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No Longer Whispering to Power reminds us just how impactful a role Madonsela played in South African politics, writes Rebecca Davis

Author and journalist Rebecca Davis recently reviewed Thandeka Gqubule’s No Longer Whispering to Power for the Daily Maverick.

Gqubule’s book is about Thuli Madonsela’s tenure as Public Protector, during which the whisper grew into a cry. It is the story of the South African people’s attempt to hold power to account through the Office of the Public Protector. More significantly, this important book stands as a record of the crucial work Madonsela has done, always acting without fear or favour.

An extract from Davis’ review reads:

The story of Thuli Madonsela as Public Protector is, by definition, the story of South Africa’s recent history. Thandeka Gqubule’s No Longer Whispering to Power is a reminder of what a surreal roller coaster South African politics can be. For this reason, it is a sobering read: even being taken through events that we all know well, like the “scope creep” of Nkandla, leaves one a little breathless at the scale and brazenness of what President Jacob Zuma’s leadership has inflicted on the country.

But at the heart of the story are two women who should leave us with a greater sense of optimism about what South Africa is capable of producing. One is, obviously, Thuli Madonsela. The second is author Thandeka Gqubule, a journalist who was one of the “SABC 8” who stood up to growing censorship at the public broadcaster under Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and was suspended for doing so.

The two women have known each other for more than three decades. During the State of Emergency in Johannesburg in the mid-1980s, Madonsela was working as a unionist. At that time, Gqubule was held for a month in solitary confinement at the notorious John Vorster Square, after being betrayed by a white friend secretly working for the apartheid police. Madonsela was among the other activists arrested; she was detained without trial at Diepkloof Prison, where Gqubule would later join her. In prison, Madonsela is remembered as “a comforting presence, not easily disturbed by isolation and psychological pain”.

This was not always the case.

The young Thuli Madonsela, we learn, was an awkward and anxious child, teased for having a “big head”. Madonsela and her six siblings grew up sleeping on the kitchen floor of a house in Soweto. She would go on to lose three of her siblings; one to suicide.

Madonsela’s mother was a domestic worker. Her father, who ran a mobile shop, was a strict patriarch who did not want young Thuli to wear trousers. He was also determined that she be a nurse, but Madonsela had other ideas. The volatility of Soweto in the 1970s led her parents to move Madonsela out of the country to be educated in Swaziland, at Evelyn Baring High School. It was in Swaziland that she would also pursue her undergraduate studies in law.

Madonsela and her political consciousness were a product of the United Democratic Front – which Gqubule describes as focused on grassroots social justice – rather than the African National Congress, characterised in the book as hierarchical, secretive, and top-down.

Writes Gqubule:

“Madonsela arguably continues the old UDF approach to the rights of the poor, the need to empower the weak, and the primacy of social justice, as well as the need to embody and own the democratic project in our daily praxis – at home, at work and in society in general.”

Gqubule further suggests that Madonsela’s particular approach to jurisprudence is steeped in Christian notions of dignity, and the communitarianism of African humanism.

Gqubule’s book is a reminder of how little we know about Thuli the person, as opposed to Thuli the Protector.

Continue reading the review here.

No Longer Whispering to Power

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South Africa: The world’s longest dot-to-dot puzzle reveals all your favourite local landmarks

Join over 3000 dots to reveal a beautiful illustration of South Africa’s most famous landmarks.

Following the huge success of Ilex’s 1000 Dot-to-Dot series, we bring you the longest and most satisfying dot-to-dot puzzle ever! This beautifully designed hardback book concertinas into a stunning frieze of no fewer than 3000 dots, providing several satisfying hours of mindful dot-joining fun.

The perfect souvenir of your trip to South Africa, this fabulous original illustration features the country’s most famous buildings and landmarks, including the Pretoria Union Buildings, the skylines of Cape Town and Johannesburg, and the Soweto Towers.

To enable you to enjoy your handiwork to the full, the ends of the design are perforated: you can easily remove your completed masterpiece, and display it on your wall.

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Jan Smuts: Afrikaner Sonder Grense skram nie weg van die paradoksale in Smuts nie

Jan Smuts

Jan Christiaan Smuts was ’n soldaat, staatsman, intellektueel en een van Suid-Afrika se grootste leiers. Tog word daar vandag min oor hom gepraat of geskryf, al beleef ons tans skynbaar ’n leierskapsvakuum.

Jan Smuts: Afrikaner Sonder Grense dien as herinnering van die merkwaardige bereikings van hierdie indrukwekkende soldaat-staatsman vir die moderne leser. Die skrywer voer aan dat dit noodsaaklik is om Smuts in die hede te betrek; dat daar nog baie te leer is van Smuts se nalatenskap.

Strydom trek verskeie parallelle tussen Smuts en Thabo Mbeki, beide intellektuele figure wat in die buiteland vereer word, maar gereeld plaaslik met wantroue ontmoet word.

Die hoogs leesbare verslag ondersoek onder meer Smuts se rol as politieke leier, as adviseur van wêreldleiers, sy spirituele en intellektuele lewe en sy verhoudings met vroue. Sy unieke bydraes op ʼn verskeidenheid ander terreine, insluitend botanie, bewaring en filosofie, word ook bespreek.

Jan Smuts: Afrikaner Sonder Grense skram egter nie weg van die paradoksale in Smuts nie. Hoewel hy een van die argitekte van die Verenigde Nasies en ʼn groot kampvegter vir menseregte was, kon hy nie so ver kom om die plaaslike swart meerderheid politieke regte te gun nie.

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Afrikander Sonder Grense is ook beskikbaar as ‘n eBOEK.

Listen to Sisonke Msimang on the Eusebius McKaiser Show

Sisonke Msimang recently was a guest on the Eusebius McKaiser Show during which she spoke about the difference of being Multicultural as compared to being a rainbow nation.

Listen to the podcast here:

Msimang’s memoir, Always Another Country, will be published in October 2017 by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

John Conyngham’s Hazara “a story about longing and allegiance,” writes Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson recently reviewed renown author and former journalist John Conyngham’s Hazara: Elegy for an African Farm for Business Day.

Read an extract from Robinson’s review here:

The word Hazara in the title of this fascinating portrait of settler life in Natal is not an exhortation that is yelled as the panga whacks the sugar cane. Rather, it is the name of a British army regiment in which one of the author’s ancestors served.

One of the imperatives of an Anglo-South African family was to maintain “standards” and keep Africa at bay. So as John Conyngham notes drily, the whites who settled in Natal in the 19th and 20th centuries tended to name their properties after places or things that reminded them of their earlier lives in far off places.

Through successive generations, European settler men fought in the Crimean, Anglo-Zulu, Anglo-Boer, first and second world wars — and if they survived, they farmed.

The author has ingeniously reconstructed his family history to show how Hazara came into their hands and then became a lucrative operation employing a hundred farm hands, bankrolling an enviable way of life of parties, private schools and trips overseas.

But there was also a lot of damage to be observed on the neighbouring farms — drunken quarrels, bolting wives, faithless husbands, still births and sudden deaths as the bush revealed its dangers. The most tragicomic example of a sudden death was the five-year-old boy who expired from a puffadder bite while the mother and the family servant quarrelled over who should suck the venom from his wound.

This settler society, of course, floated on a giant lake of alcohol knocked back on the veranda at sundown and quite often at breakfast too.

Most Europeans who move to Africa go slightly mad one way or another, for they lack the essential cultural inoculation of having been born there. Natal was not the Congo, but neither was it “home” for the incomers. As Joseph Conrad wrote of Kurtz, “the wilderness had found him out early and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion”.

Hazara, near Stanger (KwaDukuza), originally came into the family as a dowry for the author’s maternal grandmother upon her marriage in 1924. The marriage was not happy, partly because the couple lost all three of their children as infants to a suspected genetic abnormality. In those days, it was considered perfectly normal for a childless colonial couple to adopt an abandoned English child and ship them out to Africa.

Continue reading Robinson’s review here.


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Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Alain Mabanckou’s acclaimed Black Moses

Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses, set in the People’s Republic of Congo in 1970, is a comic tale of a man helping the helpless in an unjust society and was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Black Moses was the only African title to appear on the longlist, but unfortunately didn’t make it to the shortlist.

Read an excerpt from the chapter “Pioneers Awake!” here:

The Director had been pulling strings to get his nephews Mfoumbou Ngoulmoumako, Bissoulou Ngoulmoumako and Dongo-Dongo Ngoulmoumako onto an ideological training course in Pointe-Noire so they could later become section leaders of the National Movement of Pioneers for our orphanage. They still remained under the control of their paternal uncle and particularly under that of two members of the USYC (Union of Socialist Youth of Congo), which was seen as the ‘nursery’ of the Congolese Workers’ Party because it was within this organisation that the government identified the young people who would go on one day to occupy positions of political responsibility in our country. The Director’s three nephews were thus promoted to a glorious future, which annoyed his three other nephews, on his mother’s side, Mpassi, Moutété and Mvoumbi, who were still stuck in their jobs as corridor wardens, though they too dreamed of becoming the orphanage’s section leaders of the National Movement of Pioneers. Unable to express their discontent to their uncle, they took it out on us instead. Their uncle had clearly favoured the paternal line over a family mix which might have calmed things down. Mpassi, Moutété and Mvoumbi felt they’d become underlings to the Director’s other nephews and we revelled in the stormy atmosphere among the wardens, which sometimes looked like spilling over into violence, until the Director intervened and threatened to replace them with northerners – which was enough to bring them to their senses…

It does not fall to everyone to become a section leader of the Union of Socialist Youth of Congo. The government sifted through the applications carefully, taking account of the ethnic origin of the candidates. As the northerners were in power – in particular the Mbochis – the leaders of the USYC were also Mbochis, an ethnic group which represented a scant 3.5 per cent of the national population. In other words, Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako had had to fight to fix the appointment of his three nephews, who were not Mbochi from the north, but Bembé from the south. In fact he had only partly got what he wanted because although they accepted his request, the political leaders of the Kouilou region suggested he go halves: his nephews could be section leaders, but under the command of the two northerners, Oyo Ngoki and Mokélé Mbembé, who in turn would be accountable to the national division at the annual congress in Brazzaville, to be attended by the President of the Republic himself.

“Those two old northerners who come every week for consciousness-raising sessions, how come they’re members of the Union of Youth, when they’re not youthful and their hair is whiter than manioc flour?”

Bonaventure was always pushing me to the limit. It was true that Oyo Ngoki and Mokélé Mbembé were the kind of adult who looked as though they’d never been young, with their dark suits, and myopic glasses. Either they spoke to us as though we were two- or three-year-olds, or they used their own special language which one of them had picked up in Moscow, the other in Romania. Mfoumbou Ngoulmoumako, Bissoulou Ngoulmoumako and Dongo-Dongo Ngoulmoumako copied their way of speaking, using the same expressions, which they didn’t understand and in which every sentence contained the word ‘dialectic’, or, as an adverb, ‘dialectically’:

“You need to consider the problem dialectically,” Bissoulou Ngoulmoumako would say.

“Dialectically speaking, our history has been written by the imperialists and their local lackeys, we must overthrow the system, the superstructure must not be allowed to outweigh the infrastructure,” Dongo-Dongo would affirm.

We never forgot, though, that before the Revolution the three former corridor wardens were just bruisers with zero intelligence. Now the Director had given them an office close to his on the first floor. They shut themselves in there to prepare Pioneers Awake!, a propaganda sheet that they posted on the wall of the hut of the National Movement of Pioneers every Monday morning. We had to read this publication before going in to class.

Continue reading here.

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Brian Kantor’s Get South Africa Growing will add to the layman’s understanding of the economy

South Africans have been poorly served by the economic choices their governments have made.

The consequences of these choices are everywhere to be seen but most importantly in unemployment and poverty.

In this book Brian Kantor advances spirited economic arguments for freer markets and less government intervention and regulation of the South African economy; the book will add significantly to a layman’s understanding of how our economy works.

It offers a succinct review of all the key drivers that determine a modern economy’s performance as well as the key institutions of a modern economy.

The book presents an insightful review of the challenges facing the South African economy and its policy makers.

Kantor’s sound economic insights, enriched by his familiarity with current affairs and developments in the local political milieu and financial markets, make his book a key and important contribution to the continuing debate which rages around our failing economy – indeed it presents solutions which policy makers ignore at their (and our) peril.
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No Longer Whispering to Power stands as a record of the crucial work Thuli Madonsela has done for South Africa

Advocate Thuli Madonsela has achieved in her seven years as Public Protector what few accomplish in a lifetime; her legacy and contribution cannot be over-stated.

In her final days in office she compiled the explosive State Capture report and, before that, the report on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence.

Praised and vilified in equal measures, Madonsela has frequently found herself at centre stage in the increasingly fractious South African political scene.

Yet, despite the intense media scrutiny, Madonsela remains something of an enigma. Who is this soft-spoken woman who stood up to state corruption? Where did she develop her views and resolve?

This book attempts to answer these questions, and others, by exploring many aspects of Madonsela’s life: her childhood years and family, her involvement in student politics, her contribution to the constitution, her life in law.

Madonsela once described her role as Public Protector as being akin to that of the Venda traditional spiritual female leader, the Makhadzi, who whispers truth to the ruler. When the sounds of the exchanges between the ruler and the Makhadzi grow loud, Madonsela said, that is when the whispering has failed.

No Longer Whispering to Power is about Thuli Madonsela’s tenure as Public Protector, during which the whisper grew into a cry. It is the story of the South African people’s attempt to hold power to account through the Office of the Public Protector. More significantly, this important book stands as a record of the crucial work Madonsela has done, always acting without fear or favour.

Book details

Sisonke Msimang on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, stanning and #blackgirlmagic


Sisonke Msimang recently wrote a feature for the website Africa is a Country in which this significant author discusses her changing opinions of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the act of stanning, and the trap of #blackgirlmagic.

An extract from Msimang’s piece:

Adichie is African of course, but because she began writing in a world that was more global than it had ever been, because she traveled so frequently between Nigeria and America, she was easily claimed as a member of a much larger global African diaspora. She may technically belong to two countries, but she is collectively seen as a daughter or a sister to black people in a broader sense.

In other words, Adichie has become a signifier for something larger than herself. In some ways, she has marked the rise of what Taiye Selassie calls, “the Afropolitan.” The phrase is problematic, and I use it fully aware of its complications. Still, part of the Adichie phenomenon has been the sense for many Africans who are similarly located as citizens of Africa as a concept, that if success was possible for her in the world of arts and letters, then surely, we might all succeed in the various new terrains we sought to master – from engineering to cosmetic surgery to venture capital.

And it was when we began to project our dreams onto her that loving Adichie the symbol – rather than her books – became murky. This is not unique to Adichie, but it provides a stark example of the limits of black girl magic. It plays in the dangerous terrain in which we accept that, “there is some sort of inherent connection between all brown-skinned persons. We know something. We necessarily connect…[A]ll group identities are constructed. However, some group identities run away with us. Some become harmful, or even work against the purpose they were created to defeat…[T]he “Afropolitan” is just such a group identity. It is exclusive, elitist and self-aggrandizing.”

By the time Adichie’s “Danger of a single story” TED talk was released, she was already flirting with fame. The talk has been viewed millions of times and it helped her to take the first serious steps towards genuine fame. It became a manifesto, a sort of treatise for a new generation of feminists of all races but of a very particular class background, who were looking for more complicated ways of understanding the world than their mothers had been able to provide.

Read the full article here.

Msimang’s memoir, Always Another Country, will be published by Jonathan Ball in October 2017.

Purple Hibiscus

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Half of a Yellow Sun

Book launch – Between Two Fires: Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics by John Kane-Berman

Exclusive Books & Jonathan Ball Publishers invite you to the launch of Between Two Fires: Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics by John Kane-Berman. John will speak on South Africa: The State We Are In.

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Between Two Fires is also available as an eBook.