The danger of gun control in South Africa

‘Terror rushes through my body and floods my brain, roaring in my ears.  He shoves the gun against my right temple.’

Scene of a crime, Clifton, South Africa

Scene of a crime, Clifton, South Africa

Jani Allan recounts her ordeal of when she was held up at gun-point outside her Clifton home in 2001. She also weighs in on the new debate surrounding gun control in the wake of the murder of Senzo Meyiwa. Allan contends that a licensed firearm is a viable means of protection. She continues to diagnose a ‘gun culture’ image problem in South Africa. 

Cape Town, 2001

It is one a.m. in the morning. I have just finished doing a radio show at Cape Talk in Cape Town.

I drive along Victoria Road in Clifton in the black, bandaged night.

As I turn into the driveway of La Corniche, I notice a young black man walking towards me with a jaunty gait. He is wearing an expensive leather jacket.

The young man comes closer. I assume he is trying to help me open the boom gate.

Since he looks Muslim, I say  “Shukrain, shukrain” – ‘thank you, thank you!’

Still he comes closer.

I urgently fish around in my bag to give him some money. ‘Shukrai…” I begin again. Now I know he isn’t looking for a tip.

He is standing a yard away from me, right up at the half-open window of the car. I can smell him. It is the acrid smell of evil. His face is expressionless. Only his eyes move like those of a lizard behind the cracks in a stone wall. He reaches down into the front of his jeans. Oh my God! He is a flasher. The thought crackles through my mind like electricity.

Slowly he reaches down and pulls a huge gun out of his trousers. Terror rushes through my body and floods my brain, roaring in my ears.  He shoves the gun against my right temple.

‘Give me the car…the cell phone…the dog….’ He says cocking his head to where Tiggy, my three pound Pomeranian is lying in her little traveler on the seat beside me. All that stuff about seeing your life before your eyes is more or less true. My mind goes into slide-show mode.

I see the inside of the car spattered with blood. Half my head is blown away. The next is the dashboard flecked with gobs of flesh…the next image is that of a tiny auburn dog lying in a pool of maroon congealing blood. It’s pure Pulp Fiction.

Before any of these images can become a reality my left arm swings up and with all the force I can muster, I hit the gun away from my head, using the heavy African bracelet I always wear. At the same time I hear an eerie scream which grows louder and louder. It is an ancient siren; a banshee wail that swirls around the car swoops down to the crashing waves and then drifts up to the mountains.

“Noooooo….. oooooh……”

The Munch-like scream is coming from me.

The man with the gun looks as though he has seen something he was not expecting to. His eyes widen. In truth, he looks frightened. He turns and lopes off into the night like a jackal. A jackal in an expensive leather jacket.


I confronted murder twelve years before in 1989 when I survived an assassination attempt on my life. I appeared on the same ‘hit list’ as Desmond Tutu and FW de Klerk. The Orde van die Dood (Order of Death) began with a campaign of intimidation. Prowlers outside my apartment. Death threats by telephone. Dead white roses at my door – a far cry from my  favourite bouquets of St Joseph lilies. Then came the limpet mine that exploded in my Sandton apartment. Their original plan was to kill me with a crossbow.

But it was being held-up with a Magnum 44 that capsized my anti-gun stance.


There are over 17,000 murders a year in the killing fields of South Africa. For the first time in 20 years the number of murders and the murder rate has increased for a second consecutive year.

In post-apartheid South Africa, the machinery of social control has collapsed. The chasm of freedom has been filled by rabid, competitive and conspicuous displays of consumerism. And sport.

Glitz, bling, beef, jocks, chicks, guns and wheels, the spectacle of the high life, are, for many, the only image of desired existence in post-apartheid South of Africa.

Americans often ask me why South Africa is such an endemically violent society. I try and explain that this is the legacy of an unequal and race-based society.

Add to this the current economic stagnation in South Africa, insupportable frustration with rising unemployment, broken education systems, social immobility and the growing disparity between rich and poor.

Oh, then there is a ruling political elite that is hallmarked with moral turpitude.

Historically, Dutch and British colonial subjugation led to the dispossession and uprooting of native inhabitants.

During apartheid, black people were brutalized by poverty and their family structures destroyed as the male migrant worker population was enslaved.

Fast forward to 2014.

The white Afrikaans communities – those in the higher income groups – are politically disempowered and this results in vast reservoirs of underlying resentment, fear and anger.

An underclass of white squatters – how the roles have been capsized – is similarly aggrieved.

Both blacks and whites have obsolete patriarchal baggage.

At best, this becomes manifest in a general attitude of suspicion, distrust, barely suppressed aggression, and a readiness to defend bodily integrity with every means at hand. (CF Oscar Pistorius)

At the worst it flares up during incidents of road-rage, temper tantrums, public brawls, racist shooting sprees and family murders.


‘Murder is the most violent and potent of society’s destabilisers. It presents a dangerous puzzle, and we study it constantly in an effort to find a solution.’  I chose this analysis by Professor Dap Louw in the wake of the murder of Bafana Bafana captain, Senzo Meyiwa. The government has responded to Meyiwa’s murder by pledging harsher gun control measures.


If past performance is an indicator of future performance then we should be gravely concerned that the government is taking up the mantle of gun control. The firearm amnesty set forward by the Firearms Control Act (2000) has been undermined by the rampant corruption of the South African police:

  • A 2012 report estimates that the police lost 18 196 firearms between April 2005 and March 2011.
  • A recent report establishes that 14 000 police firearms are now estimated to be in the hands of criminals.

Citizens that gave up their firearms in good faith now find their guns used against them at home and at shopping malls. A source alleges that (at a price) the police hand stolen guns to inmates as they leave prison or the cell-block at the police station. A 2011 investigation by the South African Institute of Race Relations revealed that police criminality was rife. The institute examined 100 cases where the police were involved in assault, murder, rape and armed robberies.

Charl van Wyk was in the Saint James Church, Kenilworth in 1993 when AK47-wielding APLA members attacked it. The attackers killed 11 worshippers. He was the lone-armed congregant who shot back at the attackers. The commander of the Marxist group who claimed responsibility for the attack said that the congregation was attacked because they were believed to be unarmed. The St James Massacre in 1993 and the East London pub attack (among many other unreported or unreported upon, incidents) are examples of lives saved by licensed firearm owners returning fire.

Several schools in the USA (which are gun-free zones) have been attacked, which proves that the mere status as a gun-free zone does not prevent homicidal attacks. Innocent people are sitting ducks as the cliché goes.  There are a plethora of murder cases in South Africa that may have offered different outcomes had the victims been armed.


Months after leaving South Africa, I am at home in the United States watching television when images of Marike de Klerk flicker across the screen during the evening news. I am horrified to read the news banner: ‘South Africa: Former First Lady murdered at home’.

Murdered in her home; Marike de Klerk

Murdered in her home; Marike de Klerk

De Klerk, a political figure in her own right as the former leader of the National Party’s women’s league could no longer count on the protection of bodyguards after her divorce from FW de Klerk. Her new status relegated her to travelling with a can of insect spray on the passenger seat. The high walls and sophisticated security of Marike’s secure complex would offer the wealthy residents peace of mind were it not for an internal threat. A security guard at the complex employed to protect residents would would abuse his role by stabbing, beating and strangling the final first lady of the the Apartheid era.

Two years later and I’m sitting at a café in New York’s East Village reading the New York Times. An article on my home country captures my attention. My mind races as I read about the blood-stained floorboards of a little white house in an Atlantic Seaboard suburb of Cape Town.  Nine gay men – mostly young Afrikaners – were brutally murdered by two assailants at Sizzler’s massage parlour in Sea Point.

The tragic vulnerability of these victims also speaks to a gun culture that fails to fully represent society. Women and gay men may feel either excluded and/or wary of a gun culture that often appears exclusively white, heterosexual and macho on steroids.

Gun culture

These unarmed victims don’t fit the profile of a gun owner.

Instead we see Oscar Pistorius is the ideal poster-child for gun control. The locked bathroom door tragedy  precedes the zombie-stopper and tales of restaurant fire. His behaviour also speaks to a Pistorius gun culture.

The Pistorius family reportedly owned 55 firearms. Pistorius’ father Henke allegedly shot himself in the testicles while in the company of his then girlfriend, former Miss World, Anneline Kriel. These kinds of men, it seems, equate guns with virility.

Elsewhere this gun culture may prevail at a braaivleis  in a white working-class suburb. This ritual evokes the early Afrikaners that rode across the endless veld and cooked their game in the open. This evocation of the hunter-gatherer is a deeply masculine and nationalistic mental image.

The  braaivleis may be punctured by ruddy faced men sporting wife beaters that struggle to conceal their expanding girths. Tumblers overflowing with klippes and coke. Alcohol leads to displays of bombastic bravado and this is when guns come out.

Still, these social portraits are not reason alone for draconian gun control measures. They instead represent a crisis of attitudes. An attitude that qualifies a gun as confirmation of a man’s masculinity. The likes of Adam Lanza, Oscar Pistorius and the braaivleis repeat offenders suffer from arrested development.

A gun culture should instead foster the ideals of Swiss gun-owners. The famously ‘neutral’ nation has the fourth highest rate of gun ownership per capita in the world – yet maintains low crime rates.  The nation has not been afflicted by a series of school shootings as it benefits from ‘a culture of responsibility and safety that is anchored in society and passed from generation to generation.’

As Charlton Heston once confessed to me: ‘Vanessa Redgrave is a close friend, although I differ from her politically.’ If the long-term president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) can find common ground with Vanessa the Red then I believe we can reshape gun culture.

Charlton Heston and Jani Allan, London, 1990.

NRA president Charlton Heston and Jani Allan, London, 1990.

Rigorous gun safety classes and the psychological screening of licensed firearm candidates will always be preferable to a wholesale ban on licensed firearms. The nation would have to be lobotomized to trust the SAPS to handle another firearms amnesty.

Most licensed firearm owners – the silent majority – are responsible.

The death of a talented young footballer will be a deeply psychological blow for South Africa’s black youth. Perhaps if the brilliant young footballer was armed he wouldn’t have been gunned down.

I’m with Switzerland. Citizens are required to own a firearm and be proficient in the handling thereof.

Additional research by Gareth Davies.

I refuse to be the poster child of slut-shaming

Slut-shaming is the act of criticising a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity.

I left the country in 2001. I live in a blaze of obscurity (sic) in America. I am a recluse by choice and a PONTI – a person of no tactical import in South Africa. Yet my epic humiliation and allegations about my sex life remain, it seems, an all-consuming story to certain South Africans.


On Friday, 19 September at the Open Book Festival at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town, the Daily Maverick hosted a mini-gathering to debate the future of independent, free and intelligent journalism in South Africa. At one point the panel began discussing media coverage of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

A panel member quoted Ray Hartley as saying that EFF were receiving 90% of party coverage in the country. (This is not surprising since the party members wear red onesies and miners’ boots to Parliament and routinely threaten revolution.)

At this Ferial Haffajee (City Press Editor) said that “[we] have seen this phenomena before with Eugene Terre’blanche”.

Haffajee then turned to the audience and said that “Jani Allan had been impaled on the blue flames of ET’s eyes” and asked “could she not see his holey underpants at the time?”

It was a cheap and puerile shot at me made in an attempt to garner laughs from the audience. Those present were in no doubt that Haffajee was slut-shaming me.

The reference was made as if it were a comical anecdote – again compromising any relevance it had as a fair point in the discussion. Some of the older members of the audience laughed obligingly, others were unmoved. The younger members of the audience did not understand the reference at all.

According to the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), “women in the media are still on the receiving end of discrimination”.

“Discriminatory practices, structural inequalities, cultural factors, prejudices, patriarchy and sexism are still alive and well in newsrooms,” the study noted. Ferial Haffajee described the results as “shocking”.

The “snapshot survey” was compiled from responses to a questionnaire answered by 40 of Sanef’s 149 members. It was undertaken to establish the realities and challenges faced by South Africa’s women journalists – especially senior women journalists – and to identify strategies for change.

“However, it has also been established in various studies that women often perpetuate the existing male constructs of the newsroom environment”.

It seemed men still needed to work on their gender awareness and sensitivity. It also seemed as if men’s relation to women staffers and their advancement was not an important issue among senior male news journalists.

“This impacts on how women journalists are treated and how news content is assessed and represented.”

“Racism is hounded by the media themselves, yet they not only allow sexism in their ranks, but even perpetuate it through certain actions (and non-actions).”

Dear readers, I ask you two questions (with tears in my bloodshot, aging eyes):

  • What culture puts someone through 25 years of ritual humiliation and

  • Where are the feminists in all this?

Women’s sex lives and sexuality are matters of their own choice and nobody else’s business. Except in my case. While the AWB leader escaped with his reputation unsullied among his adoring ‘volk’ (and even enhanced by some male supporters, who thought an attractive white writer, then in her 30s, to be a prime conquest) my life was all but wrecked by these allegations.

Many indiscretions find their way into the public domain. Somehow it always seems as though the women carry the taint.

The Elliot Spitzers and Anthony Wieners profess abject regrets, retire from the spotlight for a while – and then re-enter the arena as though nothing had happened. Some even get rewarded with a television talk-show. (Spitzer). Literary analogies are as plenty as Hydra’s heads.

In Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy the title character has a highly public affair with the affluent Count Vronsky: Anna Karenina is rejected by her friends, while the reputation of Count Vronsky remains more or less untarnished.

My life, in terms of such media descriptions, is defined by an alleged relationship and a pair of green underpants (which allegedly had holes in them.)

Phillis Chesler’s book Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman points out that women are capable of misogyny too. The mean girls you knew at school are now grown up and mean girling on Twitter. Researchers have been looking more closely and they have diagnosed something they call “intrasexual competition”.

The personal is political and we should understand it.

In the wise words made famous by Beyoncé – feminism is the “social, political and economic equality of the sexes”.

Sexual competition among females seems to increase due to circumstances that tend to be particularly common in affluent societies. Stigmatising female promiscuity — a.k.a. slut-shaming — has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous.

Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.

I have always believed that since sex is coveted by men the best way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource is to limit access to it. But no-one really cares about what I really, really think.

Emma Watson recently said at the UN the view feminism is ‘man hating’ has to stop. She encouraged men to take up this mantle for their sisters, mothers and daughters so that they can be free from prejudice – but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too.

How about some of my gay chums – let’s start with them – taking up the mantle on my behalf? I am not the first person to be publicly humiliated. I have just had to learn to deal with it. Some people can’t.

Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers student was secretly streamed via Webcam kissing another man.A few days later after being scorned, derided and abused on social media he committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. The instant communication afforded by the internet not only dehumanises but it also enables the most bloodless and egregiously cruel social commentary.

We are living in a culture of all pervasive humiliation. Historian Nicolaus Mills speaks of a zeitgeist that encourages and revels in Schadenfreude. In this milieu, those that humiliate are rewarded.

Gossips columnists, late night comedians, paparazzi, Twitter trolls, Facebook trolls; the media circus has never quite moved on from me. I accidentally stumbled upon a website a while ago, a kind of forum in which journalists of the seventies and eighties were in a frenzy of slagging me off.

I gazed at the bile spewed about me. It was so over-the-top that is made me think of Vonnegut when he described someone as being dressed up in a suit of armor to attack an ice-cream sundae.

Then, I supposed my face broke like a dyke. I could not hold back anymore. I have watched those that sought to discredit me grow in girth and wealth. Their children are grown. Some have left the country.

I have reinvented myself and created a new narrative and way of being. Will the haters ever acknowledge this or will it remain a koan?

Journalists should serve the public as watchdogs and truth-tellers. News organisations need a broad array of voices and perspectives. To thrive financially, they must appeal to an equally broad array of potential viewers, listeners, and readers. Content analyses and anecdotal evidence suggest that a newsroom leader’s gender can have a subtle but important influence on everything from what stories get covered and how, to who gets promoted and why.

That is why when a woman editor of the caliber of Ferial Haffajee (for whom I have enormous respect) chooses to humiliate me it is especially unfair and incorrect.

I refuse to be the poster child of slut-shaming forever.

This column was originally published by the Daily Maverick on 2 October, 2014.

Kendall Jones – Evil in a Rah-rah skirt

Kendall Jones, 19, is a Texan cheerleader who sparked outrage on Facebook by posting pictures of herself with animals she hunted and killed in Africa.

Huntress, Kendall Jones.

Huntress, Kendall Jones.

She has responded to her online backlash, using President Teddy Roosevelt in her defense.

“He killed the same species that hunters now chase today under a mound of anti-hunting pressure,” she posted on her page. “Yet, how can it be possible that someone can love the earth, and take from the Earth in the name of conservation? For some folks, they’ll never understand.”

Kendall, don’t you realize that you capsize your own arguments by brazenly admitting that you are “looking to host a TV show.

This is not my first rodeo with your kind. TV presenter, Melissa Bachman shares both your vanity and utter disregard for animals.

So far, nearly 300,000 people have signed a petition asking CEO Mark Zuckerberg to delete the Kendall Jones public figure page on Facebook because it “promotes animal cruelty.”

Might I respectfully ask all readers of this column to add their names to the petition?

I will leave it to the pro-hunt enthusiasts to massage the stats whichever way they wish.

There has been a long march not only through the institutions but through the minds of the young. When some young people want to praise themselves, they describe themselves as “non-judgmental.” For them, the highest form of morality is amorality.

I am afraid I don’t fit that age demographic. I am deeply judgemental – and unashamedly so – when it comes to the destruction of animals.

For crying out loud, Kendall, who believes you when you say that your hunts involve a “fair chase?” What is your idea of fair?

What nonsense to claim that “they take place in areas where animal populations sometimes have to be controlled.”

Who told you that lion and leopard populations have to be controlled? The PR your daddy must have employed?

Kendall, let us leave for a moment the world of statistics and get to the nettle that must be grasped.

What is it that makes a nineteen-year-old want to kill a noble creature?

No-one ever answers this question. Instead, I am machine-gunned with statistics and spurious claims that ‘it is good for the environment and conservation.’

Here we enter the realm of culture and ideas. (Which means you will need an interpreter, Kendall.)

Why would a healthy young woman, seemingly normal, be so lacking in empathy for animals?

According to psychiatrists, the people with no capacity for empathy are at best utter narcissists and at worst psychopaths.

Simon Baron-Cohen, a famous psychologist, says empathy has, or is caused by certain pathways in the brain, and that these may be defective for various reasons: genetic or environmental.

Whatever the cause, evil and lack of empathy are one and the same.

In Rwanda, for example, if accounts are to be believed, thousands of ordinary people, of no apparently psychopathic tendencies, took up their machetes and killed their neighbors, then enjoyed their goods and feasted on their food and celebrated what they had done.

It is said in some circumstances – fear, mass-hysteria or adrenaline-induced – some circuits in the brain overwhelm other circuits in the brain that are necessary for the expression of empathy.

According to David R Hawkins, the capacity to recognize and comprehend truth is concordant with the levels of consciousness as reflected not only the evolution of brain anatomy, but more importantly also, by changes in the physiognomy of the human brain and its patterns of processing information.

These, in turn, depend on underlying, unseen energy fields. In humans, critical and profound changes occur in the brain’s physiology and patterns of processing information at consciousness level 200.

Kineseological testing has shown that gratuitous trophy hunters calibrate extremely low. Their ‘intellect’ becomes primarily a tool of animal drives and primitive self-serving goals.

As the world grows more and more evil, so a bigger and bigger percentage of the population loses its capacity for empathy.

Emotionality is based on perception. Compassion is a result of discernment.

Kendall, I am afraid that I must rebuke you. Your actions are pure evil. The pictures of you dragging the corpse of a leopard are repulsive. Have I made myself quite clear?

Clearly you are hungry for your 15 minutes of fame.

I suggest you go about it the normal American way. Make a sex tape. Marry a basketball player for a few weeks. You could even become a weather girl on TV. You have the teeth. 

The Marquis of Debris

Jeffrey David Hamilton.

Jeffrey David Hamilton.

Not long after coming to the little river town in which I live I met an extraordinary man.

His name was Jeffrey Hamilton. He resembled a kind of Indiana Jones and was seldom seen without his trademark battered and greasy hat. His hands could open parking meters and with his craggy, tanned good-looks, he must have broken hearts like hickory nuts when he was younger.

His family was studded with over-achievers. His father, Jim, was a Broadway set designer. His French mother, an accomplished ballerina and cook.

One of his sisters, Gabrielle, wrote a best-selling food memoir “Blood, Bones and Butter” and runs a wildly successful restaurant in New York called Prune.

The other sister, Melissa, together with her colleague Christopher Hirscheimer publishes four cook books a year. Oprah rated the Canal House cook books as her favourites in the Christmas shopping list.

Jeffrey, although Stanford educated, marched to a different drum.

‘I spent $80,000 on his education,’ said Jim. ‘What does he do? Collects junk!’

As the self-styled Marquis of Debris, Jeffrey drove around in a huge van clearing out people’s basements and attics.

He had a talent for picking our gems amongst the garbage. French colonial chairs. Sevres porcelain. An early American jelly cupboard.

For years he would store his finds in a huge barn in Aquetong Road. Once a year he would have a barn sale.

Actually it was an excuse for him to chef it up and provide his friends with food and drink while haggling pointlessly.

There was nothing like traipsing through the dusty barn on a hot Sunday morning. You never knew what you would find: a Victorian plaster birdbath for $10. An entire collection of Encyclopaedia Britannicas for $5…

I used to tease him and say that he was a hoarder, that he was an ideal subject for the television series on people who hoard because they have emotional problems.

“Really?” he would say. He was genuinely bemused.

Whenever something was exceedingly desirable he would say “Oh no. I’m not selling that. That’s for my kitchen. It’s French.”

“It’s French” became our code for something that’s unattainable.


When he was nineteen he went to the Congo to live with the Mbuti pygmies for two years. I thought it was a bold move for a Solebury kid.

He went to Africa hoping to find the Noble Savage living in Utopia. I have a copy of his book. It is called ‘Going Native’ by J J Bone.
“A young man’s quest for his identity leads him to an African forest and its people…”

In the Prologue to the book he writes of how he became enchanted with the arrowheads which he found while scouting on the banks of the Delaware River.

“I was elated that I’d discovered something that so wholly captivated me, yet sad that these people were no longer where I stood now…I felt happy and melancholic at the same time…I dreamed then of the day I would live with the people who are still living in remote areas of the world by hunting and gathering.”

The book records his transition from adolescence to manhood and provides the broadest and deepest account to date of what it really feels like to live with a tribe. This is the book on culture shock.

George D Spindler, Professor Emeritus, Anthropology and Education at Stanford University wrote:

 “There is a directness…that really beguiles one. Mr. Bone says things that many anthropologists would say, but could not, and keep their respectable academic identity.”

Jeffrey and I would laugh like hyenas about his experience in Africa: how the pygmy chief kicked him out because he said they were stealing. We laughed about so many things.

He had an ear for the phoney baloney in politics, arts and literature.

We understood each other’s version of the world.

He would call me ‘my fiancée’. We thought it hilarious because both of us were emotionally battle-scarred and completely uninterested in a relationship.

Instead, we bumped into each other, giant pieces of kelp, floating rudderless, in the river town, from time to time. I was a resident alien, and so was he on some level.

Each conversation interested me. We would talk about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance, aesthetics – and if he was dining in his father’s Grill Room as he did occasionally – oysters.

He spoke French and had a gourmand’s knowledge of food. His parents took him on his first trip to France when he was fourteen.

On his birthday in mid-September he would hire the boat belonging to Gerenser, the ice-cream shop. A bunch of his friends would bring food and drink and party hearty while the boat chugged up and down the Delaware.

In the last couple of years, as the economy tanked, he was no longer able to pay the rent for his barns in which he hoarded his finds.
Perhaps when he lost his barns and his truck, he lost his Marquis of Debris identity.

Perhaps, because there are few job opportunities for an over-educated white man approaching sixty: perhaps because the world in which he lived became intolerably cruel and uncaring: perhaps because he was terminally depressed and could not see the way forward through his fog of depression…

Jeffrey Hamilton, the Marquis of Debris hanged himself on the 25th of June 2014.

The flags of the river towns are flying at half-mast.


Conversation Envy

Anaïs Nin once observed that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I have pondered this for some time and am bound to disagree. Life shrinks or expands, at least to me, in proportion to one’s conversations.

Last night I had an acute episode of Conversation Envy.

I can tolerate the drivel most of the time, but deep down I secretly yearn for a philosophical argument and a fresh point of view with the odd bon mot thrown in the mix to keep things fresh.

Living in a blaze of obscurity has its drawbacks. One is the quality of chat to which one is exposed.

Quentin Crisp said that the key to speaking with style is to command of a vocabulary large enough to give you both flexibility and precision in expressing yourself. The more words you have the more accurate and entertaining will be your self-portrayal in conversation.

Recall the startled bemusement of Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain in “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” “Good heavens. For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it!”

These days one is engulfed in incoherence. Grammatical errors aside (“Between you and I”, problems with “infer” and “imply”, “flout” and “flaunt”), there is a paucity in topic matter.

Last night I was waiting on a table of distinction. Both elegant women wore the kind of important necklaces that one can only buy at the Metropolitan Museum store: heavy amber beads and interesting silver.

The men were straight out of Renoir’s Boating Party.

At the end of the evening I had occasion to be near their table. Their conversation stopped me in my tracks.

One of the men suggested that love, like evil, is a mystery.

There was mention of ‘meaningless malevolence’ and references to the Classics. They may have quoted Yeats and TS Eliot. There was objection to using the word ‘apartheid’ in contexts other than the South African one.

I did know what I was hearing, however. The quartet was engaged in mental calisthenics and the exchange of ideas.

I yearned to partake of this conversational feast.

I was having an attack of Conversation Envy!

One of the chaps, Michael Curtis, was talking about a piece he had written for American Thinker and how he had titled it “When will Irish Eyes be Smiling on Israel.”

I was engrossed.

Usually I don’t bother to eavesdrop on conversations. They are invariably as useless as wet newspaper. Most of what passes as conversation flows as swiftly as papier-mâché. No one really listens to anyone else and if you try it you will see why. There is a difference between conversation and speech. People have not lost the power of speech. They have lost the art of conversation.

Things are more interesting when a couple has a row. Then there are little popcorn bursts of truth. There is also a chance of collateral windfall. An arguing couple once stormed out of the restaurant forgetting a bottle of Dom Pérignon.

The kitchen staff talk about sex and mime unspeakable things with rolling pins or French loaves. The bus kids talk about surfing and how they did/are going to do Molly this weekend. The other servers talk about what a bitch that woman on 45 is and how they will never serve her again. Or they rat each other out: “Whose job was it to do lemons? Who hasn’t done their side work?”

I have one or two friends with whom I discuss what other people like to call Conspiracy Theories.

But in the main I am a conversational anorexic.

When I was a journalist, I had unfettered access to interesting people. I interviewed Charlton Heston once at the Hyde Park Hotel in London.

Jani Allan with Charlton Heston at the Hyde Park Hotel in 1990 for a Sunday Times (UK) interview.

Jani Allan with Charlton Heston at the Hyde Park Hotel in 1990.

“Mr Heston,” I said, “My friend Elaine and I have had a crush on you since we were 13.”

“Where’s your friend Elaine,” was his wry response.

During the lunch gabfest he told me that his life’s philosophy was based on Winston Churchill’s exhortation to never give up.

He leaned towards me and in pure Churchillian metre he intoned:

“Never, never give up. Never, ever, ever, give up…”

Political Correctness and the fear of treading on sensitive corns has all but bandaged conversazione. One certain way to prevent conversation from becoming boring is to say the wrong thing, but who has the brass ones to do so these days?

I want to sit at a table and listen to people sbottonarsi as they say in Italian – open up. Or mettere in piazza – make public those things that are private. I want a grand buffet of conversation. I would like to discuss The Waste Land. T E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Andy Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again

As Schopenhauer wrote in “Our Relation to Others”: Politeness is a tacit agreement that peoples’ miserable defects, whether moral or intellectual, shall on either side be ignored and not be made the subject of reproach.

I am tired of politeness and weary of anaemic conversation. Come sit here and talk to me….

This column was originally published by Jani Allan in 2013 on her My Grilling Life blog. 

Jani on Art

‘Art has been the needle that has pulled the tapestry of my life together’

Jani Allan at home, Kallenbach Dr, Linksfield Ridge. Painting 'Apartheid' by Norman Catherine (Gordon Schachat Collection)

Jani Allan at home, Kallenbach Dr, Linksfield Ridge. Painting ‘Apartheid’ by Norman Catherine (Gordon Schachat Collection).

I started Art lessons when I was 9. I was taught by Betty Clur in Linden in her tiny dining room. Margaret Brewer, another little girl in the class has gone on to become a famous botanical artist and lives in Canada.

One of my drawings – a dog and a kitten entitled ‘Me and my tiger’ was published in the Blairgowrie school yearbook – along with an essay I wrote about ‘Road Safety Depends on me.’

The latter was a bossy little tract about how you should help little children to cross the road safely. It won some prize as I vaguely recall.

My mother had her heart set on me becoming a concert pianist. I was supposed to do a B Mus at Wits. Instead I enrolled for a Fine Arts degree.

I wanted to wear hand-tooled leather sandals and Indian kirtas. My mother relented. She was a painter herself. She was related in some way to Pierneef.

My days in the Fine Arts Department of Wits were the happiest of my life.

I loved the History of Art Lectures especially. There was something magical about sitting in the darkened auditorium and have Professor Elizabeth Rankin explain the world to us through art.

She had a little pointer which she would use to guide to what we should be looking for.

Composition, contrapposto, chiaroscuro….I was enchanted.

Professor Rankin’s explanation of Hatshepsut’s Funerary Temple, of the architecture of Gothic Cathedrals – the apsidal chapels, the clerestories, the nave and the sculptures are embedded in my memory.

I recall the difference between Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic Greek Sculpture.

When I was lucky enough to go to the Arena Chapel in Padua I remembered her lectures about Giotto Di Bondone 1266 – 1337.

I always loved the cool, blonde colours of the Northern Italian painters. Piero della Francesca was my favourite.

Later I was to discover the 17th century Dutch painters and I fell in love with Vermeer. I loved the way he transmogrified the everyday into the timeless and the iconic. Glimpses into quiet, ordinary rooms, a quietness – the patina of familiarity ennobled.

I was lucky enough to have extraordinary teachers.

Cecily Sash taught us design. Robert Hodgins, painting. I was even fortunate to have the matchless Judith Mason as a teacher for a while.

When my apartment was bombed I lost two wonderful Judith Mason drawings. If I could own one work of art in the world it would be a Judith Mason.

Once Judy offered to swop one of my paintings for one of hers. I was too bashful to accept such generosity.

The painting she had taken a liking to was a pomegranate seed swirling in Prussian sea. Now it is in an attic somewhere.

Judy bequeathed to me a little lecturing job that she had held. Once a week I would lecture the girls at Greenoaks College.

I tried to emulate Elizabeth Rankin, but of course I couldn’t. Instead I found the fine art references in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I loved sharing my passion for art with those young women, some of whom went on to become scions of business.

At Bryanston High School, I also taught Art. I am afraid I was young and caustic and hope I didn’t deter any would be artists.

I do remember Keith Calder being in my class. He is now a wildly successful sculptor.

As a columnist I was blessed to be able to interview some of the most remarkable painters.

Walter Battiss (who conferred on me the status of The Scribe of Fook Island), Norman Catherine (Norman, King Norman of Fook Island), Tretchikoff, Eris Silke, Edoardo Villa, Beezy Bailey, Gordon Vorster…

Gordon Schachat to whom I was briefly married, has become a pre-eminent art collector in South Africa. His late uncle Louis had Die Kunskamer in Cape Town.

Art has been the needle that has pulled the tapestry of my life together.

Soon before he passed Andy Warhol was supposed to do a portrait of me.

Who knew that I would come to America and live in the 17th silk mill, that Andy Warhol used to come to every weekend from New York?

Later I would work for Jim Hamilton, the Broadway set designer who had originally restored the Mill.

I have fetched up in an historic town which Forbes magazine lists as one of the prettiest towns in America. It is full as a pomegranate is with pips with art galleries – and artists.

While walking the Poms I come across Luis Vilela or Robert Beck of Miles Cavanaugh… (I get a kick out of the fact that Michaelangelo is said to have had a Pomeranian too!)

When the weather is fine, the canal tow path and streets are dotted with plein air painters, hoping to capture the light dappling on the water or the tree-lined avenues and the manicured Federal homes.

Through art one understands the world.

Through art, artists express the nature of the societies in which they live.

Watch “The Duellists” by Ridley Scott. Every scene in the movie is composes like a painting. The light is extraordinary, since he shot either at sunset of dawn.

Few things can move me to tears. Kindness to animals is one. Great works of art is another. I remember seeing Las Meninas, by Velasquez in Madrid. I wasn’t prepared for the size of the work, nor the impasto that dances on the picture plane.

When I saw a Leonardo da Vinci painting in Washington DC I also wept silently.

The creation of art ennobles man.

The one painting I yearn to see is Rembrandt’s Night Watch in the newly restored Rijksmuseum.

If I had a ‘do it again?’ chance, I would have been a painter not a scribbler.


This piece was commissioned for the new creative arts magazine, Arty Elephant


Dear Oscar

Many years ago an Afrikaans man fell in love with me. It was a complicated situation. I was a journalist and he was a story.

Things became as messy as a cat’s sandbox. When he drove into the gates of the monument at Paardekraal he was taken to court. I was called as a witness. The man whom I thought was a leader and an inspiration to his people took to calling me obsessively and crying noisily on my answerphone.

Once he drove to my apartment in Sandown in the middle of the night. When I refused to let him in he fell into a drunken stupor outside the door. Another time, he and his wife turned up to beg me to testify favourably and to ‘stop the press’ from writing about us. His young daughter was with them. I implored his wife to make him realize that it was his court case and that he should desist from hounding me. At this, he theatrically fell on his knees and started bawling.

When his Darth Vader mask was removed I saw an unformed man, someone who had no innate integrity, no spirituality and one who certainly had not developed as an individual. What I saw was pitiful and strange and incongruent with whom he purported to be.

His name was Eugene Terre’blanche.

Of course the circumstances were dramatically different from yours, Oscar … (more…)


Neanderthaler_FundAnd so, praise the Lord, another Restaurant Week has come to a close. Restaurant Week is the week when most of the regulars stay well away and people we have never seen and may never see again descend on the restaurant. Why not?

A mere $29.95 (tax and gratuity additional) will get you a three-course meal at a restaurant that you would traditionally reserve for a special occasion. Like announcing you want to consciously uncouple. Or propose marriage.

Last week on Monday night a female co-worker – let’s call her Miss Bunny – and I served about 50 people. No hostess, no bus, just the pair of us. (Sounds like a Cole Porter song right there, I know).

Miss Bunny and I hardly needed to speak to each other. We anticipated each other’s needs. Just a tip of the head and I knew that she wanted me to finish clearing table eleven. I reached for the olive oil and found she had already herbed a little ramekin for me.


Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

Frankly I am not interested in what two consenting adults – or three or however many are up for it – do in order to obtain sexual gratification.

However when I read that there is a flourishing business in Denmark in which people pay in order to have sex with animals, I am moved to write a few words about the repugnant practice. Call me a keyboard warrior, if you must.

The law (in both Norway and Denmark) states that bestiality is perfectly legal “so long as the animal involved does not suffer.”

This is a statement so broad as to be comical. The animal must be restrained and is unable to talk. How does one gauge how much suffering is involved or what implements are used in the process?

According to the Danish newspaper 24timer, this “interesting gap” in the law has led to a flourishing business.

On the internet, several Danish animal owners openly advertise their services. Pimping out your pooch, it seems, is quite ‘normal’ these days.

The newspaper contacted several animal pimps who assured them that the animals “have been engaged in this kind of activity for several years and that the animals crave the sexual stimulation.”

This is akin to saying that kiddies crave the sexual stimulation that pedophiles offer. (more…)

Evolutionists have been making monkeys of us all

“A long time ago …” is the traditional beginning of a fairy story.

When a long, long time ago a princess kisses a frog that promptly turns into a man, we call it evolution.

Some years ago the scientific mafia announced that the “Missing Link”, the earliest direct ancestor of humanity, had been discovered in Ethiopia.

So funny.

Heidelberg man was also applauded as the “Missing Link”. Only later was it conceded that perhaps the evidence had been somewhat flimsy to have made such assumptions.

Piltdown man, too, is these days – after appearing in the textbooks as bona fide proof of evolution for over sixty years – acknowledged as a hoax.

In 1929 Nebraska Man was presented as the most indisputable evidence of evolution yet. Three years later it turned out that the sole evidence on which this premise had been based was a single tooth – that of an extinct pig.

From small molars great fossils of falsehood grow. (more…)

Pik Botha – poetry and waves of politspeak

Pik Botha appeared on BBC’s Question Time last month. He looked as irrelevant as the solitary man sitting at the end of the bar. But it was not always so.

Many years ago I interviewed the then South African Foreign Minister, Pik Botha. This is what I wrote:

Often running, frequently jumping and rarely standing still, Foreign Minister Pik Botha’s name snags newspaper headlines internationally and daily. After a quarter of a century – make that half a century – in the killing fields of détente, his gungho tyle of dueling has his detractors groaning. But there are those that smile on the showman as Elgar would on the young Menuhin.

Minister Pik Botha tells me he has a passion for Greek philosophers.pik1

Especially “That guy who used to have his castle next to the river in Athens. He would receive his guests with tremendous hospitality. And charm. But his particular fun was that when night came he would put them into a bed. If their bodies were too lengthy for the bed he would chop them off until they fitted the bed. If they were too short, he would stretch them until they fitted easily.”

“And that is South Africa!” he says triumphantly.

I have no idea what he is talking about.

Tell me about stamina, since you have the franchise, I suggest. (more…)

By Golly! It’s Hello Dolly : RIP Joan Brickhill

I have just heard of the passing of Joan Brickhill. As a tribute to her I remember an interview I did with Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke.

Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke. Photograph by Andrzej Sawa.

Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke. Photograph by Andrzej Sawa.

The giddy glitter and G-string gun ‘n doll of South African stage and cinema fulminate into the room – Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke.

Before I can say Follies Fantastique, I am whirled out, slow-slow-quick-quick-slow into Joan’s garden to ‘ooh-aah’ the marvel of Joan’s Green Thumb.

“She talks to them you know,” Louis explains proudly, whizzing me past outsized rhododendrons….

“….and of course they respond!”

We zoom past seed-packet Technicolor ranunculus, delphiniums and snapdragons, before stopping at a giant rose-garden that would have done Capability Brown proud.

“She’s had a rose named after her you know – yes! ‘Joan Brickhill’ It’s a beautiful yellow rose…”

The original of the beautiful yellow rose is clad in lemon-meringue yellow. She’s an immaculate Barbie Doll.

“Oh Louis, let her come in out of the rain!” she calls in a modulated voice.

I had forgotten it is raining. Why should I remember when the sunshine and spangle of the Brickhill-Burke’s twosome is beamed at me?

Louis obediently polkas me back into the house and on to an antique chaise-longue. His mother Poppy Solomon (I later learn) danced with Anna Pavlova.

“That’s Dick King’s couch you’re sitting on!” he barks, accusingly, immediately assuming center-stage … (more…)

Diagonal Street Déjà vu

Twenty five years ago on January 8th I was told by my editor to write a front page interview which was to be entitled Jani by Jani. In those days the Sunday Times cost R1.61 +19c tax. Many of the key players in this storm in a thimble are dead. Hopefully the other haters are dying off. I write this for a different generation and for those with a sense of the ridiculousness that has always been a hallmark of many things South African. Cf Nkandla, Malema, Zuma etc. 

Jani by Jani

Hot on the trail of South Africa’s most wanted journalist.

Roll up! Roll up! It’s the Jani and ET show. BOM. Bring own mud.“Broedertwis! Blondine!”

Credited with the honour of single-handedly destroying the weerstand of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging is the liberally loathed, much adored but alas not ignored Sunday Times columnist, JANI ALLAN. The mask of theatre never drops – even in journalism. Behind one mask there will always be another. Unless Jani Allan – sound of ripping canvas, interviews Jani Allan Face to Face.

I track down the Bitch to her lair.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! Better still unleash the baying newshounds. They’re far more vicious. Skewered on a spotlight, the private muse – at last! – is public domain. It’s open hunting season. Track the bitch to her lair in the Diamond Building in downtown Diagonal Street, Johannesburg.

Her kennel is of such modest dimensions that if a dog were to occupy it, it would have to wag its tail up and down.

Glamorous building. An architectural hybrid, part Gothic cathedral, part Concorde. The painted pariah herself looks glamorous too (I grudgingly concede).

A human hybrid, part Gucci, part Guinevere, she is wearing – sharp intake of breath – haute khaki and colour co-ordinated Polyfilla. Is the haute khaki courtesy Out of Africa. Or…raise one eyebrow – Allan with ‘Blanche?

She’s a dangerous woman. A gevaarlike vrou, they say. (more…)

Death by tabloid


Dear Nigella,

You probably won’t remember me. We met briefly in Londinium when you were still married to John Diamond. I was an avid reader of your restaurant reviews in The Spectator.

I have seen your star rise and scintillate. You truly are a domestic goddess. Actually, make that just a goddess.

But goddesses are on pedestals and how delightful it is knock something from a pedestal. How the public enjoys to see a fall from grace. This is the theatre of schadenfreude. How they love it! Why, the scribblers are filled with such joy as rises like the aroma from the bœuf en daube!

I have been reading about your trials in the court and my einüfhlung is at full throttle.

You see, Nigella, I also mistakenly believed that one could expect justice from a court. (more…)

Making a mockery at Mandela’s memorial



From the far side of the world I watch with open-mouthed disbelief. You can’t make this stuff up.

The world’s focus is on South Africa. The world is mourning the passing of a great man.

The gravitas of the occasion knows no precedent.

Therefore how deeply insulting to the world that the ANC hires Thamsanqa Jantjie, a  faux signer to stand a few feet away from Obama!

There is only one thing more preposterous than a corrupt African leader. That is the exaggerated respect accorded him by the West.


Obama has been surrounded by a 24/7 Secret Service detail beginning in the spring of 2007, months after he announced his run. He received Secret Service protection earlier than any other candidate in history because of what is euphemistically referred to as “the historic nature of the campaign” (i.e., the fact that he is a black guy).

Now most people know very little about the Secret Service; they just picture the instantly recognizable image of a fireplug of a man wearing an ill-fitting suit with an earpiece. In theory, the fireplug of a man is willing to sacrifice his life for his protectee.

Scout Tufankjian a photographer with Polaris Images in her book, Yes We Can , documented her two years covering the Obama campaign.

Says Scout over of the course of the campaign, ”I got to know many of the agents quite well. In fact, it sometimes felt like traveling with the 40 or so older brothers and sisters I had never wanted: They were nosy and overprotective and fun to be around. I came away from this experience deeply impressed by their skill and professionalism. ”

”People would come up to Obama as he was shaking hands and express their concerns, nakedly expressing the fear that he might be (more…)

Rhinos under siege? It should be poachers and their customers under siege!


In the same week that a summit is held in Skukuza, South Africa about rhino poaching, the Dallas Safari Club issues a press release about its plans to auction a hunt for a black rhinoceros in January.

The hunt will take place in Namibia, which is home to some 1700 black rhinos.The DSC will sell the hunting permit during its annual convention and expo Jan 9 – 12 2014.

Again, a comedian has weighed in. This time it was Stephen Colbert. The black rhino is a species listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. So how do we plan to save them? Hold an auction to shoot one. Harharhar.

It’s rather like fornicating to encourage virginity.

Rhinos are under siege. To-date this year, at least 793 rhinos have been poached in South Africa, including many reproductive or pre-reproductive females.

The Safari Club’s executive director says that it is a big, bold idea.

Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society isn’t that enchanted.

“Auctioning a rhino hunt at this time is tone deaf.” The idea of auctioning a rhino hunt at a time when the world is mobilizing to save the animals from mercenary poaching is wrong. The proceeds, we are assured, will go towards preserving this magnificent and critically endangered species.

The International Rhino Foundation does not condone the hunt, but recognizes that it is legal under Namibian and United States law, and under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora  (CITES). (more…)


Dear Melissa

I have to hand it to you.

That pic of you sitting gloating triumphantly behind the huge male lion you killed has gone viral.

I’m not saying that people aren’t admiring your big strong teeth or even your big strong breast implants.

But your timing was all kinds of special.

A week after we hear the Western black rhino is officially extinct, you post this picture of yourself on all your social media sites. Now you are front page news in many countries.




Even the comedian Ricky Gervais has weighed in. He thinks you are a great hunt. Typo.

When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal.
What then do we call a person who shoots a wild animal?

Not for food, or even for their pelt. Just for pleasure.

Help me on this. I want to understand what frisson of pleasure do you get when you see a creature toppling to its knees? Which do you prefer? A crocodile? Or a giant bear? Which turns you on more? Which satisfies your bloodlust most? Heaven knows you have killed enough species to be an expert.  (more…)


dawgs2I think my Pomeranians have taught me much about friendship.

After a gruelling shift I walk down the lane in the violin-case dark to my little apartment. My footsteps quicken. I peep through the window and there they are, waiting expectantly.

They are greeted in order of seniority. Breeze (aka Tallulah Wiggles), whirls like a top waiting to be picked up. China hasn’t quite mastered the full-spin so she does a ballerina three-quarter turn.

Molly, agitated with delight, runs into the other room and picks up a toy, squeaking it excitedly. She promenades around the apartment, beeping it importantly while I prepare their late-night supper

After half an hour in the company of my pups – interesting how God is dog spelled backward – the cares of the day boil down to sediment. Often times I will look up from my computer keyboard or a book to see Breeze gazing at me with the consummate devotion of a Believer.

I am so humbled by her adoration that it makes me a better self to be. Those who know me will testify that I am the best Pom Mom in the world. While I wear schmattas from the Gap, my little girls have real shearling coats. At night, when the last tweet has been sent, the peace plant has (more…)



At the beginning of 2001, things were not looking sanguine for me in South Africa. I was sacked from Cape Talk Radio. I was held up at gunpoint outside my apartment in Victoria Road, Clifton. Mario Oriani-Ambrosini*, who had insisted that I come back to South Africa from the UK to work with him and Prince Buthelezi, now insisted that I leave the country. He bought me a business class ticket and sent me to Washington DC.  I felt I had no choice in the matter. I was allegedly on a hit-list (again with the hit-list!) …

* Mario, Summa cum Laude graduate of Georgetown University, Italian-born American, was, in his professional capacity, Buthelezi’s advisor. In his personal capacity, he was my advisor.


Pieter-Dirk Uys once described me as a Statue of Liberty standing in the vast bay of South African journalism. He then went on to say (as I recall) that I defeated all would-be assailants with kryptonite. Or wit. I can’t remember which. All of which is just to make it clear that if anyone had me down for becoming an abused woman I would have gazed at them pityingly.

That’s what happens to other people.  That’s NOCH – Not Our Class Honey.

The story of my mésalliance with an American should serve as a salutary tale. Life has a way of sending you the lessons you need to learn on your soul’s journey.

I was desperately alone in Washington DC. I had arrived in the country with all my belongings in a (more…)


The Swan Supper Club in Lambertville, New Jersey, meets in the historic upstairs dining room of Anton’s at the Swan.  Each month the local fashionistas and intelligentsia gather to enjoy good food, wine and conversation. On the 24th October I was invited to be the guest speaker.  Among those present were award-winning artist Luiz Vilela who promised to paint a portrait of my pups!

Welcome to the Supper Club – and my coming out party. chic chikNo, alas, I am not gay.  In fact, the two of the most tragic things in my life is that I was not born either Jewish or Gay. So I am not coming out in the tumbling-out-of-the-closet gay sense. But I am coming out as being someone other than Juliett, that old British woman who is a server at Hamiltons. The woman whose hair looks as though it was styled with an egg beater. The woman who is always walking around town with three little Pomeranians. The woman who drives a yellow VW that is so old it has a cassette deck player.

Jani at the Supper Club just before giving her speech.

For more than a decade I have been something of an imposterologist. You see beloveds, I am not a server. If I may quote my favourite poet, TS Eliot: What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning. My beginnings were very different from the topography I find myself in now.  Let me tell you about my life. The broad brushstrokes of my life. I was adopted as a baby. My adoptive father, John Murray Allan was the editor of the Edinburgh Times in Scotland. He died when I was eighteen months old. My mother, to whom I owe my virtuoso talent for survival, ran an (more…)


I have been doing a fair amount of research to re-orient me with the South African zeitgeist. Apparently you don’t read that much, but I am taking the liberty of updating you on this impoverished wretch-in-exile’s progress.

I came across one Dina Pule the other day for the first time. You do remember her, don’t you? The one you fired only recently for having too much fun with the SABC where, I am told, laughter – along with truth – is in short supply.

puleBeing something of a fashionista, what really caught my attention was the fact that it was Dina’s Louboutins that caused her to topple from grace. You don’t have to have read any Shakespeare to concur that this is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions (“Is this a pair of Louboutins I see before me?”). Poor Dina metaphorically stepped into the political proverbial with those fab red pumps.

SAFRICA-ZUMA-WEDDINGWhile I was thinking about the significance of Dina’s heels, about using them as a literary device to contemplate upon morality, greed, the 11th Commandment etc, lo, a few google clicks later, I came across this picture of you, all skins and sweat – and white tekkies. And it occurred me that those tekkies were perhaps an even more profound metaphor for life’s lessons than Dina’s Louboutins.

You see, Mr President, what struck me was the incongruity of you wearing those tekkies in your full tribal dance mode. They showed  you up as being, well, a warrior with soft soles. An ersatz warrior.

Now I remember so clearly those rousing childhood tales of bare-footed Zulu impis on forced-marches across a veld of sharp stones and thorns to toughen them up. This mythology runs deep in a schoolgirl’s veins. So when I saw that photo of you in your skins and tekkies, despair washed over me like gray ink. A faux warrior was not the symbol I was hoping for.

Had you instead been wearing Dina’s red Louboutins, I think my mood would have been more sanguine. It would have, at the very least, demonstrated a broadmindedness about gender stereotypes and perhaps even tempered some of that frightful gay-bashing you occasionally fall into after a Black Label or two with Jon Qwelane.

But like you, Mr President, I too am a conservative. I love tradition. One of the most vivid and treasured memories I have is attending a Shaka Day Memorial at the invitation of Prince (more…)