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

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