Saturday, 20 December 2008

SOLSTICE, YULE, HANUKKAH AND CHRISTMAS GREETINGS


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

BOOKWORM'S CHOICE: HAMMOCK DAYS


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


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

BOOKWORM'S CHOICE: SHAME ON US


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 kalahari.net.
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

CUE LOUD, HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER


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: thando@jacana.co.za / 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, events@juta.co.za / 021 763 3538

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

MINI-REVIEW: FROM A TO X


During my student days, John Berger's Ways of Seeing was a prescribed text, and it made me realise for the first time that it is the observer who determines the way in which something is observed, and so how it is experienced.
Since this seminal work, Berger has published an impressive list of fiction, poetry and polemical works that similarly challenge social, cultural and political norms. Now over 80, he's still writing, and his latest title, A to X: A Story in Letters, was long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize.
A vividly-imagined story of love and resistance, it examines a community in an unnamed oppressive state which, besieged by economic and military imperialism, finds transcendent hope in the small events of everyday life.
The book takes the form of a collection of letters from A'ida to her husband Xavier, an imprisoned insurgent. Tender and insightful, they tell of daily occurrences in their home town; occurrences that, through A'ida's eyes, become a profound indictment of authoritarianism in its many forms.
For as a faceless power encroaches on the run-down town of Suse, small acts of humanity - an intimate dance, a shared meal - assume for A'ida a life-affirming significance. They become acts of resistance against forces that might otherwise be utterly overwhelming.
From A to X is a powerful exploration of how humanity affirms itself in struggle, and will particularly strike a chord for South African readers, who are having to confront the development of a new kind of authoritarianism in this country 15 years after the advent of democracy.
“John Berger has given us an exquisite thing. This is a book of controlled rage sculpted with tools of tenderness and a searing political vision. Everything he writes about is profound, precise and invoiced: Liberty and the lack of it, hope and the lack of it, power and the lack of it, love and the terrible yearning that takes its place when the loved one has been taken away.”
Arundhati Roy
“From A to X is one of the most tender and poignant books I have read for many years. Its power rests in its economy of means, its account of enduring love surviving oppression. It demonstrates that however foul the forces oppressing us, love and the human spirit are indestructible.”
— Harold Pinter

Sunday, 9 November 2008

WORLD FREEDOM DAY


On 9 November 1989, that intractable symbol of oppression and division, the Berlin Wall, was brought down without violence or bloodshed. It was a catalytic event that paved the way for freedom in other parts of the world (South Africa included), and for the birth of an entirely new world view.
In 2001, 9 November was declared World Freedom Day in commemoration of this event, and is now celebrated across the world by releasing white balloons and wearing white ribbons as symbols of peace and freedom. On this day, we take the opportunity to honour those in Berlin - and in other conflicts at other times - who helped to secure freedom and liberty for themselves, their fellow humans beings, and future generations.
It was Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi who said: "When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers - and for a time they can seem invincible - but in the end they always fail. Think of it - always."
Now, in a world too interconnected and too fragile for violent conflict and divisive beliefs not to impact on everyone in some way, I use this day every year to re-dedicate myself to those things I hold most valuable: freedom, peace, non-violence, unity in diversity, unqualified compassion, respect for and harmony with the natural world, religious and spiritual tolerance, economic and gender equality, universal justice, simple abundance, fair trade, and the love and comfort of friends, family and community.
I believe the intrinsic value of these things to be self-evident and hope that, despite my own frailties and failings, they will always be the filter through which I see the world and the platform off which I launch my actions.

For an overview of Gandhi's work, and an insight into his thoughts on non-violence, peace and unity, read The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Raghavan Narasimhan Iyer.
This balanced selection of Gandhi's writings, taken from his letters, articles, and books, represents the complete cross-section of his thought, from his early years as a young barrister in London, to his final days as sage and counsel to the newly-independent India.

Friday, 7 November 2008

THE GREAT AND THE GOOD


Messages of congratulations continue to pour in for President-elect Barack Obama from the great and the good all over the world.
Of particular interest to SAbookworm readers will be this letter sent to him by renowned American writer and poet, Alice Walker. Walker is not only the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Colour Purple, but also a self-declared feminist and womanist - the latter a term she herself coined to make special distinction for the experiences of women of colour (Source: Wikipedia):
Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done.
We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.
I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large.
We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate.
One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.
I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise.
It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.
A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies.
And
your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

SEA CHANGE


The American people have resolutely - and in huge numbers - voted Barack Obama in as the first black president of the United States. Shortly after this was confirmed last night, the new President-elect made an extraordinary speech in his hometown of Chicago, giving the world a hopeful glimpse of a new kind of governance, a rapidly-evolving kind of truly inclusive democracy.

The challenges that lie ahead for him, for the United States, and for the world as a whole are the greatest any of us have ever faced. There is no doubt that the task before him as President is nothing short of monumental and, as he said, will require selfless service from ordinary people as much as focus and dedication from government.

But before we think of that, let's just cherish this moment for everything that it is - a time in history when we witnessed a sea change; when overnight the world became a different place.

Avaaz.org is aiming to collect a million signatures of congratulations for the new President-elect, and I have added my name - as well as this special message - to those of the many who have already signed:

"We are so proud to welcome you to the community of world leaders. You are the face of a new kind of democracy that is evolving in the 21st century, and we support your message of peace, humanism, unity, equality, environmental integrity and economic transformation.

"We hope that, like Nelson Mandela did in South Africa, you will break down old divisions, and carry this message out to a grateful and expectant world: WE ARE ONE.

"Let it be known: 'I cannot feast while my neighbour is starving; I cannot sleep easy while my neighbour is in danger; I cannot live peacefully while my neighbours are dying violently.' "

If you would like to add your own message of congratulations, click through to Million Messages to Obama.
Image of Barack Obama accepting election as the President Elect of the United States at Grant Park in Chicago last night courtesy of The Times (Joe Raedle, Getty Images, AFP).

Monday, 3 November 2008

YOU GO, BARACK!


Tomorrow the citizens of the United States go to the polls in one of the most important elections in their history. And, if the pre-election opinion is anything to go by, Barack Obama will soon be that country's first black president. More than that, though, if he is elected, he will be bringing a new kind of governance onto the American and the world stage, one that is sorely needed.

I've said before that my money is on Obama for President, not just because of his political focus, charismatic style, obvious intelligence, down-to-earth approach to some of the most complex issues, demonstrably democratic beliefs, and thoughtful handling of the global financial crisis, but also because he has managed to capture the imagination of the American people - and, indeed, the world - in a way we haven't seen in a generation.
With an awesome understanding of social networking, his campaign has tapped into internet-based communications in a way that has changed the face of campaigning forever, bringing his country's notoriously apathetic youth enthusiastically into the election process. On the other side of the coin, he's been out there at rallies and talking face-to-face with his constituents in the old-fashioned way, even going out for "trick or treat" with his daughters on Halloween last Friday.

And he has consistently called for unity and tolerance across racial, religious and gender lines, even in the face of some pretty vicious personal attacks.

In case anyone hasn't been taking note, this is a man of the people; the face of 21st century democracy.
And it ain't just smoke and mirrors; the policies behind the man are ones that anyone would be proud to vote for. For example:
  • He has opposed the illegal war in Iraq from the start and, should he be elected, will immediately begin working with advisors to bring it to an end in a responsible way. In case anyone has forgotten, the war is illegal because it was undertaken pre-emptively and unilaterally, in violation of UN resolutions and international law.
  • He has rightly called the current administration and the Republican Party on the laissez faire policies that have led directly to the current global financial meltdown, and he has explained the implications of the crisis to ordinary people in a clear and understandable way. He also took a considered approach to the whole situation as it developed, which is much more than we can say for his rival, John McCain. And, with so much at stake, wouldn't you want such an important world leader to take a considered approach rather than shooting from the hip?
  • He has a solid plan in place to deal with the financial crisis which, amongst other things, will involve cutting taxes for working people and implementing an aggressive job-creation programme. I think both the US and the world at large will need a whole lot more than that, but it's a good start.
  • He has committed to increasing energy efficiency, investing in alternative energy sources, and creating 5 million new "green" jobs in the US. You may recall that the US has, to date, steadfastly refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which sets defined emissions reduction targets for all signatories.
  • He opted to run his campaign without government funding and without using lobbyists, focusing instead on raising the money he needed from ordinary people who believe in his policies.
  • He has created a database by means of which the public can track federal contracts, narrowing the margin for bribery and corruption significantly.
  • His healthcare plan will provide accessible, affordable coverage for all US citizens, and he plans to pump billions of dollars into the worldwide fight against HIV/Aids.
  • He supports the right to choice on the abortion issue, as well as the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
  • He supports religious tolerance, something which is not only desperately needed in the US and across the world, but which will also serve to open up US dialogue with non-Christian countries.
  • He supports strong and responsible democracy in Africa and, because of his African heritage, will be in a better position than his predecessors to call for it.
  • And, as Mark Danner puts it in this week's Mail and Guardian, he offers a "politics of hope (that) is an antidote to the unspoken shame of US politics".
I'm not a great TV fan, but I've had a satellite dish installed so that I can watch the progress of this election closely. After all, we're watching history in the making.
You go, Barack!
UPDATE (4 November 2008, 13:37 CAT):

An Obama supporter wearing a T-shirt designed locally and emblazoned with the words, "If Obama loses, I'm leaving the planet."
My thoughts exactly!
Click to enlarge

Sunday, 2 November 2008

IN MEMORIUM: ES'KIA MPHAHLELE


When I registered to study at Wits, there was no African Literature Department, and there were no black professors. It was only two years later, after the Soweto riots had changed the political and educational landscape in South Africa forever, that writer and academic Professor Es'kia Mphahlele joined the university to finally establish an African literature department at an African university.
One of the continent's most prolific and respected writers, Mphahlele was born in Marabastad outside Pretoria in 1919. He became a high school teacher, and started his writing career with Drum magazine after the Second World War. He was banned in 1952 for his stance against the introduction of Bantu Education, and went into exile.
While in exile, he published his famous autobiographical work, Down Second Avenue: Growing Up in a South African Ghetto, which has never been out of print. He also received a PhD from the University of Denver in 1968, and he left a full professorship at the University of Pennsylvania to return to South Africa in 1977.
His work includes The Wanderers, which was banned for many years in South Africa, Chirundu, In Corner B, Renewal Time, Afrika My Music: An Autobiography 1957 - 1983, and Mandela: Echoes of an Era.
Mphahlele was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, and in 1984 he was awarded the Les Palmes Academiques by the French Government for his contribution to French Language and Culture. In 1998 former President Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order of the Southern Cross, the highest recognition granted by the South African government, and in 2000 he was named Writer Of The Century by Tribute Magazine.
In 2002, he was honoured by the foundation of the Es'kia Institute, which "nurtures, supports and develops community initiatives in Arts, Culture, Education and Literature in an effort to advance and preserve our Afrikan (sic) Heritage".
Mphahlele, the great pioneer of contemporary African literature, died on Monday night, shortly before his 89th birthday.

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

BOOKWORM'S CHOICE: FROM ELECTRIC CAPITALISM TO THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER

I confess that I can't keep up with all of the new books being released at the moment - it's a veritable embarrassment of riches. There are, however, a few that have really caught my eye, so here's my latest selection of new releases:

Non-Fiction

Electric Capitalism: Recolonising Africa on the Power Grid
David A Mc Donald (Ed)
HSRC Press

From the extraordinary HSRC Press comes Electric Capitalism, co-published with Earthscan, an impeccable investigation into the politics and economics of access to electricity in Africa.

Africa's economies are as dependent on electricity as those of the developed nations, but it remains the world's most under-supplied region. Not only that, but there are enormous inequalities of access, with industry receiving an abundant supply of cheap power, while more than 80 per cent of the continent's population remains off the grid.
Africa is not unique in this respect, but levels of inequality are particularly pronounced here due to the inherent unevenness of 'electric capitalism' on the continent.

This book provides an innovative theoretical framework for understanding electricity and capitalism in Africa, followed by a series of case studies that examine different aspects of electricity supply and consumption.

The chapters focus primarily on South Africa due to its dominance in the electricity market, but there are important lessons to be learned for the continent as a whole, not least because of the aggressive expansion of South African capital into other parts of Africa in order to develop and control electricity. Africa is experiencing a renewed scramble for its electricity resources, conjuring up images of a recolonisation of the continent along the power grid.

Written by leading academics and activists, Electric Capitalism offers a cutting-edge, yet accessible, overview of one of the most important developments in Africa today - with direct implications for health, gender equity, environmental sustainability and socio-economic justice. From nuclear power through prepaid electricity meters to the massive dams projects taking place in central Africa, an understanding of electricity reforms on the continent helps to shape our insights into development debates in Africa, and the expansion of neo-liberal capitalism across the world.

For more about this book, to order a copy or to download a free electronic version, click through to HSRC Press.

The Mbeki Legacy
Brian Pottinger
Random House Struik

This book takes stock of Mbeki’s presidency by focusing on a simple question: how did South Africa prosper or weaken under his stewardship?

The Mbeki Legacy covers Mbeki’s consolidation of power and his defeat at Polokwane, weighs up his policies on crime, education and health; investigates the arms deal and the electricity crisis; and considers the effects of land reform and BEE.

A compelling, accessible and authoritative analysis of Mbeki’s political, economic and social legacies, and an insightful glimpse into the post-Mbeki era.

Fiction

The Heretic's Daughter
Kathleen Kent
Macmillan

Martha Carrier was hanged on 19 August 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Unyielding in her refusal to admit to being a witch, she went to her death rather than join the ranks of men and women who confessed and were thereby spared execution.

In this fictionalised account of that tragedy, we are taken into the heart of the terror that was Salem at that time.

Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and wilful, openly challenging of the small, brutal world in which they live. Her father is a farmer, English in origin, quietly stoical but with a secret history. Her mother is a herbalist, tough but loving, and above all a good mother. Often at odds with each other, Sarah and her mother have a close but also cold relationship, yet it is clear that Martha understands her daughter like no other.

When Martha is accused of witchcraft, and the whisperings in the community escalate, she makes her daughter promise not to stand up for her if the case is taken to court. As Sarah and her brothers are hauled into the prison themselves, the vicious cruelty of the trials becomes apparent, and the Carrier family is faced with the task of battling through the hysteria armed only with the sheer willpower their mother has taught them.

Monday, 27 October 2008

DIWALI GREETINGS


SAbookworm would like to wish all of its Hindu readers a very happy Diwali.
Diwali or Deepawali, which takes place over a period of four days, will be widely celebrated tomorrow (28 October), as lamps are lit and fireworks set off on the night of the dark moon.
This Festival of Lights (the Sanskrit word 'deepawali' means 'row of lights') is the most widely-celebrated Hindu festival, and marks the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil. It is held to honour life, goodness and community, and is viewed by many as the start of a New Year. The symbolic triumph of light over darkness is meant to illuminate the earth, bring people closer to divinity, restore hope, and empower individuals and communities to commit themselves to good deeds in the year ahead.
Diwali is a people-orientated festival when enmities are forgotten, and family and friends meet to enjoy the festival.
As Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore said of Diwali: “The night is black. Kindle the lamp of love with your life and devotion.”

P.S. As spectacular as fireworks can be, they can also cause serious injury if not used correctly, and be terrifying for animals and small children. Keep animals safely locked up indoors, away from the bright light and the noise, and ensure that children watching fireworks displays are always accompanied by an adult. Older children using fireworks should also always be supervised by an adult, and the instructions on the packaging should be followed precisely. Try to be considerate of neighbours who might find the noise disturbing too.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

INDIE IS BEAUTIFUL

I'm always delighted to hear about independent publishers and writers who publish their own work, because this adds such richness to the world of books. Much of what is published by independents wouldn't be considered by any of the big publishing houses, and it would be a huge loss to creative and analytical diversity if this were to be so. In literary ecology (to coin a phrase!), the small is equally as important as the large.
So it was with some excitement that I heard about Seaberg, a small publisher based in Port Elizabeth which focuses on Eastern Cape poetry and children's stories. For it is the kind of work it publishes that gives us insight into local cultures, sentiments and beliefs that we would otherwise never have access to. Not only that, but one of Seabird's authors is award-winning poet, Brian Walter, who has just published a new collection.

Mousebirds
Brian Walter

In his first book, Tracks, which was awarded the 2000 Ingrid Jonker Prize, Brian Walter included a sequence of delicate and evocative poems about the Swartkops region of Port Elizabeth – Athol Fugard country – that had already earned him the 1999 Pringle Prize for Poetry.

Since Tracks and his second book, Baakens, an extended meditation on the Baakens Valley in Port Elizabeth as symbol of the landmarks of his youth in apartheid South Africa, Walter has kept faith with the poetic exploration of his grounded landscapes and their real inhabitants. Mousebirds, in its explorations of poetic situations and of poetic language itself, is testimony to the integrity – and the humanity – of this quest.

What is new is the rich vintage of time, the poet's growing assurance in voice, and the authority of experience as he looks back on the years of our young democracy, its promise and its problems, hopes and failures.

There is the older man's questioning of identity in these poems, the search for a metaphor to wed place and poet, as he continues to balance past and present.

Mousebirds is available from Seabird for R90, excluding postage. Please contact the publishers directly on 041 366 2074, or by e-mail at info@seaberg.co.za to order.
On a fun note, Seaberg has also just published a new children's title:

A Royal Dog
Les Cawood

This is the story of a black and white wanna-be corgi living in Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth, who has aspirations of living in a palace like the royal corgis in England do. She searches for a Queen in South Africa in order to realise her dreams. Despite all her efforts she is destined to continue living in the little house on the hill but she discovers, to her surprise, that this life has its own rewards.

Author Les Cawood, born and raised in the Eastern Cape, has lived and taught in Port Elizabeth for many years. She has had an ongoing fascination with stories, and particularly how they are and can be used in classrooms. Her Royal Dog story is the first in a projected series that will include a brace of characters from the Bay, and which will incorporate issues that touch on – in a fun and accessible way – historical, social and environmental responsibility.

Rachel Main, who provides the illustrations, is an artist and art teacher living in Port Elizabeth and delights in drawing for children. This is her third children’s story. Les and Rachel have previously teamed up to produce a story for Colleagiate Junior, called We Are All Winners.

A Royal Dog is available from Seaberg for R60, excluding the costs of postage. Call 041 366 2074 or e-mail at info@seaberg.co.za to order.

Reviews supplied by the publisher