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…
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 hallmarks of andersdenkendheid – dogged questioning and…
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’!
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.
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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,…
Earlier this year, Ricky Gervais found a photograph of huntress Rebecca Francis smiling like a carrion beside a dead giraffe.
“What must have happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal and then lie next to it smiling?’ he tweeted to his 8 million followers.
When asked why she feels the need to trophy hunt, Rebecca says ‘I’m gonna provide meat for my family, I’m gonna have an experience in nature. I’m gonna be one-on-one with the animal.”
Being one on one with the animal is getting a thrill from hearing the thwack as the arrow pierces the flesh, following the trail of blood and hoof prints of a fatally wounded beast – and then waiting for it’s death gargle.
How long is society going to allow this barbarism to continue?
As the sage said, all truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is…
Johnny Rodriguez of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force is an heroic figure. I have known him and wife Cheryl for more than two decades. His life is under constant threat as he struggles to make the world aware of the corruption that is enabling the destruction of several species of animals. Every time I get an email from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force my heart sinks, heavy as a rusty anchor.
In a world, already leaden with bad news and cruelty, Johnny’s emails render me limp. The latest is no exception: Cecil the Lion is the latest high-profile victim of the trophy hunting industry. American dentist Walter James Palmer was taken to Hwange National Park by professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst.
Cecil survived Palmer’s callous crossbow shot. The lion suffered unspeakable pain for the following 40…
John Carroll – or Seamus, as he was known – was an Irishman who used to call Cape Talk when I was on air.
He would say such politically incorrect things that he made for riveting radio.
He would bring flowers, home-made trail mix and interesting books and leave them at the front desk for me.
A telephonic friendship of a kind grew. One night my friend Kate and I went to visit him. He was the greenkeeper and Security Manager of a Golf Club in Cape Town.
He was impeccably dressed in his whites, often changing several times during a day. He claimed to hate golf but was conceived somewhere on a golf course, he said.
He had an immense family who had immigrated to South Africa from Ireland, that land filled with enchantment and…
Why are certain people’s repentance accepted and others not? Is one person’s apology, another person’s betrayal?
Why are certain people’s repentance accepted and others not? Is one person’s apology, another person’s betrayal?
American news anchors are outraged at the news that Oscar Pistorius is to be released after serving ten months for the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp.
“This is unforgivable!’ bloviated one. “South Africa you should be ashamed!”
In a country heavy with terrible deeds, it is difficult to know what criteria a crime must meet before it requires public repentance by its perpetrator and forgiveness from its victim – or American news anchors.
I was pondering on these things in relation to Clive Derby-Lewis’ invitation to Chris Hani’s widow to visit him so that he could make a personal apology to her.
Before I left for my author book tour of South Africa my friend Steven posted something by Anne Lamott on Facebook and said I should take note of number 7.
“Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly-evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published… Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t.”
Jani's best-selling memoir, Jani Confidential, can be ordered here
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