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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Sue Nyathi’s The Golddiggers

It’s 2008 and the height of Zimbabwe’s economic demise. A group of passengers is huddled in a Toyota Quantum about to embark on a treacherous expedition to the City of Gold.

Amongst them is Gugulethu, who is hoping to be reconciled with her mother; Dumisani, an ambitious young man who believes he will strike it rich, Chamunorwa and Chenai, twins running from their troubled past; and Portia and Nkosi, a mother and son desperate to be reunited with a husband and father they see once a year.

They have paid a high price for the dangerous passage to what they believe is a better life; an escape from the vicious vagaries of their present life in Bulawayo.

In their minds, the streets of Johannesburg are paved with gold but they will have to dig deep to get close to any gold, dirtying themselves in the process.

Told with brave honesty and bold description, the stories of the individual immigrants are simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming.
SUE NYATHI was born and raised in Bulawayo and resides in Johannesburg. An investment analyst by day and a storyteller to her son at night, she writes to escape the reality of financial markets and economic shop talk. She made her screenwriting debut on the award-winning series Matatiele. Her first novel, The Polygamist, was published in 2012 and readers can look forward to its film adaptation in 2019.

Chapter Nineteen:

Every morning Portia paraded down Pritchard Street to the offices where she worked on the corner of Market Street and Von Brandis Street. Even though her shoes squashed her corns and made her feet swell she bit down the pain and soldiered on. She practiced walking in her heels diligently in her apartment. Many times before she had fallen flat on her face leaving her son reeling with laughter. However, Portia was determined to master the art of walking in high heels like her work colleagues at Hulisani, Hirsch, Hlomani and Associates.

They occupied the seventh floor which they shared with some accountants and consulting engineers. Portia sat in the reception greeting clients with a sunny smile and answering telephones with practiced efficacy. She had not always been in the foreground. Instead she had lingered in the background; cleaning toilets, making tea and sweeping the office floors. Beyond these chores she was often sent to run the personal errands of her bosses.

Advocate Hirsch loved a particular brand of Colombian coffee, which she bought at a café at the corner of De Korte and Juta Streets. Advocate Hulisani often sent her to pick up his dry cleaning from a laundromat on Eloff Street. When lunch time came, she would go and buy Advocate Hlomani his chesa nyama lunch on Commissioner Street. He thrived on his staple of pap and braaied meat and never deviated from the set menu. Sometimes when the messenger was out running errands and there was an urgent delivery to be made they sent Portia.

It was for this reason that Portia had made a habit of memorising street names. Kotze. Loveday. Kerk. Plein. She had a map of the CBD etched in her head. It was the only way she could navigate the city of Johannesburg without getting lost. Even if she got lost, which she had on many occasions, if she could find a familiar street name she would easily find her bearings once again. With the passage of time Johannesburg had become less intimidating and more accommodating.

She had no idea how the city actually came to be christened ‘Johannesburg’, which to her seemed like an odd name. The origins of the name ‘Johannesburg’ were contentious but most accounts seemed to allude to the fact that the city was named after Johannes Joubert and Johannes Rissik, men who had both been responsible for land surveying and mapping of the town. The combination of their first names let to the coining of ‘Johannes-burg’. The suffix being an Afrikaans word meaning ‘town’. But whatever you wanted to call her. Egoli. Joni. Jozi. Joburg. Johannesburg was undeniably one of Africa’s economic powerhouses and it is for this reason that she was able to lure people from all over the continent. All of them were gold-diggers seeking fame or fortune. Or both.

Portia had found her gold nestled amongst the overgrown grass in Joubert Park. For the first few weeks in the city she and Nkosi had slept on the vacant seats in the busy transit terminal. They slept in good company with other passengers who were transiting from one city to another. Every morning they showered in the public ablutions. When they were clean they would spend the day roaming the city with Portia knocking on doors for a job. Any job. Doors were slammed in her face. Exhausted and dejected they’d spend the rest of the afternoon at Joubert Park. Nkosi had even made friends with children who had finished school. Portia would watch him from the park bench, trying not to feel sorry for herself. Her optimism was wearing thin and so was their money. She spent her every penny sparingly but two months of sleeping on the streets was enough to get her worried. She contemplated catching a taxi back to Plumtree with the little money they had left.

Her husband had been right; Johannesburg was no place for a woman. But then Nkosi had kicked a soccer ball under the park bench where Portia was seated. When she bent over to retrieve it she stumbled across a handbag which looked like it had been thrown hurriedly under the bench. Curiosity got the better of her. The bag had already been ransacked, it seemed. However, the real treasure was the green ID booklet. She took possession of it and threw the bag aside. She quickly shoved the booklet into her bra. The next day Portia assumed her new identity as Phakama Hlophe. After a visit to Harrison Street she was able to get a password-sized picture which she superimposed on Phakama’s picture. Armed with her new ID, Portia went about trying to enrol Nkosi into a crèche. Little Angels Daycare Centre was happy to take him. She paid the enrolment fee and left him there as she went about her job-hunt. By the end of the week she had landed herself a position as a cleaner with Hulisani, Hirsch, Hlomani and Associates.

Portia and her son continued to sleep at Park Station. They ate the leftovers that she cleaned off the plates from the staff at work. She would walk Nkosi to crèche every morning before racing off to work. She was the first person in the office but never the last to leave. The advocates were always in the office. Sometimes when she arrived in the morning she would find Advocate Hulisani still in his office looking ruffled and exhausted with bloodshot eyes. Of all the advocates he was the most vocal and often succumbed to fits of rage. It was not unusual to see interns or legal assistants running out of his office followed by law journals and anything else he could throw at them. Often after such incidents Advocate Hirsch would go into his office to calm him down.

Clifford, the messenger, had told Portia countless times that Advocate Hulisani was good at his job, which is why his name appeared first. His reasoning however could not be substantiated and Portia never questioned it. Clifford maintained that Advocate Hulisani insisted that the practice would die if he ever left. Portia was fearful of him and tiptoed around him lest he unleash his rage on her.

When month-end came Portia was excited to receive her first salary. That night she and Nkosi did not eat leftovers but instead from one of the fast-food restaurants at Park Station. When they went to sleep on one of the benches Portia assured hr son they would be doing it for the last time. The following day they went hunting for a place to live. They managed to find a one-bedroomed apartment on Edith Cavell Street. It was a threadbare apartment with the cupboards almost coming off the hinges. The landlord said that was the reason he only wanted R1 000 for it. They slept on the parquet floor on their sponge mattresses which they had purchased for R600. Portia assured her son that things would be better.

“Next month I will buy you a new bed.”

Nkosi threw his tiny arms around her and hugged her.

“I know you will, Mama.”

At night Portia dreamt of all the things she would do once she got her second pay cheque. The new stove. The new sofa. The new television set. She fell asleep dreaming about the new bed.

One afternoon at work, as she was washing cups in the kitchen, she heard Advocate Hulisani shout that he needed some documents typed. Portia went to the front to hear what the commotion was about.

“Where is everyone?” he screamed. “Where are the interns?”

“At court,” replied Portia.

“Kopano? Where is she?”

“Still at lunch,” replied Portia.

Hulisani kicked the plant in the reception knocking it over. Portia quickly rushed to catch it but it was too late.

“I need this document typed now!” he screamed.

“I will call her,” replied Portia shrinking away and heading towards the switchboard. At times she did hold the fort for Kopano when she wanted to take an extended lunch. Kopano’s phone just rang. Portia hung up feeling disconcerted.

“I can’t get hold of her,” she replied. “But I can type.”

He eyed her circumspectly. “Are you sure?”

Portia had taken a typing course at school. She could type 80 words a minute so when her fingers hit the keyboard she was not in totally unfamiliar territory. The computer keyboard was much softer than the typewriter and her fingers slid across the keys. She typed whilst Advocate Hulisani paced the room as he dictated to her. He often came round to look over her shoulder to see if she was actually typing.

By the time Kopano came back Portia was editing the document, checking it for errors. Advocate Hulisani was so impressed with Portia that Advocate Hirsch and Advocate Hlomani soon got wind of it. They started saying her talent was being underutilised in the kitchen as a cleaner and that was how Portia got promoted to front office. She now sat with Kopano and helped with other office duties. Her promotion came with a pay increase which Portia welcomed.

The following month she and Nkosi moved from the grimy apartment to a beautiful high-rise apartment on Kerk Street in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD. It was clean and secure with controlled access. She could sleep at night without fear in her heart. She could now afford to shop at the department stores like Edgars, Foschini, Spitz and Truworths. She had brought her furniture from Russells and Morkels. For the first time she felt like she was living the life she deserved. A life she was determined to live to the fullest.

As much as possible Portia tried to emulate the ladies at work. She looked at the way they dressed and would improvise slightly and come up with her own look. She listened to how Kopano and the other ladies spoke and would imitate them. She would practice religiously at night, imitating the intonation and mannerisms. Gradually the old Portia began to disappear, making way for Phakama.

Portia always enjoyed the brisk walk to work through the CBD.

The town was always full of life and joie de vivre. The only time it took a sojourn was on Sundays. On those days she went to church at the Methodist Church on Delvers Street. She could easily have attended the central Methodist Church on the corner of Small and Pritchard but it was overflowing with Zimbabwean refugees who poured into Johannesburg like heavy rain. The church sheltered thousands who slept on its floors. Portia preferred to distance herself from her kith and kin. Phakama had no place being there. She felt no allegiance to or kindred spirit with them. She had a new life now. A new beginning.

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Fiction Friday: read the opening chapter of NR Brodie’s Knucklebone


Just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Sangomas and cops don’t mix. Usually. But this is Joburg, a metropolis that is equal parts flash and shadow, and where not everything can be easily explained. Ian Jack, a disillusioned former police officer, teams up with Reshma Patel, a colleague from his old life, to investigate a routine housebreaking gone bad. But when they uncover links to a possible animal poaching and trafficking syndicate, things go from complicated to dangerous to downright evil.

Set against the richly textured backdrop of a livewire African city, this fast-paced thriller offers a disturbing contemporary take on justice and morality. To be read with the lights on.

‘A cracking novel. Brilliant original writing, free of clichés. The pace is insane – in a good way.’ – Sarah Lotz, author of The White Road, Day Four and The Three .

NR BRODIE is a veteran journalist and best-selling author of five books.

Read the opening chapter…


Ian Jack fiddled with the chinstrap on his helmet and tried not to think about how much of an idiot he looked. The bowl-shaped cap fit badly, and the padding smelled of someone else’s sweat. The bulletproof vest was the same, sitting too high on his shoulders and cutting into his arms whenever he reached forward. He had a cheap Chinese gun strapped to his right hip: a 9mm knockoff with rough workings and a safety that wouldn’t stay put.

‘Piece of shit,’ he thought.

But Myburgh had been firm: no gear, no going on patrol.

It was a warm evening, and Ian could feel damp patches growing under his arms. The inside of the car smelled of something artificially sweet and tropical. He looked at the dashboard and saw a stick-on air freshener in the shape of a pineapple. The fruit smiled at him.

The car was an underpowered Korean compact, branded with the name of the security company. It was parked near a copse of trees on the edge of an undeveloped patch of land between two houses.

‘You spend a lot of time here?’ Ian asked the man next to him.

There was silence.

‘What’s your name – Duma? Dumisane?’ Ian tried again.

‘Thomas,’ the guard said.

‘Thomas,’ Ian repeated with a sigh. ‘Sorry. I’m … I’m Ian.’ He’d been about to say Detective Jack and caught himself just in time.

Thomas gave him a funny look anyway. ‘Mister Myburgh called you ‘cousin’. You family?’

Ian shook his head. ‘It’s like a nickname. I used to be a cop. My dad was a cop. Myburgh knew him. Knew both of us. You know he used to be a cop, right?’

Thomas nodded.

‘Anyway, I got out a couple of years ago,’ Ian said. ‘Now I’m at university. This is for research.’

Thomas kept staring. ‘Which university?’ he asked, the words rolling into each other.


‘Which university?’ Thomas repeated, slower this time, like he was speaking to a child.

‘Uh, Wits,’ Ian stuttered.

‘Honours?’ Thomas asked. ‘Masters,’ Ian said. ‘Political studies,’ he added, aware how full of himself he sounded.

Thomas paused. ‘You look old for a student,’ he said. ‘My sister, she’s at Wits. She’s studying social work. But she doesn’t carry a gun.’

Ian looked down at Thomas’s waist, and saw the same gun strapped to his side.

‘What’s your story?’ he asked, hoping to change the subject.

Thomas gave a snort. ‘I was in MK. Nearly. I stopped school in the eighties. Wanted to be a revolutionary,’ he said. The last word seemed to linger in his mouth. ‘After 1994, I went back and got my matric. But this was the only job I could get,’ he said. ‘I’m helping to pay for my sister to study. So she can get a job without guns.’

Ian flicked his thumb over the butt of the 9mm again.

‘You want to be careful,’ Thomas said, looking down at the pistol. ‘They’re not like the Z88s you’re used to. Sometimes the safety clicks off. And they jam.’

‘Ja, I know,’ Ian said. ‘I saw a few of these … before.’

‘Piece of shit,’ Thomas said, and he chuckled.

Ian laughed too.

Just then the radio crackled into life. Ian jumped. A woman’s voice came through, unintelligible behind the static. The radio buzzed, then went silent again.

Ten seconds later a ringing noise came from the cubbyhole. Thomas leaned over, flicked open the latch, and pulled out a dull silver phone with the face lit up.

‘Car Two,’ he answered. His smile had disappeared.

Ian could hear a voice squawking from the phone.

‘Yes. Yes …’ Thomas nodded as he spoke, switching the phone from his right hand to his left, keeping the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he put the car into gear and turned on the ignition. ‘88 Forest. Corner what?’

Another squawk.

‘Protea. Okay.’ Thomas ended the call, dropped the phone onto his lap, and pulled off with a slight jerk.

‘Panic activation,’ he said to Ian as he accelerated, leaning forward and fumbling under the dashboard. A second later, the street around them lit up with flickering shadows from the orange and white lights on top of the car.

‘Don’t worry,’ Thomas said, keeping his eyes on the road, not looking at Ian. ‘It’s mostly false alarms. Dogs. Trees. Someone sits on the panic button.’ He sighed like it was an old routine.

The radio started issuing orders again – the line still crackled with static, but now Ian could make out what the dispatcher was saying.

‘Calling Two. They say someone jumped into the garden. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Eight is on its way. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. Police have been called. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. House has an easy lock. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Acknowledge. Over.’

Thomas lifted up the handset and clicked. ‘This is Two. Over. Roger. Over,’ he said.

‘What’s an easy lock?’ Ian asked as Thomas felt under the dashboard again, bringing the sirens to life. The sound was surprisingly loud and tinny inside the car.

‘It’s a lock with a special key,’ Thomas shouted over the noise. ‘All these houses with big walls and spikes, electric fences – we can’t get inside when the alarm goes off. So we give them a special lock, and then we have the key. It’s all the same key. For emergencies.’

Trees flashed past. Ian could feel his heart beating faster, adrenaline starting to kick in. He forced himself to slow his breathing.

He opened his eyes as the car slowed in front of a face-brick h Two large orange ceramic eights were screwed onto the wall. One of them was hanging skew. An outside motion sensor light came on as the car pulled to a stop.

Thomas switched off the siren, but left the lights flickering. ‘Don’t get in my way, okay?’ he said as he climbed out. ‘Maybe you’re a cop, but there are different rules for us. Just follow me.’

Ian nodded. He closed his door and hurried behind Thomas to a small pedestrian gate to the side of a double garage door.

Thomas pulled a bunch of keys from his jacket pocket. He worked one of them into the lock and turned it slowly before easing the gate open. He stood at the entrance, eyes alert. ‘Dogs,’ he whispered to Ian, looking around. ‘They can’t tell the difference between a good black man and a bad one,’ he said, giving a small grin.

There were no barks, nor any other noises. A few seconds later, Thomas stepped through, leaving the gate open behind him.

The house was close to the street front. Ian saw the curtains twitch. A face appeared behind the windowpane.

‘Top Force Security,’ Thomas called, loud so the person behind the glass could hear him. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

The face nodded. Then a hand was raised, pointing to the right of the house, jabbing with urgency.

Thomas took his gun out of its holster, keeping his arm low. Ian wondered if he was supposed to do the same. He decided he would wait for Thomas’s say-so.

They were about to start walking down the side of the house when Ian heard the sound of another vehicle pulling up. Car doors slammed, followed by the sound of boots on bricks.

Two more guards – wearing identical outfits to Thomas and Ian – stepped in through the gate, their hands already on the guns at their sides. They nodded at Thomas and looked at Ian with blank expressions. To Ian’s surprise, behind them came three police officers, two men in uniform and one woman in plainclothes. The first cop held a semiautomatic rifle ready, up against his chest; Ian knew the others would have their pistols out. He thumbed his own gun again, checked the safety.

Thomas pointed towards the narrow alley that ran along the side of the house.

The cops moved fast, going past the guards. Thomas and the others followed, Ian staying close behind them.

The alley opened up into a large back garden with a massive willow tree just off centre. A floodlight at the base of the tree cast shadows through the branches, spidering out over the grass. Near the rear boundary wall, Ian could make out a garden shed.

Something moved there.

Ian tapped Thomas lightly on the arm. The guard looked at the shed and nodded. He caught the attention of the largest cop, the one with the rifle. Thomas pointed towards the shed with his left hand, his right still holding firmly onto his gun.

The officer signalled the others and started moving towards the far side of the garden. He stepped softly despite his bulk. A few steps behind him, the plainclothes officer followed, her gun out, providing cover. The other uniformed cop began to circle from the near side, eyes trained on the shed.

Ian still didn’t have his weapon out. Even if he was allowed to fire it – and Myburgh hadn’t exactly been clear on that – he wasn’t sure what the deal was with cops on the scene. He didn’t trust the gun to do the job anyway, not if he needed to shoot from any sort of distance.

From the side of the shed, a shape detached itself from the shadows and darted towards the thin pool of light cast by the flood lamp.

Ian could see it was a slight man – young, maybe even a teenager. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt. There was a dark smear near the shoulder, and Ian wondered if it was blood. He couldn’t see the kid’s hands, or make out if he was holding a weapon.

‘Phakamis’ izandla!’ the big cop called. Hands up. The kid didn’t respond, or didn’t hear. He didn’t even turn his head towards the sound. He just stayed still for a second, hovering between the light and the dark.

‘He’s going to run for it,’ the woman shouted, as the youngster dropped into a half-crouch – then headed straight into the gap where Ian was standing.

Ian acted without thinking. He launched himself forward, praying his safety stayed on, and intercepted the kid with a thump, landing on top of him in the middle of a perfectly manicured piece of lawn.

‘Down,’ Ian yelled as he pinned the kid on the grass, holding the boy’s arms behind him as he knelt on his back. ‘He’s down,’ he yelled again. He could hear running feet, the kid on the grass panting, the cops calling out to each other.

Then there was another set of hands reaching for the suspect, someone else grabbing the kid’s wrists and securing them quickly with cable ties.

Ian felt a tap on his shoulder as he stood up. He paused to brush a patch of mud off his knee before he turned.

‘Hello Reshma,’ he said, trying to breathe normally. ‘Or is it Lieutenant Patel now?’ he asked.

The cop squinted for a second, then her eyes widened. ‘Jesus! Ian,’ she laughed, punching him hard on the arm.

Reshma barely came up to Ian’s chin. She had a short, neat bob and a square fringe that framed a slightly round face. She was wearing dark pants and a pale cream pullover, over which she’d strapped her vest. ‘Actually, it’s Captain Patel now,’ she said. ‘I didn’t recognise you when we came in. It must be the helmet.’

Ian was immediately aware, again, of how ridiculous he looked – dressed head to toe in shades of beige and brown. Even in a bulletproof vest and fleecy top, Reshma managed to look neat, professional, serious. Like a cop.

‘I thought you were supposed to be at university,’ she said, eyes narrowing.

‘I am. I’m doing research,’ Ian started. ‘On private security,’ he added, wishing he could say something that sounded a little more clever, or important. He could feel his arms and legs tingle as the adrenaline started to fade.

‘Look, that kid might be injured,’ he said, changing the topic. ‘I saw blood or something on his shirt. Maybe you should check it out?’ he suggested.

Reshma shrugged, as if to say she’d think about it.

One of the security guards was already up at the house, talking to the homeowners – a middle-aged couple, both in dressing gowns, both wideeyed. The wife stood with her arms tightly folded, hugging herself. Her husband nodded as he spoke. Something he said made the guard stop and turn away, leaving the dressing-gown man with his mouth hanging open. The guard – Ian could now see it was Thomas – made his way to where Reshma and Ian were standing.

‘Officer,’ Thomas started. ‘The client, he says he saw the kid jump over the fence from the neighbour’s house.’

They turned to look at the prefabricated concrete wall that ran between the house and the neighbouring property, a two-metre high wall that had been painted what looked like dark green.

‘The neighbour’s not our client,’ Thomas said, turning back to Reshma. ‘We can’t get in there without the owner’s permission.’

Reshma nodded. ‘No problem,’ she said. ‘We’ll go over and ring their bell, check it out. Thanks for letting me know. Jimmy, Gift,’ she called out, ‘we need to go to the house next door and …’

Before she could finish, two shots exploded from the neighbouring house, cutting through the night like firecrackers.

Ian saw Reshma flinch. The next second, she was in full control again. ‘Go, go, go,’ she screamed, as the policemen left the cuffed kid lying on the ground and raced in the direction of the noise.

Reshma was the first to reach the wall, hauling herself up and dropping down the other side, nimble as a rat. The others didn’t make the jump quite as easily. The big cop was still trying to pull himself up and over when Ian started running. He could hear shouting behind him and hoped Thomas was smart enough not to follow. He caught the top of the fence and flipped over, landing heavily on hard-packed soil on the other side.

The neighbour’s garden was almost completely bare, except for one patch of bushes and a few outcrops of lawn. Ian could see Reshma running towards the back of the house where an outside light revealed a wide-open sliding door. The inside of the house was in darkness.

Ian didn’t wait to see if the other two cops had made their way over the wall yet. He followed Reshma, snaking his way across the yard. As he passed the bushes, a small white shape burst out under his feet. Ian swore as he jumped mid-stride, trying not to trip over whatever it was. The shape let out a terrified squawk. A chicken.

He kept moving, hoping there were no more surprise animals on the way, thinking about Thomas’s warning about dogs.

As Ian got closer to the house, he could hear Reshma shouting. He slowed down to unclip his gun, keeping it pointed towards the ground. His own breath was coming hard and fast now. He honed in on the sound of Reshma’s voice, talking now, no longer shouting.

‘Step away from him. Step away,’ she was saying as Ian reached the open doorway.

Ian could smell the sour tang of burnt gunpowder, and something else. Blood. He looked inside and saw a woman – heavyset, with long dark hair and pale skin – crouching over a small body on the floor. The woman was wearing a sleeveless top, her exposed arms thick with flesh. In her left hand, she held a small snub-nosed pistol. It reminded Ian of the old Makarovs.

The two cops – Gift and Jimmy, Ian remembered – eventually caught up. Ian stepped aside to let them pass, ignoring their glares.

Reshma carried on talking to the woman, her weapon still held at the ready.

‘Ma’am. You need to move away from him, now.’

The woman stood up slowly, looking dazed. She was in her late forties, Ian thought. Her face was square, a hint of jowl peeking out beneath the chin.

The room was small, sparsely decorated. Blank walls, a tiled floor. An almost empty bookshelf and a vertical wine rack half-filled with bottles.

The body sprawled on the tiles was a carbon copy of the kid they’d caught next door: dressed in T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, his skinny limbs lay in a pile of unnatural angles that said it all.

‘Is there anyone else?’ Reshma asked.

The pale woman shook her head.

‘Gift, check his signs,’ Reshma called. ‘Jimmy, check out the house.’

The woman jerked her head up as the shorter cop, Jimmy, moved around the body and disappeared through another door.

Gift, the larger officer, knelt down next to the teenager and put his fingers on the skin between the kid’s jaw and throat. ‘Nothing,’ he said after a few seconds. He rose, shaking his head.

Reshma kept her gun trained on the floor, and her eyes on the pale woman. If she was aware of Ian, she gave no sign of it. With her right hand she pulled a radio from the utility belt around her hips and called for an ambulance. Ian always forgot Reshma was left-handed, until she wrote something down, or it was time for target practice.

‘It’s a P4,’ Reshma told the dispatcher. Priority 1 was urgent, lifethreatening, requiring immediate medical attention. Priority 4 meant the person was beyond assistance, or already dead. There would be no sirens for that journey, Ian thought.

‘Are you okay?’ Reshma asked the other woman.

The woman nodded, staring at the body on the floor, her arms dangling. Ian noticed she was still holding her pistol. He bit back the urge to tell Reshma.

Whatever the woman was feeling about having just shot and killed somebody, she hid it well. Her face was blank, almost featureless except for a dusting of freckles across her nose. In the bleak half-light, her skin appeared almost grey, and Ian noted that she did not appear to have any eyebrows. She looked somewhere between a clown and a ghost.

He looked back at the body and saw the faintest spatter of blood on the floor, tiny black dots radiating outward on the white squares of the tiles.

‘I killed him?’ the woman asked, an accent audible in the corners of her words.

Reshma nodded.

‘He was going to rape me,’ the woman said. This time the accent was more noticeable. Something European, maybe Eastern Europe, Ian thought, which might explain the Makarov.

From somewhere in the house, Jimmy shouted the rooms were all clear.

‘What happened?’ Reshma asked, her voice sharp and alert. She was working the crime, Ian knew.

The other woman paused and looked around her as if she didn’t recognise the space she was in.

‘I … I left the sliding door open. Is for the cats. Then I heard noise,’ she said. Her voice had begun to tremble. She shuffled from side to side and a foot poked out underneath the long, shapeless skirt she was wearing. Ian could make out her exposed toes.

It was one of the things he had hated about being a cop; the nakedness that came with crime. Seeing people at their most unguarded and unprepared.

The woman started rambling. ‘I heard noise. I went to get my gun,’ she said. ‘The one man, he ran away. The other, he stayed. He said he had a gun in his pocket. He was telling me I had to do what he said. He was talking to me. I don’t know what he said,’ she whispered, the trembling getting worse. ‘Does he have a gun?’ she asked, her large eyes contracting.

Ian looked. The young boy’s hands were splayed, as if he had been trying to stop himself from falling. They were empty.

‘Is he really dead?’ the woman asked again. Then: ‘I shot him,’ she said, without waiting for an answer. She stared at her own hands and saw the gun in them, as if she had almost forgotten it was there.

Reshma stepped forward, her own gun pointing away, wanting to retrieve the woman’s weapon. The pale woman started at the movement and looked up, past Reshma.

‘Who is he?’ she asked, pointing at Ian.

‘Security guard,’ Reshma answered without turning back. ‘Your neighbour pressed a panic button.’

‘My neighbours, they are afraid of so many things,’ the pale woman said, almost mockingly. She reached up to scratch her face. The movement left a dirty trail across her nose, smudging the freckles. With a chill, Ian realised they were blood spatters.

‘You should get that checked,’ Ian said. ‘You’ll need to go on ARVs.’

The woman gazed at him, her eyes almost glittering, even in the darkness.

Reshma turned to face Ian. ‘You should get back,’ she said, pointedly. ‘There’s no reason for you to be here.’ She waited for him to leave. Ian put the safety back on his gun and holstered it before turning and walking away from the dead room.

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“Liberation is of paramount importance in the concept of Black Consciousness” – remembering Steve Biko with No Fears Expressed

First published in 1987, No Fears Expressed is a compilation of quotes taken from the words of the activist and Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko. Sourced from the iconic I Write What I Like, including the collection of Biko’s columns published in the journal of the South Africa Student Organisation under the pseudonym of ‘Frank Talk’, as well as from The Testimony of Steve Biko (edited by Millard W. Arnold), this book contains many inspirational quotes and thoughts that are still relevant in South African society today.

Biko’s words fall under a wide range of topics including racism, blackwhite relations, remedies for apartheid, colonialism, black rage and township life. All are topics that reflect the ever-present divide that exists between black and white South Africans.

Steve Biko would have been 70 years old in 2017. His place in history is firmly cemented and the struggle that he gave his life for continues. He left a legacy of thoughts and words, and these words pay tribute to the courage and power of the young leader who was to become one of Africa’s heroes.

To commemorate Biko’s life, BooksLIVE – in collaboration with Pan Macmillan – will publish quotes to remember Biko by during the month of September; a month which also marks 40 years since he was beaten to death in police custody.

Steve Biko on Liberation:

Freedom is the ability to define oneself with one’s possibilities held back not by the power of other people over one but only by one’s relationship to God and to natural surroundings.
IWWIL (‘Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity’), p 101

Liberation therefore, is of paramount importance in the concept of Black Consciousness, for we cannot be conscious of ourselves and yet remain in bondage. We want to attain the envisioned self which is a free self.
IWWIL (‘The Definition of Black Consciousness’), p 53

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“My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me” – an excerpt from Mohale Mashigo’s acclaimed The Yearning

How long does it take for scars to heal? How long does it take for a scarred memory to fester and rise to the surface? For Marubini, the question is whether scars ever heal when you forget they are there to begin with.

Marubini is a young woman who has an enviable life in Cape Town, working at a wine farm and spending idyllic days with her friends … until her past starts spilling into her present. Something dark has been lurking in the shadows of Marubini’s life from as far back as she can remember. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches out and grabs at her.

The Yearning is a memorable exploration of the ripple effects of the past, of personal strength and courage, and of the shadowy intersections of traditional and modern worlds.

‘A bewitching addition to the current South African literary boom. Mohale Mashigo tells her story with charming lucidity, disarming characterisation, subversive wisdom and subtle humour.’ – Zakes Mda.

Mashigo will be at this year’s Open Book Festival.

Read Chapter One here:

My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me. I am grateful for that corpse that somehow always seemed to resurrect itself. My father is gone but his smile is alive on my brother’s face. There is no life without death; the two rely on each other and we rely on them both for our purpose. A new mother knows her purpose when she holds her baby within her and in her arms for the first time. A man’s work has its purpose in death, as part of his legacy. Why then do we love the one and despise the other? Why do we sacrifice so much of the present to hide the past? Why do we take away the future’s knowledge of itself in order to make the past seem perfect? My brother only knows a father when he looks in the mirror. The Yearning haunts him. My mother turns away from the traditions of the past. The Yearning confuses her. I speak as only half of myself. The Yearning hurts me. The life in me came at the cost of another’s but I refuse to apologise for that. A part of who I used to be has vanished and I’m now faced with the possibilities of who I could be. The Yearning never stops till we embrace everything that brought us here. In our quiet denial, The Yearning devours us.

My grandmother often says she regrets giving me my name. ‘Children always live up to their names. And you did more than live up to yours.’ She shakes her head sadly and laughs as she says this. It is an unbelievably hot day in Soweto and Nkgono is on one of her rare visits to us. She has never been shy to share her dislike for Soweto. ‘My child ran away to be here. I don’t like this place. I never will.’ Nkgono was always laughing, even when saying things that seemed tragic.

‘Your mother was having a difficult pregnancy and you took a long time to arrive,’ she would tell me. ‘Such a stubborn child!’

I loved listening to my Nkgono tell the story of the day I arrived.

‘Your father had been driving like a crazy man. Your mother decided at the last minute that she wanted me with her. It was a long way back from Pietersburg and he didn’t want to risk missing your birth. I also wasn’t comfortable with my only daughter being left alone with that ngaka aunt Thoko of your father’s at such a time. That’s the reason I didn’t complain about his driving. Your Ntatemoholo had also wanted to be there, but I didn’t want my plants and animals left all by themselves. He was the only person I trusted with my plants.

‘Shelling peanuts was the only thing that kept my mind off how fast we were going. Jabu was anxious; new fathers always are. The silence hung between us until we pulled into the dusty yard of the four-roomed house your parents lived in.

‘Your mother Makosha was sitting on the stoep, grinding away at a stone with her teeth. My poor daughter − she looked absolutely uncomfortable with a fully baked baby inside of her. We thought for sure you were going to be a boy, because of the way she was so ugly. Thoko was boiling something smelly in the kitchen, so I sat out on the stoep.

‘“Ma, I’m scared.” That was all your mother said to me. Thoko stopped staring into the brewing smelliness and came over to greet me: “This grandchild of ours wants to stay the entire ten months.” Jabulani busied himself with carrying my bags into the second bedroom, while we mocked Kosha about how ugly you were making her.

‘The Soweto people were complaining that it was too hot; I live in the heat, grow food in it and have even raised a child under that relentless sun. Thoko said it would rain soon. There was not a cloud in the sky but I believed her. Your mother had just started her garden. The sun was not allowing it to flourish. “There hasn’t been rain in weeks. That is rare for Joburg summer,” was Makosha’s explanation for the state of her sad garden.

‘Thoko brought Makosha the smelly brew in a cup and sat down next to me. The three of us just sat there staring at the pathetic garden in silence. Thoko looked at me and said, “I was telling Makosha that Jabulani can help the baby come, but she doesn’t believe me.” I smiled because Makosha hated talking about sex with me. She knew exactly what my response to Thoko’s statement would be. “Oh please, Mam’Thoko don’t get my mother started,” she said, with red gravel in her mouth. She craved the taste of earth more than anything when she was pregnant with you. I smiled and pulled peanuts out of my pocket. Thoko was saying exactly what I had told your mother. Just before your father came to fetch me I was telling one of my neighbours that sex was what would bring you into this world a lot faster than anything else. Sex brings babies into the world all the time.

‘“Ma, the nurses at the clinic told me that I must just walk and that will help.”

‘“Walk to where? You trust the nurses over me, even when thousands of mothers have trusted me with their daughters?”

‘“Hai Maria, you know children never trust their parents,” Thoko said, signalling to her daughter-in-law to drink the concoction. Makosha put the cup down and tried to stand up. Her dress was wet.

‘“The baby is coming … Jabu!” Eehhh this child of mine! Sitting with women who are there to help her deliver and she calls out for her husband. Jabu came running out of the house but Thoko waved him away and helped me take your mother into the bedroom. Hooo the scene your mother made! She was crying for her husband, acting like she was the first woman in the world ever to give birth. Thoko grabbed hold of her face and looked her in the eyes. “This is not a man’s place. Those pains are going to get worse but you and your baby know exactly what to do, sisi.” That seemed to calm her some. I was standing by the window in the second bedroom that Thoko had prepared for us to sleep in. “Don’t worry, wena Thoko, that stubborn child is not coming any time soon. Let Makosha shout until she can’t.”

‘Eventually your mother stopped crying and we told her exactly what was going to happen. Things she had already heard but was suddenly fearful of. What happened next is something nobody can
explain. I knew you were ready to emerge, and the room suddenly grew dark. Thoko stood by the window and said it was starting to rain. There is no way of knowing this for sure, but I felt the rain hit the ground the same moment you crowned. The stubborn baby turned out to be a girl. Your mother took one look at you and started crying again. You had finally arrived and you were alive, breathing, screaming, humming and beautiful.

‘I always tell people that you just slipped out with no fuss and nonsense. Your mind was made up and you stepped out with nothing but the past behind you. You looked like a queen from an ancient civilisation, so regal and certain. That’s why I gave you that name: Marubini. You were a new beginning for us who had lived long lives and needed respite. Marubini is where our past lies, the place of old from where we once came. You emerged and brought us into the future. Thoko loved the name and nobody objected to me giving you that name. Jabu wanted his first child to have only one name and that’s why we didn’t give you a “school” name too.

‘Your father, Marubini … what an incredible man. Jabu never doubted himself. Once his mind was made up there was no discouraging him. Heh, he is the person who brought my child back to me! Ei, your mother was so troublesome you know? She just left home. Did what all girls who have too much power and not enough sense do: ran away from what she thought was the problem. Then one day she stepped out of your father’s car, unsure whether we would welcome her back. Well, you know Peter doesn’t know how to stay angry. He was just glad that his only daughter was back home finally.

‘Jabulani introduced himself and said he was returning our daughter to us so one day he could ask for her to be his wife. That day you were born, you wouldn’t stop crying once you had started. But when your Mama held you, then you stopped. The past was really behind us. Everything changed once you were born. The summer rains fell and Makosha started paying attention to her garden. That same garden that was dry and dying … The rain that you brought with you revived the garden and your mother’s love for gardening.’

I can’t say for sure how much of Nkgono’s story is true. But I liked hearing it. Every year on my birthday, she still calls to tell me the story of how her daughter gave birth ‘to a beautiful but stubborn granddaughter’. We all have the desire to be special. The story of my birth made me feel extraordinary. I was born and I revived my mother’s love for gardening. The little garden that was saved by my rain became her florist business that kept our family alive. I am blessed to have matriarchs who hold their own even when the ground falls from beneath their feet. But even the sturdiest trees fall if the wind is strong enough. My father’s death devastated my mother and the child she was carrying at the time. Her ability to cultivate couldn’t save her garden. It seemed like every tear that was shed took life out of the plants and vegetables in our backyard. The soil dried up and nothing grew there again while we lived in that house. Luckily my little brother didn’t suffer the same fate as the garden. As soon as Simphiwe was born, I felt like he was mine. That may seem a strange sentiment for a little girl to have, but it was obvious that Ma didn’t want to get too close to him, not in the beginning. He came out light yellow-brown like my father, not deep brown like me and Ma. He was too much of something she had lost. So I helped Gogo Thoko look after him while my mother went to work, or lay in bed looking out the window.

Even though she kept him at a cautious distance, I knew Ma loved Simphiwe. Sometimes when she came home from work she would sit down in the kitchen and just hold him; smell his hair and kiss his little fingers. Gogo Thoko would spend the day with Simphiwe while I was away at school. My first years of school were horrible. I cried most mornings because I just wanted to be at home. I was so used to spending week days at home with my Ntatemoholo, my mother’s father. While other children were at crèche, I was with my grandfather. Gogo Thoko said that it was okay to cry because I had lost my grandfather and father in such a short space of time. ‘Kodwa, the crying has to stop eventually, Marubini.’ I really didn’t want to cry. In the evenings I was content to wait for Ma to fetch me at Gogo’s house after work. Then we would take a taxi home and Ma would have her time with Simphiwe in the kitchen, kissing his fingers and counting stars on his toes. She would put him on her back and go outside to work at reviving her garden.

The house was very quiet when Ma and Simphiwe were in the garden. The TV would be on but it may as well have been off because I couldn’t concentrate. I came to prefer the silence, just sitting and watching Ma outside trying very hard to get her garden back to its previous state. But it was futile. Baba died and so did the garden. All we had was sadness and anxiety. Ma went to bed with it and I woke up in its arms. I would be washing myself in a big metal dish while Simphiwe was getting his morning bath, all the while reminding myself that school was not a bad place and that Ntatemoholo and Baba would not like to know that I was crying for no reason. As soon as the minibus taxi stopped outside my school the panic would set in. Lwambo was the man who drove the minibus that took me and the other kids to school and back. Everyone was used to my tears by now so they just ignored me. I didn’t mind because I craved to be left alone. Ma would stand at the door waving until we turned the corner. The further we got from home, the sadder I became. By the time we arrived at the school I would be crying quietly. But the crying didn’t remain quiet for long. It became a full-scale meltdown as we were sitting down for the lessons to start. Ma enjoys telling Simphiwe how his sister ‘almost became a primary school dropout’ because the teachers were tired of my tears.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about these old things now. The words in the report I’m supposed to be working on have started blurring. At this point there is no use pretending any useful work will be done. My apartment is quiet, the TV off as usual. Muffled laughter and unfamiliar voices filter through the walls from next door; my neighbours seem to be having a dinner party. Fridays are a break from my usual steamed vegetables and fish dinners. The plan was for Pierre to come over but judging from the lack of communication he is probably working late at the restaurant again. How did a smart girl like me get stuck with a man who never has time for anything but work?

I sit alone at the table, thinking back to the day we met. I had just started my job at De Villiers Wines and everything was new. Not only was I feeling completely inadequate, but my colleagues were constantly questioning my presence. I had only lasted a year in advertising, in a job I had come to hate. That ivory-tower world made me feel far removed from people. The clients were okay, if you didn’t mind them throwing their weight around, reminding you that your job wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for ‘the budget’. It was the people I had to work with that finally made me quit. Most of them thought that taking a two-hour Township Tour that ended at a tourist-friendly drinking spot was a good way to get to know the ‘target market’. It didn’t help that all too often the ‘target market was me, my family and the people I knew. I grew tired of being accused of ‘overreacting’ and ‘reading too much’ into the crappy campaigns. My colleagues had stopped asking for my opinion, even on campaigns that I was involved with. They just couldn’t get why I would object to the fact that black people were portrayed dancing; why would they be dancing, when the advert was for tea?

One day during lunch break I just started looking for new jobs. There was no point in staying on in advertising; we weren’t meant for each other. I didn’t know anything about wine when I applied for the vacancy in the wine farm’s marketing department. De Villiers Wine needed to put some ‘colour’ into their team, so they hired me. I spent two weeks following the wine from seed to bottle and distribution. Eyes and doubts followed me around the tiny office. All my preconceptions about people stomping grapes to make wine were shattered. Winemaking was actually a very technical and scientific business. I immersed myself in the world of wine. No time to eat or sleep much. I was working for one of the country’s oldest and most established wine farms. The pressure was beginning to consume me. It was the worst possible time to organise a birthday dinner for a friend.

‘Nobody here yet? Am I early?’ The birthday girl, Unathi, stood in the foyer, clutching at the hem of her party dress. Her long legs couldn’t keep still, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. As the designated organiser of this celebration, I smiled to show her that everything was going to be just fine. I didn’t blame her for sounding anxious. I’d arrived late because Stellenbosch is far away from Cape Town and I’d been locked into a late afternoon meeting that had gone on for far too long. Unathi was already there when I arrived. True to her usual panicky nature, the first thing that came out of her mouth was ‘Aphi ama-lady? Where is everyone?’

Unlike me, my best friend is super-organised. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t just remember your anniversary but sends you a reminder to get your partner ‘that thing he mentioned he wanted that day we met’.

‘Unathi, calm down, it’s not even 7.00 yet. They’ll be here. Some of us work for a living, you know.’

My stay-at-home-mom friend wasn’t at all hurt by my outburst. It just rolled right over her. We seated ourselves at the bar of La Cuisine, her favourite restaurant in Mouille Point. She ordered a fruity cocktail for herself and a glass of wine for me. An overly chatty waitress showed us to our table and my head started pounding; there were only four chairs at the tiny table. I had my back to the birthday girl but I knew she was wringing her hands. With my business smile fixed to my face, I explained the situation to Ms Chatty. She didn’t seem to understand the enormity of the error. Ms Chatty didn’t get the chance to do more than mumble inaudibly before she was cut off by my demand to see the manager ‘immediately!’. At this point Unathi was looking around nervously, suspecting, correctly, that I was about to make a scene. She moved closer to me and said, ‘Please, Rubi, don’t.’ I put my overloaded handbag down on the table and counted to ten, something Unathi recommended I should do whenever I felt that I was going to lose my cool.

I was on my seventh recount when a calming male voice greeted us: ‘Good evening, ladies, I’m so sorry about the mix-up.’ As soon as the voice appeared, things started to happen around us: tables were re-assigned, extra chairs brought up and in moments we were being led to our new, much bigger table.

Unathi was busy putting away the tissue that she had ready in her hand, just in case things went from bad to worse and she couldn’t control her tears; that girl is always prepared. I was looking back towards the door where our party had, thankfully, started to arrive when a hand was extended towards me across the table. It belonged to the owner of the calming voice, who turned out to be the owner of the restaurant too.

‘Hi, I’m Pierre; please let me know if you need anything else.’

I couldn’t quite place the accent. He handed me the handbag that I had left on the previous table.

‘Uh, are you wearing contacts?’ Unathi asked him in her tactless way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. This made me take a closer look at him; and there they were, those green, gorgeous eyes, staring out at me from that caramel face. A perfectly chiselled face, the caramel rising at the cheek bones and dipping into beautiful craters that appeared when he smiled.

Unathi kept staring as he shook his head and answered the question he had probably been asked all his life. I couldn’t look away from him either; it was as if he had accidentally turned us into statues. Summer possessed my body and it seemed to have forgotten how to move. I could feel the pools of sweat forming inside my silk top. He didn’t look like he was trying to keep us there intentionally but there we were, the three of us; us staring at him and him smiling at us. He himself was stuck there too, trying to pull himself away from this process of turning our flesh into fire. Finally his gaze moved from us to the women arriving at the table, and he was able to escape in the distraction.

‘That was nice,’ Unathi sighed.

Nice indeed! All I could think about for the rest of the night was that delicious mix of caramel skin and gorgeous green eyes.

The intercom goes off; it’s the building security downstairs, informing me that I have a visitor. I tell them to let her up, knowing it’s Unathi. A few minutes later my best friend is standing in my kitchen, pouring herself a glass of wine. ‘Why didn’t you invite me over? Woo, it’s bad behaviour to drink by yourself, sisi.’

I just laugh.

‘Serious, Marubini.’ She’s smiling, though − I can tell from the way she says my name.

Nkgono says she regrets giving me my name. But I don’t think my name is the problem. The real problem is all the lies.

The Yearning

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“The long walk continues” – eight quotes to remember Nelson Mandela by

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as the first democratically elected president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. Born on 18 July 1918, Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013.

The United Nations officially declared 18 July International Mandela Day in November 2009; ever since it has been celebrated annually as a day dedicated to honouring Mandela’s life and legacy.

Here are eight quotes, as published in Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations in the section titled ‘Freedom’, to remember this remarkable man by:

“It is the task of a new generation to lead and take responsibility; ours has done as well as it could in its time.”
- From a message to the launch of the ANC election manifesto and ninety-seventh anniversary celebrations, Absa Stadium, East London, South Africa, 10 January 2009

“We are too old to pretend to be able to contribute to the resolution of those conflicts and tensions on the international front. It is, therefore, immensely gratifying to note a younger generation of African statespersons emerging. They will be able to speak with authority about a new world order in which people everywhere will live in equality, harmony and peace.”
- At the fifth annual Nelson Mandela Lecture, Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg, South Africa, 22 July 2007

“The long walk continues.”
- Final sitting of the first democratically elected parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 26 March 1999

“The road we have walked has been built by the contribution of all of us; the tools we have used on that road had been fashioned by all of us; the future we face is that of all of us, both in its promises and its demands.”
- At the inauguration of a monument to passive restistance, Umbilo Park, Durban, South Africa, 27 May 2002

“Our vision for the future is one of renewed dedication by world leaders in all fields of human interaction to a twenty-first century of peace and reconciliation.”
- Accepting the German Media Prize, Baden-Baden, Germany, 28 January 1999

“All South Africans face the challenge of coming to terms with the past in ways which will enable us to face the future as a united nation at peace with itself.”
- At the inter-faith commissioning service for the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa, 13 February 1996

“Let us together turn into reality the glorious vision of a South Africa free of racism. Free of racial antagonisms among our people. No longer a threat to peace. No longer the skunk of the world. Our common victory is certain.”
- Address to the International Labour Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 8 June 1990

“We can build a society grounded on friendship and our common humanity – a society founded on tolerance. That is the only road open to us. It is a road to a glorious future in this beautiful country of ours. Let us join hands and march into the future.”
- From an announcement of the election date, multi-party negotiations process, Kempton Park, South Africa, 17 November 1993

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“As frequent listeners know, I will discuss anything and everything, and do” – read an extract from Free Association

Free AssociationMax Lurie’s navel-gazing podcast about his life has become an unexpected success. But its embellishments and inventions are starting to leak into his everyday life. As Max tries to navigate the grey areas between fact and fiction, things begin to spin out of control. He juggles real and imagined girlfriends, an illegally procured firearm, an unpredictable friendship with a homeless schizophrenic, his acerbic immigrant producer, his dying father, his famous childhood sweetheart, an unlikely romantic entanglement and his critical and growing audience. Can he keep all of these balls in the air and finally bring them safely to rest?

This story takes a deep and satiric dive into the worlds we imagine for ourselves and the lives we actually live, particularly in a time when our real and digital personas intersect and merge in chaotic ways.

Free Association casts a steely and comic eye on the great and small concerns of being human: the chances we take and miss, the pain of not fitting in, the fragility of the psyche, the unpredictability of love, the dull certainty of death, the importance of listening to others and the careening craziness of it all.

This is National Podcasting Network. Welcome to Free Association. This is, as always, your host Max Lurie.

Today, my loyal audience, is the one-year anniversary of this podcast.

That started as a lark, because the universe had decided that I was a failure as a novelist, and podcasting seemed like a way for me to escape a life of bitterness and regret. Which is almost certain to happen at some point anyway, but as of this moment my distributors tell me that the audience for Free Association has exceeded fifty thousand per episode. There is no one more surprised than I am, but there you have it.

So thank you. Keep downloading. Send in suggestions to

But remember the rules.

I will not discuss my family, my friends, the Middle East or religion. I will not discuss particle physics (too hard), celebrities and their annoying lives, politicians and their bloated egos. I will not discuss history or sports. Nor diet fads, fashion, medieval literature or cooking.

Right. Sure. Ha.

As frequent listeners know, I will discuss anything and everything, and do. Things that might or might not have any thread, theme or relevance to
anything at all. Even the things about which I am woefully under-informed.

That’s the only vision for this podcast. My life and its frequent disappointments, your lives, the lives of others. Anything that gets my back up. Random observations. Anything that piques my interest.

And so a taking of stock is due because it is, after all, an anniversary. When I started this a year ago, I had no clue what I was doing. Which still remains stubbornly true, although I am now well exercised in the art of focused lack of direction. A number of people, including those nearest and dearest, have often asked me – what is Free Association about? Even those who have listened since the beginning.

I have no idea.

I crack open my skull every week and let everyone peer in.

The letters I receive make it clear that what sloshes around in there is in turn exasperating, funny, ignorant, surprising and annoying. And yet you continue to eavesdrop. Which supports a startlingly modest but reliable income. So I thank you again.

I have a theory about the success of this show. I am an insecure shell of a human with little confidence in myself or anyone else. I am constantly in a state of confusion and bewilderment.

Perhaps I have grown this audience because I make everyone feel better about themselves. Fifteen minutes listening to me ramble and rant leads to the inescapable conclusion that I suspect you all draw – your life is not as bad as that schmuck Lurie’s. You all feel better after listening to me complain. I may have invented a new type of psychology. Comparative Loser Analysis.

Spend fifteen minutes with someone unhappier than you, wallowing in greater misfortune, with less control of his life and circumstances, and you will be sure to feel a spring in your step.

You’re welcome.

On the up side. I have a new girlfriend. I won’t talk about her much, because not only will I jinx it, but if she ever listened to this podcast she would certainly turn tail and skedaddle. She does not listen to podcasts, she told me; she is too busy. Also, calling her my girlfriend is a dangerous play; there have been no such declarations. We did go on two dates. And we were indeed introduced by a trusted third party.

On the first date we went for dinner. I said, tell me about yourself. When she finished and was about to ask me about myself (this was something I wished to delay, lest she find my life story as dull as old cardboard), I said, tell me more about yourself. I did this three times and then the meal was over and we were a bit tipsy and she invited me to her apartment and maybe I will reveal more at another time. Stop prying.

The second date was a big music concert. A band and an audience. I hate stadium concerts. You park miles away and then you can’t find your seat and when you do someone is in it and then you have to go through a whole passive-aggressive number to sort it out. Then you realise that the stage is too far away and the musicians look like ants and the opening act is a waste of time because everyone around you is talking excitedly about the main event and then they come onstage to a great roar of the fans and everyone stands up which is the last time in the next three hours you will sit down.

The guy in front of you is huge and you stare at the pockmarked back of his neck and the disturbing pimple on the rim of his ear and the sound is so awful that even in those rare moments when the audiences quiets all you hear from these cheaper seats that you should never have bought is the bass and one of the cymbals and a slightly off-key backup singer. And then they leave the stage and are shrieked back for not one encore but four and then you stream out with tens of thousands of people and get stuck in a traffic jam in the parking area for sixty-five minutes.

She loved it.

We came back to my apartment where we made chai tea and watched two old episodes of Seinfeld and she fell asleep on my shoulder. I carried her to
bed and covered her up and slid chastely in beside her and waited. Some stuff happened later which is none of your business and the next morning she rummaged through my fridge and made me a hot breakfast, and kissed me on the forehead and texted me later and so I suppose she can sort of be called my girlfriend. Right?


Well, there must be some terrible mistake. Let’s not get too optimistic here. Because she is very attractive, in another league really. I expect this to be over soon. Perhaps I will hasten the event by showing my baser instincts, and then I can be resignedly alone again, where all is predictable, where expectation and reality coincide politely. I will keep you posted.

My father is dying. I have mentioned this before. I have struggled with whether I should talk to you about this. It is obviously a subject of great import and anxiety for me. I love my dad, or at least the man he used to be before, well … maybe I will save this for another time. I first have to wrestle the ethical dilemmas to the ground.

Can I make my father’s dying fodder for public consumption? At first pass this would seem like a monstrous show of disrespect and callousness. Perhaps. I will meditate on this.

But death, in both its specific and general incarnation, is a terrific subject – wide in its scope, deep in its consequence, loud and insistent in its certainty.

There is hardly a subject more important to us, I suspect. It hovers like airborne pestilence. Everything we do is an attempt to mute it, delay it. We take out life insurance, buy cars with safety features, drive close to the speed limit, don’t cross at the red light. Eat healthy foods, applaud scientists foraging in our cells and looking for ways to extend and protect us. We hope that our governments can use diplomacy instead of death to negotiate nasty disagreements with those people over there. We take pills, have the doctor’s number on speed dial, decide not to go white-water rafting, avoid travel to Syria. We support climate change reversal initiatives, because if we don’t we all drown or burn or asphyxiate. Death is fuel for at least half of the arts.

That and love, of course. But love is mutable. Death is not. Why is there not a podcast dedicated to death? It is the ultimate general-interest subject. Maybe I should change the admittedly nebulous recipe that makes up this podcast to an enthusiastic coverage of death and dying. The podcast could interview people with terminal diseases, extract all sorts of wisdom from their truncated hopes and dreams. Talk to doctors and health workers who do battle with the beast every day. Gently probe the bereft as they try to deal with loss. Perhaps a scientific round-up of what kills us daily. Bad food. Pollution. Not enough exercise. Murderers. Cars. Ageing. Stress. Poison. Wars. We could have an episode on famous eulogies. One on funerals. Another on afterlife mythologies. Great natural disasters and their tolls. Euthanasia. Genocide. Patricide. Infanticide. Oh, and an episode on the lighter side of death. I refuse to believe that there is no humour somewhere.

We can laugh at death, can’t we?

Maybe the most amusing last words. Or most inept attempts at suicide. Actually, there are a number of sites dedicated to death jokes (I checked) but they aren’t very funny. Death is a very tough nut to crack in the humour department.

I will talk to my producer, Bongani. My sponsors and distributor. Change this podcast from general-purpose navel-gazing, solipsistic nonsense to a wide-ranging, sensitive and well-considered investigation of death and its dark omens and endless damage. I would change the name of the podcast from Free Association to, what? The End – An Exploration. Or Death – A Miscellany.

No, these are terrible. Perhaps I could ask you to send in your suggestions for a podcast title.

I am aware that one of challenges is that much research is required. Research is not really my cup of tea, as you know. Maybe Bongani will do it for me. However, even given my poor record in the research game, I do try to tell you something new every now and again.

So here it is.

Cloning. Remember cloning? Remember Dolly the sheep? Cloned 1996? Cloning pops up in the news occasionally, usually via some rumour that a demented North Korean lab is trying to clone Kim Jong-II. Then there is a big outcry, and the news cycle moves on. So I now find out that polo pony cloning is well under way. One of the great polo ponies of all time, the Argentinian horse called Aiken Cura (who was euthanised with a broken leg ten years ago) was cloned by his rider, a really famous player by the name of Combasio. The cloned polo pony will be in competition next year. I am so taken aback by this news snippet that I find myself, unexpectedly and unusually, stunned mute.

My twin brother Frank, of whom I have spoken often and who is unlike me in every way other than physical, called me from London, where he lives and works as an economist in one of the huge tech companies. I thought economists only worked for banks. But this company is so large that they have a staff economist. Go figure. He urged me to find a new career.

He said – Max, podcasts are going the way of the music industry, and podcasters are going the way of musicians.
I said – explain this to me.
He said – millions of musicians, no way for them to make a living, even the good ones.
I said – explain this to me.
He said – free distribution and piracy without consequence and endless inexpensive content creation by many talented people – ergo, no commercial proposition.
I said – how so?
He said – the podcast industry will become structurally over-efficient, just like the music business, and you can only make money in inefficient markets.
I said – ‘structurally over-efficient’? I have no idea what you are talking about.
He said – yes, you do.
He is very unlike me, Frank. We agree on very little. But he is no fool.

So anyway.

A one-year anniversary. A robust and growing listenership, many of whom like the show. Oh, there are a few malcontents who send nasty comments to the website, but by and large we seem to be okay. Maybe more than a few.

A quaint but dependable pay cheque. And a new girlfriend, no matter how transient.

Carpe diem before the other shoe drops.

This show is produced by the inimitable Bongani Maposa. Until next week, this is Max Lurie, and this is Free Association from the National Podcasting Network.

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He had removed the notepad abruptly, locked it in a drawer, his eyes telling her that he did not want to discuss what she had read – read an excerpt from Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit

The last time Silas Ali encountered Lieutenant Du Boise, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Silas’s wife, Lydia, in revenge for her husband’s participation in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

When Silas sees Du Boise by chance twenty years later, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to deliver its report, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Alis’ fragile peace.

A clear-eyed story of a brittle family on the crossroads of history and a fearless skewering of the pieties of revolutionary movements, Bitter Fruit is a cautionary tale of how we do, or do not, address the deepest wounds of the past.

‘Freshness and bold vividness are the qualities of Achmat Dangor’s writing … inn the post-apartheid era, he has tackled, in Bitter Fruit, as in Kafka’s Curse, with the honesty of his insight, the problem as well as the promised fulfilment of the enormous change that freedom brings about.’ – Nadine Gordimer

Achmat Dangor lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published four novels, Waiting for Leila (1981), The Z Town Trilogy (1990), Kafka’s Curse (1997) and Bitter Fruit (first released in 2001), as well as a short-story collection, Strange Pilgrimages (2013).

Bitter Fruit was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for 2004 as well as the 2003 International Dublin Impac Award. Dangor’s new novel, Dikeledi, will be released in August 2017.

Chapter 14

THE DAY HAD passed uneventfully. The President had had to leave the meeting early. A confrontation brewing between ‘the Arch’ and people in the movement. He was to meet with all sides, try to find a dignified way out of ‘the mess’.

‘Silas Ali, he works for the Minister, he’s a good man, is he?’ the President had asked no one in particular, but everyone around the table had nodded their agreement. The Old Man’s way of confirming something he already believed.

In the end, no one had mentioned Kate’s dress, and she had begun to feel uncomfortable.

Cold semen did not feel sensual on the skin. As soon as she could, she left work, drove home and lay in a hot bath for an hour, trying to stem her renewed feeling of disquiet. Before leaving the office, she had asked Van As, the President’s security chief, if he could locate security records on ‘François du Boise, a Lieutenant in the old Special Branch’.

Major Rudy van As had been in the old security police himself. His transformation into loyal guardian of the new order was complete, and fierce. Du Boise? The name did not sound familiar, he said. There had been thousands of foot soldiers, but he would see if he could get anything out of archives. Major Van As’s smug voice, his neutral smile. He was living up to the cliché of the inscrutable old security policeman.

Afterwards, she regretted having asked him at all, bewildered by her own impulsiveness. Draped in the loose gown she wore when there was no one home, she lay sprawled out by the pool, sipping a glass of wine. Her dogs, three huge German shepherds, clamoured for attention, pressing their noses against her. So much to be done, and here she was lazing about, breaking a house rule: no alcohol before five on a weekday. A gesture of restraint meant to impress Ferial. We lead by example. She quickly dismissed her guilt. She worked hard, put in many hours, this bit of indulgence was deserved.

Her thoughts drifted back to the morning’s events. How had Mikey known that his mother was coming?

There had been no warning, no phone call, no knock on the door, just this crazy kid standing at the window, sensing his mother’s imminent arrival.

Michael the Phenomenal.

Always probing, lately, asking questions about the amnesty process, things he should ask his father, not someone he’s just had sex with. Perhaps trying to demonstrate his intelligence, not just a young kid only good for fucking.

There was no doubting how bright he was. She saw the evidence of it all around him, the books on his shelf (without order, a random collection of truly intimidating titles), the music he listened to. Once, she’d glanced at some notes on his desk and was startled to read the beginnings of an analysis of the liberation struggle: there had never been an ‘armed struggle’, the movement had had more of an armed propaganda ability than any ‘real capacity to wage even a limited war’.

He had removed the notepad abruptly, locked it in a drawer, his eyes telling her that he did not want to discuss what she had read.

He had all the hallmarks of a driven person. A quest for truth, or justice, that grand kind of thing. She’d seen that ruthless gleam in people’s eyes before, the holy, malevolent clarity of someone obsessed.

Bitter Fruit

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How much does it cost to bribe a cop? Read an excerpt from The Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers

The StreetThe Street: Exposing a World of Cops, Bribes and Drug Dealers, by award-winning journalist Paul McNally, was recently released by Pan Macmillan.

The book documents the relationship between the police, drug dealers and shop owners on a stretch of Ontdekkers Road in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

There are no villains. McNally finds corrupt cops, drug dealers, vigilante residents, addicts, torturers, murders and cops partnered to drug dealers. But no villains.

The book was launched at Love Books in Melville recently, where Anton Harber, ENCA Editor-in-Chief and Caxton Professor of Journalism, called it: “A remarkable piece of writing.”

Read an excerpt:

The shop on Ontdekkers Road is empty besides Raymond and his son, who is sitting about two metres away from his father in the corner, listening to music through his headphones. Raymond reaches for a scratched, rectangular metal box of Johnnie Walker Red and pops the top. He moves his keyboard – which is still wrapped in its original protective plastic – to the side to clear some desk space. He shakes the Johnnie Walker container and empties its contents – fuses, bolts and other collected junk – onto his newspaper and begins to sift through them. He’s hunting for a rare transistor that a customer needs for his car’s sound system. Raymond pokes at the mess he’s made on his newspaper and coughs to jiggle the phlegm in his throat. The transistor he needs isn’t among the odds and ends he’s spread out on the newspaper. Raymond sticks his neck out, the slight flab under his chin stretching taut, peering closely, picking pieces up and putting them down again. He sighs heavily and glances over at his son.

Through the tinted window Raymond can see the van, but the cops who are in it can’t see him.

‘Here’s one. Here’s one,’ Raymond says to his son, scooping the bits of plastic and metal back into the tin and pulling his newspaper closed. His son ambles over to get a better view. The cop van is parked in front of the orange security gate. It is in the exact spot where a white man in a Mercedes bought cat 20 minutes earlier and where a fidgety black couple in a silver BMW had called on their cellphones and bought an hour before that. For every dozen, maybe two dozen, users who drive up to be seen by a dealer Raymond will be rewarded with the sight of an official, marked police van. Raymond doesn’t describe a person according to their clothes, job or race. He talks in cars as identifiers – ‘Blue Tazz comes every Friday’; ‘Here’s Red Polo again’. Red Polo is the private car of a constable stationed at Brixton police station. He is a cop and an addict. Sometimes Red Polo swings past several times a week.

A dealer in a white T-shirt opens the security gate and walks towards the cop van. It is April in Johannesburg and the tar on Ontdekkers is bright, but no longer burning. The dealer stands by the cop van’s passenger side and performs the manoeuvre described by local shop owners and sources within the police with uncanny dexterity. You could miss it happening if you were a casual observer, but once it has been pointed out to you it is embarrassingly obvious. The dealer leans on the open window so that his hands are inside the car and then he drops the money on the floor. He never hands the cash directly over.

The rates for bribes are surprisingly small: R150 if there are two cops in the car and R200 if there are three or four cops in the car. Whenever they need a little money for some bread they’ll cruise by the dealers for a top-up.

The amounts might be small, but Raymond reckons ten bribes are dished out to various cop cars from three or four of the surrounding police stations every day. That’s 300 separate bribes per month. The dealers don’t ever want to refuse a cop, so the rates are kept small to ensure that cops can pull in and get a nibble whenever the impulse takes them. The dealers have schemed that if they refuse a cop he becomes an enemy, but if they reduce the amount he will continue to feed lightly and be placated. They are dealers, after all; they grasp addiction. Maybe the cop will pop by again, but his frequency will be restricted by how often he can be absent from his duties.

Before the cop has finished his transaction with the dealer Raymond is out from behind his desk and on his feet looking down Ontdekkers Road through the tinted glass.

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Excerpt from The Dream House by Craig Higginson, in celebration of the updated 2016 edition

The Dream HouseThe paperback edition of Craig Higginson’s The Dream House hit the shelves recently, and in celebration of this joyous occasion Pan Macmillan has shared an excerpt from the book.

This updated 2016 edition contains new content, with Higginson exploring the background to The Dream House, his varied experiences in a farmhouse in KwaZulu-Natal and the subsequent and poignant motivations for this moving novel.

The Dream House, published in 2015, was one of the novels shortlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.

Read the excerpt, in which the author tells the story behind the inspiration for his novel:

* * * * *


The First Dream House

There are many houses we pass through during our lives. Maybe it’s true that they also pass through us. Some of them remain with us, and we are able to return to them long after they are gone. One such house was a farmhouse in KwaZulu-Natal, just over the hill of the boarding school I attended between the ages of ten and fourteen. This hill stood above our school like the promise of another world. It provided the title for a novel of mine – simply called The Hill – and it now lies buried under a pine plantation. Where the air was once filled with the song of stonechats, longclaws and sunbirds, there is now only silence.

     I came to know this house over the hill because on that farm were horses and my family was involved with horses. I forget the details, but I think my mother wanted to buy a horse from them – a Welsh pony, in fact – and we met them just as I was about to start at boarding school. We spent the night in that house and the next day I put on the strange new clothes for my school – a grey blazer and shorts, a black-and-white striped tie, a cap with the school logo sewn onto it and military tan shoes.

     The farmer was a man from Yorkshire originally. He had a strong impenetrable accent, pale blue eyes and was always making jokes that insinuated themselves just around the borders of my comprehension. He was forever hinting at something sexual, it seemed to me, and I tended to smile at him whenever he looked in my direction – hoping to reassure him that I was quite fine as I was and that he needn’t bother himself with me further.

     It was the farmer’s wife we were more concerned with – on that first meeting and afterwards. Even then she was a very large woman. She had a mop of frizzy greying hair, yellow teeth like bits of sweetcorn and laughing halfhidden eyes. She was also always making jokes, usually teasing me and my sister for being spoiled city kids. Actually, we lived in a very modest suburb in a very modest house, but to her we were shy, obscurely fastidious, possibly fussy children. We liked horses and dogs – and on that farm there were plenty of each – but we had never been in such a house, where the corners of every room hadn’t been entered into in decades, and where everything smelt of old leather and wet wood and leaking gas.

     I am not sure that the house made much impression on me at first as there was so much going on inside it and I must have been worried about going to a new school, but the farmer’s wife said I should come and visit them on my first Sunday out. I could come for lunch and learn how to catch a fish. I dreaded the thought of this, but no one was going to take no for an answer and my mother was probably grateful there would be someone to pick me up – on a day when many of the other boys were being picked up by muddy bakkies from the neighbouring farms where they had grown up.

     On the day in question, the farmer’s wife was there to meet me outside the school library. She was in a large cream Mercedes and even then the car was being driven by a driver – Bheki – who wore neat blue overalls and never said a word. I sat in the back between two Alsatians. She sat in the passenger seat with at least three Chihuahuas on her lap. She chattered all the way through the woods and the dark thin road that led out the school, and didn’t stop until we’d reached a dingy little shop run by an Indian man by the railway, where she gave me a few coins to go inside and buy myself some sweets. I did so, while they all waited in the car, and came back outside with my strange selection of toffees and ‘nigger balls’ and other little fruity sweets in a brown paper packet, immediately feeling that the day wouldn’t be wholly bad after all.

     I was in a daze for much of the time in those days and was probably far off and polite and eager to get my answers right. I was taken down the long dirt road that led to the farm, got out – large dogs sniffing my crotch, licking my hands, pawing at me with their mud – and joined her for tea and cake on the stoep. This ran along the front of the house, which had a shallow corrugated iron roof and resembled Karen Blixen’s house in the film version of Out of Africa, in spite of being more modest and shabbier and perhaps not quite as old. That day I went fishing with Bheki and he hooked the fish and I ran with it up the bank – exactly as it was described in this book. The only difference is that the fish was a bass, not a rainbow trout, and we did indeed kill it. There is a photograph of me wearing the clothes of some other boy who once visited their house: a red T-shirt and tight blue shorts, holding up what was in effect another man’s fish. My hair is brushed and I am standing upright, as if proud, although what I really felt at that moment is lost to me. I tend to look sceptical in photographs.

     That was the first of many such visits. In time, I would come in the afternoons – usually with a friend or two – and we would drink Coke and eat some chocolate cake and get back to school just in time for showers. The house was a secret, a bolt hole that no teacher at the school knew about.

     It was my home away from home and I loved every bit of it and the farm around it. On my weekends out, I would often spend the night – staring at the high ceiling of the spare room while outside dogs barked and eagle-owls hooted and the rain smacked against the window. I continued to fish with mixed success and started to explore the surrounding hills – where I found a cave by a stream, a waterfall and the nests of malachite sunbirds, cape eagleowls and crowned eagles. I could be happy for the day simply because I had spotted a rare kingfisher.

     I think my imagination found a home during those years. When I started writing for the first time, it was in that spare room at a little desk, lit by a hurricane lamp. When I was working as the assistant to the theatre director Barney Simon, he encouraged me to start writing a play and the play took place in that house. This would eventually become my first original play, Dream of the Dog – later revisited and extensively developed as The Dream House.

     I have farmers in my family but grew up in a bland little suburb in Johannesburg – so this place provided me with magic, with a more abundant life.

     In those days, I wanted to be a vet. I would read books about horse ailments, I would watch cows and sheep and horses coupling and giving birth. I knew the house as a cool cave on hot summer days, as a rattling tin drum during thunderstorms, as a place of damp linen and crackling fireplaces when the mist filled the valley and seemed to invade every cupboard of the house. My time there opened my heart to such writers as William Wordsworth and Ted Hughes – so that when I arrived at their great poems I knew exactly what they were talking about.

     I think the people who invited me into their home would be faintly
horrified by what I’ve made of them. The farmer’s wife would be amazed that Janet Suzman played her on London’s West End. They had no idea there was anything artistic about me. If they had known, they would have laughed at it. They have long ago passed into the darkness we have all come from – and these days it sometimes feels as if I simply imagined them. They were people of their time, increasingly uneasy in a world that was rapidly outstripping them. But they were kind to me. Most of all, they left me alone.

     They provided a starting place for my imagination – as modest and meek as it might have been – to produce a little root, take hold and quietly nose its way towards the light.

1. A version of this piece first appeared in the October–November 2015 edition of Visi, the architecture magazine.
2. I recently came across the couples’ graves in a small churchyard near Nottingham Road. The teacher who inspired Mr Ford was also buried there. It was very strange to see the people who inspired three of my characters lying together there. I had made them love each other and hate each other in a way they never had in real life.
Their real lives were already far off – and wholly unreachable.

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Jub Jub, Oscar Pistorius – that could have been me: Read an excerpt from Kabelo Mabalane’s book I Ran For My Life

I Ran For My LifePan Macmillan has shared an excerpt from I Ran For My Life: My Story by Kabelo Mabalane.

In I Ran For My Life, Mabalane shares his extraordinary life journey, from being a multi-platinum-selling musician with TKZee, through the highs and lows of drug addiction, to finding hope again through running – eight Comrades Marathons and counting.

In this excerpt, Mabalane reflects on how he close he became to becoming just like Jub Jub, or even Oscar Pistorius. He also describes his experience of rehab, where he was no longer surrounded by “yes people”, but by people who would not tolerate his arrogance.
Read the excerpt:

I am the Monster

Maybe I am contributing to that myth of famous people who always get away with crap. When the Jub Jub thing came out I was very slow to point fingers, because I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it could have been me. Even Oscar Pistorius – every time I watched that case, my heart broke. That could also have been me, on so many levels. My temper, mixed with the drugs I was taking. Uncalculating, but angry. I hit a woman once. It was when I was stone-cold sober, had been off drugs for a couple of months. It was the most frustrated I had ever been. I don’t know if, even now, I am ready to talk about this. These men we see as monsters, it’s also something that can be closer than you know. You can be the monster. You just got lucky that you didn’t get caught.

The first step of the Twelve-step programme is to admit that you are powerless over your addiction, and that your life has become unmanageable. Before then, my life was unmanageable. I could not manage my life. If I could, I wouldn’t have been there, in that place. And it was flipping hard work. It hurt. It required real bravery to go through that process. I actually understand why a lot of people stay the way they are.

I went into rehab, as planned, on 1 November, and I came out on 13 December. Two days after that I had a gig – it was something that had been planned a lot earlier, before I even went into rehab. I remember getting on stage and the crowd going berserk. I was really appreciative of getting a second chance. I felt like I had got my selfrespect back. That people would start respecting me for being honest about what I was going through. I had been like this villain, and all of a sudden I was made to feel like I was a hero.

But there were people who weren’t happy with my sobriety. It said more about where they were at. I was accused of doing it as a publicity stunt, of being a media whore. Often by people who were in active addiction. For the first second, when you find out, it hurts deeply. But I had to rise above it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I can’t force someone to think about me in a certain way. If an orange tree says it’s an orange tree, then you’ve got to give it time to bear some oranges. If harvest time comes and it bears apples, you will know who the imposter is. You will know me by my fruit.

My mother came to visit me at the rehab centre every weekend. She was always there for me. She didn’t have to say anything; she was known by her actions. The addict goes in, but, parallel to that, the family goes through their own counselling. When I saw my mom give herself over to that, try to understand me, I knew that she was really there for me.

One of the things you have to do as part of a Twelve-step programme is write your own life story. See what kind of a prick you actually were. You have to travel down that road, start writing down all this stuff. For me, that is part of what spurs an addict on to sobriety: jeez, I did that? I didn’t sign up to be this person. Then, of course, after a few weeks you have to read your story out loud, to your group. When you learn about other people’s crap, you hear their stories week after week, it slowly becomes a safe environment for you to share yours. When you see someone else become transparent, it encourages you to become transparent.

When I finally read out my story, there were proud moments – because of the good stuff I had achieved – but also embarrassing moments, humbling moments. If anything, rehab humbled me. It made me realise that the sun didn’t shine out of my bum, and that when I drive around at night the moon is not following me. So there was pride, and there was regret. Regret because … if I had paid more attention and not missed so many things, I would be much further in life. As much as you pat yourself on the back after rehab, because you came out clean, you did it, part of that process is also realising how many opportunities you missed because of your addiction.

The first day I arrived at Houghton House, I was shown around, told where to go, and then thrown straight into ‘group’. There were plastic chairs placed in a circle. I sat down with this kind of ‘Do you know who I am?’ attitude. I folded my arms – I was completely arrogant, even though by that time I was already clean; or maybe it was because of that – and I just sat and looked at these people, pretended to listen to them. Maybe I was hearing what they said, but I wasn’t really listening. This one girl was sharing her story with the group. Like I said, you share where you have been so that people can identify with you and find strength in where you have been. It’s kind of a sacred space. It requires a huge amount of trust.

So, she was sharing her stuff. And I decided to just chip in. I gave her advice: I think you should do this, and you should do that. This is so embarrassing when I think of it now – not just me thinking that I obviously knew better than everyone else, but just the complete disrespect, like I was stomping all over the stuff she was sharing. I think everyone in the group was completely horrified at my behaviour. Worse, still, I carried on acting like that for another week or so. That story about me made the rounds. And my mistake ultimately wound up being the beginning of my healing process, and me understanding what I was there to do.

A week later, when the group met and got to confront each other, or confront another addict for their conduct, or applaud someone – it didn’t have to be negative – I remember basically the whole room just gunning for me. ‘We don’t know who you think you are. This is not the music industry. You are so arrogant …’ They really let me have it.

I had always had ‘yes people’ surrounding me – there were very few people who challenged who I was, or what I did. For the first time in my life that I could remember, there were all these people in this room, and they were all telling me where to get off. It was the first time that the penny dropped: that I had come there to change.

They didn’t just tell me what they thought about my behaviour. People told me how I made them feel. Nobody with a conscience would want to give off what I was giving off. And that’s when I started putting in the work. At the end of five weeks, the reports about me had changed. People thanked me for taking to heart what they had said about me. But it wasn’t just what they’d said about me that caused that change. My headspace started to shift when I started hearing their stories, really hearing them. When you hear someone else’s life story, it gives you the ability to put everything in a different context. You start to understand people more, you’re able to empathise with them. The fact that some people made my mountains look like molehills … it made me want to understand people more.

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