Thursday, 29 November 2007


Good grief (as Charlie Brown would say)! There's such a fuss over the recently-released title, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. Store shelves are overflowing with copies and magazines are waxing lyrical over it, but what's it all about?
According to the publishers' blurb, it's about a secret once known only to an elite, a secret based in the Universal Law of Attraction that enables one to obtain everything one desires.
The good news, apparently, is that now anyone can access this power in order to bring themselves health, wealth and happiness - and Byrne is the pathfinder.
Quite a claim - and I'll be looking into it in this week's Bookworm Review. The bookworm secret is ... that's this weekend. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


OK, so this isn't strictly book-related, but Zapiro's 2007 cartoon collection, Take Two Veg and Call Me in the Morning, was the Bookworm Review book last week.
In light of the startling developments in the ANC presidential race this weekend, I'm relieved to see that, as always, we can count on Zapiro to hit the political nail on the head (click on today's cartoon, shown here, to enlarge).
The truth is that a few thousand card-carrying ANC members have the fate of the country in their hands at the moment. It falls to them - and to them only - to elect a new president for the ANC and, de facto, for South Africa. Hardly a glowing example of the democratic process. And with Zuma now the front-runner in the race, what's increasingly disturbing is how they're putting this privilege to use.
Any candidate for a new job has to present a CV in order to be considered, and it's on this basis that his or her application is assessed. But what do the CVs of the two lead candidates for the presidency tell us?
Mbeki's policies on HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe, for a start, have caused great suffering and have resulted in literally millions being left seriously ill, orphaned, displaced or dead. And his many attempts to gag critics, as well as his bid for a third term as ANC president, can leave no-one in doubt as to his authoritarian tendencies.

Zuma, on the other hand, has the unresolved issue of serious corruption hanging over him, and has revealed deeply disturbing attitudes to women, amongst many other questionable beliefs. There can also be no doubt that his election campaign, including such "initiatives" as 100% Zulu Boy, is effectively divisive, emphasizing tribal affiliations over national unity, and male power over gender equality.

And what about that rallying song Umshini Wam? Do we seriously want a president who consciously re-emphasizes the call to violence every time he takes the stage? Let's not be blinded by what this means for us as a nation, or by Zuma's defence of its use. Let's honour those who died for freedom not by celebrating the guns that killed them, but by building the kind of society they fought for.

With this in mind, I'd like to suggest that, in the run-up to the ANC Conference in Polokwane on 16 December, party members take a serious look at the path down which they're taking us, and begin by acknowledging the need for what I'd like to call a "preferred candidate" for the ANC presidency. A strong, honest, experienced candidate who can foster peace, unity and justice, and who can ensure equitable access to resources for all, surely isn't a compromise.
The cartoon shown here is reproduced courtesy of Mail and Guardian Online, which publishes a new Zapiro cartoon every weekday. Visit and subscribe to the newspaper's online newsletter to get Zapiro cartoons sent straight to your inbox.
To find out more about Take Two Veg and Call Me in the Morning, or to order a copy, click here:
Get zapped by Zapiro!
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this feature in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail with any queries.


Three extraordinary new South African titles have just been released, and are a rare adventure for serious book lovers:

African Intellectuals in 19th and Early 20th Century South Africa
Mcebisi Ndletyana (Ed.)

A reclamation of the works of five African intellectuals living and working in the Cape Colony in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ntsikana, Tiyo Soga, John Tengo Jabavu, Mpilo Walter Benson Rubusana and Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi were all intellectual pioneers in the South African world of letters, contributing literature, poetry, political commentary, religious analysis, and works of journalistic insight. Examples of their work have now been collected together for the first time, and are being introduced to a country still ignorant of many aspects of its history.

For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Reclaim our forgotten literary heritage

Notes from a Fractured Country
Johnny Steinberg

In this selection of his columns from Business Day, Johnny Steinberg walks through Pollsmoor Prison and sees there the inevitable failure of the US's impending invasion of Iraq. He meets a state pensioner who spends most of his money maintaining his old Mercedes Benz, and sees in this a celebration of the state welfare programme. He tells us why he thinks Thabo Mbeki is an Afro-pessimist, and why a South Africa ruled by Tokyo Sexwale would be as riddled with corruption as Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy.

Nothing escapes the searching eye of this journalist, who shows extraordinary insight into what lies beneath the surface in our fractured country.

For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Walk through our fractured country in Steinberg's footsteps

Then and Now: Eight South African Photographers
Paul Weinberg (Ed.)

A book that features eight South African photographers whose work straddles the transition to democracy.

Paul Weinberg, founder of the Afripix photo agency, asked seven fellow photographers to select the images they felt best exemplified their work during and under apartheid. This book is the result - a striking record of a country at first in conflict, and then attempting to reconcile and rebuild.

For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
A photograhic history of our recent past

Sunday, 25 November 2007


Starbook, the latest novel by Booker Prize-winning author, Ben Okri, is nothing short of luminous. Here the master craftsman takes us to a place both ancient and yet profoundly contemporary, weaving a myth that is at once spiritual journey: "This is a story my mother began to tell me as a child. The rest I gleaned from the book of life amongst the stars, in which all things are known."
And so begins a narrative of magical quality, which brings us back to forgotten parts of the human experience we feared lost forever - back to the indivisible connection between the personal and the universal.
At the level of story, Starbook is a tale of love and redemption about a prince and a young maiden. The maiden hails from a renowned tribe of artists, artists who live apart from the world but who capture its essence in sculptures so beautiful and disturbing that their transformative powers are deeply revered. As her parents set about finding a suitable husband for her, she has a chance encounter with the prince at the river, and their destinies are irrevocably changed.
Okri's true achievement, of course, goes way deeper than story. The eternal account of human love is shot through with intimations of the great evils that underlie every age, and is captivating in its insight. For in this book the author explores the truth that lies at the heart of all myth.
In myth is the forgotten essence of what we feel to be true, but from which we have long been utterly disconnected. Truth never dies, though, it just lies buried. And in Starbook, it is gently revealed by the lyrical quality of Okri's prose.
To find out more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Get stars in your eyes
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this review in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail with any queries.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


This weekend I'll be reviewing an international fiction title for the first time on SAbookworm - a rich, magical new novel by Booker Prize-winning author, Ben Okri.
Starbook is a story of love and redemption, written by the master storyteller at his peak. Exploring the depth of truth through myth, Okri brings a forgotten sense of wonder back to a weary world, reclaiming the unity of spirit and mind lost at the dawn of the scientific era.
In this book are parts of ourselves and of humanity that we thought we had lost, and which we only vaguely remember, but which are slowly brought back to life by the lyrical power of Okri's prose.
Don't miss it...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


Zimbabwean author, Shimmer Chinodya, has received the The 2007 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa for his novel Strife.
Established in 1979, the annual Noma Award is a $10,000 prize made to a writer or scholar whose work has been published in Africa during the preceding year.
The jury cited Strife as a "powerful and haunting story in a notably innovative form", calling it brilliant for "re-casting old themes". The narrative focuses on the social dynamics in the African family rather than on the more traditional themes of the individual or the nation.
To read the full jury citation and see a list of honourable mentions, visit
For find out more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Brilliant new writing from Africa

Monday, 19 November 2007


The launch of Jake White's new book, In Black and White, scheduled to take place at Jeppe Boys' High in Johannesburg on 6 December, is a sellout.

Scholars, parents, old boys and local rugby fans have snapped up all the tickets for the event, at which Jake will be honoured by the school where he started out as a rugby coach.

Busloads of Jeppe boys were at O.R. Tambo International Airport to welcome back their most famous son and his Bok team when they returned from France. As you can see, this enthusiastic senior even had his shirt and tie signed by the team when he met them, so interest in Jake's new book at the school is high.

But all is not lost for those without a ticket. Jeppe is selling signed copies of Jake's book at R200 each. Click through here to request a copy:
Proceeds go to the school - home of Jake's most devoted fans.

Sunday, 18 November 2007


Zapiro’s 12th annual collection of cartoons, Take Two Veg and Call Me in the Morning, is as acerbic as ever. It's endorsed by none other than Annie Lennox, who describes what it is that makes these collections so special: “Zapiro’s cartoons pack a punch that lands in your solar plexus…rushes up to your intellect, and bounds back down to your funny bone in an instant.”

And that’s exactly what reading a Zapiro cartoon feels like – a hit to the funny bone that triggers at once involuntary (and often uncontrollable) laughter, but also brings with it a disturbing sensation of pain at the heart of the mirth, for there’s no escaping the pea under Zapiro’s mattress.

The title of the book, as anyone who has ever read a newspaper will know, is a swipe at government’s HIV/AIDS treatment policy, and its principal proponent, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. To our eternal shame as a nation, she has steadfastly stuck to the officially-sanctioned prescription of beetroot, lemon, garlic, African potato and olive oil for the treatment of those infected with the deadly virus.

The cover depicts her toting the badge of this dubious achievement – a medical bag stuffed with vegetables – as well as the even more dubious symbols of a theft conviction in Botswana and her alleged alcoholism. Like hitting that funny bone, this would be hysterical if it weren’t so tragic, and if there weren’t so many lives at stake.

What makes it doubly tragic is the fact that the Health Minister’s "two veg" prescription has inevitably detracted from the real role good nutrition has to play in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. There can be no argument that people who are well-nourished have stronger immune systems than those who aren’t, and are better able to both resist and fight infections. In a country in which as much as 40% of the population is living in poverty, with 4,2 million of those (9%) living on $1 a day or less, the issue of nutrition in health care cannot be marginalized. Sadly, the Minister’s mumblings have had just this effect.

The prescription that the 6 million people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa deserve from their Health Minister is not one or the other, but both – a combination of appropriate drug therapy and access to good nutrition. What they don’t deserve, as Zapiro makes so abundantly clear in his cartoons, is business as usual at the Health Department.

It is cartoons such as these of Tshabalala-Msimang, and those of sacked Deputy President Jacob Zuma, Ekhurhuleni Police Chief Robert McBride, Police Chief Jackie Selebi, convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni and, of course, President Thabo Mbeki, that have raised so much official ire. So it was not without reason that Zapiro received the Cartoonists' Rights Network International Awards for Courage in International Cartooning this year.

It's this courage which makes him one of the great political cartoonists and commentators of our time. That, and his uncanny ability to capture the essence of the people he depicts in his work, together, of course, with the enviable knack of cutting through official fog to get to the truth without fear or favour.

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, I once heard Zapiro referred to as a “national treasure”, and I believe that's precisely what he is.

To find out more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Get zapped by Zapiro!
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this review in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail with any queries.

Saturday, 17 November 2007


Jake White's new book, In Black and White, is flying off the shelves, with some retailers already having to re-order.
This is the World-Cup winning coach's story of life, love, the universe ... and all the dramas with South African Rugby.
To find out more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Get the inside story on Jake White and SARFU
P.S. The bookworm learnt today that Jake White is now being marketed as a motivational speaker. Eish! That spoils it all for me. There's little more that makes my eyes glaze over faster than that ubiquitous beast, the "motivational speaker". Nothing, I believe, strips a maverick of his stripes quicker than hitting the "motivational" circuit.

Friday, 16 November 2007


Who said South Africans aren't interested in books? 

SAbookworm was launched last weekend, and I've had an unbelievable response to it from readers, publishers and authors alike. Everyone I've heard from loves the concept, and is delighted to be able to visit a single, independent site where they can find out about the latest local and international titles being released in South Africa, chat to other book lovers, keep up-to-date on book-related happenings, and find out more about our extraordinary and rapidly-developing literary tradition.
I'm delighted to say that related web sites and blogs are also welcoming SAbookworm warmly to the stable. The first to publish a post about it was KZN Literary Tourism (see
KZN Literary Tourism is an exceptional initiative dedicated to publicising and promoting that province's literary sites, authors and writing heritage - a whole new concept in this country.
This is the home province of such luminaries as Alan Paton, Rider Haggard and Gcina Mhlope, and of popular newcomers, Imraan Coovadia and Spud author, John van de Ruit. To find out more - and perhaps book for the Grey Street Literary Trail this summer - visit

Thursday, 15 November 2007


Watch this space, book lovers - I'll be reviewing Zapiro's new book, Take Two Veg and Call Me in the Morning this weekend.
I once heard Zapiro described as a "national treasure" and can only concur. We're exceptionally lucky to have such an insightful cartoonist turning his eye on local and international politics. I think he's one of the all-time greats.
The cartoon shown here is a recent gem (click to enlarge). It's reproduced courtesy of Mail and Guardian Online, which publishes a new Zapiro cartoon every weekday. Visit and subscribe to the newspaper's online newsletter to get Zapiro cartoons sent straight to your inbox.
P.S. Run, Cyril, Run...

Sunday, 11 November 2007


Antony Altbeker’s second book, A Country at War with Itself, was published this spring at the height of public fear and official obfuscation about crime. In this climate, it was like a long, cool drink of water on a scorching day.
Altbeker, who knows his way around a good statistic (and more than a few bad ones), breaks through the rhetorical fog with his thoughtful and honest assessment of South Africa’s crime crisis.
To begin with, he makes it clear that crime really is as bad as ordinary South Africans believe it to be. “Every piece of reliable data we have,” he says in the book’s preface, “tells us that South Africa ranks at the very top of the world’s league table for violent crime.”
So you haven’t fallen down a rabbit hole that has given you an altered sense of reality. What you see is what you get – our crime rate really is scarily high, no matter what government has to say about the figures. More than that, South African crime is staggering in its violence: “It is true that some data from countries in the developing world are patchy. But none that I have seen has suggested anything other than that we are an exceptionally, possibly uniquely, violent society.”
By way of example, Altbeker examines worldwide statistics relating to that most violent of crimes, murder. There are about 52 murders in South Africa every day. In numerical terms, this is shocking enough; in statistical terms, it is horrifying - and this is evident when he compares the number of murder cases per 100,000 in countries across the world.
In Western Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, murder rates average 2 cases per 100,000. In Japan, the figure is less than 1 in 100,000, while in the United States, 5 people are murdered for every 100,000 citizens annually, down from twice that about ten years ago. In comparison, South Africa’s murder rate in 2006 (at 41 victims per 100,000 people), was 8 times higher than that in the US, 20 times higher than in Western Europe, and a staggering 80 times higher than in Japan.
Even more graphically put, the 220,000 murders that have taken place in this country over the past ten years amount to a figure four times higher than the American death toll during the Vietnam War, which was of similar duration. These are statistics guaranteed to stop anyone short in their tracks.
In light of this, the question that must then surely be asked is: what is at the root of all this?
The usual suspects are called to account – South Africa’s violent colonial history, the singular institutionalised violence of apartheid, the scars that both of these have left on the collective psyche of the country’s people, and the persistent poverty and inequality still so much in evidence. But here the author goes further than anyone has had the courage to do before. This explanation, he says, is simply not enough.
We need to add to it the disappointments of democracy – the fact that so many of our county’s people feel they were left behind when the SAS Democracy sailed. And, as pertinently, we need to acknowledge that crime is so much of an issue simply because we have allowed it to become ingrained in our culture.
This means that policing and crime strategies can have only limited effect, not because policy makers are stupid, uninterested or ill-intentioned, as Altbeker puts it, but because our crime problems really are that intractable. Also of significance is “the strangely shared conviction that it is somehow unpatriotic to differ publicly with the official line on crime”, as well as the fact that our society is still a deeply divided one. Add to this the effects of rapid urbanisation, the globalisation of capital, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the rise of the consumerism in a previously isolated state, and it’s a potent cocktail.
So, what is to be done in the face of this tsunami? With the facts to hand, is there anything that can be done?
As citizens of a truly extraordinary democracy, based on a uniquely liberal and encompassing constitution, there can be only one answer – we have to believe that each and every one of us can make a difference, and have to do just that in whatever way we can.
Altbeker’s solution, unlike too many official ones, is clear, simple and sensible. He argues cogently for the re-focusing of police efforts on the increased detection and prosecution of violent criminals in particular, the premise of an influential strategy used to combat gangsterism in Boston. And he calls ordinary citizens to account as well, stating unequivocally that levels of violence in any given society are co-managed.
He makes no bones about the fact that imposing order in disordered places in notoriously difficult – just look at Iraq if you have any doubts on that score. Violence has become a cultural phenomenon in South Africa, and the only solution to this is a collective and committed effort. Economic reality must be re-made, but so must the cultural climate and the social institutions which frame behaviour.
As Altbeker puts it, “while we need to change the context by putting larger numbers of (violent) offenders behind bars, we also need to remake those parts of our world which destabilise and devalue ordinary lives and which, in the process, reduce resilience to the lure of crime”.
And the responsibility for this lies with each and every one of us.
For more about this title, or to order a copy, click here:
Being informed is just a click away
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this review in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail with any queries.


Welcome to SAbookworm - I hope you'll enjoy being here and that you'll become a regular visitor.
I developed this site to offer South African book lovers something I've never been able to find for myself - quality independent news and views about local and international titles being released in South Africa, as well as in-depth features on related issues.
I also wanted to offer lots of other book-related stuff. So SAbookworm not only features details of latest releases and upcoming titles, but also regular in-depth reviews, invitations to all sorts of bookish events, lists of award-winning South African books and contemporary classics, a list of local competitions and awards for writers, details of local book awards and links to other interesting sites.
All editorial content is independent of commercial interests, and reflects my honest and unedited opinion of the books featured, as well as of issues relating to them.
I look forward to your comments, and to exploring the world of books together.