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Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

16 Days of Activism and South African Contemporary Fiction

Glowfly DanceWhat About MeeraMy Children Have FacesBirdseyeSister Moon

By Jennifer Crocker

Every year from 25 November, for 16 days, South Africa highlights activism against gender violence, and every year comments are made in the media about how this campaign does not make any real difference to those who have the very fabric of their lives torn apart by domestic violence, because we are told that we have more to fear from those we know than from strangers – a sober thought indeed.

In addition to using just 16 days to highlight this scourge, there are other ways in which people are creating awareness of the fragility of many people’s lives as a result of domestic violence. One is through literature, music, theatre and the arts. From time immemorial authors, philosophers and commentators have written about the issues around them, often weaving entertainment with harsh realities into what become cautionary tales. For many of us, the messages that resonate most are those conveyed through stories.

The South African publishing industry appears to be on the cusp of taking the publishing world by storm, with publishers pushing the boundaries and bravely bringing books to the reading market that stir the conscience.

A number of novels have been published that tackle the issue of domestic violence and abuse – bearing in mind that abuse is not always only physical, it also does not only affect women (although women are most often its victims), and almost universally it causes a sense of shame.

When novelists bring these stories out into the scrutiny of the light, and allow themselves the freedom of created characters to portray the horrors that are perpetuated on a daily basis, not just for 16 days of a year, we are drawn into stories that are as captivating as they are instructive. Discussions that follow from the reading of these books often allow those who have suffered – or continue to suffer – from abuse to share their experiences in a safe place for the first time.

Glowfly DanceGlowfly Dance by Jade Gibson (Umuzi, 2015) is one such book. Gibson begins the novel by setting up a perfect storm, and introducing the destruction of the life of a young girl, Mai, the voice through which the story is told. Mai lives with her mother and sister Amy. She is a happy little girl. She doesn’t know who her father is, but she has her mother and her quirky grandfather. The family is not rich in monetary terms, but they have flowers and games and love. When her mother meets Rashid, this all changes; Rashid, with his red car, is an abuser of children and women. Through the beauty of the writing Gibson shows us how a happy – if unusual – family is decimated by one man’s cruelty. How cunning and coercion can make you flee your happy place and put you on the bottom rung of society. It’s a brilliant and brave book, and carries across the message that violence in a family does only one thing: it destroys hope. And hope, once broken, is lost. Rashid is one of those men we will remember long after we have put down Gibson’s book; he’ll remain in our memories as the man who stole innocence in a whirlwind of cruelty and pain.

What About MeeraWhat About Meera (Umuzi, 2015) tells the story of a young woman who is happy in her life in rural KwaZulu-Natal, until she is forced to marry a man of status, a doctor. Her loveless marriage becomes a thing of entrapment and horror. Meera flees her life with him, but is judged and becomes a shame to her family. Events spiral out of control when she travels to Dublin and does a stupid and dangerous thing from a place of desperation. The book is essentially about the loss of innocence through neglect and cruelty. In a case of life imitating art, author ZP Dala was attacked after a literary festival in Durban, apparently by a group of men who took offence to her support of Salman Rushdie, and hit her in the face with a brick. One is tempted to think that the real world may intersect with the imagined world, for violence was done to a novelist by those wielding power. And abuse is about violence and exerting power over others. What About Meera also addresses the fact that the survivors of domestic abuse are often also victims of abuse within the wider family unit, either wittingly, to keep up appearances, or unwittingly, because they refuse to see what is happening.

My Children Have FacesIn Carol Campbell’s book My Children Have Faces (Umuzi , 2013), we are taken to the edges of suffering in the Karoo, where a family has fled to escape the brutality of Miskiet, a murderer and a rapist who lives in the small town they have left. When Muis’s husband takes his ragged family back to the town, Miskiet is waiting for them. He sees Muis as a “dried out whore” but he has not forgotten her. While he still has the power to strike fear into her, he does not have enough power to stop her from doing the one thing she wants to do: get identity documents for her children so that they have a chance in life. It’s a wonderfully crafted tale spun from a composite group of people the author came to know in a little Karoo town. Muis has power, but it comes at great cost. It is price she is prepared to pay, but one that no person should be asked to pay.

BirdseyeSister MoonMáire Fisher broke our hearts in her novel Birdseye (Umuzi, 2014), where violence perpetuated against little boys shows the ugly face of almost random violence, while in Kirsten Miller’s Sister Moon (Umuzi, 2104) the reader is confronted by familial complicity where the sexual abuse of a young girl is ignored because of financial dependency on the perpetrator. The shockwaves of the abuse reverberate through the family for decades.
Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” It has a ring of truth to it, because heaven knows we need as many ways as possible to address the horrible truth that lies behind violence and abuse. And not just for 16 days, but every day. There is a reason that text in books is always referred to in the present tense: it exists as a reality when a book is both closed and open. By opening up the reality of abuse and exposing it through literature, another arrow is added to the quiver exposing it in all its horror. Thank goodness we have authors who do that for us.

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign runs from 25 November to 10 December 2106.

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16 Days of Activism – Glowfly Dance by Jade Gibson

Jade GibsonGlowfly DanceGlowfly Dance by Jade Gibson

Given the recent interest in trials such as those of Pistorius and Dewani, and the issues they have raised, the themes of Glowfly Dance are highly topical. The novel, which focuses on the resilience, perspective and survival of children, examines the inability and failure of the law to shield women from violence, while protecting the perpetrators.

In a story peopled with intriguing characters, exotic landscapes and lush description, Glowfly Dance depicts the complexity of domestic violence and its devastating impact on the entire family. The novel was shortlisted for two international literary prizes in its unpublished form, and reviewers have described the book as both harrowing and beautiful.

Based on a true story, Glowfly Dance is a tale of struggle, survival, loss, humanity, resilience and hope, and includes the stories of women from across the globe. Told from the perspective of Mai, a young girl of mixed heritage, the story spans three continents and deals with issues of migration, identity, women’s refuges, abuse of women and children, law courts and violence. It exposes flaws in the ability of the authorities – legal, social, psychological and police – to protect, and thereby raises questions on policy and social responsibility. In depicting the failure of the law and society to protect women and children in danger, the novel aims to stimulate debate and ultimately bring about awareness and positive change.

Published in October 2015, Glowfly Dance has been featured as the “hero book” of Nancy Richards’ SAfm literature show and the Classic FM book show. The book is currently available in good bookshops in southern Africa, and as an ebook.

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“Last Week Made Me Realise How Much Like a Blunted Blade I Have Become” – Maire Fisher on #FeesMustFall

BirdseyeA week of student protests aimed at lower fees for tertiary education, and eventually free education, initially left Máire Fisher seething and frustrated.

“My son is a third-year student at UCT who has worked his butt off this year. So when the #FeesMustFall campaign started, I was really pissed off,” the Birdseye author writes in a recent column for The Times. However, as the week unfolded and voices on the ground grew louder than often sensationalist media reports, she came to understand the protests.

Read Fisher’s article to see why she says “last week made me realise how much like a blunted blade I have become” and what lessons she will be taking away from the #FeesMustFall protests:

I didn’t take #FeesMustFall seriously. I’ve grown so used to daily, if not hourly, news of corruption that I couldn’t see what good any further protest would do, besides disrupting study week and having a detrimental effect on exams.

Last week made me realise how much like a blunted blade I have become. I expect things not to work; I expect protests not to work; I’m apathetic and negative. I follow the news, and inject most of it with large doses of cynicism (the same cynicism I experienced at the beginning of the week, thinking the protesting students were probably hoping for exams to be postponed or cancelled because they were failing).

Follow these links for more about Fisher’s debut novel and her thoughts on creative writing:


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Darrel Bristow-Bovey on the “Quiet Thrill of Pleasure” He got from Henrietta Rose-Innes’ Green Lion

Green LionOne Midlife Crisis and a SpeedoDarrel Bristow-Bovey has written a piece on Sylvester the lion, who was recently recaptured after 24 days on the run, relating the incident to Henrietta Rose-Innes’ latest novel Green Lion.

Sylvester, a three-year-old male lion, escaped from the Karoo National Park through a hole in a fence, and was found 300 kilometres away in the Nuweveld mountains.

Bristow-Bovey, whose latest book is One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo, says that while recapture was best for the animal, who was probably scared and hungry, “there’s a selfish, silly part of me that wishes he was still out there, haunting the dusty landscape, bringing it subtly alive”.

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In Henrietta Rose-Innes’ novel Green Lion, set in the not too distant future, a lion named Sekhmet escapes from an enclosure on the slopes of Table Mountain and vanishes into its kloofs and heights. I was reading the novel with a view of the mountainside and I looked up from the page with a quiet thrill of pleasure. Just the thought of Sekhmet on the loose reanimates the mountain, retrieves it from something domesticated and familiar and restores to the landscape its wildness and strangeness. Her uneasy, unseen nearness haunts the prose, making you follow the lines of writing as though tiptoeing up a narrow track following the faint indent of paw prints, glancing over your shoulder and nervously wiping sweat from your eyes.

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“Die tyd vir suutjies praat is finaal verby” – Bettina Wyngaard oor kerke, medelye en Augustus

Bettina WyngaardVuilspel Augustus word in Suid-Afrika gevier as die maand van die vrou. In kerke, vernaam die Anglikaanse denominasie, is dit die maand van medelye. Maar met wie, vra Bettina Wyngaard in ‘n rubriek vir LitNet.

Die konteks waarin kerk vandag plaasvind behoort barmhartige aksies te ontlok, sê die aktivis en outeur van Vuilspel. Wyngaard spreek haar misnoë uit oor die belaglike sake waarmee “die kerk” hulself besig hou – soos vakansiedae en of blankes en nie-blankes saam kan aanbid – eerder as om standpunt in te neem teen belangrike kwelpunte. Sy skryf:

“Xenofobiese aanvalle, geweld wat hoogty vier, verkragtings, moorde, bedrog, owerspel, skinder, magsvergrype binne die kerk, terwyl die kerk handjies vou en stilbly.”

Waar is die medelye? Waar is die medemenslikheid? Waar is die aksies wat deur liefde, en nie statusbewustheid en gemak, gedryf word? Hoekom het mense nie aktief hul naaste lief nie, soos Jesus beveel het? Hierdie is maar slegs ‘n paar van die vrae wat deur Wyngaard se rubriek gevra word.

Lees haar artikel:

Maar wat doen ons kerke vandag? Ons grootste bekommernis is dat christelike vakansiedae afgevat gaan word. Godsdiens is alreeds uit skole, sonder ’n “bang of ’n whimper”. Ons kerke wil hande vat met die regering en hulle probeer oorhaal met mooi woorde. Ons wil suutjies praat, en nie die regerende party se argwaan op die hals haal nie – netnou noem hulle ons name.

Suutjies praat is stront praat. (Dalene Matthee, Die uitgespoeldes)

Die tyd vir suutjies praat is verby. Daar is te veel heilige koeie wat los rondloop en wat kan doen met ’n goeie slagting. Baie Christene loop rond met armbandjies wat vra: WWJD? What would Jesus do? Ek vermoed as Jesus die kerk van vandag so kyk, sou hy gaan sit, ’n swepie vleg en die skynheiliges met geweld uitboender. Hy het al.


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District 9 Screenwriter to Adapt Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now for the Big Screen

Apocalypse Now NowKill BaxterVariety announced on Friday that Charlie Human’s speculative fiction debut, Apocalypse Now Now, will soon be made into a feature film.

The novel is to be adapted by screenwriter Terri Tatchell, who received an Oscar nomination for District 9 and wrote the script for Chappie.

The rights to Apocalypse Now Now were acquired by Canadian production house Redlab Digital, and the film will be made in collaboration with Los Angeles-based XYZ Films. According to Variety, the movie will be produced by Redlab Digital’s Nicholas Sorbara, as well as Sean Drummond and Michael Matthews of South Africa-based Be Phat Motel. Todd Brown from XYZ Films will serve as executive producer, and XYZ Films will be responsible for global sales.

Apocalypse Now Now tells the story of Baxter Zevcenko, the 16-year-old kingpin of a schoolyard pornography syndicate. When Baxter’s girlfriend is kidnapped he tumbles head-first into the supernatural underworld of Cape Town.

Human has previously commented that he reckons actor Anton Yelchin would make a good Baxter Zevcenko.

“South Africa has always pushed through the usual limits of my imagination,” Tatchell explained to Variety, “and Apocalypse Now Now is no exception. Charlie has actually upped the game and obliterated them all altogether.”

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“Justice is a Fairy Tale”: Lauren Beukes on Women Abuse, Reeva Steenkamp and Anene Booysen (Video)

Broken MonstersThe Shining GirlsLauren Beukes was one of 13 celebrity authors who participated in the Read For Pixels 2015 campaign.

Created by The Pixel Project, the USA-based campaign aims to increase awareness about violence against women and to raise funds to the value of US$1 million in aid of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

To help in the fundraising effort the authors donated “author goodies” up for auction. Beukes donated a signed copy of Broken Monsters and the chance to be immortalised as a minor character in her next book.

The author read extracts from Broken Monsters during a Google Hangout session which was moderated by Regina Yau. “I’m going to read a chapter about Detroit,” Beukes said in her introduction. “Broken Monsters is set in Detroit and it’s a novel about art and broken people and the monsters within and how you find a way to live with them and these ideas about Detroit as a ruined city.”

After reading from her work Beukes spoke about her writing and Yau opened the floor to a live question and answer session. Yau’s first question to Beukes was what she thought about the high-profile case of Oscar Pistorius:

“It’s awful. Justice is a fairy tale, it’s a fairy tale that I believed in for a long time,” Beukes said. “I really thought it worked the way it does on Murder She Wrote and Law and Order and CSI: Miami. I believed that justice would be done, that the person would get their comeuppance if you provide all the evidence, if the police actually did their jobs, which they don’t, because they’re under-resourced and underpaid and under-trained. It’s not their fault, it’s the system; the system is broken.”

“What was devastating about the Reeva Steenkamp case was that in the first 24 hours she didn’t have a name; she was known as Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend.” Beukes also talks about the case of Anene Booysen, which didn’t receive as much international media attention as the Pistorius trial, and says that in The Shining Girls she tried to tell the stories of ordinary women whose abuse doesn’t get covered by the media.

Watch the video:

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Nelson Mandela Would Have Been Ashamed by Violence Against Foreigners – George Bizos

Odyssey to FreedomAdvocate George Bizos, prominent human rights lawyer and lifelong friend of Nelson Mandela‚ says the attacks on foreigners were not triggered by xenophobia but a deep hatred for foreigners.

He said late former president Mandela would have been ashamed by the violence against foreigners.

“We are dealing here with hatred for foreigners … I am pleased that the majority of people of South Africa‚ universities‚ human rights organisations and schools have stood up to put an end to this hatred of foreigners‚” Bizos said.

He added that it had never occurred to him that South Africans “could display such cruelty against their brothers and sisters”.

Bizos was speaking in Pretoria on Thursday at a Unisa debate on the state of ethics 20 years after the country’s attainment of freedom and democracy.

He said he was pleased that it was only a few who committed crimes against foreigners‚ saying fellow Africans provided refuge for South African freedom fighters and supported the struggle against apartheid.

Bizos said people who stood against the attacks on foreigners did so at the great risk to their own personal safety‚ saying it is their ethical barometer that told them it was the right thing to do.

He said that‚ since his family came to South Africa from Greece as refugees‚ he knew how it felt to be a foreigner‚ away from family and friends and confronted by a language he could not speak.

“Fortunately we were welcomed with open arms‚” said Bizos, whose remarkable life is recorded in the autobiography Odyssey to Freedom.

Over the past three weeks‚ South Africa has been struggling to contain xenophobic attacks that began in KwaZulu-Natal and spread to various parts of the country, and which have claimed seven lives.

The government has since deployed the National Defence Force to help police restore order and stem the spread of the attacks.

RDM News Wire

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Imraan Coovadia: Dr Jekyll Needs to Step Down from His Position as UCT’s Vice Chancellor

Tales of the Metric SystemTransformationsImraan Coovadia, academic and author of Tales of the Metric System and Transformations: Essays, recently wrote an article for The Con about the heat at the University of Cape Town about the Cecil John Rhodes statue and the racist legacy it represents.

Coovadia, who directs the creative writing programme at UCT, criticises the university’s vice chancellor, Dr Max Price, for handling racial dynamics poorly. He says Price’s management of these politics was not always tokenistic and evasive.

Coovadia can only assume a less benevolent personality has taken over.

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To resolve the situation at the University of Cape Town that was sparked by the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, I believe we must demand the reinstatement of former vice chancellor, Dr Max Price. On his installation in 2008, Price called for an Afropolitan university, encompassing the globe without short-changing the continent. Six years later, in 2014, the same man (or what appeared to be the same man) was reduced to the argument that a black woman had once been a professor at his institution.

Practising tokenism without the tokens, when you think about it, is as strange a strategy as running an Afropolitan university, in South Africa, with scarcely any black South Africans (who comprise 2.5% of the professoriate). I happen to be a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote classics like Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In Jekyll and Hyde, two personalities – one rational and benevolent, while the other is irrational and undecipherable – co-exist in the same individual. So I had an inkling of what might be going on when I went to see the vice chancellor a year ago.

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Umuzi Congratulates Ivan Vladislavic on Winning the International Windham Campbell Prize

Ivan Vladislavic

Yale University yesterday announced that Ivan Vladislavić has won the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for fiction, along with Teju Cole and Helon Habila.

Each writer will receive an unrestricted grant of $150 000.

Vladislavić, whose books include The Restless Supermarket, Portrait with Keys, and Double Negative, is one of South Africa’s most celebrated novelists, essayists and editors.

The Restless SupermarketPortrait with KeysDouble Negative

The Windham Campbell Prizes were established by Donald Windham and Sandy M Campbell to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. The awards are awarded in three categories – fiction, non-fiction, and drama – to honour and support writers anywhere in the world writing in English. The Prizes debuted in 2013. Zoë Wicomb and Jonny Steinberg were among the winners of the inaugural awards.

Fourie Botha, publisher of local fiction at Penguin Random House South Africa, says: “Ivan Vladislavić is a brilliant writer and an inspiration to writers and editors. A more worthy winner for this prestigious award would be hard to find.”

Steve Connolly, Managing Director at Penguin Random House, says: “This is a spectacular achievement. It is a great honour for us to be publishing Ivan Vladislavić. Everybody should read him.”

Vladislavić has won many other prizes, including the University of Johannesburg Prize, the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction.

A collection of new short stories by Vladislavić, 101 Detectives, will be published under the Umuzi imprint in April.

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