At last I’ve finished the book, after writing two “What do you think” pieces on the way. So now I can get down to an actual review.
I’ve moved the other two pieces to my blogs. First I was excited because the book mentioned as haunted places that I knew from my youth, or had actually visited. You can read that one here, if you like The missing ghosts in my life | Notes from underground.
The second one got me even more excited when the ghost turned out to be related to my wife. It’s quite something to have a family ghost. And you can read abou that one here The family ghost — it’s official! | Hayes & Greene family history.
And those were, for me, the most interesting things about the book. I have a couple of Arthur Goldstuck‘s earlier books on urban legends, and there’s something about them that applies to ghost stories too (apart from the fact that ghost stories are often themselves urban legends). The main interest in reading about urban legends is if you have heard them in the wild. And in the same way, ghost stories are interesting mainly if you know the places or the people concerned. Having the ghost actually related is a bonus.
But a long string of ghost stories, or non-ghost stories, tends to get boring rather quickly. The non-ghost stories are about places that are said to be haunted, but where no one actually claims to have seen a ghost, and there seem to be rather a lot of those, including the famed “spookhuis” in the Armscor grounds in Pretoria.
I found the most interesting parts of the book were the beginning and the end. The beginning told me some things about history that I didn’t know, and had some interesting information about Islamic ghost stories told by slaves in the Cape, which would include stories told by slave nannies to the master’s children, and so the conception of ghosts among Calvinist white Afrikaners was influenced by folktales from Muslim Indonesia.
The blurb makes much of the point that South African ghost stories are multicultural, as the different cultures influence one another, so I expected a bit more analysis and interpretation of some of the individual ghost stories, tracing the cultural influences and the different conceptions of ghosts, but there was little of that. At the end there was a potted description of how Judaism, Islam and different varieties of Christianity regard ghosts, but it too did not relate them to any individual stories. There were some quite interesting ghost stories written by children, and a description of Pinky-Pinky, a ghost that went viral among school children in the mid-1990s — a tokoloshe for the new South Africa, as Goldstuck puts it. That was one I hadn’t heard of, though our kids were still at school then.
So apart from the personal bits, I found the book a bit disappointing. If it hadn’t been for the personal bits, I’d probably have given two stars, but for them I give three.
Some years ago we were driving to Johannesburg along the N1 (when it was still a freeway, not a tollway) and I saw an advertising hoarding (billboard) announcing that Chuck Norris drives a …. (some brand of car).
I commented on this on LiveJournal, and wondered who Chuck Norris was, and discovered that he appeared in a TV series called Walker, Texas Ranger and that there were a lot of sayings about his exploits.
Someone else responded with this:
To Hell with Chuck, Steve is our man
Eventually that l;ist disappeared, along with the blog it was posted in, but I thought it was worth preserving as a snapshot of one aspect of South African (and world) culture about 10 years ago.
I don’t really do celebs, or brands, which puts me pretty much out of touch with current pop culture, in which, it appears, celebs and brands are the most important things. So all I really know about Steve Hofmeyer is the list of items above. I know he sings since the microphone is afraid of him. I don’t know whether Chuck Norris sings, and I can’t even remember what brand of car he drives.
We were reminded of it when we were chatting with a friend over coffee, and reminded of it again when Val got a speeding ticket from Bloemhof, saying that the offence took place at the Bles Bridges monument. We didn’t even know that there was a Bles Bridges monument.
I do know that Bles Bridges was a singer, because of a joke that did the rounds some years ago when Bles Bridges and Allan Boesak got divorced. It was something about an Elna and a Singer and a naaimasjien, but don’t ask me to tell it now, I’ll get it wrong. I heard it from Willem Saayman, of blessed memory (bles my bridges…) but he was sowing rather than sewing. I must end now because I’ve run out of puns.
Originally posted on Backstories:
Before he died of cancer last year, and up until the moment he could no longer focus on much more than getting through the next treatment, John Daniel was a passionate and active supporter of the Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT) – of its cause, its work, and of its incredibly brave and overworked staff. His interest in the MPTT emerged not only from the long standing social justice orientation that came to define his political and academic life, but also from his work as a researcher for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which constituted the MPTT to continue with aspects of its overall mandate.
The TRC has been subjected to much criticism, famously by prominent ANC members such as Thabo Mbeki (angered by the inclusion of atrocities committed by the liberation movement). Others have…
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I haven’t finished the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but rather some thoughts inspired by some of the bits I’ve read so far, that mention places that are familiar to me, or at least that I have been to.
Arthur Goldstuck has written several books about South African urban legends, and there is an overlap between urban legends and ghost stories, especially in the legend of the Vanishing Hitchhiker. Hitchhikers have now vanished in more than one sense, and I’ve written something about that here and here.
In one of his earlier books Goldstuck mentioned the Uniondale ghost as a story belonging to this genre and he has dealt with it more fully in this book. I found it quite interesting as I recently travelled the road in question, though when he mentioned the Barendas turn-off the name didn’t ring a bell, but when I looked it up on a map I did find that the road we had travelled along passed a railway halt called Barandas. Perhaps the ghost entered the typesetting machine to add a little more mystery to the story.
The story is of a motorcyclist who have a hitchhiker a lift, and lent her his spare crash helmet, and a little further on he felt the bike swerve a bit, and looked round and the hitchhiker had gone, and the helmet was in its usual place.
We travelled that road four years ago, and again in September this year. On Friday 29 April 2011 we drove down the N9 from Graaff Reinet, noting the empty dam on the Groot Rivier (a trickle), and about 40 km south of Willowmore we turned west on to the R341, leading to De Rust. I think this is what Arthur Goldstuck refers to as “the Barendas turn-off”.
We had only gone a few kilometres when an ambulance came the other way, lights flashing, and the driver signalled to us, and stopped, so we stopped, and he asked if we had seen an accident involving a motorbike. We said we hadn’t so he turned around and passed us going the same way we were, and past the turnoff to Uniondale we came to the scene of the accident. The ambulance had obviously come up from Uniondale and hadn’t known which way to turn.
We didn’t stop at the scene of the accident, but passed by sending up a silent prayer for the rider, since the ambulance was there. Now, having read the stories in the book, I wonder if we had stopped, would we have found that the accident was caused by a ghostly hitchhiker?
The other thing that struck me in the book was the mention of the Sandringham Dip. I lived for 6 years at Sunningdale, on the ridge above the dip in question, from the age of 7-13, and four years down the hill in Sandringham itself. The dip actually leads from Silvamonte to Senderwood, and as you go that way the grounds of the Rietfontein Hospital were on the left, and on the right was the Huddle Park Golf Course. At the bottom of the dip is a stream, a tributary of the Jukskei, which runs between Sandringham and the golf courses. As a child I used to play in the stream, and I went through the dip many times, by car, bicycle and on horseback. I rode on horseback with friends to see another friend who lived in Bedfordview, and a little way up the hill past the dip was a gate that opened to the Huddle Park golf course. When the gate wasn’t locked we would take a short cut through the gofd course, galloping down the fairways. There was a danger of being hit by a sliced ball perhaps, but we were more afraid of municipal officials who might accuse us of trespassing and make us go back. Nothing could be further from our minds than the fear of ghosts.
Goldstuck mentions a grave at the bottom of the dip. I never saw that, but I did know of a graveyard at the top of the hill beyond the dip, and took photos of it because I thought it was picturesque, with mouldy wooden monuments and crosses rotting under the trees.It may have been the graves of people who died in the hospital, but I doubted it. It was too far from the main hospital, and looked more like old farm graves.
As children we also used to ride on horseback through the grounds of Rietfontein Hospital, because there were plenty of wide-open spaces, which were (and are) getting harder to find in an increasingly urbanised landscape. We gave the hospital buildings (a few old Victorian houses) a wide berth, partly because of the fear of Authority, which might chase us away, and also because it was an isolation hospital for infectious diseases, and we were afraid of catching something.
More recently I have been in correspondence with people who are concerned about proposals to develop the site, because apparently a lot of people who died at the hospital have been buried there over the years, and local history groups believe that these sites should be respected.
So I seem to have missed the ghosts. Though I was in the right places, obviously it was at the wrong time.
Yesterday was “Back to the Future” day, the day on which Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown travelled in a time machine to 21 October 2015 in the 1989 film Back to the Future II. We watched the film on DVD for old times’ sake, and I thought that Doc Emmett Brown looked a good deal like the real Dr Who.
But, in other news, it was also forward to the past, with police beating up students outside the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. It was like 1968-1972 all over again.
When students stormed Parliament’s grounds on Wednesday afternoon, SHAUN SWINGLER was there to document the police’s brutal response.
For those old enough to remember 1989, when Back to the Future Part II was made, it was the annus mirabilis, the wonderful year in which freedom was breaking out all over, and repressive regimes all over the world were falling, including here in South Africa. It was the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall and PW Botha.
And for those even older, 1968 was a rehearsal year for 1989.
It was the year of student power, flower power, and the Prague Spring. Flower Power probably saw its greatest victory five years later in the Carnation Revolution, which overthrew the Portuguese dictator Marcelo Caetano.
Student power touched South Africa too, and there were student demonstrations in universities here. After the early 1960s South African students seemed to have become rather timid, but in 1968, perhaps encouraged by the world-wide student protests, things began to liven up again, especially in the period 1968-1972. In June 1972 there were protests in Cape Town outside Parliament. The NP government banned protests in the grounds of parliament itself and in public places, so students gathered on the steps of St George’s Anglican Cathedral, which was private property belonging to the church, though visible to passers-by in the street. The police rioted, chased the students into the cathedral and beat them up. Back to the future.
In 1994 we had our first democratic elections, and we had a new government, which promised to redress the injustices of the past, and to transform society, including education.
One of those promises, relating to education, is displayed on this old election poster.
I suggest that students protesting against the increases in study fees should wear T-shirts with reproductions of this poster, to remind the politicians of their promises.
And the politicians should also rein in the aptly-named riot police. They rioted in Marikana, and now they are rioting in Cape Town, at parliament where the politicians can see them in action.
Forward to the past, to Sharpeville.
Where is the “transformation”?
According to news reports, students at South African universities have been protesting against proposed fee increases. Tuition fee protests shut down 2 of SA’s biggest universities:
South Africa’s biggest universities have been affected by student protests over rising tuition fees that have spread from Wits to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Rhodes University.
A handful of protesters gathered at UCT in protest against a proposed increase in tuition on Monday 19 October 2015. Picture: Lauren Isaacs/EWN.
Lectures at Wits and Rhodes have since been suspended.
Students at Rhodes University have this morning blocked all entrances to the university.
The students have my sympathy.
When I was studying for a BA at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, I worked for two years as a bus conductor in Johannesburg to save up enough money to pay the fees. But it wasn’t eno0ugh for a three-year degree course. I worked in the Christmas (summer) vacations as well, but it still wasn’t enough. My mother helped me, and paid about half of it.
About 10 years later I became interested in family history, and, having done two years of history for my BA degree, I registered for a third year with the University of South Africa, (Unisa) and so converted History into a full major subject. That qualified me to register for an Honours course witjh Unisa, which being a distance-education university, was cheaper than the residential ones. The History Honours course consisted of five papers, and I got through the first two OK, but in order to complete the last three, I had to do them all in one year. And in that year the fees were increased, putting the three Honours papers out of reach, since I had neither the time nor the money to complete them.
But Unisa also offered a Bachelor of Theology (BTh) degree, and at that time, instead of being divided into 10 courses, it was divided into 30 modules, which were much cheaper than full year courses and honours papers. So I took some modules there, since they were affordable, and ended up with a second Bachelor’s degree.
Then I went to work for Unisa, and, with the help of a staff discount, I was able to go back and finish the BA Honours in History, and then do a Masters and Doctorate in Theology.
The point of this story is that most of this would not have been possible without the staff discount. I had to give up the History Honours degree until I got a staff discount, and would never even have considered the Masters and Doctoral studies without it. And that was at a “cheap” distance-education university.
So when I see students today protesting against proposed fee increases, I understand where they are coming from.
In line with the privatisation mania that has swept the world for the last 30 years, government subsidies for tertiary education have tended to remain static, or even decrease, and universities have tended to run on a business rather than an academic model.
But when Singapore became independent, it realised that the only asset it had was its people. As a small island nation, it had no minerals or agricultural products worth speaking of. So it invested in the education of its people, to develop a knowledgeable and skilled population, and South Africa needs to do the same. Yes, we have more minerals and agricultural produce that we can export (so why are we now importing poultry?) but it would be better to have skilled people so we can export them as finished products rather than raw materials. The government really should review its policy for subsidising tertiary education, and make it more affordable for students. There might, of course, be less available for bribes and kickbacks, but why make students subsidise those?
The centenary of the First World War seems to be inspiring quite a number of novels about that conflict and the effects it had on people. In this case it is three upper-middle class families living in Eltham, near London, whose children were quite close friends in childhood.
Since no one now living and writing really has much memory of that period, most of the recent crop must be classed as historical novels, and the authors are imagining what it must have been like. When I was at school, about 60 years ago, I read a similar novel, I think the title was The flowers of the forest — I can’t remember the author’s name. The abiding impression it made on me was the number of young women whose boyfriends and husbands were killed, though many of them succumbed to the influenza epidemic that followed the war.
This book has the same theme, and shows how families coped with such losses, or failed to do so. What I liked about this one was the characters and their interactions, sometimes witty, sometimes cruel. They are all different, and respond in different ways to what happens to them.
The edition I read was a proof edition, and so it still had some rough edges, and they may have been corrected in the final published version. There were anachronisms of language — people being “devastated” and “bonkers” about their losses, for example. Perhaps a proofreader caught those. And the RFC pilot who as a child ran around roaring like an aeroplane in 1902, when the first powered flight was only in the following year. There were also some inconsistencies in the ages of the characters, which, again, I hope were picked up by the proofreaders.
Some things were very true to the period — the way many people visited spiritualist mediums, for example. The one in the book is a minor character, but nevertheless an interesting one.
A good read … I wasn’t sure whether to give it 3 or 4 stars, but in the end gave it three. .
This morning a friend asked on Facebook what I thought of this article, and I will try to reply here. BREAKING NEWS – PUTIN EXPOSES OBAMA’S PAID ISIS MERCENARIES IN MIDDLE EAST AND SYRIA! | THE MARSHALL REPORT:
(Putin speaking): First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.
But I can’t reply to this in isolation. It is part of a whole string of media reports and media reporting that goes back two years or more.
Concerning the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, we are bombarded by increasingly shrill and decreasingly credible media propaganda from all sides that I’ve simply stopped paying attention to most of it. If there is any truth wrapped up in the all-too-obvious lies, I have no means of sifting and discerning it.
I have tended to interpret all in the light of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, as expounded in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. I’ve already written about that here, so I won’t repeat much of it now, except to say that things are now much worse.
I have tended to attibute the growing American Russophobia, which strikes me as loony and entirely irrational, to Putin’s blocking of Obama’ s plans to bomb Syria. But now the Russian air force is bombing Syria.
Two years ago, I regarded Russia Today as a more reliable news source than most of the Western media, especially on events in the Middle East. Now it is blatantly filled with anti-American propaganda, so I don’t watch it any more. It’s clearly playing tit-for-tat to the Russophobic line of the BBC, Sky News, CNN, and Fox news. As a result the truth suffers.
Can Al Jazeera be trusted? When reporting on other parts of the world, perhaps. But Syria? I’m not so sure. Al Jazeera’s base is Sunni, the Syrian government tends to be Shia. There could be some bias there that would be difficult for non-Muslims to discern.
Also, since I’m inclined to be pacifist, I find the increasing belligerence of warmongering politicians distressing. Obama promised “change you can believe in” but he is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as his predecessor George Bush and the only difference is that he is more articulate about it. David Cameron is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as Tony Blair, but I didn’t expect him to be any better. I did, at one time, and probably foolishly, hope that Obama would be better than Bush and Clinton. But it’s always naive to believe in politicians’ promises, and Obama proved to be no exception.
If the Labour Party, under Jermy Corbyn’s leadership, manages to win the next UK general election, will it be any better? Will this, at last, be “change you can believe in”?
Not if the British media have anything to do with it. They have slammed him left, right and center, dismissed him as insane because he has qualms of conscience about annihilating millians of people in a nuclear holocaust.
And my mind goes back more than 50 years to Jeremy Taylor, a Johannesburg school teacher who sang this song:
Well one fine day
I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street.
“Good day,” I’ll say
“I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
“But I lack, you see
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest
to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone.
If I’ve gotta die
then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?
Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
three cheers for the future years when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.
I would fight quite willingly
In the forces of Her Majesty
but not at the price of sacrificing
all of humanity.
That expressed my sentiments when I was 21, and still does, now that I’m 74.
And, since the politicians of the world seem to be determined to restart the Cold War, and threaten to make it hot, another Cold War hymn seems appropriate.
The day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.
The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.