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 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


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


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


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


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.
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


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


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


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