Monthly Archives: March 2017

Interview: Patriots & Parasites

Dene Smuts

In her remarkable memoir, Patriots & Parasites, the late Dene Smuts writes:

“If the question is whether South Africa can evade history, then we need, at least, to hold up as true a record as possible of that history. The best way of doing so where records are not available, or are as contested…, is to give as many accounts of what occurred as possible. This memoir is one such contribution to our recent history.”

Smuts writes from within history, a passionately lived history. Her fight against censorship as the editor of Fair Lady in the 1980s, her understanding of Thabo Mbeki’s legacy, and her reading of the recent Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements are illuminating. She is not infallible, but she is constantly aware of the fact that hers is one of many accounts, and her integrity is beyond reproach. Smuts finished her memoir shortly before her death in April last year. Her daughter, Julia Smuts Louw, guided the manuscript towards publication.

Karina M Szczurek: You became the custodian of your mother’s papers after her death. Please describe the process of the memoir’s publication under your curatorship.

Julia Smuts Louw: My mother had already been in preliminary discussions with Quivertree by the time of her death. I picked up the conversation as soon as I could, knowing that my mother had been happy with the relationship and the direction. By the time she passed away, there was a completed first draft, but it was quite different to the final version. My mother was very detail-orientated – a trait which can be a mixed blessing, as I know, having inherited it myself. Consequently, she had created quite an epic tome, which required some shortening and reorganising to make it readable for those who aren’t quite as devoted to the law as she was. It was, and remains, a book about the ideas and issues close to her heart, however. I am indebted to Angela Vogel as editor, and Jan-Jan Joubert as fact-checker and general Drawer of Hard Lines. In terms of my involvement, I became a sort of general project manager, making sure the edits made sense, overseeing picture research, writing the cover copy and press materials, collating the Festschrift tributes and so on.

KMS: The striking title was your choice. Did your mother have a different working title, and if yes, why did you choose the present one for the book?

Continue reading: LitNet

Patriots & Parasites: South Africa and the Struggle to Evade History
Dene Smuts
Publisher: Quivertree Publications
ISBN: 9781928209607

Your body never lies

K is for KarinaA while back, I spoke to a friend about the phrases ‘to handle something’ or ‘to have a grip on something’ in connection with the physical ability to hold, handle, or have a grip on something as a manifestation of an emotional and psychological capability.

Another friend once told me: your body never lies. She was adamant that we have to listen to our bodies in order to keep our minds and souls healthy.

A pain in your hands or arms could be a true psychosomatic symptom of your lack of grip on life. You are no longer capable of handling things. Metaphorically, something is slipping through your fingers and you are in no position to stop the process.

I can no longer move my right arm without experiencing pain. In fact, I am in constant pain no matter what I do. I type and write through pain. My body has been screaming for a long time now, and I have been trying really hard to listen to it attentively, but I realise that I have lost my grip on something, perhaps many things, and it is no wonder that I have been dreaming of rest, of doing nothing, of simply relaxing and allowing myself to recharge the batteries that have been empty for many months. I am no longer handling my everyday life the way I would like to. My mind, body and soul find no peace. In the last three years I have been through so much that expecting anything different would be expecting miracles. Grief, illness, theft, evil, betrayal, injustice, incompetence, car accident – any of these blows of fate would be enough to break you. Facing all within a relatively short period of time takes a lot out of you. No; not a lot. Everything.

Listening to your body is one thing. Action is another. Or rather inaction.

Since February I have been telling friends that I would be taking some time off to rest. No deadlines, no creative or critical writing, no editing, no translating, no appointments – no work of any kind actually. Just rest: meeting friends, reading for pure pleasure, sleeping late, walking, swimming, watching TV, basking in the sun, laughing (a lot!).

I have never been bored in my life. Maybe I could get bored for once? How long would it take?

K is for kindness tooI had this grand plan of learning how to quilt while resting (I always find it reassuring, comforting, to see something come into being in my hands – activities like crocheting, knitting, or ironing soothe me). But now, not only has my plan of a self-imposed sabbatical been delayed because of work-related commitments I simply cannot get out of (I know, I know!) by two to three weeks, I actually cannot quilt, at least not until my arm recovers.

It is pathetic.

I realise that it is so much easier to take care of others. Now, I have to learn to truly take care of myself. I will do my job, because it is important to me, but I also have to grant myself some proper rest – because I am important to myself. When you live on your own, it is a surprisingly difficult lesson to learn. But, in the words of Manuel: “I learn, I learn!”

Be kind to yourself, they tell me. I try.


Review: Stanzas No. 4

Stanzas 4Stanzas No 4
June 2016
Editors: Patricia Schonstein and Douglas Reid Skinner
Publisher: African Sun Press

Poetry is balm for the soul. Even when touching on rough or depressing topics, there is something about the distilled, focused, observant quality of the form that brings comfort. Stanzas is a poetry quarterly featuring established and emerging South African writers, as well as local and international poets in translation. Publishing predominantly in English, it also includes translations into and from Afrikaans. It promises “an open space where poetry matters”, and offers a versatile selection of voices.

Any conscious language practitioner will know how heavily loaded words can be. Language is a record; every word contains a universe of memories. Poets have the ability to draw on that wealth and create snapshots of time and place, people and emotions, where whole worlds collide to hold diverse images in their manifold constellations…

Continue reading: LitNet

Review: Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

Easy-Motion-Tourist-UK-cover“She knew these girls, these women. She understood their world. For them, prostitution was not a choice; it was a lack of choice.” Amaka, a gutsy lawyer trying to protect the sex workers of Lagos, knows that most of them will never get off the streets. Leye Adenle’s thriller Easy Motion Tourist is their story.

All Amaka wants is that the women in her care stay as safe as possible under the circumstances. Sometimes keeping them simply alive is as much as she can hope for. She establishes a secret network of contacts and a database of details on clients who pay for sex. The women Amaka works with can phone in and keep tabs on each other’s movements. Then, one day, one of the prostitutes turns up mutilated and dead in front of a bar where Guy, a British journalist, is trying against better judgement to appease his curiosity about local nightlife: “I was a white boy in Africa for the first time, on assignment to cover a presidential election that was still weeks away, the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion. This was only my second day in Lagos and the first night I’d gone out alone – exactly what I’d been advised not to do.”

Witness to the body-dump, Guy is arrested for questioning and rescued by Amaka at the police station where he see another gruesome murder of a suspect in police custody and has to fear the worst for himself. Together with the streetwise and brave Amaka, he embarks on a mission to find out who is behind the horrific killing of the prostitute, but he is completely out of his depth. He pretends to work for the BBC but is actually a reporter for a start-up internet TV news channel.

Guy decides to write about what he had witnessed, suspecting like everyone else that the murder was one of many ritual killings. “Every time there is an election we find dead bodies everywhere,” he is told; people are “doing juju to win elections”. During the investigation Guy begins to fall for Amaka, but is unsure whether she returns his feelings.

The story of the murder is reported on CNN, causing a lot of unease among the Lagos elites. Pressure is put on police inspector Ibrahim to solve the case and to protect the affluent from the ensuing chaos. A lot seems to be at stake, but no one truly knows what is happening behind the scenes and who is the mysterious Malik. Is he running the show? Is someone killing these women for witchcraft or illegal organ trade?

From luxurious hotel rooms to the gutters of Lagos, Easy Motion Tourist presents an uneasy, brutal metropolis where only the toughest survive: “a city of armed robbers, assassinations and now, it seemed, ‘ritualists’ had to be added to the list.” But among the ruthless violence and corruption there are rays of light, and Easy Motion Tourist offers an intriguing ending which might mean a promising sequel.

Easy Motion Tourist

by Leye Adenle

Cassava Republic Press, 2016

An edited version of this review appeared in the Cape Times on 10 March 2017.