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Pat Fahrenfort Speaks to Antjie Krog at the Launch of Spanner in the Works

Pat Fahrenfort

The Homecoming Centre at the District Six Museum was thrumming earlier this week when family and friends and members of Pat Fahrenfort’s extended community came to hear her in conversation with veteran social commentator, academic and world-renowned poet, Antjie Krog.

The occasion was the launch of Fahrenfort’s debut narrative, Spanner in the Works: One Woman’s Journey from Factory Floor to Corridors of Power. The museum’s curator, Tina Smith, welcomed the author and her discussant, describing the book as “gutsy, unpretentious and honest”.

Antjie Krog and Pat Fahrenfort Spanner in the WorksKrog said it was “an honour and a great, great pleasure” to be launching the book, which had come through the UWC CREATES programme. This new initiative, aimed at students, staff and non-students, seeks to give life to stories that would previously have gone untold.

“One only had to read the first paragraph of the manuscript, which arrived one day in the hands of a cheerfully dressed but determined woman, to know that it was going to take you where you have not been before. Spanner in the Works is a text that is so unusual that it is impossible to use any general or usual yardstick to gauge it,” said Krog.

She highlighted some of the details that Fahrenfort records – how her desk had looked, the daily conversations, how she had dressed, and exchanges with friends. She said the book was about work, and how “work” works, recording how many had to clock in with a card, how the unemployment office appears and the war that erupts over a misplaced comma in secretarial minutes.

By purposefully choosing not to make her own life centre stage, Fahrenfort emphasises the point that the life of a worker is always overwhelmed by work and that what forms one is the work one does in order to create a little space in which one may have a personal life. However, Fahrenfort also makes an important political point, she said: “I want you to know that my life was dominated by work, by my efforts to enjoy my work, by plans to get some movement in my salary, by my resistence against work intrusions preventing me from trying to construct some kind of personal life so my child’s life could finally be different from mine.”

Krog reflected on how this kind of book would not have been possible 30 years ago and praised the foresight and tenacity that had enabled Fahrenfort to live and write this narrative. “Pat’s life has been,” said Krog, “not only a spanner, not only a spanner in the works, but a spanner that worked!”

Fahrenfort concluded the launch by reading from the book and answering questions from Krog and the audience in her inimitable style – witty, sexy and savvy.

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Liesl Jobson tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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