readers as it
will intrigue. What it won’t do is bore
them. 
Obsessive tendencies often imply
a rampant and voracious ego –
Tompson leaps to mind here again
– and in Malan’s case there is enough
to suggest we needn’t make an
exception. He is constantly vacillating
between self-deprecation and self-
aggrandisement – in the foreword, he
calls himself “a crap writer”, the book
a “chickenshit collection”, and can’t
resist mentioning how some American
awards folk considered him “a born
storyteller”.
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Book Reviews
50 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Title: The First Ethiopians –
The Image of Africa
and Africans in the Early
Mediterranean World
Author: Malvern van Wyk Smith
Publisher: Wits University Press
Genre: Non-Fiction
Title: Begging To Be Black
Author: Antjie Krog
Publisher: Random House Struik
Genre: Non-fiction
With Begging To Be Black, Antjie
Krog has completed a trilogy
encompassing the horrors of our past
(Country of My Skull), the continuing
struggles of transformation in the
present (A Change of Tongue) and
now, the uncertainty of the future.
Te exposed roots on the cover
instantly bring to mind the uprooted
Kroonstad willow we saw towards
the end of A Change of Tongue.
Tese naked roots can be seen as a
metaphor for those of us who were
born on African soil, but without the
“Africanness” of black ancestry.
It’s a striking image, suggesting
vulnerability, uncertainty and, indeed,
the possibility of perishing. Tis
time, Krog asks what it means to be
rooted here, to be African and, most
specifcally, black. What is whiteness?
How about being a white African?
In her search, the author
delves deeply into the idea of
interconnectedness, a phenomenon
that, for her, lies at the heart of
blackness. In her presentation of the
history of Sotho king Moshoeshoe,
she demonstrates the workings of this
principle – the idea that we gain our
humanity through our interaction
with others. She seems to suggest
this philosophy holds for blacks
more than it does for whites – that
blacks are more open to receiving
strangers than are whites. Te qualm
I have here is how to reconcile this
with, for instance, the xenophobic
attacks we’ve seen recently. Krog
suggests this hostility arises as a
result of black people having their
interconnectedness disrupted by,
mainly, displacement.
Tis feels like an excuse, and too
easy an answer. And what does this
interconnectedness then say about
a country where things have gone
wrong: Zimbabwe, for example? Is
Mugabe a bad leader because there
is something wrong with his people?
Surely not.
Also in the vein of easy excuses, I
got the impression that Krog suggests
we should be forgiving of violence
that stems from trauma. Of course,
we must be compassionate, but this
feels like another slippery slope,
because it’s not just the previously
disadvantaged who have sufered.
In contemporary African studies,
many believe the myth of the Dark
Continent to be an entirely Victorian
invention. Malvern van Wyk Smith,
however, traces this notion of
Africa – a land where both “noble”
and “savage” Africans dwell – far
beyond modern Europe, through to
the ancient Mediterranean and into
the heart of Africa itself. Te frst
conception of Africans by the West,
the idea of two Ethiopians found in
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, is shown
to be an Egyptian characterisation of
an African hinterland.
Van Wyk Smith’s introductory
chapter is a tour de force through
various literary theories and discourses
that have all played a role in shaping
the image of Africa. Te author
is at home discussing the modern
postcolonial and postmodern theories
of Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Jean-
François Lyotard and Michel Foucault
as he is in discussing ancient authors
like Herodotus and Aristotle. Te
breadth of his reading is remarkable.
After the dense introduction, it
is a breath of fresh air to get down to
tracing the conception of Africa and
Africans from ancient Egypt, through
classical Greece, Egypt’s Ptolemaic
period, right up to the Roman Empire
and early Christianity.
Richard Dawkin’s theory of
memes (a “self-replicating element
of culture, passed on by imitation”)
provides an interesting lens through
which to view the idea that a concept
of Africa has been transmitted down
to the modern world, unbroken, from
at least the twelve-century B.C.E.
Te range of Van Wyk Smith’s
source material is also impressive.
He not only focuses on literary
evidence from Homer to Haggard,
but also provides artistic evidence
for his claims, whether it be the
huge bas-relief caricatures of African
prisoners at Abu Simbel, or the exotic
portrait of Upper Egypt found on the
Palestrina mosaic (the book includes
a number of colour plates of well-
chosen images).
Te idea that the “mythomeme”
(Van Wyk Smith’s word) of two
Ethiopias was generated, not in
Europe but in Africa brings much
to Afrocentric debates, found in
works such as Martin Bernal’s Black
Athena, which persist in many African
universities and often in the African-
American academy. No doubt some
of the novel ideas in this book, such
as Van Wyk Smith’s Khoisanoid
hypothesis, coupled with the genetic
research that he alludes to, will
provide new questions to pursue in
debates on race and racism.
Book Reviews
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 51
What about the Sandton
housewife who gets hijacked,
kidnapped, beaten, raped and left for
dead? Should we be understanding
and accommodating if she, in turn,
goes on a killing spree?
Of the books in Krog’s trilogy, I
found Begging To Be Black the most
challenging. What’s more, this is a
book that has already been met with
controversy. As a reviewer, one feels as
if one has been handed something of
a hornet’s nest. No pressure!
Begging To Be Black is typical
Krog: intellectual, fercely brave,
thorough and a fascinating blend
of non-fction, interrogation and
personal narrative. In the end, I
believe it belongs on every South
African bookshelf. Krog certainly has
the courage of her convictions. Lastly,
the addition of an index in subsequent
editions would be useful for cross-
referencing and close reading.
8£V|£w£8: Naya Fow|er is a freelance writer,
translator and editor. Her debut novel, The Elephant
in the Room, was released by Kwela Books last year.
Title: First Drafts – South African
History in the Making
Author: Allister Sparks
Publisher: Jonathan Ball
Genre: Essays
Allister Sparks’s collection First Drafts:
South African History in the Making
evinces a desire to record history as
it unfolds, with all the uncertainty
and rawness and imperfect
knowledge such as record entails.
He (and presumably his publisher
too) clearly hopes that this idea of
contemporaneous history, as he calls
it, will add colour to the reader’s lens.
Sparks’s “snapshots”, written in
approachable, jargon-light prose, and
taken mainly from his syndicated
column, result in a fascinating and
engaging acclimatisation to the forces
that have produced the country, the
region and the world we live in, as
well as a defnite sense that certain of
these forces will continued to mould
the world in fundamental ways.
Te book, written from an
essentially South African perspective,
is suitable for those approaching
the subject of post-apartheid South
Africa for the frst time, yet provides
sufcient meat and nostalgic interest
to keep those who think of the South
African story as old news thumbing
through the pages too, reliving,
marvelling, and learning what they
didn’t know the frst time around.
Sparks also provides formidable
commentary on the US, the Middle
East and the Zimbabwe crisis. He
draws on his deep familiarity with
South Africa and global politics,
gained from a long and distinguished
career as a journalist, and hoary
experience means that he knows the
political game inside out.
Tere is little in his observations
to startle. He is not vitriolic and
rarely approaches mordancy. For the
most part, he does not attempt to, or
need to. Te run of his articles gently
follows the crests and falls of well-
modulated argument to skilfully arrive
at a conclusion that seems obvious if
you consider the facts.
Sparks shows his class here. Te
articles are peppered with meticulous
factual titbits that quietly give life and
cogency to his words. Tose words
may not shock and antagonise but
they certainly have the power to make
you sit up a little straighter. Mostly,
reading First Drafts feels like bearing
witness to the slow, nonchalant
bending of a recalcitrant steel rod.
Sparks uses slow, steady pressure
and relies on the faith that good sense
cannot be ignored forever. He is
also careful to reveal why the reader
should care, and this is where he is
devastating. His ability to express the
nature and resonance of a problem is
profound. Te reader knows without
any doubt what is at stake.
He does have his stock phrases,
and he strums some standpoints
repeatedly throughout the book,
which can tend to disengage the
reader once you’ve heard the same
chorus too many times, but the
problem does not detract from any
individual chapter’s relevance nor
diminish any of Sparks’s arguments.
Sparks’s fascination with world
afairs is matched only by his
willingness to do his bit, making First
Drafts signifcant not only as a record
of history but also as a bone fde
element in the forging of today.
8£V|£w£8: Na|co|m 00mm|og is a writer
who (to paraphrase Le Clezio) lives within the
English language.
Tis work is a welcome addition
to the growing library of works on
Africa, African history and the image
of Africa in literature, done in a
reasoned and relevant manner.
8£V|£w£8: JeIIrey N0rray is a postgraduate
student and tutor in the Classics Department at the
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
Book Reviews
52 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Title: The Origins of Non-
Racialism: White Opposition
to Apartheid in the 1950s (The
Origins)
Author: David Everatt
Publisher: Wits Press
Genre: Politics/History
Kristin’s courtroom are the Visagie
brothers – Stevo, a small-time pimp,
and Shortie, his accomplice. When
Kristin has to dismiss their case
through a lack of evidence, she takes
revenge on Stevo and puts him back
in prison for contempt of court. Tis
single action forms the backbone plot
which drives Black Diamond, as Stevo
then swears revenge on the magistrate.
Outside the courtroom, we
meet Ma Visagie and the brothers’
ex-nursemaid Aunt Magda. Tey,
along with a motley bunch one way
or another indebted to the Visagie
family, are protesting the Visagie’s
imprisonment. It is this scene that
sets the inverted stereotype as the
continuing tone for the book, with
white folk using classic anti-apartheid
demonstration techniques.
Enter Don Mateza, a cat-loving
high-level security guard and ex-
freedom fghter AK Bazooka, who
fought for the liberation of SA from
From start to fnish, Black Diamond
is a profound and often hilarious
satirical rollercoaster ride around the
heart of Johannesburg and the South
African psyche. With this novel,
his eighth, Mda displays a warm
mature confdence and he stands,
without a doubt, as one of the master
contemporary storytellers of our time.
Writing a novel can be a lonely
pursuit but there is a defnite sense
that, when Mda sits down to write,
he is never alone or lonely. Each main
character is deep and well-rounded,
holding true to Mda’s philosophy
of compassion being the key to
understanding each character. Like
life, nothing is simply black and white
in Black Diamond.
First we meet the seemingly
sexually repressed and uptight
magistrate Kristin Uys, on a crusade
to rid Roodepoort of the “scum of
the earth” – that being anyone having
anything to do with the sex trade. In
Title: Black Diamond
Author: Zakes Mda
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Literary fiction
South Africa’s racial history is a tricky
bugger to write about. For evidence,
just read this book.
When thinking about the tricki-
ness of this subject, I can’t help but
recall a doctorate research article I
read a while back. Te author and title
elude me but the thrust of the article
remains: the typifed hyper-masculine
African-American male identity (think
any hardcore rapper or black American
gangster TV stereotype) has its origins
in a reaction to, or a defence against,
emasculating slavery.
Tis doctorate research article
comes to mind when the topic of non-
racialism comes up because it conclud-
ed that because of the hyper-masculine
African-American male identity’s roots
as a reaction to slavery it was ultimately
fawed. Te specifcs of how the faws
manifest are not relevant here but the
underlying principle is. Tat being:
as is almost always the case with any
kind of reaction, the one who reacts is
forced to take the myopic view of the
one who initiated the action.
In reacting to something, you
immediately and necessarily become
entangled in the dynamics of the entity
you’re reacting to. In so doing, the
well- or perhaps benign-intentioned
goes down a slippery slope where the
only terms of reference available are
those of an ill-intentioned action
initiator.
So, transferring this principle to the
facts around this book and the topic it
tackles: non-racialism would have nev-
er existed were it not for racialism. In
its formation, non-racialism was forced
to take up and use the myopic tools of
racialism in an attempt to clean up the
mess. And that is where everyone who
tackles the topic, from the Congress
Alliance to Black Consciousness
Movement originators to Everatt and,
yes, even this humble reviewer, ends
up stymied.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of
the fuster-cluck that non-racialism is
lies in the title of the book. Right in
the title, Everatt, a ferce proponent of
non-racialism is forced to apartheidise
the discussion by focusing on the im-
pact of the white participants in the
struggle against apartheid.
Te Origins, as Everatt explains, be-
gan life as a doctoral thesis back in the
1980s and underwent a rewrite for its
rebirth as a book. Tat may explain the
slant in focus toward white opposition
to apartheid – Everatt was limited by
the qualitative research he’d conducted
in the 1980s.
However, it still remains that the
original thesis’s qualitative research
focused on white participants’ con-
tributions in the struggle and, in so
doing, joined the rest of us in a heap at
the bottom of the slope trying to fnd a
way back up.
In his introduction, Everatt says,
“Tis is not a book on philosophy. Nor
is it a book about contemporary South
Africa. It is a history book.”
Tat refrain, as refrains do, rises to
the fore in other parts of the book, but
Book Reviews
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 53
his early teens. But because he was
never imprisoned he failed to enter
what could be called Te Robben
Island Club and thereby gain enough
“Political Capital” to be converted
to “Capital Capital” and become the
book’s namesake, a Black Diamond.
Not that this is what he really
wants above all else; rather, it is
expected of him, especially from his
girlfriend Tumi who is constantly
pushing him towards this end.
Tumi’s oft-played example,
and indeed the shadow that hangs
over all wannabe black diamonds,
is the minor character of Molotov
Mbungane. A man who likes
to say “accumulation cannot be
democratised, comrades”, and is the
kingpin of the Black Diamond, the
wealthiest benefciary of BEE.
With a few more liberally
scattered references, Mda make it easy
to guess whom he might be.
From Soweto to Weltevreden
Park, North Riding to Roodepoort
and Strijdom Park, Johannesburg
itself is also very much a main
character. Each location, like each
character, is lovingly rendered as if it
were Mda’s child and he has carefully
watched it blossom.
Tough always tempered with
a gentle humour, there is a strong
undercurrent of exposure inherent in
Black Diamond, a willingness by Mda
to expose all facets of Johannesburg
and its denizens.
He consummately describes a
rapidly evolving city as indicative
of the country, which has come out
of the celebration of freedom and
headlong into its practicalities, fuelled
with an undeniable optimism and
willingness to move forward and
overcome any obstacle.
8£V|£w£8: |vor w. hartmaoo is an award-
winning writer, visual artist and online publisher
living in Johannesburg.
I found this to be a misnomer. Everatt
invariably, and justifably I reckon,
inserts his own opinions on this history
and thus lends an easy conversational
style to the book instead of providing a
stolid history lesson.
I cannot say I agreed with all of
his views but the teetering between
whole-hearted agreement and rabid-
mouthed disagreement kept me inter-
ested enough to go out and read some
of the other publications he references
so as to adequately formulate my own
opinion.
In the end, though, just like Te
Origins, I have no solution as to how
we get up the slippery slope of redress-
ing and addressing our racial past
without using the tools and terms of
reference used by those that sought a
racially divided South Africa. I would
urge anyone who does hold the answer
to this conundrum to call President
Jacob Zuma on 17737. It’s a toll-free,
but toil-flled call.
Despite its shortcomings, Te
Origins well serves as an adequately ref-
erenced nexus on the topic from which
a reader could embark into other read-
ings and engage actively in debate on
the topic. Tat was, after all, Everatt’s
intention when he wrote the book. So,
in a sense, it’s mission accomplished
for him.
REVIEWER: T. Osiame Molefe is an
MA Creative Writing student at the University
of Cape Town and is a former chartered
accountant.
With his frst book since winning the
Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006,
Orhan Pamuk once again explores the
attitudes and values of his Turkish
countrymen: western modernity is
pitted against old traditions.
Te meaning of being or not
being a virgin at marriage comes
under the spotlight through the
story of star-crossed lovers – Kemal
Basmaci and Fusün.
Te story is told through the eyes
of Kemal, who has now aged and
has used his family fortune to build
a museum in honour of Fusün’s
memory. Te museum houses an
assortment of artefacts linked to her
– from stubs of cigarattes she once
smoked to door handles from her
house to her clothes and earrings.
Everything was obsessively
collected during an eight-year period
as Kemal, after had been reunited
with Fusün who had vanished for a
long spell, leaving Kemal in a state of
acute despair. It’s as much a love story
as a homage to Pamuk’s beloved city
Istanbul, circa 1975. A magnifcent
novel told lyrically.
8£V|£w£8: Phakama Nbooamb| is a
journalist and publisher.
Title: The Museum of Innocence
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Genre: Fiction
Essay
54 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
A
lex: You needn’t take it any
further, sir. You’ve proved
to me that all this ultravio-
lence and killing is wrong,
wrong, and terribly wrong. I’ve learned
me lesson, sir. I’ve seen now what I’ve
never seen before. I’m cured! Praise god!
Dr. Brodsky: You’re not cured yet,
boy.
– A Clockwork Orange, Anthony
Burgess (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
I
write about violence because I fan-
tasise about Columbine, that
weet oily click of a gun bolt cocked.
dream of grabbing a heavy metal ob-
ject and using it on the postman, the
milkman, the slowpoke cashier-man
at the check-out counter who’s just
short-changed me.
Don’t you know it? Tat feeling?
Call it road rage, a temper tantrum,
PMS … hell, let’s all blame it on
apartheid, why don’t we?
Tat feeling. Tat rage. We all
have it in us: that want, that need,
the instinct to pound in someone’s
head and crush their throats until
they scream no longer. It doesn’t mat-
ter if it’s the person who jumped the
cue, the driver next to you on the N1
South in rush-hour trafc, the lover
you swore to protect forever and ever
until she cheated on you.
Don’t you know it? Tat feeling?
I write crime because I’m scared,
I’m angry, because … because I’m a
god-damned sado-masochist!
Don’t you know it? Who else, I
ask you, would put himself in the
shoes of a killer, his victim, and imag-
ine to the utmost detail what goes
through the one then the other’s
mind?
Don’t you fucking know it?
I swear, I rage, I murder, I maim,
because I can. I bleed my heart out
onto white virginal paper because
never did I have the courage to stand
up and speak out. Locked into a
world of books, of dreams – a Benny
vokken Boekwurm, if there ever was
one – I looked forever inwards, not
outwards, until that day the world
thrust itself upon me and I was
forced to reconcile the two realities.
Addicted
to the
dark
side
of

life
I write crime because
I’m a god-damned
sado-masochist
By Richard Kunzmann
I blame it on my characters, my
story, that old ultra-violence, but
whence does it all spring from, really?
My mind.
Don’t you know it?
Why, you ask? Why! Because I
watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
as a child! Te Smurfs, those creepy
little demons of the forest, don’t you
know it? I had access to M-Net – no
age restriction, ek sê – when I came
home from school and thehouse was
empty of parental guidance.
It was Tom and Jerry that made
me do it. I had a He-man action
fgure when I was eight, and oh, how
I blame that little man! ‘Cause
when I threw him and his woolly
underwear in the fre, just like
Kaptein Donker Jonker of the polisie
said I should in that book of his,
Satanisme, it happened exactly like
he prophesied: Te Aryan polymer
turned into a satanic blue ball of light
that chased me round and around – I
still don’t know if the mysterious
freball was trying to possess me, or if
it was just me breathing in too much
burning plastic. Tank God Oom
Jonker cajoled my parents into ban-
ning me from listening to Bon Jovi
and the Scorpions too.
Oh, jene!
What parent would ever let a
child listen to Wind of Change for any
length of time, don’t you know? You
don’t even have to play it backwards
to feel an urge to embrace the old ul-
tra-violent. It’s truth. It’s the TV and
music and Ritalin they gave me as a
child that make me write what I write.
I know this for certain: I’ve always
been wired diferently from other
people. I don’t know how many other
crime authors share my fascination
with counter-culture, the dark rather
than the light, but I’ve always been
drawn to that which I fear as much as
I’ve been attracted to what I love.
I’ve embraced anger in my life as
much as I have peace, cruelty as much
as kindness – if only because of its
hypnotic efect on me. I do not shy
away from death as others do, and I
certainly don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
It is but the other side of the scratched
P
i
c
t
u
r
e
:

S
u
p
p
l
i
e
d
Richard Kunzmann
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 55
and scarred coin that is humanity.
It was in my second year of psy-
chology that I came upon an explana-
tion for it: Freud evoked the daemon
Tanatos to describe how we all of us
have a death drive, as much as we em-
brace Eros, the life instinct.
When I read that, things clicked
into place. Suddenly, it made sense
why I preferred reading Hellblazer
comics when others were into
Spiderman, that I enjoyed the art of
Dave McKean when others my age
were perving over stolen copies of
Scope magazine. Why I clubbed to
the loudest and hardest industrial
music I could, when others were into
Hathaway.
Don’t you know it?
Crime writing and reading is
about Pandora’s Box better left
untouched. Te unholy union be-
tween writer and reader is an explora-
tion of the darkest recesses of our
minds; the well-lit parts we know too
well. Tey’re so boring.
Tis doesn’t mean that I have a
particularly foul soul, only that my
dinner table conversation about old
FBI cases on occasion gets a little …
nappetising.
“How can you write crime fction
as a South African? Isn’t it exploit-
ative? Isn’t there enough sufering?”
Tat question seems to hover on
just about every journalist’s lips, in
one form or another. As provocative
as it sounds it’s also a meaningless al-
legation. What’s crime fction and ex-
ploitation got to do with being South
African? Surely the killing of a person
in the US is as tragic as the murder of
a human being in Umlazi? Surely ex-
ploitative and sensationalist writing is
the same world over – what makes it
diferent by being South African?
As for sufering: if the question is
meant to goad me into feeling that
it’s unethical to write about violence
when South Africa has such a dis-
proportionate level of crime, I don’t
understand it either. Authors who set
out to evoke a particular emotion, to
tackle a particular theme that moves
them, must set a story within the con-
text that amplifes those feelings. Not
so? If my novels as a South African
crime writer are exploitative because
they explore the sufering people feel
in our society, the things I dread,
surely Tomas Keneally’s Schindler’s
Ark (better known to all as Steven
Spielberg’s Schindler’s List) should suf-
fer the same condemnation? As should
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s tales of the
Russian Gulags. And what about Isabel
Allende’s House of Spirits set during
the Chilean civil war of 1973? Or are
they somehow exempt because they
spoke of direct experience? Because
they used bigger words and less blood?
Isn’t horror when it is evoked the
same emotion, no matter what the
medium?
Am I not a South African who
feels as strongly about what has hap-
pened to his friends and family as
others do? Country and setting have
everything to do with my novels and
their tone. But they have nothing to
do with the violence itself – that is
universal and linked to character.
Perhaps the journalist means to
ask whether it is exploitative to so
graphically describe violence. It is only
at this point that I will concede dis-
comfort with the question, for there
have been many times that I wanted
to censor myself.
I wrestle with the issue long
and hard every time a fork appears
in my narrative. Do I choose the
Alfred Hitchcock route or Quentin
Tarantino’s? I never know beforehand
which path I will take. Tere is some-
thing pleasurable about successfully
inspiring dread of the unseen.
But equally there is something
deeply unsatisfying and, dare I say it,
unethical about not showing a murder
for all its brutality when you mean
to speak of it. When I interviewed
Chelsea Cain for my blog, her words
echoed my own thoughts on the issue:
“I think if you’re going to write about
murder it’s important to make it
seem horrible,” she said. “I have dead
teenage girls in Heartsick. We don’t
see them murdered, but we see their
bodies. And that’s not pretty. To make
it anything less than horrifc feels ir-
responsible to me.”
Te commentator prone to melo-
drama and hyperbole, might then ask,
how can crime writers possibly claim
the moral high ground for describing
horrible gratuitous violence? I will
use that sub-genre of crime fction
called cosy crime to make my point:
by cleansing murder of all its distaste-
ful elements, you are removing people
from what it really means to kill a fel-
low human being.
Remember one of the closing
scenes in Saving Private Ryan, where
two soldiers are fghting it out hand-
to-hand in the clock tower, each with
a knife in the hand, until the German
soldier pins down the Yankee and in-
crementally forces the tip of his blade
into the other’s chest.
Tat is a story to be told, as much
as any love story. For how can we
truly talk about the beauty of life, if
we do not make it precious by show-
ing how easily we as a species turn
against it?
I don’t advocate splatter porn like
Hostel, Frontière(s) or the Saw flms
(thankfully fction has largely escaped
that wave of crap), but I would like
to underline the importance of using
violence, or at the very least its threat
and aftermath, to illuminate character
and plot, for the sake of a genuinely
human story. After all, what would
Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas have
been, but for his violent outbursts?
And would Natsuo Kirino’s Out
be the triumphant feminist morality
tale it is, if not for the group of dis-
empowered women butchering a phi-
landering husband, and the heroine
emasculating a killer by
allowing him to rape her?
If you claim that I propose that
heroism can only be painted by the
violence that a protagonist transcends,
so be it. And if you charge that I can
only paint the terrible loss of victimi-
sation by forcing upon the reader the
eviscerating brutality experienced by
victims, so be that too.
I would rather you squirm and
hate me for making you feel uncom-
fortable than lie to you about the
other side of our human nature: the
old ultraviolence.
Fiction
56 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
revealing tightly wrapped petals that
immediately began separating, like
skirts unfurling.
“Watch,” said Lena. “Tis is
the most amazing bit.” And indeed
Marian could see that the agitation
of the petals was not all their own
doing – as the stamens came into
view, the women could see two – not
three – bees, throbbing with ecstasy
and opium, the little pollen sacs on
their legs already swollen to bursting.
“How do they get in?” asked
Marian, fascinated.
“I don’t know. It’s one of those
mysteries of nature. Whatever time of
T
he poppies were not the
usual blood-red, but a rich
purple, which warmed
to deep pink as the early
morning light struck them. Look-
ing closely, Marian thought that they
looked feshy, the petals delicately
wrinkled like ageing skin.
“Want to see something special?”
asked Lena, Marian’s oldest friend,
and the creator of the early summer
garden all around them.
Without waiting for a reply, she
stepped forward and gave a grey-
green bud-husk a tweak. It came away
between her thumb and forefnger,
day I do it, there are bees inside the
poppies. Tey can’t resist the drug.”
Marian knew there was a reason
Lena had asked her to came a day
before the rest of the guests – and
not just to help with the preparations
for the dinner party that night. Alan,
Lena’s husband had just published his
third book, and the party was ostensi-
bly to celebrate this fact, and to thank
his colleagues at the university who
had helped him.
Lena pointed out the bronze
irises next, then a rare lilac-coloured
rose with a delicate musk scent. Te
birches in the arboretum shivered in
Poppy
An uncommon garden thriller
By Helen Moffett
I
l
l
u
s
t
r
a
t
i
o
n
:

L
e
i
g
h
-
A
n
n
e

N
i
e
h
a
u
s
Fiction
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 57
the breeze as they walked among the
pallid trunks. “Do you know I’ve
planted over a hundred trees in the
last twenty years?” said Lena. “It’s no
small thing to plant your own forest.”
Tey reached the herb garden be-
fore Lena spoke again. “Cleo’s coming
tonight – Alan’s research assistant.”
She lingered on the sibilants in
the words “research assistant”.
“She’s either having an afair with
him, or planning one.”
Marian looked up from a mass
of bronze fennel in dismay, but her
friend’s face was without expression.
“Oh no. Can I do anything?”
“No. It just helps that you’re here.”
Tey began to follow the stone
path that led through the white
garden and the grass meadows back
to the house. Lena stopped at the
viewpoint that led the eye down to a
simple stone bench in front of a small
lake.
“Dammit, Marian. She’s starting
to talk about wanting children. I can’t
fght that. I can stand to lose Alan,
but not this garden.”
Marian knew better than most
that Lena had compensated for the
blankness of life as a stay-at-home
wife by turning three acres of bare
and raw red clay into not one, but
several interlocking gardens, now
féted for their blend of indigenous
and antique plant species. Unable
to have children, she had grown all
things green in a near-frenzy of dis-
placed fertility.
Now her hands were hard from
the tons of manure she had dug into
the soil to turn it to dark loam, her
knees ached from hours of weeding.
Marian put a tentative arm across
her friend’s back, but before she could
say anything, Alan came out onto the
stoep: “Any chance of tea for a thirsty
man, or are you girls too busy whis-
pering secrets?”
Te rest of the day passed in
preparations for the dinner, and by
early evening, the guests were starting
to arrive: Alan’s Head of Department
and his wife, a visiting scholar from
Bulgaria, the Dean, the publisher and
the publicist for the book. And Cleo.
Looking at her, Marian was disap-
pointed in Alan. Cleo was blonde and
predictable, and she was being far too
nice to Lena, gushing over everything.
It didn’t look good.
Although Lena preferred garden-
ing to cooking, the food was never-
theless superb. She served her own
gazpacho, spiked with sorrel, mint
and rocket, and followed this with
platters of cold roast free-range lamb,
with bowls of salad and vegetables
picked from the kitchen garden.
Alan had laid in a crate of excel-
lent champagne, and once the formal
toasts were out the way, the guests
drank with gusto. Marian noticed
that although Lena kept topping up
her glass, she never took more than
two sips from it.
Te volume of chat rose steadily,
to be broken by a small scream and a
slap. Cleo had been bitten by a mos-
quito. She made a fuss, claiming to
be allergic to all insect bites or stings,
and, sure enough, a red welt was ris-
ing on her soft white arm.
“Why don’t you spray with
Doom?” she demanded. Lena stif-
ened. She was renowned for her or-
ganic gardening methods, her refusal
to kill any living thing in her environ-
ment, and her rejection of any kind
of poison.
Marian had heard her at length
on the subject – “If you’ve ever had
to watch a poisoned bird dying, you’d
never use snail pellets again.”
Alan made a joke about his wife’s
passion for creepy-crawlies, fetched
calamine lotion, which he rubbed
onto Cleo’s arm with great solicitude,
and poured more wine.
Later, with everyone now reck-
lessly drunk, games were suggested. A
few raucous suggestions were shouted
down, then Lena spoke, her face
pale, her eyes glittering. “What about
Truth or Dare?” she challenged.
Marian noticed the glance fying
between Alan and Cleo, and stayed
quiet, but the rest shouted their
enthusiasm, the publisher noisily ex-
plaining the rules to the Bulgarian.
“I’ll start,” said Lena, “and I’ll
start with you, Cleo. Now remember,
you have to tell the truth or perform a
dare set by me.”
It wasn’t Marian’s imagination –
the air was electric with the unspoken
question Are you sleeping with my
husband? For a long moment, Lena
held up her glass as if to inspect its
bubbles, smiling a little.
Ten she turned to Cleo. “Have
you ever committed adultery?”
Marian permitted herself a mo-
ment’s relief – it wasn’t as bad as it
could have been. Alan began to splut-
ter a protest, but the rest chanted
loudly: “Answer! Answer! Truth or
dare!”
Cleo sat upright and crossed her
arms, looking almost smug as she shot
back at Lena, “I’ll take the dare.”
Lena turned to the Dean. “You
specialise in Keats, don’t you? What’s
that poem about poppy and man-
dragore?”
Te Dean looked puzzled, but
Lena was rising to her feet. “Come on
everyone, into the garden.”
Te party spilled out onto the
lawn, hooting with anticipation as
they followed Lena to the poppy gar-
den, where the fowers and heraldic
leaves stood silvered and silent in the
light of the full moon.
When they were all gathered
round in a loose and giggling group,
Lena said, “You all know I refuse to
use any poisons or sprays in the gar-
den, don’t you? And Professor, can
you vouch that poppies are harmless
for human consumption?”
“Don’t know about harmless, my
dear, not if you take them in the form
of heroin, but humans have indeed
been imbibing poppy juice and seeds
since the dawn of time,” said the
Dean.
“Right! So my dare is this, Cleo.
Pick one of these poppy buds and
eat it.”
Tere was a pause, in which
Marian thought she saw Alan bunch
his fsts slightly, confused. But Cleo
relaxed. “Tat’s easy!” she said, pluck-
ing a poppy and opening her mouth.
And fractionally too late, as Cleo
bit down, everyone could hear a deep,
sleepy buzzing.
Essay
58 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
S
everal of us “girls” are so ex-
cited about starting Hillside
Neighbourhood Watch that
we’ve signed up for this home
Swat-Spray course. We stand outside
in my garden, legs akimbo, holding
the demo sprays at arms’ length, trig-
ger-fngers poised…
Muizenberg is said to be one of
the most eclectic, diverse and racially
integrated suburbs of Cape Town.
Tere’s every colour, class, culture
here; as well as every social problem.
In a community where a mother’s
lot is to perambulate her baby past
hoodie-clad no-goods with names
like Pig-face and Yster, where drugs
can be bought round the corner, and
unloved street children learn the three
R’s as “rebel, rob ‘n rape”, to keep an
eye out for each other is a good idea.
I know each and every neighbour
in my street, in the streets behind and
in front. Te neighbours know me,
they know my kids. We have an e-
mail system, an SMS system, we have
every landline number, every cell-
number on a list; if my children feel
threatened in any way, I know they
can run to Zochra’s “safe house”and
she’ll call in the services.
And now we’re about to take this
“passive watch” one step further. Any
bugger tries to creep up on us, we’ll
zap him! “Swat Spray is legal here in
South Africa,” the instructor says. “In
England if you look at a guy skew
he’ll take you to court, but here, you
can use this stuf!”
Koos van Blerk grins, holds up a
red and black can, snaps up the lid,
points the nozzle in our direction, a
look of glee on his face as we finch.
Ten Koos moves away from us
Staying safe
My heart is pounding, I’m ready to take on any
unfortunate bad guy who comes to my neighbourhood
By Joanne Hichens
women, belts out: “Squeeze the but-
ton. Now!”
Tis is an attacker’s dream – we’re
zapped by our very own trigger-happy
selves as the gentle Muizenberg sea
breeze blows the streams of spray
right back in our direction, in our
faces, in our eyes and nostrils. We
jump around, moan, cry, understand-
ing frst-hand the sting of capsicum.
Van Blerk laughs, warns: “Whatever
you do, DO NOT scratch your eyes!”
And it makes a mess too. “Jeez,
look at my shirt!” croaks Clarisse.
She’d stopped in to learn self-defence
on her way to a hot date. Te tears
fow, her mascara streaks her cheeks,
orange splatter patterns stain her new
white blouse. She drops her can –
“Will this stuf come of?” – rushes
inside to scrub herself down.
I must say, once I learned the
fundamental lesson of the can, how
to control it – pretty much like any
aerosol, and for this I paid good
money – I felt empowered, if not
a little manic, ready to take on any
bad guy who sufered the misfortune
of stumbling into our section of
Hillside. I even wore my can attached
to my pants for a while, swaggering
about as if it were a pistol, until I
strategically hid the spray in a drawer,
under some beige panties and funky
feeding bras (remnants from my
pregnancies) aimed at subtle persua-
sion of would be robbers to rummage
elsewhere.
When I checked last, thinking
I should really keep the can on my
bedside table along with the pile of
must-read crime fction, the expiry
date had months since past. Now I
sleep with oven cleaner near me, too
P
i
c
t
u
r
e
:

J
o
h
a
n
n
e
s

D
r
e
y
e
r
Joanne Hichens
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 59
bulky to hang from a key ring, but
the contents are apparently as efec-
tive as Swat Spray. Be warned though
– a crazed dude on tik is difcult to
lay low, you could pump the entire
contents of even oven cleaner down
his throat, whack him over the head
with the empty can and he might still
come after you.
On nightly guard, hearing sounds
Still, no doubt about it, our
Neighbourhood Watch is a worth-
while initiative, and being prepared to
use Swat Spray is certainly a sensible
defensive measure. Plus, most of us
have lists of top safety-tips magne-
tised to the fridge door along with
our kids’ pre-school drawings, every
tip aimed at minimising the possibil-
ity and risk associated with assault,
robbery or hijack. And with our
walls, spikes and barbed wire, elec-
tric fences, alarms, armed-response
security providers, surely we’ll remain
safe. Or will we?
I have an almost nightly routine
of getting up in the wee hours for
every sound rising to the top, like
cream. On the hill I hear every siren,
every drunken argument, the bark-
ing of early warning systems. I stand
at the window, with my binoculars
indenting dark circles round my eyes,
scanning midnight shadows, roads,
buildings, apartments and late-night
dog walkers.
I see the odd car drive along the
main drag, I see the eerie blue ficker
of TV screens illuminating windows,
alerting me to others’ wakefulness.
Tis is my life of hyper-vigilance.
It’s why I don’t need to do gym any-
more. My heart rate is naturally
elevated simply as a response to what’s
going on “out there”.
Or in some cases what isn’t go-
ing on. I’m crime-primed. Te quiet
nights are as disturbing to me as the
nights the wind howls an invitation
to mischief.
“Just go back to sleep, Jo,” mum-
bles the ball ’n chain, he rolls over
and starts up snoring again as I lie in
the dead of night, thinking: How do
we stay safe?
From Constantia to Lagunya, it’s
what people want – to be at peace. It’s
the reason most often cited for citi-
zens leaving the country – “We want
to live in a safe place.” Basic instinct,
linked to fight or fght – ergo the
Swat Spray – is to protect ourselves
and particularly our ofspring.
But does staying safe in South
Africa mean we’ll remain on the
defensive? With our car tracking
systems, our security doors, our
dogs, our beams and portable panic
buttons? I hope not. I’m tired of
constantly looking over my shoulder,
checking for a hijacker, mugger or
murderer; of waking with a stif neck,
from fearful, unsettled, night-time
paranoia, my head cocked, alert for
those tell-tale signs – some skollie-
gang break-in.
Surely there’s another way to
promote safety? Apart from mak-
ing crime difcult by adhering to
top-tips, what is it we can do that is
entirely proactive? Positive?
One of the most important
philosophical questions discussed
throughout the ages, from Aristotle
to A.C. Grayling, goes as follows: To
what extent am I responsible for my
fellow man?
In a frenzied “how will we fx
the world?” conversation with poet
and writer Sindiwe Magona, who
worked for many years in the Media
Department of the United Nations
(UN) in New York, she said: “We
have to take note of the people in
this country who are being thwarted.
We have to consider the people in
the townships, the people who don’t
get the opportunities we do. People
in the townships continue to be
bonsaied. We should be more than a
little apprehensive. We must be will-
ing to share. If each of us has a little
something, the temptation will not be
so strong to take what we want from
those with everything. If each person
has a stake, a foothold, they will be
too busy getting on with their lives
to do crime. But I’m sick of talking.
Tat’s why I left the UN.”
So the beneft of our democracy
translates not only to having the op-
portunity to live in a free country, but
also to living with awareness. Which
in turn means taking responsibility to
work for, and support, social change.
Appropriate self-interest is a good
thing: to stay healthy, to aspire to
promotion, a personal challenge, to
want a home, a house, to lean to-
wards a comfortable life, but at what
point do I extend the care I have
for Myself to my Brother? Am I my
brother’s keeper? Te question can
be reframed: How important is my
brother to me? Put this way, the ques-
tion sounds more “selfsh”, but I agree
fully with Grayling’s postulation that
“thoughtful self-interest would con-
sider highly the position of others.”
So the question then becomes
what is it we do to promote tolerance,
sharing? To develop humility as well
as compassion? What do we do to
connect with others? Or are we sim-
ply too busy, too stressed, too lethar-
gic to truly care?
SAPS jamboree
It’s Tuesday night. My favourite TV
series, House, is on. It’s not a krimi.
But I love the star of the show, the
grumpy doctor. Te character gives
me permission to be myself. Also
grumpy, sometimes as temperamental
as the Muizenberg wind. I put on my
slippers and my gown and hang out.
I’m a latent teenager, a couch potato
at heart, my favourite position being
horizontal. But the small voice nags:
“Put your money where your mouth
is. You’re part of a Neighbourhood
Watch, you’re the secretary for heav-
en’s sake, so go to the South African
Police Services (SAPS) meeting and
report back like you said you’d do,
like you promised!”
Convent-girl guilt pricks at my
temples and an ingrained code of
moral responsibility gets me going.
Tonight, for the sake of staying safe, I
strip of the gown, pull on my boots,
put on my contact lenses, and head
for a local meeting organised by the
SAPS at a venue in Vrygrond. I lock
my doors, keep my windows closed,
check in the rear-view mirror every
eight seconds while driving, but I
Essay
60 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
reckon this evening at least I’m safe.
Tere’s plenty of boys in blue
arriving at the Vrygrond Primary
School, lots of brass foating around,
lots of police with pens in their
pockets, guns at their hips. Hordes
of concerned citizens turn up at the
People-Oriented Sustainable Strategy
meeting (what a mouthful!), a public
participation process for residents
from Simonstown to Seawinds,
Masiphumelele to Vrygrond, most of
us representing our neighbourhood
watches.
Te main message from top brass:
“Tis is a partnership. We cannot
police without help from the commu-
nity. Te community is the eyes and
ears of the police. If there’s trouble in
your neighbourhood, it’s up to you to
report it to your local police station.
If someone steals a broken bicycle,
report it. Fill in a form, make a state-
ment. Te number of police allocated
to any precinct depends on the num-
ber of complaints lodged. If you don’t
complain, it’s as if the crime never
happened. Score one for the criminals
who rely on our laziness!’
On SAPS budget: “When you go
to Pick ’n Pay, some of you will get a
trolley and you will go for the steaks;
if you count the cents you will buy
bread. It works the same with the
police. Some stations will have more
money than other stations. We know
there are problems in Muizenberg.
But Mitchell’s Plain – with a popu-
lation of three hundred thousand,
has forty-nine primary schools and
sixteen secondary schools with an
average of two thousand pupils at
each secondary school – has only one
police station to serve the area! Tey
need more money right now!”
On police corruption: “A police-
man who goes into a drug-house and
comes out eating a bunny-chow is not
a proper policeman! If a policeman
tells you he can’t raid a drug-house
because there’s big dogs there, tell
him ‘shoot to kill’ applies to vicious
dogs, too!”
Top brass is afable, his easy
humour has people listening. He is
compassionate – he invites a cry-
ing woman to come and talk to him
personally after she tells the people in
the hall that the man who stabbed her
son dead was out on bail before the
day of her son’s funeral.
On the wall of the school hall is a
poster: “In loving memory of Nazaria
Brady, rest in peace – from Grade
Tree and teachers.” Lots of tiny
hands paint-pressed to the paper.
What happened to her? Must be a
child, surely? How did she die?
Indeed, there is evidence every-
where of worlds many prefer to ig-
nore. Poverty begs at every street cor-
ner, at every intersection. Pollsmoor
Prison in situated in the leafy suburb
of Constantia. Destitute “scratchers”
live of garbage spoils of sea-view
homeowners. On a daily basis, there’s
news of horrors on the Cape Flats
on every electricity pole in my work-
ing class suburb are reports of babies
raped, missing children, policemen
shot. Why don’t we dig deeper to
truly understand the root causes and
then address these? We need more
police stations and cops to fll them,
but what about social workers and
community centers?
Sitting at the meeting, I thought
about the still fresh public outcry in
Muizenberg at the pathetically slow
police response to the fatal stabbing
of Ulla Albertus – killed in front of
her apartment for her car just days
before this SAPS jamboree.
At 6 a.m. on a Saturday, while my
son was directed to the TV to take
in his dose of Saturday Spongebob
Squarepants, I heard screams drift up
the hill. I didn’t think twice about
it. I put it down to some bergies
battling. It was only later the chill-
ing reality hit me, that I’d heard this
mother of three screaming for her life.
Crossing the divide
Te newspaper reports continue to
lambaste the cops for slow response,
bad attitude and dishonesty. Lack of
accountability is not limited to some
police. While compiling contents of
this edition of Wordsetc as guest edi-
tor, on a search for the Drum Decade
by Michael Chapman, where I was
directed to fnd an Arthur Maimane
story, I was informed by no less than
three libraries that the copies had “not
been returned” which is the polite
way of saying STOLEN!
How many droom-paleis madams
pay domestic workers a mingy wage?
Why do respectable people in town-
ships knowingly buy stolen goods?
How many drivers in swank vehicles
will not deign to nod a simple “no,
thanks” to their local Big Issue sales-
man at the trafc lights?
On a larger scale, if public re-
sources are massively misdirected
– government ofcials and CEOs
are regularly reported to have or-
dered expensive Mercs and 4x4s, to
have greased the palms of pals with
tenders, or to have run of with the
money entirely – the only certainty is
future trouble. If prominent leaders
and businessmen continue to siphon
of funds meant for orphans, educa-
tion and housing, all we create is a vi-
cious cycle of greed and resentment.
Dog eat dog. Take what you want.
A callousness towards each other, no
matter what the situation. It’s time we
open up to each other and cross the
divide, certainly to reestablish ubuntu,
to look after each other.
Looking out for each other
Tere’s an insistent ringing at my
gate. “Mama?”, a Chubb guard calls
as I come out of the house. “Are you
all right, mama? Is there trouble?!”
Mama (that’s me) crosses her
arms, pushes up her bosoms, says:
“Any of you ever been driven over the
edge by a teenager?”
My eldest daughter and I have
been having the kind of slanging
match only an adolescent prima
donna and her deranged mother can
have.
“You saying this is a ‘domestic’,
mama?”
“D’you have any idea how dif-
cult it is raising teenagers?”
Tey skulk of. I’m not proud that
the police were called on a possible
“domestic”; in fact, I skulk in turn, go
inside, my head hung in shame – to
think that I, an upstanding member
Essay
of a Neighbourhood Watch, have had
cops at my door? (With a van nogal!)
“Hey, I’m so sorry,” neighbourly
Kurt says later. “I was really wor-
ried you might be in trouble there at
your house. I didn’t want you guys
to be murdered the frst week of our
Neighbourhood Watch starting up!”
“No problem, Kurt. I appreciate
your care and concern.” I really did.
I learned some lessons too. Now
when we fght we make sure:
(a) we quickly close the windows
if we are about to erupt, and
(b) not to do it in the kitchen
which is directly beneath Kurt’s
lounge.
Seems the police have learned a
lesson, too. I heard on the radio this
very morning that the child-protec-
tion and domestic violence units are
going to be re-established.
“Tere is no such thing as a safe
area,” says Allan Dillon of Mountain
Men Security Services. “Criminals
are resourceful, deceitful. Tey will
wheedle their way under the radar if
they have to. Tey understand how
sophisticated alarms work. Te major
tip I can give you? Be aware. Personal
and situational awareness is the most
important measure you can take to
stay safe. Don’t walk around with an
iPod in your ears, or talking on your
cellphone, you’re a magnet to a mug-
ger.”
Other tips? Baddies, like cock-
roaches, don’t like lights. Talk to your
security providers about alarm sys-
tems; learn how to use them. Know
your emergency numbers. Programme
them into your phone. Now. Own
your street. Take an interest in your
neighbourhood and your neighbours.
In the words of Desmond Tutu:
“We are all connected to each other,
and our behaviour, whether good or
bad, reverberates across society and
down the generations. Tis is ubuntu,
– it is the essence of being human. If
we dehumanise others, we dehuman-
ise ourselves.”
So, it follows that if we uplift
others, we uplift ourselves. Be curi-
ous, caring, celebrate a common
humanity. Be safe.
S U N N Y S I D E S A L
A tragic tale, borne up by an exuberant humour
Available at leading bookstores
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ARRESTING THRILLERS
Sunnyside Sal is the story of an
unusual friendship between two
boys growing up in Pretoria. It’s
a jauntily narrated novella set
in the tumultuous early 1990s,
when a whole generation was
discovering that everything they’d
been taught to believe was wrong.
Fuelled by his reckless bravado
and post-punk philosophy, Sal
plunges into extreme situations,
but his innocent experimentations
in rebellion lead him increasingly
into hazardous realms. Although
ultimately a tragic tale, Sunnyside
Sal is borne up throughout by an
exuberant humour.
Appraisal
62 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
I
n a disordered society it’s per-
haps not surprising that “crime
fction” is becoming a very pop-
ular form of writing in South
Africa. Deon Meyer, as one of the
most prolifc and successful writers
in this genre, has led the way in writ-
ing compelling tales about how crime
afects individuals and society, and,
in doing so, he has provided much
entertainment and enjoyment for his
myriad readers.
Meyer takes issue with the moni-
The pioneer
How Deon Meyer championed the rebirth of the thriller in South Africa
By Jennifer Crocker
For Meyer, being called a “writer”
in the frst place is “a little intimidat-
ing. I would prefer to be referred to
as a storyteller. I don’t write with the
purpose of creating a thriller, spy
novel or mystery. My only objective is
to write a story that is absorbing for
the reader, both in terms of plot and
character.”
Tis may well be true for the
writer explaining his motivation, but
there are compelling reasons why
Meyer should not be in the slight-
P
i
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t
u
r
e
:

A
n
i
t
a

M
e
y
e
r
Deon Meyer is wary of being pigeonholed as a crime fiction writer. In fact, he considers himself a storyteller and not a writer
ker “crime fction writer”. He says
only some of his books are typical
“crime fction” – police procedurals
or pure crime novels – and that the
rest are thrillers. Meyer seems wary to
be pigeon-holed. When asked about
the police procedural as a vehicle for
telling his tales he says: “It was never
a conscious decision; less than half of
my novels are police procedurals. I
have always thought in terms of story
and left the categorisation to publish-
ers and critics.”
Appraisal
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 63
est bit intimidated by being called
a writer. Chief among these reasons
is that he is a very fne writer. While
most of his novels are heavily plot-
driven, there is a level of introspection
in them that catapults his books into
the literary realm. If the purpose of
literature is to make us think more
deeply and to understand our world
more clearly, to bring understanding
and order out of incomprehension
and chaos, then Meyer’s writing is
pegged a little higher than the mere
storytelling that he claims for it.
Apart from Meyer’s skill as a
weaver of words, he holds a notewor-
thy place in South African fction as
the writer who was prepared to go
back to writing the crime novel, a
form that, according to fellow novel-
ist Mike Nicol, was politically loaded
during the apartheid years.
“Deon broke a drought that had
existed in this form of writing since
James McClure wrote his [Lt. Tromp]
Kramer and [Dt. Sgt. Mickey] Zondi
mysteries,” says Nicol.
Nicol makes reference to
McClure’s police procedurals based on
the detective partnership of Kramer
and Zondi. But during apartheid
years – or from around the mid-70s
– a silence falls over the genre. “In
1996, Deon Meyer explodes onto the
scene with his frst book and takes on
the crime novel again, opening the
way for a number of other writers to
write crime novels,” says Nicol.
Meyer himself said in an inter-
view that “the sad thing is that South
Africa, and particularly Afrikaans,
does not have a tradition of mystery
or thriller writing. Tere have been
a few authors in these genres over
the years such as McClure, Geofrey
Jenkins and Zimbabwean Wilbur
Smith, but that’s about it.”
Nicol regards Meyer as having
opened up the genre for other crime
fction writers.
But Meyer’s resuscitation of the
crime novel is also a reinvention: his
novels are not purely about entertain-
ing the reader with crime. We have,
on the one hand, intensely plot-driven
stories that try to restore the moral
order. On the other hand, Meyer is
aware of the social realities that in-
form his tales, and he is well aware
of the realm of fantasy that he delves
into to bring these stories to life.
Tere is a divide between what is
really going on in South Africa and
what happens to his characters. “I’ve
done what crime authors the world
over mostly do: stay away from the
terrible tediousness of real-life crime.
If you look at international (and
South African) statistics, true crime
is mostly domestic, seldom mysteri-
ous or dramatic for the larger public.
It’s always very sad. But it did take
a while for a portion of the South
African reading public to realise that
home-grown crime fction could be
entertaining.”
Meyer is very cognisant of the
reality that for South African writ-
ers it is impossible to write a book
without political shadows falling over
it. In much of Meyer’s writing there
is a sense of his characters having to
come to terms with the politics that
have informed their lives and careers
in apartheid South Africa. But Meyer
deals with this reality in a way that
makes the reader interested in how
things have, or haven’t, changed.
His novels are not politically correct
sledgehammers with which to blud-
geon his readers.
One of the elements that distin-
guishes Meyer’s writing is his ability to
weave a literary element of the human
struggle into the genre of crime fc-
tion. Another key feature of Meyer’s
characters, be they cops trying to do
their work in difcult circumstances
or private eyes or bodyguards, is that
of being wounded. Tey all have a
“back story” that the author uses to
explain how they have come to be
who they are in the present.
Meyer’s heroes are not dashing,
well-groomed dudes who get it all
right. As Margie Orford, another im-
mensely popular crime novelist, puts
it: “Deon has an ear for the big guys
who have trouble expressing their
feelings and who get slightly nervous
around women. He makes space for
them – with all their chips on their
shoulders and dark memories and
their afection for children.”
His characters are damaged men
with demons to fght. Of that dark
side Meyer says: “We all have a ‘dark
side’, myself included. But the one
thing I’ve realised with some relief is
that my dark side is quite a few shades
brighter than those of my characters.
And getting into their darkness is pure
extrapolation, taking what you know
and playing the ‘what if ’ game.”
So, we have characters with a
dark side as well as stories that at-
tempt to make sense of the senseless,
written in what Nicol put to Meyer
in one interview as a “deviant genre
and one, some have argued, [that] is
less interested in reconciliation than
it is in alienation and disorder. Yet
hard-boiled prose can be wonderfully
poetic.”
Nicol’s question to Meyer was
whether or not this is part of the
crime novel’s “inverted world”.
Meyer’s response: “I’ve often thought
of good fction as being very similar
to a good symphony: the theme goes
from order to disorder and back to or-
der again (if you know what I mean).
So I beg to difer from those who say
that crime fction is about disorder.
Crime is about disorder and alien-
ation, but crime fction is very often
about the quest to rectify this state;
this quest is such a wonderful source
of confict and tension.”
Orford’s philosophy about the
crime genre seems to mirror Meyer’s,
and she has a theory: “I do have a
theory. I think that many (many, not
all) crime writers write crime from a
deep sense of outrage. If you think
about it, crime novels are only super-
fcially about crime. What they are
really about is making things better,
fxing things up, of understanding, of
the washing away of sins, the bliksem-
ming of the bad guys, and of going
to bed with the beautiful girls after a
good meal in the end. Tat is the aim
of crime fction – a kind of restoration
of balance.
“Tat’s pretty much how I see
Meyer’s writing. I fnd his writing very
humane and compassionate. And that
Appraisal
64 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
is what makes his books so good to
read. His books are flled with action
and breath-taking suspense moments,
but there is this feeling of a solid mor-
al vision that makes looking at South
Africa close up a very interesting thing
to do.”
Meyer says: “Extrapolating this, I
would like to think this is the fabric
from which all, or most, stories are
woven. Take J.M. Coetzee’s incred-
ible Disgrace, for instance – perhaps
not quite ‘hard-boiled’ prose, but
stripped, driven, brilliant and pow-
erful anyway. Te book deals with
disorder and alienation in the same
inverted relationship you are suggest-
ing.”
It is, of course, interesting that
Meyer raises the reality of Coetzee,
because as I have been re-reading
Meyer’s novels in preparation for writ-
ing about him again, my mind keeps
wandering back to Coetzee. It’s not a
far reach to say that there are indeed
comparisons between Meyer’s work
and Coetzee’s: both deal with dam-
aged people, both examine a society
that has fault lines.
Of course, one of the diferences
is that in Meyer’s work there is always
some form of resolution and settling
of scores. His characters may not al-
ways get exactly what they want and
they certainly have to sufer a fair
amount of psychological and often
physical torment in their journey,
but they do get to fnd some from of
closure in the solving of a crime or a
mystery, whereas Coetzee’s characters
pretty much don’t.
Perhaps that is what divides one
form of the novel from another that,
and perhaps how it is categorised and
marketed. Like Coetzee, what sepa-
rates Meyer’s work from generality is
the human, existential, element, his
asking of the question “Why?” It is in
the answering of this question, framed
in other ways but with the same
devastating efect, that the writing of
Meyer becomes at the same time im-
portant and entertaining.
And that is no mean feat to pull
of. But pull it of, on every level,
Meyer continues to do successfully.
By Jennifer Crocker
M
eyer was born in Paarl in
the Western Cape. Later,
he moved with his family to
Klerksdorp and studied at the
University of Potchefstroom. He
started his working life as a sub-
editor at Die Volksblad. Of work-
ing in journalism he says: “I think
print journalism is a great training
ground for writers. In addition to
learning to work with words (and
sentences and paragraphs), one is
forced to confront story structure
and the fact that you are writing
for readers with little time, and
many choices.
Te experience I gained in do-
ing research has been invaluable.
Te biggest lesson learnt as a jour-
nalist was that the info is always
out there somewhere, and if you
try hard enough, you’ll fnd it.”
Meyer later worked as brand
strategist for BMW, a job he left
in 2008 to become a full-time
writer. Meyer says the decision to
give up taking home a pay cheque
and strike out on his own was
“very scary”. “I was used to earning
a salary all my life, had four kids at
school or university, and had to get
used to the fact that my income
was unpredictable, and only came
twice a year. And, at the age of
ffty, leaving the job market was a
one-way ticket,” he says.
He has paid his dues on the
writing front, bravely starting out
with one of the most difcult story
forms – the short story.
“Having gone through a steep
learning curve as a journalist and,
later on, an advertising copywriter,
I knew fction was going to be
no diferent: you had to pay your
dues. So, starting with short stories
was a very deliberate attempt to
learn the craft. With every short
story submitted to a magazine, I
including a note, begging the fc-
tion editors to tell me where the
weaknesses in my writing were.
And they were extremely generous
in sharing their knowledge. But
writing novels was always my fnal
goal.”
While readers are enamoured
of his work, it’s not the case with
his four children. “Alas, the kids
are completely unimpressed (with
me being a writer). Tey don’t read
any of my work. It’s a case of ‘if
dad writes it, it must be very bor-
ing’.”
His books have been translated
into twenty languages. On seeing
his books in bookstores around
the world, Meyer quips: “It’s weird
and wonderful. I get a real kick
out of standing in a bookshop in
a foreign country, and seeing my
books on the shelf. I also walk over
to the shelf and rearrange them to
be a little more prominent.”
He is the author of Dead Before
Dying, Dead at Daybreak, Heart
of the Hunter, Devil’s Peak, Blood
Safari, and 13 Hours.
How I paid
my dues
Deon Meyer
How I write
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 65
M
y crimc habii kickcd
in whcn ihc lurid
papcrbacks bcsidc
my íaihcr`s Lay-Z-
Boy siaricd looking way morc
inicrcsiing ihan my Just William
collcciion. How could a prc-adolcs-
ccni boy in ihc carly sc·cniics kccp
his paws oíí a book callcd A Tan and
Sandy Silence ÷ wiih a halí-nakcd
blondc on ihc co·cr' And. ycs. ihc
blondc had a ian. and ihcrc was sca
sand in hcr na·cl . . .
My father indulged me, happy
to pass on more of John D.
MacDonald’s Travis McGee series
(Nightmare in Pink, Darker than Amber,
Cinnamon Skin – you get the drift).
McGee was mv £rst nawed hero.
a guy who lived on the Florida Keys
in a houseboat he won playing poker,
rescued (tanned and sandy) damsels in
distress, and hated money-and-land-
grabbing developers with a passion. It
was only years later that I understood
that McGee was an eco-warrior long
before a Greenpeace dinghy ever
invaded a nuclear testing site.
But it was a book by Richard
Stark (the pseudonym of Donald E.
Westlake) that really turned my head:
Point Blank/AKA The Hunter. I still
have it, a dog-eared little paperback
with a plain silver cover (no bikinis for
Stark) sporting a bullet hole and the
one-liner: a novel of violence. A tight
My life of crime
I’d call what I write ‘why done its’ rather than a ‘who done its’
By Roger Smith
I
l
l
u
s
t
r
a
t
i
o
n
:

K
h
a
y
a

M
t
s
h
a
l
i
How I write
66 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
piece of gutter existentialism, lean
as a Brazilian supermodel, it follows
Parker no £rst name. no morals.
precious little backstory) an ex-con
out of prison and out for revenge.
I was so inspired by this stuff that
not only did I want to consume it in
greater quantities than Dave’s Book
Exchange could supply, I wanted to
write it. So, while the other kids in
the white wonderland of East Rand
suburbia were doing healthy things
like taking their moms’ bets across
to the fah-fee runner, or laughing as
municipal cops klapped domestic
workers who broke the curfew, I was
scribbling mv £rst attempts at crime
£ction.
As I hit my teens I kept on
reading American crime and I kept
on writing. I £nished countless books
by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell
Hammet, Ross McDonald and the
great Jim Thompson, whose classic
The Killer Inside Me taught me that
characters don’t have to be nice, they
just have to be interesting.
But – sadly – my own attempts
at writing dribbled away to
nothing. 1976 happened, and Riaan
Cuywagen’s rug was the only thing
that remained unmoved by the
momentous events that hit our streets
and TV screens. Township kids my
age were taking on the Boere, armed
with rocks and sticks! Bugger the Sex
Pistols, we had big-time anarchy right
here at home!
And that’s when I had one of
those dah-dah moments: crime
wasn’t between the covers of those
American thrillers I loved so much,
it was all around me, woven into the
South African fabric with its Calvinist
obscenities and pass raids and
detentions.
As I watched the seventies lurch
in the eighties, I still loved reading
crime £ction. and the states oí
emergency and P.W. Botha’s toe-
dip in the Rubicon were made a
helluva lot more tolerable by Patricia
Highsmith (amoral Tom Ripley is the
most seducti·e anti-hero series £ction
has ever produced) and Elmore
Leonard (whose slangy, street-smart
urban parables have been imitated by
many – including Quentin Tarantino
– but never equalled), but I had long
given up any ambition to become a
crime writer.
How could you think of writing
crime £ction in South Aírica then· It
was the shortest path to irrelevance.
So, I became a founder member
oí a non-racial £lm co-operati·e. and
refused to work for the SABC, and
did all the things dinner-party radicals
did in those days. And I still kept on
reading crime £ction Richard Price.
James Ellroy and Pete Dexter) as
Nelson Mandela was released and we
went all rainbow.
In the late nineties, tired of
Johannesburg and its hard edges and
grit, I moved down to Cape Town,
seduced by the mountain and the
ocean. I wrote scripts for TV series
and screenplays that saw the inside
of dusty drawers rather than movie
screens. I still read crime (James Sallis
– hard-boiled poetry – Scott Phillips
– wry, Midwestern noir – and, of
course, King Elmore, who continues
to produce brilliant novels well into
his eighties) with the white noise of
the surf in the background.
As South Africa moved into the
new century, we had a new bunch of
criminals in power, and I came full
circle, realising that if I wanted to
write about something that affected
e·ervone. that de£ned so much
about who we are and what we have
become, it would have to be crime
£ction. Finish and klaar.
A few years ago I fell in love with
a woman who grew up out on the
Cape Flats, and the true stories she
told me and the world she introduced
me to, changed my view of Cape
Town forever. These reports from
the windswept badlands were unlike
anything I’d ever heard before – an
insider’s view of child abuse, and
street gangs and poverty. Not the
stuff of dinner table conversation on
the picture-postcard side of town.
1he £rst person I met in her
family was her brother. I went with
her to prison to visit him. He was
in his thirties and, since the age of
fourteen, had spent a total of two
years out of jail. We took his child
with us: a bov oí £·e. 1he prisoner.
in his orange jumpsuit – gang tattoos
carved into his skin – scared the boy.
He scared me too, with his dead
eyes and shaking hands. And I think
we scared him because we were part
of the world outside. A world where
he was powerless. He knew if he ever
went out there again he wouldn’t
stand a chance, would end up where
he always ended up: back in prison.
By the time I walked out of that
jail, a story was starting to write itself
in my head. A Flats gangster who’d
spent most of his life in Pollsmoor
was de£nitelv going to be one oí
the characters. He even had a name:
Benny Mongrel.
And before I knew it I had two
other – very different – products
of South African violence running
around in my head, looking for a
home: Disaster Zondi, one of those
kids from ’76 who had grown up
to work for an investigative unit
something like the old Scorpions; and
Rudi “Gatsby” Barnard, an obese ex-
CCB hit-man who was now a corrupt
cop out on the Flats (my revenge on
those bible-punching cowboys who
had their bloody way with the country
in the eighties and early nineties).
Then I saw a TV news report
about a good-looking American
couple who lived in a smart part of
Cape Town. They ran a restaurant and
everybody said how friendly and nice
they were. But they’d robbed a couple
of banks in the US and were hiding
out in Cape Town. After they were
captured, they were sent back home
to do serious prison time.
This story made me think: “what
ií ·` \hat ií an American with a past.
a man on the run brings his family
to Cape Town, seduced by those
images of mountains and beaches and
íreedom· \hat ií thev are building
new lives for themselves when they
are confronted by a random act of
violence – a collision between the
Cape Flats and privileged Cape Town
– that hooks them into the world of
Rudi “Gatsby” Barnard and Benny
How I write
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 67
Mongrel and Disaster Zondi·
1hose what iís` became mv £rst
book, Mixed Blood.
So, I had a story. All I needed
to do was sit down and write it.
And then life did me a huge favour
disguised as a minor crisis: six
month’s worth of screenwriting work
evaporated with a few phone calls and
e-mails. So I did the craziest thing a
grown man could do: I mortgaged my
apartment and sat down and wrote
a book. And never had that old saw
“write what you like to read” been
more appropriate.
Even though I read some
mysteries I didn’t want to write one. I
believe mysteries are better suited to
series, where the hero may be beaten,
battered and betrayed, but he’ll always
survive because the author wants the
reader queuing up at the bookstore
for the next installment. Not so in a
stand-alone thriller, where characters
are placed in extreme jeopardy that
may cost them their lives.
With Mixed Blood, and my
upcoming thriller Wake Up Dead, I
set out to create a cast of enterprising
psychopaths, using multiple points of
view (thank you Elmore Leonard, for
pointing the way!) to allow the reader
to ride shotgun with the good and
the bad guys, making it (hopefully)
impossible not to turn the page. I’d
call what I write “why done its” rather
than a “who done its”.
Once I`d £nished a draít oí
Mixed Blood that I was pleased with, I
decided that, since my inspiration had
always been drawn from American
crime novels, I’d take a shot at getting
an agent in the US and see if I could
get published. So I sent out two
hundred query letters and nobody
was more surprised than I was when
I landed a great agent in New York,
Alice Martell. She loved the book and
sold it to Henry Holt and Co who
gave me a two book deal.
I have been really lucky and Mixed
Blood has done very well for me. It’s
been sold to publishers in Germany,
France, Japan, Italy and the UK and
received great reviews. The German
translation won the Deutscher Krimi
Preis (German Crime Award), placing
second in the international category,
and was voted best crime novel of
2009 bv the innuential Krimi-\elt
jury.
Mixed Blood has been optioned
by GreeneStreet Films, an American
movie production company, with
Samuel L. Jackson committed to
playing Disaster Zondi.
Kelly Masterson (who wrote
the twisty neo-noir, Before the Devil
Knows You’re Dead) is busy with the
screenplay – I’m more than happy to
step away and leave it in his hands –
and Phillip Noyce (Salt, Patriot Games,
and Rabbit-Proof Fence) is on board to
direct. Shooting is scheduled to begin
in Cape Town late this year.
So, I’ve gone from being a crime
reader, to being a crime writer – I’m
busy on my fourth book right now.
Of course, I still read a huge amount
oí crime £ction. And it`s been
interesting, recently, to see literary
heavyweights like John Banville,
Denis Johnson and Thomas Pynchon
“slumming” it by writing crime. For
the most part, what they’ve produced
isn’t very satisfying: neither great
writing nor crime £ction that grips
you.
Which just goes to prove that
while doing crime may be easy,
writing crime isn’t. Creating believable
characters and plots that hold the
attention of the reader and making it
look effortless is a skill that very few –
like the great Mr Leonard – possess.
So, these literary types should
stick to what they know, and crime
£ction shouldn`t become too polite.
or too mainstream. At its best, it’s
the thermometer shoved up the
butt of our society to take its moral
temperature, and it should live out
there on the torn fringes and draw
from the darkness we all carry inside
ourselves.
As for me, I’m now leading a full-
time life of crime, like so many of our
elected outlaws and man-in-the-street
criminals. But I’m just writing about
it, and that seems to be the only sane
response to living in this country.
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Essay
68 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
I
never used to enjoy crime fction
as I am very easily scared. Read-
ing crime keeps me awake all
night, listening and twitching to
the sounds of my apartment. Against
all odds, a friend encouraged me to
read a South African crime novel,
Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer,
and, surprisingly, his detective, Mat
Joubert, captured me so delicately that
I spontaneously went to a conference
in Germany, where I live, to listen
to one of Meyer’s readings. He is a
charming luminary of crime writing
and did he ever blow me away when I
met him for the frst time. At this very
same conference I also encountered a
wide range of African crime authors,
and was drawn to their discussions. I
knew then that I was hooked.
Little did I know that meet-
ing Meyer, together with inspiring
South African authors such as Angela
Makholwa and Meshack Mfaniseni
Masondo, would provide me with
many more sleepless nights par excel-
lence and soon lead me to decide to
write my doctoral thesis on southern
African crime fction in English.
During my subsequent research
trips abroad, I was often asked why
I was writing on crime fction from
South Africa and why I did not
analyse German or European crime
writing. I have since met Meyer again
several more times and conversed
with other writers such as Margie
Orford, Mike Nicol, Joanne Hichens
and Roger Smith, and I doubt anyone
who has ever read a single one of their
works could pose such questions.
Te truth is that the setting makes
all the diference for this genre, which
is the main reason for my scholarly
interest: South Africa is a country
with a history of many social and po-
litical crimes, which have lasted from
colonisation to apartheid and beyond.
Crimes that afected basic human
rights of South Africans citizens such
as forced removals, censorship or
morality laws and crimes that are a
source of many social problems in the
country today.
So, shaped through its history,
South Africa produces literature
The
crime
of

sex
The portrayal of
prostitution in crime
QRYHOVUHÁHFWVWKH
morality and politics
of contemporary
South Africa
By Nora Krüger
on crime completely diferent from
Europe, which captured my interest as
a German researcher.
As Richard Kunzmann said in a
TIME interview: “Te relationship
between criminals and the forces of
the law is diferent. American and
British crime fction is largely about
a society that is frmly in control, but
which is momentarily imbalanced
by an act of murder. In South Africa,
that’s wishful thinking.”
Today, the topics portrayed in
crime fction seem to be grounded in
the reality of South African violence
against women and children. Crime
writing often comes with an aim
of addressing such social injustices.
Many of these writers are activists
or have a history of being one, like
Orford, Andrew Brown or Unity
Dow from Botswana, who is also a
high court judge. Sexuality, rape and
sex work as depicted in crime writing
are very much based on the reality in
both South Africa and other southern
African countries.
Te portrayal of these topics seems
to be a metonymy for the morality
and politics of the South African state.
In contemporary South Africa the
depiction of sex, sex work and rape in
novel is a commentary on the broader
context – for example, gender em-
powerment, corruption, HIV/AIDS,
religion and morality. Many changes
that society underwent can be recon-
structed in crime fction, since this
genre well elaborates the taboo parts
of society.
Under apartheid, crime writ-
ers risked censorship if they tackled
sex, homosexuality and sex work in
literature. For example, in Wessel
Ebersohn’s debut novel A Lonely Place
to Die (1979), the short romance of
two women is told. Tis work was
spared censorship as the description
of the sexual activities was not very
explicit and homosexuality is con-
demned by the church in the novel.
In Ebersohn’s latest thriller, Te
October Killings, published in 2009 af-
ter a nineteen-year pause, he resurrects
Yudel Gordon, a character from his
debut novel, but his main investigator
Nora Krüger
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 69
in the new South Africa is a strong
female character, Abigail Bukula, a
senior functionary in the Department
of Justice, who grew up in exile.
Emancipatory developments as
well as historical entanglements are
taken up in this work. Te startling
diferences between Ebersohn’s two
novels clearly indicate that the fear
of censorship fell away along with
apartheid, and writers today are much
more willing to take on society’s evils.
Prostitution has become a popular
topic in South African crime fction as
sex work is still illegal and considered
immoral throughout southern Africa.
As refected in many crime and “ta-
boo” novels, sex workers are consid-
ered criminals by the general society.
As they often sufer abuse at the hands
of the police, they are forced to look
other ways for protection, which
brings them into contact with gangs
or pimps, and drugs.
Due to the upcoming 2010 soc-
cer World Cup, the legalisation of
prostitution is robustly discussed in
the media, especially in South Africa.
Germany, host of the previous soc-
cer tournament, decriminalised sex
work in December 2001 by passing
the Prostitutionsgesetz, a law which
regulates sex work. As of 2002, it is a
legally acknowledged occupation in
Germany: sex workers can claim their
rights, including their payment, have
access to social insurance and public
health insurance, and can work as
freelancers or as employees. However,
cities still reserve the right to declare
certain districts, such as areas where
there are schools or churches, as exclu-
sion zones, where no sex workers may
operate.
Te decriminalisation of sex work
is nonetheless continuously controver-
sially discussed in Germany as it is in
South Africa. In South Africa, the em-
powerment of sex workers has come
a long way already, as underlined by
the politically correct term “sex work”,
which puts an emphasis on the oc-
cupation, in contrast to prostitution
– which has often been used in pejo-
rative ways.
In the context of crime fction, sex
work poses the key question of who
is the criminal and what is a crime.
Living on the outskirts of society,
sex workers often become victims
of crime. Writer Diale Tlolwe il-
lustrates this point in his 2008 de-
but novel Ancient Rites, which is set
near Mafkeng, far away from the
usual urban crime settings such as
Johannesburg or Cape Town.
A part-time private eye is asked to
investigate the case of a missing school-
teacher. Before that several women had
died, causing a stir in the village, with
suspicion arising that the corpses were
of sex workers who had had dalliances
with truck drivers using the road to
and from Botswana. Others spoke of a
serial killer on the loose.
a cover-up, relying on the fact that no
investigation would be laid.
Te explosiveness of sex work
in South African society is taken up
by many other contemporary crime
writers such as Margie Orford (the
main profle in this edition). Orford’s
second novel, Blood Rose (2007), is
inspired by her research in the South
African sex industries, her interviews
with victims, survivors, criminals and
detectives. Her latest novel, Daddy’s
Girl (2009), also revolves around
underage forced prostitution, gangs
and human trafcking. All her novels
feature the investigative journalist
and profler, Dr Clare Hart, who in
the latest novel is almost raped while
investigating Cape Town’s sex work-
ers’ scene. Orford claims that South
Africa is “at war against women” and
deliberately bases her fctional work
on true events.
I have returned to Meyer, my frst
South African crime writer, many a
time examining his explicit depic-
tion of sex and sexuality in his books.
For Heart of the Hunter (2004), he
researched the sex work scene of Cape
Town and worked together with the
psychologists of SWEAT (Sex Worker
Education and Advocacy Taskforce), a
Cape Town-based non-governmental
organisation.
Other novels which are not con-
sidered crime fction but which deal
with crime around the sex-work scene
include Whiplash (2008) by Tracey
Farren, Shameless (2008) by Futhi
Ntshingila or Kleinboer’s Midnight
Missionary (2006) (frst published in
Afrikaans as Kontrei in 2003).
Reading crime fction still keeps
me up at night as I pleasurably devour
novels as diverse in story as the origin
of their authors. I am still easily scared
– possibly more than ever – but I just
cannot keep my hands of these thrill-
ers – Meyer got me addicted to this
genre of South African literature, and
I only ever regret that around 4 a.m.
when I twitch to the sounds outside.
To get some sleep, I recently got my-
self a big dog to guard my bedroom
door – and my bookshelves.
Not only are the lives of sex work-
ers in the novel considered worth
much less than those of teachers,
but they are anonymous and socially
isolated from general society. Even
though the total number of murders
– thirteen – is revealed later in the
story, no investigation is launched,
and there doesn’t even seem to be a
proper documentation of the murders
or of the places where the corpses
were found. Moreover, sex workers are
considered as things, not as human
beings, as their bodies seem to appear
out of nowhere and they only cause
a temporary excitement in the other-
wise rather dull village life.
It is only revealed at the end of
the novel that the murderer was ac-
tually the brother of a sex worker, a
local girl. He wanted to stop her and
murdered twelve other sex workers as
Prostitution is
a popular topic in
South African crime
fiction as sex work
is still illegal and
considered immoral
throughout southern
Africa.
Real Life
70 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
I
live in Milton Keynes
(pronounced Keenz not
Canes or Kinis like some
of my fellow Zimbabweans
are wont to say). It’s a rela-
tively large town situated about thirty
minutes from London, if you travel
by Virgin train, and a good solid
hour if you use the London Midlands
service, which stops at every station
to London, Euston. Milton Keynes
(MK) is the perfect town for someone
like me who wasn’t born and bred in
England and who was accustomed to
seeing green spaces and trees as she
grew up in what once was the bread-
basket of Africa – Zimbabwe.
Tough I love my home away
from home, those who aren’t residents
of this beautiful town dislike it be-
cause of the roundabouts – since there
are more than a hundred – and due
to the fact that they don’t understand
why we have Concrete Cows (three
cows and three calves not actually
made from concrete) in the midst of a
glass and concrete shopping mall.
As a poet and writer of children’s
fction, I like the solitude and slow
pace that MK ofers – it helps my
imagination to fourish. My mun-
dane, daily routine and the certainty
that MK is a fairly stable city are fac-
tors that ensure that I am free from
concerns that may distract me from
writing. Yet, despite living a seemingly
idyllic life in the diaspora, the recent
crime wave has got me worried. It’s a
phenomenon that has come out of the
blue and shaken everyone I know.
Robberies and sexual assaults are
on the increase. I don’t remember
such crimes occurring with the same
level of frequency in the past.
Lately there seems to be a harvest
of husbands killing their wives. Tey
get of the hook by employing a “nag-
ging and shagging” defence – that is,
“she nagged me one too many times”
or “she slept around so I lost control
and stabbed, beat or choked her to
death”.
Gender and the law
Te case of Joseph McGrail is one
such. He kicked his wife to death and
Crimes
of passion
An expat takes
a look at gender
and the law in her
adopted country
By Fungisayi Sasa
pleaded provocation on the grounds
that she was an alcoholic and she
swore at him. Te judge said the
deceased “would have tried the pa-
tience of a saint”. McGrail received a
suspended sentence. Te judge was a
man. Need I say more?
How far would you go to be rid
of a partner? A crime passionnel?
Edward L. Greenspan says in the
foreword to Howard Engel’s Crimes of
Passion: “Te fact is, murder is almost
always a crime of passion and impulse
where the killer seldom, if ever, weighs
the consequences of his or her act at
all before the killing.”
Crimes of passion
But crimes of passion stand out more
than other murders in that they are
committed by seemingly ordinary
men and women. Engel refers to the
killing of one’s lover as “murderous
love”.
In most crimes of passion, there’s
no premeditation and, usually, the
murderer makes no attempt to escape
or resist arrest. In nineteenth-century
France, the law treated crimes of pas-
sion as crimes separate from murder
and women were often acquitted.
In England, however, murder was
murder and women who killed were
often given harsher sentences than
men, probably as a deterrent to all
other women who may succumb to a
similar temptation to rid themselves
of their lovers or husbands.
But can the possibility of a harsh
sentence deter a woman who has been
experiencing violence or sexual abuse
inficted by her partner? According
to the Council of Europe, 2002, one
in four European woman experiences
domestic violence in her lifetime.
According to the ofce of the attor-
ney general of England and Wales,
one woman is killed every two to
three days in the UK. Furthermore,
in thous country, an average of two
women a week are killed by a partner
or ex-partner. Tese deaths at the
hands of loved ones account for forty
per cent of all female homicides. Yet,
the law seems to ignore prolonged
abuse as a plausible defence for
P
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t
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S
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p
l
i
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d
Fungisayi Sasa
Real Life
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 71
women killing abusive partners. After
years of mental and physical abuse,
Josephine Smith shot her husband,
Brian, in 1992. Josephine was con-
victed of murder and sentenced to
life imprisonment. Two months after
her sentencing, Roy Greech was given
a two-year suspended sentence for
killing his unfaithful wife. But there
seems to be a glimmer of hope for
women – I don’t mean in terms of
changes in the law, though. Despite
cumulative provocation being seen as
a valid defence, Peers in the House
of Lords recently chose to throw out
planned legislation that would rule
out sexual infdelity as a defence for
murder.
Any hope?
So what is this glimmer of hope for
women? Sandra Jones hired a hitman
to bludgeon her husband to death
with a crowbar. She managed to get
a bank loan and paid a man – who
had fnished serving his life sentence
for murder – to kill her husband,
Cliford. Fortunately, Jones’s husband
was able to fend of the attack. Jones
was sentenced to three years, her co-
conspirator and friend was jailed for
eighteen months, and the hitman,
Lee, was put away for life.
What was Sandra Jones’s motive?
A ninety-six-thousand-pound payout
from her husband’s employer in the
event of his death. Te lending mar-
ket being what it is, who can aford
to hire a killer these days? Jones could
clearly aford it and so could Zoe
Kenealy. She was arrested in January
2007 after she reportedly hired a hit-
man to kill her husband. Her motive
was the same as Jones’s – money.
In her case were some thirty
thousand pounds, in the form of an
insurance policy, collectible after her
husband’s death. She managed to ob-
tain a loan of four thousand fve hun-
dred pounds from Welcome Financial
Services, claiming it was for “home
improvements” and she paid her
neighbour Lee Waite, three thousand
pounds to fnd someone who would
murder her husband.
When he pocketed the money, she
asked her brother to help her but he
reported her to the police. Te un-
usual thing about this case was that,
despite hearing all of the evidence, her
husband, Timothy Kenealy, stood by
his wife and forgave her. He asked the
judge to give her leniency, vowing that
he still loved her. She was sentenced
to seven years in 2008. Still Timothy
remained devoted. Some weeks before
Christmas in the year of her convic-
tion, Zoe told Timothy that she didn’t
want to be with him anymore and she
didn’t want him to wait for her either.
Te gist of her letter to him was, Let’s
just be friends.
Bearing in mind that there are still
people out there who are willing to
be paid to kill – and considering the
had just ended and she had quit her
job. But it was also believed that
Kumari-Baker was jealous of her suc-
cessful ex-husband’s thriving relation-
ship with his new partner. Moreover,
she resented the fact that Davina, her
own daughter, lived with her father
and shared space with the new woman
in her father’s life.
So, on 11 June she promised the
girls a shopping spree in the hopes
that they would stay overnight at her
house. After the spree, however, the
girls did not stay over. Te next day,
Kumari-Baker re-invited them and,
in the early hours of the next morn-
ing, killed both girls. Afterwards, she
showered and made two trips from
the house before calling a special con-
stable friend explaining what she had
done.
Kumari-Baker was found guilty of
murder and sentenced to a minimum
of thirty-three years in prison.
More crimes of passion
On 2 May 2008 in Wombwell, South
Yorkshire, around 6 a.m., three-year-
old Niamh stood on the landing
crying because she couldn’t fnd her
parents. Niamh woke her thirteen-
year-old sister Chloe, who on seeing
her parents weren’t in their bedroom
went downstairs and into the kitchen,
where she saw a note in her father’s
handwriting stuck to the cooker.
Te note “which indicated that
something bad had happened”, gave
the two girls particular instructions.
Chloe called a neighbour, who, in
turn, called the police. Ofcers found
the body of Mrs Tracey Grinhaf,
the girls’ mother, in the garage. Gary
Grinhaf’s body was found an hour
later near Wombwell Woods.
It turns out that Mrs Grinhaf
had been having an afair with Mr
Grinhaf’s close friend and, despite
saying she would end the afair, she
had continued seeing her lover – she
even altered her Facebook status to
“splitting with husband”. Mr Grinhaf
then went to great lengths to estab-
lish his wife’s unfaithfulness. Having
satisfed himself that she indeed was
having an afair, it is believed that Mr
plethora of information on how to kill
– it’s no surprise that murders seem to
be increasing. Somehow, money, love,
sex and jealousy have almost become
synonymous with murder, not that
they necessarily come hand in hand.
Sometimes murder comes all on its
own.
A slew of murders
On 13 June 2007, around 2.30 a.m.,
in Streatham Cambridgeshire, forty-
one-year-old Rekha Kumari-Baker
murdered her two daughters by stab-
bing them repeatedly. Davina was six-
teen. Jasmine thirteen. Between them,
the girls received a total of sixty-nine
wounds. Kumari-Baker used twelve-
pound knives she had bought two
days before. She claimed diminished
responsibility caused by depression led
her to attack her daughters.
Kumari-Baker had been divorced
from the children’s father, David
Baker, since 2003; her relationship
with her long-term lover, Jef Powell,
The battle of the
sexes rages on and
the men seem to be
winning, even in the
murder stakes.
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Real Life
72 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Grinhaf killed his wife on the night
of 1 May while their two daughters
slept in their rooms. He then tidied
up, carried the body downstairs to
the garage and left the notes for his
daughters and Tracey’s lover’s wife.
After driving to a woodland area, he
used the saw attachment on his cord-
less drill to drill into his arm and leg.
Mr Grinhaf died from haemorrhage
and shock due to his wounds.
Desensitised
Yet, (unbelievably) of cial fgures
show that the overall crime rate in the
country has fallen by four per cent.
An article in Te Independent reported
that the murder rate is at its lowest in
twenty years – it has actually fallen
by seventeen per cent, according to
reports. It’s comforting to know that I
am less likely to be murdered this year
compared to twenty years ago.
So why do I check the windows
and doors more often now than I used
to? It seems that every time I pick up
a newspaper or watch the news, an-
other murder has taken place.
Despite being far from the hunger,
blood and terror that is Zimbabwe
(pre- and post-election), I have come
to an island where murder appears
with such frequency in the media that
I am completely desensitised.
I no longer finch or turn away
from the news when they show
bloody images. When I read about
another crime of passion in the news-
papers all I can think is: “Here we go
again.”
Still, one nagging question re-
mains: what can women do about the
inequality they face?
Maybe I need to take a cue from
one of my poems “I Am Cannibal”:
Take one man.
Remove his feet and head
(for the head holds the mouth, the
mouth conceals the tongue and a man’s
tongue lies)
Pound then knead the fesh until soft
and pliable.
Place in a preheated oven
(400°F/200°C/Gas 6) and roast for
50 to 60 minutes.
Serve hot before bitterness sets in.
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 73
I
n 2008, Penguin published
my frst novel, and ofered me
a two-book deal. I had a very
clear idea of what I was going
to write next. It involved zombies and
horror and all that good stuf. Ten, I
received a phone call at 1 a.m., and all
that changed. It was a close friend of
mine. Walking home after a night out
with a friend, she’d been picked up
by the police and thrown into a cell
where she’d been assaulted and raped
by one of her arresting ofcers.
It was the stuf of nightmares,
and it didn’t take long to realise that
the local police were not keen to in-
vestigate the matter. Fortunately, my
friend had access to a lawyer, who
appealed to higher authorities to in-
tervene and alerted the press. Tanks
to front-page coverage of the assault,
and the help of an independent foren-
sics expert who generously ofered his
services, it appeared the case would
fnally be properly investigated. As the
months passed and the investigation
went through several ups and downs,
I was still reeling at the thought that
my friend’s ordeal could easily have
slipped through the cracks, and that
she might not get justice.
I sat down to write it out, but as
I’m predominantly a fction writer, in-
stead of producing an account of my
friend’s story, what appeared on the
laptop screen started to morph into
something quite diferent – the begin-
nings of a crime novel starring two
unconventional lawyer protagonists.
Initially, I started writing because I
was angry and needed an outlet. But I
also started to question: what happens
to all the other women in this posi-
tion who don’t have access to lawyers?
What happens to the rape survivors
who don’t think to go to the press,
who don’t have the back-up my friend
had? Well, obviously the answer is
nothing. Tey don’t get justice.
So the novel began to take on
another dimension, and the more I
started looking at the criminal justice
system, and researching it, the more
intrigued and horrifed I became.
But what was I doing writing le-
gal fction? Te closest I’d ever come
to the law was being on the wrong
side of it, and although married to a
lawyer, at that stage I knew nothing
about the South African legal system.
I was well aware that the majority of
legal fction is written by lawyers: they
know the system inside and out. It
was pretty clear that to pull this of I
not only had to consider legal reality,
but all things legal fction. I needed to
know more about the genre.
Why are legal thrillers so popu-
lar? And what is it about the South
African legal thriller that could be
diferent? Te legal fction genre is
an international pop culture phe-
nomenon that’s dominated the TV
schedule and best-seller lists since the
eighties. Series such as Boston Legal,
Te Practice and Damages attract huge
ratings and author John Grisham is
a household name across the globe.
And this desire to read or watch fc-
tional justice unfold is not new. Scott
Turow’s 1987 novel Presumed Innocent
may well have been the frst novel
to be termed a legal thriller, but law
crime writing has been around since
the 1500s. Te obvious examples are
Shakespeare’s Te Merchant of Venice,
the works of nineteeth-century popu-
list writers such as Wilkie Collins,
Charles Dickens and Anna Katherine
Green, and twentieth-century mas-
terpieces such as To Kill a Mocking
Bird, Te Tirty-Nine Steps and Robert
Traver’s Anatomy of a Crime.
Legal thriller author William
Bernhardt says: “Te desire for justice
in a world that seems unjust in the
extreme is shared not only by lawyers
but also by the common man, and
this may be the major reason why
legal fction has taken a lead ahead of
contemporary crime fction.”
I would boil it down even more
and suggest that the legal thriller
fulfls a basic human desire – to see
what happens next after the PI or cop
has cracked the case.
Will the system do its job?
Will the wrong-doer get his or her
just desserts?
Will the innocent man or woman
escape the gas chamber?
A sub-category of the crime genre
P
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:

J
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h
a
n
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e
s

D
r
e
y
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r
Fictional
justice
Why local legal
thrillers are
increasing in
popularity
By Sarah Lotz
Sarah Lotz
Essay
74 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
itself, the popularity of legal thrillers
has resulted in a slew of sub-catego-
ries, and there’s now a legal thriller
for almost any occasion. Advocate
Narayan Radhakrisnan lists several of
these sub-categories in his excellent
and comprehensive study of legal fc-
tion, A Fiction of Law. Tey include
Christian legal fction, historical
legal fction, humorous legal fction,
medico-legal thrillers, military legal
thrillers, romantic legal thrillers, satiri-
cal legal thrillers and the socio-legal
novel, where “the lawyer protagonists
are social crusaders and use the law as
a tool of social engineering”.
According to Radhakrisnan, this
sub-genre is extremely popular in
India, and focuses on key issues such
as abolishing widow-remarriage.
While most of the genres listed are
examples of legal fction as pure enter-
tainment, clearly the socio-legal novel
utilises fction as a mirror to show the
faws and lacks of society.
And speaking of lacks, why wasn’t
this incredibly lucrative genre ex-
ploited by more SA writers in the legal
crime fction hey-day of the eighties
and early nineties? Te somewhat sim-
plistic answer is that pre-democracy,
mainstream South African legal thrill-
ers would not have had international
relevance because the entire political
system itself was unjust and skewed
in favour of a minority. Light-hearted
fctional legal thrillers set against an
apartheid backdrop wouldn’t have
sat well with the majority of South
Africans or an international audience.
According to Grisham, there is a
certain formula to writing a successful
legal thriller. Here’s his: “You throw
an innocent person in there, get them
caught up in a conspiracy and you
get them out.” Sounds easy, right?
But this would not have worked in a
country where the system of justice
itself was based on a system of laws
promulgated by an illegitimate regime
and, certainly in relation to criminal
matters, the voice of the vast majority
of people afected by the workings of
the criminal justice system played no
part in determining the rules. Getting
the innocent person out, as Grisham
puts it, was not a matter of just prov-
ing they didn’t do it. As way of illus-
tration, during apartheid the test for
culpable homicide was the “reasonable
man” caveat. As in: “Would a rea-
sonable man in these circumstances
have foreseen and avoided the harm
caused.”
In an actual South African court
case, an illiterate shepherd living in an
isolated rural area was charged with
culpable homicide, accused of beat-
ing a child to death in the early hours
of the morning. His explanation was
that in the dead of night he’d been
awoken by strange and disturbing
noises, and he was convinced that the
tokoloshe was coming to get him. He’d
consequently rushed out of his hut
Later he says: “Do you follow me,
that … we cannot simply play their
game when we have no part in form-
ing the rules?”
Te US and the UK’s legal systems
are creaky machines that have been
turning for centuries. In the nineties
South Africa’s fedgling democracy
was freshly hatched, and the American
legal maxim “whoever tells the best
story wins” didn’t or doesn’t really
work as well in a South African con-
text. It may seem that it’s more like
“whoever has the biggest wallet and
the most infuential friends wins”.
But facetiousness aside, anyone
who has had frst-hand experience
in dealing with the legal system will
know that justice is a slippery concept.
And because the legal thriller genre is
rooted in fact, the writer, like the law-
yer protagonist, is bound within the
constraints of the legal system. For ex-
ample, anyone who even has a passing
acquaintance with the South African
courts will know that cases usually
take years before reaching fnality. Tis
can become an issue when trying to
keep up the narrative pace. And forget
the Perry Mason last-minute revela-
tion. Tat doesn’t wash here.
Post-apartheid South Africa is
now on a similar constitutional foot-
ing to the UK and the US yet, as we
see daily, it has its own unique set
of problems. High crime rates have
stretched the legal system to break-
ing point, it’s riddled with corruption
at the highest level, and, due to the
chasm between rich and poor, a large
section of the population still does not
have adequate access to legal justice.
While this is a somewhat slippery
footing for the legal thriller writer, it’s
also fertile ground indeed (especially
for the socio-legal thriller writer),
and it’s a reasonable assumption that
just as the crime genre has fourished
in this country, so the contempo-
rary legal crime genre will follow
suit, with more writers following in
the footsteps of legal practitioners-
turned-authors such as the excellent
David Dison, Andrew Brown, Chris
Marnewick and Peter Harris, all of
whose books, to my mind, should be
in a state of terror and had tragically
lashed out with his knobkerrie, caus-
ing fatal injuries to a child who was
more than likely just up to mischief.
Applying the “reasonable man” test,
his defence failed.
Of course, pre-democracy the rea-
sonable man in those circumstances
was a white male. Te decision was
therefore made without reference to
what would have been reasonable for
someone steeped in folklore and to-
tally isolated from Western infuence.
In Peter Harris’s In a Diferent
Time, Ting-Ting Masango, one of the
Delmas Four, explains why he refuses
to accept the system of justice against
which they are being tried for crimes
against the state: “We cannot plead
guilty … Te acts we committed were
carried out against an enemy that had
made us victims in our country and
taken any rights that we had away
from us.”
The legal thriller
fulfils a basic human
desire – to see what
happens next after
the PI or cop has
cracked the case.
Essay
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 75
required reading. So why do so many
lawyers, here and internationally, turn
to writing fction? Te answer’s obvi-
ous: lawyers write every day, they have
access to a plethora of true-life stories,
and they often have to be creative. As
lawyer and popular legal thriller writer
Richard Parrish points out: “Every
lawyer who writes a motion or an ap-
pellate brief is skirting the edges of
fction on every page … It’s the same
kind of writing that a novelist does,
but without the citations.”
Grisham has his own, somewhat
mercenary, views: “Most lawyers
would rather be doing something
else … Lawyers dream of big, quick
money. A gruesome car wreck, an oil
spill, a fat fee for a leveraged buyout,
a large retainer from a white-collar
defendant. It just goes with the turf.
A nice advance against royalties, some
foreign rights, maybe a movie deal,
and suddenly there is cash galore.”
W
riting the legal thriller set
in contemporary post-
apartheid South Africa certainly has
its own set of complex problems, such
as slippery laws that seem to change
at a whim and the woeful condition
of the supporting systems such as
the forensics labs (hard to get your
hands on that vital clue when it’s been
“lost”). And because the legal thriller
genre is rooted in fact, essentially the
writer, like the lawyer protagonist, is
bound within the constraints of the
legal system. Readers have to believe.
In my experience the main difculty
the commercial fction author faces
in this country, if he or she chooses to
fctionalise “real” contemporary cases,
is believability (for example, if written
as fction, the Shaik–Zuma or Selebi
debacles would probably be rubbished
for being improbable).
We also have to contend with the
richness and variety of our everyday
lives and stories, and our extraordi-
nary high crime statistics are of the
charts compared to the more law-
abiding countries out of which much
of this escapist fction is written.
In my short career writing com-
mercial legal fction, I’ve been in-
undated with stories. An advocate
acquaintance of mine (whom I’ll call
X) has started what he terms “hand-
ing over” stories to me, most of which
make the mind boggle. Te following
is one of X’s stories. It illustrates the
believability dilemma: A client, whom
I’ll call Mikey Delafontein, comes to
see X. He’s a typical X client, most of
whom count Pollsmoor Prison, in the
Western Cape, as a home away from
home.
Mikey tells X that he was picked
up for suspected house breaking and
banged up in a holding cell. After
a while the cops haul him out of
there and take him into the court-
yard. Mikey is slapped in leg irons,
which he knows is not a good thing.
Generally, cops don’t do this, and
Mikey’s been around the block. Ten
they ask him if he’s afraid of dogs.
Mikey is understandably troubled.
Dogs, he says to the cops, do scare
him. Te cops laugh and leave Mikey
on the ground, shackled at the hands
and ankles. So Mikey lies there for a
while, waiting for the dogs to arrive.
After some time, out of the corner of
his eye, he sees something moving. It’s
getting closer to him, but Mikey can’t
move. Ten he fgures out what it is.
In his words, it’s a moerse big tortoise
and it’s heading straight for him.
Ten, according to Mikey, the tortoise
bites him, hard, on the ankle.
Undaunted by this seeming insane
story of fesh-eating reptiles, X heads
to court to defend Mikey, who blurts
out that there wasn’t just one, but two
tortoises, and the second tortoise was
also of a rabid inclination. Obviously
by this stage the court’s in uproar, and
months afterwards X is still felding
jokes about being shell-shocked.
But there’s a further twist. A few
months later X goes to a braai at a
friend’s house, and he’s telling this
story to his host. Te guy is like: “Oh
yeah?” and points to his large pet tor-
toise. X goes over to investigate it and,
true enough, it bites him, hard, on the
foot. So, X felt somewhat vindicated
for his client, although it’s hard to
imagine this taking place in a Francis
Fyfeld or a Grisham novel.
W
hen completing the novel
inspired by my friend’s
case, I had to deal with this same
believability issue. Admittedly, the
subject matter was far more serious
than the case of the rabid tortoises,
but there were several aspects to her
case that verged on the surreal and
would have come across as writerly
indulgences and possible plot-holes
had I chosen to use them. And I had
another concern: How was I going to
wrap up the novel? Did I, as a South
African writer, have a duty to show
that justice could be served? It was
extremely tempting to write a painful
and nasty end for my rapist charac-
ter, but while this would have been
cathartic revenge of sorts it wouldn’t
necessarily have worked in context
with the novel as a whole. Was this an
opportunity to illustrate, in an acces-
sible manner (I was writing commer-
cial, escapist fction, after all), how the
system actually worked, faws and all?
So I thought: “What would
Grisham do?” Well, I knew exactly
what he’d do – wrap it up, put a bow
on it and everyone, except the perpe-
trator, would get to go home secure
in the knowledge that justice had
prevailed. I knew what justice was
in a John Grisham novel, or on Te
Practice or Law & Order: Special
Victims Unit. I didn’t and still don’t
know what it is in a country where,
as Dr Helen Mofett points out, the
rape statistics are the highest in the
world for a country not at war. And
my friend doesn’t know, either. She
wants her rapist to be punished, she
knows that much, but, like countless
other victims, she’ll have to wait for
the drawn-out court process to run its
course. Te jury’s still out on whether
Exhibit A, the novel inspired by my
friend’s case (which was published
by Penguin this year), successfully
resolves the issue of fctional justice
(and I’m not going to give the ending
away), but just as South African crime
thrillers arguably refect and inter-
rogate the violence and lacks in our
society, I’m hoping that contemporary
legal thrillers can do the same for the
justice system.
Real Life
76 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
A letter to
my killer
I have a lot of questions for the enraged stranger
who shot me in cold blood and left me for dead
By Thembelani Ngenelwa
so. I had a blister on one of my toes from
walking the length and breadth of an
unfamiliar city called Johannesburg
looking for a job. Did you not notice
the sadness I had in my eyes for failing
to secure a job after my parents had
spent all their meagre money sending
me to school? Did you have any idea
how saddening it was to see my mother
continue selling fruit at the gate of my
former primary school while she had
a grown son who was supposed to pull
her out of poverty? Tere is no way you
were even aware that I had two siblings
who looked up to me for guidance, and
neighbourhood kids who thought I was
their inspiration, I had friends who al-
ways looked forward to my laughter and
advice, and a girlfriend who was prob-
ably tired of always providing the shoul-
der for me to cry on. You were probably
not interested in my life; all you saw
was an object on which to practise your
target shooting.
It has been almost six years since
but I can still hear the reverberating,
deafening, thundering sound that came
out of your gun behind me. I can still
feel the excruciating pang at my lower
back as the frst of your numerous bul-
lets caught me. I can still remember the
dizziness I felt as I reeled and fell head
frst onto a deserted concrete slab next
to the railway line. Did you feel any
sympathy when you heard my screams
and when you saw blood gushing out
of my wounds or did you feel a splurge
of manly pride, admiring your target
shooting skills?
When I regained my consciousness
and tried to get up, for a moment I felt
hopeful seeing you there in front of me.
I thought you would spare my life and
apologise for that shot. I thought you
would help me to my feet and take me to
hospital. Alas, you did not. Instead, you
raised your gun and pointed it at my
face, shouted obscenities at me; you kept
calling me a stray dog. I don’t know if
you still remember how you insulted my
God-fearing mother while you kicked
me in my private parts.
I wet my pants when I saw your
fnger move to pull the trigger. I also no-
ticed that your upper lip became stifer
and I think I saw the tremble in your
lower lip. Was it fear of consequences of
what you were about to do to me or was
it some adrenalin pumping out of your
system in excitement about the power
you had over me? You stomped your foot
and I was so shocked that my knees be-
I
remember the frst and the only
time I met you. It was a particu-
larly cold evening in the eastern
part of Johannesburg. I was with
my loving friends who were happy to
show me around Germiston. We were
leaving the township called Five and
heading for the city where we lived.
Tere were four of us, three guys and one
girl. I was the shorter one with a green
corduroy jacket, black tracksuit pants
and white training shoes.
Tere you were, a young man who
looked about twenty-fve or slightly
older. You were with four of your friends
and you looked like you were having
some heated conversation. You wore a
maroon T-shirt, khaki pants and had
a khaki sporty hat on. Unfortunately, I
cannot remember your friends very well,
except that they were slightly shorter
than you. We greeted you but you never
returned our greeting; instead you pulled
out guns and pointed them at us.
You never even paused to ask me
how I was or which way I was headed.
Did you know that I was actually from
Cape Town and was there just for three
weeks? Trying to succeed in my search
for that elusive job. Did you notice that
I was limping on that day? I don’t think
Real Life
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 77
disappeared into the township to go and
probably brag to your admiring friends.
My vision was starting to become
blurred and I saw what looked like a
shooting star. It was a train and it was
on the same line that you had placed me
on. It must have been about ffty steps
away from where I was lying. I tried to
move but my body was unable to. Te
train was getting closer.
You do not know what happened
to me there, I doubt you even care. You
would never be there to see others console
my grieving mother. You had decided to
end the life that I had spent blood, sweat
and tears trying to make meaningful.
As you read this, you probably have long
forgotten about me and what you did to
me. I’m probably one of many victims
that fell to your cruel gun. I can never
forget. I have questions for you: What
have I ever done to you? Tere were four
of us, but you decided to go for me. Was
there any specifc reason for that? Did
you hate me so much that you decided
to kill me the frst time you saw me?
Did I remind you of your old enemy?
Did you hate me because I looked dif-
ferent from you or did you hate the fact
that I lived in town while you lived in
the township? You kept yelling insults
about my mother. You showed a deep
contempt for mothers. Was that a refec-
tion of your anger at your own mother,
perhaps? Was she abusive towards you?
When you hurled abuse at me, not once
did you insult my father. Did your own
father neglect you to the point that you
didn’t recognise his existence? Did it ever
occur to you that I was somebody’s son?
Tat I was a father to a little child who
would grow up as an orphan? Did it sit
well on your conscience that you made a
grown man wet his pants and cry? How
did it feel shooting at a stranger who did
not fght back? I would like to know if
it made you feel like a real man. Did it
fll you with pride? I do not know if you
ever put yourself into the shoes of your
victims or if you don’t value their lives at
all. Did you feel any remorse afterwards
or did you just forget about it? Have
you ever thought about me after that?
Did killing me solve your problems?
I just wanted to tell you that it was
a human being that you were killing
that cold night. Tat was not a game of
target shooting, it was real life. I felt all
the pain as my life was slipping away
from me. At some stage I did feel a sense
of regret for walking that path of Jo’burg
and bumping into you. But I had a
right to walk on God’s Earth, too. I lay
there worrying about what would hap-
pen after I had died. Strangely enough,
I also did think about you. What would
happen to you? What would be your
punishment? I was wondering if I ought
to forgive you before my soul left my
body. It was difcult, though; you had
never asked for any forgiveness.
I was still engaged in those thoughts
about you, a cruel stranger, when the
train started to make a loud hooting
sound. For a moment I wanted to lie
there and let the train smash me and
take me out of the misery. You did not
know that I decided against that only
when the train was a few metres away.
I rolled over just in time, and the train
went past, just a few centimetres away
from me. I had to draw from the little
strength that I miraculously still had
and crawl towards the main road. Te
blood was starting to dry up on my gar-
ments and the weather had become a
notch colder. You were not there when
some strangers from your township
spotted me and called for help. An am-
bulance came three hours after you had
shot me. I was dying and in excruciating
pain and the weather had become even
colder. I was alone.
I am now trying to pick up the
pieces of my life. I have to live with the
painful memory of what you made me
go through. People tell me that I have
a strong spirit; it is all that you did not
kill that day. I have heard some hearten-
ing symbolic apologies from convicted
murderers when I’ve visited them in the
prisons, but it will never be the same
until I see you.
People who know me can’t believe
anyone could even think of harming
me, but you did. I tell other victims of
violent crime to be strong, but they ask
me if it is possible for people like you to
change.
I hope one day I’ll get answers.
Tembelani
came weak. You probably enjoyed smell-
ing the fear I had. At that stage I knew
that nothing would deter you from kill-
ing me. Te anger and hatred I remem-
ber seeing in your eyes still traumatises
me, perhaps even more than the sight
of your gun did. You fred the second
shot and I felt a smashing movement as
your bullet went through my bones. I
fell backwards and I felt the pain as my
head hit against a stone. At that stage
I could not see you, but your deep voice
still flled my ears. You had an angry
voice – I guess seeing me fall from your
gun shot still did not satisfy your anger.
I saw dancing stars as I fell and I knew
that my time was up. You fred another
shot while I was down and I felt a sting-
ing pain in my spleen. It felt as if a red-
hot iron rod had been forced into my
stomach. You kicked me in the ribs and
insulted my mother once more. You have
never met my mother, but you hated her
so much that you insulted her every time
you fred a shot at her dying son.
I thought it was over until you
shot at me again. I did not feel much
pain with that one, my body was prob-
ably numb from the frst three bullets.
I stupidly had another glimmer of
hope when you grabbed me by my out-
stretched right hand, I thought you were
helping me up. You were not. Instead,
you dragged me on the rough stony
surface and placed me on the railway
lines. You probably do not know about
this, but I was still alive at that time
and felt every bit of pain you inficted
on me. You called me a stray dog again.
“Te fucken stray dog is dead” – those
were your exact words. You believed I
was dead but that did not stop you from
shooting me in my back again. You used
the sole of your foot to position me on
the cold iron railway lines for the train
to smash me and destroy all the evidence
of what you had done.
I saw how you tucked your weapon
into the back of your pants and made
your way towards the township. You
seemed happy and satisfed about what
you had just done. Your bullets were
still hot in my body and the wounds
were sore from the cold wind that swept
through the East Rand on that day. Te
railway lines started to vibrate as you
Perspectives
78 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
From eradicating guns to
EHLQJWRXJKRQFULPLQDOVÀYH
South Africans ponder how
to make the country safer
Crime
and
punishment
I
n November last year I took a
momentous step in my life. I
joined Gun Free South Africa
(GFSA), an organisation that believes
in getting rid of guns in society in
order for everyone to live in peace,
without any fear of crime and gun
violence associated with it. I had long
admired GFSA’s stance on guns and
crime. It speaks to me.
GFSA started in 1994, shortly
after the birth of our new nation.
Behind its inception were a group of
anti-apartheid activists who yearned
to see a nascent nation prosper in a
peaceful environment without any
gun violence. While driven by a clear
vision, the founders of GFSA knew
the attainment of this vision would be
a long-term endeavour, characterised
by many challenges. They knew full
well that, not only were there far too
many guns in circulation, but there
was also a prevailing “gun culture”
with deeply entrenched roots of
patriarchy and violence.
Nonetheless. the íounders £rmlv
believed that the vision of a gun-free
country was an ideal worth labouring
for: if the apartheid monster had
been slain, no other goal seemed
impossible to achieve. Since then
GFSA has lobbied hard to reduce the
proliferation of guns in society and
the Firearms Control Act (2000) is
the organisation’s crowning victory.
When asked what I do for a
living my response is either met with
a smile and nod of approval, or a
charge of naïveté and the pursuit
of a utopian ideal. I know that
there are those who may view our
organisation’s mission of a gun-free
society as unrealistic, even foolish.
But our country’s crime statistics are
grim, compelling us to act. Now.
WE NEED
TO GET RID
OF GUNS IN
SOCIETY.
Perspectives
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 79
Natalie Jaynes, Western Cape organiser of Gun Free South Africa
“The vision of a gun-free South Africa is about the kind of society we aspire
to; a society free from fear and where non-violent options are sought.”
According to a 2006 study of
reported £rearm deaths in one
hundred-and-twelve countries, South
Africa had the third-highest annual
rate oí £rearm deaths 26.8 per one
hundred thousand people) after
Colombia and Venezuela.
Most reported crimes in South
Aírica in·ol·e the use oí £rearms and
most gun homicides are committed
with illegal guns. In addition to
this unacceptable level of gun
violence, it’s worth bearing in mind
that ninety-eight percent of South
Africans do not own guns. GFSA
strongly believes that gun violence
and the appeal of guns are premised
on fear. The assumption is that a
gun provides protection, thereby
eradicating fear. While this is a
normal and understandable response,
especially if you have fallen victim
to violent crime, it’s a misguided
approach to safety.
We need to ask ourselves some
serious questions: What kind of
society do we want to live in? Do
we want an armed camp or a society
in which we rediscover peace and
respect for life, and where our
children can grow up in safety? In
essence, the vision of a gun-free
South Africa is about the kind of
society we aspire to; a society free
from fear and where non-violent
options are sought.
One of the central tenets of
GFSA’s work is the belief in the
rule of law. We are governed by a
Constitution that does not include
the right to own a £rearm. Owning a
gun is a quali£ed right. \e must also
not forget our problematic history of
racialised gun ownership.
Arguments in favour of citizens’
gun ownership often cite the state’s
inability to protect and defend
citizens. Another problematic
argument. Courts will never assume
the state is incapable of implementing
its obligations to protect its citizens
and will certainly not condone actions
by private citizens who take the law
into their own hands.
We work closely with the South
African Police Service (SAPS) and are
heartened by their renewed vigour
to £ght crime. I recentlv attended a
gun-destruction event in Vereeniging,
south of Johannesburg, organised
under the auspices of the SAPS. It
was a major success. Fewer guns in
circulation means less gun violence
and, most importantly, less fear in
society.
Like anv other non-pro£t
organisation, GFSA struggles with a
range of issues such as funding and
human resources. Another challenge
is maintaining a £ne balance between
investing equal resources in both
grassroots work and public policy
engagement. But when I look at the
organisation’s achievements in the
past £íteen vears. I can`t help but
feel immensely proud. As mentioned
earlier, the Firearms Control Act
was a huge achievement. GFSA
lobbied hard for this act to be in its
current shape. Essentially, the law
allows the state to strictly regulate the
possession of guns. With this law in
place, we now feel ready to lobby for
a total ban on civilian gun ownership.
On a personal level, I’m really
grateful for the opportunity to be
part of this movement to make our
country safer by getting rid of guns.
When I joined GFSA I knew I was
going to be part of building peace
in South Africa. It’s a decision I will
never, ever, regret.
As told to Phakama Mbonambi
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Perspectives
80 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
T
he chief role of Business
Against Crime South Africa
(BACSA) is to facilitate
a working relationship between
government and business in the fght
against crime. In practice, BACSA
mobilises the business sector to get
involved in the fght against crime in
two ways.
First, we encourage business
itself to reduce crime in the business
sector through self-initiated crime-
prevention projects. Secondly, in
responding to government’s request
for assistance, we leverage the
expertise, technology and experience
of business to address particular
government needs. It’s a unique
partnership that is based on trust and
a deep commitment to combating the
unacceptably high levels of violent
and serious crime in the country.
Typically, we work with business
– from big business to medium and
small micro enterprises. Tere’s no
membership as such, but the local
business community funds our eforts.
To deliver on our mandate, we work
closely with two key structures –
Business Leadership South Africa,
and Business Unity SA. Tese bodies,
in turn, have corporate associations
through which support is mobilised
on an ongoing basis.
We work with a wide range
of sectors, including the banking,
retail, manufacturing, tourism,
entertainment with a view to
mobilising crime prevention
approaches and supporting the
police’s eforts. Currently, we work
with more than twenty sectors.
When it comes to our work
with government, we have forged
the Australian and European models
which have helped to develop best
practice at an international level.
Crime-prevention plans initiated
by business are working. Te number
of heists and robberies at shopping
malls has gone down as a result of
business working closely with the
police. It’s so gratifying to witness
government’s renewed vigour to fght
crime. Tese days, actions match
words. More resources are being
allocated to the criminal justice
cluster, for example.
BACSA remains committed to
the public private partnership that
is being reinvigorated through the
strong leadership of government to
make our country safe for all. Te fact
that business is part of the solution
is one that is relatively unique in the
world. On this front, South Africans
have much to be proud of.
As told to Phakama Mbonambi
WE PLAY A
FACILITATING
ROLE BETWEEN
BUSINESS AND
GOVERNMENT.
strong working relationships with
the departments of police, justice
and constitutional development and
correctional services.
One particular area of focus for
BACSA over the years has been to
make our criminal justice system
work more efciently. We have made
numerous interventions in this
regard and a holistic, far-reaching
programme is in place.
While crime is still high,
we believe our crime-fghting
interventions are on the right track.
Just the other day I was examining
the statistics for vehicle hijackings
throughout the country, comparing
current fgures with those of the past
few years. I was pleased to note a
gradual decline in vehicle theft and
hijackings. Tese may not be as low as
one would like, but there’s a healthy
decline nonetheless. Tis is as a result
of the vehicle theft and hijacking
plan BACSA facilitated at national
level after closely adapting it from
Dr Graham Wright,
Business Against
Crime CEO
“While crime
is still high,
we believe our
crime-fighting
interventions
are on the right
track.”
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Perspectives
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 81
E
veryday when I wake up I’m
amazed by the turn of events
in my life. For ten years I was
a prison warder at Brandvlei Prison
in the Western Cape. I was young,
salaried and happy. A long life in the
public service awaited me. All I had
to do was play by the rules. But, six
years ago, I quit to start Realistic, an
organisation based in Gugulethu,
Cape Town, that helps rehabilitate
former prisoners. At the time I was
thirty years old and burning with
ambition to make a diference in
society.
I started Realistic because former
prisoners lacked a support network
to help them re-enter society. Instead
they endured scorn and distrust from
their communities. Making things
worse, they had no skills. Even for
those with supportive families, reality
soon set in when the living allowance
from correctional services stopped:
they would have to get jobs and take
care of their families and fend for
themselves.
With the ex-convict tag dangling
around their necks, such search for
employment would often prove futile.
Desperate, they would go back to
a life of crime and, almost always,
come back to me in prison. Same
guys. Same ofences. I felt that the
Department of Correctional Services
was letting them down. I wanted
something done.
Tat’s when I quit work. First,
I moved to community corrections
division, enabling me to go around
as a parole ofcer to assess how
former convicts were settling in the
world outside. For the frst time I got
a chance to intimately know their
circumstances. While behind bars,
some convicts would extravagantly
Starting Realistic was quite a
challenge. Raising capital was heart-
breaking. I had ditched a full-time job
that came with employee benefts to
being, in efect, a community activist
who didn’t know where the next cent
was going to come from. But the
experience was worth it. It sharpened
my lobbying skills. I eventually found
backers for the project and I’m very
grateful to them.
Realistic continues to have a
positive impact in the lives of former
convicts and youth at risk in the
township. Over the festive season, we
had a camp to discourage substance
abuse among youngsters.
On the whole, I’m happy that the
guys I used to lock up in prison are
now my colleagues as we spread the
message that crime does not pay and
that former prisoners deserve support
so they can be useful members of
society again.
As told to Phakama Mbonambi
GIVE EX-
OFFENDERS
ANOTHER
CHANCE.
portray their backgrounds as afuent,
but reality, as I saw doing the rounds,
suggested otherwise. All I saw was a
need for these former prisoners to be
helped adjust to a new life outside
prison before it was too late.
Among its many initiatives,
Realistic, a Section 21 organisation,
uses former ofenders as mentors to
youngsters who would otherwise be
tempted to turn into a life of crime
due to peer pressure and other factors.
Former inmates speak out against
crime using their life stories as an
example. Instead of being outcasts,
they are regarded as role models. Tey
are listened to.
Te organisation also equips
them with skills to make them self-
sufcient. Te talents that emerge
once ex-prisoners lead settled lives and
are surrounded by people who inspire
them to achieve something in life
would amaze you. Some of them are
accomplished painters. Some are good
at computer and life skills.
Ncamile
Madikane,
founder of
Realistic, an
organisation
that rehabilitates
former prisoners.
Tel: 021 633 1800
“While behind
bars, some
convicts would
extravagantly
portray their
backgrounds
as affluent, but
reality suggested
otherwise.”
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Perspectives
82 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
I
’m a writer, journalist and student.
I have lived in Katlehong, a
township east of Johannesburg,
for most of my life. Tis place is a
big part of who I am. I love it with
all its positives and negatives. One
big negative is that I have a brazen
criminal on my doorstep. A neighbour
who lives fve houses from me sells
drugs from her house. As far as I
know, she’s never worked a day in her
life. Everyone knows about her trade
and yet no one’s doing anything to
end to it. My family knows all about
her business because we have a cousin
who buys his stuf from her. Her
house is big and beautiful compared
to some in the area. She is not poor. I
often wonder what pushed her down
the drugs route. Maybe selling drugs
is a lot easier than running a spaza
shop, a common enterprise in any
township.
My neighbour is the only one
sufering. For example, not every
black person opposed apartheid, a
truth that many people may not be
keen to discuss today. Te book also
asks what it means when a black
person says today that life was better
under apartheid.
I strongly believe that we need to
change the way we look at townships,
which were a crucial source of black
labour for industry back then and
now. Some people like to dismiss
townships as nasty places that must be
escaped for suburbia. But townships
are permanent settlements with all
sorts of cultures, habits and ways of
being. Tey are not transitory camps.
We must deal honestly with what
comes out of them and stop wishing
them away.
As for crime, I argue in the book
that under apartheid people knew
the diference between right and
wrong. Sure, there was crime when I
was growing up. But criminals were
the exception rather than the norm.
Tey were not glorifed at all. People
loathed crime. My drug-dealing
neighbour would have stuck out like
a sore thumb back in the 1970s and
1980s. In fact, she might even have
been subjected to vigilante attacks.
CORRECTING
A MISTAKEN
VIEW.
in my street doing this. She is the
only criminal in our street. Tis
proves my strong belief that people
don’t do crime simply because they
are from a township. Tat would
be a structuralist view of society: a
“the township made me do it” kind
of attitude. No, her criminality has
nothing to do with her origins. It is all
about choice.
My book Native Nostalgia
challenges the structuralist view of
townships and the kinds of people
townships produce. By pointing out
the richness of black life and the
numerous ways people lived even
under apartheid, I try to correct
the mistaken view of townships as
desperate places for desperate people.
Like me, many people come from
townships but they are not criminals.
My book is about growing up
under apartheid and recalling fond
memories of a happy childhood. Black
life was not defned by apartheid in
its totality. It was also not simply a
response to apartheid. I remember,
among other things, a profound sense
of community strength. Trough
telling my story of growing up under
apartheid, I challenge the master
narrative of homogeneous black
Jacob Dlamini,
an author
and journalist
who lives in
Katlehong, east
of Johannesburg
“This place is a
big part of who I
am. I love it with
all its positives
and negatives.”
P
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D
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S
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Perspectives
Interestingly, police authority held
more sway back then and not simply
because of the authoritarianism of the
apartheid state. In Katlehong, law and
order reigned. In Native Nostalgia,
I tell a story of a revered local
policeman who would single-handedly
round up township criminals armed
with just their addresses, no gun and
no back-up. Te criminals he picked
up like this would follow him like
sheep as he went about his work. On
temporarily disappearing into a home
of yet another criminal, he would
leave his captives at the gate with
a stern warning not to even think
of escaping. Sure enough, when he
re-emerged all of them would still
be there waiting for him. Tat was
power. Tat was authority.
Fast forward. My immediate
neighbour is a policeman. He couldn’t
dream of having such power. No one
in the area takes him seriously because
of his personal conduct. He blares
music loudly from his car when he
arrives home in the early morning and
sits and drinks all day on weekends.
He lacks authority. So, even if we had
a crisis in my area, we’d think twice
about calling him for assistance. We’d
rather travel a kilometre to the nearest
police station. Tat is the nature of
residents’ relationships with the police
in townships today: we know that it’s
better to deal with a policeman you’ve
never met before than one you know.
Incidentally, the said policeman lives
three houses from my drug-dealing
neighbour and knows about her
activities.
Once a fellow resident tried to
stop the drug trade at his doorstep by
reporting our neighbour at the local
police station anonymously. Guess
what? Te next day, the drug-dealing
woman went to the guy’s home. He
wasn’t there. She left a message with
his mother: “Tell your boy that if he
wants to live he must stay out of my
business.”
As told to Phakama Mbonambi
Native Nostalgia is published by Jacana
Media. It is available at all good bookstores.
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Perspectives
84 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Ted Falcke, a Bryanston resident
with a crime-fighting strategy
“I strongly believe that lawyers
complicate matters when it comes to
justice. They embolden criminals to
commit crime knowing that a good
lawyer will always get them off.”
P
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I
’m eighty-fve-years-old. A
rare disease has damaged my
nerves. I’m in a wheelchair.
My sense of hearing deserts me
sometimes. I don’t complain or
pity myself. I have had a pretty
decent life. In my younger days I
was a businessman with a knack
for inventing things, enjoying
the satisfaction of bringing an
idea to fruition. While I don’t
consider myself wealthy, I’ve never
wanted for money. My life has
been pretty stable. I have lived in
this Bryanston house since 1964.
I built this house with my own
hands, the very same hands that
have no strength today.
I live alone. My two sons are all
grown up and lead their own lives
elsewhere. A nurse helps me with
my day-to-day needs. In a sense
I’m vulnerable to crime as I realised
one Sunday afternoon, two years
ago, when I was robbed in my
own house. I had been peacefully
reading my papers in my lounge
when, suddenly, four men burst
into my house. Tey held a gun
to my head and demanded money
and guns. One of them slapped
me so hard that my reading glasses
violently few from my face and
slammed against the wall next to
my reading table, a few feet away.
Such violence against a hapless old
man in a wheelchair! After leading
them to my gun safe, they made of
with my fve rifes and a gun.
Four years earlier, while I could
still walk, a similar robbery took
place at my house. I heard a knock
at the door. When I opened, a
man forcefully pushed his way in.
His handful of comrades followed.
Tey ransacked the place searching
for valuables. I had been preparing
to visit the Kruger National Park
the following day. So, my travel
items – camera, money for toll
TALKING
TOUGH.
gates – were on the bed. Tey took
everything and then demanded that
I drive them to Diepsloot, north of
Johannesburg, and drop them of
there. I did.
For the past few years I have
been championing the idea of the
law getting tough on criminals.
Not because of what happened to
me – worse things happen to my
fellow citizens. I have written a crime
prevention strategy that I have given
to a few opposition politicians. Te
crux of my strategy is that we must be
tough on crime.
For starters, I strongly believe
that lawyers complicate matters when
it comes to justice. Tey embolden
criminals to commit crime knowing
that a good lawyer will always get
them of. I’d rather have a panel of
learned judges dealing directly with
the accused to assess their guilt or
innocence.
Secondly, bail and parole must
be reassessed. When criminals are
brought back in to society, whether
through bail or parole, they will most
often return to crime. Some people
believe in rehabilitation. I don’t. A
leopard doesn’t change its spots.
I feel that laws need to be harsher
and criminals must know what they
are in for. Tey must know that when
you commit crime, your rights fy
straight out of the window. Tey
must also know that jail is no luxury
excursion, where you can frolic at the
expense of taxpayers, but a place you
go to as punishment.
I honestly don’t know why people
commit violent crime. I don’t believe
it’s necessarily poverty. I guess it has
to do with a craving for power. I
have heard the “shoot to kill” talk by
the police. While a touch drastic, in
certain instances, such police action is
deserved.
As told to Phakama Mbonambi
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Travel
86 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
The thought
crossed my mind
that we may never
see Boubacar
again, but I kept
these misgivings to
myself.
I
t all started at the Hotel Pas de
Problemes, in Mopti, Mali, a
name that would in hindsight
turn out to be misleading in the
extreme. We arrived at sunset, white
egrets tracing across a blushing sky,
after an uncomfortably cramped fve-
hour bus journey from Djenne. Mopti
is a trading hub on the River Niger, a
bustling port with traditional wooden
boats lining the quayside. From here,
my brother and I were hoping to fnd
our way to Timbuktu, that city of
myth and wonder.
Te footsteps of great names pre-
ceded us – Ibn-Battuta, Mungo Park,
Alexander Gordon Laing, Clapperton
– most of whom had endeavoured to
reach Timbuktu, a place engrained, as
Chatwin wrote, as “a mythical city in
a Never-Never Land, an antipodean
mirage, a symbol for the back of be-
yond, or a fat joke”.
Getting there was considered to be
the ultimate quest. Expeditions were
Up the River Niger
An epic boat journey to Timbuktu, a city of myth and wonder
By Joanne Rushby
alive from the town and gaining all
the glory. Te colonialists, of course,
would not have acknowledged the
likes of Ibn Battuta from Tangiers,
who reached the city in the 1300s.
One would imagine that these
early explorers would have encoun-
tered the likes of Boubacar, the wily
boatman, who was the spur on our
epic journey to Timbuktu.
My brother Kevin and I had been
ofered a practically efortless pas-
sage to the mythical city courtesy of
a friend, who had organised a driver
and 4x4 to take us there and back.
Both of us were, however, niggling.
It didn’t seem right; the ease, the cer-
tainty, the possible journey without
complications. No, something was
defnitely amiss.
We were sitting on the roof ter-
race of the deceptively named hotel,
sipping beers and fantasising about
the possibilities of taking the far more
demanding option of a boat trip up-
P
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J
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R
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“It didn’t seem right to reach Timbuktu by car, without the complications that often come with an adventure of this nature”
set up and many never survived the
adventure. Laing was murdered by
Tuaregs after spending fve weeks in
Timbuktu in 1826. Before that, Park
famously never reached the city: the
frst Westerner to be credited with ex-
ploring the River Niger, he eventually
died on the river in 1806.
Much to the chagrin of the
British, it was left to a Frenchman,
René Caillié, to fnally bring back
news of Timbuktu in 1828, returning
Travel
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 87
stream. Tere were plenty of boats;
the question was: How were we going
to fnd one to take us? Tat’s when
Boubacar arrived – his family owned
a boat, they were leaving in the morn-
ing, and we could defnitely go along.
All we would need were some provi-
sions, and to hand over 25 000 CFAs
(about fve hundred rand). It seemed
a lot. It was a lot. We asked Boubacar
to let us discuss the plan and then
agreed, after confrming with the ho-
tel owners that they could vouch for
him, and handed the money over.
Te thought crossed my mind that
we may never see Boubacar again, but
I kept these misgivings to myself. As
did my brother. Neither of us wanted
to spoil the excitement, the possibility
that the pending adventure was real.
When sleep fnally came, it was
a deep, delicious sleep, flled with
dreams of sails, sunsets and the gentle
lapping of water. Waking up early the
next morning in order to buy provi-
sions for the journey, we went up to
the roof terrace, where we had ar-
ranged to meet Boubacar at 8 am.
Te appointed time came, and
there was no sign of our boatman. It
was quite a surprise when he did show
up, but something had changed in
his demeanour – he seemed sheepish,
nervous and more than reluctant to
engage with us. I expected the worst,
and then it came. “Te boat left, at
four this morning,” he said.
Te story started to shift, an ef-
fortless, almost magical display of
deceit, fabricating boats out of murky
waters. It was then that the dream
started to come crashing down – we
decided to ditch the idea and reclaim
our money. Tis proved to be difcult.
First we had to take a taxi to the river-
side, where Boubacar would meet us
and return our money. For the second
time in a matter of hours, I thought
we would never see him again.
However, there he was, with a new
twist in the tale. His friend, Ali, had a
boat leaving for Timbuktu in the next
thirty minutes, and we could get on
it. He pointed out a pinasse (a thatch-
roofed boat) on the river. It had all the
hallmarks of a vessel ft for an adven-
ture up the River Niger. Seconds later,
we had decided to go for it. Tere
really was nothing to lose. Kevin ran
of to buy provisions, while I dealt
with a gathering gang of sellers, of-
fering suitable wares for a riverboat
journey; blankets (it was touching
thirty degrees, but I decided to buy
one anyway, just in case), plastic bags,
and jewellery (adornment on boats
an essential part of travel). Te real-
ity of sailing up the River Niger to
Timbuktu was sinking in and I was
very excited.
When Park set out for Timbuktu
in 1805, he wore European clothes,
carried an umbrella and kept his notes
in a tall hat. Park, along with three
soldiers, set of from Ségou with ff-
teen muskets, and little else. “Even if
all the Europeans who are still with
me were to perish, and I myself were
half dead, I would persevere. If I do
not succeed in reaching my goal, I
will go to my death on the Niger.” His
words were prophetic.
We were slightly less encumbered
by weaponry, were hoping not to meet
our deaths, and had the added luxury
of bottled water and tinned sardines,
but in many respects, not much else
had changed. Te Niger is the lifeline
of the region, carrying cargo, passen-
gers, animals, and also providing food
and water for the locals. I watched a
man carefully carry his herd of goats,
one by one, down to the river, to be
washed in preparation for market.
Tey squealed and groaned, but each
one received a thorough scrubbing,
and came out gleaming to await
their fate. People washed themselves,
children splashed in the water, and
women washed clothes and pots. Te
panoply of life stretched before us.
H
aving found our boat, which
was not the one Boubacar
had pointed out at the quayside but
a scrappy looking vessel anchored
further upstream, we were ready to
depart. Te name on the side read
Bon Voyage. Tere were only a few
passengers on board, outnumbered
by the crew, who were captained by
Bindjini Djita, a true captain, swathed
in the traditional Tuareg headscarf
and wearing refective sunglasses. Te
boat consisted of a wooden vessel
underneath, reinforced with a steel
structure providing a second deck. We
settled down onto our mat, laid over
corrugated iron. Tere was space, a
good view, and as we motored on, and
the initial excitement died down, we
relaxed into the gentle sound of the
water.
I watched as one of the crew,
standing at the prow, pushed a long
bamboo pole into the river to gauge
the depth. And I listened with some
alarm to the sound of someone
constantly bailing water from down
below. “Are they really bailing water?”
I asked my brother, a veteran boat
traveller who had once spent a week
travelling by dhow from Yemen to
Soqotra. “Of course, all boats have
leaks,” he said dismissively.
Villages foated by, ornate ginger-
bread mosques towering above the
plain mud houses, barrelled bamboo
fsh traps perched on the riverbank
ready for use. In some places, the
houses were simply woven grass
huts to provide shelter. Te river is
traditionally the home of the Bozo
fshermen, but during the low tide,
Fulani cattle herders also move in to
live on the fertile land along the river,
swelling the population in temporary
settlements.
Te colour in the landscape re-
fected a pared-down existence: the
gold of the riverbank, neutral shades
of the cattle, mud, dun, the occasional
fash of a rice feld, harsh sunlight,
and vibrant clothing enriching the
scene. Te captain made us tea, a
lengthy process involving lots of sugar
and elaborate pouring from the pot to
the glass. He told us: “Te frst tea is
as strong as death, the second as mild
as life, and the third as sweet as love.”
Apparently if you’re served a
fourth cup, it means you’re not wel-
come. Fortunately, we were only of-
fered three, each one holding true.
As I savoured the sweetness of the
third glass, the boat stalled. It was to
be the frst of many unexpected stops,
as we ran aground on the sand. Te
Travel
88 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
Our journey started at Mopti, a trading
hub on the River Niger, a bustling port
with traditional wooden boats lining
the quayside
crew immediately rallied and jumped
into the water. For an hour, they
pushed and heaved, muscles gleaming,
to try to get the boat of the sand-
bank, with eventual success. As lightly
laden pirogues foated efortlessly by,
we started to realise that there was
little chance of reaching Timbuktu
by the next day. All we could do was
sit back and slowly unwind to the
rhythm of the river.
Hippopotamus tracks scattered
the banks, while herons, pied king-
fshers, plovers and cormorants pro-
vided an endless spectacle. Children
plied the water in boats, expert gon-
doliers from a young age. Te fading
light gave clarity to the landscape,
denied by the harsh day’s sun.
It was to be our frst night on the
river. Te rapidly descending darkness
meant settling down early to sleep. I
awoke shivering and tied the blanket
closer to keep out the chill. I took a
peek outside at the night sky. It was
like hitting a brick wall of lights: the
waxing moon nestled in a sky liter-
ally dripping with stars. I’d never seen
anything like it.
We woke to the movement of the
boat, brisk in the dawn light. It was
now the third day, the second spent
in similar recline staring at the passing
landscape. Te captain informed us
we were about to reach Lac Debo, an
inland lake, home to the Bozo fsher-
men. I watched a ballet of pirogues
as they glided through the various
tributaries entering the lake, and
we scanned the waters and listened
for the familiar laughter of hippos.
Crocodiles had long disappeared from
this region, being hunted for skins.
It was too hot to go out on deck,
but our fellow passenger, “the collec-
tor”, was providing some entertain-
ment. He had an endless supply of
gadgets, which were unpacked from
a box held together with string: cas-
settes, old Russian cameras, motorbike
parts, a radio, and negatives of people
he clearly didn’t know, but which the
whole crew were keen to see.
He possessed the careful, patient
manner of a collector, treasuring each
item, and placing it neatly back where
it belonged.
Ten Lac Debo opened up in
front of us, a bizarre watery phenom-
enon in a desert landscape. Would
explorers of old have experienced the
same sensations, trying to ascertain
where this river leads? And would
they have heard similar reiterations by
boat captains: that Insha’Allah (God
willing), Timbuktu was just around
the next bend in the river. Te map
told us otherwise.
My phone beeped into life as, for
the frst time in days, messages from
another world came through. I had a
few minutes to send replies before the
phone died completely, and I was left
drifting in thought, of sharing these
moments.
“Te madman”, one of the crew
members, muttered and chuckled to
himself close by. Te possibility that
the “toubabs” or foreigners on the
boat might do something unusual
was a constant source of attraction
to him. I feared that he would be
Travel
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 89
disappointed. I made my way to the
toilet at the boat’s stern, a precarious
journey that meant clinging onto the
side of the boat to reach two planks
suspended over the river. My every
move was scrutinised, and it was hard
to gain privacy.
Te landscape had become more
arid, the houses simple woven grass
mats strung between poles. A sandbar
in the middle of the river was inhab-
ited, abandoned houses along the river
bank home to donkeys, peeping out
at the boat as we passed.
Te boat approached Diré, and
the anchor was thrown. Te town is
a camp, makeshift shelters huddled
together, the population servicing the
boats that drift in and out. It was a
vibrant and noisy scene: a procession
of men came streaming towards the
boat, and began to carry the sacks
of cargo on their heads to the shore.
Chatter flled the air and smoke eased
its way out of one of the musclemen’s
pipes. A flm crew swept in to capture
the robotic cargo carriers, and some of
our boat’s crew members quickly leapt
in on the action. As the sun started to
go down, we realised that we were to
spend another night on the boat. We
were tired, dirty and restless.
Suddenly, the captain summoned
my brother of the boat. Kevin
climbed up the riverbank to a grass
hut where a group of well-dressed
men and soldiers were sitting in a
circle outside. What were they talking
about? Something didn’t feel right,
and I strained to try to catch a sign,
unable to make out their conversa-
tion. Eventually, Kevin came stum-
bling down the bank. “Pack the bags,”
he said. “We have to get of.”
Had we committed some terrible
“toubab” faux pas, insulted the cap-
tain’s grandmother by accident? What
had Kevin said to these men on the
shore? Anxious to discover the reason,
I hurriedly packed our belongings,
and clambered of the boat. We had
paid to go all the way to Timbuktu, so
why the sudden eviction?
Te reality was much less sinister.
Te boat had unloaded its cargo and
was now turning back. Te captain
had clearly known this all along, and
lied to us. Te soldiers of the local
gendarmerie assured us that another
boat would come along soon, “in the
next hour or so”, and we would get on
without paying.
Bidding a curt farewell to Captain
Bindjini, we went in search of food.
We were fraying at the edges and a
full stomach seemed the only solution
to sanity. As the hours passed, and the
policeman’s assertions of a rapidly ap-
proaching boat faded along with the
light, we sat with a transitory crowd
that drifted in and out to watch
the only television in the village. A
Brazilian soapy, dubbed into French,
with scantily clad women providing
much amusement.
Despite the blaring music and the
sounds of the television mingling into
one, my eyes were struggling to stay
open. Lights on the horizon appeared
and disappeared, and we began to give
up hope of the boat. What ensued
were the most comfortable few hours
sleep since leaving Mopti, a bamboo
bed under a grass mat roof, and then
Kevin was shaking me awake: “Te
boat’s here. We have to go.” It was ee-
rily dark outside as I staggered sleepily
down the river bank onto the sand.
We threw our bags onto a pirogue,
which then transported us out to our
new boat, and we somehow clam-
bered on. I felt like a stowaway and
was fast asleep within seconds.
Te following morning, as the sun
rose, I looked around at my sleeping
compartment. Tis was a more rustic
vessel than the previous one, thatched
and crammed to the brim with goods.
I’d been sleeping on sacks of peanuts
and boxes of tomato paste, wonder-
fully uncomfortable.
Tere were two other foreign-
ers on board, and a lively discussion
ensued with one of the men on the
vagaries of river travel. Te other man
reclined broodingly on his box of to-
mato paste, chain smoking, and didn’t
say a word. Clearly, four days on a
boat were getting to him too. A tear in
one of the sacks profered a breakfast
of peanuts, and I dangled my feet in
the water. Timbuktu was upon us, if
what the local policeman had said was
true – “Dire is only three hours from
Timbuktu.” We had already been
on the boat for about six hours. It
wouldn’t be the frst time that distance
and time were underplayed. Ten
the boat stopped. We had run out of
petrol and the crew moored the boat
alongside the riverbank. Tere was
nothing left to do but wait for rescue.
M
ythical and illusory
Timbuktu. It seemed as
though the normally bustling river
trafc had been held up in a jam
somewhere upstream, as silence on the
water reigned. Eventually, the sounds
of a motor boat could be heard –
there was no question that they would
not stop to help a boat in distress.
Half an hour later, replenished with
fuel, our boat chugged into life, and
we continued along the winding
river. It used to be possible to reach
Timbuktu by boat, but now the river
stops twenty kilometres short at the
port of Koroume.
I was so happy to see the shore
that I jumped out of the boat with my
bag, much to the amusement of the
locals. I’d miscalculated the depth of
the water, and ended up thigh deep
and drenched. We crammed into a
taxi with twenty other people, equally
bemused by this sodden foreigner,
and embarked on the last leg of the
journey. Te taxi had to be pushed to
get going!
Caillié reached Timbuktu on
20 April 1828, having almost died of
fever and scurvy along the way. His
notes reveal: “I could scarcely contain
myself for joy. Should I fnd a great
and wealthy city? I beheld only a
group of mud-huts in the midst of
a wide plain covered with yellowish
sand.”
Explorers had died en route to
this city, fought marauding gangs, or
simply just given up, thinking it didn’t
exist. Te fabled city of yore prom-
ised riches and exoticism – I didn’t
expect it to live up to this mantle now.
Ragged, exhausted, dirty and hungry,
we were the latest in a long, ancestral
line of travellers – we had arrived!
Travel
90 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
O
n the website Way to
Russia, native Russians
answer questions posed
by travellers, the last
one being: “Can a foreigner ever be
accepted as a Russian?” Respondents
vary from machine operators in Kazan
to business owners from Vladimir. It
hardly constitutes a scientifc sample
of the population. Nevertheless, a
common thread seems to run through
the answers to this question; that is,
the belief in some entity, unfathom-
able to outsiders, which sets Russians
apart: the Russian soul.
For many Russians, belief in this
Russian soul provides a sense of iden-
tity. It is what has sustained them
throughout centuries of Tartar oppres-
sion, tsarist tyranny, violent revolution
and Stalinist terror. And it is this na-
tional spirit which has inspired writers
and continues to fascinate foreigners.
It’s true that westerners still exag-
gerate the mystique of this country,
and I admit to being swept up by
some of the myths, having long been
intrigued by the land of Rasputin,
icy tundra, Bolshoi ballet, gulags and
dark fairytale forests. So, in August
this year I set of to discover for my-
self this “riddle wrapped in a mystery
in an enigma”.
Crazy contradictions
In Moscow the roads are so wide that
you have to walk through a subway to
cross them. Tis I learnt after being
politely rebuked by a local who no-
ticed me trying to walk across one and
then instructed me to follow him, at
a slight distance, to the nearest under-
ground crossing. (I experienced this
sort of intervention frequently during
my stay.)
In the city centre, gilt-domed
Orthodox churches decorated with
multi-coloured tiles and foral fres-
coes stand alongside functionalist
Khrushchev-era housing blocks,
Stalinist skyscrapers and enormous
fashing billboards advertising iPods
and real estate. Te streets are shared
by toothless babushkas, so-called
designer whores in sky-high heels,
trendy young men sporting modifed
Unravelling Russia
A brief and enchanting visit to Moscow,
Saint Petersburg and surrounds
By Bronwyn McLennan
parcels and tanned from holidays
abroad. I was seated next to a couple
who said hardly a word to each other
throughout the fight. He was dressed
in a peach silk shirt, cream linen
chinos and orange leather moccasins.
From time to time she would spray
his face and hers with a spritzer while
he drank his way through four double
gins and two glasses of red wine.
In the aisle across from me was
a gigantic man who spent most of
the fight crying, alternating between
knocking his head against the seat
in front of him while muttering to
himself and walking up and down the
aisle harassing the fight attendants.
After some time he announced to one
of them: “My mother is dead.” To
which she replied wearily: “Oh,” and
walked of, by this stage immune to
sympathy.
On arrival, I was met by a stern-
faced ofcial at passport control. He
would not allow me to pass through
as I had neglected to fll out a migra-
tion card. Tankfully, I spotted some
necessary forms nearby, and asked to
borrow a pen from one of the airport
staf. My frst request was met with an
mullets, gypsies with cheeks calloused
by winters spent on the streets, packs
of thick-coated stray dogs and dark-
suited businessmen driving SUVs
with tinted windows. Every second
person is smoking (there is a joke that
in Russia, where smoking is regarded
as a national sport, there should be
signs reading “Smoking” and “Chain
smoking”) or eating ice cream, and it’s
as common to see pedestrians drink-
ing beer as cooldrink.
My frst experience of Russian
people was on the fight to Moscow
from Doha. Te crowd on this plane
consisted mainly of “New Russians”,
the wealthy elite, carrying duty-free
Our tattooed
guide pointed
out examples of
Style Moderne
architecture, the
Soviet version of
Art Deco.
Travel
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 91
Clockwise: The Church of the Saviour
on Spilt Blood, built on the site of
Alexander II’s assassination; the
Catherine Palace; a cottage near
Chekov’s estate in Melikhovo; and the
Armorial Hall inside the Hermitage
Museum
P
i
c
t
u
r
e
s
:

B
r
o
n
w
h
y
n

M
c
L
e
n
n
a
n
emphatic “Nyet”, the second by “You
stay here and write!”
A sign at Moscow’s Domededovo
airport warns you against accepting
lifts from the many freelance taxi
drivers waiting at arrivals. After fght-
ing past enthusiastic drivers holding
signs like “Mr Hello your taksee”, I
was relieved to see someone with a
card bearing my name. Although he
could speak as little English as I could
Russian, my cab driver Shosevich
and I kept up a lively discussion, me
using my phrasebook and him show-
ing me photos of his daughter’s wed-
ding and pointing out sights along
the way to my apartment. Tis was
situated on the seventh foor of a typi-
cal Soviet block with concrete foors
and a single, rickety old lift about
the width of a cofn, but it was cosy
inside.
Tat night, standing on my bal-
cony, I took in the view of giant neon
signs and towering apartment blocks,
overwhelmed with excitement at be-
ing in the middle of this great city.
Professors in the park
A trip to Kolomenskoye Park with a
retired Berkeley professor and Feroza,
our guide, became a fascinating lesson
in Russian history and politics. While
admiring the photogenic churches in
this former imperial estate, we talked
about the similarities between South
Africa and Russia’s recent pasts. Both
countries underwent a transition to
democracy in the nineties and, in
both, change has been slower than
people would like and fraught with
corruption and violence.
Feroza, also a retired lecturer, ex-
plained that due to limited state sup-
port she and her husband, a scientist,
had found they were no longer able
to survive on their salaries – some-
times her husband had gone unpaid
Travel
92 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
for months. Tus they had to fnd
supplementary employment: she as a
tour guide and he as a vendor selling
a newspaper about pets. But, Feroza
said, laughing, not having any pets of
their own, he was unable to answer
customers’ questions and consequent-
ly never sold many copies.
She told us about how, in the
nineties, corrupt oligarchs had ofered
pensioners vouchers to invest in busi-
nesses, which later disappeared. All
this she related with typical Russian
stoicism. “Russians are too patient,”
she explained, echoing what I’d heard
about their optimistic fatalism.

Lost in the suburbs
A visit to Izmaylovsky Market became
an exploration of Moscow’s northern
suburbs as Annwyn, a fellow South
African, and I found ourselves lost
and wandering for hours in a summer
storm.
We fnally arrived in the late
afternoon to fnd the market nearly
deserted, most of the stalls packed up.
By then more hungry than concerned
about shopping, we found a restau-
rant and shared a late lunch, after
which I experienced the frst of many
scary Russian toilets – basically a hole
in the foor. After holding the broken
door closed for Annwyn, I could not
resist taking a photograph of this grim
sight, much to the amusement of a
group of men smoking on the balcony
nearby. I never did get used to seeing
immaculately dressed women calmly
entering bathrooms that would not
be out of place in Trainspotting or
Slumdog Millionaire.
We ended the day on Old Arbat
Street, a wide cobbled avenue popu-
lated by portraitists displaying photo-
real Angelinas and Jack Sparrows,
buskers, clowns, bikers with kitsch
Japanese motorbikes covered in stud-
ded black leather, babushkas selling
overpriced cornfowers wrapped in
vine leaves (which I bought in ex-
change for being allowed to take a
photo), a woman with a cat perched
on her shoulder and giant, lit-up
Russian dolls displayed in shop win-
dows.
Russian hospitality
I set of one morning with a list of
mini-bus numbers and stop-of points
gleaned from various internet sources,
headed for Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya
Polyana, near the industrial town
Tula. Like South Africa’s taxis, marsh-
trootkas, or mini-buses, are notorious
for their dodgy driving, and the road
to Tula was so potholed that the three-
hour journey felt more like a boat ride
on choppy water. Like ours, the taxis
stop frequently at unofcial points
along the roadside and passengers
need to indicate verbally when they
want to get out – a challenge for non-
Russian speakers.
Luckily, one of the passengers was
able to guess where I wanted to be,
and I was dropped of just outside the
town. It was on the next bus that I
met Natalia from Siberia and her aunt
Clavdia, who ofered to show me the
way to the estate. Te taxi let us of on
a grassy verge where Natalia explained
they had arranged to meet relatives
travelling by bus.
With Natalia acting as interpreter,
within minutes I found myself being
invited by her aunt to stay with her in
Tula, and with Natalia in her home-
town of Tyumen, Western Siberia.
Paper and pen were produced and
emails exchanged there and then,
while Clavdia fred of questions: Why
was I alone? Was I not terrifed? Why
did I want to come to Russia? She also
wanted to know what I thought of her
niece’s English.
Once their relatives, Lena and
six-year-old Artyom, had arrived, we
set of down the country road. As the
only guides available were Russian
(and you were not allowed to enter
the buildings alone) I was fortunate
that Natalia was able to translate
for me, pointing out the piano
once played by guests like Anton
Rubenstein and the black leather
couch on which Tolstoy was born.
After the tour we found a large
tree stump in the middle of a feld to
use as a table, and the family gener-
ously shared their picnic lunch of
blini (Russian pancakes), tea, salami,
crispy bread rolls, chocolate and fruit,
insisting that I take the leftovers. At
the end of this magical day spent
strolling through the gardens, past
ponds and the forest glade where
Tolstoy is buried, Lena escorted me
back to the bus station in Tula.
Te next day, my last in Moscow,
was also spent with a local, Anna, an
artist and interior designer whom I
met on a tour to Chekov’s home in
Melikhovo. After checking out the
sales on Tverskaya, Moscow’s Fifth
Avenue, we decided to watch a play,
a popular pastime in Moscow, where
there seem to be as many theatres as
movie houses.
A comedy, the humour was similar
to what I’d seen in Russian sitcoms:
slapstick and over-the-top, with ac-
tresses dressed like nineteenth-century
courtesans in stiletto-heeled boots and
an ostentatious set including a gigan-
tic Italian puppet.
Te next morning it was with
mixed feelings of sadness and excite-
ment that I left for Saint Petersburg.
On the way to the airport my cab
driver ran out of petrol. But, unper-
turbed, he trekked down the road
with a plastic container, returning
thirty minutes later to deliver me to
the next stretch of my journey.
Window on the west
St Petersburg has the faded glamour
of a grand old dame. Weathered
baroque palaces and elegant but run-
down neoclassical mansions in pastel
shades line the canals, which were
modelled on Amsterdam’s by Peter the
Great, whose plan was to create a rival
to the great capitals of the west. Tis
he achieved, but today, though still
the most European of Russian cities,
St Petersburg is beset by problems of
pollution, drug abuse, racist attacks
and street crime.
Nevertheless, it’s still one of
the country’s most popular tourist
destinations, and in summer tours
are touted constantly via loudspeak-
ers and signs from every corner of
Nevsky Prospekt, the main road run-
ning through the historic centre. I
had managed to fnd an inexpensive
hotel just of Nevsky, within walking
Travel
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 93
distance of Palace Square and other
popular tourist sites like the evoca-
tively named Cathedral of the Saviour
on Spilt Blood.
Having spent much of my time
outdoors in Moscow, I was in the
mood to visit some museums, be-
ginning with the Hermitage, which
houses one of the world’s largest
collections of fne art – about three
million works. Ten, of course, there
were the literary museums: Anna
Akhmatova’s modest yet poignant
apartment, Pushkin’s last home,
where he died at the age of thirty-
seven after a duel defending his wife’s
honour, and Nabokov House, the
mansion where Vladimir Nabokov
was born.

From backstreets to palaces
One drizzly morning I made my way
downtown to join the popular Pete’s
Walking Tour, a walk of the tourist
track run by young streetwise locals.
Grey skies provided an appropriate
backdrop for crumbling courtyards,
dark alleys and shelled-out apartment
blocks punctuated here and there by
primary-coloured climbing castles and
grafti.
Our tattooed guide Nikolai point-
ed out examples of Style Moderne
architecture, the Soviet version of Art
Deco, and took us past Dostoyevsky’s
fnal residence, now a museum.
According to Nikolai, the writer had
lived in several diferent apartments
around St Petersburg thanks to a gam-
bling habit and consequent inability
to pay rent.
Passing a family of stray kit-
tens which had materialised from a
crack in a wall, a group of leather-
clad punks and the canal bridge
from which Raskolnikov observed
a woman attempt suicide in Crime
and Punishment, we stopped of at an
indoor market. On ofer were a wild
array of goods including buckets of
tvorog (Russian cottage cheese mixed
with cherries and raisins, whole pick-
led garlic cloves), huge patty pans and
tanks of live sturgeon.
For lunch, Nikolai took us to a
traditional pancake restaurant where
I tried some salmon roe on blini. His
answers to questions were typically
blunt and often monosyllabic, partic-
ularly when it came to those involving
work, a sore point for many young
Russians struggling to fnd permanent
employ.
He told us about a local banya,
the traditional Russian sauna or steam
bath, and one of the other tourists,
Tina from Oregon, and I decided to
go there that evening. Visiting the
banya is a favourite pastime in Russia,
and I often saw women on the bus
with birch twigs poking out of their
bags, used at the baths for slapping
oneself to stimulate circulation. Te
banya visit turned out to be a typical
Russian experience, though unfortu-
nately not as anticipated. Apparently
the baths closed early on that particu-
lar day of the month, though only
for women, unpredictable visiting
times being a standard frustration of
Russian travel.
Te next day Tina and I decided
to take a hydrofoil across the Gulf of
Finland to Peterhof, where we spent
the day exploring the palace gardens,
marvelling at the grandiose fountain
system and golden statues and indulg-
ing in a favourite sightseeing activity:
people watching.
Here, as I’d seen everywhere from
city streets to cobbled squares and
muddy parks, women were dressed
as if for the Met, in killer heels and
skin-tight, fashy outfts. Tina was
particularly intrigued by the way they
posed for photographs: even young
girls would stand in provocative posi-
tions more commonly associated with
modelling shoots than casual holiday
snaps.
Farewell to the tsars
After two long day trips to Veliky
Novgorod in the south and Vyborg,
near the Finnish border, I’d had my
fll of tours, especially as these last two
were conducted entirely in Russian.
So, I decided to spend my fnal day
alone at Tsarskoye Selo, the summer
residence of the Russian emperors. I
started at Alexander Palace, home to
the last tsar, Nicholas II.
Having arrived early, I had the
place to myself and wandered around
quiet rooms flled with photographs
and personal efects of the Tsar’s fam-
ily, who were assassinated in 1918.
From there I walked through the
overgrown and tranquil Alexander
Park, past the picturesque children’s
island, now taken over by weeds and
ducks, where I could imagine young
Anastasia and her siblings playing in
the sky-blue cottage refected in the
surrounding pond.
Next I came to the family chapel,
St Fyodor’s Cathedral. Tere hap-
pened to be a service in progress and I
listened a while to the Orthodox choir
with its melancholy harmonies.
Outside, in a feld behind the
church, I was met by an eerie sight:
a bearded Nicholas and Alexandra
and their children, all dressed in
regimental uniform and running
unself-consciously around the feld,
presumably there to pose for tourists
although on this day none was
in sight.
I then made my way towards the
centrepiece of Tsarskoye Selo, the
vast blue, white and gold Catherine
Palace and Catherine Park with its
landscaped gardens and unusual
structures, such as the Pyramid where
Catherine the Great buried her favou-
rite greyhounds, the Turkish bath, the
Chinese Pavilion and the Chapelle,
designed to represent a ruined medi-
eval belltower.
Party on the plane
It was pouring with rain when I left St
Petersburg, apparently a sign of good
fortune. On the Moscow-to-Doha
fight there was a party atmosphere,
passengers climbing over each other’s
seats, shouting, laughing, drinking
through the night, ignoring the atten-
dants’ afectionate rebukes.
As on my previous fights, every-
one applauded on touch-down, and
as we piled into the transit bus, still in
high spirits despite a sleepless night, I
soaked up this last bit of contact with
Russia. Had I unravelled the enigma
of this great land and its people? I
think I’ve only just begun.
Food & Drink
94 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
W
hen I was little, I
wanted to be a teach-
er (because my mom
was one), a soldier
(because my father was one), or a po-
liceman (because my grandfather was
one), or a president (who doesn’t?)
Never in my wildest dreams did it
occur to me that I could be a restaura-
teur. It is not grand enough, not noble
enough, not patriotic enough and,
defnitely, not professional enough.
Growing up in Taiwan, everyone
seemed to be able to cook and restau-
rants were, in my view at least, little
eateries that sprung up here and there,
there the one day, gone the next.
Fancy restaurants, where we went for
diferent wedding celebrations, were
huge and far from where we lived. It
was an outing for the whole family
when we went to weddings, with ev-
eryone dressed in their best: colourful
clothes and mom’s her hair pinned up
high by a neighbourhood hairdresser.
My family had better expecta-
tions of me. My father wished me to
be a teacher, as it was considered the
Childhood dreams,
served with noodles
A Chinese restaurateur in South Africa talks about childhood, food and writing
By Emma Chen
P
i
c
t
u
r
e
:

J
o
h
a
n
n
e
s

D
r
e
y
e
r
Size does
matter when it
comes to food.
And a restaurant
experience is not
only about food,
it is more like
theatre.
best job for women – steady income,
respect from the community and nice
long winter and summer holidays.
Mom, on the other hand, did not
specify what she wanted me to be,
only telling me that I should be fnan-
cially independent because “spending
the money you make yourself is a
pleasure”.
She probably did not wish me to
be a teacher as she knew how hard she
worked. She sufered from chronic vo-
cal-cord infection and varicose veins. I
saw enough of her piles of homework
Emma Chen, a foodie, started her own restaurant thinking it was temporary
Food & Drink
wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 95
that she had to bring home every
night to mark.
For a long time I wanted to be a
soldier, because I grew up in a military
camp. I loved uniforms, especially
the buttons. Each one was heavy and
shiny, embossed with the pattern of
our national fag, a star in the middle,
surrounded by twelve triangles, each
representing a virtue. We learned to
name the virtues so well at school that
I could recite them without pausing
to breathe. Te silver buttons glit-
tered, so eye-catching against the
navy shirt. I loved to watch my father
polishing his buttons and the buckle
on his belt.
Another reason I wanted to be a
soldier was that I loved to ride in the
camp jeep. Tere were few vehicles
then in Taiwan. Old buses that puked
out black smoke like cuttlefsh were
the only other vehicles. Father rode a
90CC motorbike on which the whole
family climbed when going to town. I
wished I could always ride with father
on the bike because the strong diesel
smell of the buses often made me deli-
ciously nauseous.
But my absolute favourite was the
train. Twice a year, we would take a
train to visit my grandparents. Tere
was no food tastier than that from
the round Taiwan Railway Bian-dang
(food boxes). A piece of soft pork
chop, covered with light brown gravy,
a whole braised egg and a few pieces
of Chinese green sat on a bed of
steaming rice. I could fnish a whole
box on my own, just like my father.
My memory, which normally
coped badly with numbers, people’s
names and any forms of tests, came to
the fore with food: I could recall not
only the taste, but the look, the smell
and the portion size. Size does matter
when it comes to food. Sometimes
the favour must build up, which a
few mouthfuls would not do justice
to. Other times, a subtlety was more
memorable than a total onslaught.
And then, I would fall asleep, gen-
tly rocked by the motion of the train.
My love for trains was not shared at
all by mom. She complained about
the dirt. Te windows could never be
shut properly. When the train went
through a tunnel, everyone would be
covered by black soot.
After completing high school, I
was rejected by the military college
and the police academy because of my
poor eyesight. It remained a sad event
for me, especially a few years later
when I heard that no-one was over-
weight in the military college because
of the ftness level required. I had little
will power and hated any form of
exercise. I could have done well with
some forced physical training as I have
always been overweight; not so much
because of junk food – there was none
in those days – but because of my love
of food.
But such is life that not only was
I deprived of the opportunity to wear
a uniform, to be ft physically, but I
went the opposite way and literally
immersed myself in food for the next
twenty years. But because of my par-
ents’ and my own expectations, even
when I opened my restaurant Red
Chamber in Hyde Park about twenty
years ago, I thought I would do it for
a year or two and then sell it. It wasn’t
a serious career move. I was young
and adventurous. I believed that I
could start up a restaurant and, after
building it up, sell it and make a prof-
it. After all, I was already trading in
goods then. I sold sold to wholesalers
and to the public at the fea market,
the frst one in Johannesburg, every
Sunday in the parking lot opposite the
Market Teatre in Newtown.
Come to think of it, I probably
would make a very poor soldier.
Soldiers need to get up early and go
to bed early. I am a total night person.
Phone me before 10 a.m. and you get
the worst of me, impatient, grumpy
and still yawning. Phone me at mid-
night and you will notice a person full
of ideas and ready to go to a party or
movie. It was a sad afair for me when
the only movie house that showed
midnight movies closed down many
years ago.
Midnight is also the time when
I write. Unfortunately, I only write
under pressure. Normally, a few days
before my writing group is about to
meet, I would try to write something.
After feeding all my children and
having them all curled up snoring, I
would sit in front of the computer to
write. Very often, I ended up playing
another ten rounds of Spider Solitaire
or reading online newspapers from
Taiwan. In times like those, I wish I
was a disciplined person. A rigid army
lifestyle probably would have sorted
me out.
My debut book Emperor Can Wait
is not strictly about my restaurant. I
wrote a book about my childhood.I
guess I was at the age when child-
hood memories became more vivid
than ever. I was also extremely home-
sick. When I thought about home,
I remembered all the food I once
ate. My grandmother, my mom, the
neighbours, friends of the family,
street vendors …. Tey all appeared in
my mind with the fantastic dishes we
used to share. Before I knew it, I was
writing stories about my childhood
interwoven with food.
Te writing group acted as a
source of inspiration. Te encourage-
ment I received prompted me to carry
on writing. In writing these stories I
found that I have made peace with
myself for being away from home.
Actually, it makes me feel more at
home than ever in South Africa.
With this lack of discipline evi-
dent in my writing, you might ask
how a restaurant can be run without
discipline. True, there are disciplines
in each section of the restaurant.
Before I knew it, I grew into the job.
How wrong I was to think that a
restaurateur was not a profession. I
learned from diferent chefs the disci-
plines in controlling a kitchen. Every
detail makes a diference to the qual-
ity of food we serve. From the sourc-
ing of ingredients to the step-by-step
making of our famous Peking Duck,
my team of staf has scheduled activi-
ties that must be carried out every day.
Te same attention to detail must be
applied to the front of house.
I do not believe in running my
restaurant with an iron fst. Rather,
I see myself as the “mother fgure”
for my staf. Most of my staf is
Food & Drink
96 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010
away from home for long spells, a
few months or a few years. Some are
from KwaZulu-Natal, some from
Zimbabwe and many from Taiwan
and China. We have all come a long
way to work together. Tere are cul-
tural and language barriers to cross
but we often realise that there are
more similarities than diferences. I
think we understand that, when our
families are so far away, our colleagues
are closer to us than our families.
Running a Chinese restaurant in
South Africa means that we have to
introduce Chinese food culture slowly.
Te way Chinese food is served is not
how South Africans, and Westerners
in general, want their food served. I
try my best to encourage people to
share their dishes. In Chinese culture,
every single dish is meant for the table
(portions are adjusted according to
table size) and not simply for an indi-
vidual. A selection of dishes is shared
by everyone at the table. Even a meal
for a small family at home would con-
sist of three to four dishes, some meat,
some vegetable, some fsh and some
tofu. Variety is the most important as-
pect of Chinese cuisine. A few difer-
ent dishes work together to make the
eating experience a complete one.
In the Chinese way of eating,
dishes do not have to arrive all at
once, and no one needs to wait for
other people’s dishes to arrive before
one can start eating. Whichever dish
is brought to the table, would be
the dish we start with. All the dishes
should be put in the middle of the
table, instead of in front of a particu-
lar person. Tere might be dish that
everyone knows is your favourite, so
they would urge you to eat more but
in general all the dishes are for every-
body.
Personally, I believe that a res-
taurant experience is not only about
food, it is akin to theatre. Other than
food, there is music, there is the set-
ting and there is the atmosphere.
When people go out for a meal,
they are looking for a good overall
experience. Even before they step in,
they perceive the décor of the restau-
rant, they hear the music and they
I would like to share with you
a recipe from my book. I chose
this one to demonstrate that a
simple dish of chives and eggs
that can be made in minutes is
as good as any banquet dish.
There is colour, fragrance and
taste. All you need is a friend
or two to share it with.
Jiucai (Garlic Chives) Stir Fried
with Eggs
Ingredients
Chinese garlic chives (jiucai), a
handful
4 eggs
Sunflower oil
Salt
Method
Wash and cut jiucai into short
sections. Drain aside.
Beat eggs, add pinch of salt.
Heat up the wok, then add
two soupspoons of oil, wait un-
til it smokes then pour in the
egg mixture.
Wait for the eggs to puff
up. Remove the eggs from the
wok before they are completely
cooked.
Put a dash of oil in wok,
then add jiucai and stir fry,
add another pinch of salt.
Put the egg back into the wok
and mix together with jiucai.

Note: Do not add soya sauce;
it will spoil the bright yellow
of the eggs combined with the
dark green jiucai.
A delicious dish of chives and eggs that can be prepared in minutes
A recipe food from my kitchen
smell the food. Tat is when the the-
atre begins.
I came to South Africa with no
intention of staying for too long,
just as I started the restaurant with
no intention of making it my career.
Somehow, I stayed in South Africa
and became South African. From
being interested in food, I became a
professional restaurateur. I realise now
that I do not care how other people
may regard the restaurant business.
Yes, it is not noble enough, not patri-
otic enough and not grand enough,
but it is defnitely professional
enough.
www.panmacmillan.co.za
BOOKS THAT SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
PAN MACMILLAN
Transient
Caretakers
MERVYN KING
WITH TEODORINA LESSIDRENSKA
MAKI NG LI FE ON EARTH SUSTAI NABLE
Lmaerar 6aa Wall … is
a cookbook-memoir in
which restaurateur Emma
Chen delicately prepares
and serves up
reminiscences of an
enchanting childhood
growing up in the newly
formed People’s Republic
of China in Taiwan and of
her early adulthood in
both Taiwan and South
Africa.

5ecaaJ ls halklaa
tells the story of Alan
Knott-Craig, a maverick
civil servant from the
government telephone
operator, Telkom, who
masterfully steered a
fledgling cellular
company to unparalleled
financial success,
shaping a revolutionary
concept into one of the
most powerful brands in
southern Africa:
Vodacom.

Traasleal 6arelakers
is a groundbreaking book
that explores the state of
the Earth – from climate
change to the ongoing
water and energy crises;
and from issues of waste
and garbage to tourism,
transportation, urban
planning and
sustainability reporting.
Tke 5lale We re laġ Tke
2010 Flux TreaJ ßevlew

… tracks the ripple
effects of the global
economic meltdown, the
consumer revolution that
has been sparked off as a
result, the technology
that has provided the
tools for change, as well
as the massive shifts of
social and business
dynamics that are altering
the journey ahead.

Laaa Walk Ta FreeJam
… brings an inspirational
man to life for a younger
generation. This title will
be published in South
Africa’s eleven official
languages.


-=NPKBPDA-NE@A Kevin
Richardson, /oolouist and
animal behaviouralist, raises
and trains some oí the most
danuerous animals known to
man. To do this he does not
use the common methods oí
breakinu the animal's sµirit
with sticks and chains,
instead he uses love,
understandinu and trust.

Editorial
Phakama Mbonambi Joanne Hichens Mike Sager Zamani Xolo Carol Cole Sampoyana Mthanti Bronwyn McLennan Germaine Moolman Silvanus Mabaso Linda Gabriel Editorial enquiries must be addressed to: The Editor Wordsetc P.O. Box 2729 Saxonwold 2132 E-mail: info@wordsetc.co.za, or flamencomail@gmail.com Website: www.wordsetc.co.za Fax: 0860 510 5716 For advertising: advertising@wordsetc.co.za For letters: letters@wordsetc.co.za For submissions: submissions@wordsetc.co.za For happenings: happenings@wordsetc.co.za For backcopies: info@wordsetc.co.za For subscriptions: subscriptions@wordsetc.co.za This edition is sponsored by Kgolo Trust.

A culture of crime
Setting straight in fiction what is disorderly in life

I

Visit us at www.wordsetc.co.za. We are on a constant lookout for writers. Please enquire beforehand about submission guidelines. Wordsetc is a product of Flamenco Publishing. © 2010 Flamenco Publishing. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any manner in any language in whole or part of this journal without prior written permission is prohibited.

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n a fascinating non-fiction title Crime Fiction, author John Scaggs writes: “Unseeing, oblivious individuals and nations block out unpleasant realities, whether it’s the disenfranchised homeless man on the corner or the latest genocide.” But in South Africa we do see. Then we write. We write editorials, opinion pieces, non-fiction and fiction, much of the writing reflecting a multi-cultural developing world in which exists racism, irreverence, fraud, corruption, killing – all part of the “culture of crime” to which we’ve largely devoted this issue of Wordsetc. When it comes to real-life experience, Thembelani Ngenelwa’s thoughtprovoking “Letter to my killer” is a powerful exposé of his personal journey through an ordeal of crime. After I’d pushed Thembelani – ever so gently, I hope! – to write to a tight deadline, then to lengthen his letter by a third, he sent this reply via email: “Thank you for making me do this, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to confronting my attacker.” In turn, I’d like to thank Thembelani for facing his attacker yet again to give us an insight into not only the physical experience of a dying victim, the psychological shock and horror, but the lingering questions that might never be answered – the why of it. Although true-crime and crime fiction are different genres, the “seed” from which fiction grows is often rooted in reality. Megan Voysey-Braig’s short story “Burning” was written “as a sad kind of helpless response” to the murder of Touch of Madness waiter Oscar Paulo, well-known by members of Off The Wall poetry circle frequenting the restaurant. The story will give you a gut-wrenching reality check about the numbers of people lost to crime, the senselessness of murder, and the lingering sense of futility as we mourn countless victims. As part of Jennifer Crocker’s astute appraisal of South African crime fiction heavyweight Deon Meyer, he reminds us that “crime is about disorder and alienation, but crime fiction is very often about the quest to rectify this state – and this quest is such a wonderful source of conflict and tension”. Writing and reading crime fiction, perhaps, allows us to set straight what is more difficult to set straight in reality. Many esteemed authors, including fabulous cover girl Margie Orford, have shared insight into the creation of their fictional worlds and their crime-busting characters, their inspiration, their thoughts. Through the process of gathering material for this Wordsetc issue, we may also have won over several writers to the dark side: editor and poet Helen Moffett prefaced her razor-sharp short story submission with this note: “I decided the only way to get over my gingerishness re krimis was to write one. Here’s a little something that brewed in my head while visiting my mom’s garden.” (Who would have thought it possible!). In this print issue and in the online companion issue at www.wordsetc.co.za, Wordsetc features a host of voices and opinions, each a unique take on South Africa’s “culture of crime” – insights on the proliferation of, and the inevitable stories that spring from crime. As we are honest about real-life crime, writing about how it affects us all in different ways – as can be read in the feature “Perscpectives: the meaning of crime” – perhaps’ we’ll find ways to influence our society for the better, all the time, of course, never forsaking the writing of cracking good fiction. Joanne Hichens, guest editor
www.wordsetc.co.za

wordsetc | First Quarter

Contents
Five South Africans offer their views on the scourge Justice Malala remembers the crime thrillers of his youth 8 78

Jassy Mackenzie sizes up different characters in krimis

13

How readers feel about us

6

Andrew Brown on the humiliation of an innocent man

16

A short story by Megan Voysey-Braig

35

The intrigue of Bubbles Schroeder’s murder continues

20

A look at the latest local and international reads

40

Margie Orford lets the blood flow on her pages

24 How Deon Meyer revived the local crime thriller 62

Richard Kunzmann finds it unavoidable, even necessary 54 A short story by Helen Moffett Novelist Joanne Hichens guards her neighbourhood 58 Roger Smith examines the “what ifs” in his stories The portrayal of prostitution in local crime novels 68 Joanne Rushby journeys to Timbuktu the hard way 86 65 56

Sarah Lotz on the growth of the legal thriller

73

Thembelani Ngenelwa relives the day he almost died

76

Bronwyn McLennan’s enchanting visit

90

Poet Fungisayi Sasa ponders this ugly British stain

70

Emma Chen on her life, love for good food and book

94

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wordsetc | September 2009

Contributors

our guest editor and writer of “Community matters” (page fifty-eight) has worked as an artist, lecturer, and counsellor at a psychiatric hospital. A full-time writer and editor, Joanne co-authored crime-thriller Out To Score (with Mike Nicol), reprinted in the US as Cape Greed. Her youth novel Stained appeared recently in Britain. She edited the crimethriller short-story collection Bad Company.

holds a BA (Hons) in English from the University of Cape Town and works at a communications company. Sam is fascinated by the idea of the internet, changing models of education, science, gender and modernist poets. On page twenty-four she has written an eloquent profile of eminent crime thriller writer Margie Orford.

practises as an advocate in Cape Town, and is a reservist sergeant in the South African Police Service (page sixteen). His first two novels were Inyenzi, about the Rwandan genocide, and the crime thriller Coldsleep Lullaby, which won the 2006 Sunday Times Fiction Prize. His work of non-fiction, Street Blues, about his experiences as a police reservist, was shortlisted for the 2009 Alan Paton Award. His new novel is Refuge.

is a recovering academic, an escaped editor and a closet writer. “Poppy” (page fifty-six) is her first krimi, inspired by her mother’s garden. All of the plants are real; all of the people are imaginary.

is the author of Till We Can Keep An Animal. Winner of the European Literary award 2007/2008. Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book Africa region 2009. Longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2009. She lives in Berlin, Germany. She has been invited to write for the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, their bulletin focusing on sexual and gender-based violence (page thirty-five).

is an awardwinning former newspaper editor. Malala currently heads up Avusa’s magazine stable. He writes regular weekly columns for The Times newspaper and Financial Mail magazine. He also presents a weekly political talk show (The Justice Factor) on e.tv’s eNews Channel. His work has been published internationally in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Financial Times, The Independent, Forbes, Institutional Investor, The Age and The Observer. On page eight, he reminisces about his youthful obsession with crime thrillers.

is the author of The Day I Died, an autobiographical account of his near-death experience in 2003. On page seventy-six, he writes a letter to his killer, seeking answers. He also does motivational speaking in schools and prisons.

is a book editor and writer working for various general trade publishers both in-house and on a freelance basis. An enduring interest in Russia culminated in a three-week trip there in August last year. In “Unravelling Russia” (page ninety), she recounts her impressions of this fascinating country.

born in Johannesburg, lives in Cape Town. Mixed Blood, his debut thriller, was published internationally last year. His second book, Wake Up Dead, will be released in February 2010 (page sixty-five).

wordsetc |

First Quarter 2010

Contributors

was born in 1983 and raised in Germany and Canada. She studied German and English for teaching, with a major in South African literature and cultural studies. Since 2008, she has been a PhD student in English Literature at the RWTH Aachen University, Germany. Her PhD focuses on “the portrayal of sex, prostitution and rape in South African literature, visual and performing arts from the 1890s until 2010” (page sixty-eight).

co-owns and runs Ike’s Books and Collectables, an antiquarian and out-of-print bookshop and haven for bibliophiles in Durban. She studied Russian and East European languages at Leeds University, and has worked in Bulgaria and North Yemen. When not dreaming of her next adventure (page eighty-six), she also works as a freelance editor and book restorer.

is a Zimbabwean poet and writer living in the UK. She is the author of The Search for the Perfect Head, a children’s book, and she is currently working on a series of short stories and a poetry collection. Fungisayi is alarmed by the rise in crimes of passion in her adopted country and the obvious gender bias in the law (page seventy).

(page seventythree) is the author of Pompidou Posse, Exhibit A and the forthcoming Tooth and Nailed. She lives in Cape Town with her family and other animals.

is the author of Emperor Can Wait, a book about her life and love for food (page ninety-four). She is the owner of Red Chamber, a Chinese Restaurant in Hyde Park Corner, Johannesburg. She lives in Emmarentia with her husband and six children (four dogs and two cats). She also has a pond full of tadpoles. Other than food, her hobbies are beading and Chinese calligraphy.

(page fifty-four) published his first book in the UK at the age of twenty-six, and Bloody Harvests was short-listed for the Crime Writers Association’s lucrative J.C.W. Creasy Award for Best New Novel in 2004. Publication of two more novels followed, while his fourth is experiencing an excruciating birth process. He has written short stories and articles for magazines and newspapers. He also dabbles in film scripts and plays chicken with London traffic on his mountain bike. He has no cats, no dogs, not even a gold fish, but does blog as much as he can at: http://richardkunzmann. wordpress.com

(page twenty) received an Honours degree in Physiology from the University of the Witwatersrand and went on to study Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Cape Town. edited the book page for the Cape Times, one of the best parts of her job as a former Assistant Editor of the newspaper. She holds a degree in journalism from Stellenbosch and works for HWB Communications as an account director. Crocker is happiest when she has a book in her hands and is highly impressed with Deon Meyer’s work (page sixty-two). She continues to write book reviews for the Cape Times.

is the author of Jo’burg-based thrillers Random Violence and My Brother’s Keeper (page thirteen). She lives in Kyalami with her partner Dion and, when not writing, she is employed as a servant by her two cats.
wordsetc |
First Quarter 2010

Letters
to come. The articles are enjoyable to read and well-researched. I also enjoyed the fact that the style of writing is articulate yet accessible. For a long time I had forgotten that I was a writer myself, due to a lack of platform to interact with other “custodians of the written word”, but Wordsetc has reignited that passion within me. Each quarter I find myself dying to lay my hands on the next edition and read more about knowledge treasures of our country. Reading Wordsetc makes me realise that one cannot master the art of writing but can polish that skill by reading, reading and reading. The pen being a powerful tool for any writer has enabled me to be part of other writers’ worlds and it has been made possible by this amazing publication. The articles are so inviting, you cannot read it without being part of it; it makes you feel like you are attending some journal club or you are sitting with the person over a glass of wine trying to get to know him or her better. The articles tell you more about the writer as a human being than as a picture on the jacket of the novel. Take the Nadine Gordimer profile (“A life of letters”, May 2009): it is so well-written you can visualise the scenes or the setting as you read along. The emotions, excitement and passion that the writing in Wordsetc evoke are truly unimaginable. Thank you so much for nourishing our souls with some good stories. Mmabatho Mokoka East London about this fascinating topic, wherein a magnificent book could be rendered worthless by a missing dust jacket. Joy Watson’s appraisal of Ruth First (“Her story’) was powerful, riveting and disturbing reading – again, I wish it had been longer and contained more details about her life beyond the 1950s. Kevin Bloom’s “The realist” raises some crucial issues about South Africa, and the interview with Andile Mngxitama, “Actually, I’m not (that) angry”, about his ideas and his New Frank Talk press, was fascinating (and yes, after having exhausted branding Che Guevara, I guess Steve Biko had to be next). Literary publishing in South Africa is no easy task. I sometimes wonder what makes us persevere in what is often a thankless task. Nevertheless, I draw strength from the advice of Aryan Kaganof: the work itself is the reward. Thank you. Gary Cummiskey Dye Hard Press Johannesburg

Reading fiction is always considered to be indulgent, something to do when you have nothing more important to do … People do not have enough time to read, and fiction is denigrated. But fiction is real.
Nourishment of the soul
To say I am overwhelmed by Wordsetc is an understatement. When I laid my eyes on it for the first time, it reminded me of my sons’ books in Grade One because of its thickness. I couldn’t help but wonder how other people manage to write so little while others can write the whole Bible. So it is true – dynamite comes in small packages. I find the whole concept of a literary journal very fresh and mindprovoking. The publication is definitely an unexplored territory that will be enjoyed by literary giants for some time
wordsetc |
First Quarter 2010

Celebrating fiction
I am a writer of fiction. As a person who engages with words daily, loves their sound and their arbitrary meanings, I am so appreciative of the journal Wordsetc which I came upon in a bookshop a year ago. I am appreciative of the magazine as one of the few South Africans who makes time for reading. Judging by the bulk of South African magazine publishing, most people enjoy salacious, gossipy books about local celebrities and their sex lives, whereas Wordsetc is the only real literary journal around. It is the McSweeny or The Paris Review of South Africa. The publication showcases local talent, informs readers about authors and what they write, dedicates several pages to the review of books and gives opportunities to writers whose voice is denied by the ever-relentless need for most publishers to pursue economic targets rather than quality content. Most of all I enjoy the fact that

Excellent edition
Congratulations on an excellent edition! What an excellent opening with Zackie Achmat’s recollections of his political activist days as a teenager in the 1970s, and his bitter-sweet relationship with his father (“My father’s touch”). On a less sombre note was Alistair King’s piece about book collecting (“The collector”). I wish it had been longer as I wanted to learn more

Letters
Wordsetc gives writers of fiction a space such as “Alles van die beste” in the last edition and thoroughly profiles writers (“Master of ambiguity”). It also explores literary trends (“Fiction in a flash”). Reading fiction is always considered to be indulgent, something to do when you have nothing more important to do. In our work-consumed society, where value is determined in relation to how hard you work and how much money you make, people do not have enough time to read, and fiction is denigrated. But fiction is real; it is no more or less real than, for instance, history, sociology, accountancy and law – for what are these disciplines except stories? Wordsetc recognises that the writer of fiction has no less authority than the historian, the lawyer, the accountant, for the discourse of these disciplines is only as real as the story. Writers of fiction, unlike the historian, sociologist, accountant or lawyer, consciously call into question truth and reality. They shake our security and say that no knowledge or truth is sacred; there is no innocence. I like it that there is such a journal as Wordsetc, that its publishers recognise that writers and literature need a space, albeit small, and I like it that in the face of consumerism, economics, ersatz experiences and simulated lifestyles, it keeps on being. Barbara Adair Johannesburg your large section devoted to book reviews, but for me the real pièce de résistance were the two travel stories. I particularly enjoy travel articles, and it was great to read two well-written articles, especially the fresh take on Barcelona and the account of travel in less-well known (by Westerners, anyway) Bangladesh. I was also delighted to find the essay on Alistair King’s obsessive bookcollecting passion – we seldom get a chance to sample essays. Your in-depth articles made for fascinating reading and I can’t wait for the next issue of Wordsetc. I have warmly recommended your magazine to the members of two writers’ groups that I run, as a prospective outlet for their work. Every best wish for continued success. Alison M. Smith Cape Town item that one should hold onto for posterity. The last issue of Wordsetc was no different, with an informative write-up on Imraan Coovadia (one of the dreamiest, cleverest writers in South Africa today) and Victor Dlamini’s outstanding photographs (why one person should be allowed so many talents boggles the mind). I was in two minds whether to attack my copy immediately or wait for a Highveld storm on a Saturday afternoon and savour it while listening to music. Delayed gratification is sometimes overrated, so I chose the former, with no regrets. To the Wordsetc team: many believed in your dream, but we’re a cynical lot and I’m so glad that our worst fears have not materialised! It’s always a joy to read Wordsetc and your presence at the cream of South African literary events makes us all proud. Keep up with the sterling work. My hope is that one day Wordsetc will be read the world over just like the London Review of Books and similar publications. Karabo Kgoleng Johannesburg

A diamond in the rough
Literary journals are hard to come by. Most literary journalists and lovers of literature will attest to the fact that getting one’s hands on a literary journal requires some creative personal accounting (how many cappuccinos to forego, how many deadlines to meet before you allow yourself to part with almost one hundred rand for the latest London Review of Books). The troublesome economy has also meant that newsroom subscriptions have been slashed, with the literary journal subscriptions being among the first to go. I have the luxury to complain because, unlike most South Africans, I get to read plenty, while getting paid to do it (I present a literature programme on radio). With books being so expensive, it makes a big difference if the public has access to a quality publication that helps sift out the gems from the gravel. Wordsetc could not have come at a better time. Not only are the articles well-written, they are accessible and informative. Readers also get the privilege of getting into some of the finest minds from this continent and abroad. Each edition is a collectors’

Great design
I’m impressed by your publication. I especially like the design: while austere, it’s clean and engaging, obviously well-suited to a publication of this nature. The black and white picture in Lindiwe Nkutha’s play (“Sheila’s journey”) in your September 2009 edition is stunning. I like how colour has been drained out of it, leaving only the red of the dress worn by Sheila, who, looking lost in a big city, gazes forlornly into the distance, with her all her belongings next to her. I also enjoyed “Fiction in a flash” by Lauri Kubuitsile about telling a story in as few words as possible. Keep up the good work. Judy Lelliott Johannesburg For views on Wordsetc, write to letters@wordsetc.co.za.

On the literary side of things
By happy chance I found your magazine while browsing in Exclusive Books recently, and treated myself to a copy. I must say I was pleasantly surprised to find an upmarket literary publication. Literary magazines are usually not found in mainstream format, and often the contents, while literarily worthy, are somewhat pedestrian. Again, I had a happy surprise. You have created a refreshing mix of articles, stories, humorous pieces and reviews in your magazine. As an avid reader, I appreciated

wordsetc |

First Quarter 2010

ow en abl ding il ava ll lea es r at a oksto bo

Krog explores questions of change and becoming, coherency and connectedness in a book about moral, historical, philosophical and geographical journeys.

Many houses one home
Many houses one home

Personal Notes

First loves
How I spent my growing years collecting and devouring crime thrillers
By Justice Malala

illing was really only my second love. The blood, the gore, the messiness of it, well, that had its own weird attraction. And the fact that the killing was part of the denouement, the final piece of the puzzle, brought a certain satisfaction with it too. All loose ends were tied; the villain was dead. As a young boy, my mind and moral compass still somewhat undecided, it taught me this: death could be good. But my first love was the hunt. I vividly remember the first time I held Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury, in my hands. I was sad and ecstatic at the same time. I had been searching for the book for five years and, finally, when I was nearly seventeen, I had found it. I could not read it. I just held it, happy that I had finally laid my hands on it, sad that an obsession that had driven me for so long had finally come to an end. In the slim novel, when I finally read it, the detective Mike Hammer’s friend is shot in the stomach, the killer doing

K

so deliberately to make sure he suffered before he died. When Hammer finally finds the villain, he shoots her in the stomach too. I spent my growing years collecting and devouring crime thrillers. I started with what we called “comics” (picture stories) when the written word started meaning something to me, around age eight. By the time I was nine, I was trading books with Michael Bokaba down the road from home and having fights with Silly Sepogoane because he never returned my books in good condition.

At ten I had a collection of about two hundred “comics”, heaps and heaps of lurid picture stories starring statuesque blondes named Tessa and hard-boiled detectives who always got the girl. I would buy them, read them quickly, pass them on or exchange them for something more exciting or valuable. If I was broke, I would hang out with my brother Eric and his friend Tikkie and, their guard down, I would surreptitiously pocket Tikkie’s books, stuff them down my trousers and run back home to read them.
wordsetc |
First Quarter 2010

Illustration: Leigh-Anne Niehaus

Personal Notes
he first detective I fell in love with had been right there in front of me all my life and I had not bothered to pick him up. My father had a glass-fronted bookshelf that was always kept locked. In fact, he had two, but the first was destroyed when my cousins Matlakala and Sarah had a massive fight, screaming and scratching and biting and beating each other. Matlakala ran outside and came running back into the house with a brick in her hand. It all happened when we first arrived in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, and lived, temporarily, with my aunt and her three tempestuous daughters and her herbalist husband. I remember the shattering of the glass when the brick hit the bookshelf, shards of it flying like spray into the air and connecting with Sarah’s arm. She was about eighteen at the time. There was blood everywhere, and screaming and shouting. It was mid-week. My father was away at work in Johannesburg. All my father’s books were stuffed in the one bookshelf that remained. It had a lock on it. We were not allowed to open it. So the first book I read was not a detective thriller. It was a Western, brought home by my brother Eric. Eric was beautiful. He was tall, he was handsome, he could speak to girls, he played football and he knew everything. He was my brother, and he was four years older than me. Eric taught me everything. Eric could also read. He started reading the book on our one sofa and would smirk and look at me and my sister as if we did not know what was really happening. He would smack his lips and moan with delight. “Yo, yo, yo!” he would say, excited, as he read on. By the time he finished reading that novel we were begging to read it. He would whisper the name of the villain, an Apache warrior named – and I remember this from memory – Tats-ah-das-ay-go. He would regale us with tales of the man’s exploits. We in turn walked around savouring the
wordsetc |
First Quarter 2010

T

name: Tats-ah-das-ay-go! When my brother finished the novel, he put it at the top of the kitchen dresser where we could not reach it. Every day for weeks my sister and I would talk about the book, Louis L’Amour’s Shalako and how much we wanted it. Every day he would tell us we were not ready yet. When he finally relented and allowed us to read it, I finished it in three days because my sister was kicking me to pass it on to her. Then I turned to my father’s bookshelf. For a man who had had to leave school at standard four because his mother died (his father had moved on to another woman) and he had to work to feed his siblings, my father was widely read.

It was never about catching and killing the villain. These books were not like that. It was all about the how, the hunt.
On his bookshelf lay the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, collections of poetry, massive dictionaries and an encyclopaedia. Every week he would bring pile upon pile of newspapers from his work in Johannesburg. Somehow I was attracted to a writer he seemed to love – a crime writer called Peter Cheyney. A whole shelf was dedicated to Cheyney’s work, with book spines seducing me with names such as Dames Don’t Care, The Urgent Hangman, Dangerous Curves and This Man is Dangerous. Cheyney was a master of the detective thriller. The first book I read, attracted by the name and the racy cover, was This Man is Dangerous – starring the FBI agent, Lemuel “Lemmy” Caution. Lemmy was a man who went into dangerous situations, saved the day, made a British friend and got the “dame”.

Along the way he spoke in a unique, hip style in which he “wisecracked” about the baddies and charmed the ladies. Caution was one of a kind, one of the most compelling detective characters I have yet read. Cheyney went on to write more than ten Caution novels. I may have read them all. After Caution, Cheyney went on to invent other leading men, notably Slim Callaghan, an English “gumshoe” who solved murders and – of course – got rid of the baddie and got the girl in the end. I remember that Slim was an ankle man – sight of a woman’s perfectly-formed ankle was enough to get him all worked up. At the time I had no clue what he found so exciting about an ankle, but have to confess that I, too, am an ankle man today. I must have read these books over about six months, and re-read them again and again over school holidays and lazy days in the summer heat in Hammanskraal. It was never about catching and killing the villain. These books were not like that. It was all about the how, the hunt. That is why I have never really liked Dame Agatha Christie. Sometimes, one wants to know what kind of animal one is hunting down.

A

fter about six months I had read all of my father’s crime novels. Among them was a novel by a writer called James Hadley Chase. It was nothing like the hard-boiled detective thrillers of my father’s shelves. This was crime. The villains were horrific, the murders gruesome and the tension ceaseless. My dad had only one Chase. One day, while at Tikkie’s house, I saw a novel with a semi-naked woman on the cover. I grabbed it and read the blurb. It was called The Soft Centre. It was my second Chase, and after that I was obsessed. Chase was something else. Most of the time you got into the head of the criminal, generally a guy in financial trouble who tried for some insurance fraud or some other crime. Then you watched

Personal Notes
him disintegrate. Once you started a Chase, you couldn’t put it down. You just had to get to the end of the book to know what happened to the villain. Chase was one of a kind in another way, too. In a country and community which did not have that many novels, Chase was probably the most accessible and available author in Hammanskraal and in any other South African township. He was not in the bookshops – there were none. He was just the only author one was most likely to find in any house in those villages. Once I started reading Chase, my world changed. I was a shy kid. I could not speak to strangers, had very few friends and did not know how to start a conversation. When Chase came into my life I found a community, a village, a country, of fellow crime readers. I could meet someone and spot them for a Chase reader within minutes. They would be my friend almost immediately as we discussed the tens of books we had each read by the man. Within two years of my first reading Chase, I had a stash of ninety-two of his novels in the suitcase – given to me by my mother – where I kept my books. They were traded, exchanged, but never bought. If you had one Chase you could read them all – you just kept trading it. Some guys had more than one copy of a single Chase novel and would happily donate it to a curious kid. I still go home to Hammanskraal and get accosted by a stranger wanting his book back. There was some pinching along the way too. The problem with Chase was that very often you would find that the same novels were circulating. At some point I had three copies of a Corgi edition of The Soft Centre. The upside was that you could swop. The downside was that most people had read or owned The Soft Centre. Chase also kept you going, begging for more. The most famous Chase novel is without doubt No Orchids for Miss Blandish, one of his first novels published in 1939. I have found and read The Dead Stay Dumb and He Wont Need It Now, both published in 1939, but could not find No Orchids for Miss Blandish. Finding Chase was a full-time job, a search for clues about fellow readers and lovers of the man. I remember my friend Saki Tshetlho telling me once about a man in Stinkwater, the village next to ours, who was said to be hoarding a stash of Chases. We resolved to go and find him. Armed with about five books each, we intended to exchange what we had for books we had not read among his. We arrived there after an eight kilometre walk only to find that the man had one Chase and a stash of porn novels. He could not read and so donated the porn to us. We retreated in shock and dismay after reading a few pages. first bought, when there was only one channel going, we used to go to his house and huddle around just to see this strange, wondrous thing. Then the next day we would recount the experience to our friends. Nchabeleng was also the first man to buy a car with a sun-roof in the village. It was a golden brown Mercedes Benz with slanted headlights, affectionately and reverentially called a “China Eyes” when I was growing up. It was beautiful. Nchabeleng was a welder. He made iron gates and he fixed car exhaust pipes, putting a torch to them and closing holes and stopping loud clapping noises from emanating from perfectly good cars. He worked days and he worked nights. He was always in dirty overalls, except when he went to church. In the short six years I knew him, I saw Nchabeleng either lying under a jacked-up car, welding away, or bent over a steel pipe, blue light sprouting from his blow torch. I never saw him at leisure. He never even bothered to put a rug on the floor to protect his overalls. He just lay flat on the ground and got on with it. He was always dirty, dusty or covered with soot from his coal yard. His welding business made him enough money for him to buy a truck and start selling coal. Soon there were two trucks and workers running up and down delivering coal to households. In a village without electricity, business boomed, particularly in the numbingly cold winters. A third truck was purchased and the business spread to the nearby Stinkwater village. The village itself was spreading, so Nchabeleng started selling wood poles and corrugated iron sheeting for the building of new houses. His yard was a mess. Piles of long wood poles, coal and coal dust everywhere, broken-down cars and trucks everywhere. All cramped into his yard, with people arriving all the time for car repairs and workers milling about. There were five kids. I was in the same class with one of the two girls. Zozo was the eldest, a tough guy who
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r. Nchabeleng was watching television on a warm summer’s evening when the bullet hit him in the head. The shooter had stood outside the window, aimed and pulled the trigger once. He did not need to pull it a second time. Nchabeleng died instantly. The year was 1982. I was twelve. He was the first person I knew who was murdered. He was also the first person I knew who appeared in a newspaper. The headlines reported his death breathlessly. The Bantustan newspaper used the term love triangle. Nchabeleng was always first. He was the first philanthropist I ever knew. When the Catholic parishioners decided to build a church, it was agreed that every family would contribute twenty rand towards the building costs. But it was not enough. The parishioners were too few and the project too big. Nchabeleng contributed eight massive steel window frames, the massive door frame and door, and two hundred rand towards the building of the church. I was nine years old, and remember listening to all the older people speaking admiringly about Nchabeleng. Nchabeleng’s was also the first television in the village. When it was

Personal Notes
looked uncannily like his father as a child and as an older man, when he became known for stealing cars and spending time in jail. All the mothers disliked Shai, Nchabeleng’s wife. She smoked and she drank and she put on lipstick. She was younger. She wore sexy loosefitting blouses and she was the first woman I ever saw in pants. They were white bell-bottomed jeans. I was seven at the time. I remember staring at her dancing the “bump jive” to a fastpaced soul tune. Shai had an affair with one of Nchabeleng’s truck drivers. He got ideas. Nchabeleng had a gun. This is conjecture: she gave her lover the gun, or he stole it. No matter. He stood by the window, watched Nchabeleng watching television. The gun pointed through the open window, maybe Nchabeleng was laughing at something on the television. I have heard the clap of a gun in a silent place before. Maybe this gun made the same sound. I can imagine so. I don’t know if Nchabeleng fell onto the hard floor, or if he fell back into the sofa. I do know that he died. The truck driver, the shooter, was sentenced to death and was hanged in 1985. Over and above his dastardly deed, everyone used to comment about his name. His name was Rape.

would fall upon a Chase that was not usually listed among his works at the front or back of novels. With Chase, there was always a surprise, a new book. A guy from Limpopo came to visit our neighbours, the Magages, once. I paid him no mind. Then one day I saw him reading a book, curled up under the tree in their front yard. I jumped over the fence and went over to where he was sitting. He was reading a Chase. He wasn’t just reading a Chase. He was reading a Chase I did not have: Have This One on Me, one of a bunch of novels Chase wrote about the exploits of hero Mark Girland. “I’ve got some Chases in the house. How about you read one of those and I read yours,” I said to him. “I am still reading it,” he said. He was way older than me. Isaac was his name, and he was taking his time. I sat down next to him and instantly became his friend. He had a lot of Chase novels under his belt so conversation flowed endlessly. Every time I see journalists being lazy, I think about Chase. He never stopped. That is why I never stop.

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o get into school in our village one had to have a birth certificate from a church. My father knew one man when we arrived in Hammanskraal. Nchabeleng. We were baptised in a quick ceremony by a white Catholic priest whose name I cannot remember, whose name no one can remember, not even my mother. My two sister’s godmother was a Catholic nun, Sister Anne. For my brother Eric and I, Nchabeleng was the godfather.

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hen you write you become interested in how others write, too. Chase’s oeuvre was so vast that it was inevitable that as a young boy I became interested in his prowess. There were many occasions when I
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n Christmas Eve of 1986 I went to visit a friend of my brother, Shwai Mangope. I had run out of things to read within three weeks of school holidays starting, and had been reduced to reading and re-reading even my Mills & Boon novels. Mangope, as everyone knew him, had arrived in the village about six months before and was an instant sensation. For months after he arrived he stayed indoors. I knew about him first because his half-brother, Willie, was a primary school friend of mine although by then we rarely saw each other. When he emerged into the sunlight he had a massive, swollen wound to the side of his head and a badlyswollen cheek. Stories were whispered about Mangope. He had short dreadlocks and spoke English perfectly. He had been at university or technikon out-

side South Africa. He had joined a liberation movement. My brother told me that the huge swelling around his face had been caused by a hand grenade that had gone off in his hand after being booby-trapped by the apartheid regime’s spies. I had heard that Mangope had a stash of books. So we shot the breeze for a while, and I asked him about his books. He told me that unfortunately he had burnt all his books in case he got raided by the police. “But I have something here which you might like. It’s a classic,” he said. He handed over a tattered novel with a lurid blue cover called Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. It had a few pages missing and looked moth-eaten. To say I was crestfallen is to under-state the case. I was devastated. I got home, patched the book up as best I could and settled down to read. Catch-22 is an anti-bureaucracy, anti-war, anti-establishment book in which the air force pilot, Yossarian is constantly trying and failing to impose reason on the world around him. It was written in a manner I had never seen before. I did not see or celebrate Christmas of 1986. I did not go to midnight mass with my family as we generally did. I did not do all the things we did at Christmas. I spent the whole day on the sofa, my siblings screaming at me to come and help with chores, reading and laughing to myself. That is the day when my interest in crime fiction began to wane.

went to my mother’s house the other day. There was only one Hadley Chase in the house. There is a lot of worthy stuff by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and there is a full but slightly tattered set of my father’s Peter Cheyney collection. No Chase, except for a hardcover that belonged to my father. It preceded all the others I collected over time, and has outlasted them all. I still have not read nor found Chase’s classic first novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish. Perhaps it is time to go on the hunt. Again.

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Essay

G
Jassy Mackenzie

Picture: Supplied

Of heroes and villains
The characters in today’s books show that everyone has an equal licence to be good or evil
By Jassy Mackenzie

oing way back in time, I discovered that the firstever crime fiction hero was a vizier called Ja’far from the Arabian Nights tales, as told by Scheherazade in the 1001 Arabian Nights. In this story, which Scheherazade called “The Three Apples”, a fisherman found a big chest floating in the Tigris River. He took it to the caliph, and when he opened it, he discovered it contained the body of a young woman, cut into nineteen pieces. In true Arabian Nights style, Ja’far was told by the caliph to solve the crime or else get put to death within three days. That crime ended up being solved when the murderer came forward at the last minute and confessed to his deed. As a reward for his superb detecting skills, the vizier was given another crime to solve and another three-day time limit in which to do it or be killed. By chance, he discovered an important clue that allowed him to solve the crime through reasoning, and save himself once again from certain death. I’m not sure if he was given yet another case to solve after that, but I think this story is interesting because it’s the only incident I know of, anywhere in fiction, where a vizier has ended up being a hero. Usually, as soon as you hear the words “Grand Vizier”, you know for sure he’s a villain and he is shortly, and going to commit a series of dastardly crimes involving serpents and poisoned sherbet and hidden trapdoors and turbanned thugs wielding scimitars. The role of the vizier has definitely evolved as far as crime fiction is concerned, and so have the roles of heroes and villains right here in South Africa. The influence of apartheid on South African writing can be compared to the influence that Hitler and the Nazi regime had on Germany. This had the same lasting repercussions on the culture and society it affected, and the way that everybody involved ended up perceiving themselves. Books are still written today featuring Nazi war criminal villains

who have somehow managed to live in hiding and go unpunished for decades until their past evils catch up with them. Occasionally you also get a modern thriller set in the Nazi era – Jeffery Deaver’s Garden of Beasts is one of my favourites, and Fatherland by Robert Harris is a brilliant example of a thriller set in a fictitious Germany a couple of decades after Hitler had won the war. One of the most wonderful touches in that book was the way that Harris still had Barbara Cartland writing romances, only because Britain had now been conquered by Germany, they had titles such as The Kaiser’s Ball. The same thing is happening here in South Africa. Some crime fiction villains have their roots buried in the rotting carcass of apartheid, and some of today’s books are still set in that era. I’d love to read the equivalent of Fatherland, set in this country. It would feature a heroic police officer, a figurehead feared by society as an oppressor and a perpetrator of the violent apartheid regime, but who discovers the truth about the country’s past while investigating a seemingly unrelated crime, and manages to expose the atrocities committed by the ruling party and bring the whole system crashing down. That made me wonder what heroes and villains would have been like in South African crime fiction if apartheid hadn’t ended. I think these characters would have ended up being as formulaic as the ones you find in a Cartland novel or a modern Mills & Boon, because there would be such a narrow mix of people and plots that would get past the censor’s scissors, and there would be an army of censors keeping an eagle eye out for any signs of subversive literature. A writer in the “new old South Africa” would have two choices for their hero. He would either be the hero white South African police detective, or he would be the heroic white South African private citizen. Note that I say “he”. A blonde, beautiful and curvaceous heroine would cerwordsetc |
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and only liked to solve crimes if they took place in . at some stage of the book. we are bound by a set of unwritten rules that dictate that each character must be a plausible product of the society they come from. but Paul’s real hatred was for his mother. Lemmer takes matters into his own hands and sets out to solve the mystery surrounding her long-lost brother. who tried to protect his baby brother Nick. and its legacy is still affecting society. will still have girls running after him. and I must say that when I do have to kill a baddie off in one of my own books I feel really sad about it. it’s good to have such a wide field of races. Paul. Anyway. beaten-up Toyota. Evil characters have always fascinated me. because otherwise it would have to be a romance novel. I like to give them plausible backgrounds. like Spenser in the Robert B. In real life. because almost all crime fiction heroes will. Random Violence. Bear in mind that although stereotypes in thriller writing are to be avoided at all costs. he was driving down Rivonia Road in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs in the early hours of the morning with his new girlfriend in an old. So we post-apartheid writers have to take this into account when creating our characters. he was beaten by his father. In fact. He starts off being hired to guard the beautiful Emma le Roux. They provide a useful overview of the various breeds of character that are likely to be found in a crime story. who drives a crappy car. it is not yet entirely dead. also had a rough childhood. There’s simply no justice in the world. the villain in my first book. Of course. That fascinated me. McDonald novels. You see. the end of apartheid has done one very important thing for crime fiction characters. and so is the character who inspired him. so terrible and vile that it would not even be revealed in the first book in the series. a violent. When I dream up my villains. The Mealie Thief Returns. these characters have an uncanny knack of walking into situations where crimes take place and dead bodies are found. have to try to solve a crime. I’d wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 like the reader to think: if I had grown up in those conditions. At the time. she has to start digging deeper into the background of Dingiswayo and his connections. women would know their place. Pitted against the heroic white hero would be. The poor girl committed suicide shortly afterwards. a character like this would be someone to avoid and definitely to leave off your dinner party list unless you want corpses keeling over for inexplicable reasons in between the main course and the dessert. What does that say? It says that crime and violence doesn’t always pay. Let’s move on to the far more appealing crime fiction hero. Another of my favourites is Lemmer. As a writer.Essay tainly feature in these books. because how often can Average Joe keep stumbling over dead bodies? One of the best examples of this archetype is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. would I have turned out any differently? Whiteboy. they must bear in mind that although apartheid is officially over. not surprisingly. The first archetype is the amateur detective. suffered horrific abuse at the hands of his mother when he was a child and. but she couldn’t possibly be the protagonist. in this fictitious “new old South Africa”. whether they are good or bad. personalities and backgrounds to choose from when creating another one. Paul was actually inspired by a real character. and find out who’s trying to kill Emma. but would not protect him. grew up to be a psychopath with a fondness for torturing people. Although they are not involved in law enforcement. these characters do stretch the limits of plausibility somewhat. keeping her imprisoned for about three weeks before she managed to escape. especially if they are used in a series of books. with a background and a set of belief systems that will not seem out of place. South Africa’s apartheid history has allowed us to create more complex characters that combine elements of good and evil in a way that everybody can now understand better. the villain in my next book. It exists in the minds and attitudes of many people from all walks of life. Travis McGee from the John D. She’s a journalist and PR consultant until the convicted serial killer Napoleon Dingiswayo summons her to C-Max to talk about his life. Interestingly. the evil black South African criminal. who met with approximately two corpses per year without leaving her village. or they’re sympathetic villains. The second archetype is the private investigator. archetypes are different. of course. when crime writers sit down to dream up the cast of heroes and villains for their next books. cultures. It also says that even a man who’s an abusive criminal and an ex-jailbird. Now. We don’t have complete carte blanche. but when she’s seriously injured by an unknown assailant. However. My Brother’s Keeper. when this real-life character was arrested. enough about villains. As a youngster. Luckily. sadistic man who is in prison now after being arrested by top cop Piet Byleveld. there are four main archetypes when it comes to heroes in this genre. giving everyone equal licence to be good or evil. Hercule Poirot had very high standards. In South African fiction an excellent example is Lucy Khambule from Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink. the bodyguard hero in Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari. They’re either flawed heroes in the very best traditions of Greek tragedy. which makes the high body count in their lives that much more believable. Parker novels or the famous Hercule Poirot. This man beat up his mother and abducted an ex-girlfriend. a violent criminal and borderline alcoholic. Then. It’s levelled the playing field. that quiet little village of St Mary’s Mead was described by one critic as having “put on a pageant of human depravity rivalled only by that of Sodom and Gomorrah”. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is an amateur detective. They’re both drifters. as a series of terrible events start taking place around her. but only in the sequel working title. who had committed an unspeakable crime.

and two of the best characters are Jeffrey “Mullet” Mendes and Vincent Saldana from Out to Score. who’s the creation of British writer Peter James. and doing my best to curb all these distressing tendencies. P. They always carry guns and. Fermented dry in open fermentation tanks. his partner. Tasting notes:Typical light ruby. and when they do will only utter deadpan quips. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . and four books later. we are still wondering where she is. onion skin in appearance.O. This detective is an especially interesting character because he has a wife who disappeared in mysterious circumstances a few years ago. Dr Clare Hart. This means that crime fiction writers can write a compelling story for an international audience as well as a local one without having to turn our books into struggle literature. They frequent shady late-night bars and are often mysteriously short of money. and although she can identify any type of gun on the market from fifty metres in the dark. shoot the bad guys right between the eyes. Account number: 191 340 2002. she’s hopeless when it comes to birds – she wouldn’t know a turkey from an ostrich unless it ended up on her dinner plate. such as Temperance Brennan from the Kathy Reichs novels or the famous Kay Scarpetta who was created by Patricia Cornwell. The private investigator devolved into the “hard-boiled” stereotype. who’ve played lead roles in all his books so far. I’m busy editing the sequel to Random Violence. cranberry and wild strawberry with hints of wild mushrooms and a distinct perfumed muskiness. Branch code: 191 30592 THEN SEND US PROOF OF PAYMENT WITH YOUR PARTICULARS TO: Wordsetc.Essay upmarket locations like the elegant atmosphere of an English country house or a private compartment on the Orient Express. There are some fantastic examples of these heroes in South African crime fiction. The velvety tannins are well structured giving balance and length to the palate. if necessary. She’s sexy in a gung-ho way. Tshabalala is a native South African from a family of tribal priests and healers. The last archetype is the forensic specialist. Bank: Nedbank. was born in England. And. Saxonwold.za. or Fax: 0860 510 5716 Meerlust Pinor Noir is a premium wine. baking spice and a hint of savoury earthiness. by Mike Nicol and Joanne Hichens. Jacob Tshabalala and Harry Mason. the wine was pressed and underwent malo-lactic fermentation in new heavy toasted Allier barrels. Randburg. although they drink heavily. Stolen Lives. After 10 days. SUBSCRIBE TO WORDSETC FOR ONLY R170 FOR FOUR ISSUES AND STAND A CHANCE TO WIN A BOTTLE OF MEERLUST PINOT NOIR TO SUBSCRIBE DEPOSIT R170 INTO OUR ACCOUNT Wordsetc. The palate is medium bodied offering perfectly ripe Pinot fruit flavours of red fruit. Although not quite as hardboiled. they are never too drunk to defend themselves in handto-hand combat or. She’s a tough lady with a distressing tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. my heroine Jade de Jong from Random Violence also falls into this category. but not particularly feminine. and Harry Mason.co. and what really happened to her. In America. and that is the police profiler. thanks to writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. These heroes are tough loners that seldom speak. in South Africa. the opposite happened. we do have a heroine who gives this category a whole new dimension. but unfortunately Jade will always be Jade. although she doesn’t actually wield a scalpel. 2132.Box 2729. if she is still alive. or E-mail: subscriptions@wordsetc. created by Margie Orford (see main profile on page twenty-four). One of my personal favourites on the international scene is Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. The next archetype is the police detective. Matured for fifteen months in barrique and allowed over three years bottle maturation before release. South African writer Richard Kunzmann has created a pair of cop heroes. Branch: Cresta. The nose has lifted red fruit. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing post-apartheid crime fiction is that South Africa is back on the world stage.

Real Life Illustration: Leigh-Anne Niehaus With the best intentions Sometimes good policing is not enough By Andrew Brown wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 .

so much for coffee. They have spotted the Mazda parked outside a club in Main Road. They will keep it under surveillance until we arrive. Yes. “Don’t push you luck. The captain nods to the inspector. Two large styrofoam cups of instant cappuccino. “They are also not from here. the wind pushing the sand towards us in waves. I sprint across the forecourt. This is all good news. We radio back to the captain with the good information. We close in on them. spraying the side of the car and my boots with brown mud stains. They rub their faces and wave goodbye. with a security hut and booms at the entrance. my inspector gesticulates to me. “And I have the registration number of the car. We position the unmarked car at the other end of the complex. We race along the highways. we are to stake out the apartment from a distance and call for back-up once the suspects arrive back. But Mr Bengu left with two of his friends.” The guard points to an empty parking place near one of the stairwells.” he adds. It is the endless ambiguity of policing: the tedium that pervades the grinding shift. punctuated by moments of panic. frothed coffee slopping over the sides. The licence number matches the vehicle described by the victim. We park alongside an all-night petrol station. listening to the chatter on the radio. As he turned to see who it was.” he says. The inspector takes down the details. He lifts his hands outwards towards me. My shift is only just beginning. None of us looks up as the duty constable approaches the agitated man on the other side of the counter. watching for movement inside the fleeing car. the desk strewn with forms. and playing with the safety on the rifle. parked in the orange glow of a street light about three hundred metres up the road.” is all he says to me. It has not been reported stolen. take the R5 rifle with you. “Any chance of coffee?” we enquire. whispering as if someone will hear above the howling wind. three occupants inside. At one in the morning. Two large coffees hit the gutter. I grip the stock tightly.” We understand. shouting out for attention. The housing complex is a large built-up estate of three-storey buildings. The passenger jumped out and grabbed the victim by the arm. he drives a white Mazda Sting. We startle the security guards as we hoot for the boom to be opened. The passenger in the back of the Mazda turns in his seat and looks back at us. The inspector looks up with a frown. We push our seats back and wait. Another marked car radios in with their location a few blocks away. “Brown.” replies our captain. There were three black men in the car. It is registered in the name of Mr Bengu. Sea Point. “He comes from the Congo. They leave. looking at us triumphantly. the vehicle accelerated alongside him. “Yes. over the radio: No police vehicles to come anywhere near the complex. I hurry back. I look up to see the Mazda pulling away from the kerb. As I reach the passenger door. I sit. forcing a round into the chamber. Our captain sighs quietly to himself and stops typing on the station computer. we say. He says something to the driver. his wallet with five hundred rands in it and his house keys. The car is a white Mazda Sting with registration number CA 323 323 . bored and thirsty. Our captain calls up the vehicle tracking system on the computer and types in the number. After thirty minutes and a silent nod from my inspector. The rifle makes a solid clunk as I pull the bolt back and release it. the dusk light slowly fading outside as night approaches. “At gunpoint. We haven’t had supper. The tyres squeal as we turn in behind the retreating Mazda. I think. about an hour ago. looking about the desolate car park. Is he reaching for something at his feet? Hurried commands on the radio as the Mazda turns sharply down towards Beach Road: “Block them off at the intersection. we know. He has just been robbed.Real Life A well-dressed man bursts through the doors of the charge office. the strap of the assault rifle weighing on my shoulder. The victim had been walking along Durban Road when he became aware of a vehicle following behind him. He pushed a gun against his head – the victim at the charge office presses his finger against his temple in demonstration. Mr Bengu does live in one of the apartments. the registration number of the vehicle to be distributed throughout the metropole. We can see the empty parking space between the trees. Now we have something. We leave him to open the docket. an unmarked car will meet us nearby and we will swap vehicles. Then the robber took his cellphone. we get a call from a Flying Squad vehicle. They point out the vehicle. We pull in behind the Flying Squad vehicle. Fuck. Then they drove off. the man gasps. We are still filling in the paperwork for our hand radios and firearms. Commands crackle out His face seems screwed up in anger. resident in a housing complex in Maitland. not even cigarettes. past the breaking waves at Three Anchor Bay and into the neon-lit strip of the main road. the guard adds. coloured pens and bullet holders.” wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . we have no drinks. Still we chew our pens and mark the columns with our force numbers. feeling the first flutters of anticipation for the night ahead. The cheerful lights on the coffee machine wink at me. pulling a tight Uturn and disappearing down a side alley to wait out of sight.” the security guard tells us.

His hands are shaking. still cold.ukzn. smeared with grease. I can hear a strange noise. With the registration number. The man who ran into the police station was a business associate. All names.” I bark. Whatever happens now. I think. He has nothing on him. clattering onto the tarmac. I let the front of the rifle drop. nothing will be the same again. He is staring at me in terror. Together with his two friends. but more with horror at tragedies so closely evaded. I climb into bed just before the sun comes up. He saw his adversary driving in Durban Road and saw an opportunity. the faces of the two officers stern and focused. screaming at them and rolling them over on the tar. until the moment it will suddenly give. creativity and activism of the late Dennis Brutus. Mr Bengu has been released.za Enquiries to 031-260 2506/1704 or email: cca@ukzn.cca. The man protests. as soon as I finish the paperwork.” I say quietly as I search him. The adrenaline pours out of me in a torrent. I jump from our car before it comes to a standstill. with daily activities at various tertiary institutions. 13th TIME OF THE WRITER FESTIVAL Durban. The trigger has a pressure that pushes back. His right hand drags slightly behind him as he leaves the car. rushing at the driver’s door. like a foreign bird clucking to itself. I sit on a faded blue chair in the charge office. He laughs when he hears about the coffee. keep your hands where I can see them.C. The rifle sights are pointed at his chest and my finger slips onto the trigger. This is when things will change forever. Because there was no robbery. his eyes wide with fright and disbelief. leaving me nauseous and weak. Evening readings and discussions take place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. lies the till slip. There is something in his hand. There is some money in the car.A website: www. out. They also have nothing. The complete list of past participants and details of previous festival programmes may be viewed on the C.za wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 .30 pm. At the bottom. Today. His face is contorted into a cry. There was no victim. Who says it was us?” We open the Kentucky packet. keep my rifle behind me and treat an innocent man with respect. the duty constable tells me. trying not to tremble. Our captain is pleased and grins at our stories. An empty bag of Kentucky Fried Chicken. “It wasn’t us. schools and other venues. numbers and identifying details have been changed for this story. South Africa 9-13 March 2010 The Time of the Writer international writers festival. It is him.ac. Just with desperate regret. There is a smell of urine about him. The upholstery smells of fried chips. a chunky black object that I can’t make out in the light.” the inspector tells them.” His face seems screwed up in anger. But I’m on my way to bed.” My voice cracks with emotion. hopefully. out now. The festival will include a tribute evening to the life. the description of the occupants and a reasonable talent for drama. He lifts his hands outwards towards me. Too quickly for my liking. coordinated annually by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal) will bring together South African and African writers in a weeklong programme of stimulating literary events. “I’ll buy you some myself. flapping up and down in short jerks. more indignant now. trying to say something. I wish I could go back to the intersection. Mowbray Kentucky. “Get out of the car. There is beer and liquor in the boot. They cut in front of the Mazda. “Get on the ground. A deal had gone sour. he launched us off as his eager weapon. but he moves with agility.ac. “What is this about? the one passenger asks.” he says. Out. We process the three arrested suspects at the station. I can feel its greasy line on the pad of my finger. community centres. but the words won’t form and he spits out a strangled sound. His door opens with a rough push and he springs from his seat. But not with real anger. Relief perhaps. The next day I go back to the station to finish statements. smiling uncertainly. over and over again. forcing it to brake heavily. 7. A good job. He opens his hand and an oldstyle cellphone falls from his grasp. His skin is dark and gleams with sweat. “I’m sorry. The front dips down and I can smell the rubber from the tyres. I don’t think. He lies meekly on the ground. “Put your fucking hands where I can see them.Real Life The Dog Unit roars past us on the left. “You committed a robbery in Durban Road earlier this evening. I think. The driver is thick-set. The others rough up the two passengers.

A REPORTER. AN OBSERVER AND A HERO “When it comes to writing.” “A must read for anyone who really wants to understand theextraordinary decency of ordinary Zimbabweans.A REBEL. Malan is dangerously good and there is no getting away” – Lin Sampson From the international best-selling author of My Traitor’s Heart “No journalist has covered South Africa with the same insight and depth as Allister Sparks.” – Alexandra Fuller “A remarkably full portrait of the uncompromising people’s hero” – Sunday Independent Available at bookshops .

such an open spectacle? How to dress in the morning. become doctors. Oscar. Bubbles had spent the last night of her life entertaining three Jewish youths – Morris Bilchik. as if everything itself were perfectly normal. how? It’s not pity that I feel for them. brush one’s teeth and go about one’s day as if nothing at all had happened. Hymie Leibman and David Polliack. But how to pick up after that. Wordsetc. I cannot imagine. I expect that one day in the not-too-distant future the boys will disappear into oblivion. Mimsy. move with their spouses to go and live in Melbourne or Florida or San Diego (where is it that people go to these days?). but a deep and weighty heaviness in my heart.Feature Illustration: Leigh-Anne Niehaus Oscar replies A civilised conversation about the mysterious Bubbles Schroeder murder By Carla Chait O n the morning of 17 August 1949 the body of Bubbles Schroeder was discovered in the Birdhaven plantation. dentists. eat one’s breakfast. Even if the boys didn’t “do” it (and I am firmly with you that they did not) how to live with oneself after such an ordeal. Johannesburg’s high society was stirred and young Mimsy wrote to tell her brother. a sickness in the pit of the stomach. You must be relieved. Their lives will go on (lives will be resumed) and the greedy public will sink their teeth into yet another juicy . Mimsy. Word has just reached me that the two accused – Polliack and Leibman – have been acquitted. issue five). The three were implicated in the murder. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 16 December 1949 My dearest Mimsy. How. a weight on the shoulders. Nevertheless. of the events (“From Mimsy”. He responded some months later.

after all. I’ve witnessed it. It’s the mystery that I feel has people really enraptured. but still. of course. a call girl from the “wrong side of the tracks”. let them go! In the meantime. a bruised neck. I ask. And so. To witness. the “scene of the crime”. I am not so sure what we are digging for. fully intact. Although this is nothing new. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . at least. you are aware of the fatalities. We are all too familiar with the mysterious death of eighteen-year old Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder: collected from Dorchester Mansions in Rissik Street at 7. or the aftermath of it. graphical information.Feature scandal. statistics. Much fuss is made over a proper burial. to give her diarrhoea for a week.” you can remember me saying as an adolescent when I hadn’t any idea of the workings of my very own body. the child enjoying himself all the while. What do people expect to find there exactly. Granny Nora would platz. Mimsy. oh Mimsy. But also. An obvious reference. I expect. surely. Along with “proper” so are the words “dignified” and “respectable” bandied about. in all its allusions: dead. To dramatise for a moment: “Well-established economist found dead at the wheel of his car” – and the best part left to last – “by his own hand”. “I’m his grandmother.” Or. my liver. cocky youth who would torment our grandmother with.” Or the one to really get Granny Nora in the kishkas. But where are we going with this? The exploitation of catastrophe.” I can hear you say. “Do you want to give me a tsura? As it is. Father would turn over to the sports section. do we really have ownership of our organs? (But. which as I understand they have. for goodness’ sake. even haunting. What if Bubbles simply vanished? If there weren’t a corpse – a stuffed throat. Mimsy. in a word.m. Mother would chill. Nora?” I don’t think that Granny Nora ever believed in anything else besides herself (and Crystal’s Kosher Bakery in Doornfontein). Sinews and cold blood. I’m not entirely disillusioned with medicine. Mimsy. but the unpacking of a dead body feels crude to me. One need only think of blood sport to relate. dead at 2. I predict telling our children about the incident. “Angry mob stampede kills eight. … how many people will hold my liver in their hands? Where will my liver end up? My God. textual information. I daresay that a good carbon monoxide asphyxiation will secure a spot for itself in the newspapers. It makes me wonder how I would like to leave my own remains on this earth. Let’s see what else we can up with: “Thrill-seeking journalist stabbed by angry mob” and. Mimsy. Appealing to the basest sense of human voyeurism. his grandmother!” But I digress. is there? To set the imagination free. I always imagined that it would be to medical science. whatever it is that may be. though. your mother already killed my husband when she announced that she was going to marry your father. There is more decorum in a coffin and a gravestone. “Whoever heard of a Jew donating their liver to charity?” Granny Nora is saying. If Polliack and Leibman have been deemed to be innocent. “A respectable burial for a disreputable young lady. “Dies in the arms of his photographer friend.30 p. our Granny Nora. We want to know – we have the right to know – during that last half an hour. The people of the world are impressed by facts. data. I will not expound. Where are we taking it to? “To new heights. I find it hard to believe that tragedies that are so viscerally disturbing. my liver. are at once appealing. Would the “outraged”. Jewish boys from well-to-do families.” These examples are not to be outdone. There’s nothing quite like a mystery to send the mind rolling. I slog away with my own cadavers. later in the text. torn underwear? Might the reaction have been different? I will leave it up to you to decide. either. undressed suicide and homicide. Oh how people like to talk! How well we know this. The matter for consideration is the disposal of a body after it has ceased to be. no doubt. A dead body is. You can guess my opinion. “Why does he call me Nora?” she would turn to our mother and pale. I hope that the acquittal releases these young men into a world in which they have an opportunity to make a life for themselves. I can only speculate: young. I recall myself as a precocious. Mimsy. my liver. for once the last breath has been exhaled and the life force extinguished. I am not so concerned about justice for justice’s sake. by war and genocide. these ones definitely cold to the touch. So. the “horrified”. “Homicidal/suicidal maniac” – the sensational tone is intended – “shoots nine and then turns the gun on himself. what is actually left but meat and bones? I’ll spare you the anatomical detail (I’m sure that it would bore you) but we are talking flesh and blood. an unsolved murder mystery. “Hard facts”. Every person wants to see it with their own eyes. that is peoples’ morbid fascination with death and killing. on the autopsy table: blue and stiff and smiling (the skin of the mouth and cheeks pulls away from the teeth).) I question. to tell you the truth. But to hold another man’s liver in one’s own hand.” How’s that for a headline? You get my point. Four months after the crime! As if the answer to the puzzle lies in the plants’ new roots and shoots. to use the term: numbers. “To furthering the understanding of the human body. “Is it such a crime to believe in something other than Hashem. Do you want further guilt on your family’s name?” She will roll in her grave. for heaven’s sake. Mimsy? A detailed letter that takes one from point A to point B? An answer? A solution to the problem? Here we are treading on familiar ground. Why the case has caused such (arguably disproportionate) fanfare. The image brought to mind is of a sevenyear-old boy pushing and prodding his own loose milk tooth until it is both excruciatingly and satisfyingly painful. Mother has told me that still Sunday afternoon jaunts involve visits to Birdhaven..m. but it is. like you. I imagine that books (book chapters) will be written on the subject. I realise.30 a. in whose abdominal cavity? This must sound terribly selfish. the “sympathetic” amongst Bubbles Schroeder’s supporters be appeased if her body were laid properly to rest? Perhaps so. Plain old. to feel it with their own hands.

Who knows what will happen to Birdhaven. Your brother. Sadie contends that Mrs Griffin was jealous of Bubbles’s many benefactors. Maybe some industrious property developer will clear it of forest. an old suitor. Our younger sister Sadie has come up with one. we’ll be adults. tar it for a road. did it. In two days’ time. and greetings to our mutual friends. I find the theory thin and hard to believe. Grandpa off to the side wearing navy swimming trunks. aged five. Bubbles was a charming and excitable personality. the unpredictable drive for pleasure. Bilchik may have wanted Bubbles for himself. the policemen carried away with them a book that they had found in his bedroom – a book of detective stories. Flip to the last page: “1949. better not to think about this in the dark.” “Hymie with Granny Esther next to her luminous bathing box on Muizenberg beach. Yes. These are the same circumstances of Leibman’s alibi.” I hope that Mother makes your favourite marble cake with the icing sugar dusting. Mrs Griffin is said to have often complained about Bubbles’ laziness and her self-indulgence. “But still spring chickens. months. as outrageous as it is. It was to be used as one of the exhibits.” as Mother would put it. There was one occasion where she forced a driver to halt his car so that she could get out and walk. whoever he was. Bubbles’s pretty hostess. . Oscar.Feature who was Miss Schroeder with? My pen bleeds with ink from my shaking hand when I write these words. I shall celebrate the day with a cup of coffee and a textbook in front of the heater. the brevity of the gratification and the ultimate downfall. Mrs Griffin must have been questioned and cleared by the police and.) Sadie proposes that one of Mrs Griffin’s “men” was sent out to collect Bubbles and to get rid of her. You wouldn’t believe the to-ing and fro-ing in my mind. I suspect not. years from now. Whatever transpired on the night of 15 August. Happy birthday to you. Some people seem to have a lot of time to waste. that my heart doesn’t beat faster when the lights go out. Mimsy. Da. Mimsy. tickles to our cats behind their ears. I’m afraid. Meanwhile. Like you. anyway. he asked her what she did for a living and her response was: “Do you mean what I do during the day?” Bubbles’s life was lived in momentum and at the last she failed to keep up with it. as you suggest in your letter). Granny Nora. Mimsy. much to the alarm of the company that she was keeping at the time. a new witness. Pictured here on his mother’s lap. smart and with chen. on the eighteenth. my dear sister. When Polliack introduced Leibman to Bubbles. is the crux of the matter. I think. I suppose that the question on everybody’s lips now is: “Will the case ever be reopened?” Weeks.” And this. but give her a few drinks and she became as defiant and truculent as a baby. and the murderer. most likely true then. But I will be thinking of you. Mimsy (and to me!). A handshake between the accused and their judge. At first I was embarrassed by the stares whenever I walked into a room or blew my nose. better to write to you of it in the daytime. The name of Bubbles Schroeder will carry through the wind and the dust in the air. I am. This cannot be very common practice and the implication is plain to see. Officially. What is the likelihood of Mrs Griffin having got Bubbles killed when she could have just asked her to move out of the flat? Put that to Sadie. pave it for a parking lot or uproot it and build a hospital. Think of the Leibman family album: “Hymie. I want to know. Leibman has said: “I’m used to it now. Polliack may have done all that he could to find the girl. I won’t pretend to you. Max and the extended family. Leibman may not have comprehended the full gravity of the case pitched against him. I study for my exams. may have disposed of the evidence – overcoat. a victim of the human condition (the nature of which is not uncovered by cutting through the flesh. we will turn twenty-one years old.” Could he be the quintessential “nice Jewish boy”? Sweetlooking. at Bobba and Zeida Leibman’s sapphire wedding anniversary in February. “with the best years yet to come. Mimsy. Will a sliver of corroborating evidence either way. she was one of the most perturbed by Bubbles’s disappearance (before they discovered the body). shoes and handbag – very cleverly. Polliack and Bilchik. She has come to represent the high life of the city.” Can you imagine? The stuff nightmares are made of. there have been other instances in which Bubbles has insisted on driving a car while she was drunk. Mimsy. No sufficient case. people want a good story. as everyone else is. (Between. Anything is possible. final proposition: Mrs Griffin.) You are right – Leibman could have been a friend of mine (of ours). Now I take no notice. Mimsy. So you see the paths lead to cul-desacs and the ideas boomerang. forge a new direction? As I’ve written before. Sadie. I read that at the close of court the magistrate himself came down to shake Leibman and Polliack’s hands. But better to not think or write of it at all? I cannot claim for myself any of the higher scruples of consciousness here. I have heard. Hymie with Mom and Pops just after being acquitted. the age of Leibman. My love to Ma. On being recognised and gawked at in public. Able to answer for ourselves and to take account of our actions. I have role-played the fateful night of 15 August many times over: Leibman killed her/Polliack killed her/a stranger killed her.” “Hymie with sixteen-year old Marion Levy on the way to a school dance. (That’s how I came to know of the boys’ release. that when they arrested Leibman in October. suddenly slip into the spotlight? Will they find a missing clue. could the only real answer to the whowordsetc | First Quarter 2010 dunnit be “We will never know?” Mother sent me the newspaper clipping with the photograph of Hymie Leibman and his parents after the final judgement was passed in the Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg. I hope to be there for the wedding in April. the morning of 16 August and the hours leading up to the discovery of Bubbles’s body in the plantation at Birdhaven on 17 August.

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Blood Rose and Daddy’s Girl.” wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . “It’s only recently that people have become interested in the genre.Profile Margie Orford enjoys on the pages of her crime thrillers By Sam Beckbessinger Margie Orford is one the leading crime writers in South Africa. in her books Like Clockwork. “There is a buzz around crime.” she says. Dr Clare Hart. She’s best known for her serial protagonist.

Profile Pictures: Johannes Dreyer wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 .

Daddy’s Girl is also the third novel to feature serial protagonist. and about the dark parts of the human mind. is defined by crime. But the woman behind the story is almost as interesting. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Deon Meyer. about family. In the latest novel. and you’re likely to whizz through it in nine thrilling hours or so. If the past fifteen years of South African literature has been about coming to terms with our past. But over the past few years. to find his missing daughter who has become embroiled in the Cape’s gang wars that her father has made it his mission to fight. South African publishers have seen what began as a trickle turn into a flood of local books. surrounded by a lush garden. then it seems that we are finally starting to come to terms with our present. which is a prequel to the first two. And our present. We are witnessing the re-humanising of our writers: they are remembering about love. a maverick cop. energetic woman with a twist of irony in her smile – about her own novels. Dr Clare Hart – who is an investigative journalist who assists the South African Police Services (SAPS) as an occassional criminal profiler. One writer who seems to be emerging as a major figure on the local scene is Cape Town-based crime writer. Like Clockwork and Blood Rose. It’s a cracking read. Jassie Mackenzie.Profile I Margie Orford sits outside her writing cabin. was suddenly made redundant. Mike Nicol. as we all know. Margie Orford. about greed and sex. I spoke to Orford – who is an eloquent. In that time. Andrew Brown and Richard Kunzmann are just a few of the writers who are making a killing by writing killings. hit the shelves last October. Captain Riedewaan Faizel. South African literature has undergone a crisis in self-definition. Many have said that the first decade after 1994 was a generally sterile period for South African writers. and about the trend of which she is a part. as we sat in bewilderment. Thus it should come as no surprise that some of our highest grossing local writers write about murders. On a recent stormy afternoon in Johannesburg. while she was up launching her latest book. waiting to see whether this new democracy we had given birth to would be living or stillborn. as our writers finally felt free again to write about subjects other than race. Clare must assist her not-yet lover. Daddy’s Girl (Jonathan Ball). at her home in Cape Town t has been fifteen years since the dream of the rainbow nation became a working blueprint. whose third novel. . which had been the only really acceptable form for so long. The protest novel.

sexual. has little to do with the sense of writing within a genre. Coetzee days before receiving a Fulbright scholarship to study at the City University of New York. which leave a reader unable to trust the writer to deliver a plot. You get rid of all the adjectives and you get rid of all the bullshit. for whom crime is a daily. I’m properly educated.” The appeal of writing crime fiction. Some crime writers in South Africa choose to make all of their characters bad.” Orford says that this is the reason that South Africans. “I didn’t set out wanting to write a crime novel. There’s so much to write about that you have to choose a particular vision. at least for her. I just wanted to write about the cities I know.” And in a country such as South Africa. after living in the US. You know how a crime novel will end from the start. You know that whoever did the bad thing in the beginning is going to be brought to book and everything’s going to be explained.. no one’s tried to quantify that loss of desire. When I started out I didn’t think: ‘Ooh. display beautiful experiments in pacing. and then this nice writer comes along and bliksems all the baddies and puts things to right. all-too-real experience. largely driven by the fact that more and more intelligent people are coming out the closet with admissions of their own crime writer addictions (it is still looked upon as an addiction). they’ve got a safe seat. as an increasing number of readers can attest. per se. “I took it very personally that people were trying to kill me. Real life is chaotic: there is no closure. “Writing crime fiction was sort of voodoo thinking.” she says. In reality. “When I started writing. Orford began to write crime fiction after returning to South Africa with her young daughters. Coetzee’s] Disgrace is about rape. Orford says. “I see through Clare Hart. You get rid of so much of the waffle that you find in other South African books. and then suddenly there were more and more.” “I don’t think about writing within a genre. so I should have written literary books. for me – if I wrote the worst. you have to be amoral. crime fiction seems to be a particularly honest way in which to do that. And yet. at book fairs and things. At different times in her novels we are given insight into the minds of the victim. And indeed. the snobs are missing out. The only distinguishing feature about crime fiction is that there is a manilla folder in it. no one had really been writing crime fiction in South Africa except Meyer. somewhere.” Where Orford does praise the archetypal structure of the crime novel is in the possibilities for redemption offered by (most) crime endings. Orford still feels the stigma of writing within a “low-brow genre”. the good writers. “Because there are no rules.” Orford says. They trust this person. Independent.” she says. “You have to suspend what you find right or wrong to go into that place of your character. but it’s not crime fiction because it doesn’t have a folder. there definitely seems to be a buzz around crime. These white memoir stories. It can take a rape victim years of counselling before she can make love again without her body going into a freeze. Think about it: [J. but then where do you place yourself as a reader?” Clare Hart is quite a protagonist. I never. it’s writing up until the end of the age of innocence.M.’ I would have been mad to have thought that. is the serial protagonist. active and fierce. And then my first book came out and there were suddenly a few. What they are doing is writing themselves loose from the blame. Orford says. She is proud of the fact that she has a lot of fans who live in the Cape Flats. are still drawn to crime fiction. I felt like I’d wrung myself out. the murderer and the investigators. Although plenty of crime writer shlock no doubt exists.” she says. Orford finds herself approached by more and more literary writers who are thinking of turning to crime.” These days. shares much of Orford’s background and perspectives. then it couldn’t happen.” Orford believes that people are becoming tired of the linguistic games of postmodern novels. really. there are no borders in things. that will sell. and eliminate the bad. No one’s ever tried to do a calculation of all those lost orgasms. When I finished this book. ever want to read another bloody South African childhood memoir. she has the ability of the journalist (and the writer) to enter the minds of other people..Profile GIVE PLOT A CHANCE ou know. and order. Readers seem to like a serial character because they know that even though the story might be a bumpy ride. “But now. it takes a long time to heal after a trauma. character and pared-down language..” she continues.. “To write well. “She’s like my prosthetic eye. Clare Hart. produce books that are sophisticated in style. So many literatis believe that a plot-driven book must be an inferior book. You explain. such as Orford. whether victim or wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 A . But crime fiction is a comforting genre. “You have to cut the crap – that’s something about good crime writing. “It’s only recenly that people have become interested in the genre. Y A SAFE SEAT FOR A BUMPY RIDE large factor in the reader’s ability to stomach the violence of the crime novel. she received the sort of South African literary education that even the most snobbish of literary buffs couldn’t turn their noses up at: Orford graduated from University of Cape Town’s literature department in the J. and then apartheid happens. I don’t worry too much about whether I’m following the rules of the genre: what I get radically stressed about is not being able to write a book that grips people. But things are changing. You recognise your world. Orford’s serial protagonist. Orford is an expert in multiple points of view. I’m going to write a crime novel.M. But.” Orford smiles. which (along with the manilla folder) is one of the characteristic features of crime fiction. and the book ends.

“I had to position my main character outside. too. Whether it is the marginalisation of the Herero and the impact of the South African army in Namibia or the ghettoisation of Coloured communities in Cape Town under apartheid. able to navigate the country fully. so you really align yourself with them. it is a concern heavily debated by Orford’s contemporaries. people shoot at you. and she describes the first time she ever visited his home city. says Nicol. As a journalist. I wouldn’t be sure how you could write an entirely good guy within the cops. If you’re a cop. a publisher’s scout for Koukla MacLehose. you have to be a social worker. It’s that sense of place that makes a crime novel successful.Profile criminal. She describes both places – having lived significant portions of her life in both – with meticulous attention to detail: not only of the physical places. to Seapoint to Valhalla Park. being in the thick of the action with local police. In Orford’s fiction. she felt she could not cast her protagonist as a police officer: “South Africans have too uncomfortable a relationship with the police. Orford makes it clear that writing about the police force is a way to question the realities of implementing South Africa’s constitutional ideals.” NORTH VERSUS SOUTH t has been said so many times that it has almost become a truism: crime fiction.” he says. is one of the major reasons for the recent surge in crime fiction. a fact that lends her work a great deal of weight). “Being a journalist erases your skin colour. I had to do that.” she says. “Cops. Riedewaan Faizel. in a sense. rigorous on-the-ground research comes naturally to her. because she needs to know things the police wouldn’t. it was important for her that her protagonist have access to the policing system. The ending of apartheid. “The cops. as crime is one of the major defining facts of our reality. Clare is able to navigate from Oranjezicht. who has had personal experience of the darker history of the SAPS – “with its roots as an apartheid police force. or whatever colour you are. The solution came.” she says. describes how this was one of the powerful limitations on crime writing before 1994. The reason for this is that crime fiction. here. She has access to the power and the legitimacy of the police force.” By casting her protagonist as both journalist and police officer. and no one will question her right to be there. Orford’s ambivalence about writing from within the police force is one of the typical things that define South African crime fiction. Her voice becomes hard as she describes how. psychology. The way he describes Edinburgh – that’s exactly how it is.” Pioneering local crime writers. and prior to that as a colonial force” – having been detained at Pollsmoor prison as a student for her involvement in National Union of South African Students. Thus. Because of this. once called it “tourism with a twist and a bite in its tail”. unlike her partner. journalists and ambulance drivers. It’s fascinating.” And recently. but also of the social histories that are written into them.” The irony of this situation is not lost on Orford. “They become very tightly knit to each other. “What interests me about the police is that they work in the most unbelievably high-stress situation. As a journalist. Orford is a great fan of crime writer Ian Rankin. Rebecca Servadio.” Nicol says. history and politics that creates real crime in particular places. one day. “There are only three types of people who can really go anywhere in South Africa.” Orford spent a great deal of time with the SAPS while researching her wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 novel (as a journalist. and then police it to ensure that a very unruly society abides by the rules. “Still. is about setting. “When you go out with the cops. like her protagonist. and stunted its growth. she says. Implement it. One of our most widely read crime writers. one’s sympathies become naturally synchronised. in order to be believable. got around the dilemma by casting her protagonist as an amateur sleuth. such as Jane Drummond in the late 1950s. Edinburgh: “I’d never been to Edinburgh but I’d read all Rankin’s novels. South African crime fiction – like American. the Scottish writer who produced the bestselling Rebus series.” she says. “It was akin to sleeping with the enemy. when I was researching police procedures and was told that police hire experts from outside the force. who is a member of the SAPS’s gang unit.” Nonetheless. Much of Orford’s fiction is concerned with the psychological complexities of being a police officer in South Africa.” Orford says. That gave me the gap I was looking for. Clare Hart is. in his History of Crime Writing in South Africa. You want them to shoot back. Orford argues that it is precisely this parochialism – this unique ability to delve into the social web that creates a place – that allows crime fiction to be so internationally successful. And you know what? I could find my way around the city without a map. Orford says. for one thing. but is not bound by their rules. Orford’s awareness of history pervades her fictionalised I . the cities of Cape Town and Walvis Bay are major characters in their own right. “No self-respecting writer was going to set up with a cop as the main protagonist of a series. British or Scandinavian crime fiction – has begun to develop its own powerful sense of place. This may be more true for South African crime writers than most. structurally. requires it to make sense of the full mix of sociology. are no longer an invading army. On a structural level. where necessary. because these are the people we have charged to implement the rainbow nation on our behalf. your whiteness. Mike Nicol. a counsellor and a soldier. is not important. And they have such complex relationships to the communities they work in. perhaps more than any other genre (apart from travel writing). Orford argues that it is necessary to write the main characters of a crime novel as policemen or as journalists.

You explain. and order.Profile Crime fiction is a comforting genre. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . and then this nice writer comes along and bliksems all the baddies and puts things to right. and eliminate the bad. You recognise your world.

In Jo’burg it takes twenty-five men with machine guns to rob the Spar. “In Cape Town.” It seems to be more than Orford’s journalistic instincts that lead her to seek out the darker. Orford ran a creative writing workshop in Pollsmoor Prison. are similarly obsessed with the darker tendencies of the Mother City. “Cape Town is a city I can navigate easily. Her recent work. particularly Joburgers (who may.’ you just take her down Voortrekker road. for me. a desire to be truly intimate with it: for good or bad. on the other hand. Although Orford’s first novel. to the amused crowd at her a Jo’burg launch of Daddy’s Girl.Profile cities. there was apartheid and it was really unfair and people were treated badly. I had this idea of a pervasive evil in South Africa. What the fuck happens on a farm? I grew up on farms.” she said. which makes it more open to the world.” But crime. is simply an excuse to explore a place: its past. how it shapes people. “The past is geographical. So. Luckily. including Barbara Erasmus. There are just roads and car shops and shopping malls. Like Clockwork. why. Indeed. ‘Well. it’s like it puts them on a particular groove. “You also have the access of the sea. contained in specific bodies. it seems. and overlays it upon concrete literary maps. A dead body or two. Crime fiction. Actually. is a detailed look at the infamous numbers gangs. the most spooky areas in Cape Town. And I find it very interesting how it marks people. has Cape Town proved to be such richer ground for fictional crime? “In Jo’burg you have ‘real’ crime. and get out. in crime novels. When I drive through. Except menopause. thereby vitalising it into an almost physical experience of the abstract through fiction. there’s a scene where Clare drives from the Cape Flats where there are no pavements.. In Daddy’s Girl. If you look at children who’ve experienced violence.” Some of the most shocking scenes in Daddy’s Girl enact this: where Clare and Riedewaan come face-to-face with a criminal underbelly outside of the prisons which functions without fear of retribution.. to this day. A study by the Institute of Security Studies showed that one hundred and fifty thousand people are directly employed by the gangs in Cape Town. a project which produced the harrowing 15 Men published by Jonathan Ball. most South African [literary] fiction is set on a farm. offers great psychology but little sociology. “That’s why I wanted to create crime fiction. You can see where people were moved from here to there. “I go everywhere.” It makes sense that Johannesburg. Many of the country’s top crime writers. But there is more to it than the tired Cape Town versus Jo’burg debate. And the past is right there. in a way. although Jo’burg is commonly felt to be the real wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 crime capital of the country. which roads you cross. Cape Town fiction has typically focused more around psychological. Meyer and Nicol. And. just feel a bit left out). On the other hand... join the numbers gangs. we have ‘psycho’ crime. this seems to have been reflected in the writing of Jo’burg by writers such as Kunzmann and Jassy Mackenzie. Working with them made me realise that the violence was specific. Particularly. the traumas are visible. its people. precisely because setting is so key to the success of a crime writer. she says. after all. You can see the destruction of those communities. It seems to be her passion for the city itself. both deal with “psycho” criminals (sex fiends). You don’t have to write. a city unashamedly powered by the pursuit of wealth. in a recent interview. Some years ago. whether in its early form as the Plaasroman or later experiments in the childhood memoir Orford so loathes.” Orford says. or that the majority of local writers live there. life in prison meant life. does not locate the reader just anywhere. Violence will always be their default. Crime in Jo’burg is like the hair of the ladies in Sandton: big and bling. melds the two. That made it better. her work has also considered the effects of human trafficking. Daddy’s Girl. Orford argues. more violent aspects of Cape Town. I mean.” she says. Orford refuses to allow fear to hold her hostage in her own city. This potent combination is one she labels “psychogeography”. obsessive crimes.” Orford proclaimed. We’re a violent species. But I never could get a handle on Johannesburg. It’s Carmaggedon. it sometimes seems. will produce more financially motivated (and more random) crimes. and she goes from pavings to shrubs to beautiful tree-lined avenues and gardens. it is the most urban of genres.” Although she has seen the darker side of Cape Town more closely than most white women her age. “It’s where you live . Joanne Hichens. But we live in such a violent society. In Daddy’s Girl. the farm setting. The Quarry. nothing happens there. Working with such intimacy with the prisoners. corrupt politicians and the trade in weapons and guns. and her upcoming novel (yet to be written). with impressively perceptive investigations into the emotional effect on their families and a look at the twisted code of honour that bounds them. Orford clearly shows how the line between the gangs in prison and the gangs who run the cities is increasingly permeable. although Orford’s work definitely features a fair amount of bad guys who are in it just for the money – although these characters are often foreigners. describing Cape Town’s traditionally wealthy and conservative districts. This trend seems to intrigue critics. “I went to boarding school there. Orford is not alone in having chosen Cape Town as the home of her protagonist. “Nowadays gangsters go in. she feels her perception of violence changed: “Before working with them. are Claremont and Constantia. indeed. “In the old days. It is important. I get terrified that I’ll stop at a robot and a twinset with pearls will . its politics. it takes one guy with a knife. in places like the Cape Flats.” Orford has a point. In Cape Town. More human.” she says. people have to drive around a lot.

“New York is also a port city. not with her own emotions. where she spent much of her youth. One of those pathologists. that’s where this man’s stress goes.” Clare Hart is such a refreshing heroine precisely for this reason. with no bullshit. Ironically.. I spent a lot of time at the morgue.. once I’ve written a book. “Most people are kind in South Africa. “My novels are about finding these hinges and going through. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS lthough her books set out to lift the hinges and penetrate the darker sides of her cities. Details like that – they’re little gifts of insight people give you. wryly. “When I’m writing.. when they’re not trying to kill you. like the display of torture. Personally. “The genre is very masculine. she’s organised and she locks away a lot. I stress about whether it will sell. I guess I’m slowly working my way through the cities I’ve lived in and scattering bodies in them. she’d done lots of autopsies of little girls. and my hair will go blue. And yet. “It doesn’t really matter what you think. I now officially tell fibs for a living. And I thought. He had bitten them right down to the quick. It’s about doing. because now I’ve sold books and have the money to write more. She is concerned with action. a technique that she uses to great effect in all of her writing. “There’s a hinge between this beautiful. Margie. having been translated into twelve languages. “I once met a cop at the ballistics unit. it may be that Cape Town’s seductive beauty lies at the heart of its appeal to crime writers.Profile just clamp onto me. Contrast and oppositionality lie at the core of the genre’s rules: whether between good and evil. Then. I stress that the whole edifice of publishers and booksellers. I think that’s good.” Orford asserts. that’s the weird thing. When asked if she has any advice for budding crime writers in South Africa.. A .” Orford is highly aware of her moral choices as a writer. They’re the same age. and all that. “That’s a big moral question I faced with Daddy’s Girl. It’s so much a part of our visual aesthetic. but it’s too much on the borderline of what’s exploitative. it’s often terrible: unfinished. he just shouted at everyone. I lived in Amsterdam for a while.” But then she smiles.” With her three novels selling well in nine countries. The creative thing is so fragile and irrational and I’m a highly rational. In this tranquil setting Margie brews her demons. so I’ve seen far too many pictures of little dead people. she is characteristically blunt: “When people show me the stuff they’ve written. The thing with crime novels is that you should have no interior monologue. in the end. built by her husband. and this little boy who was kicked to death in his stomach – he was the same age as her son.” she says. you just have to produce the goods. is currently in development. strong and weak. We all. She escapes the mayhem of family life into a “Room of her Own”: a wooden cabin. South Africans are the nicest people out there. Usually.” she smiles. by a desire to tell the stories of our damaged. a traumatised recluse who is paralysed by her emotional pain.” At some stage. it is unlikely that Orford’s publishers are going to starve any time soon. someone told me that his daughter had been targeted by gangsters.” Clare has a twin sister. I’m obsessed with the technicalities of it. And that’s the only thing you need to show about that man. her husband and three daughters have settled in Cape Town. How character tension is created. Although she has called many cities on three continents her home. and I see strong similarities between it and Cape Town. too. for her.. This story was about missing girls. actually.” Orford said in an interview late last year with local crime fiction patron. He was the model for one of my characters. in the midst of a lush garden. I had to convey the terror that the child feels. He was this shouting maniac. It’s a very visual genre: you have to show pictures. Orford plans to write a Clare Hart thriller set in New York – another city she once called home. coherent person. on some level. “During my research process. first ideas handed in as a complete story. The way that his stress manifested on his body was in his nails. he smoked and smoked. But then. hopeful nation. One debate among the local crime fiction community that she has particpated in vociferously is the question of when fictionalised violence against women and children can cross a line into pornography. He was so tense. too.” she smirks. rough. Margie Orford plans to write eight books in the Clare Hart series. And there’s a bit of Amsterdam in [her work in progress] The Quarry. I guess. they’re all going to starve to death because I haven’t written my book . the most emotional thing she ever did was tuck her hair – gently – behind her ears. She was the most contained. Orford says that she is very much like this.” Her solution was to locate the violence in small physical details. A movie of her second novel. work harder. But I suppose I should be careful what I wish for. perfect tourist world and this underbelly of Cape Town which will really provide you with anything you want. Clinton van Rensburg. a large part of Cape Town’s appeal as a setting for crime fiction lies in the juxtapositions it offers.” she says. Jenny Crwys-Williams from 702 Talk Radio. ordered person. and now she was a tik addict. “You know. “How do you write about violence towards a child without participating in the spectacle of that violence? It’s pornographic. Orford’s vision of humankind is ultimately a positive one. or – often – man and woman. “That was my way of splitting off what is usually very annoying about female characters. what I say to people is.. Blood Rose. Clare is busy. and it becomes obvious that this woman who walks the line between violence and redemption is motivated. Orford claims that.” she grins.

you saw yourself. I fainted.Profile Crime is a fantasy genre By Eva Hunter “I’ve interviewed many victims and tried to understand how they endure violence. I was an investigative journalist and so I investigated all sorts of things: sex trade.” In our recent telephone conversation you said that. A watershed. It was this miners’ school and my grandparents had a school on their farm so by some strange wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 I did. this constant assault on my personal space and the fear that you’re going to be attacked. We were strip-searched when we went it. rape. Where did you grow up and go to school? Well. I got detained in 1985. They didn’t hit us or anything but I remember taking off my clothes. I was running away from the policemen and I fainted. police. so I’d come back and forth to South Africa but I’d lived away for a very long time. A massive shock because you had to be a young lady? When I came back here after leaving in 1988 – I’d gone to London. which was very frightening. as it was then. through your writing. and a state of emergency was extended from the PWV. because we were the wild Africans. had a baby and then come back to live in Namibia. Which was a massive shock. moving to Namibia in 1972. with a purple stamp. by accident. returning to SA after some while away in New York and Namibia. The crime was so bad. And then I was at university here. the things that besieged me. And partly that was to try to order that amorphous fear and to understand what it was and what had happened since I had left. of my life. I was born in London. the girls from Namibia and Zambia and Zimbabweabout-to-be and Botswana had elocution and deportment lessons. rape statistics so high. as claiming a space in a misogynistic society. When I first came back here I had this overwhelming sense of wondering why people were trying to kill me. to the Cape. as a boarder. Then I went to school in Namibia until 1979 and then I came down here. I started school in Klerksdorp. and I’ve got three daughters. . But I also did want to come and live here. in Pollsmoor. like a piece of meat in a supermarket. I was studying for my English exams. I believe you wrote your final university exams in SA in prison. A whole lot of people got detained. at Herschel. human trafficking. and then we lived all over. I took this very personally. murder statistic. For me that prison experience was the before. how they put their life back together afterwards. I had been involved in National Union of South African Students and the Women’s Movement but not in anything more than student politics. and taking off everything and I felt like my whole body turned to a piece of meat. Could you expand on this? Klerksdorpian logic we must be communists. to South African parents. and bangles. had another two children there and then went off to the States. I found it unbearable being incarcerated. and then the after.

You said prison was the before and after for you – in relation to what? So as to deal with the experience: while you’re there you have to absolutely coalesce what is the centre of yourself. While the whole dynamic was that of the threat of male power. like turning sand into glass. for instance. about rape. “Why do you do this?” as though I’d been unfaithful. But then I was put in a communal cell. help them to cope with the psychological burden of violence in the country? Do you get much feedback? Twenty. For instance. which was better for me because I could maintain myself. If you want to understand something. You completely lost all control over your simplest bodily functions. malfunctioning. They have been the shock troops of the “rainbow” nation. have been a journalist and I write nonfiction as well. so that pattern is ingrained into me. my ability to teach and write. Then we got interrogated at night. I get a lot of e-mails from people who are completely outside of my social milieu. Yes. did you work with the police. but more interesting to me is the alchemical moment wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . twenty-one. I reply. They were all political detainees. that some of you were saying: “They expect us not to want to earn money. people saying they like the way I write about the police because it helps them understand the stress that they are under. or entertaining are not going to be worthwhile. visit police stations? Well. anything I ate I threw up. there’s more fun. but where is that strip club that you write about in Like Clockwork? So I had to write back to him and say it’s all in my mind. or gripping. Could you comment on this? I had a sense. or how an interview is conducted. Usually. dislocated. the exertion of power. I love the science. Yes. and the use of sexual power. I used to make documentary films. and this is why South Africans are buying South African books: there’s more pleasure. And I’ve had some very moving e-mails about what I’ve written. It informed a lot of what I think about. I found that unbearable. this guy would say to me. but it was just my own reaction to the lack of privacy. That’s the novelist’s material often. no doors on the toilets . which is what I’ve done with the prison writing. Could you say something about the extent of the research you have conducted for these two novels. not to care about earning a living. say. There is that idea of worthiness and that South African writers had to be cultural workers. when we are protecting you from all these black men. A comment I often get is: is it true what you write about? Have you seen these things? They’re fascinated by this view of. You can afford time to do things for free. The security policemen would wake us up and question us one by one in that classic technique – the dynamic was very sexual – one niceish man questioning you and the other one in your body space so that you can feel the heat of another person’s body and pretending that they’re not there. again and again and again.” I get a lot of feedback. they want to understand. as if my soul had become dislocated from my body.. It was a good feeling for me to be able to reciprocate with my skill. We have such a violent. the forensics. if you earn money. or worthy writers. I will go into all of that and I do spend quite a bit of time with the police.. with about eighteen others. That stayed with me. that’s what it was. Do any of your readers write to you confirming that your work does. They thought I’d gone on hunger strike and I hadn’t. Then I was in solitary confinement.. I do a lot of very meticulous research. how human beings coalesce around the things they have to do. I have my website and. I suspect that in South Africa this mystique has also asked them to be serious. about helping people to understand what happens or about writing about it in a way that doesn’t make it shameful for the survivor. My body felt so . I think that it’s been important in South Africa to surmount that distinction. [They think] that things that are worthwhile reading are not going to be fun and that things that are fun to read. of police work. great characters. then you have money to be worthy with.Profile It was almost a kind of rape? I think that people seemed surprised that someone who writes something that people would enjoy reading might be interested in understanding how the society works. But they want to be shown them. It turned me completely dead. Writers tend to be surrounded by a certain mystique that is assigned to them by the reading public. I think with popular fiction.. You had a lot of people writing who came out of academia or the left who didn’t make a lot of money out of it. I just had to form myself as a counter to this threat. or an autopsy. at the recent discussion on mass fiction at the Cape Town Book Fair. they don’t want to be told. for me. A weird thing. to some extent. as you grow older it coalesces over time. And not just the mechanics but how people do the jobs that they do. A lot of South African writing wants to tell you. so it’s not my cousin’s mother writing to me. blah-blah. you have to find out exactly how it works. the ballistics. how the police work or what happens to people. drug-ridden society. I often think that people want you to open doors for them. I did get an hilarious e-mail from a young guy who said: great book. If it’s guns. I couldn’t eat. And you were how old? Exactly. I found that unbearable. I think most people are flabbergasted that you earn money out of writing fiction. And I’ve had quite a few about the police. unless it’s freaky. Sometimes a very traumatic experience can mean extreme heat put onto something. it’s sort of armed social work that they have to do. or DNA. I couldn’t feel anything on the surface of my skin [runs her finger over her skin].

And that’s often. I still write for magazines and the press. How a policeman. many victims and tried to understand how they endure violence. you’ve got cops coming and needing to do their stuff.za I or Fax: 0860 510 5716 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . I have a strong. she made such an impression on me. individual capacity. Do you agree with this? own personal. say. Mike looks at crime fiction more as a genre. a crime happens. the state has lost that moral domain. but the police are the ones who do try to soldier on with that ethical spirit of doing right. She’d finally also made contact with her thirteen-year-old daughter whom she thought she’d lost. non-fiction and school text books. and part of that is seeing how people survive. I feel very much that the solution to injustice. which won an award. and in some crime fiction. and then to capture that – do you know Guy Tillim’s photographs? He always takes photographs of something that’s happening just away from the main hoo-ha. I do. The turning point was . quite simple sense of justice. This interview was conducted on 27 June 2008.. for me. The emotional truth. and you’ve got the victim. And I’ve interviewed many. you want this point of restoration at the end. Because I’m now a writer. otherwise it’s very lifeless. you’ve got this immediate drama. and that morning she’d got her HIV status. We’ve got Jackie Selebi. where you find access to the drama. Dr Hunter is a research fellow at the English Department. but I thought that I could not tell the truth about this woman unless I wrote fiction. as well as an author of children’s fiction. either through revenge or solving the crime. I wrote down all the facts and included them in a story that I did for Marie Claire. this is not always achieved. what do you believe you gain through using fiction instead? Yes..co. Michael Connelly told me that his segue from journalism into crime fiction was interviewing a cop who was completely calm and then this man put his glasses down and he saw that on the one side he’d bitten almost completely through his glasses. Crime is a fantasy genre. One particular women features in Like Clockwork. You have to spend time with those little details. just on the periphery. University of the Western Cape. she told me the whole story about how she’d got here: that where she came from had imploded. order is restored. she’d been trafficked. Why have you chosen not to pursue your research into. Mike Nicol said at the recent book fair that he felt that South Africans in particular had a need for their crime fiction to bring closure. and there’s a lot of corruption within the police. I was interviewing a whole lot of woman who had been trafficked into South Africa from the Democratic Republic of Congo. how they put their life back together afterwards. whereas in real life.Profile when you have – say. for instance. you’ve got people yelling and shouting. copes with a stressful situation. Her whole story was so melodramatic. for me it was more as a means to write about this society that I live in now and to deal with a sense of justice and how things should be resolved. she’d been held as a sex slave in Gugulethu. you’ve got an ambulance. She was negative and she just radiated this light of survival. But only recently have you turned to adult fiction. I can write factual stories in a very personal and intimate voice that is completely factual but emotionally can catch people. violence against women through journalism. I believe that people should be punished for doing harmful things and that good people should have space in the world to take their dogs for a walk or send their children down the road. correctly. You’ve been an award-winning journalist. So. for me. And the cops do that as well. and that people who do survive deal with it in their In journalism you tell the facts. and in fiction you can tell the truth. ISSUES AND STAND A CHANCE TO WIN ONE OF THREE HAMPERS! SUBSCRIBE TO WORDSETC FOR ONLY R170 FOR FOUR TO SUBSCRIBE DEPOSIT R170 INTO OUR ACCOUNT: Wordsetc I Bank: Nedbank I Branch: Cresta I Account no: 191 340 2002 I Branch no:191 30592 SEND PROOF OF PAYMENT WITH YOUR PARTICULARS TO: Wordsetc I P O Box 2729 I Saxonwold I 2132 I or E-mail: subscriptions@wordsetc. who’s a criminal allegedly.

Fiction Illustration: Leigh-Anne Niehaus Burning spaces between the living you leave behind By Megan Voysey-Braig wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 .

the chunks of concrete falling from the lintels above the doors. but as he spoke he rolled the dead man back onto his stomach. We nodded to ourselves. “Ha. we had all agreed. I had loosened my tie. as if he had drawn that single bead of sweat from the scared desolate pits of his being.” I looked at Aunt Agnes with alarm in my eyes. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 A The woman took back her bag. Her eyes looked like hollowed out versions of what they had been. I spotted Aunt Agnes before the train came to a halt at my station. to retreat into nothingness. She greeted me with her usual distant manner. My stomach turned. which burned my already parched throat even more. even in this heat. the one where we had all heard the screaming. she had dressed up. always mindful that it was better to agree with whatever Aunt Agnes said. I watched a bead of sweat form on a man’s lip. grateful for the breeze that lifted the foul dank air. the floors that seemed to be shifting. kicked him a little with his boot. I want to spit in it!” The policeman obliged. I can build a better shack. Aunt Agnes had called me a week earlier. but stayed seated. No one flinched when the shots rang out. watched other commuters do the same with whatever they had. one two three. The waiting was too. and if they had nothing. making sure he was dead. questions. She led me to a little corrugated iron shack she had built on her property. All of us sitting in this carriage. “I keep her here you see. accusations. She waved to me as I stepped off the train. you make yourself look nice now!” “Aunt. Well none of us cared really. hawked and spat. as if she is going to church. with a woman’s handbag. if I let her out.m. touching my hand briefly. but the look in my eyes didn’t seem to have any impact on her. He wiped it away with his sleeve.” Aunt Agnes took a key from a hook screwed into the crumbling-down walls. When we arrived she showed me the cracks in the wall where the wind came in. “That sister of yours. this cockroach. Xolile!” I nodded my head. our fingers shaking a little like we had palsy. but we agreed and when the train began to move again. Others whispered a little. A swell of fetid air escaped from the shack and found its way into my nostrils. “Come. Aunt Agnes and my sister lived in an RDP house that was falling down already. She walked back onto the carriage. the walls that didn’t join up properly. In stockings and hat. “Ha. a piece of tissue. burning up in the carriage that now resembled an oven. saying. It said 2 p. The woman reached deep down into her guts. looked at his fingernails. he had jumped from the carriage. The sound of screaming from another carriage. the casual policeman in our carriage scratched his face. as if they were trying desperately not to see. “We have tea. a small distance from her pink painted house with the blue roof. they used their hands. Then loud shots rang out. sitting idle on the tracks for two hours and no one had informed us or told us why. Sweat trickled from my forehead. I reeled and struggled to find my balance. cooking in our seats. Aunt Agnes always dresses up when she leaves the house. eyes turned up to the blue sky. A man running now across the tracks. I gasped for breath. No one had yet thought to cover him. what is going on . it looked like fear. a magazine. she’s gone mad! My niece is making me old. he was a thief wasn’t he? A cockroach. “She be a stinky one dis girl. on display. some people cheered. I could hear her laughing. someone blew his nose. bringing our hands to our faces. please. she too much trouble otherwise. The policeman spoke into his two-way radio. rolled the lifeless body over. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. unlocking the heavy lock on the wooden door. I would know how to fix anything. The dead man had started to attract flies in the heat. I was running late. we all breathed out a sigh of relief. I want to see him. hot metal disc burning a red ring. show me his face. a dog-eared book. A woman ran out from the carriage onto the tracks asking for her handbag which the policeman was holding casually in his hand. sinking deeply into her face. I don’t know what to do any more!” Aunt Agnes thought that because I had been to university I would know what to do. His foot on the dead man’s leg. shifted in their seats. I looked at my wrist watch. scratched around in it like a chicken in the dirt making sure all of her possessions were still there. dry retched. Settling on his nostrils and in the cracks of his lips. fanned myself with a newspaper. We were all hot. The train had already been delayed. She went on regardless. as if she went grey and wrinkled overnight. the man fell. others struggled to get windows open. the sound of a struggle. No one got up. like the woman had said. the loose windows in warped frames. Your brother be here. that I would have to pay an entrance fee to see her or talk to her. and she did look older. others turned to the next page of their newspapers. I drank my tea. The heat was unbearable. then I show you that sister of yours!” She spoke as if my sister was somewhere else.Fiction unt Agnes would be waiting for me at the train station.

and it is too much trouble you see and his back is not what it used to be. Harvey Tyson. said of the book: “When I first read some of Nick’s short stories they reminded me a bit of O. saying that sister of mine had cost her money and what was I going do about it. he drove thousands of kilometres of dirt tracks. I don’t care any more. For more information visit: www. She smiled at me and said.Fiction here. But the owner has packed it on the top shelf. the kind you find in second hand shops in town. “You finished. She looked at me as if I was lying. My sister was sitting on the edge of a ragged looking bed. Her eyes looked like hollowed out versions of what they had been. put her arms around it. You think you might venture to ask him for it. beat her with that stick too.Henry’s writings of the late 1800s.” Aunt Agnes moved to lock the door again but I wrestled the key from her hand. “People-watching in the Karoo is a fascinating business.” Veteran journalist and author. now what are you doing?” “I will call the police on you. as if I made no impact on her at all. she beats me every time I want to show her. above all the other old things creaking and sagging on the shelves. gathering dust. this short anthologyis enthralling and entertaining. it would. Xolile? She don’t speak much. But many of his trademark ‘twist in the tale’ stories reflect only the vaguest of truths and rely solely on his own off-beat imagination to entertain the reader. the stench of human faeces and urine was enough to make me want to run. Out again into the bright sunlight and my eyes had to adjust from the darkness of the shack.” says Yell. I just found it. Her voice came out dry and whittled. not wanting it to come to any harm. for locking her up!” “You make me laugh.” Containing 13 short stories as well as evocative black and white photographs. I can’t have people talking. lose themselves. You would take it with you on your travels and wonder about its history. though I didn’t want to. after spitting at my feet.za wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . I say come out girl and she stay inside like a dog. From a stick I assumed. sinking deeply into her face. Aunt. The kind of suitcase you want. he assures you. ignorance. You walk away. sometimes she likes it there. looking at the suitcase.” Yes I had noticed those crude beat marks on my sister’s legs. hoping. I asked her where she got the suitcase from. but also the other embattled city souls and so-called ‘free-spirits’ that go there to try and find. what have you done to my sister?” “Don’t ask me. my hands. to retreat further and further into nothingness. punch her. it would disturb everything else he had taken so long to pack in a neat orderly fashion. honest. are you mad!” I wanted to put my hands around her neck and squeeze. or. a state of numb bliss. I would fix things. I could be on that train for the rest of my life if it meant not having to enter this place.springbokpress. I would help. she done it to herself!” I went inside. hurt her for doing this to my sister. It took all of my will power to not run out of there and ram my aunt up against a wall. like the woman had on the cockroach. I went in search of a bucket and water. and if he moved that case. praying that she was still able to speak. thinking “distinguished” was a silly dream anyway. she hates me to talk about the suitcase and what is in it. “What are you doing here with her. she made a motion to protect it. she was dressed in a soiled white summer dress that looked like it had not been washed in months. people say she is witch. “So what evil do you think is in that girl? I beat her but it stays inside of her. chewing nervously on her nails. I never stole it. “I found it abandoned in a field. kick her with my feet. converse. dis is why she stay here. She was rocking herself back and forth. But Nick has his own subtle style and his stories are usually laden with unique layers of innuendo and meaning which are often revealed only when you reach the ending. My sister saw me from her hollow eyes. but he tells you he would need a ladder. Aunt Agnes had always liked a stick. tasted blood. Entertaining Stories Short stories were Nicholas Yell’s way of recording his impressions of the quirky characters he met when he first moved to the Karoo. more often. eccentric. all come crashing down if he were to move it. probably further up if I was allowed to look. There was an old battered leather suitcase next her on the bed. “And now. you stuck with her now!” Aunt Agnes walked away. I had a bar of soap in my suitcase which I managed to retrieve from the prying eyes and hands of my aunt. who was looking for a little cash in the side pockets. as you think it looks distinguished.co. “Not only those whose hand-tomouth existence makes for poignant observations. always in search of a story and characters which he could later weave into his fictionalized accounts. I ground down hard on my teeth.” I told my sister that I would be back. as if they were trying desperately not to see. While living in Aberdeen in a lovingly restored ‘platdak Karoo-huis’.

someone’s brother. Think about the loss. that the contents was new to her every time. that they might cry. took to rocking herself again. I felt an excruciating agony tear into my back. The surrounding cracked earth drank up the water. She sat on the edge of her bed. It had become too hot and uncomfortable outside. I lit a cigarette and watched the smoke curl lethargically through my fingers. I kept on running. “What is in that suitcase of yours?” “I show you. She took the soap from my hands. It made me feel dizzy. because I never stopped crying. almost embarrassed look on her face. too tired to even breath it in. It’s when Aunt Agnes started to lock me up in here. screaming at me. tears streaming down my face and I could hardly see where I was going. the stolen lives. but I kept running and running. Zanele?” “Can’t you see?” I took a closer look. and then another and another and I fell to the ground. as if it was all normal. absorbed it as if it was familiar. one with horizontal red and yellow stripes on it. I thought if it was gone my sister’s bloodshot eyes would return to how I remember them. She held the bucket in her thin arms. “I read them all every night. The air smelled marginally better. minding not to look threatening or menacing. I got up to help her. as if she had suddenly become aware of the stench she carried around with her. they asked me to leave them alone. about blindness and the pain in her eyes. Threw its contents out onto a struggling bush. telling her it would make her feel better. . carefully unclasping the rusted metal catches. the stench she lived in. I went to the streets in the beginning. but she would feel better wouldn’t she. perhaps burying her excrement in the sand that passed for a floor. I would hold it up then. if she didn’t read the newspapers? She was behind me. Looking away again. She lifted the lid and a strong smell of newspaper filled the surrounding air. she had cleaned up a little. Still they shook their heads. I would stop anyone. All shook their heads. from the side of my eyes. as if she hadn’t opened it a thousand times already. all the dreams. She had saved all the newspaper clippings that told of the victims of crime. more gun shots. to go away. I sat down next to her. did they recognise this person. bury it. saying something had possessed me. someone’s father. stretched my hand out to the suitcase but she screamed at me as if I had hurt her or would hurt her. wait here.Fiction I brought the bucket and the water and the soap to my sister.” She disappeared into the arranged hanging darkness again and I heard her struggling with the effort of picking up that battered suitcase that looked as if it would fall apart as soon as you touched it. I jumped back in fright. keeping them in this suitcase. stretched my hand out to the suitcase but she screamed at me as if I had hurt her. that I meant no harm to her. tried to tell her it wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 was OK above all the blood-curdling noise that she was making. “See. She beats me for it all the time. apologised. My sister went on about forgetting the sun. glancing. and walked outside with it on her stick thin legs. someone’s child.” I wanted to take that suitcase away from her. I sat on the ground outside her shack that she had made home for God knows how long. She had found a clean dress. as if she hadn’t just been screaming herself hoarse. I wonder about the families and the friends the murdered left behind. Think about the dreams. asked me to leave. someone’s lover. I had no idea where I would leave it. the pain was so great it brought me to my knees. to stop bothering them. My blood seeped out of me. I got up to help her. Saying a lot of it was lies anyway. She looked at me with a resigned. scattering the place where I fell with its contents.” She snapped the lid shut again. doors slamming. ask them if they knew who this was. someone’s husband. resting and warming her back against her shack. the water brown and scummy with dirt. shrivelling in the sun. maybe thinking that their hearts would break. Got up and dragged it back inside. trying not to touch anything. saving them. She looked at it a while before opening it. bursting open as it hit the ground. taking some of the dead with me. Meticulously cutting them out.” “What. absorbed it as if it was good and familiar. press the papers to their chests first and they would push me away. as if she was preparing herself once more. someone’s friend I said. but still it was nice to sit here with me. it isn’t like that. I tried to press the paper to their chests again. to wait outside. I gave her hardly any time to react and I was out onto the streets running with the suitcase in my arms. She sat down with it. I watched the paper absorb my blood as the day dimmed around me. “I collect them. isn’t that bad. Hours seemed to have passed before she eventually called me back in again. Xolile. Making me feel like I was mad for feeling how loss must feel. the suitcase slipping from my hands. my heart exploding. telling me to give her suitcase back to her. I was quick. I listened to the sound of cars starting up. or without leaning in. I followed her. Someone’s spouse I said. feeling my chest burn. She stopped screaming and went back to the business of lugging the suitcase outside.

.

Cornwell also has direct in programmes such as CSI. suspects that the parcel is from a deranged psychiatric patient of his. Benton. the background symphony of chords does pull together nicely to reveal an international picture where the real baddies of organised crime are playing and we learn that something altogether more sinister bonds the bomb. but cannot say anything as he is also on a no-chatting-about-work moratorium. So much so that. each with a fascinating understanding of their job. hard. In this story it is Benton’s dark past that the plot reveals. It’s a book best avoided if you don’t like details. when he finally dies. crumpled and not in the least bit interesting. you really want to push him off the bridge. a dead jogger and a disgusting celebrity who has a special fascination with morgues. Patricia Cornwell has been under such scrutiny and had. Scarpetta returns to her apartment and receives a parcel that could be a bomb. but if you’ve noticed that the plots on CSI are spurious and can make a plan for a new reading position to support the hefty volume then the false notes don’t matter. There is also much missed fodder in his patients – from the suspected prankster Dodie who claims witchstatus and voodoo powers to the international crime familia – Benton’s reactions to these characters are underplayed and one-dimensional. There is more strength in the writing of the favourites: Marino is back even though he tried to rape Scarpetta while under the influence of drugs (believe it). After appearing on a show and being harassed about cases that she cannot discuss. Jaime Berger – and there are a host of new specialists in the various crimerelated fields. what buttons you need to push on a BlackBerry to access data). a missing millionairess. anyone under the age of forty will have to skim over some of the technological details (how a video streams online. Scarpetta’s ex-FBI forensic psychologist husband. this edition falls really flat when it comes to juicy violence and decomposing bodies. failed Dr Kay Scarpetta in her last few books.Book Reviews Only when in a desert Manuscript was still raw Get it Must be on your bookshelf Get more than one copy Great reads A browse through some of the latest local and international releases Title: Scarpetta Factor Author: Patricia Cormwell Publisher: Putnam Adult Genre: Crime thriller No one likes being disappointed by a favourite character and writers of series are under serious pressure when releasing a new title. unfortunately. is a freelance copywriter. almost all of her women are masculinised and tough (and only vulnerable with their significant other). The means of intimidation are lightweight and even the final murder scenes lack a realistic description. gore and international intrigue. Make no mistake. Cornwell also gives us a major villain who is old. Despite Cornwell’s reputation for stomach-churning details. in a medium that champions the lack of details and unfeasible coincidences that scriptwriters employ to keep a plot pacy and concluded in the allotted time (forty-eight minutes). instead of giving up. . I changed my reading position for the four-day long bonanza of crime. her writing of men may be bland. Lucy is keeping her own secret while becoming even more paranoid and suspicious of her lover – Chief of Sex Crimes. published author and sometime journalist. Her second novel Things I Thought I Knew will be out in 2011. Cornwell sends Scarpetta to a trashy CNN show where the doc hopes she can sort out of some of the public’s misconceptions about forensics (one being that DNA is the golden nugget that solves all crimes) while also tempering the media hype that accompanies new homicides in New York. Benton is bristling with fury about the reappearance of Marino while still struggling with his unfair dismissal from the FBI. but Benton’s wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 character is rendered aloof – a pity because aloofness is a complex (and annoying) trait and Cornwell does not sufficiently develop the impenetrable surface that Benton presents us with. this book is so heavy that one gets wrist fatigue but. While Cornwell does not sufficiently return to the title and the interesting premise she sets up with the media’s involvement.

making the title’s double meaning all the more poignant. and just as barely believable. Of course. this is a story about people in untenable situations making a plan. He’d just heard that a white farmer (from the same region as his parents) had been murdered. I read half of it in a single sitting. Rogers’s parents don’t particularly want to escape. Rogers seems to realise that is a path trodden bare already and that his skills are better applied to the specific than the general. they ran a highly successful backpackers’ and game lodge. Rather than being sentimental. Memoirs like The Last Resort not only make me think I might be missing out. and shares the deeply personal without being self-indulgent. his mother’s hysteria seems to suggest his fears might be justified – until he realises her distress is due to the poor performance of the local cricket team rather than fear and despair. despite the fact that he. The rest of the book follows suit: almost every tragedy is offset by humour. Moreover. This is not only a well-told story but also an enormously humbling and inspiring one. friends and those who cross their path over the decade or so that the book covers. unlike them. but remind me that creative non-fiction is often as entertaining. the arts and travel. Rogers sets the tone perfectly in the opening chapter when he recalls telephoning his parents in Zimbabwe from a friend’s birthday party in Berlin. and had called home fearing the worst. be it via the increasing absurdity of life in an imploding country and the bizarre circumstances it forces on people – an albino frog that takes up residence in his parents’ kitchen – or the fact that Rogers is frequently more alarmed about events than his parents are. TO SUBSCRIBE deposit R170 into our account: Wordsetc Bank: Nedbank I Branch: Cresta Account no: 191 340 2002 Branch no: 191 30592 SEND PROOF OF PAYMENT with your particulars to: Wordsetc I P O Box 2729 Saxonwold I 2132 I or E-mail: subscriptions@wordsetc. Subscribe TO WORDSETC FOR ONLY R170 FOR FOUR ISSUES And stand a chance to win a copy of Emma Chen’s Emperor Can Wait. always has an escape plan. concerned it would be over all too soon. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds. their lifestyle and their land until the very end.Book Reviews Title: The Last Resort Author: Douglas Rogers Publisher: Jonathan Ball Genre: Memoir Until recently. While the last of these might seem unlikely in a memoir. sometimes it’s even more fantastic. Three copies available. like many of their neighbours.co. is a writer and photographer for various publications specialising in new media. and then rationed myself for the remainder. At first. The more literal influence is the fact that. he simply focuses on the comedies instead – like his father growing pot instead of crops and the lodge becoming a brothel in lieu of backpackers. prior to the land reforms. Rogers doesn’t ignore the tragedies. increasing pressure on all sides and perpetually dwindling signs of hope. Rogers’s success with his tale lies in the fact that he is wry without being flippant. empathetic without being glib. Rogers’s parents cling to their lives. it’s hilarious. While it is impossible to divorce a book about Zimbabwe from the politics that led to its decline. the focus for the bulk of The Last Resort is on the Rogers family: staff. I was reluctant to read anything other than fiction – instruction manuals and newspapers aside. enlightening and uplifting as the finest fiction.za or Fax: 0860 510 5716 . Ultimately.

Credit must be given. and we learn that it is the third in a pattern not yet allowed to be termed “serial killing”. Peregrine. taciturn. recently deceased. á la Agatha Christie. not a show man. though. It may seem a frail defence against the horrors of the world but we must hold fast and believe in it. For example. in a fit of jealousy) and may have killed again. George Chandler-Powell. Agatha Christie or even Patricia Cornwell. is an editor and poet living and working in Durban. Title: Nairobi Heat Author: Mukoma wa Ngugi Publisher: Penguin Genre: Crime thriller This brilliant and fast-paced novel is centred around a young and beautiful white woman who is found murdered on the porch of a Rwandan professor who teaches genocide and testimony at an American university in Maple Bluff in Madison. a private clinic for cosmetic surgery in Dorset. But she is a capable writer. a hero who risked his life to save the innocent during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. who went there to have a facial scar removed. The story opens with a double homicide. very witty. just like Goldilocks. and has higher aspirations than just being a slick “airport bookshop” thriller. marries Emma. It is as if the author has transposed the ghost of British detective novels onto a modern template. The list of suspects is intriguing and James takes care to explain the possible motives and backgrounds of each character in a plausible way.  African-American detective Ishmael Fofona knows immediately that it will be the news event of the year. live and work at the Manor too. and quite idealistic musings of a marginal character: “The world is a beautiful and terrible place. recalcitrant. which adds depth and darkness to the tale. the author’s surprisingly appropriate surname – we have expectations of this book as readers. and a clever one. after the murderer is revealed. I am not a fan of slasher-movies.” This was my first encounter with Commander Adam Dalgliesh. we are very intimately introduced to these victims and are as shocked as the police at the scene after their murder. The reader is left on tenterhooks (I could not put this book down. for it is all that we have. Then there is Sharon Bateman. I imagined him to be somewhat like BBC’s Inspector Morse. leaves a contested will. to James for tracking the protagonists. who sees her as a substitute for the mother he never had but who also may have an interest in money Gradwyn has left for him in a will. journalist. who has killed before (her sister.Book Reviews Title: The Private Patient Author: PD James Publisher: Random House Genre: Crime thriller The Private Patient by PD James is written in a formal. Tania Carver is not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. which is particularly gruesome. This takes the story forward in a way that is new to the detective novel genre. horror or B-grade schlock anything unless it’s very. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Title: The Surrogate Author: Tania Carver Publisher: Sphere Genre: Crime thriller This book is exactly what it promises. the novel’s end paragraph contains the spiritual. and read it in a night). it’s perfect for chilling you down on a hot day on the beach. keeping the best of the old world and setting a strong direction for the future. I was disappointed. and they are met. This is a well thoughtout book that could have been written early in the last century. I had extremely low expectations. and I was pleasantly surprised. the lover. . who owns the manor and is not above suspicion. caught up in the drama at the manor. The victim is Rhoda Gradwyn. The prime suspect is former Rwandan school headmaster Joshua Hakizimana. Deeds of horror are committed every minute and in the end those we love die … But we have love. in fact. The blood-red cover. classic detectivenovel style. once he has fulfilled his role as detective and solved the murder mystery at Cheverell Manor. I was surprised by the universal and philosophical conclusions James came to as she wove a complex and well-characterised plot. Their father. by the denouement: the narrative that reveals the murderer and his or her motive falls flat. Gradwyn writes an investigative piece about plagiarism that results in the suicide of a young and promising novelist (whom Candace Westhall knows) – perhaps that is a lead Dalgliesh should follow? Then there is the worldly surgeon himself. noble. a Cambridge blue-stocking. James’s attention to detail is commendable. poet and investigator. though. Let me be clear. It is quintessentially English. Perhaps (gasp) I have even become a convert. There is Gradwyn’s friend Robin Boyton. Candace and Marcus Westhall. and the manner in which the villain is disposed of is unconvincing. In this book Dalgliesh. As readers. It’s not too long and not too short. Robin’s cousins.

worse. and you might be partly right. Because readers feel emotionally invested in the characters. and Brennan’s estranged love interest. I certainly recommend the book – it is not an easy read in some places. good-in-front-of-themedia superior with a bias against psychology’s usefulness to police work. so rooting for the good guys because they are more relatable is preferred. and we apparently prefer emotionally accessible characters above those of the film noir/hard-boiled detective sort. the trend towards psychological thrillers creates the unfortunate result that the bad guys are almost always explained and. Fofona has to solve the case and handle its racial dynamics. But it wasn’t the people that stopped me in my tracks. Mukoma wa Ngugi is the author of an anthology of poetry titled Hurling Words at Consciousness (2006). wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . “Soon enough I found myself outside the airport in what felt like a market – a wall of people shouting and heckling. This is exactly what made a series like CSI such a blockbuster – what you see is what you get. recent market research indicates that. Come to Nairobi. They discover a multimilliondollar scheme of extorting money from guilt-stricken organisations and people who looked the other way during the genocide. fast-paced crime novel and an excellent debut. murder and deceit. but you won’t be completely correct. The truth is in the past. it was the heat.Book Reviews The sexy Detective Inspector with a fractured past arrives with his investigating team. the largest book-buying audience is women. the just-as-sexy crime profiler.“If you want the truth. which I found helpful. he reports to an arrogant. as well as Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change (2003). and we are reminded of facts by the characters in their conversation. a good move by the author. one not so good – complete the police team. but nothing feels overdone. The taut. and others contrasted with them. has just been published. and I will be reading it. Because I liked the characters so much (they weren’t angst-ridden. that was Nairobi heat. by far. selling newspapers. Secondly. Fofona not only discovers the details of the case and Rwanda’s violent past but also finds love and friendship.” an anonymous caller tells Fofona. This is a typical. The story is told in a colourful. you must go to its source. But we don’t want to be emotional about the perpetrators of the crimes. thick and salty to taste. Nairobi Heat is his first novel. That’s how he finds himself in Nairobi. It’s a gripping tale of intrigue. and while the attractive Phil Brennan might be the Chief Investigation Officer. or I wouldn’t have had the patience). Humid. Again. I found myself badly wanting a happy ending to the story and.” In Africa. even boiled eggs. straightforward manner. As far as the plot is concerned. the story becomes less about the sensational crimes being committed than how the various people deal with the events unfolding. is a practising attorney and committed reader who lives in Johannesburg. Two more investigators – one good. but it is delightful and even laugh-out-loud at times. The Creeper. Hakizimana is now a poster boy for the Never Again Foundation – an organisation he founded after the genocide. The emotional investment we make is important for two more reasons: firstly. Fofona and his Kenyan partner David Odhiambo go to Kenyan slums and suburbs to find out how Hakizimana and the dead woman are connected. is a journalist and an avid reader of literature. The author sets up an interesting strong-women versus sensitive-men theme. therefore. you might think you know what happens. phone cards. possibly sympathetic. it’s interesting and it entertains you rather than disturbs you. getting increasingly anxious that one wouldn’t happen. short chapters contain good descriptions and good dialogue. The heat made New Orleans on a hot summer day feel like spring. The author’s second book. as we experience the twin satisfaction of being right and surprised. with some characters held up as examples. is brought in to work on the case and butt heads with Brennan’s superior.

Nick’s not investigating stuff after the fact. Tony is called away to help the West Mercia CID in Worcester with a criminal profile in a teenage murder case – a case that has eerie parallels with the murders in Bradfield. Carol’s Major Incident Team is faced with a slew of other challenges – her new boss is pushing budget cuts and uses this to block her from using Tony’s prodigious profiling talent. divey Greek tavernas along the way. PI. this is no gratuitous murder porn. the victims have no apparent connection to each other. intricately plotted novel. In a neat twist on the genre. he of loud shirts and mysterious dating habits. part heist drama. But Nick is not just any paramedic. that doesn’t waste a word as it hurtles towards the inevitable showdown between brothers. the main characters are once again criminal psychologist Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan. later to be found murdered and mutilated. While in Worcester. a double amputation and a murder – and ups the ante from there. it’s only natural that he should feel compelled to get involved. Not for nothing has Jassy Mackenzie been dubbed the “queen of slashers”. larney mansions and authentic. whose brother Khani was killed in a nightclub robbery the night of the accident. The future of the team itself is also called into question. and when his patient has her throat slit in a Johannesburg General Hospital ward. he’s first on the scene and caught up in the heat of the action. he stays a night in the house that his father left him and. and a psychopath for an older brother. He has a dodgy past as a mercenary medic in the war in Angola. now in jail. Mackenzie’s protagonist. As in the previous titles. an abusive criminal father. while leaving the actual murderous act mostly up to the imagination of the reader. a popular social networking website. who is out for revenge after Nick’s testimony several years ago landed him a hefty prison sentence. a messy relationship (naturally) with his ex-wife Rachel. As if trying to catch the elusive killer is not difficult enough. part thriller. but while her second novel may be violent in parts. taking in tenement slums. interesting and flawed characters. Mackenzie creates not only very credible. At first glance. which adds a sense of immediacy to the unfolding drama. Add to the mix his personable partner Laki. but also paints a detailed portrait of the city. Paul. particularly as he still has her cellphone. a teacher from the sticks who has come to the city to help out one of her students. coroner. Nick Kenyon. is a paramedic rather than your bog standard police detective. In this latest instalment. lawyer or middleaged lady writer with a typewriter and a nose for dead bodies. Her understanding and insight into the various operations that tangle throughout her plot. but Tony soon discovers that they are all members of RigMarole. veering across Johannesburg from Norwood to Newtown. Sipho. McDermid uses an effective technique to bring across the horrifying nature of the murders – letting the reader in on the events leading up to them and then describing the bodies being found. and Clinton Ramsamy. a well-intentioned family man who is heading for a world of trouble. Germiston to Yeoville. She also has an unnerving talent for illustrating the devastating effect the murders have on the victims’ families. from private ambulance services to the Title: Fever of the Bone Author: Val McDermid Publisher: Little Brown Genre: Crime thriller Fever of the Bone is the sixth instalment in the bestselling crime thriller series by acclaimed crime writer Val McDermid. something sinister is happening in the town of Bradfield – teenagers are disappearing. profiler.Book Reviews Title: My Brother’s Keeper Author: Jassy Mackenzie Publisher: Umuzi Genre: Crime thriller My Brother’s Keeper kicks off with a car crash with a missing body. despite his professed disinterest in the man who abandoned wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . It’s a smart.

knotting together tighter and tighter so that by the time the novel reaches the actionpacked and unsettling end. and Beasts of Prey is no exception. His short story “A Visit To Dr Mamba” is currently being made into a short film. Phalaborwa and Rundu and involves. The case looks too obviously like a suicide but. Beginning with the discovery of the mangled body of Johan Coetzee in the Kruger National Park. What Marsh means to say is that this is apartheid but he does so elliptically. is the Cape Assistant Editor of BOOK Southern Africa. The main text is accompanied by a non-fiction addendum. The plot threads twist and twine like the ribbons on a corset. events happen propter hoc. Zoo City. there’s a few too many startling coincidences and when Nick resorts to murder (admittedly in self-defence). they are strong reminders of the trauma that South Africa faces daily. In the tautly woven plot. while knowing that what we are reading is fiction. his colleagues are unreasonably quick to leap to protect him from the police (and potentially become accessories to murder). While location (setting the scene. So why add a death to the mix? The pleasure we get from reading a work of crime fiction is in being able to identify with the main characters. is an archaeologist and writer living in Cape Town. and his dialogue is convincing. Furthermore. Yet this simply renders the insistence on location even more unnecessary. starts to uncover previously hidden parts of his past. build on that sense of authenticity. Intrinsic to this is the author’s reliance on racial expletives as a means of description. that it is not real. Coloured. members of the South African Defence Force and the South African Police Force. the novel moves between the landmarks of Johannesburg. Why press hooks of reality into a story that is reality? Perhaps a degree of temporal anonymity. The taxi violence. via the marker of race. and white” stand out. is out in June. aspects that might have been better revealed by what the characters do and say. as with all good crime fiction. would have been more appropriate. the reader is breathless. to recognise a potential realness. He has also come across a story that is in itself criminal and exciting. These weaknesses are tempered by good writing. is still clutching at place. recent South African novels have tended to overplay this. with segments dedicated to memories of police brutality in townships. all is not as it seems. Her new novel. Marsh describes a party where “clumps of expensively dressed men and women – black. it snuggles in a bit too close. disguised as the author’s note. as its main characters. and white – [are] chatting in small groups”. no questions asked. Beasts of Prey struggles to provide enough distance to make the experience of fear pleasurable. Marsh has made proper nouns out of adjectives. him as a baby but left him a substantial inheritance. Not only is the inclusion of race unnecessary but the use of parentheses makes “black. some mythicalness. Marsh’s sentences flow smoothly. What saves Beasts of Prey is history (excuse my Marsh-like Proper Noun). evoking the genius loci) is allimportant in a work of fiction. which tells us that although most of the events and characters are fictional. Special Branch operative Russell Kemp. The book is a prime example of what McDermid does well: delivering a dark crime tale with plausible characters doing their best to bring justice to a world of violence. He was one of the PEN/Studzinsky Literary Award winners in 2009. the novel is set in 1988 South Africa. is a scriptwriter.Book Reviews security sector. Marsh’s erratic mention of race keeps it on the tip of the mind throughout what might otherwise be an enjoyable read. But my only real complaint about the book is how it’s let down by its tacky cover. Title: Beasts of Prey Author: Rob Marsh Publisher: Human & Rousseau Genre: Crime thriller Beasts of Prey is a work of proper nouns. which is less gritty crime thriller and more sensationalist You magazine crime feature. although McDermid does at times revert to overly detailed descriptions of her numerous characters’ backgrounds and motivations. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . is called in to investigate the death of Coetzee at Shingwedzi camp. journalist and author of Moxyland and Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past. But that’s not to say the corset doesn’t pinch in places either. having grown up in England (though with thirty years in Africa to his name). driving it towards a smashing heist sequence and a truly harrowing denouement. the novel is partially steeped in reality. One gets the sense that Marsh. drug abuse and rape that haunt the work as sub-plots are not fiction. having been “exiled” to Phalaborwa after an altercation with his superiors. Fever of the Bone is mostly wellpaced and keeps the reader turning pages. Coloured.

No one can contradict him in this regard. the Russian gangster Svritsky. Richard finds himself caught up in the violent world of deceit and corruption at the fringes of the formal economy into which Cape Town’s immigrant and refugee community is thrust. yet not entirely dissimilar to. Dlamini engages in a discourse to reposition the black experience within the context of his disillusionment with historic and particularly contemporary condescension on what it means to be an urban black from the townships. while admitting that life under apartheid was bad. In Dlamini’s treatment of nostalgia. The main storyline takes place during the xenophobic attacks of 2008. Richard knowingly uses the opportunity to step off the island. he feels trapped on “an island of expectation between lanes of traffic”. hearing his voice and understanding what he sees and is saying and why. rejecting the simple dependence on the physiology of sight. though. Even if you differ with him in many ways. he reasons that it was not all that bad because he. The conversation Dlamini engages his reader in demands brevity. and many others. Prejudice. he enables himself a space to speak his truth. and touch. exploitation and abuse. Brown’s book is not only immensely topical. By reclaiming the meaning of the township different from its traditional treatment in literature and history over time. I found putting the book down a very unlikely and unpleasant proposition. Unfulfilled in his “tiresomely bland” marriage and disillusioned with his stressful job. and forces the reader to pay attention. who tries the abyss of desperation and despair to which this can lead. When Abayomi’s husband Ifasen. but he is taken on an unforeseen journey beyond his control. notwithstanding my forebodings. I wanted to journey with him to discover and understand his truth. he is bold in his views on the reality stalking us as a society coming out of the throes of our apartheid past. Through the uncontestable power of autobiography. and its contested meaning. Richard Calloway. When his client. He extends his argument to position Afrikaans the . sound. taste. have good memories of life in the township during apartheid. complemented by his formidable academic background. as I wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 imagine he realises the dangerous and contested terrain of memory and its meaning he traverses. intolerance and violence towards the “other” in our society are skilfully packaged into a gripping thriller propelling the reader into a dire landscape of betrayal. Beautifully narrated. starting with the interviews of old township inhabitants and their hankering to a better past under apartheid and the author’s biographical sojourns through his native Katlehong.Book Reviews Title: Refuge Author: Andrew Brown Publisher: Zebra Press Genre: Thriller Andrew Brown’s third novel revisits the core themes of his literary debut Inyenzi: A Story of Love and Genocide set against the backdrop of 1994 Rwanda. The author is not unapologetic. Leaning on his wide reading and sound reasoning. but of Title: Native Nostalgia Author: Jacob Dlamini Publisher: Jacana Media Genre: Treatise/memoir Reading Native Nostalgia engages you directly with the author. a middleaged white South African. However. interpretations and thoughts through the support of serious and acknowledged thinkers to garner his arguments. he places himself at the centre of his views. one’s own. Through every chapter. Infatuated with the Nigerian masseuse Abayomi. He often explains his actions and views. about people seeking refuge in another country and other human beings. He then reinforces his views. I like Dlamini very much. He interrogates these senses. urges him to visit a massage parlour. and about high literary quality. applying his interpretations with deft to that “liminal space” we call the township. incisive wit and charm of Can Themba writing about Sophiatown during the Drum period of the fifties and sixties. Refuge is a novel about entering new worlds remote from. His tone and temperament remind me of the sharp. In his deft and skilfully deployed narrative and creative engagement with issues. Dlamini gives us back our past in forceful and colourful ventures. its protagonists painted in finely chosen images. a deep concern of the author. he disarms critics before they’ve had the time to form a contrary argument to his observations and pronouncements. is a successful criminal lawyer increasingly dissatisfied with his professional and private life. clearly and loudly. You need the strength and fortitude to deal with yourself in one of his pages through a thought thrown carelessly and haughtily at you.

And herein lies the biggest shortcoming of the entire tour de force of Dlamini’s treatment of the idea and concept of nostalgia in relation to the memories we carry of life under apartheid. the University of Pretoria’s postgraduate and international students’ residence. were happy. Abayomi asks Richard for help. particularly those in the regions of the country where Afrikaans was more prevalent. broke our hearts. the Russian Svritsky is painted throughout as a demon with just a minor glimpse of something human inside him towards the end of the story. For the most part. currently conducting research at the University of Cape Town. our families and our communities in the townships. Refuge can be read as a counter to the unrelieved depiction of Nigerians as less human/humane than aliens in Bloomkamp’s District 9. and wary of allowing his private adventure to encroach upon his professional world. Dlamini succeeds in returning the meaning of home or “edladleni” and clearly demonstrates that there are no counter-revolutionary tendencies in harbouring fond memories of the good times we had in our communities in the hundreds of townships many black South Africans remember as home. No simple narrative will ever capture the varied and colourful lives we lived under the all-pervasive apartheid grip. But it can never be said we would elect to have been in these spaces and lived the lives we were forced to live. masterfully crafted. she and her husband seem to be cast too univocally in the role of dominated and marginalised refugees. all forces seem to conspire against him: the more he tries to keep these worlds apart. is falsely arrested for drug dealing and thrown into Pollsmoor’s brutal awaiting-trial section. using the people around him for his own ends. I believe the undeniable humanity of people is what made life happen in the townships and gave us these experiences he reclaims for us. Yet. realising in shock how little he knows about the continent where he lives. Dlamini’s excellent attempt raises the level of reflection and meditation on critical issues central to our nationbuilding enterprise. the more they become entangled and charged with the risk of destroying both his marriage and his legal practice. Notwithstanding these shortcomings. in spite of and notwithstanding the boldly declared and vicious intentions of the architects of these urban communities. regardless of what we want to and do remember. is the director of the Mamelodi Campus of the University of Pretoria and head of Tuksdorp. an enterprise sorely lacking in much contemporary South African writing. Brown has said that the core idea for the novel arose from his critique of the legal profession as one that stands in judgement of others without itself being part of the game. Richard is as much a player as Abayomi and the other characters. Although in the middle of a trial with Svritsky. With its sympathetic yet not uncritical portrayal of the Nigerian characters. however. is a doctoral fellow at the Free University Berlin. We lived. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Dlamini succeeds in providing us an important lens through which to consider and understand our past and reclaim that which sustained many during those times when blacks weren’t worth the paper our births were registered on. discovered new truths and understanding about ourselves. real and alive. Unlike Dlamini. language of nostalgia for the urban black South African. Through his bold attempt and thinking about our condition and past. and the stereotypical demonisation of Nigeria as a county of criminals and conmen. to confirm the nuances life presents. Our lives refuse to be reduced to such simplicity. although Abayomi is at times able to transform her objectified body into a site of agency and resistance. Richard agrees to take on Ifasen’s case. Conversely. South Africa is in dire need of such engaging discourse on issues of race and identity. At the heart of the novel lies the ancient trope of the sexual temptress causing the downfall of an “honest” man. The major strength of Brown’s carefully crafted novel lies in its readiness to weave his own country into the fabric of the African continent. However. Yet Brown moves beyond the mere iteration of prejudice and stereotype by including in his narrative fleeting moments in which Richard leaves behind his “othering” gaze and seems to show a genuine interest in Abayomi as a person. had we the choice. disillusionment is the handmaiden of nostalgia as attended by Dlamini. For all it is worth. He also enriches the master narrative by enlarging it with a vignette. loved.Book Reviews to survive by selling plastic mobiles on the side of the road. plus the colonial fantasy of unbridled African sensuality epitomised in the hackneyed naming of the massage parlour “Touch of Africa”.

He joins Barclays bank and quickly climbs up the ranks. Rolling Stone and. where his children. and more beef than is probably healthy. Malan demands attention though tireless research and gathering of facts. It’s a great pity since countless others paid the ultimate price before they could leave us with this legacy. But. manacled man-to-man for more than a thousand kilometres and shipped. a collection of twenty-seven articles for magazines as esteemed as The Spectator. where they had become naturalised citizens. Gaby Magomola’s memoir Robben Island to Wall Street stirs all these memories in me as if these experiences happened just yesterday and not half a lifetime away. the eighteen years since Rian Malan wrote his searing novel My Traitor’s Heart have done nothing to douse his anger. Through his entrepreneurship. I had always wished to tell the story of the journey from innocence. Indeed.Book Reviews Title: Robben Island to Wall Street Author: Gaby Magomola Publisher: Unisa Press Genre: Political memoir I’ve been dreaming of writing a book like this since my own time on and release from Robben Island and other torture chambers. This is a man with a lot to say. He makes it clear that the decision was not easy to make. Malan seeks justice . While in exile.  As one would expect in a memoir.  Elsewhere. west of Johannesburg. His most thorny preoccupation over the past decade has been his belief that AIDS figures are grossly inflated in Africa. True to his fears. on returning he and his family have to contend with a new environment where the word freedom is an anathema. Magomola’s book could prove a useful template for many a former prisoner whose unique stories ring true in this bridgehead. afterwards. and come back to South Africa at a time when state repression was at its severest and opposition to it at its staunchest. but you won’t hear him being accused of half measures. he assimilates to life in the richest country on earth and becomes a member of a family of South African exiles in New York. where Thompson took pot shots at the establishment that no one worth their salt would have taken seriously. I’m glad someone who went through a similar experience as me has. who had been born in the US. he picks up the pieces of his life and goes to study in the US on a scholarship.” This is scarcely believable. parachuted to Africa’s Alcatraz – through medieval-like road transportation. a tangible evidence for posterity. the book runs the gamut of Magomola’s life: from his upbringing in a dorpie called Bekkersdal. hence title of the book. due to a posting in Johannesburg.  wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 In a column for The Spectator that didn’t make it into this collection. his arrest and serving time on the infamous prison island and how. ahem. It is an obsession that gives rise to two of the book’s best articles and one that appears to have cost him his marriage. This has been going on for weeks now. It’s a story I wish I could have written. given the dire conditions back home. Fair Lady sees Malan true to his contentious form. he colourful people he meets. but the determination to help change conditions for millions others won the day. This part of the story makes for particularly interesting reading.  Malan’s style of journalism is in the vein of gonzo legend Hunter S Thompson as the book’s cover somewhat hopefully proclaims – but. he and his family had to turn their backs on a comfortable life in the US. while being gun-guarded from air. He later becomes a renowned banker on Wall Street. to his political awakening. Malan describes sitting down to write the foreword to Resident Alien: “Wednesday night – I chain-smoke and stare at a blank screen. It’s an important tale in the preservation of memory. he forms part of a clique of black Soweto businessmen who would move on to play a Title: Resident Alien Author: Rian Malan Publisher: Jonathan Ball Genre: Essays Evidently. however painful that exercise may be sometimes. is in making convoluted and potentially dreary stories come to life. I simply can’t think of anything to say. like animals due for slaughter. His chief talent. sea and land as if you were an armed enemy battalion. Resident Alien. where gender roles are rigidly defined. though. Malan might have been called everything from deceitful to racist to foul-smelling. because the impression you get from Resident Alien is that you’d struggle to ever get him to stop. have to struggle their way in learning new African languages. I have not read a more illuminating account of the Jackie Selebi saga than Malan’s feature for the defunct Maverick magazine. I’m supposed to be writing the foreword for a collection of my scribblings. including the likes of drummer Max Roach and singer-pianist Nina Simone.

the Zulu singer who created one of the world’s most famous tunes but whose family could not afford a stone for his grave. Bank: Nedbank I Branch :Cresta Account no: 191 340 2002 Branch no:191 30592 SEND PROOF OF PAYMENT with your particulars to: Wordsetc. Magomola does not forget to recount the social aspect of a changing South Africa. TO WORDSETC FOR ONLY R170 FOR FOUR ISSUES Three hampers available to lucky subscribers! Subscribe pivotal role in laying the blueprint for economic emancipation of their countrymen when apartheid finlly ended. takes a swing at Mbeki (and turns his failure to floor him into a riveting piece in its own right). his wife. he does more than enough in Resident Alien to convince us that he might have a point. At times. and delivers paragraph after paragraph of obsessive. He is constantly vacillating between self-deprecation and selfaggrandisement – in the foreword. he calls himself “a crap writer”.co. his family was one of the first ones to move out of Soweto in the late 1980s to live in formerly white suburbs. What it won’t do is bore them. helped to found First National Bank. When Barclays disinvested from the country as part of economic sanctions against South Africa. He appears not simply to tell us what he discovered but to share those discoveries with us. What he finds is not pretty. even humourous. It was a move fraught with apprehension: would their white neighbours be receptive to them? In all of his life’s travails. the book a “chickenshit collection”. Other achievements and milestones in the for the family of Solomon Linda. is a freelance writer and editor TO SUBSCRIBE deposit R170 into our account: Wordsetc. They chose Sandton. In fact. fearless truth-telling that is likely to outrage as many readers as it will intrigue. Thankfully. in an act that tested the fangs of the Group Areas Act. but then the truth seldom is. a mark of a man with the best interest of the country at heart. Nana. and can’t resist mentioning how some American awards folk considered him “a born storyteller”. the replacement for Barclays. thoughtfulness and candour. he is almost touchingly sympathetic to us. as with My Traitor’s Heart. Whether loving or hating himself you get the impression that Rian Malan thinks Rian Malan has something very important to say. bittersweet and is narrated with sensitivity. Magomola’s generosity to those less fortunate is boundless. Malan’s introspection and come-clean attitude to his writing make his articles all the more inviting.  Obsessive tendencies often imply a rampant and voracious ego – Thompson leaps to mind here again – and in Malan’s case there is enough to suggest we needn’t make an exception. forms his backbone. With this collection. Robben Island to Wall Street is touching.Book Reviews business community were reached in an illustrious corporate career that would be envy of many.za or Fax: 0860 510 5716 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Malan attempts to shine a torch into the dark corners of South African society and scare out the rats and cockroaches nobody else has the guts to touch. P O Box 2729 Saxonwold I 2132 I or E-mail: subscriptions@wordsetc. how they meet for the first time on a train. a top banker then. Magomola. It’s enchanting. is a poet and a cultural activist who spent a portion of his youth on Robben Island for political activism. For example.

It’s a striking image. many believe the myth of the Dark Continent to be an entirely Victorian invention. but also provides artistic evidence for his claims. traces this notion of Africa – a land where both “noble” and “savage” Africans dwell – far beyond modern Europe. a phenomenon that. These naked roots can be seen as a metaphor for those of us who were born on African soil. through classical Greece. most specifically. the idea of two Ethiopians found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. coupled with the genetic research that he alludes to. The exposed roots on the cover instantly bring to mind the uprooted Kroonstad willow we saw towards the end of A Change of Tongue. such as Van Wyk Smith’s Khoisanoid hypothesis. The author is at home discussing the modern postcolonial and postmodern theories of Edward Said. which persist in many African universities and often in the AfricanAmerican academy. He not only focuses on literary evidence from Homer to Haggard. Richard Dawkin’s theory of memes (a “self-replicating element of culture. the possibility of perishing. the xenophobic attacks we’ve seen recently. mainly. not in Europe but in Africa brings much to Afrocentric debates. is shown to be an Egyptian characterisation of an African hinterland. passed on by imitation”) provides an interesting lens through which to view the idea that a concept of Africa has been transmitted down to the modern world. we must be compassionate. for instance. lies at the heart of blackness. The breadth of his reading is remarkable. found in works such as Martin Bernal’s Black Athena. displacement. She seems to suggest this philosophy holds for blacks more than it does for whites – that blacks are more open to receiving strangers than are whites. because it’s not just the previously disadvantaged who have suffered. right up to the Roman Empire and early Christianity. Also in the vein of easy excuses. it is a breath of fresh air to get down to tracing the conception of Africa and Africans from ancient Egypt. Antjie Krog has completed a trilogy encompassing the horrors of our past (Country of My Skull). Egypt’s Ptolemaic period. In her presentation of the history of Sotho king Moshoeshoe. the author delves deeply into the idea of interconnectedness. and too easy an answer. but without the “Africanness” of black ancestry. however. Of course. I got the impression that Krog suggests we should be forgiving of violence that stems from trauma.C. unbroken. the uncertainty of the future. And what does this interconnectedness then say about a country where things have gone wrong: Zimbabwe. Krog asks what it means to be rooted here.E. suggesting vulnerability. uncertainty and. for her. through to the ancient Mediterranean and into the heart of Africa itself. The qualm I have here is how to reconcile this with. JeanFrançois Lyotard and Michel Foucault as he is in discussing ancient authors like Herodotus and Aristotle. The first conception of Africans by the West. The idea that the “mythomeme” (Van Wyk Smith’s word) of two Ethiopias was generated. indeed. After the dense introduction. to be African and. What is whiteness? How about being a white African? In her search. the continuing struggles of transformation in the present (A Change of Tongue) and now. . Frantz Fanon. Van Wyk Smith’s introductory chapter is a tour de force through wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 various literary theories and discourses that have all played a role in shaping the image of Africa. black. from at least the twelve-century B. but this feels like another slippery slope. for example? Is Mugabe a bad leader because there is something wrong with his people? Surely not. whether it be the huge bas-relief caricatures of African prisoners at Abu Simbel. she demonstrates the workings of this principle – the idea that we gain our humanity through our interaction with others. This time. Krog suggests this hostility arises as a result of black people having their interconnectedness disrupted by. Title: The First Ethiopians – The Image of Africa and Africans in the Early Mediterranean World Author: Malvern van Wyk Smith Publisher: Wits University Press Genre: Non-Fiction In contemporary African studies. will provide new questions to pursue in debates on race and racism.Book Reviews Title: Begging To Be Black Author: Antjie Krog Publisher: Random House Struik Genre: Non-fiction With Begging To Be Black. or the exotic portrait of Upper Egypt found on the Palestrina mosaic (the book includes a number of colour plates of wellchosen images). No doubt some of the novel ideas in this book. Malvern van Wyk Smith. This feels like an excuse. The range of Van Wyk Smith’s source material is also impressive.

thorough and a fascinating blend of non-fiction. kidnapped. beaten. Sparks also provides formidable commentary on the US. as well as a definite sense that certain of these forces will continued to mould the world in fundamental ways. steady pressure and relies on the faith that good sense cannot be ignored forever. and learning what they didn’t know the first time around. gained from a long and distinguished career as a journalist. is a freelance writer. He is also careful to reveal why the reader should care. fiercely brave. one feels as if one has been handed something of a hornet’s nest. The Elephant in the Room.Book Reviews What about the Sandton housewife who gets hijacked. The reader knows without any doubt what is at stake. I found Begging To Be Black the most challenging. Durban. the Middle East and the Zimbabwe crisis. written in approachable. Mostly. The run of his articles gently follows the crests and falls of wellmodulated argument to skilfully arrive at a conclusion that seems obvious if you consider the facts. but the problem does not detract from any individual chapter’s relevance nor diminish any of Sparks’s arguments. done in a reasoned and relevant manner. is a postgraduate student and tutor in the Classics Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. reading First Drafts feels like bearing witness to the slow. and hoary experience means that he knows the political game inside out. and this is where he is devastating. or need to. This work is a welcome addition to the growing library of works on Africa. Title: First Drafts – South African History in the Making Author: Allister Sparks Publisher: Jonathan Ball Genre: Essays Allister Sparks’s collection First Drafts: South African History in the Making evinces a desire to record history as it unfolds. making First Drafts significant not only as a record of history but also as a bone fide element in the forging of today. translator and editor. African history and the image of Africa in literature. I believe it belongs on every South African bookshelf. with all the uncertainty and rawness and imperfect knowledge such as record entails. in turn. yet provides sufficient meat and nostalgic interest to keep those who think of the South African story as old news thumbing through the pages too. written from an essentially South African perspective. Sparks’s “snapshots”. the region and the world we live in. As a reviewer. jargon-light prose. No pressure! Begging To Be Black is typical Krog: intellectual. Her debut novel. was released by Kwela Books last year. this is a book that has already been met with controversy. is a writer who (to paraphrase Le Clezio) lives within the English language. and he strums some standpoints repeatedly throughout the book. The articles are peppered with meticulous factual titbits that quietly give life and cogency to his words. is suitable for those approaching the subject of post-apartheid South Africa for the first time. Sparks’s fascination with world affairs is matched only by his willingness to do his bit. He does have his stock phrases. The book. nonchalant bending of a recalcitrant steel rod. the addition of an index in subsequent editions would be useful for crossreferencing and close reading. His ability to express the nature and resonance of a problem is profound. What’s more. interrogation and personal narrative. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . In the end. For the most part. goes on a killing spree? Of the books in Krog’s trilogy. There is little in his observations to startle. which can tend to disengage the reader once you’ve heard the same chorus too many times. Krog certainly has the courage of her convictions. and taken mainly from his syndicated column. Sparks shows his class here. he does not attempt to. result in a fascinating and engaging acclimatisation to the forces that have produced the country. He is not vitriolic and rarely approaches mordancy. Sparks uses slow. Those words may not shock and antagonise but they certainly have the power to make you sit up a little straighter. reliving. Lastly. He (and presumably his publisher too) clearly hopes that this idea of contemporaneous history. as he calls it. will add colour to the reader’s lens. He draws on his deep familiarity with South Africa and global politics. raped and left for dead? Should we be understanding and accommodating if she. marvelling.

or perhaps benign-intentioned goes down a slippery slope where the only terms of reference available are those of an ill-intentioned action initiator. Writing a novel can be a lonely pursuit but there is a definite sense that. In Kristin’s courtroom are the Visagie brothers – Stevo. That may explain the slant in focus toward white opposition to apartheid – Everatt was limited by the qualitative research he’d conducted in the 1980s. but . The specifics of how the flaws manifest are not relevant here but the underlying principle is. That being: as is almost always the case with any kind of reaction. Perhaps the clearest illustration of the fluster-cluck that non-racialism is lies in the title of the book. a fierce proponent of non-racialism is forced to apartheidise the discussion by focusing on the impact of the white participants in the struggle against apartheid. In so doing. a cat-loving high-level security guard and exfreedom fighter AK Bazooka. In its formation.” That refrain. without a doubt. First we meet the seemingly sexually repressed and uptight magistrate Kristin Uys. Right in the title. are protesting the Visagie’s imprisonment. non-racialism was forced to take up and use the myopic tools of racialism in an attempt to clean up the mess. he is never alone or lonely. nothing is simply black and white in Black Diamond. as refrains do. It is this scene that sets the inverted stereotype as the continuing tone for the book. even this humble reviewer. In his introduction. Everatt says. Enter Don Mateza. as Stevo then swears revenge on the magistrate. Mda displays a warm mature confidence and he stands. The Origins.Book Reviews Title: Black Diamond Author: Zakes Mda Publisher: Penguin Genre: Literary fiction From start to finish. as one of the master contemporary storytellers of our time. she takes revenge on Stevo and puts him back in prison for contempt of court. The author and title elude me but the thrust of the article remains: the typified hyper-masculine African-American male identity (think any hardcore rapper or black American gangster TV stereotype) has its origins in a reaction to. They. along with a motley bunch one way or another indebted to the Visagie family. “This is not a book on philosophy. In reacting to something. it still remains that the original thesis’s qualitative research focused on white participants’ contributions in the struggle and. a small-time pimp. or a defence against. When Kristin has to dismiss their case through a lack of evidence. joined the rest of us in a heap at the bottom of the slope trying to find a way back up. you immediately and necessarily become entangled in the dynamics of the entity you’re reacting to. who fought for the liberation of SA from Title: The Origins of NonRacialism: White Opposition to Apartheid in the 1950s (The Origins) Author: David Everatt Publisher: Wits Press Genre: Politics/History South Africa’s racial history is a tricky bugger to write about. Nor is it a book about contemporary South Africa. rises to the fore in other parts of the book. And that is where everyone who tackles the topic. from the Congress Alliance to Black Consciousness Movement originators to Everatt and. transferring this principle to the facts around this book and the topic it tackles: non-racialism would have never existed were it not for racialism. his eighth. Outside the courtroom. So. as Everatt explains. With this novel. we meet Ma Visagie and the brothers’ ex-nursemaid Aunt Magda. and Shortie. ends up stymied. the one who reacts is forced to take the myopic view of the one who initiated the action. emasculating slavery. This doctorate research article comes to mind when the topic of nonracialism comes up because it concluded that because of the hyper-masculine African-American male identity’s roots as a reaction to slavery it was ultimately wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 flawed. yes. when Mda sits down to write. with white folk using classic anti-apartheid demonstration techniques. the well. Everatt. in so doing. Like life. For evidence. It is a history book. his accomplice. I can’t help but recall a doctorate research article I read a while back. began life as a doctoral thesis back in the 1980s and underwent a rewrite for its rebirth as a book. on a crusade to rid Roodepoort of the “scum of the earth” – that being anyone having anything to do with the sex trade. Each main character is deep and well-rounded. When thinking about the trickiness of this subject. holding true to Mda’s philosophy of compassion being the key to understanding each character. Black Diamond is a profound and often hilarious satirical rollercoaster ride around the heart of Johannesburg and the South African psyche. However. just read this book. This single action forms the backbone plot which drives Black Diamond.

It’s as much a love story as a homage to Pamuk’s beloved city Istanbul. I would urge anyone who does hold the answer to this conundrum to call President Jacob Zuma on 17737. In the end. Johannesburg itself is also very much a main character. Each location. after all. is the minor character of Molotov Mbungane. and is the kingpin of the Black Diamond. The museum houses an assortment of artefacts linked to her – from stubs of cigarattes she once smoked to door handles from her house to her clothes and earrings. With his first book since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. but toil-filled call. like each character. it is expected of him. From Soweto to Weltevreden Park. Osiame Molefe is an MA Creative Writing student at the University of Cape Town and is a former chartered accountant. Orhan Pamuk once again explores the attitudes and values of his Turkish countrymen: western modernity is pitted against old traditions. comrades”. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . The meaning of being or not being a virgin at marriage comes under the spotlight through the story of star-crossed lovers – Kemal Basmaci and Fusün. Though always tempered with a gentle humour. Everatt invariably. He consummately describes a rapidly evolving city as indicative of the country. the wealthiest beneficiary of BEE. With a few more liberally scattered references. and justifiably I reckon. But because he was never imprisoned he failed to enter what could be called The Robben Island Club and thereby gain enough “Political Capital” to be converted to “Capital Capital” and become the book’s namesake. Title: The Museum of Innocence Author: Orhan Pamuk Publisher: Faber and Faber Genre: Fiction I found this to be a misnomer. Everatt’s intention when he wrote the book. just like The Origins. who has now aged and has used his family fortune to build a museum in honour of Fusün’s memory. is lovingly rendered as if it were Mda’s child and he has carefully watched it blossom. it’s mission accomplished for him. Mda make it easy to guess whom he might be. especially from his girlfriend Tumi who is constantly pushing him towards this end. Despite its shortcomings. after had been reunited with Fusün who had vanished for a long spell. North Riding to Roodepoort and Strijdom Park.Book Reviews his early teens. So. circa 1975. The story is told through the eyes of Kemal. is an awardwinning writer. a willingness by Mda to expose all facets of Johannesburg and its denizens. Tumi’s oft-played example. and indeed the shadow that hangs over all wannabe black diamonds. Everything was obsessively collected during an eight-year period as Kemal. It’s a toll-free. REVIEWER: T. Not that this is what he really wants above all else. there is a strong undercurrent of exposure inherent in Black Diamond. A man who likes to say “accumulation cannot be democratised. a Black Diamond. is a journalist and publisher. fuelled with an undeniable optimism and willingness to move forward and overcome any obstacle. which has come out of the celebration of freedom and headlong into its practicalities. I cannot say I agreed with all of his views but the teetering between whole-hearted agreement and rabidmouthed disagreement kept me inter- ested enough to go out and read some of the other publications he references so as to adequately formulate my own opinion. inserts his own opinions on this history and thus lends an easy conversational style to the book instead of providing a stolid history lesson. A magnificent novel told lyrically. in a sense. rather. visual artist and online publisher living in Johannesburg. though. I have no solution as to how we get up the slippery slope of redressing and addressing our racial past without using the tools and terms of reference used by those that sought a racially divided South Africa. leaving Kemal in a state of acute despair. That was. The Origins well serves as an adequately referenced nexus on the topic from which a reader could embark into other readings and engage actively in debate on the topic.

I maim. sir. that weet oily click of a gun bolt cocked. sir. not outwards. I ask you. why don’t we? That feeling. Oh. if there ever was one – I looked forever inwards. his victim. PMS … hell. but I’ve always been drawn to that which I fear as much as I’ve been attracted to what I love. wrong. don’t you know? You don’t even have to play it backwards to feel an urge to embrace the old ultra-violent. the milkman. the lover you swore to protect forever and ever until she cheated on you. the instinct to pound in someone’s head and crush their throats until they scream no longer. it happened exactly like he prophesied: The Aryan polymer turned into a satanic blue ball of light that chased me round and around – I still don’t know if the mysterious fireball was trying to possess me. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Don’t you know it? That feeling? Call it road rage. 1971) I blame it on my characters. that need. It’s truth. Don’t you know it? That feeling? I write crime because I’m scared. or if it was just me breathing in too much burning plastic. I don’t know how many other crime authors share my fascination with counter-culture. I do not shy away from death as others do. I know this for certain: I’ve always been wired differently from other people. really? My mind. would put himself in the shoes of a killer. jene! What parent would ever let a child listen to Wind of Change for any length of time. Anthony Burgess (Stanley Kubrick. It is but the other side of the scratched Picture: Supplied I Richard Kunzmann Addicted to the dark side of life I write crime because I’m a god-damned sado-masochist By Richard Kunzmann write about violence because I fantasise about Columbine. until that day the world thrust itself upon me and I was forced to reconcile the two realities. I’ve learned me lesson. That rage. I had a He-man action figure when I was eight. my story. the driver next to you on the N1 South in rush-hour traffic. that old ultra-violence. I’ve seen now what I’ve never seen before. You’ve proved to me that all this ultraviolence and killing is wrong. I rage. Brodsky: You’re not cured yet. dream of grabbing a heavy metal object and using it on the postman. cruelty as much as kindness – if only because of its hypnotic effect on me. because I can. Locked into a world of books. and terribly wrong. Satanisme.Essay lex: You needn’t take it any further. how I blame that little man! ‘Cause when I threw him and his woolly underwear in the fire. – A Clockwork Orange. I’m angry. Don’t you know it? Why. ek sê – when I came home from school and thehouse was empty of parental guidance. and I certainly don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I bleed my heart out onto white virginal paper because never did I have the courage to stand up and speak out. but whence does it all spring from. those creepy little demons of the forest. I’ve embraced anger in my life as much as I have peace. We all have it in us: that want. It doesn’t matter if it’s the person who jumped the cue. and oh. It’s the TV and music and Ritalin they gave me as a child that make me write what I write. Thank God Oom Jonker cajoled my parents into banning me from listening to Bon Jovi and the Scorpions too. the dark rather than the light. I murder. because … because I’m a god-damned sado-masochist! Don’t you know it? Who else. boy. I’m cured! Praise god! Dr. of dreams – a Benny vokken Boekwurm. a temper tantrum. the slowpoke cashier-man at the check-out counter who’s just short-changed me. you ask? Why! Because I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a child! The Smurfs. just like Kaptein Donker Jonker of the polisie said I should in that book of his. and imagine to the utmost detail what goes through the one then the other’s mind? Don’t you fucking know it? I swear. let’s all blame it on apartheid. don’t you know it? I had access to M-Net – no age restriction. It was Tom and Jerry that made me do it.

unethical about not showing a murder for all its brutality when you mean to speak of it. As provocative as it sounds it’s also a meaningless allegation. for there have been many times that I wanted to censor myself. the things I dread. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . as much as we embrace Eros. Authors who set out to evoke a particular emotion. if we do not make it precious by showing how easily we as a species turn against it? I don’t advocate splatter porn like Hostel. the well-lit parts we know too well. Remember one of the closing scenes in Saving Private Ryan. But they have nothing to do with the violence itself – that is universal and linked to character. They’re so boring.” she said. must set a story within the context that amplifies those feelings. “How can you write crime fiction as a South African? Isn’t it exploitative? Isn’t there enough suffering?” That question seems to hover on just about every journalist’s lips. Not so? If my novels as a South African crime writer are exploitative because they explore the suffering people feel in our society. as much as any love story. where two soldiers are fighting it out handto-hand in the clock tower. I wrestle with the issue long and hard every time a fork appears in my narrative. Suddenly. Perhaps the journalist means to ask whether it is exploitative to so graphically describe violence. when others were into Hathaway. There is something pleasurable about successfully inspiring dread of the unseen. For how can we truly talk about the beauty of life. Do I choose the Alfred Hitchcock route or Quentin Tarantino’s? I never know beforehand which path I will take. so be that too. It is only at this point that I will concede discomfort with the question. We don’t see them murdered. To make it anything less than horrific feels irresponsible to me. This doesn’t mean that I have a particularly foul soul. might then ask. but we see their bodies. but for his violent outbursts? And would Natsuo Kirino’s Out be the triumphant feminist morality tale it is. or at the very least its threat and aftermath. how can crime writers possibly claim the moral high ground for describing horrible gratuitous violence? I will use that sub-genre of crime fiction called cosy crime to make my point: by cleansing murder of all its distasteful elements. And what about Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits set during the Chilean civil war of 1973? Or are they somehow exempt because they spoke of direct experience? Because they used bigger words and less blood? Isn’t horror when it is evoked the same emotion. After all. I don’t understand it either. What’s crime fiction and exploitation got to do with being South African? Surely the killing of a person in the US is as tragic as the murder of a human being in Umlazi? Surely exploitative and sensationalist writing is the same world over – what makes it different by being South African? As for suffering: if the question is meant to goad me into feeling that it’s unethical to write about violence when South Africa has such a disproportionate level of crime. what would Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas have been. each with a knife in the hand.Essay and scarred coin that is humanity. The unholy union between writer and reader is an exploration of the darkest recesses of our minds. Frontière(s) or the Saw films (thankfully fiction has largely escaped that wave of crap). And if you charge that I can only paint the terrible loss of victimisation by forcing upon the reader the eviscerating brutality experienced by victims. When I read that.” The commentator prone to melodrama and hyperbole. for the sake of a genuinely human story. that I enjoyed the art of Dave McKean when others my age were perving over stolen copies of Scope magazine. until the German soldier pins down the Yankee and incrementally forces the tip of his blade into the other’s chest. things clicked into place. only that my dinner table conversation about old FBI cases on occasion gets a little … nappetising. surely Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (better known to all as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List) should suffer the same condemnation? As should Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s tales of the Russian Gulags. so be it. and the heroine emasculating a killer by allowing him to rape her? If you claim that I propose that heroism can only be painted by the violence that a protagonist transcends. if not for the group of disempowered women butchering a philandering husband. dare I say it. Why I clubbed to the loudest and hardest industrial music I could. But equally there is something deeply unsatisfying and. And that’s not pretty. Don’t you know it? Crime writing and reading is about Pandora’s Box better left untouched. but I would like to underline the importance of using violence. When I interviewed Chelsea Cain for my blog. I would rather you squirm and hate me for making you feel uncomfortable than lie to you about the other side of our human nature: the old ultraviolence. her words echoed my own thoughts on the issue: “I think if you’re going to write about murder it’s important to make it seem horrible. the life instinct. you are removing people from what it really means to kill a fellow human being. no matter what the medium? Am I not a South African who feels as strongly about what has happened to his friends and family as others do? Country and setting have everything to do with my novels and their tone. That is a story to be told. to tackle a particular theme that moves them. in one form or another. to illuminate character and plot. it made sense why I preferred reading Hellblazer comics when others were into Spiderman. It was in my second year of psychology that I came upon an explanation for it: Freud evoked the daemon Thanatos to describe how we all of us have a death drive. “I have dead teenage girls in Heartsick.

“How do they get in?” asked Marian. throbbing with ecstasy and opium. Without waiting for a reply. It came away between her thumb and forefinger. and the creator of the early summer garden all around them. “I don’t know. “This is the most amazing bit. the little pollen sacs on their legs already swollen to bursting. which warmed to deep pink as the early morning light struck them. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 revealing tightly wrapped petals that immediately began separating. fascinated. and to thank his colleagues at the university who had helped him. “Watch.Fiction Illustration: Leigh-Anne Niehaus Poppy An uncommon garden thriller By Helen Moffett T he poppies were not the usual blood-red. there are bees inside the poppies. “Want to see something special?” asked Lena. Looking closely. she stepped forward and gave a greygreen bud-husk a tweak.” Marian knew there was a reason Lena had asked her to came a day before the rest of the guests – and not just to help with the preparations for the dinner party that night. Alan. Lena’s husband had just published his third book. They can’t resist the drug.” And indeed Marian could see that the agitation of the petals was not all their own doing – as the stamens came into view. the petals delicately wrinkled like ageing skin. Marian’s oldest friend. the women could see two – not three – bees. The birches in the arboretum shivered in . and the party was ostensibly to celebrate this fact. like skirts unfurling.” said Lena. Whatever time of day I do it. Lena pointed out the bronze irises next. then a rare lilac-coloured rose with a delicate musk scent. Marian thought that they looked fleshy. but a rich purple. It’s one of those mysteries of nature.

then Lena spoke. Alan began to splutter a protest. “I’ll start. Then she turned to Cleo. gushing over everything. don’t you? And Professor. but the rest chanted loudly: “Answer! Answer! Truth or dare!” Cleo sat upright and crossed her arms.Fiction the breeze as they walked among the pallid trunks. “Come on everyone.” There was a pause. her refusal to kill any living thing in her environment. where the flowers and heraldic leaves stood silvered and silent in the light of the full moon. sleepy buzzing. but several interlocking gardens.” They began to follow the stone path that led through the white garden and the grass meadows back to the house. hooting with anticipation as they followed Lena to the poppy garden. you’d never use snail pellets again. Marian. Lena stopped at the viewpoint that led the eye down to a simple stone bench in front of a small lake. Cleo.” She lingered on the sibilants in the words “research assistant”. but not this garden. “Why don’t you spray with Doom?” she demanded. “That’s easy!” she said. the publisher noisily explaining the rules to the Bulgarian. Alan came out onto the stoep: “Any chance of tea for a thirsty man. And fractionally too late. a red welt was rising on her soft white arm. She served her own gazpacho. “Have you ever committed adultery?” Marian permitted herself a moment’s relief – it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. or are you girls too busy whispering secrets?” The rest of the day passed in preparations for the dinner. which he rubbed onto Cleo’s arm with great solicitude.” Lena turned to the Dean. in which Marian thought she saw Alan bunch his fists slightly. plucking a poppy and opening her mouth. now féted for their blend of indigenous and antique plant species. confused.” Marian looked up from a mass of bronze fennel in dismay. Can I do anything?” “No. and she was being far too nice to Lena. sure enough. a visiting scholar from Bulgaria. but Lena was rising to her feet. It just helps that you’re here. “and I’ll start with you. Cleo was blonde and predictable.” Alan made a joke about his wife’s passion for creepy-crawlies. Marian had heard her at length on the subject – “If you’ve ever had to watch a poisoned bird dying. Lena stiffened. “I’ll take the dare. her knees ached from hours of weeding. Now remember. the food was nevertheless superb. the publisher and the publicist for the book. looking almost smug as she shot back at Lena. “It’s no small thing to plant your own forest. Now her hands were hard from the tons of manure she had dug into the soil to turn it to dark loam. and followed this with platters of cold roast free-range lamb. Alan had laid in a crate of excellent champagne. “Dammit. the Dean. the guests were starting to arrive: Alan’s Head of Department and his wife. Marian was disappointed in Alan. you have to tell the truth or perform a dare set by me. Although Lena preferred gardening to cooking. Later.” The party spilled out onto the lawn.” They reached the herb garden before Lena spoke again. with bowls of salad and vegetables picked from the kitchen garden. Pick one of these poppy buds and eat it.” It wasn’t Marian’s imagination – the air was electric with the unspoken question Are you sleeping with my husband? For a long moment. She made a fuss. “Oh no. “Cleo’s coming tonight – Alan’s research assistant. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Marian put a tentative arm across her friend’s back. and her rejection of any kind of poison. When they were all gathered round in a loose and giggling group. and poured more wine. or planning one. Looking at her. Unable to have children. games were suggested. A few raucous suggestions were shouted down. spiked with sorrel. Marian noticed the glance flying between Alan and Cleo. with everyone now recklessly drunk. “You all know I refuse to use any poisons or sprays in the garden.” said Lena. smiling a little. But Cleo relaxed. the guests drank with gusto. her face pale. but humans have indeed been imbibing poppy juice and seeds since the dawn of time. not if you take them in the form of heroin. She’s starting to talk about wanting children. her eyes glittering. Marian noticed that although Lena kept topping up her glass. she had grown all things green in a near-frenzy of displaced fertility.” said the Dean. I can’t fight that. I can stand to lose Alan. Lena said. “She’s either having an affair with him. but before she could say anything. The volume of chat rose steadily. and stayed quiet. as Cleo bit down. and. Cleo had been bitten by a mosquito. don’t you? What’s that poem about poppy and mandragore?” The Dean looked puzzled.” Marian knew better than most that Lena had compensated for the blankness of life as a stay-at-home wife by turning three acres of bare and raw red clay into not one. “Right! So my dare is this. “What about Truth or Dare?” she challenged. into the garden. claiming to be allergic to all insect bites or stings. And Cleo. fetched calamine lotion. can you vouch that poppies are harmless for human consumption?” “Don’t know about harmless. “Do you know I’ve planted over a hundred trees in the last twenty years?” said Lena. Lena held up her glass as if to inspect its bubbles. but her friend’s face was without expression. to be broken by a small scream and a slap. everyone could hear a deep. and by early evening. “You specialise in Keats. Cleo. She was renowned for her organic gardening methods. mint and rocket. my dear. she never took more than two sips from it. It didn’t look good. but the rest shouted their enthusiasm. and once the formal toasts were out the way.

She drops her can – “Will this stuff come off?” – rushes inside to scrub herself down. And now we’re about to take this “passive watch” one step further. an SMS system. “Jeez. I know they can run to Zochra’s “safe house”and she’ll call in the services. I even wore my can attached to my pants for a while. cry. where drugs can be bought round the corner.Essay Picture: Johannes Dreyer Staying safe My heart is pounding. belts out: “Squeeze the button. The neighbours know me. they know my kids. “In England if you look at a guy skew he’ll take you to court. we’ll zap him! “Swat Spray is legal here in South Africa. Then Koos moves away from us women. holds up a red and black can. The tears flow. you can use this stuff!” Koos van Blerk grins. We jump around. I must say. I’m ready to take on any unfortunate bad guy who comes to my neighbourhood By Joanne Hichens S Joanne Hichens everal of us “girls” are so excited about starting Hillside Neighbourhood Watch that we’ve signed up for this home Swat-Spray course. culture here. Now I sleep with oven cleaner near me. and unloved street children learn the three R’s as “rebel. her mascara streaks her cheeks. in our faces. DO NOT scratch your eyes!” And it makes a mess too. ready to take on any bad guy who suffered the misfortune of stumbling into our section of Hillside. every cellnumber on a list. once I learned the fundamental lesson of the can. if not a little manic. and for this I paid good money – I felt empowered. to keep an eye out for each other is a good idea. We stand outside in my garden. orange splatter patterns stain her new white blouse. Now!” This is an attacker’s dream – we’re zapped by our very own trigger-happy selves as the gentle Muizenberg sea breeze blows the streams of spray right back in our direction. a look of glee on his face as we flinch. We have an email system. In a community where a mother’s lot is to perambulate her baby past hoodie-clad no-goods with names like Pig-face and Yster. as well as every social problem. When I checked last. moan. until I strategically hid the spray in a drawer. points the nozzle in our direction. understanding first-hand the sting of capsicum. Any bugger tries to creep up on us. She’d stopped in to learn self-defence on her way to a hot date. look at my shirt!” croaks Clarisse. but here. if my children feel threatened in any way. holding the demo sprays at arms’ length. under some beige panties and funky feeding bras (remnants from my pregnancies) aimed at subtle persuasion of would be robbers to rummage elsewhere. class. Van Blerk laughs. too wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . snaps up the lid. how to control it – pretty much like any aerosol. rob ‘n rape”. warns: “Whatever you do. trigger-fingers poised… Muizenberg is said to be one of the most eclectic. thinking I should really keep the can on my bedside table along with the pile of must-read crime fiction.” the instructor says. I know each and every neighbour in my street. we have every landline number. There’s every colour. in our eyes and nostrils. swaggering about as if it were a pistol. in the streets behind and in front. the expiry date had months since past. diverse and racially integrated suburbs of Cape Town. legs akimbo.

keep my windows closed. put on my contact lenses. who worked for many years in the Media Department of the United Nations (UN) in New York. If each person has a stake. It’s why I don’t need to do gym anymore. the people who don’t get the opportunities we do. sharing? To develop humility as well as compassion? What do we do to connect with others? Or are we simply too busy. Or will we? I have an almost nightly routine of getting up in the wee hours for every sound rising to the top. thinking: How do we stay safe? From Constantia to Lagunya. night-time paranoia. But I love the star of the show. the barking of early warning systems. I’m a latent teenager. to lean towards a comfortable life. On the hill I hear every siren. Grayling. my head cocked. goes as follows: To what extent am I responsible for my fellow man? In a frenzied “how will we fix the world?” conversation with poet and writer Sindiwe Magona.” So the question then becomes what is it we do to promote tolerance. and being prepared to use Swat Spray is certainly a sensible defensive measure. We should be more than a little apprehensive. every drunken argument. I stand at the window. That’s why I left the UN. Plus. it’s what people want – to be at peace.Essay bulky to hang from a key ring. but the contents are apparently as effective as Swat Spray. to aspire to promotion. I see the eerie blue flicker of TV screens illuminating windows. most of us have lists of top safety-tips magnetised to the fridge door along with our kids’ pre-school drawings. surely we’ll remain safe. they will be too busy getting on with their lives to do crime. you could pump the entire contents of even oven cleaner down his throat. I lock my doors. too stressed. too lethargic to truly care? SAPS jamboree It’s Tuesday night. “Just go back to sleep. apartments and late-night dog walkers. I put on my slippers and my gown and hang out. the question sounds more “selfish”. It’s not a krimi. I strip off the gown. our security doors. mugger or murderer. a personal challenge. whack him over the head with the empty can and he might still come after you. with my binoculars indenting dark circles round my eyes.” Basic instinct. I’m tired of constantly looking over my shoulder. The quiet nights are as disturbing to me as the nights the wind howls an invitation to mischief. but I wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . armed-response security providers. like you promised!” Convent-girl guilt pricks at my temples and an ingrained code of moral responsibility gets me going. check in the rear-view mirror every eight seconds while driving. pull on my boots. like cream. sometimes as temperamental as the Muizenberg wind. linked to flight or fight – ergo the Swat Spray – is to protect ourselves and particularly our offspring. from Aristotle to A. Be warned though – a crazed dude on tik is difficult to lay low. but also to living with awareness. from fearful. our beams and portable panic buttons? I hope not. she said: “We have to take note of the people in this country who are being thwarted. But the small voice nags: “Put your money where your mouth is. every tip aimed at minimising the possibility and risk associated with assault.” So the benefit of our democracy translates not only to having the opportunity to live in a free country. robbery or hijack. I see the odd car drive along the main drag. but at what point do I extend the care I have for Myself to my Brother? Am I my brother’s keeper? The question can be reframed: How important is my brother to me? Put this way. no doubt about it. My favourite TV series. But does staying safe in South Africa mean we’ll remain on the defensive? With our car tracking systems. of waking with a stiff neck. roads. but I agree fully with Grayling’s postulation that “thoughtful self-interest would consider highly the position of others. our Neighbourhood Watch is a worthwhile initiative. for the sake of staying safe. We have to consider the people in the townships. checking for a hijacker. This is my life of hyper-vigilance. spikes and barbed wire. alerting me to others’ wakefulness. electric fences. a foothold. a house. so go to the South African Police Services (SAPS) meeting and report back like you said you’d do. buildings. alarms. Also grumpy. Jo. a couch potato at heart. the temptation will not be so strong to take what we want from those with everything. Which in turn means taking responsibility to work for. Tonight. and head for a local meeting organised by the SAPS at a venue in Vrygrond. The character gives me permission to be myself. It’s the reason most often cited for citizens leaving the country – “We want to live in a safe place. You’re part of a Neighbourhood Watch. my favourite position being horizontal. unsettled. scanning midnight shadows. and support. hearing sounds Still. On nightly guard. My heart rate is naturally elevated simply as a response to what’s going on “out there”. And with our walls. you’re the secretary for heaven’s sake. People in the townships continue to be bonsaied. House. We must be willing to share. Appropriate self-interest is a good thing: to stay healthy.C. what is it we can do that is entirely proactive? Positive? One of the most important philosophical questions discussed throughout the ages. is on. to want a home. he rolls over and starts up snoring again as I lie in the dead of night. Surely there’s another way to promote safety? Apart from making crime difficult by adhering to top-tips. Or in some cases what isn’t going on.” mumbles the ball ’n chain. the grumpy doctor. I’m crime-primed. our dogs. social change. alert for those tell-tale signs – some skolliegang break-in. If each of us has a little something. But I’m sick of talking.

it’s up to you to report it to your local police station. no matter what the situation. I skulk in turn. thanks” to their local Big Issue salesman at the traffic lights? On a larger scale. I heard screams drift up the hill. Hordes of concerned citizens turn up at the People-Oriented Sustainable Strategy meeting (what a mouthful!). Some stations will have more money than other stations. bad attitude and dishonesty. at every intersection. go inside. a Chubb guard calls as I come out of the house. on a search for the Drum Decade by Michael Chapman. Lack of accountability is not limited to some police.m. rest in peace – from Grade Three and teachers. We cannot police without help from the community. If someone steals a broken bicycle. Poverty begs at every street corner. pushes up her bosoms. or to have run off with the money entirely – the only certainty is future trouble. an upstanding member . Masiphumelele to Vrygrond. most of us representing our neighbourhood watches. It works the same with the police. I thought about the still fresh public outcry in Muizenberg at the pathetically slow police response to the fatal stabbing of Ulla Albertus – killed in front of her apartment for her car just days before this SAPS jamboree. has forty-nine primary schools and sixteen secondary schools with an average of two thousand pupils at each secondary school – has only one police station to serve the area! They need more money right now!” On police corruption: “A policeman who goes into a drug-house and comes out eating a bunny-chow is not a proper policeman! If a policeman tells you he can’t raid a drug-house because there’s big dogs there. If prominent leaders and businessmen continue to siphon off funds meant for orphans. The main message from top brass: “This is a partnership. if you count the cents you will buy bread. There’s plenty of boys in blue arriving at the Vrygrond Primary School. too!” Top brass is affable. make a statement.” Lots of tiny hands paint-pressed to the paper. I’m not proud that the police were called on a possible “domestic”. “You saying this is a ‘domestic’. policemen shot. there is evidence everywhere of worlds many prefer to ignore. Looking out for each other There’s an insistent ringing at my gate. while my son was directed to the TV to take in his dose of Saturday Spongebob Squarepants. If there’s trouble in your neighbourhood. “Mama?”. On a daily basis. mama? Is there trouble?!” Mama (that’s me) crosses her arms. While compiling contents of this edition of Wordsetc as guest editor. on a Saturday. my head hung in shame – to think that I. but what about social workers and community centers? Sitting at the meeting. tell him ‘shoot to kill’ applies to vicious dogs. Crossing the divide The newspaper reports continue to lambaste the cops for slow response. Destitute “scratchers” live off garbage spoils of sea-view homeowners. report it. certainly to reestablish ubuntu. Dog eat dog. A callousness towards each other. that I’d heard this mother of three screaming for her life. I didn’t think twice about it. It’s time we open up to each other and cross the divide. it’s as if the crime never happened. surely? How did she die? Indeed. a public participation process for residents from Simonstown to Seawinds. there’s news of horrors on the Cape Flats on every electricity pole in my working class suburb are reports of babies raped. Score one for the criminals who rely on our laziness!’ On SAPS budget: “When you go to Pick ’n Pay. to look after each other. What happened to her? Must be a child. guns at their hips. It was only later the chilling reality hit me. Fill in a form. his easy humour has people listening. Why don’t we dig deeper to truly understand the root causes and then address these? We need more police stations and cops to fill them. if public resources are massively misdirected – government officials and CEOs are regularly reported to have ordered expensive Mercs and 4x4s. Pollsmoor Prison in situated in the leafy suburb of Constantia. lots of brass floating around. On the wall of the school hall is a poster: “In loving memory of Nazaria Brady. education and housing. I put it down to some bergies battling. If you don’t complain. missing children. all we create is a vicious cycle of greed and resentment. to have greased the palms of pals with tenders. I was informed by no less than three libraries that the copies had “not been returned” which is the polite way of saying STOLEN! How many droom-paleis madams pay domestic workers a mingy wage? Why do respectable people in townships knowingly buy stolen goods? How many drivers in swank vehicles will not deign to nod a simple “no. some of you will get a trolley and you will go for the steaks. “Are you all right. says: “Any of you ever been driven over the edge by a teenager?” My eldest daughter and I have been having the kind of slanging match only an adolescent prima donna and her deranged mother can have.Essay reckon this evening at least I’m safe. where I was directed to find an Arthur Maimane story. The number of police allocated to any precinct depends on the number of complaints lodged. But Mitchell’s Plain – with a population of three hundred thousand. He is compassionate – he invites a crywordsetc | First Quarter 2010 ing woman to come and talk to him personally after she tells the people in the hall that the man who stabbed her son dead was out on bail before the day of her son’s funeral. We know there are problems in Muizenberg. mama?” “D’you have any idea how difficult it is raising teenagers?” They skulk off. The community is the eyes and ears of the police. in fact. At 6 a. Take what you want. lots of police with pens in their pockets.

If we dehumanise others. Talk to your security providers about alarm systems. Seems the police have learned a lesson. It’s a jauntily narrated novella set in the tumultuous early 1990s. Take an interest in your neighbourhood and your neighbours. like cockroaches. and our behaviour. have had cops at my door? (With a van nogal!) “Hey. when a whole generation was discovering that everything they’d been taught to believe was wrong. I heard on the radio this very morning that the child-protection and domestic violence units are going to be re-established. Sal plunges into extreme situations. and (b) not to do it in the kitchen which is directly beneath Kurt’s lounge. Don’t walk around with an iPod in your ears. ARRESTING THRILLERS Absolutely Fabulous DVD Nouveau. caring.Essay of a Neighbourhood Watch. Morningside 90º On Rivonia · Cnr Rivonia Road and Kelvin Drive · Morningside Grayston Centre · Cnr Grayston Drive and Helen Road · Strathavon Tel: 011 804 5830/1 · www.co. Programme them into your phone.” neighbourly Kurt says later. you’re a magnet to a mugger. celebrate a common humanity. whether good or bad. “I was really worried you might be in trouble there at your house. I didn’t want you guys to be murdered the first week of our Neighbourhood Watch starting up!” “No problem.” Other tips? Baddies. “There is no such thing as a safe area. They will wheedle their way under the radar if they have to. I appreciate your care and concern.abfabonline. Now when we fight we make sure: (a) we quickly close the windows if we are about to erupt. too. Sunnyside Sal is borne up throughout by an exuberant humour. Available at leading bookstores . Know your emergency numbers. This is ubuntu.” So. don’t like lights. The major tip I can give you? Be aware. GREAT BOOKS. learn how to use them. or talking on your cellphone. deceitful. I learned some lessons too. I’m so sorry. Kurt. we uplift ourselves. borne up by an exuberant humour Sunnyside Sal is the story of an unusual friendship between two boys growing up in Pretoria.” says Allan Dillon of Mountain Men Security Services. Fuelled by his reckless bravado and post-punk philosophy. “Criminals are resourceful. reverberates across society and down the generations. it follows that if we uplift others. Own your street. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “We are all connected to each other. Now. Be curious. Although ultimately a tragic tale. we dehumanise ourselves. Be safe. Personal and situational awareness is the most important measure you can take to stay safe. but his innocent experimentations in rebellion lead him increasingly into hazardous realms.za S U N N Y S I D E S A L A tragic tale. They understand how sophisticated alarms work.” I really did. – it is the essence of being human.

he considers himself a storyteller and not a writer The pioneer How Deon Meyer championed the rebirth of the thriller in South Africa By Jennifer Crocker I n a disordered society it’s perhaps not surprising that “crime fiction” is becoming a very popular form of writing in South Africa.Appraisal Picture: Anita Meyer Deon Meyer is wary of being pigeonholed as a crime fiction writer. I have always thought in terms of story and left the categorisation to publishers and critics. but there are compelling reasons why Meyer should not be in the slight- . My only objective is to write a story that is absorbing for the reader. He says only some of his books are typical “crime fiction” – police procedurals or pure crime novels – and that the rest are thrillers. spy novel or mystery.” For Meyer. in doing so. both in terms of plot and character. I don’t write with the purpose of creating a thriller. he has provided much entertainment and enjoyment for his myriad readers. as one of the most prolific and successful writers in this genre. Meyer seems wary to be pigeon-holed. In fact. Meyer takes issue with the moniwordsetc | First Quarter 2010 ker “crime fiction writer”. less than half of my novels are police procedurals. and.” This may well be true for the writer explaining his motivation. has led the way in writing compelling tales about how crime affects individuals and society. being called a “writer” in the first place is “a little intimidating. Deon Meyer. When asked about the police procedural as a vehicle for telling his tales he says: “It was never a conscious decision. I would prefer to be referred to as a storyteller.

Meyer’s response: “I’ve often thought of good fiction as being very similar to a good symphony: the theme goes from order to disorder and back to order again (if you know what I mean).” Nicol’s question to Meyer was whether or not this is part of the crime novel’s “inverted world”. Sgt. is that of being wounded. well-groomed dudes who get it all right. His novels are not politically correct sledgehammers with which to bludgeon his readers. opening the way for a number of other writers to write crime novels. was politically loaded during the apartheid years. and of going to bed with the beautiful girls after a good meal in the end. on the one hand. Chief among these reasons is that he is a very fine writer. intensely plot-driven stories that try to restore the moral order. not all) crime writers write crime from a deep sense of outrage. there is a level of introspection in them that catapults his books into the literary realm. Meyer himself said in an interview that “the sad thing is that South Africa. I find his writing very humane and compassionate. true crime is mostly domestic. then Meyer’s writing is pegged a little higher than the mere storytelling that he claims for it.” Nicol regards Meyer as having opened up the genre for other crime fiction writers.Appraisal est bit intimidated by being called a writer. There have been a few authors in these genres over the years such as McClure. But Meyer’s resuscitation of the crime novel is also a reinvention: his novels are not purely about entertaining the reader with crime. this quest is such a wonderful source of conflict and tension. While most of his novels are heavily plotdriven. I think that many (many. And getting into their darkness is pure extrapolation. Of that dark side Meyer says: “We all have a ‘dark side’. Another key feature of Meyer’s characters. Meyer is aware of the social realities that inform his tales. and particularly Afrikaans. written in what Nicol put to Meyer in one interview as a “deviant genre and one. a form that. the bliksemming of the bad guys. As Margie Orford. but crime fiction is very often about the quest to rectify this state. crime novels are only superficially about crime. What they are really about is making things better.” His characters are damaged men with demons to fight.” says Nicol. be they cops trying to do their work in difficult circumstances or private eyes or bodyguards. We have. myself included. They all have a “back story” that the author uses to explain how they have come to be who they are in the present.” Orford’s philosophy about the crime genre seems to mirror Meyer’s. or haven’t. Apart from Meyer’s skill as a weaver of words. If you think about it. Geoffrey Jenkins and Zimbabwean Wilbur Smith. according to fellow novelist Mike Nicol. It’s always very sad. some have argued.” Meyer is very cognisant of the reality that for South African writers it is impossible to write a book without political shadows falling over it. another immensely popular crime novelist. Meyer’s heroes are not dashing. [that] is less interested in reconciliation than it is in alienation and disorder. “I’ve done what crime authors the world over mostly do: stay away from the terrible tediousness of real-life crime. One of the elements that distinguishes Meyer’s writing is his ability to weave a literary element of the human struggle into the genre of crime fiction. he holds a noteworthy place in South African fiction as the writer who was prepared to go back to writing the crime novel. But during apartheid years – or from around the mid-70s – a silence falls over the genre. puts it: “Deon has an ear for the big guys who have trouble expressing their feelings and who get slightly nervous around women.” says Nicol. and he is well aware of the realm of fantasy that he delves into to bring these stories to life. Deon Meyer explodes onto the scene with his first book and takes on the crime novel again. But it did take a while for a portion of the South African reading public to realise that home-grown crime fiction could be entertaining. In much of Meyer’s writing there is a sense of his characters having to come to terms with the politics that have informed their lives and careers in apartheid South Africa. Tromp] Kramer and [Dt. to bring understanding and order out of incomprehension and chaos. “That’s pretty much how I see Meyer’s writing. But the one thing I’ve realised with some relief is that my dark side is quite a few shades brighter than those of my characters. we have characters with a dark side as well as stories that attempt to make sense of the senseless. If the purpose of literature is to make us think more deeply and to understand our world more clearly. And that wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . but that’s about it. “In 1996. Yet hard-boiled prose can be wonderfully poetic. Nicol makes reference to McClure’s police procedurals based on the detective partnership of Kramer and Zondi. So I beg to differ from those who say that crime fiction is about disorder. If you look at international (and South African) statistics. does not have a tradition of mystery or thriller writing. That is the aim of crime fiction – a kind of restoration of balance. fixing things up. Mickey] Zondi mysteries. He makes space for them – with all their chips on their shoulders and dark memories and their affection for children. of the washing away of sins. Crime is about disorder and alienation. and she has a theory: “I do have a theory. taking what you know and playing the ‘what if ’ game. seldom mysterious or dramatic for the larger public.” So. There is a divide between what is really going on in South Africa and what happens to his characters. of understanding. “Deon broke a drought that had existed in this form of writing since James McClure wrote his [Lt. On the other hand. But Meyer deals with this reality in a way that makes the reader interested in how things have. changed.

” While readers are enamoured of his work. a job he left in 2008 to become a full-time writer. on every level. that the writing of Meyer becomes at the same time important and entertaining. It’s a case of ‘if dad writes it. because as I have been re-reading Meyer’s novels in preparation for writing about him again. stories are woven. for instance – perhaps not quite ‘hard-boiled’ prose. His books are filled with action and breath-taking suspense moments. the kids are completely unimpressed (with me being a writer). and 13 Hours. The biggest lesson learnt as a journalist was that the info is always out there somewhere. but there is this feeling of a solid moral vision that makes looking at South Africa close up a very interesting thing to do. The book deals with disorder and alienation in the same inverted relationship you are suggesting.Appraisal is what makes his books so good to read. And that is no mean feat to pull off. His characters may not always get exactly what they want and they certainly have to suffer a fair amount of psychological and often physical torment in their journey. But pull it off. Take J. Meyer quips: “It’s weird and wonderful. Perhaps that is what divides one form of the novel from another that. I knew fiction was going to be no different: you had to pay your dues. “Alas. Heart of the Hunter. Of working in journalism he says: “I think print journalism is a great training ground for writers. and had to get used to the fact that my income was unpredictable. Dead at Daybreak. later on. leaving the job market was a one-way ticket.M. brilliant and powerful anyway. both examine a society that has fault lines. And. but stripped. he moved with his family to Klerksdorp and studied at the University of Potchefstroom. it must be very boring’. it’s not the case with his four children. had four kids at school or university. begging the fiction editors to tell me where the weaknesses in my writing were. The experience I gained in doing research has been invaluable. “I was used to earning a salary all my life. I get a real kick out of standing in a bookshop in a foreign country. Of course.” His books have been translated into twenty languages. I also walk over to the shelf and rearrange them to be a little more prominent. element. but they do get to find some from of closure in the solving of a crime or a mystery. and perhaps how it is categorised and marketed. “Having gone through a steep learning curve as a journalist and. In addition to learning to work with words (and sentences and paragraphs). his asking of the question “Why?” It is in the answering of this question. at the age of fifty. one of the differences is that in Meyer’s work there is always some form of resolution and settling of scores. So. They don’t read any of my work. But writing novels was always my final goal. interesting that Meyer raises the reality of Coetzee. Later. of course. one is forced to confront story structure and the fact that you are writing for readers with little time. existential. It’s not a far reach to say that there are indeed comparisons between Meyer’s work and Coetzee’s: both deal with damaged people. what separates Meyer’s work from generality is the human. and only came twice a year. I would like to think this is the fabric from which all.” It is. Like Coetzee. driven. I including a note.” Meyer says: “Extrapolating this. my mind keeps wandering back to Coetzee.” Meyer later worked as brand strategist for BMW. you’ll find it. or most.” he says. whereas Coetzee’s characters pretty much don’t. Coetzee’s incredible Disgrace. Meyer continues to do successfully. With every short story submitted to a magazine. He has paid his dues on the writing front. Devil’s Peak. and many choices. an advertising copywriter. Meyer says the decision to give up taking home a pay cheque and strike out on his own was “very scary”. On seeing his books in bookstores around the world. and seeing my books on the shelf. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Deon Meyer How I paid my dues By Jennifer Crocker M eyer was born in Paarl in the Western Cape. He started his working life as a subeditor at Die Volksblad. Blood Safari. and if you try hard enough. And they were extremely generous in sharing their knowledge.” He is the author of Dead Before Dying. starting with short stories was a very deliberate attempt to learn the craft. bravely starting out with one of the most difficult story forms – the short story. . framed in other ways but with the same devastating effect.

MacDonald’s Travis McGee series (Nightmare in Pink. happy to pass on more of John D.How I write Illustration: Khaya Mtshali My life of crime I’d call what I write ‘why done its’ rather than a ‘who done its’ By Roger Smith was only years later that I understood that McGee was an eco-warrior long before a Greenpeace dinghy ever invaded a nuclear testing site. But it was a book by Richard Stark (the pseudonym of Donald E. a guy who lived on the Florida Keys in a houseboat he won playing poker. and hated money-and-landgrabbing developers with a passion. Darker than Amber. Cinnamon Skin – you get the drift). Westlake) that really turned my head: Point Blank/AKA The Hunter. I still have it. A tight wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Just William My father indulged me. a dog-eared little paperback with a plain silver cover (no bikinis for Stark) sporting a bullet hole and the one-liner: a novel of violence. rescued (tanned and sandy) damsels in distress. It A Tan and Sandy Silence .

I was so inspired by this stuff that not only did I want to consume it in greater quantities than Dave’s Book Exchange could supply. and did all the things dinner-party radicals did in those days. But – sadly – my own attempts at writing dribbled away to nothing. Then I saw a TV news report about a good-looking American couple who lived in a smart part of Cape Town. while the other kids in the white wonderland of East Rand suburbia were doing healthy things like taking their moms’ bets across to the fah-fee runner. of course. they just have to be interesting. I still loved reading emergency and P. Not the stuff of dinner table conversation on the picture-postcard side of town. with his dead eyes and shaking hands. we had big-time anarchy right here at home! And that’s when I had one of those dah-dah moments: crime wasn’t between the covers of those American thrillers I loved so much. lean as a Brazilian supermodel. I wanted to write it. and Rudi “Gatsby” Barnard. We took his child in his orange jumpsuit – gang tattoos carved into his skin – scared the boy. He knew if he ever went out there again he wouldn’t stand a chance. they were sent back home to do serious prison time. looking for a home: Disaster Zondi.W. and the true stories she told me and the world she introduced me to. He was in his thirties and.How I write piece of gutter existentialism. one of those kids from ’76 who had grown up to work for an investigative unit something like the old Scorpions. After they were captured. an obese exCCB hit-man who was now a corrupt cop out on the Flats (my revenge on those bible-punching cowboys who had their bloody way with the country in the eighties and early nineties). I went with her to prison to visit him. and street gangs and poverty. but I had long given up any ambition to become a crime writer. A Flats gangster who’d spent most of his life in Pollsmoor the characters. who continues to produce brilliant novels well into his eighties) with the white noise of the surf in the background. woven into the South African fabric with its Calvinist obscenities and pass raids and detentions. and Riaan Cuywagen’s rug was the only thing that remained unmoved by the momentous events that hit our streets and TV screens. Dashiell Hammet. would end up where he always ended up: back in prison. it was all around me. 1976 happened. seduced by the mountain and the ocean. family was her brother. He scared me too. And before I knew it I had two other – very different – products of South African violence running around in my head. So. But they’d robbed a couple of banks in the US and were hiding out in Cape Town. had spent a total of two years out of jail. This story made me think: “what a man on the run brings his family to Cape Town. we had a new bunch of criminals in power. or laughing as municipal cops klapped domestic workers who broke the curfew. it would have to be crime Finish and klaar. King Elmore. I was urban parables have been imitated by many – including Quentin Tarantino – but never equalled). And I think we scared him because we were part of the world outside. whose classic The Killer Inside Me taught me that characters don’t have to be nice. seduced by those images of mountains and beaches and new lives for themselves when they are confronted by a random act of violence – a collision between the Cape Flats and privileged Cape Town – that hooks them into the world of Rudi “Gatsby” Barnard and Benny As I hit my teens I kept on reading American crime and I kept by Raymond Chandler. Township kids my age were taking on the Boere. I became a founder member refused to work for the SABC. A few years ago I fell in love with a woman who grew up out on the Cape Flats. He even had a name: Benny Mongrel. As I watched the seventies lurch in the eighties. Midwestern noir – and. street-smart wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . I wrote scripts for TV series and screenplays that saw the inside of dusty drawers rather than movie screens. A world where he was powerless. By the time I walked out of that jail. They ran a restaurant and everybody said how friendly and nice they were. In the late nineties. tired of Johannesburg and its hard edges and grit. Ross McDonald and the great Jim Thompson. I still read crime (James Sallis – hard-boiled poetry – Scott Phillips – wry. it follows precious little backstory) an ex-con out of prison and out for revenge. and I came full circle. changed my view of Cape Town forever. I moved down to Cape Town. Botha’s toedip in the Rubicon were made a helluva lot more tolerable by Patricia Highsmith (amoral Tom Ripley is the has ever produced) and Elmore Leonard (whose slangy. armed with rocks and sticks! Bugger the Sex Pistols. since the age of fourteen. realising that if I wanted to write about something that affected about who we are and what we have become. a story was starting to write itself in my head. As South Africa moved into the new century. So. And I still kept on James Ellroy and Pete Dexter) as Nelson Mandela was released and we went all rainbow. These reports from the windswept badlands were unlike anything I’d ever heard before – an insider’s view of child abuse. How could you think of writing was the shortest path to irrelevance.

where characters are placed in extreme jeopardy that may cost them their lives. With Mixed Blood. So. I’m now leading a fulltime life of crime. For the most part. and my upcoming thriller Wake Up Dead. an American movie production company. but he’ll always survive because the author wants the reader queuing up at the bookstore for the next installment. using multiple points of view (thank you Elmore Leonard. and was voted best crime novel of jury. I decided that. book. I’d call what I write “why done its” rather than a “who done its”. Creating believable characters and plots that hold the attention of the reader and making it look effortless is a skill that very few – like the great Mr Leonard – possess. I had a story. I have been really lucky and Mixed Blood has done very well for me. Shooting is scheduled to begin wordsetc POSTER COLLECTION PURCHASE ONE OF OUR LIMITED EDITION POSTERS SIZES: A2 (R180) & A3 (R110) Wordsetc I Bank: Nedbank I Branch : Cresta I Account no: 191 340 2002 I Branch no:191 30592 SEND PROOF OF PAYMENT WITH YOUR PARTICULARS TO: Wordsetc I P O Box 2729 I Saxonwold I 2132 I or E-mail: subscriptions@wordsetc.How I write in Cape Town late this year. it’s the thermometer shoved up the butt of our society to take its moral temperature. Of course. But I’m just writing about it. The German translation won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Award). these literary types should stick to what they know. making it (hopefully) impossible not to turn the page. to see literary heavyweights like John Banville. Mixed Blood. where the hero may be beaten. and Rabbit-Proof Fence) is on board to direct. and that seems to be the only sane response to living in this country. writing crime isn’t. Japan.co. I set out to create a cast of enterprising psychopaths. France. I’ve gone from being a crime reader. recently. like so many of our elected outlaws and man-in-the-street criminals. As for me. Italy and the UK and received great reviews. for pointing the way!) to allow the reader to ride shotgun with the good and the bad guys. since my inspiration had always been drawn from American crime novels. to being a crime writer – I’m busy on my fourth book right now. Patriot Games. and crime or too mainstream. I still read a huge amount interesting. with Samuel L. She loved the book and sold it to Henry Holt and Co who gave me a two book deal. So. Jackson committed to playing Disaster Zondi. battered and betrayed. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) is busy with the screenplay – I’m more than happy to step away and leave it in his hands – and Phillip Noyce (Salt. At its best. I believe mysteries are better suited to series. Alice Martell. It’s been sold to publishers in Germany. Which just goes to prove that while doing crime may be easy.za I or Fax: 0860 510 5716 wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Even though I read some mysteries I didn’t want to write one. and it should live out there on the torn fringes and draw from the darkness we all carry inside ourselves. All I needed to do was sit down and write it. Mixed Blood that I was pleased with. And never had that old saw “write what you like to read” been more appropriate. placing second in the international category. So I did the craziest thing a grown man could do: I mortgaged my apartment and sat down and wrote a book. Denis Johnson and Thomas Pynchon “slumming” it by writing crime. Kelly Masterson (who wrote the twisty neo-noir. Mixed Blood has been optioned by GreeneStreet Films. I’d take a shot at getting an agent in the US and see if I could get published. Not so in a stand-alone thriller. And then life did me a huge favour disguised as a minor crisis: six month’s worth of screenwriting work evaporated with a few phone calls and e-mails. So I sent out two hundred query letters and nobody was more surprised than I was when I landed a great agent in New York. what they’ve produced isn’t very satisfying: neither great you. So.

published in 2009 after a nineteen-year pause. together with inspiring South African authors such as Angela Makholwa and Meshack Mfaniseni Masondo. which captured my interest as a German researcher. So. Many of these writers are activists or have a history of being one. that’s wishful thinking. in Wessel Ebersohn’s debut novel A Lonely Place to Die (1979). and was drawn to their discussions. which is the main reason for my scholarly interest: South Africa is a country with a history of many social and political crimes. rape and sex work as depicted in crime writing are very much based on the reality in both South Africa and other southern African countries. but his main investigator wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 .” Today. where I live. a character from his debut novel. I have since met Meyer again several more times and conversed with other writers such as Margie Orford. sex work and rape in novel is a commentary on the broader context – for example. gender empowerment. Mat Joubert. Against all odds. Crimes that affected basic human rights of South Africans citizens such as forced removals. Little did I know that meeting Meyer. Reading crime keeps me awake all night. to listen to one of Meyer’s readings. but which is momentarily imbalanced by an act of murder. In South Africa. would provide me with many more sleepless nights par excellence and soon lead me to decide to write my doctoral thesis on southern African crime fiction in English. surprisingly. corruption. and. Sexuality. He is a charming luminary of crime writing and did he ever blow me away when I met him for the first time. which have lasted from colonisation to apartheid and beyond. Mike Nicol. his detective. Crime writing often comes with an aim of addressing such social injustices. a friend encouraged me to read a South African crime novel. homosexuality and sex work in literature. Many changes that society underwent can be reconstructed in crime fiction. For example. Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer. The October Killings. censorship or morality laws and crimes that are a source of many social problems in the country today. since this genre well elaborates the taboo parts of society.Essay I Nora Krüger The crime of sex The portrayal of prostitution in crime morality and politics of contemporary South Africa By Nora Krüger never used to enjoy crime fiction as I am very easily scared. and I doubt anyone who has ever read a single one of their works could pose such questions. Under apartheid. Joanne Hichens and Roger Smith. who is also a high court judge. I knew then that I was hooked. HIV/AIDS. American and British crime fiction is largely about a society that is firmly in control. At this very same conference I also encountered a wide range of African crime authors. I was often asked why I was writing on crime fiction from South Africa and why I did not analyse German or European crime writing. religion and morality. listening and twitching to the sounds of my apartment. South Africa produces literature on crime completely different from Europe. Andrew Brown or Unity Dow from Botswana. the topics portrayed in crime fiction seem to be grounded in the reality of South African violence against women and children. crime writers risked censorship if they tackled sex. This work was spared censorship as the description of the sexual activities was not very explicit and homosexuality is condemned by the church in the novel. As Richard Kunzmann said in a TIME interview: “The relationship between criminals and the forces of the law is different. he resurrects Yudel Gordon. During my subsequent research trips abroad. captured me so delicately that I spontaneously went to a conference in Germany. In Ebersohn’s latest thriller. shaped through its history. the short romance of two women is told. The truth is that the setting makes all the difference for this genre. In contemporary South Africa the depiction of sex. like Orford. The portrayal of these topics seems to be a metonymy for the morality and politics of the South African state.

The startling differences between Ebersohn’s two novels clearly indicate that the fear of censorship fell away along with apartheid. He wanted to stop her and murdered twelve other sex workers as wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . sex work poses the key question of who is the criminal and what is a crime. especially in South Africa. It is only revealed at the end of the novel that the murderer was actually the brother of a sex worker. her interviews with victims. as exclusion zones. he researched the sex work scene of Cape Town and worked together with the psychologists of SWEAT (Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce). many a time examining his explicit depiction of sex and sexuality in his books. Dr Clare Hart. The explosiveness of sex work in South African society is taken up by many other contemporary crime writers such as Margie Orford (the main profile in this edition). All her novels feature the investigative journalist and profiler. causing a stir in the village. a senior functionary in the Department of Justice. As they often suffer abuse at the hands of the police. in contrast to prostitution – which has often been used in pejorative ways. such as areas where there are schools or churches. which puts an emphasis on the occupation.Essay in the new South Africa is a strong female character. As of 2002. Daddy’s Girl (2009). also revolves around underage forced prostitution. host of the previous soccer tournament. as underlined by the politically correct term “sex work”. when I twitch to the sounds outside. sex workers often become victims of crime. they are forced to look other ways for protection. and writers today are much more willing to take on society’s evils. Her latest novel. Emancipatory developments as well as historical entanglements are taken up in this work. a law which regulates sex work. with suspicion arising that the corpses were of sex workers who had had dalliances with truck drivers using the road to and from Botswana. cities still reserve the right to declare certain districts. and drugs. I recently got myself a big dog to guard my bedroom door – and my bookshelves. Moreover. a local girl. To get some sleep. However. but they are anonymous and socially isolated from general society. as their bodies seem to appear out of nowhere and they only cause a temporary excitement in the otherwise rather dull village life. is inspired by her research in the South African sex industries. Shameless (2008) by Futhi Ntshingila or Kleinboer’s Midnight Missionary (2006) (first published in Afrikaans as Kontrei in 2003). who in the latest novel is almost raped while investigating Cape Town’s sex workers’ scene. Not only are the lives of sex workers in the novel considered worth much less than those of teachers. my first South African crime writer. Due to the upcoming 2010 soccer World Cup. In South Africa. where no sex workers may operate. Writer Diale Thlolwe illustrates this point in his 2008 debut novel Ancient Rites. Before that several women had died. Orford claims that South Africa is “at war against women” and deliberately bases her fictional work on true events. which brings them into contact with gangs or pimps. far away from the usual urban crime settings such as Johannesburg or Cape Town. Living on the outskirts of society. relying on the fact that no investigation would be laid. and I only ever regret that around 4 a. Other novels which are not considered crime fiction but which deal with crime around the sex-work scene include Whiplash (2008) by Tracey Farren. Even though the total number of murders – thirteen – is revealed later in the story.m. sex workers are considered as things. For Heart of the Hunter (2004). survivors. a Cape Town-based non-governmental organisation. The decriminalisation of sex work is nonetheless continuously controversially discussed in Germany as it is in South Africa. As reflected in many crime and “taboo” novels. decriminalised sex work in December 2001 by passing the Prostitutionsgesetz. Abigail Bukula. Orford’s second novel. a cover-up. In the context of crime fiction. Prostitution is a popular topic in South African crime fiction as sex work is still illegal and considered immoral throughout southern Africa. Others spoke of a serial killer on the loose. Germany. Prostitution has become a popular topic in South African crime fiction as sex work is still illegal and considered immoral throughout southern Africa. A part-time private eye is asked to investigate the case of a missing schoolteacher. and there doesn’t even seem to be a proper documentation of the murders or of the places where the corpses were found. including their payment. the legalisation of prostitution is robustly discussed in the media. Reading crime fiction still keeps me up at night as I pleasurably devour novels as diverse in story as the origin of their authors. have access to social insurance and public health insurance. which is set near Mafikeng. it is a legally acknowledged occupation in Germany: sex workers can claim their rights. the empowerment of sex workers has come a long way already. criminals and detectives. and can work as freelancers or as employees. I am still easily scared – possibly more than ever – but I just cannot keep my hands off these thrillers – Meyer got me addicted to this genre of South African literature. who grew up in exile. sex workers are considered criminals by the general society. I have returned to Meyer. no investigation is launched. gangs and human trafficking. Blood Rose (2007). not as human beings.

daily routine and the certainty that MK is a fairly stable city are factors that ensure that I am free from concerns that may distract me from writing. murder is almost always a crime of passion and impulse where the killer seldom. It’s a phenomenon that has come out of the blue and shaken everyone I know. weighs the consequences of his or her act at all before the killing. the recent crime wave has got me worried. Though I love my home away from home. one woman is killed every two to three days in the UK.Real Life live in Milton Keynes (pronounced Keenz not Canes or Kinis like some of my fellow Zimbabweans are wont to say). Engel refers to the killing of one’s lover as “murderous love”. Yet. Greenspan says in the foreword to Howard Engel’s Crimes of Passion: “The fact is. the murderer makes no attempt to escape or resist arrest. Euston. however. But can the possibility of a harsh sentence deter a woman who has been experiencing violence or sexual abuse inflicted by her partner? According to the Council of Europe. if ever. According to the office of the attorney general of England and Wales. Milton Keynes (MK) is the perfect town for someone like me who wasn’t born and bred in England and who was accustomed to seeing green spaces and trees as she grew up in what once was the breadbasket of Africa – Zimbabwe. I don’t remember such crimes occurring with the same level of frequency in the past. usually. Need I say more? How far would you go to be rid of a partner? A crime passionnel? Edward L. In most crimes of passion. The judge was a man. Yet. there’s no premeditation and. if you travel by Virgin train. Furthermore. McGrail received a suspended sentence. Robberies and sexual assaults are on the increase. those who aren’t residents of this beautiful town dislike it because of the roundabouts – since there are more than a hundred – and due to the fact that they don’t understand why we have Concrete Cows (three cows and three calves not actually made from concrete) in the midst of a glass and concrete shopping mall. an average of two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. He kicked his wife to death and wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 I pleaded provocation on the grounds that she was an alcoholic and she swore at him. In England. and a good solid hour if you use the London Midlands service. Gender and the law The case of Joseph McGrail is one such. In nineteenth-century France. “she nagged me one too many times” or “she slept around so I lost control and stabbed. The judge said the deceased “would have tried the patience of a saint”.” Crimes of passion But crimes of passion stand out more than other murders in that they are committed by seemingly ordinary men and women. which stops at every station to London. I like the solitude and slow pace that MK offers – it helps my imagination to flourish. beat or choked her to death”. 2002. Lately there seems to be a harvest of husbands killing their wives. in thous country. probably as a deterrent to all other women who may succumb to a similar temptation to rid themselves of their lovers or husbands. As a poet and writer of children’s fiction. It’s a relatively large town situated about thirty minutes from London. They get off the hook by employing a “nagging and shagging” defence – that is. My mundane. the law treated crimes of passion as crimes separate from murder and women were often acquitted. These deaths at the hands of loved ones account for forty per cent of all female homicides. murder was murder and women who killed were often given harsher sentences than men. the law seems to ignore prolonged abuse as a plausible defence for Picture: Supplied Fungisayi Sasa Crimes of passion An expat takes a look at gender and the law in her adopted country By Fungisayi Sasa . one in four European woman experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. despite living a seemingly idyllic life in the diaspora.

Mr Grinhaff then went to great lengths to establish his wife’s unfaithfulness. Some weeks before Christmas in the year of her conviction. Having satisfied himself that she indeed was having an affair. Fortunately. Lee. and the hitman. After years of mental and physical abuse. her own daughter. she showered and made two trips from the house before calling a special constable friend explaining what she had done. The unusual thing about this case was that. love.m.. Clifford. she had continued seeing her lover – she even altered her Facebook status to “splitting with husband”. her coconspirator and friend was jailed for eighteen months. Between them. Gary Grinhaff’s body was found an hour later near Wombwell Woods. around 6 a. Brian. South Yorkshire. Let’s just be friends. Davina was sixteen.. Niamh woke her thirteenyear-old sister Chloe. Kumari-Baker re-invited them and. money. it is believed that Mr wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 The battle of the sexes rages on and the men seem to be winning. the girls’ mother. on 11 June she promised the girls a shopping spree in the hopes that they would stay overnight at her house. around 2. in 1992. was put away for life. lived with her father and shared space with the new woman in her father’s life. More crimes of passion On 2 May 2008 in Wombwell. since 2003. The next day. She was arrested in January 2007 after she reportedly hired a hitman to kill her husband. who can afford to hire a killer these days? Jones could clearly afford it and so could Zoe Kenealy.30 a. in the garage. Sometimes murder comes all on its own. stood by his wife and forgave her. the girls did not stay over. who on seeing her parents weren’t in their bedroom went downstairs and into the kitchen. called the police. She was sentenced to seven years in 2008. Roy Greech was given a two-year suspended sentence for killing his unfaithful wife. After the spree. David Baker. sex and jealousy have almost become synonymous with murder. Afterwards. Zoe told Timothy that she didn’t want to be with him anymore and she didn’t want him to wait for her either. Timothy Kenealy. not that they necessarily come hand in hand. But it was also believed that Kumari-Baker was jealous of her successful ex-husband’s thriving relationship with his new partner. however. Josephine Smith shot her husband. A slew of murders On 13 June 2007. even in the murder stakes. The gist of her letter to him was. In her case were some thirty thousand pounds. three thousand pounds to find someone who would murder her husband. claiming it was for “home improvements” and she paid her neighbour Lee Waite. killed both girls. though.m. Any hope? So what is this glimmer of hope for women? Sandra Jones hired a hitman to bludgeon her husband to death with a crowbar. Jones was sentenced to three years. The note “which indicated that something bad had happened”. Josephine was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Peers in the House of Lords recently chose to throw out planned legislation that would rule out sexual infidelity as a defence for murder. Officers found the body of Mrs Tracey Grinhaff. But there seems to be a glimmer of hope for women – I don’t mean in terms of changes in the law. She claimed diminished responsibility caused by depression led her to attack her daughters. in Streatham Cambridgeshire. Kumari-Baker was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a minimum of thirty-three years in prison. Somehow. in the early hours of the next morning.Real Life women killing abusive partners. Kumari-Baker used twelvepound knives she had bought two days before. Her motive was the same as Jones’s – money. her relationship with her long-term lover. three-yearold Niamh stood on the landing crying because she couldn’t find her parents. Despite cumulative provocation being seen as a valid defence. Bearing in mind that there are still people out there who are willing to be paid to kill – and considering the had just ended and she had quit her job. He asked the judge to give her leniency. she asked her brother to help her but he reported her to the police. in turn. Jeff Powell. So. gave the two girls particular instructions. Two months after her sentencing. What was Sandra Jones’s motive? A ninety-six-thousand-pound payout from her husband’s employer in the event of his death. in the form of an insurance policy. her husband. plethora of information on how to kill – it’s no surprise that murders seem to be increasing. despite hearing all of the evidence. Chloe called a neighbour. It turns out that Mrs Grinhaff had been having an affair with Mr Grinhaff’s close friend and. the girls received a total of sixty-nine wounds. Kumari-Baker had been divorced from the children’s father. Still Timothy remained devoted. The lending market being what it is. she resented the fact that Davina. vowing that he still loved her. When he pocketed the money. Moreover. . She managed to get a bank loan and paid a man – who had finished serving his life sentence for murder – to kill her husband. She managed to obtain a loan of four thousand five hundred pounds from Welcome Financial Services. despite saying she would end the affair. fortyone-year-old Rekha Kumari-Baker murdered her two daughters by stabbing them repeatedly. who. Jones’s husband was able to fend off the attack. Jasmine thirteen. collectible after her husband’s death. where she saw a note in her father’s handwriting stuck to the cooker.

We stock books specialising in: SA literature.za to be added to our mailing list. Bookshop for South African and World Literature .and post-election). P O Box 563. Philosophy. one nagging question remains: what can women do about the inequality they face? Maybe I need to take a cue from one of my poems “I Am Cannibal”: Take one man. blood and terror that is Zimbabwe (pre. Art & Design. We have a weekly children’s story hour programme.Real Life Grinhaff killed his wife on the night of 1 May while their two daughters slept in their rooms. Desensitised Yet. He then tidied up. Auckland Park. he used the saw attachment on his cordless drill to drill into his arm and leg. An article in The Independent reported that the murder rate is at its lowest in twenty years – it has actually fallen by seventeen per cent. So why do I check the windows and doors more often now than I used to? It seems that every time I pick up a newspaper or watch the news. Place in a preheated oven (400°F/200°C/Gas 6) and roast for 50 to 60 minutes. After driving to a woodland area. When I read about another crime of passion in the newspapers all I can think is: “Here we go again. Despite being far from the hunger. Boekehuis. Serve hot before bitterness sets in. Johannesburg. 2006 Tel: +27 (0)11 482 3609. Cultural History. the mouth conceals the tongue and a man’s tongue lies) Pound then knead the flesh until soft and pliable. We give discount to schools and libraries. World fiction and Children’s books. It’s comforting to know that I am less likely to be murdered this year compared to twenty years ago.co. Politics. Mr Grinhaff died from haemorrhage and shock due to his wounds.” Still. (unbelievably) official figures show that the overall crime rate in the country has fallen by four per cent. carried the body downstairs to the garage and left the notes for his daughters and Tracey’s lover’s wife. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 BOEKEHUIS Voted by the International Booksellers Federation as one of 50 unique bookshops in the world. Fax: +27 (0)11 482 3127 Monday – Friday: 9am – 6pm. mail to boekehuis@boekehuis. or phone through your order. 34 Fawley Street. I no longer flinch or turn away from the news when they show bloody images. Visit us at our shop in Auckland Park. another murder has taken place. Remove his feet and head (for the head holds the mouth. Saturday discussions with writers as well as regular book launches. I have come to an island where murder appears with such frequency in the media that I am completely desensitised. according to reports. Saturday: 9am – 5pm If you would like to receive notices of our author readings and book launches.

who appealed to higher authorities to intervene and alerted the press. and all that changed. It was the stuff of nightmares. Then. the more intrigued and horrified I became. They don’t get justice. But I also started to question: what happens to all the other women in this position who don’t have access to lawyers? What happens to the rape survivors who don’t think to go to the press. and researching it. I received a phone call at 1 a. my friend had access to a lawyer. But what was I doing writing legal fiction? The closest I’d ever come to the law was being on the wrong side of it. The obvious examples are Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. it appeared the case would finally be properly investigated. at that stage I knew nothing about the South African legal system. and that she might not get justice. I was well aware that the majority of legal fiction is written by lawyers: they know the system inside and out. Walking home after a night out with a friend. obviously the answer is nothing.” I would boil it down even more and suggest that the legal thriller fulfils a basic human desire – to see what happens next after the PI or cop has cracked the case. I sat down to write it out. It was a close friend of mine. And this desire to read or watch fictional justice unfold is not new.. and twentieth-century masterpieces such as To Kill a Mocking Bird. what appeared on the laptop screen started to morph into something quite different – the beginnings of a crime novel starring two unconventional lawyer protagonists. and this may be the major reason why legal fiction has taken a lead ahead of contemporary crime fiction. Legal thriller author William Bernhardt says: “The desire for justice in a world that seems unjust in the extreme is shared not only by lawyers but also by the common man. Penguin published my first novel. I was still reeling at the thought that my friend’s ordeal could easily have slipped through the cracks. Why are legal thrillers so popular? And what is it about the South African legal thriller that could be different? The legal fiction genre is an international pop culture phenomenon that’s dominated the TV schedule and best-seller lists since the eighties. but as I’m predominantly a fiction writer. I started writing because I was angry and needed an outlet. I needed to know more about the genre. the works of nineteeth-century populist writers such as Wilkie Collins. It involved zombies and horror and all that good stuff. I had a very clear idea of what I was going to write next. who don’t have the back-up my friend had? Well. and offered me a two-book deal. Charles Dickens and Anna Katherine Green.Essay I Sarah Lotz Fictional justice Why local legal thrillers are increasing in popularity By Sarah Lotz n 2008. Scott Turow’s 1987 novel Presumed Innocent may well have been the first novel to be termed a legal thriller. she’d been picked up by the police and thrown into a cell where she’d been assaulted and raped by one of her arresting officers. The Thirty-Nine Steps and Robert Traver’s Anatomy of a Crime. The Practice and Damages attract huge ratings and author John Grisham is a household name across the globe. but law crime writing has been around since the 1500s. Fortunately. instead of producing an account of my friend’s story. and the more I started looking at the criminal justice system.m. Will the system do its job? Will the wrong-doer get his or her just desserts? Will the innocent man or woman escape the gas chamber? A sub-category of the crime genre wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Picture: Johannes Dreyer . and although married to a lawyer. As the months passed and the investigation went through several ups and downs. but all things legal fiction. Thanks to front-page coverage of the assault. and it didn’t take long to realise that the local police were not keen to investigate the matter. So the novel began to take on another dimension. Series such as Boston Legal. Initially. It was pretty clear that to pull this off I not only had to consider legal reality. and the help of an independent forensics expert who generously offered his services.

a large section of the population still does not have adequate access to legal justice. the popularity of legal thrillers has resulted in a slew of sub-categories. satirical legal thrillers and the socio-legal novel. get them caught up in a conspiracy and you get them out. While this is a somewhat slippery footing for the legal thriller writer. anyone who has had first-hand experience in dealing with the legal system will know that justice is a slippery concept. all of whose books. accused of beating a child to death in the early hours of the morning. As in: “Would a reasonable man in these circumstances have foreseen and avoided the harm caused. so the contemporary legal crime genre will follow suit. And speaking of lacks. certainly in relation to criminal matters. to my mind. with more writers following in the footsteps of legal practitionersturned-authors such as the excellent David Dison. They include Christian legal fiction. and. as we see daily. clearly the socio-legal novel utilises fiction as a mirror to show the flaws and lacks of society. But facetiousness aside. According to Grisham. like the lawyer protagonist. humorous legal fiction. right? But this would not have worked in a country where the system of justice itself was based on a system of laws promulgated by an illegitimate regime and. And forget the Perry Mason last-minute revelation. his defence failed. anyone who even has a passing acquaintance with the South African courts will know that cases usually take years before reaching finality. explains why he refuses to accept the system of justice against which they are being tried for crimes against the state: “We cannot plead guilty … The acts we committed were carried out against an enemy that had made us victims in our country and taken any rights that we had away from us. and he was convinced that the tokoloshe was coming to get him. For example. it’s riddled with corruption at the highest level. as Grisham wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 puts it. A Fiction of Law. His explanation was that in the dead of night he’d been awoken by strange and disturbing noises. causing fatal injuries to a child who was more than likely just up to mischief. It may seem that it’s more like “whoever has the biggest wallet and the most influential friends wins”. an illiterate shepherd living in an isolated rural area was charged with culpable homicide. is bound within the constraints of the legal system. there is a certain formula to writing a successful legal thriller. that … we cannot simply play their game when we have no part in forming the rules?” The US and the UK’s legal systems are creaky machines that have been turning for centuries. one of the Delmas Four. Applying the “reasonable man” test. Post-apartheid South Africa is now on a similar constitutional footing to the UK and the US yet. Here’s his: “You throw an innocent person in there. Ting-Ting Masango. In Peter Harris’s In a Different Time. In the nineties South Africa’s fledgling democracy was freshly hatched. According to Radhakrisnan. medico-legal thrillers.” In an actual South African court case. the writer. and the American legal maxim “whoever tells the best story wins” didn’t or doesn’t really work as well in a South African context.Essay itself. Chris Marnewick and Peter Harris. Advocate Narayan Radhakrisnan lists several of these sub-categories in his excellent and comprehensive study of legal fiction. was not a matter of just proving they didn’t do it. He’d consequently rushed out of his hut The legal thriller fulfils a basic human desire – to see what happens next after the PI or cop has cracked the case. Of course. And because the legal thriller genre is rooted in fact. in a state of terror and had tragically lashed out with his knobkerrie.” Later he says: “Do you follow me. where “the lawyer protagonists are social crusaders and use the law as a tool of social engineering”. due to the chasm between rich and poor. That doesn’t wash here. High crime rates have stretched the legal system to breaking point. the voice of the vast majority of people affected by the workings of the criminal justice system played no part in determining the rules. it has its own unique set of problems. While most of the genres listed are examples of legal fiction as pure entertainment. why wasn’t this incredibly lucrative genre exploited by more SA writers in the legal crime fiction hey-day of the eighties and early nineties? The somewhat simplistic answer is that pre-democracy. Light-hearted fictional legal thrillers set against an apartheid backdrop wouldn’t have sat well with the majority of South Africans or an international audience. and focuses on key issues such as abolishing widow-remarriage.” Sounds easy. and it’s a reasonable assumption that just as the crime genre has flourished in this country. should be . and there’s now a legal thriller for almost any occasion. Getting the innocent person out. historical legal fiction. military legal thrillers. pre-democracy the reasonable man in those circumstances was a white male. As way of illustration. romantic legal thrillers. The decision was therefore made without reference to what would have been reasonable for someone steeped in folklore and totally isolated from Western influence. mainstream South African legal thrillers would not have had international relevance because the entire political system itself was unjust and skewed in favour of a minority. Andrew Brown. it’s also fertile ground indeed (especially for the socio-legal thriller writer). during apartheid the test for culpable homicide was the “reasonable man” caveat. This can become an issue when trying to keep up the narrative pace. this sub-genre is extremely popular in India.

here and internationally. hen completing the novel inspired by my friend’s case. I knew exactly what he’d do – wrap it up. shackled at the hands and ankles. Undaunted by this seeming insane story of flesh-eating reptiles. It illustrates the believability dilemma: A client. A gruesome car wreck. It’s getting closer to him. as a South African writer. who blurts out that there wasn’t just one. We also have to contend with the richness and variety of our everyday lives and stories. put a bow on it and everyone. she’ll have to wait for the drawn-out court process to run its course.” riting the legal thriller set in contemporary postapartheid South Africa certainly has its own set of complex problems. hard. But there’s a further twist. on the ankle. a fat fee for a leveraged buyout. He’s a typical X client. which he knows is not a good thing. views: “Most lawyers would rather be doing something else … Lawyers dream of big. such as slippery laws that seem to change at a whim and the woeful condition of the supporting systems such as the forensics labs (hard to get your hands on that vital clue when it’s been “lost”). In his words. maybe a movie deal. they have access to a plethora of true-life stories. X heads to court to defend Mikey. the Shaik–Zuma or Selebi debacles would probably be rubbished for being improbable). but there were several aspects to her case that verged on the surreal and would have come across as writerly indulgences and possible plot-holes had I chosen to use them. and the second tortoise was also of a rabid inclination. It just goes with the turf. turn to writing fiction? The answer’s obvious: lawyers write every day. A nice advance against royalties. The jury’s still out on whether Exhibit A. how the system actually worked. but without the citations. Generally. some foreign rights. a large retainer from a white-collar defendant. but. most of which make the mind boggle. as a home away from home. As lawyer and popular legal thriller writer Richard Parrish points out: “Every lawyer who writes a motion or an appellate brief is skirting the edges of fiction on every page … It’s the same kind of writing that a novelist does. is believability (for example. but Mikey can’t move. the subject matter was far more serious than the case of the rabid tortoises. on the foot. The cops laugh and leave Mikey on the ground. And I had another concern: How was I going to wrap up the novel? Did I. or on The Practice or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. true enough. I’ve been inundated with stories. cops don’t do this. I had to deal with this same believability issue. Then. have a duty to show that justice could be served? It was extremely tempting to write a painful and nasty end for my rapist character. flaws and all? So I thought: “What would Grisham do?” Well. but two tortoises. it’s a moerse big tortoise and it’s heading straight for him. and Mikey’s been around the block. either. as Dr Helen Moffett points out. according to Mikey. and they often have to be creative. So Mikey lies there for a while. The following is one of X’s stories.Essay required reading. the tortoise bites him. the rape statistics are the highest in the world for a country not at war. and suddenly there is cash galore. and our extraordinary high crime statistics are off the charts compared to the more lawabiding countries out of which much of this escapist fiction is written. Then they ask him if he’s afraid of dogs. comes to see X. A few months later X goes to a braai at a friend’s house. Mikey is understandably troubled. escapist fiction. would get to go home secure in the knowledge that justice had prevailed. And my friend doesn’t know. I knew what justice was in a John Grisham novel. he sees something moving. in an accessible manner (I was writing commercial. hard. After some time. I’m hoping that contemporary legal thrillers can do the same for the justice system. An advocate acquaintance of mine (whom I’ll call X) has started what he terms “handing over” stories to me. although it’s hard to imagine this taking place in a Francis Fyfield or a Grisham novel. The guy is like: “Oh yeah?” and points to his large pet tortoise. Admittedly. like the lawyer protagonist. successfully resolves the issue of fictional justice (and I’m not going to give the ending away). out of the corner of his eye. and months afterwards X is still fielding jokes about being shell-shocked. So. in the Western Cape. In my short career writing commercial legal fiction. quick money. waiting for the dogs to arrive. if written as fiction. like countless other victims. After a while the cops haul him out of there and take him into the courtyard. Readers have to believe. whom I’ll call Mikey Delafontein. Was this an opportunity to illustrate. he says to the cops. And because the legal thriller genre is rooted in fact. an oil spill. In my experience the main difficulty the commercial fiction author faces in this country. Mikey tells X that he was picked up for suspected house breaking and banged up in a holding cell. She wants her rapist to be punished. except the perpetrator. X felt somewhat vindicated for his client. So why do so many lawyers. Mikey is slapped in leg irons. somewhat mercenary. it bites him. essentially the writer. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 W W . she knows that much. Then he figures out what it is. X goes over to investigate it and.” Grisham has his own. the novel inspired by my friend’s case (which was published by Penguin this year). most of whom count Pollsmoor Prison. after all). Dogs. if he or she chooses to fictionalise “real” contemporary cases. is bound within the constraints of the legal system. and he’s telling this story to his host. do scare him. Obviously by this stage the court’s in uproar. but just as South African crime thrillers arguably reflect and interrogate the violence and lacks in our society. but while this would have been cathartic revenge of sorts it wouldn’t necessarily have worked in context with the novel as a whole. I didn’t and still don’t know what it is in a country where.

There you were. Unfortunately. and a girlfriend who was probably tired of always providing the shoulder for me to cry on. I cannot remember your friends very well. Did you not notice the sadness I had in my eyes for failing to secure a job after my parents had spent all their meagre money sending me to school? Did you have any idea how saddening it was to see my mother continue selling fruit at the gate of my former primary school while she had a grown son who was supposed to pull her out of poverty? There is no way you were even aware that I had two siblings who looked up to me for guidance. Did you notice that I was limping on that day? I don’t think wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 so. I was the shorter one with a green corduroy jacket. I wet my pants when I saw your finger move to pull the trigger. khaki pants and had a khaki sporty hat on. I can still feel the excruciating pang at my lower back as the first of your numerous bullets caught me. you did not. I had a blister on one of my toes from walking the length and breadth of an unfamiliar city called Johannesburg looking for a job. Did you feel any sympathy when you heard my screams and when you saw blood gushing out of my wounds or did you feel a splurge of manly pride. I can still remember the dizziness I felt as I reeled and fell head first onto a deserted concrete slab next to the railway line. Did you know that I was actually from Cape Town and was there just for three weeks? Trying to succeed in my search for that elusive job. You were probably not interested in my life. I thought you would spare my life and apologise for that shot. I also noticed that your upper lip became stiffer and I think I saw the tremble in your lower lip. There were four of us. except that they were slightly shorter than you. you raised your gun and pointed it at my face. I had friends who always looked forward to my laughter and advice. deafening. you kept calling me a stray dog. all you saw was an object on which to practise your target shooting. thundering sound that came out of your gun behind me. It has been almost six years since but I can still hear the reverberating. You never even paused to ask me how I was or which way I was headed. and neighbourhood kids who thought I was their inspiration. instead you pulled out guns and pointed them at us. three guys and one girl. We greeted you but you never returned our greeting. for a moment I felt hopeful seeing you there in front of me. Was it fear of consequences of what you were about to do to me or was it some adrenalin pumping out of your system in excitement about the power you had over me? You stomped your foot and I was so shocked that my knees be- .Real Life A letter to my killer I have a lot of questions for the enraged stranger who shot me in cold blood and left me for dead By Thembelani Ngenelwa I remember the first and the only time I met you. I was with my loving friends who were happy to show me around Germiston. a young man who looked about twenty-five or slightly older. shouted obscenities at me. admiring your target shooting skills? When I regained my consciousness and tried to get up. I thought you would help me to my feet and take me to hospital. black tracksuit pants and white training shoes. Instead. Alas. You were with four of your friends and you looked like you were having some heated conversation. It was a particularly cold evening in the eastern part of Johannesburg. We were leaving the township called Five and heading for the city where we lived. I don’t know if you still remember how you insulted my God-fearing mother while you kicked me in my private parts. You wore a maroon T-shirt.

You believed I was dead but that did not stop you from shooting me in my back again. I thought it was over until you shot at me again. it is all that you did not kill that day. sweat and tears trying to make meaningful. it was real life. you dragged me on the rough stony surface and placed me on the railway lines. But I had a right to walk on God’s Earth. You did not know that I decided against that only when the train was a few metres away. and the train went past. I have questions for you: What have I ever done to you? There were four of us. I can never forget. That was not a game of target shooting. I tried to move but my body was unable to. I saw dancing stars as I fell and I knew that my time was up. Was there any specific reason for that? Did you hate me so much that you decided to kill me the first time you saw me? Did I remind you of your old enemy? Did you hate me because I looked different from you or did you hate the fact that I lived in town while you lived in the township? You kept yelling insults about my mother. At that stage I could not see you. My vision was starting to become blurred and I saw what looked like a shooting star. I lay there worrying about what would happen after I had died. just a few centimetres away from me. At some stage I did feel a sense of regret for walking that path of Jo’burg and bumping into you. I tell other victims of violent crime to be strong. You would never be there to see others console my grieving mother. For a moment I wanted to lie there and let the train smash me and take me out of the misery. What would happen to you? What would be your punishment? I was wondering if I ought to forgive you before my soul left my body. The railway lines started to vibrate as you disappeared into the township to go and probably brag to your admiring friends. You were not there when some strangers from your township spotted me and called for help. Instead. You called me a stray dog again. You had decided to end the life that I had spent blood. I rolled over just in time. I was still engaged in those thoughts about you. It was a train and it was on the same line that you had placed me on.Real Life came weak. I am now trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I had to draw from the little strength that I miraculously still had and crawl towards the main road. As you read this. It felt as if a redhot iron rod had been forced into my stomach. I stupidly had another glimmer of hope when you grabbed me by my outstretched right hand. but you decided to go for me. though. An ambulance came three hours after you had shot me. You have never met my mother. I was dying and in excruciating pain and the weather had become even colder. You had an angry voice – I guess seeing me fall from your gun shot still did not satisfy your anger. At that stage I knew that nothing would deter you from killing me. The anger and hatred I remember seeing in your eyes still traumatises me. Your bullets were still hot in my body and the wounds were sore from the cold wind that swept through the East Rand on that day. The train was getting closer. you probably have long forgotten about me and what you did to me. Did it fill you with pride? I do not know if you ever put yourself into the shoes of your victims or if you don’t value their lives at all. People who know me can’t believe anyone could even think of harming me. but you hated her so much that you insulted her every time you fired a shot at her dying son. but I was still alive at that time and felt every bit of pain you inflicted on me. You kicked me in the ribs and insulted my mother once more. I hope one day I’ll get answers. The blood was starting to dry up on my garments and the weather had become a notch colder. Was that a reflection of your anger at your own mother. It was difficult. It must have been about fifty steps away from where I was lying. but it will never be the same until I see you. when the train started to make a loud hooting sound. You probably do not know about this. Did your own father neglect you to the point that you didn’t recognise his existence? Did it ever occur to you that I was somebody’s son? That I was a father to a little child who would grow up as an orphan? Did it sit well on your conscience that you made a grown man wet his pants and cry? How did it feel shooting at a stranger who did not fight back? I would like to know if it made you feel like a real man. You probably enjoyed smelling the fear I had. I doubt you even care. not once did you insult my father. I did not feel much pain with that one. You do not know what happened to me there. You fired the second shot and I felt a smashing movement as your bullet went through my bones. too. perhaps? Was she abusive towards you? When you hurled abuse at me. You used the sole of your foot to position me on the cold iron railway lines for the train to smash me and destroy all the evidence of what you had done. Strangely enough. but they ask me if it is possible for people like you to change. you had never asked for any forgiveness. Thembelani wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . I have heard some heartening symbolic apologies from convicted murderers when I’ve visited them in the prisons. I also did think about you. Did you feel any remorse afterwards or did you just forget about it? Have you ever thought about me after that? Did killing me solve your problems? I just wanted to tell you that it was a human being that you were killing that cold night. I fell backwards and I felt the pain as my head hit against a stone. I was alone. “The fucken stray dog is dead” – those were your exact words. You fired another shot while I was down and I felt a stinging pain in my spleen. You seemed happy and satisfied about what you had just done. but you did. I saw how you tucked your weapon into the back of your pants and made your way towards the township. I thought you were helping me up. but your deep voice still filled my ears. People tell me that I have a strong spirit. You showed a deep contempt for mothers. I have to live with the painful memory of what you made me go through. my body was probably numb from the first three bullets. perhaps even more than the sight of your gun did. a cruel stranger. I’m probably one of many victims that fell to your cruel gun. I felt all the pain as my life was slipping away from me. You were not.

I joined Gun Free South Africa (GFSA). even foolish. without any fear of crime and gun violence associated with it. or a charge of naïveté and the pursuit of a utopian ideal. not only were there far too many guns in circulation. I had long admired GFSA’s stance on guns and crime. Behind its inception were a group of anti-apartheid activists who yearned to see a nascent nation prosper in a peaceful environment without any gun violence. Now. believed that the vision of a gun-free country was an ideal worth labouring for: if the apartheid monster had been slain. They knew full well that. While driven by a clear vision. Since then GFSA has lobbied hard to reduce the proliferation of guns in society and the Firearms Control Act (2000) is the organisation’s crowning victory. When asked what I do for a living my response is either met with a smile and nod of approval. I Crime and punishment From eradicating guns to South Africans ponder how to make the country safer n November last year I took a momentous step in my life. an organisation that believes in getting rid of guns in society in order for everyone to live in peace. I know that there are those who may view our organisation’s mission of a gun-free society as unrealistic. no other goal seemed impossible to achieve. characterised by many challenges. But our country’s crime statistics are grim. GFSA started in 1994. shortly after the birth of our new nation. the founders of GFSA knew the attainment of this vision would be a long-term endeavour. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 .Perspectives WE NEED TO GET RID OF GUNS IN SOCIETY. but there was also a prevailing “gun culture” with deeply entrenched roots of patriarchy and violence. It speaks to me. compelling us to act.

We need to ask ourselves some serious questions: What kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want an armed camp or a society in which we rediscover peace and respect for life. Courts will never assume the state is incapable of implementing its obligations to protect its citizens and will certainly not condone actions by private citizens who take the law into their own hands. and where our children can grow up in safety? In essence. Fewer guns in circulation means less gun violence and. In addition to this unacceptable level of gun violence.” . regret. ever. South Africa had the third-highest annual hundred thousand people) after Colombia and Venezuela. It was a major success. But when I look at the organisation’s achievements in the feel immensely proud. the vision of a gun-free South Africa is about the kind of society we aspire to. Western Cape organiser of Gun Free South Africa “The vision of a gun-free South Africa is about the kind of society we aspire to. the law allows the state to strictly regulate the possession of guns. As told to Phakama Mbonambi wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Natalie Jaynes. organised under the auspices of the SAPS. Most reported crimes in South most gun homicides are committed with illegal guns. On a personal level. We work closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and are heartened by their renewed vigour gun-destruction event in Vereeniging. GFSA lobbied hard for this act to be in its current shape. it’s a misguided approach to safety. south of Johannesburg. With this law in place. Essentially. As mentioned earlier.Perspectives According to a 2006 study of hundred-and-twelve countries. GFSA strongly believes that gun violence and the appeal of guns are premised on fear. a society free from fear and where non-violent options are sought. When I joined GFSA I knew I was going to be part of building peace in South Africa. thereby Picture: Dumisani Sibeko eradicating fear. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be part of this movement to make our country safer by getting rid of guns. it’s worth bearing in mind that ninety-eight percent of South Africans do not own guns. less fear in society. GFSA struggles with a range of issues such as funding and human resources. the Firearms Control Act was a huge achievement. Another problematic argument. The assumption is that a gun provides protection. One of the central tenets of GFSA’s work is the belief in the rule of law. most importantly. Another challenge investing equal resources in both grassroots work and public policy engagement. We are governed by a Constitution that does not include not forget our problematic history of racialised gun ownership. It’s a decision I will never. a society free from fear and where non-violent options are sought. especially if you have fallen victim to violent crime. we now feel ready to lobby for a total ban on civilian gun ownership. organisation. While this is a normal and understandable response. Arguments in favour of citizens’ gun ownership often cite the state’s inability to protect and defend citizens.

including the banking. he chief role of Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA) is to facilitate a working relationship between government and business in the fight against crime. but the local business community funds our efforts.” . far-reaching programme is in place. It’s so gratifying to witness government’s renewed vigour to fight crime. We work with a wide range of sectors. To deliver on our mandate. Crime-prevention plans initiated by business are working. In practice. As told to Phakama Mbonambi Picture: Dumisani Sibeko Dr Graham Wright. we believe our crime-fighting interventions are on the right track. First. These bodies. in responding to government’s request for assistance. The number of heists and robberies at shopping malls has gone down as a result of business working closely with the police. we work with business – from big business to medium and small micro enterprises. More resources are being allocated to the criminal justice cluster. we have forged wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 T strong working relationships with the departments of police. These may not be as low as one would like. Currently. have corporate associations through which support is mobilised on an ongoing basis. Business Against Crime CEO “While crime is still high. This is as a result of the vehicle theft and hijacking plan BACSA facilitated at national level after closely adapting it from the Australian and European models which have helped to develop best practice at an international level. Typically. for example. I was pleased to note a gradual decline in vehicle theft and hijackings. On this front. We have made numerous interventions in this regard and a holistic. entertainment with a view to mobilising crime prevention approaches and supporting the police’s efforts. justice and constitutional development and correctional services. Just the other day I was examining the statistics for vehicle hijackings throughout the country. Secondly. tourism. we leverage the expertise. The fact that business is part of the solution is one that is relatively unique in the world.Perspectives WE PLAY A FACILITATING ROLE BETWEEN BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT. and Business Unity SA. technology and experience of business to address particular government needs. we believe our crime-fighting interventions are on the right track. BACSA mobilises the business sector to get involved in the fight against crime in two ways. we work closely with two key structures – Business Leadership South Africa. we work with more than twenty sectors. we encourage business itself to reduce crime in the business sector through self-initiated crimeprevention projects. manufacturing. While crime is still high. BACSA remains committed to the public private partnership that is being reinvigorated through the strong leadership of government to make our country safe for all. One particular area of focus for BACSA over the years has been to make our criminal justice system work more efficiently. comparing current figures with those of the past few years. There’s no membership as such. but there’s a healthy decline nonetheless. in turn. retail. These days. When it comes to our work with government. actions match words. It’s a unique partnership that is based on trust and a deep commitment to combating the unacceptably high levels of violent and serious crime in the country. South Africans have much to be proud of.

Over the festive season. I was young. I had ditched a full-time job that came with employee benefits to being. Realistic. For ten years I was a prison warder at Brandvlei Prison in the Western Cape. Some of them are accomplished painters. Former inmates speak out against crime using their life stories as an example. reality soon set in when the living allowance from correctional services stopped: they would have to get jobs and take care of their families and fend for themselves. such search for employment would often prove futile. Among its many initiatives. salaried and happy. A long life in the public service awaited me. They are listened to. I felt that the Department of Correctional Services was letting them down. almost always. I started Realistic because former prisoners lacked a support network to help them re-enter society. Same guys. I’m happy that the guys I used to lock up in prison are now my colleagues as we spread the message that crime does not pay and that former prisoners deserve support so they can be useful members of society again. I quit to start Realistic. we had a camp to discourage substance abuse among youngsters. Some are good at computer and life skills. Cape Town. I eventually found backers for the project and I’m very grateful to them. All I saw was a need for these former prisoners to be helped adjust to a new life outside prison before it was too late. in effect. they had no skills. an organisation based in Gugulethu. The organisation also equips them with skills to make them selfsufficient. Making things worse. some convicts would extravagantly portray their backgrounds as affluent. As told to Phakama Mbonambi wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Tel: 021 633 1800 E veryday when I wake up I’m amazed by the turn of events in my life.Perspectives Picture: Cecile Mella GIVE EXOFFENDERS ANOTHER CHANCE. an organisation that rehabilitates former prisoners.” portray their backgrounds as affluent. that helps rehabilitate former prisoners. Instead they endured scorn and distrust from their communities. Ncamile Madikane. Starting Realistic was quite a challenge. I wanted something done. The talents that emerge once ex-prisoners lead settled lives and are surrounded by people who inspire them to achieve something in life would amaze you. suggested otherwise. come back to me in prison. a community activist who didn’t know where the next cent was going to come from. enabling me to go around as a parole officer to assess how former convicts were settling in the world outside. I moved to community corrections division. It sharpened my lobbying skills. On the whole. But the experience was worth it. Realistic continues to have a positive impact in the lives of former convicts and youth at risk in the township. For the first time I got a chance to intimately know their circumstances. they would go back to a life of crime and. With the ex-convict tag dangling around their necks. as I saw doing the rounds. Same offences. they are regarded as role models. founder of Realistic. At the time I was thirty years old and burning with ambition to make a difference in society. Even for those with supportive families. While behind bars. some convicts would extravagantly “While behind bars. All I had to do was play by the rules. Raising capital was heartbreaking. First. uses former offenders as mentors to youngsters who would otherwise be tempted to turn into a life of crime due to peer pressure and other factors. Instead of being outcasts. but reality suggested otherwise. Desperate. but reality. But. six years ago. That’s when I quit work. a Section 21 organisation.

habits and ways of being. But criminals were the exception rather than the norm. I remember. As for crime. I love it with all its positives and negatives. she’s never worked a day in her life. She is not poor. journalist and student. she might even have been subjected to vigilante attacks. People loathed crime. I challenge the master narrative of homogeneous black suffering. I have lived in Katlehong. I try to correct the mistaken view of townships as desperate places for desperate people. We must deal honestly with what comes out of them and stop wishing them away. My neighbour is the only one Picture: Dumisani Sibeko I in my street doing this. I argue in the book that under apartheid people knew the difference between right and wrong. I love it with all its positives and negatives. This place is a big part of who I am. east of Johannesburg “This place is a big part of who I am. many people come from townships but they are not criminals. It was also not simply a response to apartheid. Some people like to dismiss townships as nasty places that must be escaped for suburbia. For example. for most of my life. My family knows all about her business because we have a cousin who buys his stuff from her. among other things. A neighbour who lives five houses from me sells drugs from her house. Everyone knows about her trade and yet no one’s doing anything to end to it. It is all about choice. The book also asks what it means when a black person says today that life was better under apartheid. Maybe selling drugs is a lot easier than running a spaza shop. her criminality has nothing to do with her origins. a truth that many people may not be keen to discuss today. which were a crucial source of black labour for industry back then and now. That would be a structuralist view of society: a “the township made me do it” kind of attitude. Through telling my story of growing up under apartheid. a township east of Johannesburg. This proves my strong belief that people don’t do crime simply because they are from a township. an author and journalist who lives in Katlehong. Black life was not defined by apartheid in its totality.Perspectives CORRECTING A MISTAKEN VIEW. In fact. I often wonder what pushed her down the drugs route.” wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . They were not glorified at all. But townships are permanent settlements with all sorts of cultures. Her house is big and beautiful compared to some in the area. They are not transitory camps. a profound sense of community strength. Jacob Dlamini. My book is about growing up under apartheid and recalling fond memories of a happy childhood. My book Native Nostalgia challenges the structuralist view of townships and the kinds of people townships produce. there was crime when I was growing up. By pointing out the richness of black life and the numerous ways people lived even under apartheid. ’m a writer. not every black person opposed apartheid. My drug-dealing neighbour would have stuck out like a sore thumb back in the 1970s and 1980s. As far as I know. Like me. a common enterprise in any township. One big negative is that I have a brazen criminal on my doorstep. Sure. She is the only criminal in our street. No. I strongly believe that we need to change the way we look at townships.

He blares music loudly from his car when he arrives home in the early morning and sits and drinks all day on weekends.co.za I Fax: 0860 510 5716 www. when he re-emerged all of them would still be there waiting for him.” As told to Phakama Mbonambi Native Nostalgia is published by Jacana Media. That is the nature of residents’ relationships with the police in townships today: we know that it’s better to deal with a policeman you’ve never met before than one you know. Incidentally. That was power. Once a fellow resident tried to stop the drug trade at his doorstep by reporting our neighbour at the local police station anonymously. In Native Nostalgia. the said policeman lives three houses from my drug-dealing neighbour and knows about her activities.Perspectives Interestingly. Guess what? The next day. It is available at all good bookstores. That was authority.za . police authority held more sway back then and not simply because of the authoritarianism of the apartheid state. no gun and no back-up. law and order reigned. Sure enough. SUBSCRIBE TO WORDSETC FOR ONLY R170 FOR FOUR ISSUES TO SUBSCRIBE deposit R170 into our account: Wordsetc. he would leave his captives at the gate with a stern warning not to even think of escaping. The criminals he picked up like this would follow him like sheep as he went about his work. So. we’d think twice about calling him for assistance. She left a message with his mother: “Tell your boy that if he wants to live he must stay out of my business. Fast forward. He couldn’t dream of having such power.wordsetc. On temporarily disappearing into a home of yet another criminal. the drug-dealing woman went to the guy’s home. I tell a story of a revered local policeman who would single-handedly round up township criminals armed with just their addresses.co. We’d rather travel a kilometre to the nearest police station. even if we had a crisis in my area. My immediate neighbour is a policeman. He lacks authority. No one in the area takes him seriously because of his personal conduct. Bank: Nedbank I Branch: Cresta Account no: 191 340 2002 I Branch no: 191 30592 SEND PROOF OF PAYMENT with your particulars to: Wordsetc I P O Box 2729 I Saxonwold I 2132 E-mail: subscriptions@wordsetc. In Katlehong. He wasn’t there.

They took everything and then demanded that I drive them to Diepsloot. money for toll I Ted Falcke.Perspectives Picture: Dumisani Sibeko TALKING TOUGH. they made off with my five rifles and a gun. So. in certain instances. I have written a crime prevention strategy that I have given to a few opposition politicians. two years ago. whether through bail or parole. While I don’t consider myself wealthy. I honestly don’t know why people commit violent crime. Some people believe in rehabilitation. My two sons are all grown up and lead their own lives elsewhere. a Bryanston resident with a crime-fighting strategy “I strongly believe that lawyers complicate matters when it comes to justice. when I was robbed in my own house. I have had a pretty decent life. a man forcefully pushed his way in. The crux of my strategy is that we must be tough on crime. They held a gun to my head and demanded money and guns. I heard a knock at the door. I have lived in this Bryanston house since 1964. They embolden criminals to commit crime knowing that a good lawyer will always get them off. I built this house with my own hands. His handful of comrades followed. In a sense I’m vulnerable to crime as I realised one Sunday afternoon. One of them slapped me so hard that my reading glasses violently flew from my face and slammed against the wall next to my reading table. I feel that laws need to be harsher and criminals must know what they are in for. ’m eighty-five-years-old. They ransacked the place searching for valuables. A rare disease has damaged my nerves. north of Johannesburg. They embolden criminals to commit crime knowing that a good lawyer will always get them off. such police action is deserved. In my younger days I was a businessman with a knack for inventing things. When criminals are brought back in to society. suddenly. Such violence against a hapless old man in a wheelchair! After leading them to my gun safe. they will most often return to crime. When I opened. I guess it has to do with a craving for power. As told to Phakama Mbonambi wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . They must also know that jail is no luxury excursion. I strongly believe that lawyers complicate matters when it comes to justice. I don’t believe it’s necessarily poverty.” gates – were on the bed. my travel items – camera. Secondly. I had been preparing to visit the Kruger National Park the following day. but a place you go to as punishment. I’ve never wanted for money. Not because of what happened to me – worse things happen to my fellow citizens. For the past few years I have been championing the idea of the law getting tough on criminals. Four years earlier. I live alone. My life has been pretty stable. where you can frolic at the expense of taxpayers. enjoying the satisfaction of bringing an idea to fruition. and drop them off there. My sense of hearing deserts me sometimes. four men burst into my house. I don’t. I have heard the “shoot to kill” talk by the police. A nurse helps me with my day-to-day needs. the very same hands that have no strength today. bail and parole must be reassessed. a few feet away. I had been peacefully reading my papers in my lounge when. I’d rather have a panel of learned judges dealing directly with the accused to assess their guilt or innocence. a similar robbery took place at my house. I don’t complain or pity myself. While a touch drastic. For starters. your rights fly straight out of the window. I did. They must know that when you commit crime. I’m in a wheelchair. A leopard doesn’t change its spots. while I could still walk.

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to finally bring back news of Timbuktu in 1828. of course. The colonialists. We were sitting on the roof terrace of the deceptively named hotel. or a flat joke”.Travel Picture: Joanne Rushby Up the River Niger An epic boat journey to Timbuktu. a symbol for the back of beyond. Mali. white egrets tracing across a blushing sky. Both of us were. would not have acknowledged the likes of Ibn Battuta from Tangiers. who had organised a driver and 4x4 to take us there and back. René Caillié. Mungo Park. Mopti is a trading hub on the River Niger. Park famously never reached the city: the first Westerner to be credited with exploring the River Niger. The footsteps of great names preceded us – Ibn-Battuta. who reached the city in the 1300s. It didn’t seem right. as Chatwin wrote. the ease. Expeditions were wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 set up and many never survived the adventure. something was definitely amiss. sipping beers and fantasising about the possibilities of taking the far more demanding option of a boat trip up- . a city of myth and wonder By Joanne Rushby “It didn’t seem right to reach Timbuktu by car. it was left to a Frenchman. but I kept these misgivings to myself. he eventually died on the river in 1806. who was the spur on our epic journey to Timbuktu. alive from the town and gaining all the glory. Alexander Gordon Laing. without the complications that often come with an adventure of this nature” I t all started at the Hotel Pas de Problemes. niggling. We arrived at sunset. Clapperton – most of whom had endeavoured to reach Timbuktu. One would imagine that these early explorers would have encountered the likes of Boubacar. returning The thought crossed my mind that we may never see Boubacar again. the wily boatman. a bustling port with traditional wooden boats lining the quayside. the possible journey without complications. My brother Kevin and I had been offered a practically effortless passage to the mythical city courtesy of a friend. Much to the chagrin of the British. No. as “a mythical city in a Never-Never Land. an antipodean mirage. Before that. a place engrained. a name that would in hindsight turn out to be misleading in the extreme. in Mopti. Laing was murdered by Tuaregs after spending five weeks in Timbuktu in 1826. my brother and I were hoping to find our way to Timbuktu. however. From here. the certainty. that city of myth and wonder. Getting there was considered to be the ultimate quest. after an uncomfortably cramped fivehour bus journey from Djenne.

fabricating boats out of murky waters. an effortless. but each one received a thorough scrubbing. he wore European clothes. carrying cargo. and we could definitely go along. I will go to my death on the Niger.” he said dismissively. each one holding true. However. but I kept these misgivings to myself. If I do not succeed in reaching my goal. and we could get on it.” Apparently if you’re served a fourth cup. we were only offered three. and then it came. Seconds later. There was space. one by one. And I listened with some alarm to the sound of someone constantly bailing water from down below. Fortunately. the possibility that the pending adventure was real. It was then that the dream started to come crashing down – we decided to ditch the idea and reclaim our money. Waking up early the next morning in order to buy provisions for the journey. carried an umbrella and kept his notes in a tall hat. children splashed in the water. we went up to the roof terrace. I watched a man carefully carry his herd of goats. animals. after confirming with the hotel owners that they could vouch for him. nervous and more than reluctant to engage with us. it was a deep. Kevin ran off to buy provisions. For the second time in a matter of hours. Park. When sleep finally came. We asked Boubacar to let us discuss the plan and then agreed. We were slightly less encumbered by weaponry. Villages floated by. plastic bags. The panoply of life stretched before us. where Boubacar would meet us and return our money. and the initial excitement died down. who were captained by Bindjini Djita. filled with dreams of sails. “Even if all the Europeans who are still with me were to perish. He pointed out a pinasse (a thatchroofed boat) on the river. the question was: How were we going to find one to take us? That’s when Boubacar arrived – his family owned a boat. barrelled bamboo fish traps perched on the riverbank ready for use. pushed a long bamboo pole into the river to gauge the depth. which was not the one Boubacar had pointed out at the quayside but a scrappy looking vessel anchored further upstream. set off from Ségou with fifteen muskets. It was quite a surprise when he did show up. This proved to be difficult. His friend. Ali. There were plenty of boats. People washed themselves. and I myself were half dead. Fulani cattle herders also move in to live on the fertile land along the river. neutral shades of the cattle. I watched as one of the crew. The appointed time came. blankets (it was touching thirty degrees. It had all the hallmarks of a vessel fit for an adventure up the River Niger. The colour in the landscape reflected a pared-down existence: the gold of the riverbank. but in many respects. at four this morning. It was to be the first of many unexpected stops. There really was nothing to lose. a true captain. standing at the prow. as we ran aground on the sand. The wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 H . When Park set out for Timbuktu in 1805. and to hand over 25 000 CFAs (about five hundred rand). had a boat leaving for Timbuktu in the next thirty minutes. The name on the side read Bon Voyage. offering suitable wares for a riverboat journey. The story started to shift. and jewellery (adornment on boats an essential part of travel). and the third as sweet as love. there he was. and came out gleaming to await their fate. They squealed and groaned. almost magical display of deceit. swelling the population in temporary settlements. The thought crossed my mind that we may never see Boubacar again. All we would need were some provisions. not much else had changed. “Of course. outnumbered by the crew. I expected the worst. were hoping not to meet our deaths. mud. it means you’re not welcome. passengers. As did my brother. The reality of sailing up the River Niger to Timbuktu was sinking in and I was very excited. the boat stalled. we had decided to go for it. “Are they really bailing water?” I asked my brother. while I dealt with a gathering gang of sellers. and little else. laid over corrugated iron. along with three soldiers. I would persevere. to be washed in preparation for market. but something had changed in his demeanour – he seemed sheepish. just in case).Travel stream. The Niger is the lifeline of the region. ornate gingerbread mosques towering above the plain mud houses. The boat consisted of a wooden vessel underneath. a veteran boat traveller who had once spent a week travelling by dhow from Yemen to Soqotra. aving found our boat. but during the low tide. In some places. and vibrant clothing enriching the scene. sunsets and the gentle lapping of water. harsh sunlight. and also providing food and water for the locals. a good view. we were ready to depart. It was a lot. Neither of us wanted to spoil the excitement.” he said. and there was no sign of our boatman. I thought we would never see him again. all boats have leaks. and as we motored on. The river is traditionally the home of the Bozo fishermen. a lengthy process involving lots of sugar and elaborate pouring from the pot to the glass. delicious sleep. the second as mild as life. the occasional flash of a rice field. swathed in the traditional Tuareg headscarf and wearing reflective sunglasses. we relaxed into the gentle sound of the water. and women washed clothes and pots. they were leaving in the morning. down to the river. As I savoured the sweetness of the third glass. reinforced with a steel structure providing a second deck. “The boat left. but I decided to buy one anyway.” His words were prophetic. First we had to take a taxi to the riverside. He told us: “The first tea is as strong as death. dun. The captain made us tea. with a new twist in the tale. the houses were simply woven grass huts to provide shelter. and handed the money over. where we had arranged to meet Boubacar at 8 am. There were only a few passengers on board. We settled down onto our mat. It seemed a lot. and had the added luxury of bottled water and tinned sardines.

I awoke shivering and tied the blanket closer to keep out the chill.Travel crew immediately rallied and jumped into the water. “The madman”. of sharing these moments. trying to ascertain where this river leads? And would they have heard similar reiterations by boat captains: that Insha’Allah (God willing). He had an endless supply of gadgets. muscles gleaming. It was now the third day. was providing some entertainment. We woke to the movement of the boat. The rapidly descending darkness meant settling down early to sleep. The possibility that the “toubabs” or foreigners on the boat might do something unusual was a constant source of attraction to him. being hunted for skins. plovers and cormorants provided an endless spectacle. It was too hot to go out on deck. pied kingfishers. motorbike parts. I took a peek outside at the night sky. one of the crew members. I feared that he would be . expert gondoliers from a young age. The fading light gave clarity to the landscape. patient manner of a collector. a bustling port with traditional wooden boats lining the quayside it belonged. a bizarre watery phenomenon in a desert landscape. a radio. with eventual success. For an hour. My phone beeped into life as. but our fellow passenger. brisk in the dawn light. “the collector”. muttered and chuckled to himself close by. Crocodiles had long disappeared from this region. Timbuktu was just around the next bend in the river. home to the Bozo fishermen. and negatives of people he clearly didn’t know. and we scanned the waters and listened for the familiar laughter of hippos. Children plied the water in boats. to try to get the boat off the sandbank. we started to realise that there was little chance of reaching Timbuktu by the next day. the second spent in similar recline staring at the passing landscape. and I was left drifting in thought. a trading hub on the River Niger. and placing it neatly back where wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Our journey started at Mopti. I watched a ballet of pirogues as they glided through the various tributaries entering the lake. messages from another world came through. while herons. It was to be our first night on the river. denied by the harsh day’s sun. I had a few minutes to send replies before the phone died completely. treasuring each item. All we could do was sit back and slowly unwind to the rhythm of the river. The map told us otherwise. He possessed the careful. old Russian cameras. Hippopotamus tracks scattered the banks. but which the whole crew were keen to see. an inland lake. Would explorers of old have experienced the same sensations. I’d never seen anything like it. The captain informed us we were about to reach Lac Debo. It was like hitting a brick wall of lights: the waxing moon nestled in a sky literally dripping with stars. Then Lac Debo opened up in front of us. which were unpacked from a box held together with string: cassettes. they pushed and heaved. for the first time in days. As lightly laden pirogues floated effortlessly by.

abandoned houses along the river bank home to donkeys. We had run out of petrol and the crew moored the boat alongside the riverbank. Eventually. replenished with fuel. our boat chugged into life. Should I find a great and wealthy city? I beheld only a group of mud-huts in the midst of a wide plain covered with yellowish sand. unable to make out their conversation. we sat with a transitory crowd that drifted in and out to watch the only television in the village. We crammed into a taxi with twenty other people. with scantily clad women providing much amusement. and clambered off the boat. What ensued were the most comfortable few hours sleep since leaving Mopti. “We have to get off. and ended up thigh deep and drenched. and the policeman’s assertions of a rapidly approaching boat faded along with the light. I hurriedly packed our belongings. There were two other foreigners on board. and began to carry the sacks of cargo on their heads to the shore. Kevin came stumbling down the bank. but now the river stops twenty kilometres short at the port of Koroume. and I strained to try to catch a sign. It used to be possible to reach Timbuktu by boat. Lights on the horizon appeared and disappeared. The landscape had become more arid. equally bemused by this sodden foreigner. dubbed into French. as the sun rose. and a lively discussion ensued with one of the men on the vagaries of river travel. and the anchor was thrown. I’d been sleeping on sacks of peanuts and boxes of tomato paste. We were tired. we were the latest in a long. The other man reclined broodingly on his box of tomato paste. and then Kevin was shaking me awake: “The boat’s here. The captain had clearly known this all along. We were fraying at the edges and a full stomach seemed the only solution to sanity. Kevin climbed up the riverbank to a grass hut where a group of well-dressed men and soldiers were sitting in a circle outside.” Had we committed some terrible “toubab” faux pas. The boat approached Diré.” We had already been on the boat for about six hours. I’d miscalculated the depth of the water. Clearly. dirty and restless. four days on a boat were getting to him too. It seemed as though the normally bustling river traffic had been held up in a jam somewhere upstream. Chatter filled the air and smoke eased its way out of one of the musclemen’s pipes. a precarious journey that meant clinging onto the side of the boat to reach two planks suspended over the river. having almost died of fever and scurvy along the way.Travel disappointed. insulted the captain’s grandmother by accident? What had Kevin said to these men on the shore? Anxious to discover the reason. A sandbar in the middle of the river was inhabited. we went in search of food. the houses simple woven grass mats strung between poles. and lied to us. “Pack the bags. which then transported us out to our new boat. or simply just given up. we realised that we were to spend another night on the boat. It was a vibrant and noisy scene: a procession of men came streaming towards the boat. exhausted. thatched and crammed to the brim with goods. What were they talking about? Something didn’t feel right. the captain summoned my brother off the boat. I felt like a stowaway and was fast asleep within seconds. and we began to give up hope of the boat. fought marauding gangs. Timbuktu was upon us. Bidding a curt farewell to Captain Bindjini. There was nothing left to do but wait for rescue. As the sun started to go down. the sounds of a motor boat could be heard – there was no question that they would not stop to help a boat in distress.” he said. makeshift shelters huddled together. and we would get on without paying. We had paid to go all the way to Timbuktu. A tear in one of the sacks proffered a breakfast of peanuts. so why the sudden eviction? The reality was much less sinister. much to the amusement of the locals. My every move was scrutinised. It wouldn’t be the first time that distance and time were underplayed. “in the next hour or so”. thinking it didn’t exist. my eyes were struggling to stay open. A Brazilian soapy. and didn’t say a word. Despite the blaring music and the sounds of the television mingling into one. and embarked on the last leg of the journey. We threw our bags onto a pirogue. and we continued along the winding river. the population servicing the boats that drift in and out. The soldiers of the local gendarmerie assured us that another boat would come along soon. I looked around at my sleeping compartment. Eventually. We have to go. The following morning. if what the local policeman had said was true – “Dire is only three hours from Timbuktu. Suddenly. and some of our boat’s crew members quickly leapt in on the action. A film crew swept in to capture the robotic cargo carriers. wonderfully uncomfortable.” It was eerily dark outside as I staggered sleepily down the river bank onto the sand.” Explorers had died en route to this city. chain smoking. dirty and hungry. The taxi had to be pushed to get going! Caillié reached Timbuktu on 20 April 1828. The town is a camp. ythical and illusory Timbuktu. and I dangled my feet in the water. The boat had unloaded its cargo and was now turning back. The fabled city of yore promised riches and exoticism – I didn’t expect it to live up to this mantle now. peeping out at the boat as we passed. I was so happy to see the shore that I jumped out of the boat with my bag. ancestral line of travellers – we had arrived! wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 M . This was a more rustic vessel than the previous one. Half an hour later. and it was hard to gain privacy. Ragged. a bamboo bed under a grass mat roof. As the hours passed. Then the boat stopped. and we somehow clambered on. I made my way to the toilet at the boat’s stern. His notes reveal: “I could scarcely contain myself for joy. as silence on the water reigned.

which sets Russians apart: the Russian soul. where smoking is regarded as a national sport. This I learnt after being politely rebuked by a local who noticed me trying to walk across one and then instructed me to follow him.” and walked off. Stalinist skyscrapers and enormous flashing billboards advertising iPods and real estate. In the aisle across from me was a gigantic man who spent most of the flight crying. carrying duty-free parcels and tanned from holidays abroad. native Russians answer questions posed by travellers. I spotted some necessary forms nearby. After some time he announced to one of them: “My mother is dead. the Soviet version of Art Deco. mullets.” To which she replied wearily: “Oh. icy tundra. (I experienced this sort of intervention frequently during my stay. to the nearest underground crossing. that is. I was seated next to a couple who said hardly a word to each other throughout the flight. having long been intrigued by the land of Rasputin. there should be signs reading “Smoking” and “Chain smoking”) or eating ice cream. So. My first experience of Russian people was on the flight to Moscow from Doha. tsarist tyranny. Saint Petersburg and surrounds By Bronwyn McLennan Our tattooed guide pointed out examples of Style Moderne architecture. gulags and dark fairytale forests. Nevertheless. alternating between knocking his head against the seat in front of him while muttering to himself and walking up and down the aisle harassing the flight attendants. For many Russians.) In the city centre. and asked to borrow a pen from one of the airport staff. Crazy contradictions In Moscow the roads are so wide that you have to walk through a subway to cross them. My first request was met with an . belief in this Russian soul provides a sense of identity. And it is this national spirit which has inspired writers and continues to fascinate foreigners. gypsies with cheeks calloused by winters spent on the streets.Travel n the website Way to Russia. unfathomable to outsiders. From time to time she would spray his face and hers with a spritzer while he drank his way through four double gins and two glasses of red wine. gilt-domed Orthodox churches decorated with multi-coloured tiles and floral frescoes stand alongside functionalist Khrushchev-era housing blocks. I was met by a sternfaced official at passport control. in August this year I set off to discover for myself this “riddle wrapped in a mystery in an enigma”. Every second person is smoking (there is a joke that in Russia. packs of thick-coated stray dogs and darksuited businessmen driving SUVs with tinted windows. at a slight distance. by this stage immune to sympathy. It is what has sustained them throughout centuries of Tartar oppression. The crowd on this plane consisted mainly of “New Russians”. so-called designer whores in sky-high heels. It’s true that westerners still exaggerate the mystique of this country. the last one being: “Can a foreigner ever be accepted as a Russian?” Respondents vary from machine operators in Kazan to business owners from Vladimir. It hardly constitutes a scientific sample of the population. and it’s as common to see pedestrians drinking beer as cooldrink. the belief in some entity. violent revolution and Stalinist terror. a common thread seems to run through the answers to this question. He was dressed in a peach silk shirt. and I admit to being swept up by some of the myths. Thankfully. the wealthy elite. cream linen chinos and orange leather moccasins. The streets are shared by toothless babushkas. On arrival. He would not allow me to pass through as I had neglected to fill out a migration card. Bolshoi ballet. trendy young men sporting modified wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 O Unravelling Russia A brief and enchanting visit to Moscow.

explained that due to limited state support she and her husband. my cab driver Shosevich and I kept up a lively discussion. rickety old lift about the width of a coffin. overwhelmed with excitement at being in the middle of this great city. we talked about the similarities between South Africa and Russia’s recent pasts. me using my phrasebook and him showing me photos of his daughter’s wedding and pointing out sights along the way to my apartment. the second by “You stay here and write!” A sign at Moscow’s Domededovo airport warns you against accepting lifts from the many freelance taxi drivers waiting at arrivals. a cottage near Chekov’s estate in Melikhovo. in both. Feroza. but it was cosy inside. our guide. change has been slower than people would like and fraught with corruption and violence. and the Armorial Hall inside the Hermitage Museum emphatic “Nyet”. standing on my balcony. This was situated on the seventh floor of a typical Soviet block with concrete floors and a single. I took in the view of giant neon signs and towering apartment blocks. built on the site of Alexander II’s assassination. Although he could speak as little English as I could Russian. While admiring the photogenic churches in this former imperial estate.Travel Pictures: Bronwhyn McLennan Clockwise: The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. also a retired lecturer. I was relieved to see someone with a card bearing my name. That night. became a fascinating lesson in Russian history and politics. had found they were no longer able to survive on their salaries – sometimes her husband had gone unpaid wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Professors in the park A trip to Kolomenskoye Park with a retired Berkeley professor and Feroza. the Catherine Palace. After fighting past enthusiastic drivers holding signs like “Mr Hello your taksee”. a scientist. Both countries underwent a transition to democracy in the nineties and.

which later disappeared. within walking . who offered to show me the way to the estate. laughing. in the nineties. while Clavdia fired off questions: Why was I alone? Was I not terrified? Why did I want to come to Russia? She also wanted to know what I thought of her niece’s English. past ponds and the forest glade where Tolstoy is buried. Window on the west St Petersburg has the faded glamour of a grand old dame. unperturbed. it’s still one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. After the tour we found a large tree stump in the middle of a field to use as a table. After holding the broken door closed for Annwyn. Moscow’s Fifth Avenue. clowns.Travel for months. I never did get used to seeing immaculately dressed women calmly entering bathrooms that would not be out of place in Trainspotting or Slumdog Millionaire. Feroza said. within minutes I found myself being invited by her aunt to stay with her in Tula. he trekked down the road with a plastic container. The taxi let us off on a grassy verge where Natalia explained they had arranged to meet relatives travelling by bus. headed for Tolstoy’s estate. and with Natalia in her hometown of Tyumen. A comedy. It was on the next bus that I met Natalia from Siberia and her aunt Clavdia. returning thirty minutes later to deliver me to the next stretch of my journey. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Russian hospitality I set off one morning with a list of mini-bus numbers and stop-off points gleaned from various internet sources. lit-up Russian dolls displayed in shop windows. marshtrootkas. and I found ourselves lost and wandering for hours in a summer storm. At the end of this magical day spent strolling through the gardens. chocolate and fruit. The next day. crispy bread rolls. and I was dropped off just outside the town. Like South Africa’s taxis. and in summer tours are touted constantly via loudspeakers and signs from every corner of Nevsky Prospekt. and the family generously shared their picnic lunch of blini (Russian pancakes). Anna. Nevertheless. Like ours. “Russians are too patient. On the way to the airport my cab driver ran out of petrol. Once their relatives. the humour was similar to what I’d seen in Russian sitcoms: slapstick and over-the-top. a woman with a cat perched on her shoulder and giant. much to the amusement of a group of men smoking on the balcony nearby. insisting that I take the leftovers. after which I experienced the first of many scary Russian toilets – basically a hole in the floor. echoing what I’d heard about their optimistic fatalism. we found a restaurant and shared a late lunch. We finally arrived in the late afternoon to find the market nearly deserted. This he achieved. babushkas selling overpriced cornflowers wrapped in vine leaves (which I bought in exchange for being allowed to take a photo). or mini-buses. Lena and six-year-old Artyom. one of the passengers was able to guess where I wanted to be. tea. a popular pastime in Moscow. With Natalia acting as interpreter. most of the stalls packed up. a fellow South African. bikers with kitsch Japanese motorbikes covered in studded black leather. but today. I had managed to find an inexpensive hotel just off Nevsky. Yasnaya Polyana. which were modelled on Amsterdam’s by Peter the Great. By then more hungry than concerned about shopping. St Petersburg is beset by problems of pollution. and the road to Tula was so potholed that the threehour journey felt more like a boat ride on choppy water. whose plan was to create a rival to the great capitals of the west. a wide cobbled avenue populated by portraitists displaying photoreal Angelinas and Jack Sparrows. After checking out the sales on Tverskaya. We ended the day on Old Arbat Street. But. pointing out the piano once played by guests like Anton Rubenstein and the black leather couch on which Tolstoy was born. I could not resist taking a photograph of this grim sight. The next morning it was with mixed feelings of sadness and excitement that I left for Saint Petersburg. my last in Moscow. salami. Paper and pen were produced and emails exchanged there and then. where there seem to be as many theatres as movie houses. we decided to watch a play. Thus they had to find supplementary employment: she as a tour guide and he as a vendor selling a newspaper about pets. Western Siberia. near the industrial town Tula. Luckily. the main road running through the historic centre. though still the most European of Russian cities. not having any pets of their own. was also spent with a local. drug abuse. As the only guides available were Russian (and you were not allowed to enter the buildings alone) I was fortunate that Natalia was able to translate for me. an artist and interior designer whom I met on a tour to Chekov’s home in Melikhovo. She told us about how. with actresses dressed like nineteenth-century courtesans in stiletto-heeled boots and an ostentatious set including a gigantic Italian puppet. we set off down the country road. he was unable to answer customers’ questions and consequently never sold many copies. corrupt oligarchs had offered pensioners vouchers to invest in businesses.” she explained. Weathered baroque palaces and elegant but rundown neoclassical mansions in pastel shades line the canals. had arrived. Lost in the suburbs A visit to Izmaylovsky Market became an exploration of Moscow’s northern suburbs as Annwyn. Lena escorted me back to the bus station in Tula. are notorious for their dodgy driving. the taxis stop frequently at unofficial points along the roadside and passengers need to indicate verbally when they want to get out – a challenge for nonRussian speakers. But. buskers. All this she related with typical Russian stoicism. racist attacks and street crime.

marvelling at the grandiose fountain system and golden statues and indulging in a favourite sightseeing activity: people watching. I decided to spend my final day alone at Tsarskoye Selo. His answers to questions were typically blunt and often monosyllabic. dark alleys and shelled-out apartment blocks punctuated here and there by primary-coloured climbing castles and graffiti. where he died at the age of thirtyseven after a duel defending his wife’s honour. a walk off the tourist track run by young streetwise locals. and took us past Dostoyevsky’s final residence. the vast blue. a group of leatherclad punks and the canal bridge from which Raskolnikov observed a woman attempt suicide in Crime and Punishment. Passing a family of stray kittens which had materialised from a crack in a wall. I then made my way towards the centrepiece of Tsarskoye Selo. I had the place to myself and wandered around quiet rooms filled with photographs and personal effects of the Tsar’s family. Tina was particularly intrigued by the way they posed for photographs: even young girls would stand in provocative positions more commonly associated with modelling shoots than casual holiday snaps. ignoring the attendants’ affectionate rebukes. now taken over by weeds and ducks. designed to represent a ruined medieval belltower. apparently a sign of good fortune. home to the last tsar. Here. I started at Alexander Palace. According to Nikolai. I was in the mood to visit some museums. wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . Grey skies provided an appropriate backdrop for crumbling courtyards. Having spent much of my time outdoors in Moscow. there were the literary museums: Anna Akhmatova’s modest yet poignant apartment. Apparently the baths closed early on that particular day of the month. near the Finnish border. passengers climbing over each other’s seats. such as the Pyramid where Catherine the Great buried her favourite greyhounds. though unfortunately not as anticipated. who were assassinated in 1918. everyone applauded on touch-down. whole pickled garlic cloves). presumably there to pose for tourists although on this day none was in sight. as I’d seen everywhere from city streets to cobbled squares and muddy parks. On offer were a wild array of goods including buckets of tvorog (Russian cottage cheese mixed with cherries and raisins. As on my previous flights.Travel distance of Palace Square and other popular tourist sites like the evocatively named Cathedral of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. the summer residence of the Russian emperors. past the picturesque children’s island. Then. the Turkish bath. Visiting the banya is a favourite pastime in Russia. where I could imagine young Anastasia and her siblings playing in the sky-blue cottage reflected in the surrounding pond. in a field behind the church. women were dressed as if for the Met. still in high spirits despite a sleepless night. flashy outfits. So. the writer had lived in several different apartments around St Petersburg thanks to a gambling habit and consequent inability to pay rent. I soaked up this last bit of contact with Russia. which houses one of the world’s largest collections of fine art – about three million works. shouting. and one of the other tourists. I’d had my fill of tours. in killer heels and skin-tight. There happened to be a service in progress and I listened a while to the Orthodox choir with its melancholy harmonies. Had I unravelled the enigma of this great land and its people? I think I’ve only just begun. St Fyodor’s Cathedral. though only for women. and Nabokov House. Next I came to the family chapel. particularly when it came to those involving work. On the Moscow-to-Doha flight there was a party atmosphere. The banya visit turned out to be a typical Russian experience. From backstreets to palaces One drizzly morning I made my way downtown to join the popular Pete’s Walking Tour. where we spent the day exploring the palace gardens. a sore point for many young Russians struggling to find permanent employ. all dressed in regimental uniform and running unself-consciously around the field. He told us about a local banya. huge patty pans and tanks of live sturgeon. For lunch. Our tattooed guide Nikolai pointed out examples of Style Moderne architecture. and I often saw women on the bus with birch twigs poking out of their bags. Pushkin’s last home. the traditional Russian sauna or steam bath. the Soviet version of Art Deco. Farewell to the tsars After two long day trips to Veliky Novgorod in the south and Vyborg. laughing. the Chinese Pavilion and the Chapelle. beginning with the Hermitage. drinking through the night. of course. Nikolai took us to a traditional pancake restaurant where I tried some salmon roe on blini. Having arrived early. used at the baths for slapping oneself to stimulate circulation. Tina from Oregon. I was met by an eerie sight: a bearded Nicholas and Alexandra and their children. especially as these last two were conducted entirely in Russian. Nicholas II. unpredictable visiting times being a standard frustration of Russian travel. now a museum. and as we piled into the transit bus. The next day Tina and I decided to take a hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland to Peterhoff. Party on the plane It was pouring with rain when I left St Petersburg. we stopped off at an indoor market. the mansion where Vladimir Nabokov was born. and I decided to go there that evening. Outside. From there I walked through the overgrown and tranquil Alexander Park. white and gold Catherine Palace and Catherine Park with its landscaped gardens and unusual structures.

or a president (who doesn’t?) Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that I could be a restaurateur. not noble enough. in my view at least. My father wished me to be a teacher. definitely. a soldier (because my father was one). were huge and far from where we lived. Fancy restaurants. only telling me that I should be financially independent because “spending the money you make yourself is a pleasure”. Mom. It is not grand enough. It was an outing for the whole family when we went to weddings. a foodie. respect from the community and nice long winter and summer holidays. it is more like theatre. on the other hand. Growing up in Taiwan. little eateries that sprung up here and there. where we went for different wedding celebrations. She probably did not wish me to be a teacher as she knew how hard she worked. with everyone dressed in their best: colourful clothes and mom’s her hair pinned up high by a neighbourhood hairdresser. not professional enough. not patriotic enough and. started her own restaurant thinking it was temporary best job for women – steady income. food and writing By Emma Chen hen I was little. as it was considered the W Size does matter when it comes to food. there the one day. served with noodles A Chinese restaurateur in South Africa talks about childhood. did not specify what she wanted me to be.Food & Drink Childhood dreams. I wanted to be a teacher (because my mom was one). And a restaurant experience is not only about food. everyone seemed to be able to cook and restaurants were. My family had better expectations of me. gone the next. or a policeman (because my grandfather was one). wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 Emma Chen. I saw enough of her piles of homework Picture: Johannes Dreyer . She suffered from chronic vocal-cord infection and varicose veins.

Father rode a 90CC motorbike on which the whole family climbed when going to town. I would fall asleep. True. We learned to name the virtues so well at school that I could recite them without pausing to breathe. And then. Every detail makes a difference to the quality of food we serve. She complained about the dirt. there are disciplines in each section of the restaurant. covered with light brown gravy. to be fit physically. With this lack of discipline evident in my writing. I wish I was a disciplined person. The same attention to detail must be applied to the front of house. I was writing stories about my childhood interwoven with food. A piece of soft pork chop. the first one in Johannesburg. I remembered all the food I once ate. There was no food tastier than that from the round Taiwan Railway Bian-dang (food boxes). we would take a train to visit my grandparents. I would sit in front of the computer to write. after building it up. a subtlety was more memorable than a total onslaught. I wished I could always ride with father on the bike because the strong diesel smell of the buses often made me deliciously nauseous.I guess I was at the age when childhood memories became more vivid than ever. But such is life that not only was I deprived of the opportunity to wear a uniform. which a few mouthfuls would not do justice to. which normally coped badly with numbers. Other times. Old buses that puked out black smoke like cuttlefish were the only other vehicles. I do not believe in running my restaurant with an iron fist. They all appeared in my mind with the fantastic dishes we used to share. It wasn’t a serious career move. friends of the family. it makes me feel more at home than ever in South Africa. I was young and adventurous. came to the fore with food: I could recall not only the taste. Phone me before 10 a. My debut book Emperor Can Wait is not strictly about my restaurant. Before I knew it. a few days before my writing group is about to meet. After feeding all my children and having them all curled up snoring. I loved to watch my father polishing his buttons and the buckle on his belt. The windows could never be shut properly. I would try to write something. How wrong I was to think that a restaurateur was not a profession. Phone me at midnight and you will notice a person full of ideas and ready to go to a party or movie. I am a total night person. I grew into the job. I learned from different chefs the disciplines in controlling a kitchen. My love for trains was not shared at all by mom. because I grew up in a military camp. Each one was heavy and shiny. After completing high school. you might ask how a restaurant can be run without discipline. When I thought about home. The silver buttons glittered. After all. even when I opened my restaurant Red Chamber in Hyde Park about twenty years ago. But because of my parents’ and my own expectations. Midnight is also the time when I write. I only write under pressure. When the train went through a tunnel. There were few vehicles then in Taiwan. I loved uniforms. I was already trading in goods then. The encouragement I received prompted me to carry on writing. I had little will power and hated any form of exercise. I ended up playing another ten rounds of Spider Solitaire or reading online newspapers from Taiwan. I was also extremely homesick. embossed with the pattern of our national flag. the smell and the portion size. each representing a virtue. I believed that I could start up a restaurant and. my team of staff has scheduled activities that must be carried out every day. the neighbours. I sold sold to wholesalers and to the public at the flea market. every Sunday in the parking lot opposite the Market Theatre in Newtown.Food & Drink that she had to bring home every night to mark. It remained a sad event for me. Another reason I wanted to be a soldier was that I loved to ride in the camp jeep. my mom. It was a sad affair for me when the only movie house that showed midnight movies closed down many years ago. gently rocked by the motion of the train. but the look. In writing these stories I found that I have made peace with myself for being away from home. In times like those. sell it and make a profit. not so much because of junk food – there was none in those days – but because of my love of food. grumpy and still yawning. everyone would be covered by black soot. a whole braised egg and a few pieces of Chinese green sat on a bed of steaming rice. Size does matter when it comes to food. The writing group acted as a source of inspiration. But my absolute favourite was the train. I probably would make a very poor soldier. Soldiers need to get up early and go to bed early. For a long time I wanted to be a soldier. but I went the opposite way and literally immersed myself in food for the next twenty years. Sometimes the flavour must build up. so eye-catching against the navy shirt. Actually. Unfortunately. and you get the worst of me. Very often. a star in the middle. A rigid army lifestyle probably would have sorted me out. Most of my staff is wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 . surrounded by twelve triangles. people’s names and any forms of tests. especially a few years later when I heard that no-one was overweight in the military college because of the fitness level required. Normally. Rather.m. Come to think of it. My grandmother. Before I knew it. My memory. I wrote a book about my childhood. just like my father. Twice a year. I could finish a whole box on my own. I was rejected by the military college and the police academy because of my poor eyesight. impatient. I thought I would do it for a year or two and then sell it. From the sourcing of ingredients to the step-by-step making of our famous Peking Duck. especially the buttons. I could have done well with some forced physical training as I have always been overweight. street vendors …. I see myself as the “mother figure” for my staff.

some fish and some tofu. There might be dish that everyone knows is your favourite. Wait for the eggs to puff up. All the dishes should be put in the middle of the table. . Remove the eggs from the wok before they are completely cooked. Even before they step in. dishes do not have to arrive all at once. Put a dash of oil in wok. I became a professional restaurateur. I try my best to encourage people to share their dishes. In the Chinese way of eating. they perceive the décor of the restaurant. a handful 4 eggs Sunflower oil Salt Method Wash and cut jiucai into short sections. they hear the music and they wordsetc | First Quarter 2010 A delicious dish of chives and eggs that can be prepared in minutes A recipe food from my kitchen I would like to share with you a recipe from my book. Other than food. There are cultural and language barriers to cross but we often realise that there are more similarities than differences. Some are from KwaZulu-Natal. I came to South Africa with no intention of staying for too long. Drain aside. When people go out for a meal. just as I started the restaurant with no intention of making it my career. they are looking for a good overall experience. I stayed in South Africa and became South African. there is the setting and there is the atmosphere. Put the egg back into the wok and mix together with jiucai. then add two soupspoons of oil. add pinch of salt. a few months or a few years. some from Zimbabwe and many from Taiwan and China. Even a meal for a small family at home would consist of three to four dishes. and Westerners in general. then add jiucai and stir fry. We have all come a long way to work together. some vegetable. The way Chinese food is served is not how South Africans. every single dish is meant for the table (portions are adjusted according to table size) and not simply for an individual. I chose this one to demonstrate that a simple dish of chives and eggs that can be made in minutes is as good as any banquet dish. it will spoil the bright yellow of the eggs combined with the dark green jiucai. there is music. want their food served. our colleagues are closer to us than our families. fragrance and taste. smell the food. Jiucai (Garlic Chives) Stir Fried with Eggs Ingredients Chinese garlic chives (jiucai). All you need is a friend or two to share it with.Food & Drink away from home for long spells. but it is definitely professional enough. Heat up the wok. Personally. A few different dishes work together to make the eating experience a complete one. Whichever dish is brought to the table. wait until it smokes then pour in the egg mixture. Somehow. I realise now that I do not care how other people may regard the restaurant business. and no one needs to wait for other people’s dishes to arrive before one can start eating. Note: Do not add soya sauce. when our families are so far away. Yes. I believe that a restaurant experience is not only about food. From being interested in food. I think we understand that. Variety is the most important aspect of Chinese cuisine. instead of in front of a particular person. it is akin to theatre. so they would urge you to eat more but in general all the dishes are for everybody. Beat eggs. not patriotic enough and not grand enough. some meat. There is colour. That is when the theatre begins. it is not noble enough. Running a Chinese restaurant in South Africa means that we have to introduce Chinese food culture slowly. would be the dish we start with. add another pinch of salt. In Chinese culture. A selection of dishes is shared by everyone at the table.

who masterfully steered a fledgling cellular company to unparalleled financial success. This title will be published in South Africa’s eleven official languages. transportation. shaping a revolutionary concept into one of the most powerful brands in southern Africa: Vodacom.za . the consumer revolution that has been sparked off as a result. … tells the story of Alan Knott-Craig. a maverick civil servant from the government telephone operator. Telkom. the technology that has provided the tools for change. as well as the massive shifts of social and business dynamics that are altering the journey ahead. … is a cookbook-memoir in which restaurateur Emma Chen delicately prepares and serves up reminiscences of an enchanting childhood growing up in the newly formed People’s Republic of China in Taiwan and of her early adulthood in both Taiwan and South Africa.BOOKS THAT SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES … tracks the ripple effects of the global economic meltdown.panmacmillan. … is a groundbreaking book that explores the state of the Earth – from climate change to the ongoing water and energy crises. urban planning and sustainability reporting. and from issues of waste and garbage to tourism. Tr a nsie n t C a r e ta k e r s M A K I N G L I F E O N E A R T H S U S TA I N A B L E MERVYN KING WITH TEODORINA LESSIDRENSKA … brings an inspirational man to life for a younger generation.co. www.

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