Hugh Lewin: South African journalist, author, militant and prisoner


File 20190118 100261 1k7xtdw.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hugh Lewin served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Institute for the Advancement of Journalism

Franz Krüger, University of the Witwatersrand

Hugh Lewin, who provided a unique voice on the South African story over many decades as militant, prisoner, journalist, author and much else, has died in Johannesburg at the age of 79.

Lewin is perhaps best known for two books that arose from his early involvement in the anti-apartheid underground. Bandiet, Seven years in a South African Prison, which has been described as a remarkable piece of prison literature, and Stones against the Mirror, published decades later, in which he describes grappling with the betrayal of the man whose testimony sent him to jail.

But his poetry, his children’s books and his work in publishing and the training of journalists and refugees leave as big a legacy. An outpouring of tributes has greeted news of his death. He has been called “an incredible writer and courageous soldier” by President Cyril Ramaphosa. and “a courageous stalwart” by Lord Peter Hain.

I first encountered him when he ran the small publishing house Baobab Books in Zimbabwe. Later I worked with him at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg, and will mainly remember his gentle humour, a sharp intellect that was never cutting, his ability to listen and his concern for others. It made him a great friend and outstanding teacher and mentor to many.

I will also remember the quiet dignity with which he dealt with his gradually failing health over the past decade, cared for by his partner Fiona Lloyd. His wit was still on clear display when I saw him just about a week before his death, despite frailty and struggling with the words that were his life – “I keep bumping against empty sentences,” he had previously said.

Radical politics

Lewin was born in the small town of Lydenburg in 1939 into an Anglican missionary family. He studied at Rhodes University before entering journalism at the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg.

He was quickly drawn into anti-apartheid politics of an increasingly radical kind, and got involved in the National Committee of Liberation, later renamed as the African Resistance Movement. This group of activists grew out of the Liberal Party and embarked on a campaign of sabotage of infrastructure targets, which it carried out between 1961 and 1964.

In July 1964, Lewin, then 24, was sentenced to jail for seven years for sabotage. He served this time in Pretoria Central prison, where he kept notes of his experiences in his Bible. After his release, he left the country on a “permanent departure permit”, to begin life as an exile in London.

Bandiet was published during this time. It manages both to provide harrowing detail of life in an apartheid jail and to use prison as a metaphor for the system as a whole. Reviewer Daniel Roux described the book as deserving, “its place in the global canon of prison writing”. Roux called it an,

understated, elegant and honest memoir that resists self-pity and self-glamorisation, and shows in careful detail what it feels like to drop out of one reality and to enter a completely different world.

Long banned in South Africa, the book was republished in 2002 as Bandiet – out of jail, including additional later material.

Anti-apartheid causes

His family remember an additional result of the prison years: his skill at sewing, from sewing mailbags in jail. His stitching was apparently large but very neat.

During 10 years in London, he worked as a journalist and for the International Defence and Aid Fund, a support organisation for anti-apartheid causes.

Another 10 years of exile followed, this time in Zimbabwe, where he worked as publisher and wrote a series of children’s stories, the Jafta series, whose simple narratives spoke to the ordinary reality of Southern African children.
Hugh returned to South Africa in 1992 and began work at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, the institution founded by Allister Sparks to train journalists for the new democracy.

He served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission before returning to the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in 1998 as its executive director. It was during this time that he was involved in the early initiatives that led to the establishment of the journalism programme at Wits University.

But processing of the traumatic events of his youth was clearly not complete, and after retiring from the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, he worked on the memoir that became Stones against the Mirror. Published in 2011, the book deals with a friendship that ended in betrayal. Adrian Leftwich was the man who gave his name to the security police and testified against him in court, and the book describes Lewin’s 40-year search for some kind of resolution.

South African author Nadine Gordimer wrote about the book:

There have been many accounts of life in the active struggle against the apartheid regime but this one is a fearless exploration into the deepest ground – the personal moral ambiguity of betrayal under brutal interrogation.

It won the Alan Paton Award in 2012 – one of many honours he has received.

During these later years, Lewin also continued his involvement in training, travelling to the Myanmar border to work with refugees with his partner Fiona Lloyd. However, failing health made this more and more difficult.

Lewin leaves his partner, two daughters from an earlier marriage and three grandchildren.The Conversation

Franz Krüger, Adjunct Professor of Journalism and Director of the Wits Radio Academy, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The story of an alliance between two poets — one Cuban, one South African



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Keorapetse Kgositsile.
Oupa Nkosi/Mail & Guardian

Cynthia Gabbay, Freie Universität Berlin and Karin Berkman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

It’s a little more than a year since the death of Keorapetse Kgositsile, South Africa’s first post-apartheid poet laureate. Kgositsile, born in Johannesburg in 1938, became a prominent and vocal activist for the African National Congress (ANC). In 1961, at the behest of the ANC, he went into exile, initially to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and subsequently to the US where he became involved in the Black Arts Movement.

In 1990 he returned to South Africa and in 2006 was appointed Poet Laureate. In the many volumes published during his exile and after his return, Kgositsile repeatedly and fearlessly addressed the crimes both of apartheid and of global racism, advocating a revolutionary politics of resistance.

Kgositsile’s death in January 2018 was mourned across South Africa and indeed across the globe.




Read more:
A tribute to Keorapetse Kgositsile, South Africa’s poet laureate


In a moving tribute in the introduction to Kgositsile’s final volume Homesoil in My Blood the poet, novelist and activist, renowned South African writer Mandla Langa draws attention to Kgositsile’s poetic skill and to his unwavering conviction,

“that art to mean anything must be involved in social activism.”

In a short aside Langa notes Kgositsile’s fertile association with prominent activists and writers across the globe like Pablo Neruda from Chile, and Cubans Nicolás Guillén and Nancy Morejón. The brief mention of Morejón belies the importance of the relationship between two activist poets, one which has rarely been addressed.

A consideration of Morejón’s engagement with Kgositsile as a fellow poet – and her visit to South Africa – shed new light on her poetic practice. It allows too, a reaffirmation of Kgositsile’s uniquely South African voice and to highlight the reach and impact of his transnational status.

Revolutionary writers

Nancy Morejón.
Potosino/WikiMedia

Morejón, born in 1944, is, with Guillén, among Cuba’s most important revolutionary writers: internationally renowned for her work as a poet, critic and essayist, she has been widely translated. In 2001, Morejón was awarded Cuba’s National Prize in literature. Issues of race and gender are central to her oeuvre. Through her poetry she acknowledges the centrality and complexity of her Afro-Cuban identity from both pan-Caribbean and pan-African perspectives.

Morejón addresses the origins of her relationship with Kgositsile in a telling anecdote in her essay, “Viaje a Suráfrica” (Voyage to South Africa). In 1987 she attended the International Conference of Writers held in Congo, together with the Cuban poet and translator of African poetry, Rogelio Martínez Furé. She wrote:

We went to drink coffee with one of the writers who had intervened very boldly. He was a small, petite man, with broad and thick lips, with a physical fragility that contrasted with the strength of his word and his overwhelming sympathy.

Furé … decided to ply this new friend with questions. The last question was filled with anguish since we both expected a tragic response: ‘Do you know the whereabouts of the poet Keorapetse Kgositsile from Johannesburg? The only thing we know is that he is one of the poets who has been the longest time in exile and we have not heard from him for so long … Many fear for his life…’

With a smile full of mischief, our interlocutor, impassively, replied: ‘Keorapetse Kgositsile… that is me.’ At that moment my personal history with South Africa was born.

(Translation: Cynthia Gabbay)

The anecdote conveys Kgositsile’s frequently noted playfulness and the affection he commanded. It equally suggests the high regard in which he was held amongst the global community of writer–activists.

The importance of Africa, and of South Africa in particular, as a focus of Morejón’s poetics of resistance, and the extent of her identification with the struggle is evident in her 1989 volume, Baladas para un sueño (Ballads for a dream). In the poem “Silent Lullaby for South African Children” , Morejón addresses the iniquities of South Africa’s pass laws:

Mommy had no pass

and there was no bread.

Daddy had no pass

and he was punished.

Mommy had no pass

and there was no bread.

Daddy had no pass

and he died, slaughtered.

Mommy had no pass

and there was no bread.

(Translation: Cynthia Gabbay and Karin Berkman)

The poem makes clear the impossibility of any peaceful sleep for the child who voices the lament. Its evocation of the simple vocabulary of a child and its spare, plaintive refrains serve to accentuate its concern with the poverty and violence that are the legacies of apartheid.

Travelling across South Africa

In June 1992, in the dying throes of the apartheid regime, Morejón was invited to deliver the keynote address at the annual conference of the Congress of South African Writers. After the conference she travelled across South Africa, giving workshops and lectures. She was accompanied throughout by Kgositsile, whom she terms her “cicerone” (guide).

In her essay on this journey, Morejón expresses her wonder at the beauty of the South African landscape, and her pleasure at the fraternity she develops with the poet and with her new South African friends. At the same time, her confrontation with the terrifying realities of apartheid induce in her a profound, almost unbearable sense of estrangement. With Kgositsile as her guide, she visited Crossroads, the shantytown near Cape Town.

She describes an intense loss of bearings, a “sensation of living in Hitler’s dream”: the public toilets at the edge of the camp are indefinable, part sarcophagi, part public amenities. The location loses its specificity, at once a dumping ground and a cemetery, the evidence of apartheid as “a diabolical aberration”.

Morejón closes her essay with a tribute to the people she encounters:

South Africa pulses in my memory for the same story that runs through my own veins, for its art and literature, for the friends of the Congress of South African Writers, for the travelling musicians, the muleteers, the stevedores, the sangomas, the maids who told me their griefs experienced under apartheid, their hopes of making it disappear even after its theoretical death.

(Translation: Cynthia Gabbay)The Conversation

Cynthia Gabbay, Alexander von Humboldt Fellow and former Research Associate at ERC Project “Apartheid Stops” (at Hebrew University), Freie Universität Berlin and Karin Berkman, Post-doctoral researcher, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Books paint contrasting pictures of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela



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South African liberation struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
EPA-EFE/Jon Hrusha

Keith Gottschalk, University of the Western Cape

Writings on South African liberation struggle icon Winnie Mandela almost all fall into one of two categories – either hagiography or demonology. These two books – Truth, Lies and Alibis. A Winnie Mandela Story, by Fred Bridgland and Sisonke Msimang’s The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela. A Biography of Survival, try to be more nuanced.

Bridgland was a correspondent for Britain’s leading right-wing newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. For years, he dispatched empathetic reports on an anti-communist hero of the cold war, Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA movement, which were at war with Angola’s ruling MPLA – an ally of the ANC.

Readers might take it for granted that anything he writes would be hostile to the ANC. So Bridgland makes a point of prefacing his book on Winnie Mandela by first placing on record that Savimbi became paranoiac, and committed massacres of entire families of his leading officials. Bridgland is currently writing up these atrocities; in effect he attempts to so show his even-handedness.

Sisonke Msimang, author of Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, has also written articles for the New York Times, the Guardian, and Al Jazeera. She writes near the start of her biography: “I will not pretend otherwise: I am interested in redeeming Ma Winnie”.

But towards the end, she writes: “It is deeply uncomfortable to acknowledge Winnie’s involvement in Stompie’s death, and in the disappearances of Lolo Sono and Sibuniso Tshabalala, while also holding her up as a hero.

She qualifies her views further:

In a perfect world, her place is not on a pedestal… I am prepared to raise her up in the hopes that, one day, South Africans might ethically and in good conscience take her down.(p.157)

Msimang also writes in her conclusion that she’s even prepared to say give up her admiration for the complicated Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. “I cannot do so, however, without a few conditions … The past must be opened up not just to grief, but to the structural nature of racism.” She means the class exploitation coloured by colonialism and finally apartheid.

This review needs to start with three disclosures. This reviewer is a member of the African National Congress. He is also a friend of the Horst Kleinschmidt mentioned in Bridgland’s book. And he has, in the company of others, briefly met Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Zindi Mandela, and Nelson Mandela.

Double standards

The issues these two biographies raise, of liberators’ wartime actions, are not unique to South Africa. For example, post-WW2 readers, with their knowledge of the holocaust of six million Jews and three million Christian Poles, also have to debate Bomber Harris’ saturation bombing of German residential downtown areas and suburbs.

In chapter two Bridgland summarises the South African police’s Special Branch’s persecution of her. The remaining 27 chapters and epilogue summarise Madikizela-Mandela’s persecution of others. The overwhelming majority of facts in his book were published two decades ago – and never refuted.

His book also flags the issue of those who lobbied the then Chief Justice Corbett about Winnie’s pending trial. This included the then Minister of Justice, Kobie Coetsee, the then head of the National Intelligence Service Neil Barnard, and the then British ambassador Robin Renwick. He evidently didn’t rebuke any of them.

Msimang’s most persuasive arguments are when she points out the sexist double-standards in much of the condemnation of Zanyiwe Madikizela, better known as Winnie Mandela. She emphasises that it’s strange to perceive Winnie’s actions as motivated by psychiatric reasons rather than political.

She highlights that Winnie was not a radical outlier, but that during 1985-86 many ANC leaders and Radio Freedom, the then banned ANC’s underground radio station, made similar statements about insurrection, killing informers, and necklaces:

Winnie was not the only ANC leader who traded in recklessness and fiery rhetoric. But she was the only woman who was visibly doing so. (p.13)

Msimang also points out that Harry Gwala and other ANC warlords were committing in substance the same actions as Winnie Mandela, but with far less condemnation.

The same double-standards also apply to men and women political leaders having adulterous affairs:

If the roles had been reversed and you had been imprisoned, things would have been very different. Nelson would have remarried and you would have languished forgotten on the island, and it would have been no reflection on him. Men have needs. Women sacrifice.

Unsurprisingly, two such contrasting biographies also differ over the facts. Bridgland writes that the two hit men who assassinated Dr. Abu-Baker Asvat – the Black consciousness exponent and doctor who tended to Stompie after his brutally assault to which Madikizela-Mandela was part – gave statements that Winnie Mandela had offered them R20 000 to kill him. Msimang writes that these were merely “rumours” and “No link has ever been established between Dr. Asvat’s death and Winnie Mandela.”

As this review goes to press, the ANC has posthumously awarded Winnie Mandela its highest honour, the Isithwalandwe.

The controversy continues in death as in life.The Conversation

Keith Gottschalk, Political Scientist, University of the Western Cape

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hugh Lewin: South African journalist, author, militant and prisoner


File 20190118 100261 1k7xtdw.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hugh Lewin served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Institute for the Advancement of Journalism

Franz Krüger, University of the Witwatersrand

Hugh Lewin, who provided a unique voice on the South African story over many decades as militant, prisoner, journalist, author and much else, has died in Johannesburg at the age of 79.

Lewin is perhaps best known for two books that arose from his early involvement in the anti-apartheid underground. Bandiet, Seven years in a South African Prison, which has been described as a remarkable piece of prison literature, and Stones against the Mirror, published decades later, in which he describes grappling with the betrayal of the man whose testimony sent him to jail.

But his poetry, his children’s books and his work in publishing and the training of journalists and refugees leave as big a legacy. An outpouring of tributes has greeted news of his death. He has been called “an incredible writer and courageous soldier” by President Cyril Ramaphosa. and “a courageous stalwart” by Lord Peter Hain.

I first encountered him when he ran the small publishing house Baobab Books in Zimbabwe. Later I worked with him at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg, and will mainly remember his gentle humour, a sharp intellect that was never cutting, his ability to listen and his concern for others. It made him a great friend and outstanding teacher and mentor to many.

I will also remember the quiet dignity with which he dealt with his gradually failing health over the past decade, cared for by his partner Fiona Lloyd. His wit was still on clear display when I saw him just about a week before his death, despite frailty and struggling with the words that were his life – “I keep bumping against empty sentences,” he had previously said.

Radical politics

Lewin was born in the small town of Lydenburg in 1939 into an Anglican missionary family. He studied at Rhodes University before entering journalism at the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg.

He was quickly drawn into anti-apartheid politics of an increasingly radical kind, and got involved in the National Committee of Liberation, later renamed as the African Resistance Movement. This group of activists grew out of the Liberal Party and embarked on a campaign of sabotage of infrastructure targets, which it carried out between 1961 and 1964.

In July 1964, Lewin, then 24, was sentenced to jail for seven years for sabotage. He served this time in Pretoria Central prison, where he kept notes of his experiences in his Bible. After his release, he left the country on a “permanent departure permit”, to begin life as an exile in London.

Bandiet was published during this time. It manages both to provide harrowing detail of life in an apartheid jail and to use prison as a metaphor for the system as a whole. Reviewer Daniel Roux described the book as deserving, “its place in the global canon of prison writing”. Roux called it an,

understated, elegant and honest memoir that resists self-pity and self-glamorisation, and shows in careful detail what it feels like to drop out of one reality and to enter a completely different world.

Long banned in South Africa, the book was republished in 2002 as Bandiet – out of jail, including additional later material.

Anti-apartheid causes

His family remember an additional result of the prison years: his skill at sewing, from sewing mailbags in jail. His stitching was apparently large but very neat.

During 10 years in London, he worked as a journalist and for the International Defence and Aid Fund, a support organisation for anti-apartheid causes.

Another 10 years of exile followed, this time in Zimbabwe, where he worked as publisher and wrote a series of children’s stories, the Jafta series, whose simple narratives spoke to the ordinary reality of Southern African children.
Hugh returned to South Africa in 1992 and began work at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, the institution founded by Allister Sparks to train journalists for the new democracy.

He served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission before returning to the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in 1998 as its executive director. It was during this time that he was involved in the early initiatives that led to the establishment of the journalism programme at Wits University.

But processing of the traumatic events of his youth was clearly not complete, and after retiring from the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, he worked on the memoir that became Stones against the Mirror. Published in 2011, the book deals with a friendship that ended in betrayal. Adrian Leftwich was the man who gave his name to the security police and testified against him in court, and the book describes Lewin’s 40-year search for some kind of resolution.

South African author Nadine Gordimer wrote about the book:

There have been many accounts of life in the active struggle against the apartheid regime but this one is a fearless exploration into the deepest ground – the personal moral ambiguity of betrayal under brutal interrogation.

It won the Alan Paton Award in 2012 – one of many honours he has received.

During these later years, Lewin also continued his involvement in training, travelling to the Myanmar border to work with refugees with his partner Fiona Lloyd. However, failing health made this more and more difficult.

Lewin leaves his partner, two daughters from an earlier marriage and three grandchildren.The Conversation

Franz Krüger, Adjunct Professor of Journalism and Director of the Wits Radio Academy, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A view of Johannesburg through lenses from a different era



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Carmel Building in Diagonal Street, Johannesburg.
Museum Africa (left) Yeshiel Panchia (right)

Kathy Munro, University of the Witwatersrand

Johannesburg was always a much photographed place from its earliest days. It was a city that grew up with photographers and their cameras. As a town of migrants and immigrants, people wanted to send postcards and photographic souvenirs back home.

Some proof is in a new book, Johannesburg Then and Now, by history blogger, Marc Latilla. It is a series of photographic juxtapositions of early photographs of the city – dating from the 1880s to the 1940s – with contemporary images of the same street scene or building by photographer Yeshiel Panchia.

The book is descriptive rather than analytical, with the emphasis on Johannesburg buildings, places and streets and not its people. Latilla’s love and passion for his city comes through in his descriptions.

Young city

At a mere 132 years Johannesburg is a young city compared with cities of the world. London and Rome go back over 2000 years.

It started as a mining camp with a gold bonanza once George Harrison had found gold on the Main Reef in 1886. The new mining settlement was named Johannesburg – the origins of the name and who precisely was the “Johannes” of Johannesburg is still in dispute. The camp grew over time to a city. Today it is a metropolis that dominates the province of Gauteng, both as the provincial capital and the financial heartland of South Africa.

Johannesburg is a fractured city, divided in all sorts of ways. Geographically it’s split by the mines of the Witwatersrand – one can still see their remains south of the city while the north has a very different landscape.

Another divide was created by the railway which cut the town in half with the most affluent suburbs to the north and the less affluent to the south.

The city’s economic divide was also evident in the architectural styles of the residential areas which reflected status: from the working class, to the lower and upper middle class, and then at the very top end the grand estates on the northern ridges for the Randlords and newly enriched capitalist class.

The town was also divided by race from its earliest days. While there was always economic integration, segregated residential areas for different racial groups were the norm. The township of Soweto was created in the 1930s when the white government started separating black people from white people.

This policy of racial and class separation was perpetuated further when apartheid became official policy in 1948. It also led to forced removals of black people to townships outside the “white” city.

Growing in circles

Johannesburg has always grown in concentric circles. Municipal boundaries were periodically extended, mapped and basic services of water, sewerage, lighting, tramways financed by an increasing number of ratepayers brought into the net to support the city. Soweto, once the internationally recognised site of the 1976 youth uprising, is now part of the city, but so is the glitzy new glass and concrete post-modern city of Sandton.

The Johannesburg that has been captured in this book though is the old Johannesburg; what was called the Central Business District and its surrounding suburbs. This is Johannesburg from 1886 to a date more or less 50 years later when the city celebrated its jubilee with the Great Empire exhibition at Milner Park in 1936.

I should declare an interest – I was first asked by Penguin Books if they could use an image of an old early title deed that I had written about and then to give the book a preliminary early opinion. As historian I found myself drawn in to assist in some fact checking and comments to help the author. Of course the selection of photographs and his commentary remain his entirely.

The old photographs were taken by countless unknown and mainly anonymous photographers. They are remarkable in their own right. It was so much more difficult to take and make a photograph in 1900 than in our digital age. Those old photos in black and white are works of art as much as are the perfect colour and light reflected images of today. The sources of the old photographs are primarily from collections held by the University of the Witwatersrand, Museum Africa and the Transnet Heritage library. The early photographs are tend to be undated, so that the “then” can be any time from circa 1890 to the 1930s and even later, while the now photographs are all in colour and clearly belong to the last few years.

Superb find

My favourite photo is the old aerial view of the Harrow Road redevelopment when the first Johannesburg freeway was engineered (Harrow has since been renamed after a famous Johannesburger, the liberation struggle stalwart Joe Slovo). The photo allows us to see precisely how Harrow Road was widened and changed direction in the fifties. This single photo is a superb find.

A book such as this makes a contribution to heritage because it captures, assembles and documents the old and now the new. Where old photographs have been found recording what a particular building looked like and the building is still there, such photographic documentation strengthens the heritage preservation case.

However, none of the grit, crime, grime, litter or lack of maintenance we battle against today is visible in the modern photographs. This is the Johannesburg we don’t see: the crisis of homelessness and densification of dwellings. Who, for example, would know in the photo of Plein Street park that it is actually now a dormitory area for dozens of homeless people without jobs? Is it the city or history or harsh economic realities that has failed them? Of course one can argue that modernization and urbanization always left victims and the city of gold did not bring fabled wealth to all .

Johannesburg Then and Now is a fascinating book. It’s important for cities to preserve their pasts , because “Roots” matter as much as “shoots”. This book can perhaps start a discussion about what ought to be appreciated and “saved”. The book will remind city planners to include heritage in their planning for a 21st century city.

Johannnesburg Then and Now is published by Penguin.The Conversation

Kathy Munro, Honorary professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the apartheid regime burnt books — in their tens of thousands



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The Railway Depot furnace at Kaserne, Johannesburg in 1971. Banned and confiscated books and magazines were burnt weekly.
Wits Student

Archie Dick, University of Pretoria

On the advice of the State Librarian one fine day in the 1970s, a truck transported thousands of books and magazines from Pretoria’s Central Police Station to a dark hall at the Iscor state steel company, just outside the South African capital. A large mechanical shovel scooped up and dropped them into a 20 metre high oven, causing it to spew flames and smoke. This was another truckload of material that had been banned for political reasons and was routinely burned in furnaces across South Africa from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Historical examples show that books are banned and destroyed because they offend the politics, morals, or religion of the day. Information science academic Rebecca Knuth, wrote in Burning Books and Leveling Libraries that if a regime is racist, it destroys the books of groups deemed inferior; if nationalistic, the books of competing nations and cultures; and if religiously extremist, all texts contradicting sacred doctrines.

Sometimes these forces combine. Recent examples include the destruction of Muslim books and libraries in Bosnia in the 1990s by
Serbian nationalist forces. In 2013 there was the burning by Islamist insurgents of the Timbuktu library and the next year the same happened in Lebanon to Tripoli’s historic Al Sa’eh Library.

The apartheid era – from the middle of the 20th century – had its own variation on the theme. Thousands of books were banned, ranging from Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Insulted and Humiliated to popular Westerns writer Louis L’Amour’s Hopalong Cassidy series.

The fact that books were burnt underscored the state’s desire to make sure the printed word was utterly destroyed. The practice also revealed a darker side of the library profession which connived in the book burning. Between 1955 and 1971 most librarians didn’t protest when thousands of books and other reading material were taken from libraries, and burned at municipal incinerators and furnaces. Some even joined in.

The rise of authoritarianism

State sanctioned book burnings were common as authoritarianism accompanied a growing Afrikanerisation of South African society as the dominant, ruling Afrikaner elite started to impose its culture on all spheres of society. Members of the elite did this first by unifying Afrikaner cultural and church organisations. This took the form of a declaration on behalf of “Volksorganisasies” (Afrikaner people’s organisations) that was signed in 1941 and pledged support for conservative Christian national ideology.

This sometimes involved the burning of books as a symbol of purification. One of the more worrying aspects was the solid support from ordinary South African librarians for these treacherous acts.

Even when books were burned by public libraries, the profession meekly accepted the situation. This signified support and agreement with what was happening, and reflected the dominant authoritarian mood and spirit in South Africa and the library community at that time.

In October 1955, the city librarian of Johannesburg, exclaimed:

All copies are brought in to me and I destroy them personally.

In the same month, a Cape Town newspaper reported that a couple of hundred books had been burned. Two years later, the deputy city librarian of Cape Town announced the fate of banned books returned from branch libraries to his Central Library:

We will have a big bonfire and burn them.

All-out attack on free speech

What started as the burning largely of imported pornographic books, became an all-out attack on free speech after the findings of a commission of inquiry into “undesirable publications” were made public in October 1957. The inquiry gave the Nationalist government the excuse to destroy books and pamphlets critical of its policies, and of dramatic developments in the country.

Each new issue of the Government Gazette included the latest additions to the list of banned books. Books on communism and those that criticised apartheid dogma were targeted. In 1954 banned titles included the Pravda and Daily Worker newspapers, and Vladimir Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. Books on innocuous topics about communist countries, like China’s “Railways and Labour Insurance Regulations of the People’s Republic of China”, were also deemed subversive and added to the list.

Even Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (which, ironically, is the temperature at which book paper starts burning) was burned. From the town of Brakpan in the North to Durban in the East and Cape Town in the South, several thousands of books were removed from library shelves and burned. In July 1964 Cape Town City library services announced that more than 800 books had been burned.

By this time the list of banned publications had swelled to a total of 12 000 titles. In June 1968, a newspaper reported that 5 375 books of the Natal Provincial libraries had been withdrawn from circulation and burned. By April 1971 books were still steadily being burned in Cape Town – at the rate of two per day.

It was only in the late 1980s that successful appeals from a few brave librarians to the state censors saw restricted books unbanned, and saved from apartheid’s furnaces.

In the early-1990s as South Africa moved towards becoming a democracy hundreds of archival documents and public records were shredded and burned by the apartheid state’s security establishment – once again in the furnaces of Iscor.

Could book burning happen again in contemporary South Africa? Given a similar set of circumstances, there is every reason to believe that it can. South Africans should remain diligent and alert to threats to freedom of expression.
The ashes of burnt books tell of the barbarism to which a society can descend.The Conversation

Archie Dick, Head of Department and Professor of Information Science, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A tribute to Winston Ntshona: a pioneer of storytelling and activism in South Africa



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Winston Ntshona in ‘Sizwe Banzi is dead’.
Supplied by Baxter Theatre

Sarah Roberts, University of the Witwatersrand

A slim, well-thumbed paperback volume occupies a special place on my bookshelf. Its spine is torn and barely legible, but such is its familiarity that I can dispense with such necessities. I can find “Statements: Three Plays” instantly. The plays were Sizwe Bansi is Dead, The Island, and Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act.

Today, I turn to the volume seeking guidance and as a means of paying homage to a remarkable man, Winston Ntshona, who passed away on 2 August 2018. Not a man that I knew personally, but one whose impact resonates in so many in different ways. This publication in itself – an Oxford University Press edition – preserves much of what Ntshona represents in the legacy of theatre-making and theatre-going in South Africa and the world.

A black and white photograph from the Royal Court Theatre production (1974) dominates the front cover. It shows two men and a camera on a tripod in the foreground. The image captures a vital ephemeral moment which has become as iconic as the three names superimposed above: Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona.

These names pronounce a genesis of South African theatre-making founded on creative partnership and collaborative authorship. Together and individually, they represent a paradigm for collective action that fuses storytelling with political activism.

Alphabetical ordering might account for the sequence of surnames, but the image composition contradicts Ntshona’s being named last of the trio. His prominence is asserted through sheer physical presence and position. It is he who is seated in the foreground in a relaxed, expansive pose, elbow resting on the table in the role of the eponymous Sizwe Banzi.

Behind the table, the beam of Kani’s gleaming smile is as arresting as his appearance in dapper bow-tie and crisp white dust coat. Ntshona’s role was invariably to be the foil to Kani’s more urbane, eloquent and flamboyant personae.

The two bodies declare what words cannot capture: an extraordinary complementary relationship between two very different individual performers and storytellers. They share an outward orientation of their bodies and gestures in a reciprocal acknowledgement of each other and simultaneously offer this interaction to an audience.

Ntshona leans into a chair with the dignified air of assurance and a right to occupy his seat: a man who is at one with an identity he is forging. His head is tilted upwards in an expression that suggests a man with a vision or a dream of prosperity.

Theatre paradigm

In the early 1970s I was an undergraduate at what was then named the University of Natal (Durban) studying Speech and Drama.

The performance of “Sizwe Banzi is Dead”, a play about the struggle for human dignity in apartheid-era South Africa, was to take place in the Student Union Building. I recall (with absolute clarity) my doubts that two actors could project a presence that would fill that enormous space. The multipurpose assembly hall accommodated sporting and recreational events and its multi-volume high glass windows tempted the eye to the intense blue of sky and ocean behind and beyond a rudimentary temporary stage.

I sat in what must have been – from the perspective of the two performers – a relatively homogeneous sea of animated young middle-class white faces. We waited, slightly apprehensively, seated uniformly on blue plastic chairs (as we might for an eventual graduation ceremony) ill-equipped, unprepared even, for a seminal experience of theatre as “a great reckoning in a little room”.

Some 35 years later, I vividly recall the impact of Ntshona’s voice – deep, rich and resonant – along with his vibrant presence. Even more memorable was his slow, smile spreading across his face. That silent spellbinding action conveyed the resilience of the spirit, the conviction of simple dignity more than words could express.

Nothing But the Truth

Decades later I met Ntshona (4 July 2002). Kani’s solo authored play “Nothing But the Truth” had just received a tumultuous standing ovation at its Grahamstown Festival premiere. In the somewhat overwhelming aftermath of the performance and its reception, Ntshona was the first person to be admitted to Kani’s dressing room. They had taken different routes on the journey from what might be called protest idiom to what author Zakes Mda has called “a theatre of reconciliation” in which Kani has figured so authoritatively. Respectful of the longstanding brotherhood, no one wished to intrude on what these two legends might wish to say to one another.

I was surprised to be called to the dressing room and introduced. Ntshona had one question for me. He wanted to know how it was that I knew the inside of the New Brighton township home in which Kani had grown as featured in the play.

As production designer I hadn’t been inside the house nor had I had access to photographs. Instead, the stage design was based on the sketch layout that Kani had talked me through: condensing, abstracting and selecting details. It tended towards an expressionist rather than realist rendering.

I could only marvel at the generosity of a consummate artist, profoundly familiar with the world of a New Brighton home and his pleasure at having his memory of a particular place being triggered by the creative efforts of another.

His joy at the reception of Kani’s play and performance remains inspirational. The capacity to acknowledge and value participatory collaboration has emerged as a core strength of emergent South African theatre at its most vigorous and committed. Ntshona embodied those attributes.

In an age that venerates celebrities, public achievement as a marker of status and self-promotion in the arts and culture sector, Ntshona remains a role model of a modesty of being and accomplishment. The personae that Ntshona created epitomise moral and ethical integrity conjoined with steadfast purpose. “The Island” (1973) ends with Winston, in the role of Antigone saying:

I honoured those things to which honour belongs.

The words seem fit as an epitaph to him, his work, artistry and achievements.

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The Conversation

Winston Ntshona, actor, born 6 October 1941; died 2 August 2018.

Sarah Roberts, Associate Professor of Dramatic Art, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A tribute to Keorapetse Kgositsile, South Africa’s poet laureate



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Renowned South African poet and liberation struggle hero Keorapetse Kgositsile.
Sunday World/ Tshepo Kekana

Keith Gottschalk, University of the Western Cape

Memories of Keorapetse Kgositsile (1938-2017), or Bra Willie, as he was affectionately known, are of a poet who always had a smile on his face, who exuded gentleness, and was soft-spoken. He died on Wednesday.

In his schooldays Bra Willie (78) managed to get access to African American poets Langston Hughes’ and Richard Wright’s poems. This was no mean feat in apartheid South Africa when schools for African children either didn’t have libraries or they were poorly-stocked, and African students were denied access to literature deemed to be “seditious”. Even my “whites only” school library had no books with African-American poems, still less the apartheid English setwork books.

His first job was working for a 1950s left newspaper, the New Age, which had strong links to the African National Congress. The apartheid regime banned it in 1962.

In 1962 Kgositsile went into exile in the US. His career flourished in Harlem; he gave numerous readings at African-American jazz clubs, and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University.

Kgositsile published ten collections of poetry. The first was Spirits Unchained (1969). Perhaps the most influential were My Name is Africa (1971), The Present is a Dangerous Place to Live (1975) and When the Clouds Clear (1990).

In 1975 Kgositsile sacrificed his flourishing career to return to Africa to work for the ANC in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In 1977 he founded the ANC’s Department of Education in exile, and in 1983 its Department of Arts and Culture in 1983.

He continued to produce poetry and music, melding African and diasporic poetry influenced by jazz.

Kgositsile’s impact on a generation of South African left literary activists during the 1970s and 1980s was immense. Tattered photostats of his work passed from hand to hand were the samizdat of the oppressed under apartheid, which is how we learnt of his poems.

As soon as apartheid censorship ended in 1990, the Congress of South African Writers brought out a selection of his poems When the Clouds Clear. Willie returned to South Africa from exile, and was elected vice-president of the organisation.

Kgositsile wrote of the 1976 Soweto generation who revolted against apartheid, following the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

In our land fear is dead

The young are no longer young …

South Africa’s youth reciprocated this admiration: again and again a youthful poet would recite from memory a Kgositsile poem, mimicking his voice to perfection. They enjoyed doing this to his face as much as in his absence.

In today’s literary establishment, none of the country’s literati command this sort of respect.

He was honoured with the South African Poet Laureate Prize in 2006.

Kgositsile won several literary awards including the Harlem Cultural Council Poetry Award and in South Africa the Herman Charles Bosman Prize, and in 2008 the Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) for

excellent achievements in the field of literature and using these exceptional talents to expose the evils of the system of apartheid.

He was married four times. His wives included Baleka Mbete, a fellow poet and currently Speaker of the National Assembly. He is survived by his fourth wife, Baby Dorcas Kgositsile, as well as seven children and grandchildren.

The ConversationThe author is a published poet.

Keith Gottschalk, Political Scientist, University of the Western Cape

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Africa has a reading crisis: why, and what can be done about it



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Children must be taught to read for comprehension, not just to parrot what they hear.
Shutterstock

Peter Rule, Stellenbosch University

The teacher stands in front of her Grade 4 class. The 45 nine and ten-year olds are crammed together at desks, huddled over shared books. Some are sitting on the floor. “Now, class, read from the top of the page,” the teacher says. They comply in a slow sing-song drawl.

“Stop,” says the teacher. “It is not ‘Wed-nes-day’, you say it ‘Wensday’. It is what?” “Wensday,” the class responds. “Again.” “Wensday.” The reading resumes, the teacher frequently stopping to correct her pupils’ pronunciation.

Sometimes the children read aloud in groups. At other times, she calls a child to come to the front and read aloud. Not once does she ask a question about what the story means. Nor do the children discuss or write about what they have read.

This is the typical approach to how teaching is read in most South African primary schools. Reading is largely understood as an oral performance. In our research, my colleague Sandra Land and I describe this as “oratorical reading”. The emphasis is on reading aloud, fluency, accuracy and correct pronunciation. There is very little emphasis on reading comprehension and actually making sense of the written word. If you were to stop the children and ask them what the story is about, many would look at you blankly.

Pronunciation, accuracy and fluency are important in reading. But they have no value without comprehension. Countries around the world are paying increasing attention to reading comprehension, as indicated by improving results in international literacy tests.

The problem with the oratorical reading approach is evident in the results of the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 tests. PIRLS’ purpose is to assess reading comprehension and to monitor trends in literacy at five-year intervals. Countries participate voluntarily. Learners write the test in the language of learning and teaching used in Grades 1 to 3 in their school.

The tests revealed that 78% of grade 4 pupils in South Africa fell below the lowest level on the PIRLS scale: meaning, in effect, that they cannot understanding what they’re reading. There was some improvement from learners writing in Sesotho, isiNdebele, Xitsonga, Tshivenda and Sepedi from a very low base in 2011, but no overall improvement in South Africa’s performance.

South Africa was last out of 50 countries surveyed. It came in just behind Egypt and Morocco. The Russian Federation came first followed by Singapore, Hong Kong and Ireland.

South Africa also performs poorly in the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality surveys. These show that in reading and numeracy South Africa is lagging behind much poorer African countries such as Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Our research on reading at a rural primary school and an adult centre in the KwaZulu-Natal province showed that the oratorical approach to teaching reading was dominant both in the school and adult classes. Both adults and children were not learning to read with meaning, and so were not achieving literacy despite attending classes. Our findings confirmed the results of other South African studies.

So where does the problem lie and how can South Africa address it?

Rote learning

To understand the situation more deeply we interviewed teachers and explored how they had learned to read. We found that they teach as they were taught; an indication that oratorical reading is a cycle repeated from one generation to the next unless it is broken.

Teachers told us they assessed pupils’ reading ability just as they were assessed by their teachers: by having them read aloud. Marks were allocated for individual oral reading performance. This was based not on understanding the passage, but on fluency and pronunciation. There was no written assessment of reading comprehension. Reading was about memorising sounds and decoding words.

This suggests that the problem in learners’ performance lies in how reading is taught in most South African schools. Learners are taught to read aloud and pronounce correctly, but not to understand the written word and make sense of it for themselves. Another consequence is that the pleasure and joy of discovery and meaning-making are divorced from school reading.

New approaches

There are no quick fixes, but there certainly are slow and sure ones. The first is to get reading education in pre-service teacher training right. A report by JET Education Services, an independent non-profit organisation that works to improve education, found that universities don’t give enough attention to reading pedagogies.

Universities need to teach reading as a process that involves decoding and understanding text in its context, not just as a “mechanical skill”. Countries such as India, with its great diversity and disadvantaged populations, have begun to address the need for this change in how reading is taught.

The second “fix” concerns in-service training. The Department of Basic Education has a crucial role to play here. Teachers need to reflect on how they themselves were taught to read and to understand the shortcomings of an oratorical approach.

Effective reading instruction, such as the “Read to Learn” and “scaffolding” approaches, should be modelled and reinforced. In a multi-lingual African context, strategies that allow teachers and learners to use all their language resources in making meaning should be encouraged. Teachers’ own reading is vital, and can be developed through book clubs and reading groups.

The school environment is also crucial. According to the PIRLS interviews with principals, 62% of South African primary schools do not have school libraries. These are central to promoting a reading culture, as work in New Zealand shows.

Schools should develop strategies such as Drop Everything and Read slots in the timetable, library corners in classrooms, prizes for reading a target number of books and writing about them, and creating learners’ reading clubs. Learners can draw on local oral traditions by gathering stories from elders, writing them and reading them to others.

Finally, the home environment is vital. The PIRLS research showed that children with parents who read, and especially read to them, do better at reading. Our research found that children with parents who attended adult classes were highly motivated to learn and read with their parents. Even if parents are illiterate, older siblings can read to younger children. The Family Literacy Project, a non-profit organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, has done excellent work in creating literate family and community environments in deep rural areas, showing what is possible.

The ConversationDeveloping families as reading assets rather than viewing them as deficits can help to strengthen schools and build a reading nation.

Peter Rule, Associate Professor, Centre for Higher and Adult Education, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Two books that tell the unsettling tale of South Africa’s descent



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Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Anton Harber, University of the Witwatersrand

South Africa has produced two must-read thrillers in the past week. They are non-fiction, yet are as gripping and readable as any page-turner.

Veteran investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s “The President’s Keepers” has, within a week, become a global best seller. It has had the advantage of the best available marketing push by South Africa’s State Security Agency, under the illusion that they were going to stop the book. The State Security Agency sent a cease and desist letter to a defiant Pauw and his publisher, claiming the exposé is in violation of the Intelligence Services Act.

Less well-known, but as important to those who want to understand what is happening in the country, is consultant and activist Crispian Olver’s enticingly-titled “How to Steal a City”.

Take some courage

I recommend you read them together. It will take some courage, as they are a most unsettling combination, but worth it.

Cover Jacques Pauw’s latest book.

Pauw’s book takes you on his journey to uncover the nature of Jacob Zuma’s presidency and its impact on South Africa, a trip that begins in the small Western Cape town of Riebeek-Kasteel and goes, via Moscow, to the Tshwane coffee bars where he meets his sources. Much of what emerges has been reported in bits and pieces elsewhere, but he weaves it together with great storytelling skill, and adds some important new revelations.

It is the most comprehensive picture of the rot at the heart of the Zuma presidency and the toll it has taken on important state institutions. Once he has worked through the tax collector, the South African Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, and the police, one is left gasping for air at the scale and depth of the destruction.

I don’t think it is necessary to weigh up the accuracy of his much-detailed and well-documented story, except to say that Pauw is a veteran muckraker whose credentials for getting sources to talk, putting his hands on the evidence, weaving all this into readable horror-stories, and withstanding the attacks of those who would stop him, are well established. So much so that the onus is on his detractors to disprove what he is saying. Even if half of it is true, it is chilling.

Oil for the ANC’s political machinery

Olver’s book might be even more important. It’s an insider’s view of how corruption has become the oil that keeps the ruling African National Congress’s political machinery working. Olver was sent in by ANC leaders to help clean up the metropolitan Nelson Mandela Bay region on the country’s east coast and pave the way for local politician and national football boss Danny Jordaan’s 2016 mayoral election campaign. At the same time, Olver was commissioned by then Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan to clear out the rot in the city structure.

Cover of Crispian Olver’s book.

Olver’s story of how he identified and drove out the worst culprits in the city’s corruption, is heartening. He shows that it can be done when you have the political will, and Olver’s toughness. But he also describes how every cent raised to fund Jordaan’s campaign was exchanged for a job or a tender.

The ANC political engine runs on the fuel of transactional politics; without the offerings of jobs and tenders, the machine grinds to a halt. His tale provides rare insight into how the party funding system works as a driver of corruption.

Olver himself starts off as a knight in shining armour, but finds himself increasingly compromised as time passes, until he loses his political backing and flees the region.

Both these writers showed great courage. Pauw left the peace and quiet of running a country restaurant in Riebeek-Kasteel, knowing that this book would bring him the kinds of threats and harassment he experienced in the 1980s when he exposed the dark heart of apartheid’s police hit squads. Olver had to have a bodyguard at his side, so tough was the fight to regain control of the party and city.

Pauw’s book is a triumph of investigative reporting, but also contains a worrying critique of some of its practitioners. Pauw details at least three instances when his fellow reporters have allowed themselves to become part of the partisan mudslinging aimed at driving the good people out of state institutions, and protecting the venal. It is striking that some of the same names come up in all three instances, and all are centred around the local Sunday Times.

The ConversationWhile South Africans can celebrate the important role investigative reporters have played in exposing state capture, they should be reminded that some have facilitated it, wittingly or unwittingly.

Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.