Virtually yours: Anatomy of a very weird Comrades

June 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

So, this morning I joined more than 35 000 people in running a virtual Comrades. I have run eleven real Comrades Marathons; seven up, four down. I run barefoot for the 144 kids in the Durbanville Children’s Home.

(Afrikaans friends, there are a few personal notes in Afrikaans below.)

Printing the number emailed to me

Part of this morning’s the fun was being able to run in my green number. It was official. But why run a short, virtual race?

The Comrades started as a remembrance run for fallen war comrades. It has since grown into the world’s biggest ultra-distance race. It is not the toughest by any means, but it is tough and due its size it has come become known as “The Ultimate Human Race”.

The real Comrades is tough.

The real Comrades also shows one so much about camaraderie, or comradeship. That is why I chose not to do a long run today. I chose to run 10km, and I have asked many others to join me in running 5 km.

I know I can run 90 km without shoes, my green number is proof. I so wish to have more people be aware of the spirit of Comrades. This morning was an act of Camaraderie rather than Courage.

Getting up

I got up at 05:40.

This is unusual. Race day normally means getting up between 00:30 and 01:30 – yes, just after midnight – depending on whether it is an up or down run.

For a real race one has to check everything: Time chip, bus ticket (to the start or back from the finish), race numbers, everything has to be checked with precision, then rechecked.

Getting to the start

I jumped into my little car and drove to the parking lot across the road from the Durbanville Children’s Home.

Normally it is quite a trek to get to the start. I have been fortunate to have a chauffeur (my mom) over the last few years. She lives close to Pietermaritzburg and knows the backroads well.

For a down run one has to get relatively close to the Pietermaritzburg City Hall (meaning about a kilometre.)

For an up run, one has to get to the bus in Pietermaritzburg that will transport you to the start.

The start

I asked permission to start and end my run at the Durbanville Children’s Home.

Normally, at a real start, one waits in holding pens according to your seeding. And waits. The wait before the start is cold on a down run.

My first run in the green number was cool, but it was only when I was allowed into that special holding pen for green-number athletes that the enormity of it all hit me: I was surrounded by legends.

I guess I will never be a Comrades legend, but that is why I supported and encouraged so many to run this virtual race with the legends. “Race the Comrades legends” was the idea behind the race.

And so, with a selfie I was off. All alone.

Normally there are 20 000 runners and thousands of spectators, TV crews and drones. The helicopters take off at first light.

We normally fill both carriage ways of the street. This morning I had the start to myself.

No cock crowing.

No national anthem.

No Shosholoza.

No cannon blast.

The few minutes before a real Comrades starts make for an amazing experience. If you are physically capable, do it at least once.

I am off

With a small tap on my Strava App, I got going.

Normally it takes about 5 minutes after the gun to get to the start line.

This morning I was able to run circles around the Durbanville Children’s’ Home. Nobody was in my way, nobody, but the satellites tracking my cellphone, there to be a witness.

The run

I circled the Children’s Home once and set off into the surrounding suburbs. The home owners in this area often support the Children’s Home. Many of the kids in the Home attend schools for which the upkeep is paid for by those living in this suburb.

Many decades ago the relationship was more problematic. Durbanville was where the up-and-coming Afrikaners took root, and the Home was an eyesore to some. That wonderful chef and restaurateur, Michael Olivier, once told me that he was at school with the kids from the Home and they were known as “kaalvoetkinders” (barefoot kids).

Guess why I now run barefoot?

The real Comrades is between 87 km and 90 km, depending on whether it is up or down.

On the down run you exit Pietermaritzburg via the notorious Polly Shorts. At Polly Shorts we normally get some first light.

A very different sunrise

Then we run through Camperdown and start climbing towards the highest point of the race – close to the “Lion Park” – they do have lions there!

From there we run a long way with a bunch of uphills to towards Drummond, which is halfway.

Halfway: No banners, no dancers, no spectators

My halfway this morning was close to Durbanville’s race course (horses). I chose some off-roading for fun.

I checked in on the Children’s Home again and took a picture of the local Dutch Reformed Church. The Home is massively supported by the NG Kerk community.

Another loop took me to heart of Durbanville where this beautiful set of art works has been placed.

In 1938 the centenary of the Groot Trek (Big Trek) was celebrated at this spot. The original Trek happened when a group of rebels moved away from British rule and tried to take the lands occupied by the local African peoples.

Fighting was inevitable. Many black Africans were killed, many settlers died too.

In 1938 the nationalist movement was firmly in place and fuelled by Hitler’s rise in Germany, the Groot Trek was celebrated as an exclusively white and Afrikaans thing – something it never was.

Here at this spot the Centerary Trek held an important stopover with all the Nationalist rhetoric.

This lovely group of sculptures, in the form of clay oxen – seemingly made by a black boy, but representing the rainbow of a modern-day South Africa, is wonderful. It embraces the spirit of the Trek, but not in an exclusive, acerbic way, much rather it celebrates South Africa.

I stopped and took these pictures three quarters into my race this morning.

Normally, at three quarters, I would be approaching Pinetown and my entire body would be sore. The pain associated with Comrades is hard to describe. By 60 km everything, absolutely everything, in the body is sore.

At this stage of the real Comrades stopping for a picture is dangerous as one may not be able to start running again. Exhaustion and confusion sometimes make people do odd things around this time. The spectators are amazing, though. Fellow runners too.

As the sun started rising over the last quarter of my race, I saw a few more fellow virtual-Comrades runners.

TK here was doing the 45 km. This would have been his third Comrades.

As I closed in the Durbanville Children’s Home again, I realised that I’d need to plan my last kilometre carefully to make my 10 km end at their gate.

I carefully chose a route around the local convenience and suddenly was hungry.

At 10 km I ran up to the gate.

Job done.

Virtual race run. Not quite the same as the real thing, but in the spirit I loved it.

Should you ever get the change, you should experience the end of a real Comrades. It is overwhelming. No matter how sore and tired you are – those last few hundred metres on the grass is an experience I am not capable of describing.


With one last selfie I walked to the car.

The Home needs old cellphones and tablets, as the kids are also doing virtual classes during Covid. Anyone able to help, please write to

Post race

I had breakfast and helped my darling in the garden. Normally, especially after a down run, it is nearly impossible to walk for 24 hours.

Post mortem

I salute the Comrades Marathon Association for this initiative. I’d suggest that it should happen very year on Comrades Day. Those who can, should do the (real) 90km. Everywhere else in the world I would love to see 5, 10 or 21,’s races being run in the spirit of Comrades.

Iets persoonlik

Die wat my goed ken, sal weet dat ek in die Comrades tyd gewoonlik na my ma gaan.

My ma, wat self al ’n hele aantal kort padwedlope voltooi het, doen tans iets heeltemal anders. Sy en my twee sussies loop die virtuele Camino de Santiago. Elke dag stap sy en my sussies in drie verskillende stede op twee kontinente en registreer hulle Camino-afstande.

Dan kry hulle ’n aanduiding waar hulle op die roete is. My ma was Vrydag iewers in die Pireneë.

Toe ek Saterdagmiddag my klere regsit en alles nagaan, stuur ek vir haar ’n foto en sê dis vreemd om voor te berei vir ’n Comrades sonder haar. Haar antwoord? Wel, soveel is virtueel deesdae. Verbeel jou ek is virtueel by jou al is ek virtueel in Spanje!

Ongekaart. Ongeloof(lik). Nuwe bediening.

June 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

Ongekaart, saamgestel deur Cas Wepener en Anandie Greyling, uitgegee deur Bybel-Media se druknaam Bybelkor, is merkwaardig.

Soveel mense is al seergemaak deur die kerk, of dan deur pionne van die kerk, wat glo hulle verstaan die pad na die hemel; hier kom dié merkwaardige boek en vra: Wat van hulle nie op die hoofweë wandel nie?

Ons almal ken die formulier vir die doop, maar hoe help die kerk mense tydens ’n miskraam of aborsie? O, die wit rok voor die kansel is ’n bekende plek, maar hoe help die kerk as jy wil skei? Wat is die kerk se respons as jy ’n swerfgenoot het?

Tydens die doop word ’n naam aan jou toegeken deur jou ouers, maar wat van mense wat van gender verander en dus ook ’n nuwe naam wil opneem? Hierdie boek verskaf raad.

Die kerk het baie mense seergemaak en weggestoot in die verlede. Ek bewonder diegene wat die kaarte as muurpapier gebruik en trots nuwe, ongekarteerde waters invaar.

Hoe help die kerk ’n persoon om te erken sy/hy is gay? Hierdie boek gee raad.

Terwyl baie kerke nog gay mense wil wegstoot, bied hierdie boek hulp aan dominees wat mense wil bedien wat ’n lewensverbintenis wil maak met iemand van dieselfde geslag.

Die kerk bestaan uit mense, en is daarom feilbaar. Die NG Kerk het al baie foute gemaak, maar hierdie boek, en ander deur Bybel-Media, wys hoe ver die Kerk (sien die hoofletter) al gevorder het.

Koop dit. Koop nog. Gee dit aan mense wat nog ongekaart is.

Die boek het dalk nie al die antwoorde nie, maar dit vra reeds uitstekende vrae.

Hier is die boek te koop:

Vandag is die begin van Pride Month. Dié boek is vir almal. Dit is merkwaardig.

Small stories, big remember

May 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

This morning while walking the dogs I met someone from my neighbourhood whose grandmother had died during the Big Flu. Today it was exactly one hundred years ago.

The beloved with two of our dogs.

She did not allow me to use her photographs or name, but the story is fascinating.

One of the reasons why I document my neighbourhood during the pandemic is exactly to tell personal stories that may in future touch the lives of others.

Throughout my career I have enjoyed telling the smaller stories, because when we see the human being, not the stats, we can relate.

I am fascinated by statistics and I love a spreadsheet. I have read countless articles of the curves during the big flu of the previous century. But meeting this “neighour” from down the road, made the story real.

We need the big picture. I love reading popular, well-crafted articles in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. Yet, any good journalist will tell you: Find the human angle otherwise your story will be dry.

One of the most unassuming journalists out there is called Brandon Stanton. Never heard of him? I am not surprised. But you may have heard of Humans of New York, or HONY.

Brandon began photographing the humans in New York. His hood. Soon he realised that his readers craved the stories, less so than the pictures (his words). I believe it is both. Brandon has that uncanny ability to draw one to the story with a picture, then he punches you with that last line. Mini stories. People. Humans. No wonder Brandon has been flown all over the world by the United Nations to give a face to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, or the homicide Rwanda.

When I was in academia, we looked at the personal narrative vs. the Master Narrative.

My son and his dog

And so, back to my “neighbour”. I am fascinated by archives, by the photographs and artefacts of yesteryear. One day someone will try to learn about Covid-19. The facts will there and will be debated, even then. The personal stories will touch the readers. Why else do so many people read historical novels? We follow one person through a period in the past. She / he / they becomes a guide for us.

Each one of us are contributing to the stories for tomorrow.

Each blog or insta account that documents a personal story does something for tomorrow.

I phoned the author Irma Joubert the other day. I had the privilege of joining her on the marketing tour for Mentje – Kind van Pas-Opkamp. She explained how she had read many personal accounts of the “onderduikers” (those who had been in hiding during World War II). Irma often said: “Imagine how hard it would be to raise children who have to remain quiet and indoors.”

I phoned her up and said: “Lockdown has taught me to appreciate that book even more.”


Who will write the definitive novel of someone living through Covid-19, with flashbacks to the Big Flu?

Small dog, big story

Women and the truth | Ysbere en singende orgidee

April 13, 2020 in Uncategorized

Mary Treat was a scientific genius.

Who? Yes, exactly. So were Jeanne Baret, Ynés Mexica and Marianne North. Who?

Mary Treat was held in high esteem by Charles Darwin, yet she is not on the A-list of international celebrities.

I have recently read two books about explorers of the truth whose gender made it impossible to excel in a world where people operate beyond truth, where questionable morals superseded scientific fact.


Vir Afrikaanse leser. Daar is ‘n brokkie laer af oor ‘n fantastiese kinderboek.


The two books cannot be more different. One is a heavy, fascinating novel, the other a delightful, thin children’s book in full colour about a polar bear who sets off to the Amazon in a rowing boat. Yet, at the core of these two books lies the fact that an ice bear in the tropics may have a better chance of succeeding on a mission than women who seek the truth in a world that cares only for convention.


Animal explorers: Lola the Plant Hunter

Sharon Retta sends a polar bear, Lola, into the rain forest to look for a rare plant.

The second last page of the book holds a sobering reality check: Lola merely represents real-life female scientists who had had to overcome severe prejudice due to their gender.

The title of this wonderful book is Animal explorers: Lola the Plant Hunter. I read the Afrikaans, beautifully translated by Jaco Jacobs, called Diereverkenners: Lola en die singende orgidee.



The other book is Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.

I am a major fan of Kingsolver’s and this book did not disappoint. After reading it, I phoned my mom and said: Get it! She got her copy a few hours before lockdown.

One could write a thesis on this book, but I’ll try not to bore you.

The book explores the lives of families from Vineland in New Jersey.

First, in the present, we meet Willa Knox. She is a typical middle-class woman for whom the American Dream seems to be fading. Knox’s husband is a college professor and they are struggling to make ends meet, for tenure is something most academics do not get in the USA. She discovers that a little-known scientist, Mary Treat, who used to live in the same town – possibly even extremely close to her own home.

We then jump back to the 1800s. The reader then meets Treat’s neighbours. Thatcher Greenwood is a teacher at the local high school. He desperately tries to teach science, but his stubborn headmaster wants none of it. Science, the headmaster says, is for people who do not believe in God. Thatcher also tries to educate girls, and that seems preposterous.

Thatcher lives with his young wife, Rose, who desperately wants to be a society girl, like her mother once was. Rose’s sister, Polly, is the one who understands Thatcher’s quest and she really turns into a delightful character. I adored Polly.

Mary Treat’s life and scientific pursuits provide elastic bands that hold these two worlds together.

Treat’s scientific mind and her friendship with an ever-more desperate Thatcher, is juxtaposed with shallow pursuits of his wife and those who want to be seen to be in the correct circles. Truth means nothing to the men in high places; in this world even a deliberate murder can happen with little consequence to the perpetrator.

In the present Willa Knox has to deal with en egotistical megalomaniac with an orange skin who runs for president. In the past we meet a feeble president who cannot keep the rampant capitalists at bay.

The book explores how politicians get away with disregarding the truth in order to make more money. In opposition to them are the “unsheltered” scientists who go out on a limb to find the truth.

So we find one part of the title unfolding.

The other part of the title is more ominous. In the present Willa Knox lives in crumbling house. In the past Thatcher Greenwood and his family did as well.

The book is a delightful interplay of past and present, with figures seemingly leaping across the decades. Polly, the delightful young women in Thatcher’s household, finds a present-day match in Tig, a four-foot tall woman who refuses to bow to society’s demands.

Tig is short for Antigone, and that of course unlocks an entire intertextual world to the Greek feminist texts; as does the fact that Willa’s husband is Greek and knows the myths. Mary Treat had little recourse to resources, but she succeeded despite her gender. In the ancient times and in the present we find her experiences sandwiched by the two Antigones.

Mary Treat was a woman in a time when her gender meant that her scientific work would not be recognised by most – even though she was held in high regard by the likes of Charles Darwin.

Unsheltered is not an easy read, but is a really good book. I loved it.

So we return to the delight polar bear who rows to Amazon in search of an singing orchid. Fantasy? The orchid is not, but spare a thought to real-life female explorers whose passions and careers were trashed simply because of their gender.


Diereverkenners: Lola en die singende orgidee.

Hierdie wonderlike kinderboek is ’n inspirasie vir grootmense ook.

Lola hou van blomme. Sy wil, soos haar oupa, die wêreld gaan verken. Haar oupa moedig haar aan en só beland Lola in die Amazone.

Hierdie fantastiese boek is te koop by alle goeie boekwinkels. Ondersteun hulle asseblief wanneer ons nie meer ingeperk is nie. Jy sal vind dat Bargain Books en Graffiti dit sal hê, of dadelik sal bestel. Die ander groot winkels sal dikwels ook moeite doen as jy ’n boek soek.

LAPA by die Toyota US Woordfees 2020

March 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

Domestic Noir: Behind closed doors

9 Maart 14:00


Deborah Steinmair, Margriet van der Waal en Mira Feticu in gesprek met Christy Weyer-Loedolff

Deborah is die skrywer van As jy van moord droom.

What happens behind closed doors? Find out, click here!

Wat vroue wil hê

9 Maart 14:00

Upstage @Drostdyteater

Reney Warrington en Debbie Loots gesels met Abraham Le Roux.

Reney is die skrywer van Smit Motors.

Is die tyd vir politieke korrektheid verby?

9 Maart 15:30


Waldimar Pelser en Michael le Cordeur in debat met Amanda Gouws.

Waldimar Pelser is die skrywer van In gesprek met Waldimar.

Erla-Mari Diedericks, Seks leuens en die internet

11 Maart 10:00

Upstage @Drostdyteater

Erla-Marie Diedericks gesels met die nimlike Marion Holm.

Erla is die skrywer van Seks leuens en die internet

Die “Mandela-Dokter”

11 Maart 11:00


Willem Laubscher en Willie Esterhuyse gesels met Dennis Cruywagen.

Willem is die skrywer van Operation Mandela.

’n Vernacular Spectacular: Keeping up met Kaaps

11 Maart 15:30


André Trantraal, Olivia M. Coetzee, Ricardo Arendse en Jitsvinger gesels met Theresa Biberauer. Theresa praat Afrikaans, al kom sy die pad van Cambridge Universiteit in Engeland.

André Trantraal het Jason Reynolds se Ghost na Afrikaans vertaal as Spoekie. Hy het ook al talle ander vertalings gedoen en is ook die skrywer van Keegan en Samier.

Du Toitskloof en Armand kook (weer) kaal

11 Maart 20:00

Die Khaya

Kom ervaar Armand se sjarme, ’n aantal lekkernye en proe die wyne wat Ed Beukes van Du Toitskloof Kelder voorsit.

Armand is die skrywer van Armand kook kaal. Die boek is ook in Engels beskikbaar as Nude.

Seuns se seerkry

12 Maart 14:00

Adam Small Seminaarkamer

Hannes Barnard en Ben Viljoen gesels met Bettina Wyngaard. Twee diep verhale.

Hannes is die skrywer van Halley se komeet. Ben is die skrywer van Ballade vir Nkunzi.

Wanneer hare “mince” … en kinders droom

12 Maart 15:30


Bianca Flanders gesels met Riana Scheepers oor HARE en Dale Blankenaar laat boeke se illustrasies lewendig word.

Bianca is die skrywer van Prinses Pampoenpit.

Minibusse en melkkoeie

12 Maart 17:00


James-Brent Styan gesels met Johan Jack Smith, Pieter-Louis Myburgh en Sidney Gilroy.

James is die skrywer van The Bosasa Billions en Steinhoff en die Stellenbosse boys.

Du Toitskloof en Armand kook (weer) kaal

13 Maart 20:00

Die Khaya

Kom ervaar Armand se sjarme, ’n aantal lekkernye en proe die wyne wat Ed Beukes van Du Toitskloof Kelder voorsit.

Armand is die skrywer van Armand kook kaal. Die boek is ook in Engels beskikbaar as Nude.

Du Toitskloof en Armand kook (weer) kaal

14 Maart 20:00

Die Khaya

Kom ervaar Armand se sjarme, ’n aantal lekkernye en proe die wyne wat Ed Beukes van Du Toitskloof Kelder voorsit.

Armand is die skrywer van Armand kook kaal. Die boek is ook in Engels beskikbaar as Nude.

Vir U, die onbekende vrou

March 3, 2020 in Uncategorized

In Ambre Nicolson en Jaxon Hsu se boek Die A, B, C van Suid-Afrikaanse Baanbrekervroue is daar ’n bepaalde inskrywing wat my positief stem. Die letter U is oop. Daar staan U, onbekende vrou wie se stories ons nie ken nie.

Vanoggend, in die vroeë ure kry ek ’n boodskap van Marilyn Gantana wat vertel haar ma het gesterf. Toe ek die boodskap oordra aan ’n toenmalige baas wat vir Marilyn geken het, vertel hy my sy eie ma is die naweek oorlede.

Net daar gaan kyk weer na die letter U.

Drie geslagte, Ma Sophie in die middel

Ek het Marilyn se ma net een keer ontmoet, toe ek hierdie kiekie geneem het, maar ek het haar “geken” uit Marilyn se vertellings. Die toenmalige baas se ma het ek nooit ontmoet nie, maar sy was ’n legende onder van my vriende.

Dit is eintlik die punt van hierdie inskrywing: Hoeveel ongelooflike vroue kry nooit die kollig op hulle nie, word nie in boeke verewig nie, maar maak uiteindelik ’n geweldige bydrae in die samelewing?


Jare gelede het ek met Marilyn ’n aantal onderhoude gevoer. Elkeen is maar so 30 sekondes lank. Luister hoe baie haar ma genoem word. (Die boek is lankal uit druk, koop dit tweedehands as jy kan. Dis stories wat tel.)

Storie 1

Storie 2

Storie 3

Storie 4

Storie 5


Dit is ‘n saluut hierdie. Aan Ma Sophie. Aan die tannie met die poppe. Ook vir almal wat onbekend is, maar soveel gedoen het.


A to Z of Amazing South African Women was published by that amazing person Colleen Higgs of Modjadji Books.


Die A, B, C van Suid-Afrikaanse baanbrekervroue is uitgegee deur Wenkbrou.


A is Antjie Krog

B is Buyisiwe Sondezi

C is Cissie Gool

D is Dope Saint Jude

E is Eva of Krotoa

F is Fatima Meer

G is Glenda Kemp (JIP! Die stripper!)

H is Helen Suzman

I is Irma Stern

J is Judith Sephuma

K is Khanyi Dhlomo

L is Lillian Ngoyi

M is Miriam Makeba

N is Natalie du Toit

O is Olive Schreiner

P is mev. Ples

Q is Qunita Adams

R is Ruth First

S is Semenya (Caster)

T is Thuli Madonsela


V is Vuyiseka Bubula

W is Winnie Mandela

X is Xolile Tshabalala

Y is Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Z is Zanele Muholi

Penguin Random House SA acquires LAPA

February 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

(Klik hier om die Afrikaanse weergawe op LitNet te lees.)

(19 February 2020, Cape Town) – Penguin Random House South Africa, a division of Penguin Random House and the largest English language publisher in South Africa, today announced its purchase of LAPA Publishers, the country’s largest Afrikaans-language publisher, from the ATKV. LAPA will become part of Penguin Random House South Africa, retaining its name and identity, leadership, publishing direction, and staff. The acquisition will enable Penguin Random House South Africa to increase its domestic market share and position and to strengthen the reach and diversity of its publishing programs and titles for readers nationwide. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The transaction will be finalised by the end of February 2020 subject to the meeting of all conditions.

The acquisition agreement was announced by Steve Connolly, Chief Executive Officer, Penguin Random House South Africa, and Sonél Brits managing director of the ATKV-MSW.

Penguin Random House South Africa and LAPA both publish original adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction in hardcover, paperback and digital editions. LAPA’s imprints will complement those of Penguin Random House South Africa. LAPA publishes just over 200 titles annually, and the combined company expects to release more than 350 print books a year.

Penguin Random House South Africa’s widely admired roster of bestselling and critically acclaimed local and international authors include Michelle Obama, Yuval Noah Harari, James Patterson, Roald Dahl, Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood, Jamie Oliver and Jo Jo Moyes, with Pieter-Louis Myburgh, Lauren Beukes, Fred Khumalo, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Marguerite Poland, Max du Preez and Sally Andrew. They will be joined by such admired and widely read LAPA authors as Marita van der Vyver, Sophia Kapp, Irma Joubert, Chanette Paul, Fanie Viljoen, Jaco Jacobs, Wendy Maartens, James-Brent Styan, Riana Scheepers and Armand Aucamp.  

Steve Connolly, CEO of Penguin Random House South Africa said: “We are very excited to be working with the team at LAPA. They have terrific publishing programmes, an excellent growth record, and a strong presence in the Afrikaans children’s and fiction markets. We have long been impressed by their talent, professionalism and ambition, and believe our two businesses will learn a lot from each other. I fully expect that we will see an exciting exchange of ideas and a passionate collective energy in the consolidated business, to drive forward the highest-quality publishing standards and growth mind-set that we all share. The businesses will continue to maintain their current focus and will remain operating as they are, with the possibility of some systems harmonisation. The LAPA management team have shown an impressive and successful ability to grow and we intend to help them to grow even further.”

Sonél Brits, managing director of the ATKV-MSW, says the ATKV views the acquisition as an excellent opportunity to promote Afrikaans writers and their work. “It will significantly increase Afrikaans writers’ footprint and will afford them international exposure and opportunity. We trust that LAPA Publishers will only go from strength to strength in the impressive stable of Penguin Random House South Africa.”  

Sylvia de Wet, CEO of LAPA commented: “This development holds huge promise for LAPA and our authors. We are delighted to join Penguin Random House South Africa and to become part of their parent company, the international book-publishing standard-bearer. Through Penguin Random House we will gain access to valuable platforms and resources, while retaining our corporate name and identity as the biggest Afrikaans publisher and market leader.  LAPA’s business core remains intact and we’ll continue to preserve and protect our integrity while integrating with a publishing brand whose cultural pre-eminence, commercial success, and support for its authors are known and respected across the world. We are looking forward to an extremely promising future together!”

Penguin Random House South Africa has been trade publisher of the year in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and has been awarded the Sunday Times annual fiction prize for the past six years.

Penguin Random House is the world’s largest trade book publisher, with market-leading English-language companies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India. In addition to its Spanish-language publishing with its Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial divisions in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Chile, Penguin Random House publishes works in German and Portuguese through its Verlagsgruppe Random House and Companhia da Letras sister companies in Germany and Brazil respectively; Catalan in Spain; Hindi in India; and Afrikaans in South Africa.

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.


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.


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.