Face to Face with Sheila Kohler

Jani Allan ventured into the pretty town of Princeton, New Jersey and came FACE TO FACE with South African-born author, Sheila Kohler. 

Sheila and I arrange to meet at Dinky’s on Princeton campus.

Sheila’s memoir ‘Once We Were Sisters’ has been described by Joyce Carol Oates as “a beautiful and tragic tale with echoes of cultural sexism and misogyny.” 

South African-born author, Sheila Kohler.

JM Coetzee notes that “the most striking parts of this rich and poignant memoir…reflect on the necessary cruelty of the writer’s art, sacrificing the truth of the world to the truth of fiction.’

Others speak of the book being viscerally compelling and intensely personal. 

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My life and the Oscars

On Saturday night Jobert invited me to a trèchic dinner party at the Swan Hotel in Lambertville. I was unable to attend, (muling duties!) but Jobert kindly dropped off my Oscar at the restaurant. On Sunday night, just as I had opened the Bollinger – I don’t drink in solitary, the Pomeranians are with me – Comcast went on the fritz. By the time I had the problem sorted the lead-up to the borefest was well underway.

***

 

How we miss Joanie.

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La La Land – a tissue-thin fantasy

 

Last Friday I skived off from the restaurant and persuaded Tom to take me to the movies.

Tom is the restaurant’s gay book-keeper. He is the first choice to take one to see Dream Girls, Diana Ross – or La La Land.

He once gave me a full-sized high-heel chocolate shoe because I said I would eat a shoe if it were covered in chocolate.

We went to the Oxford…

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Jackie and the the shattered psyche of a nation

Perhaps because I went to see Jackie on the eve of Donald Trump’s Inauguration, it assumed an especial significance.

The mystique of the Presidency has long fascinated me. There is something almost cultish about the way Americans refer to “My President’, rather than THE President.

Given the jaw-dropping ignorance of some Americans – well, least-ways those questioned by Jay Leno or Alan Watters on TV.

– I can’t help being less than sanguine about Jackie as box-office gold.

In Watter’s World, Jesse Watters goes around with a camera and mike and asks people questions like ‘Who fought the Civil War?’ “What is the capital of New York?” Their responses elicit gales of laughter.

Certainly its a dot on the cards that I would not be able to find a millennial who knows who ‘Jackie’ was.

The second…

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Finding Tracy

Pic: Pretoria Moot Rekord

One of the main news items in South Africa this week comes after Mark Scott-Crossley handed himself over to police. A warrant for Scott-Crossley’s arrest was issued in December after an alleged racist incident in Limpopo. He now faces attempted murder charges. In 2005 Scott-Crossley was tried and convicted for the murder of a worker who he threw into a lion enclosure. In 1988 Jani Allan found herself in the Johannesburg family home of Mark Scott-Crossley whilst working as a journalist for the Sunday Times. The disappearance of Mark’s sister, Tracy was quickly developing into one of the most high-profile crime stories of the decade. Tragically, Tracy was one of six schoolgirls who disappeared in 1988 and 1989 shortly before paedophile Gert van Rooyen and his lover Joey Haarhoff committed suicide… more »



Canvassing – with a Nat out of Tatler and an assertive DP yuppie

I wrote this column in  the winter of 1989 – six weeks before the South African general election. The Sunday Times was leading with the story ‘NATS FACE VOTE CRISIS’ as a shock poll was predicting a deadlocked parliament.

I was tasked with accompanying the NP’s Sheila Camerer and the DP’s Tony Leon on the campaign trail in their Johannesburg constituencies. Leon would later become the gifted leader of the re-branded Democratic Alliance where Camerer would join him as an MP.

 

ALL politics, someone once observed, is based on the indifference of a majority.

With only 47 more days to The Election, JANI ALLAN pounded the pavements with a pair of politicos and came FACE TO FACE with that privileged species, the White Registered Voter.

Sheila Camerer, MP for Rosettenville is quite charming about agreeing to let me tag along with her for a morning’s canvassing in the deep south.

We meet at the…

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Bullies on the left

The liberal media, both print and electronic, has lost all credibility. I am reasonably sure that none of the mainstream print media had stories prepared for a Trump victory. I watched the networks and cable stations in their midnight meltdown — embodied by Rachel Maddow explaining to viewers that they were not having a “terrible, terrible dream” and that they had not died and “gone to hell.” Maureen Dowd, (Aka Maureen Dowdy, High Priestess of the NYT)

 

Dear liberal friends in America,

I usually don’t write about politics. In the past, it has gotten me into All Sorts of Trouble.

Why, when I was asked to write a piece about the American election for papers in both London and South Africa, I refrained from doing so, fearing a backlash. My political ideology has been misconstrued in the past. 

In any…

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Bullfighting – art, sport or simply barbaric?

We live in an interesting time. It seems difficult to imagine a day in which we aren’t slapped in the eye by disasters that befall mankind. We are preoccupied by a diet of WikiLeaks/news of carnage in the Middle East/Brexit Blues and a political refugee crisis that continues to test the moral compass of the lovely Angela Merkel.

Then there are the voices of wary professors and aggrieved student activists that continue to proliferate in the South African news cycle.

My overarching compassion lies with those who do not have a voice.

I was seriously depressed, therefore, to learn this week that Spain’s constitutional court has overturned a ban on bullfighting in Catalonia, declaring it unconstitutional. (The ban, not the bullfighting.)

The court protested that bullfighting was “part of Spanish heritage” and therefore any decision on banning it could only be taken by central government.

The timing is flawless. This year happens to be the…

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I get married and become a columnist (extract)

This is an extract from Jani Confidential (Jacana, 2015) by Jani Allan.

If you really want to know who I am, let me tell you a story. The windows of my memory are casually framing pictures of a roseate hue. I just happened, for a while, to be at the top of a layer cake with icing decorated with stars.

The story I am going to tell you contributed immeasurably to my sense of self.

It is my Gordon story.

*

Gordon Schachat will tell you the story. My shrink will tell you the story.

Gordon said he saw me walking down the steps of the Great Hall at Wits University and decided then and there to marry me. That day my avatar was wearing a chocolate suede midi-skirt buttoned up the front and a pair of matching chocolate suede thigh boots. I was twenty-one.

Gordon took to hanging around the canteen when he knew I would…

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Barefoot in the park – and elsewhere

When my friend Bruce told me that he and his chums go for a barefoot walk in Melville Koppies every Sunday and I should try it, I looked like a hen stupefied by a chalk line.

Why? Why would I want to walk barefoot anywhere except from my bed to the bathroom?

Living in America makes one pathologically afraid of outside. There are extremely unpleasant things. Snakes, mosquitos the size of Chinook helicopters, plagues of cicadas, poisonous bumblebees called Red Jackets, praying mantises and sloths.

Why would I want to risk stepping on or indeed being in the vicinity of these creatures?

The only Barefoot in the Park I used to be familiar with was the 1967 American comedy film starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford….

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EXCERPT FROM JANI CONFIDENTIAL

Jani Confidential book display at Munro Boutique Hotel, Johannesburg.

CHAPTER 1

My Mother, Myself

My moon is in Capricorn. Astrologers will tell you that this signifies a plate-glass cold maternal figure, distant and given to withholding praise and affection.

So it was with Janet Sophia.

She scooped me up when I was a runt with cabbage ears. I could fit in a shoe box. She named me Isobel Janet. She didn’t tell me I was adopted until I was eighteen. She was short-fused and I had annoyed her about something or other. ‘I didn’t want you. I really wanted a little boy!’

I ran out of the house and sat in the stable for hours.

But I am my mother. More importantly, I am her creation. Then – and still…

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Beyers Naudé: ‘Who defines the concept, Afrikaner?’

Twenty-seven years ago Jani Allan interviewed the Rev Beyers Naudé at his modest home in Greenside, Johannesburg. His endless soul-searching in defining the concept of an Afrikaner   continues in Afrikaners’ ongoing existential quest for belonging.

Christi van der Westhuizen, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Pretoria, advances  andersdenkendheid – a condition of thinking differently – as the democratic duty of Afrikaners. Andersdenkendheid lies in direct opposition to eendersdenkendheid – a condition derived from the doctrinaire advances of JG Strijdom. The Afrikaans word refers to a condition of thinking the same. In 1948 Strijdom claimed that opposition to apartheid was as treasonable as refusing to defend one’s own country during an outbreak of war.

The Rev Beyers Naudé (1915-2004).

The hallmarks of andersdenkendheid – dogged questioning and critical…

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Fasten your seatbelts! The Force is with you again

I wrote this column some thirty-six years ago on the eve of the release of the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Trapped in a maelstrom of political uncertainty, South Africa in the ’80s was like Berlin before the war. People tried to blot out the reality of what was happening in the country with the same desperation. I think that this piece captures the spirit of my young avatar, spellbound by the magic and escapism of the epic space opera franchise.

 

THE Empire Strikes Back! Slide into your spacesuits and leap onto the spacewagon (again) with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, extra-terrestrial, celestial Uncle Tom Cobbly and all.

Hold onto your PLSS (Portable Life Support System) and get ready to make the jump into cyberspace!

Swop your Maserati Mercedes or Mini for a Millenium Falk, and when he says ‘Your place or mine?’ remember he might just mean ‘galaxy’ and not ‘pad’!

A long…

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Affluenza – the all-consuming epidemic

In 2013 Ethan Couch, a sixteen-year-old Texan was drunk driving – his blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit for adult drivers – when he rammed a pickup truck into a crowd of people who were trying to help a stranded motorist on the side of a road near Fort Worth. He killed four people.

State District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to 10 years’ probation for driving under the influence, killing four pedestrians and injuring eleven.

However, his attorneys successfully argued that the teen suffered from affluenza and needed rehabilitation and not prison.

The lawyers had argued that Couch was unable to understand the consequences of his actions because of his financial privilege. Thus the ‘affluenza’ defense is now an actual thing – if you will forgive the lapse into Kardashianspeak.

**

Affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

Affluenza,…

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Afrikaner pride and passion mix with fun and laughter for the new era boere punks

Twenty-seven years ago Jani Allan interviewed Afrikaner musical guerrillas Johannes Kerkorrel and André Letoit at a restaurant in Hillbrow. Their rendezvous coincided with one of the most sensational developments in South African history: State President P W Botha met with Nelson Mandela at Tuynhuys in Cape Town.

Marianne Thamm has explained how this “Voëlvry” generation of the 1980s laid the foundations for progressive Afrikaans music of the 21st century. The likes of Francois van Coke and his alternative punk band, Fokofpolisiekar  make music that is  ‘defiant, provocative, rebellious, subversive and engaged in deeper existential questions.’

Kerkorrel would tragically end his own life and Hillbrow would become unrecognisable. I have chosen this passage from Marq de Villier’s White Tribe Dreaming. This pair of ‘boere punks’ embody the spirit of Afrikaners that made the dramatic leap in rejecting the Afrikanerdom of Die Groot…

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Tribute to Douglas Gordon Margach from a former colleague in the newsroom

I met Doug Gordon in the mid-seventies. He was a news reporter on the Sunday Times. It was Doug who suggested that I apply for a job as a columnist on the then great broadsheet.

The Sunday Times in those days was a unique and often bizarre blend of tabloid journalism and serious political analysis. Tertius Myburgh, the editor, called it ”quali-pop”.

Myburgh referred to the “craft” of journalism and how “we” could make our “craft” a socio-political force in South Africa.

It worked. The Sunday Times had a readership of some four million.

It snagged the serious attention of local politicians, international statesmen and some of the best political analysts from South Africa and abroad, all of whom jostled for space in the paper’s opinion pages.

Politically? Myburgh said we were ‘extreme centre.’

To be a journo on the Sunday Times in those days was to have a job with kudos. There were high standards and…

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An open letter to Daddy dearest, Tertius Myburgh

You were hugely influential as the successful editor of the country’s largest newspaper. You were seen as a builder of bridges in a deeply divided society. Before we both become a footnote in history, let the record show I believe you used me as a cabaret turn.

Dear Mr Myburgh,

Almost 25 years to the day after you died, John Matisonn’s book God, Spies and Lies has been published.

Most journalists are doing a “yawn yawn snore”, pretending that everyone knew that you were an apartheid spy.

I remember our first meeting.

I thought you were handsome and debonair,

(Andy Garcia in the movie.)

You looked exactly as I thought an editor should look. Lots of thick wavy hair. Big strong teeth. Braces. You were vain about your clothes. Your shirts were made in Jermyn Street. Your…

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Life as a scatterling of Africa

 

In the early eighties two young men came to the offices of the Sunday Times in downtown Johannesburg on a Monday morning to be interviewed.

One was a Lancashire-born son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland; the other was a Zulu migrant worker. During the interview (which took place in the office while someone hoovered the newsroom) they were slightly awkward and most obliging.

It was transparent as cellophane that neither Johnny Clegg nor Sipho Mchunu were used to the adulation that they were receiving.

They met when they were in their teens and formed Juluka. Juluka went on to become one of South Africa’s biggest musical exports.  Their “Scatterlings of Africa” was first released in 1982 and remains the band’s biggest hit.

Although their albums were pointedly political, “Scatterlings” remains the track that all…

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Me? I’m on the shelf with the marmalade

Getting older is like being fined for something you didn’t mean to do.

There you are pootling along (within the speed limit these days) but there was no warning billboard saying “Steep Decline Ahead.” Or if there were you didn’t notice it until you were on the slip road.

Thereafter the signs come thick and fast.

But most of them fill me with deep relief and not inconsiderable joy.

The ideal American woman is the stepdaughter of a masculine society and as such lives with habitual sexualization and devaluation. In an ageist/lookist society, women over thirty are considered past it. We are at the mercy of a mass culture that only celebrates older women ‘who still remain youthful’.

The shine in the eyes of a fifty-five year old Hollywood fiancée is really the white stare of desperation.

Me? I am on the shelf with the marmalade.

What a relief.

I can sit quietly gathering dust having been ejected…

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Women are (still) commodities, beauty (still) skins deep and push-up bras are (still) required

The pilot of Amazon’s late-’60s feminist office drama Good Girls Revolt ends with a group of women gleefully telling their male colleagues that they’ve been to the kind of women’s meeting where women investigate their vaginas with their compact mirrors. This revolutionary act is a signal for us to know that they are (soi-disant) feminists.

The pilot, based on Lynn Povich’s The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, is desperate to pick up where Mad Men left off, but doesn’t.

The new movie “Suffragette,” is a handsome and noble work. Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, it is a reminder that women used to be men’s property.

We are experiencing the Dawn of Feminism (or the Dawn of Third-Wave White Feminism,…

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Conversation Envy

This column appeared in the August 2015 edition of Fair Lady. 

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