Opinion

Letters to the Editor: October 28

Staff Reporter

Siphi­wo Mahala contrasts his experiences at two recent literary festivals -- Open Book Cape Town and Macufe Wordfest in Bloemfontein.

We are not the enemy
In “We don’t want your white money here” (October 21), Siphiwo Mahala contrasts his experiences at two recent literary festivals—Open Book Cape Town and Macufe Wordfest in Bloemfontein.

Mahala writes that “the major difference in the organisation of these two festivals is that the former is privately funded whereas the latter is state-funded.” He states that there is a perception that state-supported festivals are there to serve black communities and that those that are privately funded are for whites.

Open Book was entirely funded by corporate partners and sponsors in its first year, but that was not our choice: as Mahala knows, we have approached the department of arts and culture, where Mahala works, as well as other entities, to try to leverage government support for Open Book.

Open Book has three main objectives: to present a truly international literary festival in Cape Town, to promote South African writing to an international audience and to build a culture of reading among the youth of Cape Town. None of these objectives is more important than any other; in fact, they are interdependent.

Mahala comments that Open Book “made me feel like I was somewhere in Europe”. I’m not sure what he means. If he’s referring to the content of the festival, I’d ask him to revisit the programme. Events such as “Free the Book: How to Make SA a Reading Nation” presented by Equal Education; “Reading Cape Town: Who Reads What and So What?” presented by Huma; four events discussing different elements of the recently published Opinion Pieces by South African Thought Leaders; discussions featuring the likes of Jay Naidoo, Moeletsi Mbeki and Jonathan Jansen; launches of new South African books such as Hear Me Alone by Thando Mgqolozana, Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes, My Father My Monster by McIntosh Polela—I could go on forever, but these are not events that would typically take place in Europe.

If not the content, perhaps Mahala is referring to the typical audience demographic at Open Book? I’m not aware of there being many Greek, Italian or other Europeans among audience members at Open Book, so if Mahala’s Europe reference is in fact about the audience demographic, then we’re presumably talking about black and white. The subtext here is that Open Book is a festival run by rich whites for rich whites. Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of the goals of Open Book.

Perhaps the most important point to make here is that the ethos underlying Mahala’s article and that of Open Book are very similar. It is clearly as important to Mahala to build a culture of reading in South Africa as it is to us at Open Book. I hope that Mahala and his colleagues at the department will work with us at Open Book to help us to do whatever we can to make a difference in this regard. We are not the enemy!—Mervyn Sloman, owner of the Book Lounge and founder of Open Book Cape Town

I was very interested in Mahala’s piece. The well-meaning (genuinely well-meaning, and commendably so) organisers of the Franschhoek Literary Festival, and some ­members of the book industry, may have found it disturbing or even offensive, but I think it hit the nail on the head.

I’ve never been to the Franschhoek Literary Festival. I’ve never actually been to Franschhoek, although I did drive through it once, on the way to somewhere else, and was impressed by the multitude of gorgeous-looking restaurants, each bursting with glitterati ...

What is a literary festival? Who is it for? What makes Franschhoek a huge success in some people’s eyes and a “circus performed ­exclusively for the amusement of the rich” (Mahala’s words) in the eyes of others?

Franschhoek is not my cup of tea. I mentally compare it to the Time of the Writer festival in Durban, which I attended in March. The audience was a mixed bag and the vibe was powerful and, yes, egalitarian. No elitism there.

Mahala suggests that literature has the potential to be a unifying rather than a divisive force in South Africa. I suppose I have an idealistic - probably naive - view about the power of the written word to stimulate thought and spread ideas.— Monica Seeber, Johannesburg

To clear up some unfortunate misunderstandings:

  • The comment reported (not made) to me was, in fact: “We don’t want white money here”;

  • It was allegedly made by one of a small group objecting to the proposal to build a new community library on part of a vacant municipal property in an ideal central position;

  • Instead, the group would prefer businesses, shops and a filling station—all of which could be accommodated as well as a library; and

  • There has been no objection to a library being built elsewhere in the community.

Thanks to engaged teachers, the Kusasa NGO and volunteers, there are now three dedicated libraries and three library/classrooms in the six Franschhoek government schools, and the Anna Foundation has created rural reading initiatives. Though the libraries may function intermittently, this is way above the appalling national average.—Jenny Hobbs, director, Franschhoek Literary Festival.

‘Cycling SA story contained inaccuracies’
Nickolaus Bauer’s article “Cycling SA management heading for a pile-up” (October 21) contains certain inaccuracies relating to things I may have said. “He accuses the board of looting Cycling South Africa’s financial coffers —” This comes over as if I was implying they are enriching themselves or stealing; I never implied that in my mail to the board.

Further in the report, Bauer writes: “The brothers [meaning myself and my brother Carinus] claim that the Tour of South Africa cycling event, which was held for the first time this year, will not take place in 2012 because of a lack of sponsorship and funds. They say this is symptomatic of Cycling SA’s woes.”

I never said this to your journalist, or to anyone else. I was sitting on the board of the Tour of South Africa at the time and a final decision will be taken at the end of October. This puts me in a bad light and I demand a correction and apology.

Bauer assumes that if my brother says something it is my opinion as well. I didn’t even know of the letter Carinus wrote to Greg Till. It is a pity that Bauer didn’t check his facts with me before going to press.—Hendrik Lemmer, former board member of Cycling SA

I am a proud coolie
I am used to being called “coolie”, my entire life, or hearing the words “fokken coolie”, to be specific. That’s my grandmother’s nickname for my brother, should her mood be so inclined, which is quite often.

She says it with a playfully menacing tone to tease or fire you up, but when you turn and look at her fiery red hair and the stout smile on her face, I really don’t mind; in fact, I look forward to her saying it because I know she is in a good mood and just wants to tease. In my “colourful” family it is blatantly obvious that I have strongly inherited my father’s Indian genes and proudly so.

So, to Julius Malema, who instead of going to Thembelihle in Lenasia to inspire unity and assurance in those people that their concerns have been heard, decided to inspire racism, to insult and distract from the real issues with racial slurs.

Julius, if being a coolie means that I come from a heritage of diversity where our complexions range from tans to caramel to browns, our eyes from shades of blue to dark browns and black, where we have straight hair or curly hair, then yes, I am a coolie and proudly so.

If being a coolie means that I come from a heritage of diversity where our religions range from Christianity to Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, then yes, I am a coolie and proudly so. If being a coolie means that I come from a heritage of diversity where our foods are rich with flavour and spice and generously shared to all that enter our homes or are in need of it, then yes, I am a coolie and proudly so.

If being a coolie means I come from a heritage of diversity where our cultural practices are deeply entrenched and brightly displayed in our clothes that are a myriad colours, our traditions passed on from generation to generation, then yes, I am a coolie and proudly so.

If being coolie means I come from a heritage of diversity where my mother, father and grandparents were oppressed and fought for freedom alongside black people, coloured people and white people, then, yes, I am a coolie and proudly so.

If being a coolie means I stand for love, peace and tolerance; that we all are entitled to a life of quality, to our cultures and beliefs so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others; that we are all on this journey of life together and should respect each other, then yes, I am a coolie and proudly so. What does that make you, Julius?—Nadia Moosajee

SA fruit isn’t so bad
Chris Gilmour (”Some convenient price comparisons”, Mail & Guardian Business, October 21) states with complete conviction that fruit and vegetables in South Africa are of lower quality and higher price than in Britain “where there is no such thing as a seasonal supply… as fruit and vegetables come from all over the world”.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Britain in the past 18 months and I take issue with his statement. Aside from the fact that buying air-freighted lettuce, peas, beans and peaches is questionable in itself, I wonder where he buys his fruit and veggies here in South Africa (and how often he does the shopping)?

Perhaps he should try Fruit and Veg City (in which I have no financial or other interest). The quality is excellent, if you are awake and aware, though admittedly sometimes knobbly or blemished—and the prices are extremely reasonable, not to say unbelievable. Which is why you will find people of every shade, creed, language and “community” in South Africa in their shops.

If you want standard-size fruit and veg, giant tasteless bananas, oranges covered in preservative gunk, not to mention an empty purse, feel free to shop in Tesco or Sainsburys. But, as a recent headline in an East Asian newspaper stated: “Crooked carrots are also food!” If you buy them in South Africa they will taste better and cost less.—Ruth Muller, Johannesburg

Zuma, late bloomer
When Thabo Mbeki took office, he came across as urbane, sophisticated and in touch with the modern world. Jacob Zuma, on the other hand, came across as an unsophisticated populist demagogue, who could only take the country backwards.

What a disappointment the Mbeki presidency turned out to be. With a weird ideological combination of Marxism (everything has a social or historical cause that must be addressed before any action can be effective) and Thatcherism (the government can’t do anything about it) we had active paralysis in areas such as Aids and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile corruption and the tenderpreneur system grew out of hand in the name of empowerment, despoiling the real empowerment most South Africans craved: a fair chance.

We expected little of President Showerhead. But his latest moves in firing dodgy ministers and suspending Police Commissioner Bheki Cele are exactly what you would expect of a modernist president, and therefore real cause to praise.

But maybe it’s exactly because no one expected much of Zuma and he did not take the office commanding great respect that criticism has been effective. For our first president, we needed a Nelson Mandela who was above the fray, to end the conflict. A Zuma is what we need now: someone who’s clearly not above criticism, and has to work to earn respect. After all, in a democracy, politicians work for us, not the other way around. Zapiro—drop the showerhead. Until next week.—Philip Machanick, Grahamstown

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