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South African corporates are “world leaders” in corruption

January 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

Patrick Bond says South African corporates are “rated as world leaders” in corruption. I have asked Anneleigh Jacobsen to share her views. She has just written Corporation Games about corruption in those shiny Sandton buildings.

Izak de Vries and Anneleigh Jacobsen

Izak: Recently The Citizen quoted Professor Patrick Bond from the Wits School of Governance as saying: “Our Sandton, Cape Town, Durban and Stellenbosch executives are rated as world leaders in money laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation and cybercrime.” Harsh words, quite Bond-ish. But then, you have just written Corporation Games in which you also unpack some high-flying execs doing wrong in Sandton. Why?

Corporation Games

Anneleigh: The values clash between what happens in boardrooms in South Africa and how that impacts the poorest of our people was one of the reasons I left the corporate world. I just could not reconcile the greed-based decisions with the providing of food products, especially, to those consumers who were barely able to keep their families fed and it seemed to me that the entire economic edifice of those large corporate companies was stacked against the poor – essentially stealing from them to line already fat corporate coffers and executive pockets. Ultimately I couldn’t find a way to change any of it, so I could no longer be party to it anymore. But it still bugged the hell out of me that firstly, no-one knows what goes on behind those glass doors, and that they get away with it far too often, so I decided to at least write one story about that world and hopefully more South Africans would understand and be outraged by it.

Izak: A number of journalists, like Jacques Pauw, James-Brent Styan and Pieter-Louis du Toit have moved to writing books. The fourth estate has embraced publishing companies. You chose fiction though. Why not non-fiction?

Anneleigh: A long time ago in a faraway galaxy called Rhodes University I did a joint Honours degree in English and Journalism, and while doing that (and loving every second), I remember deciding that if by some stroke of fortune I ever wrote a book, I would never write a book that only 3,5 professors in their ivory towers would ever read. So with Corporation Games I wanted to write an accessible, hopefully entertaining story that could possibly help people outside the corporate world understand the craziness of it and experience it viscerally rather than just intellectually.

Izak: Your lead character, Georgie, is a brand manager in a very big corporation. You too were a brand manager for a number of large corporations. How is Georgie different from Anneleigh?

Anneleigh: Actually technically Georgie is a Marketing Manager, not a Brand Manager. She would be most put-out to be demoted suchly.  And much as she draws on my experiences of that world, she also draws on the stories and lived experiences of many of my friends and colleagues from many different corporate entities, with a good dose of urban legend thrown in too! Where she draws most strongly from me, I suppose, is the inability to reconcile the Janus-like role of the marketer in facing both the boardroom greed and the extreme hardship of life on the edges of South Africa’s consumer economy. I gave her choices I’m glad I have never had to make, and I think she did really well on them!

Izak: Click here for an interview with Anneleigh Jacobsen in which she explains her own corporate background.

Confidential notes…

Izak: The shades, or ancestral spirits, play an active part in this book, making Corporation Games truly African. How did they end up in your novel?

Anneleigh: Well, as seems to be the way with shades, they simply showed up when I needed them. They were not originally part of the planning or part of my reference set in approaching this story. My frustration with the way the poorest consumers are dealt the worst cards in the economic cycle and their seeming powerlessness to do anything about it lead me to consider the ways in which rural and poorer consumers engage with their world and the powers that influence it, and in that meander the shades arrived to show me how they could help close the circle and fight the evils of the system.

Izak: Since an important part of the book is set in rural KwaZulu-Natal, we had to ask a Zulu-speaking person assess the manuscript. She loved it. How did you gain the necessary knowledge to write so knowingly, and dare I say sensitively, about a subject many white people know little about?

Anneleigh: I hope respectfully, too. I spent some time in the Valley of 1000 Hills a few years ago and my husband and I visited with the people, listened to their stories and thoroughly enjoyed being invited in to what is a fascinating culture that blends tradition and newness in such great ways. I just loved the air and the sense of place and the generous, diverse people. I kind of absorbed it all and could replay it in my head when I thought back on that time there. So it was easy to write from such a lovely memory, and to give some airtime to a way of life that many of us have never really experienced and can be quite dismissive of. I hope I did them justice and that the sense of identity and pride and deep rootedness that I experienced there comes across well.

Jacobsen with her husband

Izak: Georgie, your lead character, frequently goes into the homes of consumers who use her brand. She gets to know those customers. Was that something that you had done as well?

Anneleigh: Yes, I was fortunate to work in companies that genuinely did value the understanding of our consumers, even if that didn’t always lead to choices I was happy with in the end. It was a great privilege to be allowed in to visit people in their homes all around SA and see the differences in how they live, what their daily lives and cupboards and afternoons look like. And it is something that I think very few people get to experience. It was always the most humbling thing to do, such a reminder that the vast majority of people in SA live a very different life to those in Sandton and Higgovale.

Izak: The tension in the book is between those who are intimately in touch with the costumer and those who manage a company from their flashy Sandton offices. Is this a correct analysis?

Anneleigh: I think there is definitely a tension within companies between those who care about the consumer and those who see them simply as a column on the corporate spreadsheet, but I think the ultimate tension is between the Execs and the actual consumers who have very little if any direct engagement, but who affect each others’ lives so profoundly. I wish the consumers had more of a direct voice in boardrooms and on Boards of Directors, or that at the very least advocates in those arenas who are not afraid to call out the greed, the self-involvement, and all the ethically appalling and even illegal things that happen in those rooms, to come back round to that very damning and I think, sadly, very accurate quote from Prof. Bond at The Wits School of Governance.  I’m willing to be that person, if any Boards are brave enough to hire me!

Izak: We started the interview with a Bond. You created a rather suave Englishman for this novel. On which shelf did you find him?

Anneleigh: Ah, Johnny English! He is very suave and I think for me he was the embodiment of a wide range of expat and international managers who more often than not are in the country for under five years and are never really part of the fabric of it. I may have dealt a bit harshly with him, but he is also a representative of those often quite senior managers that find themselves caught up in the greed and corruption either tangentially or having made a series of small compromises and only later really facing up to the implications of who they have become and which side of the scale they actually fall on. I think often people don’t intend to be evil, they just go along with things and get stuck. I hope that people inside these companies read Johnny English as a warning to pay more attention to their day-to-day compromises so that they don’t end up holding the bag, as it were, or even just making choices that don’t align with their values anymore.

Yes!!

Izak: Corporation Games is a jolly nice, tight thriller. We won’t give the game away, but there is a rather smooth investigator involved as well. Not so?

Anneleigh: Very smooth indeed! I do really wish I could have brought him into the limelight earlier, he is such a fascinating character whom I had developed much further than what ended up in the book. Alas, I felt he would give away the plot too soon, such a pity.

A marketing maestro with a keen sense of justice

Vegters in nuwe oorloë

January 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

Vegters deur Lucia Prinsloo is waarskynlik die eerste vernuwende werk oor oorlog in Afrikaans, juis omdat dit wegbreek van die Suid-Afrikaanse grensliteratuur en niks met die Boereoorlog te make het nie.

(English-language readers, click here for a discussion.)

Verhale oor die Grensoorlog is belangrik, sien ook my bespreking van Grensgeval op LitNet. Soos Viëtnam die Amerikaners se psige oorheers het vir baie geslagte, sal die oorlog in Angola nog lank met ons wees. Kyk ook maar hoeveel goeie boeke daar nog oor die Boereoorlog geskryf word.

Tog, die nuwe generasies beweeg aan, vir my seun is die Grensoorlog ’n soort fassinasie, iets waar sy pa met gewere gewerk het. Hy wil ook weet hoe dit is om met ’n goeie aanvalsgeweer te werk, daarom skiet hy gereeld by ’n skietbaan.

Dit is hierdie nuwe Suid-Afrikaners wat ons hertoelating tot die Gemenebes nou omarm. Dié jongmense is los van apartheid en is nooit opgeroep vir diensplig nie; hulle kan hulleself sonder ideologiese angs skaar aan die kant van Brittanje se elitemagte.

Lucia Prinsloo se eie seun is een van die jong manne wat wou aansluit by ’n uitstekende weermag; hy en ’n baie goeie vriend het dit gedoen en het uiteindelik in Afghanistan gaan veg as deel van die Britse weermag.

Jonk of nie, oorlog maak seer. Dit maak nie saak watter koeël watter lyf tref nie, dit maak nie saak in watter land die stewel vervaardig is wat die landmyn aftrap nie, wanneer die bloed spat, is dit rooi.

Prinsloo beskryf die oorlog in Afghanistan verbluffend goed, deels omdat haar seun kon raad gee. Die jongmanne het selfs raad gegee met die voorblad; dit is geen geheim nie dat hulle eie gesigte hier vasgevang is.

Prinsloo skryf fiksie, maar put baie uit die jong Suid-Afrikaners se ervarings.

Die leser word ingetrek in die klank, die reuk, die vrees … Wanneer jy in daardie Chinook klim, voel jy die vibrasies. Op patrollie sien jy die omgewing, jy ervaar die klanke.

Later wanneer die twee manne die Duzi Marathon gaan roei, is dit soos om ’n film te kyk wat geskiet is vanaf ’n GoPro op hulle helmets.

Louis Esterhuizen sê oor Vegters: “Hierdie werk is by verre een van die mees indrukwekkende tekste wat ek tot nog toe die voorreg gehad het om te hanteer.” Komende van ’n meester is dit enorme pryswoorde, maar ek dink ook Vegters is iets heeltemal nuut, heeltemal anders en is fantasties aanmekaar gesit.

Ek wil opsetlik nie te veel van die storie weggee nie, maar die oorlog maak seer. Die oorlog laat fisiese en emosionele letsels.

Baie van ons het al geskryf oor hoe “colatteral damage” (die dood van siviele mense) soldate ry; hierdie boek is nie anders nie en skroom nie om dit aan te spreek nie.

Die verskrikking van ’n landmyn is ’n belangrike deel van dié boek.

Uiteindelik is Vegters ook ’n boek oor twee seuns wat probeer om lief te hê ná alles.

Lucia Prinsloo se Vegters is een van my gunstelingtekste uit 2019; daar was baie tekste wat my opgewonde gemaak het.

Vegters het by Wenkbrou verskyn. Wenkbrou is ‘n druknaam van LAPA uitgewers.

Borderline

January 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

Marita van der Vyver is an extraordinary and gifted author. 

I read her in Afrikaans, and for Afrikaans-speaking readers, there is a moerse lang review on LitNet, just follow the link.

Marita is one of the South African greats.

With Borderline she has written yet another book on the Border War, because that conflict still haunts us in South Africa and it still haunts the Cubans.

I love seeing my son growing up without any memory or residual guilt about the war.

It does mean that he is fascinated by weapons, and I do my best to allow him the luxury and the pleasure to explore the lethal power those hold. He has worked his way up – we started him on air guns, then a semi-automatic .22. He has since worked with various assault rifles including the 5.56 and 7.65 that were standard issue in the various phases of the Boarder war.

The little blighter is an excellent shot.

What has my son to do with Marita van der Vyver’s text? Nothing, and yet everything. Absolutely everything.

My son is a born-free. Not only is he free to vote and be on beaches and smooch blonde girls, he is also free from the collective angst of the armed struggle.

Not all had been as lucky. Too little has been written about the lives of ordinary liberation cadres during the war. Too little has been said about the training and the heartache in far-off countries by those who had fought the white conscripts (meaning my army buddies and I).

I do have a few friends, now important places, who were trained in Russia. I know others who could not leave the country and who chose to stay put, fighting from within.

Those stories have yet to be written down.

In Borderline Van der Vyver begins tentatively by exploring the Cuban version of the war. It is a low-level exploration, but it provides in insight into how “the enemy” used to see us.

Borderline is truly wonderful. It is a direct twin of her earlier book Childish things. In some ways Borderline could have been called Middle-aged things. We, who had been part of that war, are now approaching retirement; we merely have our own memories left.

Borderline is rich with intertextual references. If you can read Afrikaans, do read my Afrikaans essay, but if you cannot, merely bear in mind that Orestes in the Greek mythology had been haunted by the furies. Then look at the name of the tour guide in Cuba and the name of the car he drives.

Van der Vyver is one clever author. Borderline is a hard-hitting and brilliant contribution to our growing corpus of Border War texts.

Borderline and Grensgeval are both published by Penguin.

I highly recommend these books.

You can read an excerpt of Borderline here.