Friday, 8 September 2017


Bibliophiles in Jozi are in for a treat. The South Africa Book Fair (SABF) starts this morning at the Market precinct in Newtown and runs until Sunday evening. The star attraction of the fair is a comprehensive exhibition showcasing the very best in local publishing, which is being held at Museum Africa. Find out more about latest local publications, careers in the sector, and visit the Research Lane and Library Village. Entrance is free and this is definitely a must-see.  

For the kids, the National Book Week Magic Tent will be a treat, and the City of Joburg has a demo library set up at the Gramadoelas restaurant. The friendly librarians there will introduce you to all of the services available at your local library and show you how to access the wonderful world of the written word. Both events are also free.

Then there's a comprehensive literary programme featuring Authors in Discussion sessions, children's theatre, young adult workshops, and even some unusual cooking demonstrations. Most of the sessions cost R30, with the children's theatre sessions being R60 and the cooking demonstrations R100. The organisers advise pre-booking online as seats for some of the sessions are limited.

Safe parking is available at the Newtown Mall, which is situated just behind the Market precinct. The entrance is situated in Miriam Makeba Street.

Be there and enjoy all the fun of the fair!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Dear Friends,

I've been scarce, I know, but there's been good reason...

As concerns about crime and service delivery have been growing across the South Africa, Johannesburg has not escaped. The Joburg metropolitan area, which was formed in 2000 by the amalgamation of five previously independent municipalities, is (officially) home to 3.2 million people living in 1,006,930 households (source: City of Johannesburg). It's also where 70% of the country's businesses have their headquarters, and where the South African Stock Exchange is situated.

Poor service delivery, corruption at local government level and high levels of violent crime have become pressing problems for residents, and many feel helpless in the face of an inefficient, unaccountable and uncaring bureaucracy.

In addition to that, the city faces many serious environmental problems, not the least of which is acid mine drainage, which has been called the single largest environmental crisis South Africa has ever faced.

So I felt it was important to focus more on community work this year than on books (much as I hated to pull myself away from my beloved 'stacks'), and I founded a small civil advocacy group that is running a few projects to try and address some of these issues.

It's been a time-consuming undertaking and, as I also have a day job :), I'm afraid SAbookworm has suffered. I hope to be able to start posting again at some time in the future, even if I won't be able to do so as regularly as I did in the past.

In the meantime, keep up with the 'harder' issues at Joburg Advocacy Group. Join us there and add your voice to the conversation about good governance, social justice and environmental protection.

Saturday, 20 December 2008


SAbookworm would like to wish all its readers a happy and peaceful festive season. Four major spiritual and religious festivals take place within the next week, the Midsummer Solstice, Yule, the Jewish festival of Hannukah and Christmas.
The Midsummer Solstice will be celebrated in the southern hempisphere tomorrow, being the longest day of the year, and Yule will be celebrated in the northern hemisphere, where it is mid-winter. These two major solar festivals were central to the pre-Christian calendar, and are still widely celebrated by Druids, Wiccans, Pantheists and other contemporary nature traditions, both spiritual and secular.
The Solstice festival begins at sunset on Midsummer's Eve, and usually includes torch-lit processions, bonfires and the exchange of small, symbolic gifts. It is customary to stay up all night on this auspicious occasion, and then to greet the rising sun to honour nature's glory and majesty. This is also the time of year when abundance and fertility are celebrated, and many couples choose this day for their weddings or handfasting ceremonies. White candles and summer wreaths are used as part of the celebrations to symbolise purity and plenty.
Readers in the north will, of course, be celebrating Yule instead. Generally regarded as the most important day of the solar year, it is revered as the time when the wheel of the year turns from darkness back towards light. Unlike the Midsummer Solstice, it's a time of contemplation, and is usually celebrated quietly with a family and friends.
This year, Hannukah coincides with these ancient festivals, and will also be celebrated tomorrow. It is celebrated over a period of eight days from the 25th day of Kislev, the third month in the Jewish calendar, which usually corresponds to some time during the first three weeks of December in the Gregorian calendar. Also known as The Festival of Lights, it commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalemin 165 BCE, after it had been desecrated by Hellenistic invaders.
Festivities include lighting candles every night in a Hanukkah menorah, singing special songs such as Ma'oz Tzur, reciting the Hallel prayer, eating festive meals that include foods such as latkes and sufganiyot, and giving gifts of Hanukkah gelt.
Then, as most South Africans will know, this is the time of the year when those of the Christian faith celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as the gift of life. Christmas Day (25 December) is a highlight on the Christian calendar, and is marked by masses and services in both Catholic and Protestant churches. The tradition of giving gifts derives from the pre-Christian Yule tradition, and the day is celebrated with abundant meals.
We're especially privileged in this country to have religious freedom entrenched in our Constitution, and I take great pride in the fact that there's a Methodist Church, an Anglican Church, a Mosque, a Catholic Church, a Synagogue, a Buddhist centre, an active Shembe community, a sangoma, and a practicing Wiccan group all within five kilometres of my house. This, I feel, shows the true meaning of peace and goodwill - the fact that people of such widely varying beliefs can live together without religious conflict. We're really all one, after all.
Wishing you all peace and goodwill - during the festive season and always.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


At last 16 December has arrived, marking an end to the lunacy of the last few weeks of the working year, and ushering in the long, lazy days of the summer holidays. Finally we can all take to our hammocks (or beach chairs or pool loungers or overstuffed couches, as the case may be) with that pile of books we've been dying to read, but simply haven't had the chance to look at yet.
The pile I've been collecting lately would surely flatten a 4x4 if it fell over (and maybe that's good enough reason to give it a push!), so I won't get to them all, but here are some of the titles that have caught my eye this summer:
Hot, Flat and Crowded
by Thomas Friedman
Alan Lane Publishers
What the publishers say: The World Is Flat (this book's predecessor) has helped millions of readers to see globalization in a new way. Now Thomas Friedman brings a fresh look at the crises of destabilizing climate change and rising competition for energy - both of which could poison our world if we do not act quickly and collectively. His argument speaks to all who are concerned about the state of the world in the global future.
Friedman proposes that an ambitious national strategy - which he calls 'Geo-Greenism' - is not only what we need to save the planet from overheating; it is what we need to make us all healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure.
As in The World Is Flat, he explains a new era - the Energy-Climate era - through an illuminating account of recent events. He sets out the clean-technology breakthroughs the world will need; he shows that the ET (Energy Technology) revolution will be both transformative and disruptive; and he explains why America must lead this revolution - with the first Green President and a Green New Deal, spurred by the Greenest Generation.
Hot, Flat and Crowded is classic Thomas L. Friedman - fearless, incisive, forward-looking, and rich in surprising common sense about the world we live in today.
What the bookworm thinks: After torturing myself through about two-thirds of this book, I decided to stop short of the final section. Never before have I felt so ideologically at odds with someone writing about green issues. It's not that the issues aren't precipitously valid, or that some of the solutions Friedman proposes to climate change, overpopulation et al don't make a helluva lot of sense. It's the socio-political framework of his argument that I can't agree with and which, in fact, not only wore me down, but detracted from what was pertinent about his message.
It was Einstein who said that problems can't be solved using the same thinking with which they were created, and yet Friedman can't move beyond his Western capitalist world view, despite the increasingly desperate social, economic and ecological situation we find ourselves in.
His position is predictable: capitalism will save the day, and America will lead the way. Blinded to the fact that capitalism is ... um ... at the heart of all levels of the crisis we are currently facing, that there are other models to consider and other people's voices to listen to, and that the USA's cultural, economic and military imperialism is the single most significant driver behind global terrorism today, he sticks to the orthodoxy.
So, basically, read this book and weep. Friedman outlines some creative strategies that could gainfully be used in a transition period between what we have now and a new way of living sustainably and peacefully on the planet, but don't expect anything other than the established ideology from him. And I don't think that's enough.
Note to self: Don't forget to mention that:
  • Friedman's central metaphor - that the world is flat - is meant to communicate the "equalizing power" of technology that, in his view, enables more people to "plug, play, compete, connect and collaborate with more equal power than ever before". While that may be true from a developed world perspective, nothing could be further off the mark if the whole world is taken into account. On that broad canvas, technology and access to technology is the dividing line in the new 21st century class system, separating those who are "wired" from the "serf class" of those whose access to technology remains largely or absolutely limited by poverty, infrastructure limitations and a whole host of other factors. Again, this is an example of the very definite lens through which this author views his subject.
  • The World is Flat, Friedman's first book on this subject, was awarded the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award when it was published. 'Nuff said.
  • It's a well-established capitalist strategy to colonise ideas and actions that are critical of the system - that's how Che Guevara's face ends up on T-shirts for sale all over the world or "green" becomes a business strategy. This, I believe, is exactly what Friedman has done in these two books.
  • If readers would like an independent take on "green" and other issues - by writers who aren't fundamentally part of the system that created the problem - they might like to have a look at the New Internationalist's superb series of No-Nonsense Guides.
Playing the Enemy
John Carlin
Atlantic Books
What the publishers say: 24 June 1995. Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The Springboks versus The All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final. Nelson Mandela steps onto the pitch wearing a Springbok jersey and, before a global audience of millions, a new country is born. This book tells the incredible story of the journey to that moment.
As the Springboks faced New Zealand's mighty All Blacks, more was at stake than a sporting trophy. And, when Nelson Mandela appeared wearing a Springbok jersey, and led the all-white Afrikaner-dominated team in singing South Africa's new national anthem, he conquered white South Africa.
Playing the Enemy tells the story of what lead up to that moment, and what made it possible. It shows how a sport, once the preserve of South Africa's Afrikaans-speaking minority, came to unify the new rainbow nation, and tells of how - just occasionally - something as simple as a game really can help people to rise above themselves and see beyond their differences.
What the bookworm thinks: I've been to two rugby matches in my life; the first a compulsory weekend match at a brother school in the 1970's, and the second the World Cup final of 1995. I don't intend to go to any more rugby matches if I can help it, but that World Cup was a once-in-lifetime experience I'll always remember.
Not only was it a demonstration of Nelson Mandela's extraordinary statesmanship, but it was a potent symbol of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the ancestral homeland of Ubuntu (African humanism), and the birthplace of Satyagraha (Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence), Mandela showed that there can - and should - be unity in diversity.
Our recent history has shown that it was a glorious, fleeting moment, but we know we're capable of it, and that's what matters. Perhaps we can get back there ...
Garden of My Ancestors
Bridget Hilton-Barber
Penguin Books
What the publishers say: Sex, drugs and gardening. That’s the spirit of Garden of My Ancestors, a story about a family farm set in the wild and misty reaches of Limpopo province.
The farm belongs to an infamous family whose ancestors settled here more than a century ago. This is no tedious or anguished account of stoic, hard-nosed colonials, however. This is the tale of a wild and wonderful family, an African tale in which White Mischief meets magic realism.
Set in an incredible garden against ancient mountains that change every day, Garden of My Ancestors is sad, tragic, funny and philosophical – and an evocative testament to the healing powers of gardening.
What the bookworm thinks: This book, which is the one I'm reading at the moment, is a pleasant read, if sometimes confusing and a little difficult to follow. It's also unfortunately laid out in conference-style square paragraphs rather than the traditional text format usually used in books and newspapers, which further detracts from the narrative for me.
On a visceral level, it leaves me feeling like a "kaalvoet klonkie" that has mistakenly - and for the first time - stumbled across a softly-lit fantasy palace on a warm summer evening, and who is standing secretly in the dark garden, gazing in on a strange and unattainable world.
So different is Barber's experience of her childhood in South Africa from my own that this book affirms something I've often tried to explain to others, without much success - that white South African experience is not homogeneous.
That, of course, is why all of our stories need to be told, so that the old, false divisions can be seen for what they are, and the true diversity of our history and our current experience can be known.
Of Tricksters, Tyrants and Tycoons
Max du Preez
Zebra Press
What the publishers say: This title (the sequel to Of Warriors, Lovers and Prophets) is a collection of more colourful, fascinating – and mostly unknown – characters, spanning more than three hundred years of South African history.
There are stories of slaves, lively Khoisan characters, and the first Muslim "Cape Malays". And the tale of the Xhosa prophet Makhanda, who nearly succeeded in taking Grahamstown from the British in 1819, and who later escaped from Robben Island, will take most readers by surprise.
Also covered are the Foster gang of Johannesburg, who were indirectly responsible for the killing of Boer hero Koos de la Rey; David Pratt, the man who shot Hendrik Verwoerd in the head at the Rand Easter Show; and the three men who pulled off the biggest jewellery heist of the time, stealing Bridget Oppenheimer's jewellery in 1956. And there’s the sensational and previously unknown story of how a right-wing attack using small aeroplanes at Nelson Mandela's inauguration in 1994 was thwarted at the last moment.
What the bookworm thinks: I have enormous respect for Max du Preez as a journalist, and look forward to reading these stories, in which he turns his eye on some of the lesser known aspects of our history. For me, it's part of the process of bringing to light all the untold records of our past, so that we can have a better understanding of where we come from and who we are as a people.
History, as the saying goes, is the account of the victors. In books like these, though, the more subtle layers of humanity below the victor's version begin to be known, and there could be no more important archaeological undertaking than uncovering them.
Of particular interest is the summary of South African history at the back of the book, which contextualises colonisation and apartheid, and records important events that were all but expunged from history under the apartheid government. As always, du Preez brings history and current affairs to us in an accessible, understandable way.
The Orange Trees of Baghdad
Leilah Nadir
Scribe Publishers
What the publishers say: Born to an Iraqi-Christian father and a British mother, and raised in Britain and Canada, Leilah Nadir has never set foot on Iraqi soil. Distanced from her Iraqi roots by emigration, and now cut off by war, the closest link she has to the nation is through her father, who left Baghdad in the 1960s to pursue his studies in England. His Iraq is of mythical origins; his beginnings are in a garden at the family home that now stands vacant.
Through her father's memories, Leilah recounts her family's lost story, from Iraq at the turn of the twentieth century during the British occupation, to the Iraq-Iran War and the Gulf War. Through her cousins still living in Baghdad, she experiences the thunderous explosions of the present-day conflict.
Then Leilah's friend, award-winning photographer Farah Nosh, brings home news of Leilah's family after her visits to Iraq, as well as stunning photos of civilians and their tragic stories. The Orange Trees of Baghdad is at once harrowing, touching and painfully human. It is an unforgettable debut.
What the bookworm thinks: I'm always fascinated by debut books; by an author's first turn on the dance floor of the written word, and look forward to retiring to my hammock with this one. The title is evocative of a landscape now lost under Humvees, tanks and car bombs; of the Byzantine Empire - its magic not lost, but now holed up in small enclaves and carefully-guarded cultural rituals.
And this exploration of an individual's lost history is the perfect foil for Hilton-Barber's book and Max du Preez's stories.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


One in three women will be raped in her lifetime. Read that again.
This is a horrifying statistic that simply can't be ignored, especially in South Africa, where a woman or girl is raped every 26 seconds (Source: Charlize Theron, UN Messenger of Peace). That's just over 1,661 rapes every single day - or 606,500 a year - excluding all other forms of sexual assault.
A report by the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) shows that the country has one of the highest per capita rates of rape and violence against women in the world (Source: Sunday Times). So common is violence in relationships between men and women in this country, says the SARPN study, that violent or coercive sex is often accepted as normal by both genders. This is a sad - and terrifying - indictment of the state of our nation.
That's why SAbookworm is asking its readers to consider wearing a white ribbon in support of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, which runs from 25 November to 10 December. Even better, volunteer at a women's shelter or organisation, and help a woman or girl child who has been abused (see Women's Net for details).
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that was established in 1991. Symbolically, it starts on the International Day Against Violence Against Women and ends on International Human Rights Day, emphasizing that gender violence is not just a women's issue, but a fundamental violation of human rights. Believe me, if one in three men were raped in their lifetimes, a world-wide state of emergency would have been proclaimed years ago.
The 16-day period also highlights other significant dates, including International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on 29 November, World AIDS Day on 1 December, and the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre on 6 December.
It was on this day in 1989 that twenty-five-year old Marc Lepine, armed with a legally-obtained semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife, entered a lecture hall at a Montreal university and separated the male and female students. Claiming that he was "fighting feminism", he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through the corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women. He killed fourteen and injured ten more, as well as injuring four men, before he turned the gun on himself.
It is this kind of mindless violence that the 16 Days campaign aims to eliminate. So, women and men alike, stand up and be counted on this issue. And, mothers, teach your boy children well - the end to gender violence begins with them.

Top image from the Irish 16 Days campaign of 2000; bottom image from GEMSA (Gender and Media Southern Africa).

Sunday, 23 November 2008


In the past week alone, four e-mails about animal cruelty have arrived in my inbox, from four completely different sources.
The first was about a dog called Hope (pictured here), who was found abandoned in a locked metal box during the xenophobic attacks earlier this year, and who now needs a new home; the second was an appeal for signatures to support a 3rd Degree investigation into appalling cruelty to horses; the third was from PETA (People Opposing Animal Abuse), which has uncovered shocking brutality during the slaughtering of turkeys for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in north America; and the fourth was an expose of the annual whale and dolphin slaughter in the Faroe Islands off Denmark.
As we know that, on a quantum level, everything is interconnected, and that every act of cruelty affects us all, I believe animal abuse is something we all need to oppose in every way possible. And, of course, the best way to do that is not to turn away at the very thought of it, but to ensure that we are informed about what is going on in our world and about how best to counteract it.
So this selection of books is for animal lovers and compassionate people who want to know more and who wish to make a difference:

One Can Make a Difference: How Simple Actions Can Change the World
Ingrid E. Newkirk
One Can Make a Difference is a compilation of more than 50 thought-provoking essays written by an intriguing and diverse group of people, including His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Sir Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Dennis Kucinich, Russell Simmons, Brigitte Bardot, Martina Navratilova, Stella McCartney, Ravi Shankar, and Oliver Stone.
All, armed with nothing more than the power of their personal beliefs, have had a profoundly positive impact on the world. And, as readers peak into the psyches of these remarkable personalities, they see that all it takes to create an entire movement is the desire and determination of any one person.
This is an enlightening book that provides a road map for anyone seeking a just society and for those striving for positive change. Newkirk underscores the fact that we all inevitably face challenges in our lives and that a person does not have to be famous or wealthy to actively contribute to the betterment of the world.

Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism
Mark Hawthorne
Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism brings together the most effective tactics for speaking out for animals and gives voice to activists from around the globe, who explain why their models of activism have been successful—and how you can become involved.
Concise and full of practical examples and resources, this manual will show you how many of the world's most engaged activists overcome obstacles, effectively speak to the public, lobby policymakers, conduct corporate and restaurant outreach, deal with law enforcement, cope with stress, and avoid burnout.
From simple leafleting to taking direct action, each chapter clearly explains where to begin, what to expect, and how to ensure that your message is heard. This book will empower you to make the most of your skills.

Making Kind Choices: Everyday Ways to Enhance Your Life and Avoid Cruelty to Animals
Ingrid E. Newkirk
Foreword by Sir Paul McCartney
Every day, each of us is faced with choices, and we can choose to hurt or to help, to be cruel or to be kind.
In this acclaimed new book, PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk explains how simple choices that we make every day at the dinner table and the grocery-store check-out line can have a life-saving impact on animals.
Packed with green tips on saving the planet, it's an invaluable resource for the concerned consumer. From soup to sweaters, pets to plants, candles to cosmetics, bug-catching to bedsheets, it's an year-round guide to compassionate shopping. Making Kind Choices makes doing good easy and fun with, and includes heartwarming stories, humorous anecdotes and practical tips.

Quick-Fix Vegetarian: Healthy Home-Cooked Meals in 30 Minutes or Less
Robin Robertson

Best-selling author Robin Robertson provides both novice and longtime cooks with effortless, everyday convenience and robust vegetarian dishes that can be prepared in less time than it takes to have a pizza delivered.
Best of all, these 150 recipes, like "beat-the-clock" spinach lasagna and pineapple-apricot couscous cake, are made without meat, dairy products, or eggs, making them 100% cholesterol-free.
This cookbook also shows you how to use many of the new commercial vegetarian products, and it offers recipe variations and professional tips for speedy, stress-free entertaining, with flavors, textures, and presentations that your friends and family are sure to enjoy. Quick-Fix Vegetarian is a book that no kitchen should be without!
50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals
Ingrid E. Newkirk
Kids love animals, and teaching them compassion early on helps them to become compassionate adults. This book is full of fascinating facts and more then 100 projects and ideas that show young activists how they can get active for animals.
For more about these books, or to order copies, click through to the PETA Catalogue. Some titles are also available locally through
And, if you'd like to read more about the stories I mentioned at the beginning of this post, see Suffer the Animals ... below.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


Despite the many challenges we face, we South Africans nevertheless have the unique capacity to laugh at ourselves and our situation, even if it's often a somewhat dark form of mirth. This is clear from the popularity of the Zapiro and Madam and Eve cartoon collections, which are eagerly awaited at the end of each year.
Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro) and Stephen Francis & Rico (who pen Madam and Eve) are our very own Court Jesters, and what a great job they do! Nothing escapes them, and we're privileged to have them casting their critical eyes over the swirling tide of events that laps around us every day.
Hot off the ironing board, as Francis and Rico put it, Madam and Eve Unplugged takes on everything from exploding ATMs to Mbeki, Mugabe (and his shopaholic wife, Grace), fuel prices, potholes, corruption, xenophobia and, needless to say, "load shedding".
It's been a dark year in more ways than one, but at least we can still have a laugh at it all (even if there is a touch of hysteria to it!).
Zapiro's new collection, Pirates of Polokwane, which is being launched this evening at Constitution Hill, is similarly fearless (and, yes, it does contain THAT cartoon - the one of Jacob Zuma preparing to rape Lady Justice). You'll notice, for instance, that Ship ANC on the cover has the trademark Zuma showerhead as a masthead, despite the endless huffing and puffing about the use of this comedic device from the Halls of Power. And 'nuff said about what that means for the party's future direction.
Zapiro has been called a national treasure, and keeps us all not only on our toes, but on pointe. His sharp and achingly funny critique remains unbowed in the face of law suits from Mr Love Pants (thanks to the ever-imaginative Andrew Donaldson of The Sunday Times for another superb political moniker), and - yes - death threats from Zuma supporters.
If you'd like to meet Zap himself, and hear from his equally fearless editor at the Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, pedal up to Constitution Hill this evening - or to Pollsmoor Prison next week - for the launch of the book. The new super-collection The Mandela Files will be launched at Pollsmoor at the same time.
Just remember to RSVP so that the organisers can know how many chortling people to expect - and, because of the nature of the venue in Cape Town, you'll need to give them your ID number to book a place at that event.
Johannesburg Launch
When: Monday, 17 November 2008
Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
Where: Women's Gaol, Constitution Hill, Joubert Street, Hillbrow (see Map)
Guest Speaker: Mondli Makhanya
RSVP: / 011 628 3204
Cape Town Launch
When: Thursday, 27 November 2008
Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM 
Where: Recreaction Centre, Pollsmoor Prison, Steenberg Road, Tokai (see Map) 
Guest Speaker: Antjie Krog
RSVP with your ID number by Monday 17 November to: Carmen Timm, / 021 763 3538