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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Read an Extract from Spanner in the Works: Pat Fahrenfort’s Journey from Factory Floors to Corridors of Power

Spanner in the WorksSpanner in the Works by Pat Fahrenfort is the story of one woman’s journey from the factory floors of Cape Town to being part of the country’s first post-apartheid administration. It provides a unique view of the challenges faced by ordinary South Africans under the extraordinary circumstances of that unforgettable period of history. Fahrenfort’s story is an unflinchingly frank account of one woman’s resolve to speak truth to power, irrespective of where she discovers it.

Namibiana Buchdepot has shared an excerpt from Spanner in the Works in which Fahrenfort introduces herself and her family. Her story is not unlike the one told by many South Africans who were classified as non-white, but speaks with a unique voice about the daily struggles of ordinary working class people who had to negotiate their way through an unforgiving system.

Read the excerpt for a taste of what to expect from Spanner in the Works:

From the school bench to the factory floor

I didn’t know what to expect from my first job, certainly not that I’d be working until my fingers bled. It was 1960 and the year I came of age. I was fifteen. With my slight build and short stature I was often mistaken for a boy or a young child, so I began wearing my hair loose on my shoulders, the top part teased up Brigitte Bardot-style with a fringe over my too-broad forehead, and I would fill up my bra with cotton wool. “As jy wil ougat wees, moet jy gaan werk,” my mother would say when my sisters and I wanted to dress up. My parents believed that when you began to fret about your appearance, you were old enough to work.

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Eric Miyeni Describes Learning to Swim at 45 in an Excerpt from Here Comes the Snake in the Grass

Here Comes the Snake in the GrassIn the preface of Eric Miyeni’s latest book, Here Comes the Snake in the Grass, he writes:

“What you will read here are my personal observations and opinions in essay form. I am glad that you have this book in your hands. It is partly through reading that we get our brains to take the occasional jog, do a few push-ups and lift some weights to sharpen their functioning. Thanks for choosing this brain gymnasium.”

The essays touch on an exciting variety of topics, ranging from Nelson Mandela’s legacy, what we as a country should learn from Oprah Winfrey, “normal sport in an abnormal society”, to falling in love, black people in the South African economy and the day he decided he would learn how to swim.
Read a short excerpt from Here Comes the Snake in the Grass on the latter topic:


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Forty-five and swimming

Once I was invited to a birthday-party weekend out on a farm in the Free State. There was a lovely mix of people there in terms of age, colour, political beliefs, religion, and so on. Most of us there had been to university. The conversations, as you can imagine, were superb. For three days on this inherited farm we did nothing but eat, play, drink, talk, sing, sleep and repeat the routine. Each day felt like a week of quality rest.

   Money is a beautiful thing.

   One afternoon out on that farm stands out. The sun was beating down hard. The swimming pool took centre stage. There I was with my shorts on, sitting on the edge of the pool with my legs immersed in water up to just below my knees. Soon the only other black man there, an old friend, joined me. We sat side by side and watched as white ladies played synchronised-swimming games. It looked like so much fun.

   I sensed a tension in the air. ‘Surely one of these “brothers” will prove the stereotype wrong and swim, right?’ It wasn’t said, but you could feel it. As I thought this, my ‘brother’ told me that the pool had no shallow end! I felt relieved. He had already been in the pool. Representation had occurred. I did not have to do anything. No, he quickly corrected me; when he had been in the pool, his white girlfriend had propped him up the whole time. He wasn’t diving back in if I paid him!

   I felt the tension mount.

   At the time, if you watched me swim, you would shout in alarm: ‘What the hell is he doing?’ My swimming was like a bad joke, badly told. I kind of splashed about without breathing much and then left the water.

   The swimming pool at the farm was about ten metres long and maybe four metres wide. I decided to jump in, do whatever it is I did to resemble swimming across its short breadth and get out. I did just that, lightning fast, in a bid to create a swimming effect without being seen much. When I finished, my white co-guests did everything they could short of giving me a synchronised standing ovation in the water. ‘He might not be a good swimmer,’ I felt them think, tension relieved, ‘but at least he is not scared of water. Thank God!’

   I decided right then that I would learn to swim properly.

   Two weeks into my swimming lessons, I was studying Michael Phelps, winner of twenty-two Olympic swimming medals (eighteen gold), to perfect my freestyle stroke. Soon after that, I panicked as the deep end approached, and stopped. My coach said: ‘It took you four strokes to cover five metres. If you hadn’t stopped, I would have sworn you were a seasoned swimmer. Beautiful.’

   The day after that I swam thirty metres non-stop from the shallow end to the deep end. I was forty-five years old at the time, my friend. It’s never too late to learn.


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So Much Left Undone: Eric Miyeni Remembers Brenda Fassie in an Excerpt from Here Comes the Snake in the Grass

Here Comes the Snake in the Grass“Brenda was like the greatest sex you ever had in too small a dose.” In this excerpt from Eric Miyeni’s new collection of essays, Here Comes the Snake in the Grass, he remembers the first time he met Brenda Fassie, a meeting during which she left him “totally flabbergasted” by grabbing his genitals.

Miyeni, now a successful actor, writer and filmmaker, came dangerously close to living on the streets in the late 1980s. It was during this time, while he was staying with a girlfriend, that he ended up at a party at Ma Brrr’s house: “she left me with the distinct impression that I had met one of the truest forces of nature”.

Read the excerpt:

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I meet Ma Brrr

It was the summer of either 1987 or ’88. All I remember is that it was soon after I had graduated from university. I had no job. I had no place to live after having been chucked out by a friend called Thomas Manganyi, then one of the top fashion models in the country. Thomas had found me stranded on the corner of Small and Jeppe streets late one afternoon, about to spend my first night ever sleeping on the streets of Johannesburg. I had been rendered homeless that very day and had not found a new place to live. I had no money. I could not think of anywhere to go for salvation. And the sun was setting fast. Without taking even a second to think, this former head prefect at my high school, with that big smile that had made him thousands of rands in Johannesburg, offered me free accommodation in his bachelor flat in Hillbrow.

Now he had thrown me out and back on the streets with a simple note left on the floor saying: “My cousin is coming to live with me. The place is too small for three people. Please leave today.” I had lived with the man for over six months without paying rent or contributing to the food bill. And whenever I had received some money from the odd modelling job he had found me, I had spent it on myself and given him nothing. The man had had enough.

My girlfriend then was a lady named Sylvia Mashinini and she and her best friend, radio host Brenda Sisane, both then working as air hostesses, took pity upon my sorry self and let me share their tiny place with them at the Meriston Hotel in Joubert Park for a while. Ironically I had met Sylvia and Brenda through Thomas. This, however, did not stop the three of us from being equally outraged by his sudden turn of attitude. Here was a man we could not believe could suddenly be so cruel and heartless. This, of course, was based solely on my account of events at the time, which, I am sure, left out my spoilt-brat behaviour.

It was through this chain of encounters that I came to meet Brenda Fassie, because not only did the fantastic Sylvia Mashinini and Brenda Sisane take me in, but they also introduced me to a group of Johannesburg activist socialites which included the cameraman Eddie Mbalo, who went on to head up the National Film and Video Foundation for many years after working with Spike Lee on the South African production leg of the film Malcolm X.

I remember us hanging out at Eddie Mbalo’s flat one night when it was discovered that there was a party somewhere in the East Rand. Nowadays, when you arrive at a black party and you see twenty cars, you know the party’s dead because it is one or two darkies to a car. Back then, twenty cars at a party meant it was rocking because it was six to ten darkies to a car. True to style, as soon as it was decided that we would all go to this party which, it was said, was definitely not one to miss, we piled up into three or four cars, at least eight to a car, and drove through the night in a reckless convoy. I recall sitting squashed up in the back seat of one of these cars, barely able to see the road ahead and swearing never to agree to a racing convoy to anywhere ever again, no matter how ‘rocking’ the party would be. The speed at which all the cars were driving was insane! The distances between the cars at that speed in the darkness of night were so short that they bordered on suicidal. I have never been in a similar convoy to anywhere again since that day. I had only joined the convoying group then because I did not want to be a party pooper. It was early days in my relationship with Sylvia: she wanted to go to the party, and I did not want to mess things up between us by appearing to be a square.

And so we drove and, by what appeared to be a miracle to me, arrived at what, unbeknown to me up to that moment, was a party hosted by Ma Brrr. By this time I was in a rather foul mood because it felt as if I had been on a failed suicide mission that I had not voluntarily signed up for. I had learnt that the feeling of cheating death wasn’t one of the most pleasant feelings for me whatsoever. I had just discovered that I was not an adrenaline junkie. Despite all this, I did my best to smile and fit in.

I cannot recollect who introduced me, but I have a vague memory of it being Eddie Mbalo, who said, flashing that ever-present, beguiling smile of his, ‘Brenda,’ with that voice which falls just short of being too high, ‘meet Eric.’ I grinned from ear to ear, trying to act as though all was well, and extended my hand, only to have Brenda Fassie reach out past it and grab my genitals hard enough for me to feel her hand over them but softly enough not to inflict pain on my balls. ‘Pleased to meet you, Eric,’ she said, looking me straight in the eye. ‘Welcome. Enjoy.’ And then she let go, leaving me totally flabbergasted.

I don’t recall seeing her at that party again. I don’t know if I drank too much, though I must have done so because I have no memory of how we got back home from there. But when I woke up, I still remembered that I had met someone who was beyond the ordinary; that I had met a phenomenon.

I never thought Brenda Fassie would remember me after that night but, years later, she would always greet me by name and have this smile dangling between the corners of her mouth as if to say, ‘We didn’t do it, you and I, I know that, but I know you. I know you quite well, actually.’

It’s hard to express how I felt about that first encounter with Brenda Fassie, except to say that she left me with the distinct impression that I had met one of the truest forces of nature. She hit everything and everybody like an earthquake before growing into a massive tsunami right before their very eyes. She was a real star, always giving a memorable performance, on and off stage, and forever engaging in a manner that stayed vivid in your mind.

I have often asked myself if I loved her, given that I admired her talent so much, given that I had encountered her in such an invasive and deeply intimate manner, albeit without choosing to, and I always find myself standing confused. I find myself thinking: So much promise, so much delivery of that promise and yet so much left undone. And then I think: Maybe she was like a quickie with a person you have longed to have sex with for a helluva long time. At the end of it you feel exhilarated and elated. After all, you achieved your goal. But soon thereafter you begin to feel that the encounter was a letdown, that you did not do your best, give your best, or even receive the best the other party had to offer. That’s when you descend into a slightly embarrassed state, realising that, in fact, the encounter was half-baked and unsatisfying.

Brenda was like the greatest sex you ever had in too small a dose. I guess that talks to the high level of giftedness she brought into the world and how much of her entire being she put into all she did, even if it was simply to shock a boy in his early twenties into waking up at her party by shaking his genitals instead of his hand. In the end, maybe I never loved Ma Brrr because I never got to know her enough to do so. However, there is no doubt that I loved her light, because it stayed with me long after she was gone. I was deeply saddened by how quickly that light went out. That, I guess, remains the only testimony to my love for all the music she left for us to listen to and thus remember her.

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New from the Straight-talking Eric Miyeni: Here Comes the Snake in the Grass

Here Comes the Snake in the GrassAlternately hard-hitting and personal, rousing and funny, Eric Miyeni’s new book Here Comes the Snake in the Grass is an entertaining and informative look at the South African cultural landscape:

“Did Mandela work for nothing?”
“Mr Sushi comes to town”
“Give me a corrupt black any day”

These are just some of Miyeni’s newspaper columns and opinion pieces, which have earned him friends and enemies alike. Known for his straight-talking frankness, his views on subjects ranging from politics and travel to big business and sport elicit strong responses.

Here Comes the Snake in the Grass is a selection of Miyeni’s columns and occasional writings covering a variety of topics, from Julius Malema, Oprah Winfrey and Brenda Fassie to the value of radio, the true cost of crime, the need for excellence in South Africa and the difficulty of finding love in the modern world. Some of the writings in this collection court controversy, addressing issues many want hidden from view; others provide glimpses of the writer’s softer side. All show why Miyeni’s is an unmistakable voice in the South African media.

About the author

Eric Miyeni is an actor, writer and filmmaker. He is best known for his roles as Darryl Malgas in the tv series Molo Fish and as Absalom Khumalo in the movie Cry, the Beloved Country. He has written four works of non-fiction, including the bestselling The Only Black at a Dinner Party, and a novel, The Release. In 2010 he produced, co-wrote and co-directed the documentary Mining for Change: A Story of South African Mining. He lives in Johannesburg.

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Random House Struik Celebrates Four Titles on Sunday Times Literary Awards Shortlist

The Sunday Times, in association with Exclusive Books, have announced the shortlist for the Alan Paton and fiction prize categories. Random House Struik is proud to have four titles out of the selected ten on the list.

The prize criteria for the Alan Paton Award: “The winner should present the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power; compassion; elegance of writing; and intellectual and moral integrity.” This award also celebrates its 25th anniversary this year which makes the win even more prestigious. Five works of literary non-fiction vie for this award; and the winning author will receive R75,000.

The winners will be announced in June 2014.

On the Alan Paton Award Shortlist:

A Rumour of SpringA Rumour of Spring: South Africa after 20 years of Democracy by Max du Preez

On the Fiction Prize Shortlist:

The Spiral House The Spiral House by Claire Robertson
False RiverFalse River by Dominique Botha
The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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Random House Struik has Eight Titles on the 2014 Sunday Times Awards Longlists

The longlists for the 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the Alan Paton Award were announced recently, and include eight Random House Struik titles.

Congratulations to the authors!

A Rumour of SpringThe Zuma YearsThe Grand Scam
The Shining GirlsFalse RiverMy Children Have FacesThe Spiral House Zebra Crossing

Alan Paton Award

A Rumour of Spring: South Africa after 20 years of Democracy by Max du Preez

The Zuma Years: South Africa’s Changing Face of Power by Richard Calland

The Grand Scam by Rob Rose

Fiction Prize

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

False River by Dominique Botha

My Children Have Faces by Carol Campbell

The Spiral House by Claire Robertson

Zebra Crossing by Meg Vandermerwe

There are 23 books on the longlist, to be deliberated on by this year’s judging panel, comprising Annari van der Merwe (Chair), Sindiwe Magona and Ivan Vladislavić.

The shortlist will be announced on Saturday, 17 May, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

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Videos: Evita Bezuidenhout Discusses the Upcoming 2014 General Elections

Evita\'s Bossie SikelelaEvita Bezuidenhout has expressed her excitement for the upcoming 2014 general elections, which are set to be held on May 7. Speaking to News24′s Ntombi Mlangeni, Bezuidenhout advises voters to do their homework and to get “excited about the fact that each one of us can change the future of our country for the better by using our vote sensibly.”

In the interview, which has been split into several videos, Bezuidenhout discusses how Nkandla will cost the ANC credibility and votes, how the EFF’s branding strategy is better than Agang SA’s and what it means to have “born frees” voting for the first time.

The most famous white woman in South Africa, Evita Bezuidenhout, has spoken about how excited she is about the country’s upcoming elections.

In a wide-ranging interview with News24, Bezuidenhout said she wanted to encourage people to “be excited about the fact that each one of us can change the future of our country for the better by using our vote sensibly”.

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Pat Fahrenfort Talks to Business Day’s Penny Haw About Spanner in the Works

Spanner in the WorksPat Fahrenfort, author of the memoir Spanner in the Works, recently talked to Business Day’s Penny Haw about her life of contrasts. In the interview, she reveals stories about some unsavoury characters she escaped from, including a potential boss who required his secretary to sleep with him, and how she felt about lazy government employees when she worked for the Department of Labour.

To all her numerous roles it seems that she has brought a sparkle and sense of determination, which she perhaps got from her family. This gave her enough courage to ask Antjie Krog for help with writing the book.

During a career that has spanned 46 years, Pat Fahrenfort has bent over a conveyor belt in a printing factory and stacked books until her fingers bled (she was 15 at the time); responded to job advertisements for “fair-skinned coloureds” and “well-spoken coloured females”; and was propositioned by a prisoner in a courtroom while working as a reporter.

She turned down the offer of a “position” in London that required, in addition to secretarial duties, having sex with the boss when he was in town, and completed a degree while working full-time.

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Om uit te styg het haar gedryf: Pat Fahrenfort gesels oor Spanner in the Works

Spanner in the WorksPat Fahrenfort het ten spyte van haar agtergrond en uitdagende omstandighede haar eie paadjie geloop. Haar biografie, Spanner in the Works, vertel hoe sy van fabriekswereker tot vryheidsaktivis en adjunk-direkteur in die departement van arbeid gevorder het. Rapport se Marlene Malan het met haar gesels oor hoe dié biografie ’n werklikheid geword het:

In ’n raserige lokaal van ’n drukpers in die Paarl gaan staan sy skielik doodstil, staar na ’n voerband wat ’n boek stadig-stadig naderbring.

“Mos myne!” roep die klein vroutjie uit en ’n breë glimlag breek oor haar gesig.


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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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