Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “Africa”

Being out of touch with pop culture

I woke up this morning and discovered what South Africans have been tweeting about overnight:

 

As Tom Lehrer says, this, I know from nothing.

I don’t recognise any of them. I ask my wife, who’s the football fan in the family, if any of them are well-known soccer players, but she hasn’t heard of most of them either,. Perhaps they are soap opera characters, and we don’t watch the soaps on TV. We occasionally watch quiz shows, and most of what we know about soaps comes from questions asked on quiz shows.

Still, it’s interesting to see what South Africans are obsessing about less than a month before a general election. Is this the freedom we fought for?

I’m still trying to work out who to vote for, but some of the parties seem very shy and to have a minimal social media presence. Does anyone know anything really bad about the African People’s Convention (APC) and their list of candidates? Their only MP, Themba Godi, seems to have done a reasonably good job of chairing parliamentary committees, and that’s about all we know.

But none of the parties or candidates seem to be trending on Twitter this morning.

 

 

Election 2019: who can one vote for? Part 2

In an earlier post I listed some of the main political parties in South Africa, and my reservations about voting for them.

One of the things that stands out for me in this year’s general election is that so many people I know, even those with fairly strong political convictions, don’t know which party to vote for.

Now I’m trying to make a list of the parties I’m thinking I might vote for. I’ll be watching to see what they do, and hope that if anyone knows of any dodgy dealings by people on their lists they’ll let me know.

African People’s Convention (APC)

The African People’s Convention is a breakaway from the PAC, it has had one member of parliament in 2009 and 2014, Themba Godi. He is the only opposition MP to have chaired a parliamentary committee, and to all accounts has done it quite well.

PRO: It is a parliamentary party and therefore not likely to be a wasted vote for a pip-squeak party. I know nothing bad about its only MP. It seems to have broad political principles rather than a narrowly-defined ideology like the SRWP below.

CON: Don’t know enough about them and their policies, though if there are policies I strongly disagree with, they are unlikely to be in a position to implement them after this election.

The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party

It has only just been formed, but it has been one of the few groups to explicitly counter the Thatcherism of the ANC, whose policies of privatisation and semi-privatisation have led to the plundering of public resources by monopoly capitalism (white AND Indian, if you want to get all racist about it). In representing the urban workers it is similar to the MDC in Zimbabwe.

PRO: It might oppose the Zuptas’ “Radical Economic Transformation” of South Africa into a kleptocracy.

CON: It seems, to all accounts, to be wedded to a rigid Marxist ideological framework, which can lead to internal squabbles about political correctness. Also, it seems to be linked primarily to one trade union, so its claim to be able to unite the working class seems a little hollow.

Liberal Party of South Africa (New)

Not to be confused with the old Liberal Party, which disbanded in 1968. This one was formed in 2017, and like the SRWP was a reaction to the corruption of the Zupta-dominated ANC.

PRO: They affirm liberal values, and are very aware of corruption and the danger it poses to the country.

CON: I was at the official party launch in 2017, and was not sure whether the main thrust of the party would be nonracial liberalism or coloured nationalism. Both seemed to be almost equally prominent. Also, I’m not sure if it’s even registered for the 2019 elections.

Anybody else?

Any other parties worth considering?

I’m not interested in hearing about the main parties listed in my earlier post here — please comment there if you have a good counter for my reservations about them.

At the moment I’m most inclined to vote for the APC, but that could change at any time between now and 8 May.

 

Election 2019: Who can one vote for?

Some time later this year there is to be a general election in South Africa. With our proportional representation system we have a large variety of parties to choose from — some say over 200 — which will make the ballot paper look more like a book — yet it has never been more difficult to choose. As one friend wrote on Facebook this morning:

Being a person with quite clear opinions, I never thought I could be classified as an undecided voter. But that’s where I am as elections loom.

And most of the comments on that took a similar line.

I see no point in voting for a small party that is unlikely to get at least 0.25% of the vote — that’s what is needed to get one member of parliament. Anything less than that and the party will not be represented in parliament at all. So it has to be one of the bigger parties. In some previous elections I’ve chosen by a process of elimination — which of the bigger parties is least objectionable.

Here are my thoughts this time around.

The ANC

Quite a lot of people have been saying that since Cyril Ramaphosa has replaced Jacob Zuma  as president of the ANC the Zuptas are in decline, but a poor showing in the election  will make Ramaphosa look bad and strengthen the hand of the Zuptas, therefore one should vote for the ANC to strengthen Ramaphosa’s hand. and enable him to deal with the Zuptas.

My inclination is to wait and see who is on the party list. A lot of prominent politicians have been fingered by the Zondo and other commissions as having been involved in corruption on a massive scale, and stealing public funds. If any of those people are on the ANC party list, I’m not voting for the ANC. It’s no use playing the “innocent until proved guilty” card — I’m not voting on their guilt or innocence, I’m voting for who I want to represent me in parliament, and I don’t want those people to do so. So that’s a relatively simple criterion.

The DA

I haven’t even considered voting for the DA since Tony Leon’s “Gatvol” and “Fight back” campaign of 1999. Admittedly that was the Democratic Party, which later united with the rump of the right of the National Party to form the Democratic Alliance (the left of the National Party joined the ANC).

In 2003 we had a municipal by-election, in which the choice was between the right, the far right, the super right, the hyper right and the ultra right. I considered not voting, then thought that Willie “stem reg, bly weg” Marais of the HNP would take a non-vote as a vote for him, so I went along and parked up the road from the polling station. As I got out of the car my right arm was grabbed by a burly gentleman from the Conservative Party and my left arm by an equally burly gentleman from the DA, each of whom was assuring me that his party was the only one that could “Stop the ANC”. I wanted to ask “Stop the ANC from doing what?” but I feared that if I did so I would be there all afternoon, and i just wanted to vote and go home. There was in any case no ANC candidate in our ward. None of the parties or candidates said anything about their vision for the City of Tshwane. The only thing they claimed was that they would be better than any of the others at “Stopping the ANC”. I want in and voted for the only independent on the ballot paper. I didn’t know what he stood for either, but at least he wasn’t a party hack.

As far as I can see the DA just wants to stop the ANC. If the ANC does something bad, they’ll try to stop it (but the EFF was more effective at that). And if the ANC does something good, they’ll try to stop that too. Their policy is simply to “Stop the ANC.” It’s entirely negative., at least in the public image they try to cultivate.

And then there is this: Herman Mashaba, the DA Mayor of Johannesburg, writes in An open letter of apology to all South Africans | News24:

We had witnessed how an oppressive government had been defeated by the people of our country. It was a magical moment.

With this belief, I voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999.

For this, I offer my most profound apology.

Well I too voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999, and I see no reason at all to apologise for doing so. I believed then, and I still believe now, that it was the best party to vote for at that time. It wasn’t perfect by any means, and I had plenty of complaints about it (the arms deal, abandonment of the RDP and more). But voting for it then did not turn it into what it became after December 2007. To Herman Mashaba I say Bah! Humbug.

The EFF

The Economic Freedom Fighters, like the DA, are largely negative. You know what they are against, but when you ask what they are for, the story is tailored to what they think the particular audience wants to hear. They gained quite a lot of support when Zuma was president, and I think their vociferous opposition was more effective than the DA’s whinging. They exposed a lot of corruption among the Zuptas, but the VBS bank affair has left them with mud on their faces. Zuma’s recall took the wind out of their sails, and since then they have been flip-flopping trying to catch the slightest breeze.

COPE

I never considered voting for the Congress of the People Party before, because of their in-fighting leadership struggles, which made them seem to be more about personalities than policies. But that seemed to settle down and I was seriously considering voting for them until they recently allied themselves with a militantly racist organisation called Afriforum, and a militantly anti-Christian organsation called Dignity, whose leader spouts hate speech against Christians at every opportunity. Thanks, but no thanks.

The UDM

I have long had two reservations about the United Democratic Movement led by Bantu Holomisa. One is that he once led a coup, and the second is that he seems to enjoy being sycophantically addressed by journalists as “General”.

To these an additional reason has recently been added: when the UDM conspired with other parties including the EFF to remove the DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Municipality in order to replace him with one who appears to be just as corrupt as any of the Zuptas.

The IFP

The Inkatha Freedom Party resisted the first democratic elections in 1994 for several months, and as a result more than 700 people died. Enough said.

The ACDP

The African Christian Democratic Party claims to uphold Christian principles, but I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, they favour capital punishment, though on the credit side they are opposed to abortion on demand. Being “pro-life”, I am opposed to both.

Whenever I have, in the past, considered voting for the ACDP, my mind has been decisively been made up by receiving a bundle of far-right wing propaganda pamphlets sent in the name of the ACDP by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish a right-wing “Christian” paper called Encounter, which was funded through the old Department of Information of scandal fame — one of the few instances of government corruption exposed in those pre-democracy days of media censorship. Encounter published articles from people with enormous differences in theology. The only thing they had in common was a right-wing political stance.

A friend of mine who supported the ACDP assured me that Ed Cain was a loose cannon and did not represent the party, but the fact remains that the party did not officially repudiate Ed Cain and the publications he sent out in its name. That made me suspect that a lot of the party’s support came from the right-wing followers of Ed Cain, and they could not afford to alienate them, just as Cyril Ramaphosa cannot afford to alienate the Zuptas in the ANC.

Agang

Well, I have to admit that I voted for Agang for parliament in the 2014 election, mainly because I thought Mamphela Ramphekle had things to say that the country needed to hear, and that even as a minority she could have an influence in parliamentary committees etc.

What happened? There seems to have been an internal party coup in which Mamphela Ramphele was ousted, and Agang is represented in parliament by a couple of jobsworths who are just waiting for their parliamentary pensions, because I doubt that anyone will ever vote for them again.

Oh, and also in the 2014 elections I voted for the EFF for the provincial council, because I thought they might be more effective in opposing things like toll roads in general and e-tolls in particular — another reason why I won’t vote for the ANC in Gauteng province, even if, in the event of their leaving all the Zuptas off their list, I might consider voting for them for parliament.

Oh, and there’s also the Freedom Front Plus. They are at leas more honest about their right-wingness than the ACDP.

Where next?

So here I am, the proverbial floating voter.

Are the pubs still closed on election day? Perhaps I’ll vote for the first candidate who offers to buy me a drink.

I’ve heard rumours of a “Revolutionary Workers Party”, but they are either keeping a very low profile, or the media are pretending they don’t exist, preferring to give publicity to clowns like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who, having destroyed the SABC now wants to destroy the country as well with his local content party. The Revolutionary Workers Party sounds a bit like the MDC in Zimbabwe, but if they keep such a low profile no one will be able to find their name in the ballot book.

Are there any more promising candidates among the 200 or so others?

 

 

 

Vanishing dishwasher tablets

Does anyone know of any supermarket in the Great City of Tshwane that sells these Bingo dishwashing tablets? Preferably one within 8 km of Kilner Park by road.

We used to get them at our local Shoprite/Checkers in Queenswood (it keeps changing the name back and forth), but then it closed for about 18 months while they were renovating the buildings. During that time we still could get them at the East Lynne branch.

Now the renovations are complete, and the Queenswood branch has reopened, but it no longer stocks these. They only have a rival brand that costs twice as much.

We tried shopping at the Silverton branch (where most of the Queenswood staff were transferred during the renovations) — see In a Relationship. But they don’t have them there either.

So if anyone knows of a place within a reasonable range of where we live that stocks these, we’d like to know, and will probably do a lot of our grocery shopping there too.

 

Interrogating silence

I’ve been reading an interesting article by André Brink, on Interrogating Silence, which was in a book I found in the library.

No this isn’t a review of the book, which got poor reviews on GoodReads, and I haven’t finished reading it yet. This is rather some thoughts sparked off by reading a couple of the articles, and memories of old friends, and the kinds of silences that are imposed on us by changing circumstances.

Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995 by Derek Attridge

I took this book out of the library mainly because it had an article by an old friend, Graham Pechey, who died in Cambridge, UK, in February 2016. I had known Graham Pechey when I was a student in the 1960s, and it was he who introduced me to Bob Dylan. He lived in a flat next door to another friend, John Aitchison, and had borrowed the Dylan records from yet another student, Jeff Guy, who later became a historian.

On one memorable evening, on 11 November 1965, after Ian Smith had unilaterally declared the independence  of Rhodesia, and Bram Fischer had just been rearrested after several months on the run, and I had received an official warning from the magistrate in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act, John Aitchison (who was banned) and I sat with Graham Pechey in his flat, and drank toasts to Bram Fischer, Harold Wilson, and Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve described the occasion more fully in another blog post here.

At that time Graham Pechey was an atheist and a bit of a Marxist, but he later explained his sympathy for monarchy, which I am inclined to agree with, on Facebook on the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

‘The rise of Hitler, Franco and Stalin showed that there are worse institutions than a Monarchy–that a people deprived of a Royal Family can turn to far more dangerous gods. As one Socialist said before the war: “If you throw the Crown into the gutter, you may be sure that somebody will pick it up”‘. Wise words from the Observer, June 1953, reprinted in today’s issue.

Graham Pechey, 1965

Graham Pechey later married my philosophy lecturer, Nola Clendinning, who took to paining ikons, and in Cambridge, I am told, he was a pillar of the local Anglican Church. I would love to have been able to meet with him and chat about these things over a beer, but the last time I saw him was in 1971, and though we  were later reconnected on Facebook, it’s not the best medium for that kind of conversation. So now all I can do is interrogate the silence.

Though I do have the article in the book: The post-apartheid sublime:rediscovering the extraordinary.

The first article in the book, however, is by André Brink, on Interrogating silence.

In it he writes:

The experience of apartheid has demonstrated that different kinds or levels of silence exist. There is the general silence of which I have spoken above and which exists in a dynamic relation with language/literature; but there are also more specific silences imposed by certain historical conjunctions. If any word involves a grappling with silence, the word uttered in the kind of repressive context exemplified by apartheid evokes an awareness of particular territories forbidden to language. Just as surely as certain sexual relationships were proscribed by apartheid, certain experiences or areas of knowledge were out of bounds to probing in words. These were often immediate and definable: certain actions of the police or the military; certain statements or writing by ‘banned’ persons; the activities of the ANC or other organizations of liberation.

That recalled John Aitchison, who was banned from 1965-1970, and after a year of freedom, again from 1971-76. During those periods he was not allowed to publish anything, nor was any publication allowed to quote him. As described in the article mentioned earlier, in 1966 I went overseas to study in Durham, UK and was away for two and a half years. During that time John Aitchison and I were in frequent correspondence, writing, on average, about once a fortnight. In our correspondence we were constrained by the suspicion (which later proved completely correct) that our letters to each other were being read by the Special Branch (SB) in South Africa, so there was a kind of imposed silence there. The SB reports to the Department of Justice frequently referred to “a sensitive source” (‘n delikate bron) for information that could only have come from letters we wrote to each other when I was overseas.

John Aitchison, 1965

At one point John wrote to me expressing the fear that it would become even more repressive. There was a proposal to extend the restrictions in banning orders so that In addition to not being allowed to publish anything, a banned person would not be allowed to write, compose, compile or distribute any document, photograph etc which was not a publication within the meaning of the act, if it contained any political reference at all. That would have been yet another level of silence. Even private letters not intended for publication would have to be bland and non-political.

I returned to South Africa. We shared many ideas and talked about them and bounced ideas off each other. We published a small magazine called Ikon which shared some of these ideas, about human and inhuman settlements, about theological trends and various other things. John was still banned, so his name did not appear as an editor. Articles we wrote jointly bore only my name. By that time John had married my cousin Jenny Growdon, who was an art teacher and did much of the artwork. But silence was still imposed.

Ikon was originally published under the auspices of the Christian Institute, an ecumenical group that was itself founded to counter some of the silence imposed by apartheid, particularly on members of the Dutch Reformed Churches. But Ikon proved too radical even for the Christian Institute, which was seen by the apartheid government as dangerously radical, and was eventually itself silenced by being banned; both the organisation itself and its leaders were banned in 1977. But it was the Christian Institute itself that attempted to silence Ikon, so we had to publish it independently. Nine months later I was in Windhoek, sitting in the boss’s office in the Department of Water Affairs. After working there for a month as a waterworks attendant, I was told that I was sacked; no notice, leave immediately. I could see a press cutting on top of the file folder open on his desk,. As it was upside down I could only read the headline: CI keer wilde jeugblad (Christian Institute rejects radical youth magazine). O! the ideological perils of being a waterworks attendant!

John’s ban expired in 1970 and communication was freer, but he was banned again  within a year. I was deported from Namibia in March 1972 and stayed with John and Jenny Aitchison in Pietermaritzburg. We had embarked on a new project, the promotion of Theological Education by Extension (TEE) in the Anglican Church. John wrote a 20-page executive summary of a 600-page book called Theological Education by Extension edited by Ralph D. Winter. I duplicated it on a stencil duplicator on green paper and we sent it to all the Anglican bishops in Southern Africa, and all those responsible for theological education in the Anglican Church.

Then I travelled the country (at my own expense) trying to sell the idea to the those we had sent the document to. Many of them were suspicious because the “Green Thing”, as we called the document, was anonymous. It was anonymous because if the SB discovered that John was responsible for it, he could go to jail for five years. In 1972 a lot of Anglican bishops were still rather politically naive, and were not really aware that South Africa was a police state. The following year the government expropriated the Federal Seminary, run jointly by the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, showing that they did indeed regard theological education as an ideological threat.

My career as unpaid promoter of TEE ended abruptly in July 1972 when I was banned. I was living in the same house as John Aitchison, but was henceforth not allowed to communicate with him in any way at all. More silence. The Minister of Justice dealt with that by banning me to Durban, even though I had nowhere to live there, and was dependent on the generosity of clergy (Anglican and Congregationalist) who took me in.

Steve Hayes and John Aitchison, 13 July 1972, about to part for 4 years, both banned and prohibited from communicating with each other in any way. If the SB had seen this photo and known when it was taken it could have meant 5 years jail for both.

But in a sense, that enforced silence was never lifted. It seemed to have a permanent effect. Even after our bans were both lifted in 1976, our friendship was never again as close. Instead of communicating once every couple of months, or once every couple of weeks, it’s now once every couple of years. Did the double ban make the effect permanent. Apartheid is dead, but perhaps in ways like this its ghost still haunts us. How does one interrogate that silence?

After the end of apartheid I wrote a couple of novels set in the apartheid years. One was a children’s story, Of wheels and witches, set in 1964. You can read more about it here. The other was for adults, set 25 years later, but having some of the same characters. It is The Year of the Dragon.

In these books there is a release from some of the immediate and definable constraints of apartheid that André Brink speaks of, the things that were out of bounds to probing in words, namely certain actions of the police and military.

For such things, the silence has been lifted — or has it?

In the last week of 2018 review copies of the book were available free, and I wondered if anyone would like to talk about these things. Eighty review copies were taken, but so far there have been only two reviews. One you can see on GoodReads here.

John Davies, sometime Anglican chaplain at Wits university, now retired in the UK.

The other review, by Bishop John Davies, has not hitherto appeared on the web, but I did send it, along with the invitation to take review copies of the book, to members of three book discussion groups I’m a member of. One group meets face to face once a month, the other two meet on line.

In all three forums The Year of the Dragon has been met by a resounding silence. Apartheid has ended, and so cannot be blamed for this silence. No one has said they have liked the book or disliked it. No one has said anything at all. It seems as though everyone is avoiding the subject.

How does one interrogate this silence?

In an attempt to get a wider readership than just people I talk to anyway, I promoted the book on Twitter, among other things by using the hashtag #iartg. That is the Independent Authors Re-Tweet Group. It provided an interesting assortment of books on my Twitter feed, quite a large proportion of which had covers featuring male human torsos. Perhaps they’re more attractive than dragons’ torsos.

I’ve invited people to ask questions about the book on GoodReads. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Lutho. Silence.

Can you interrogate this silence?

There is something else about the Writing South Africa book.

As I said, I haven’t read all the essays in it, only the introduction and a couple of the other articles. And it did get bad reviews. But it was about the period before 1995, and so was looking forward to a kind of postcolonial literary future, that would not be dominated by struggle literature. It is interesting to read it 20 years on, and compare hopes and expectations of 1995 with the reality.

After the Zuma years that sanguine outlook seems a little naive and unreal. Most of us are a lot more cynical and pessimistic than we were back in 1995. Is there any hope? Is there any reason for hope?

One lesson some of us may have learned is from a Psalm that is sung at almost every Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church:

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth, on that very day his plans perish.

And as for hope after the Zuma years, perhaps this:

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed (Joel 2:25-26).

 

The Great (and dirty) City of Tshwane

This morning as we were driving to church we saw a bakkie dumping rubbish at the side of the R104 near the entrance to Saulsville. If we hadn’t been late we might have slowed down and taken a photo of it, but it is becoming all too common.

On the way home I did take several photos.

R104, entrance to Atteridgeville West.

All over the city there is rubbish dumped like this. Not just in Atteridgeville, but near the Botanic Gardens in the east, and in various other places, and it has been getting worse and worse. The place in Atteridgeville is noticeable because we drive past it once a fortnight, and see each time how more and more of the verges are covered with rubbish. Littering has become part of our lifestyle.

Political parties love to blame other parties for maladministration, but it was bad when the ANC confrolled the city council, and it is worse now that the DA controls the city council. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the municipal administration will remain just as putrid as the rubbish littering the streets.

Thirty years ago I visited Singapore, which was then reputed to be the cleanest city in the world. And the reason was not far to seek — as you walked down the street, you would see lots of signs informing you that the fine for littering was $750. And that law was strictly enforced.

The City of Tshwane could deal with this in similar fashion.

Increase the fine for littering to R5000 or so, put up signs, and employ the Metro Police see that the law is enforced.

As one sports shoe manufacturer likes to tell us, Just do it.

 

A deadly trade (whodunit set in Botswana)

A Deadly Trade (Detective Kubu, #2)A Deadly Trade by Michael Stanley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read one book featuring detective David “Kubu” Bengu and enjoyed it, when we found another in the local library we grabbed it, and found it just as enjoyable. It’s set in Botswana, which, though I have only visited it a few times, is sufficiently close to home to feel “local” and almost familiar territory — at least I can picture the landscapes in most of the places described.

In this one two guests at a remote tourist camp in northern Botswana are murdered, while a third has disappeared, and naturally becomes the prime suspect. Then two others who were present in the camp on the fatal night are also murdered, but while staying at different camps in different parts of Botswana.

The characters, plots and settings feel authentic in the “this could have happened” sense, which is what one looks for in a whodunit. The only thing that seemed as though it didn’t fit was the names of the characters. In a novel dealing with international crime and plots and murders of tourists, and ex-Zimbabweans living in Botswana one expects to have foreign names, but when characters said to belong to old Batswana families have Zulu names, some kind of explanation seems to be called for, but is not forthcoming.

The authors (for Michael Stanley is a composite) leave enough clues scattered around the text to challenge the reader to solve the mystery.

View all my reviews

South African Camelot

Today at our Neoinklings literary coffee klatsch we started off by discussing some of the problems of the country. Every day there is news of more political scandals and more corruption. The rich robbing the poor on a grand scale in the VBS bank scandal. Racism is making a comeback on a grand scale too, especially after being deliberately and assiduously promoted by the British PR firm Bell Pottinger.

There’s the story of land reform. One day our President is going around handing out title deeds to people and telling them how important and valuable they are, and the next day he is saying how expropriating land without compensation will solve all our problems, thus rendering the title deeds worthless. And expropriating land without compensation will make it much easier for the government to hand it over to foreign mining companies in places like Xolobeni.

And at this point David Levey asked why we weren’t talking about books, and I thought that it was actually a good lead in to a book I have just been reading, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green.

Roger Lancelyn Green was a member of the original Inklings literary discussion group, many of whom were very interested in the mythos of King Arthur. They incorporated elements of the Arthurian legends into their own writing. There are echoes of it in C.S. Lewis’s novels, especially in That Hideous Strength. Charles Williams retold many of the stories in his poetry. Much of their work on this topic was collected here: Taliessin through Logres, The Region of the Summer Stars, and Arthurian Torso.

Roger Lancelyn Green retells many of the stories in prose, for children. They have been retold many times, by many authors, in both prose and poetry. Since they are told for children there is no critical apparatus: no footnotes or cross-reference or explanations. Such explanations as are needed are incorporated into the text. But Green tells the stories in such a way as to bring out more clearly the Inklings’ take on them. One of the things that many of the Inklings emphasised was the distinction between Britain and Logres.

King Arthur’s adventures did not end when he had defeated the Saxons and brought peace to Britain: for though he had set up the realm of Logres — the land of true good and piety, nobleness and right living — the evil was always breaking in to attack the good. It would need many books to tell the story of every adventure that befell during his reign — that brief period of light set like a star of Heaven in the midst of the Dark Ages…

And that is where I see a parallel with South Africa. In the mid-1990s we experienced a brief period of light set like a star of Heaven in the midst of the Dark Ages. Apartheid, like the Saxons, had been driven out. “And the Saxons throughout the whole of Britain, and in Scotland also, fled away in their ships, or else swore to be King Arthur’s loyal subjects.”

In this way peace came to the whole island for a great many years: though still there were robbers and outlaws, cruel knights and evil magicians dwelling in the depths of forests and deep among the mountains, ever ready to break the peace and stain the realm of Logres in one wicked way or another.

The evil that threatened Logres was not merely external. It came from within. The Realm of Logres was set in the land of Britain, and Britain kept breaking through and threatening Logres. And so we read of the magic of Nimue and Morgana le Fay, how Nimue buries Merlin, and Morgana le Fay provokes fights between friends. The whole story is a kind of analogy of South Africa, where in 1994 we had a brief glimpse of our Logres, but even during the glimpses it was tainted with evil. How Jacob Zuma, who was once a loyal knight of the Round Table, became a usurper, and allowed evil to flourish. Could Winnie Mandela be cast in the role of Morgana le Fay, or perhaps the cap would fit Victoria Geoghegan better.

It’s not, of course, an allegory of South Africa, but there are many symbolic analogies, and one could probably find similar analogies to life in other countries as well. Maybe this is why the stories of King Arthur are told and retold, because they have an almost universal appeal and applicability.

Another version I have also been re-reading is The Quest of the Holy Grail. It concentrates on only one aspect of the mythos, the quest of the Grail. It’s also full of medieval moralising. Perhaps that’s why I prefer Green’s version — his modern moralising is more to my taste. But maybe I ought to heed the medieval moralising as well. The modern one deals with sins I am more aware of in others, the medieval one makes me feel uncomfortable because it reminds me of sins that I am more aware of in myself.

Death of the Mantis, a whodunit set in southern Africa

Death of the MantisDeath of the Mantis by Michael Stanley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A whodunit set locally in Southern Africa.

Detective Inspector David “Kubu” Bengu of the Botswana CID is asked to help with the investigation into the murder of a game ranger in the remote south-western part of the country. When a Namibian geologist discovers the corpse of another Namibian visitor Detective Kubu suspects that the murders are linked, and goes to Windhoek to follow up. There are tales of an old treasure map, purported to show the inland source of the alluvial diamonds on Namibia’s coast. After checking other earlier mysterious deaths that had originally been thought to be accidental it seems that the Botswana police are looking for a serial killer who must be caught before he kills again.

I found it an enthralling story, perhaps because of the “local” angle. Most of the crime novels we get to read here are set far away on other continents. This one is relatively close, being set in neighbouring countries which we have visited.

Kang in Botswana, through which Inspector Kubu travels on his way to Windhoek, is 773 km from our house. For a whodunit fan in London reading about the exploits of Swedish detective Kurt Wallander by Henning Mankell, Ystad, where Inspector Wallander is based is 1343 km from London. I did read a South African whodunit a few years ago, What Hidden Lies (see my review here). But that was set in Cape Town, more than twice as far away as Kang in Botswana, and also further away than Ystad is from London.

The detective stories from Botswana that are likely to be most familiar to readers outside that country are the series that begin with The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Be warned that this is nothing like that. These are not private investigators looking for lost pets and errant husbands. These are cops trying to catch a serial killer. I suppose one thing they do have in common, however, are that the scenes are well set, and the characters are well described.

As with some of the Inspector Wallander books, one of the factors in the killings is a cultural clash, in this case between Batswana cops and Bushmen. The first body is discovered by Bushmen, and they immediately become suspects. The only question I have about the authenticity of the setting is why so many of the character seem to have Zulu names. It’s not impossible, of course, but it does seem a bit disproportionate.

You can get an idea of what the countryside in the story looks like from our journey through the same country a few years ago — from Kang to Windhoek..

Anyway, I recommend it to whodunit fans in southern Africa, and perhaps those further afield might enjoy it too.

View all my reviews

The Mandela effect

As a South African, I thought I knew what the Mandela Effect, also known as the Madiba factor, was.

It originated on the day Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president on 10 May 1994. Having stood in the crowd at the Union Buildings and waved our flags, we returned home and sat down in front of the TV and watched an international football match — South Africa versus Zambia. And we won.

Nel;son Mandela had gone from the Union Buildings to the FNB Stadium by helicopter, and was watching the match in person.

The next year, 1995, South Africa won the Rugby World Cup, and Nelson Mandela’s role in that was documented and made known to world through the film Invictus.

In 1996 we made the trek to the FNB Stadium, and saw South Africa play Tunisia in the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Nelson Mandela was there, and South Africa won. The Mandela Effect was well established, especially when people noticed that when he wasn’t there, the South African team usually lost.

Nelson Mandela
By Arquivo/ABr – Agência Brasil [1], CC BY 3.0 br, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2440492

More recently I began frequenting the Quora web site, where people ask questions and others answer. I found I could answer a few questions, and answered a couple about Nelson Mandela. Then I began seeing lots of questions about the Mandela Effect, but they were quite incomprehensible, as were the answers.

I asked about it on Quora, and got largely incomprehensible answers. One said it had something to do with lots of people forgetting or remembering things, but with no explanation of how Mandela came in to it. I wondered if it had anything to do with the film Invictus, as it seemed to be something spoken about mainly by people outside South Africa.

So can anyone explain to me how there came to be two Mandela factors, with completely different meanings, one known to people within South Africa, and one, apparently, known mainly to people outside? And what does it have to do with Madiba?

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