The Portfolio: Maggie Davey

Jacana Media was established in 2002. We are the preeminent independent publishing firm in South Africa. We’re devoted to our authors’ imaginations, both in fiction and nonfiction. We have no bosses.

Radical thinking inspires us; actually, it propels us. Jacana is sometimes on the margins, we’re often in the future, but we learn all the time. As the poet Seitlhamo Motsapi said: “as light tinkles off/the foreheads of visions/old warriors sharpen/their pianos”. Jacana is imperfect, but we sharpen our pianos and listen to authors sharpening theirs.

In a way, we’d settle for nothing less than changing the world through our publishing. But you wonder what’s more useful. Publishing, or standing up to the spate of barbaric evictions, as did Rachel Corrie in the face of Israeli demolitions in Palestine, or as did the naked women protestors of Dobsonville long ago, protesting evictions by the apartheid police. By the way, shades of Operation Murambatsvina much?

We are an oppositional publishing house at heart, with a keen sense that you cannot turn your head for one single minute from keeping an eye on the people in power. We are campaigning publishers: from the work that Harris Dousemetzis did in The Man Who Killed Apartheid, about Dimitri Tsafendas, the Department of Justice has been considering changing the official record to reflect that Tsafendas was not mad when he killed Verwoerd. Sane, rather. We hope that they will announce that soon. In Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid, Guns and Money, Hennie and Open Secrets have been able to take on the European banks who funded and supported apartheid to law. In Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe, based on the brave work of the Catholic Institute for Justice and Peace and the Legal Resources Centre, Zimbabweans could see their families and neighbours named and recorded as having been murdered by the 5th Battalion and the North Koreans, in a certain place and at a certain time.

Jacana is always stirred by the work of Raven Press, of Mothobi Mutloatse and Skotaville Press, of David Philip Publishers, of the publishing innovation both in the time of Lovedale Press and of Fourthwall Books, from Warren Siebrits’s artists’ books to Cosaw and Taurus (Tienie! Koos!). From Blackbird Books to the Abantu Book Festival, South African publishing stories educate us. They help to sharpen our pianos.


Two extraordinary books due for a March release are printed, but in the warehouse: The Misery Merchants: Life and Death in a South African Private Prison by the courageous investigative reporter, Ruth Hopkins and Philippa Garson’s Undeniable: Memoir of a Covert War, about her time at the Weekly Mail and on the hunt for the third force. Two that we have published as ebooks for now, and have social media alight, are: Khamr: The Makings of a Waterslams by Jamil F Khan and The Murder of Ahmed Timol: My Search for the Truth by Imtiaz Cajee.

Publishing is gambling, but Covid-19 is another dimension of risk. So despite not trading at the moment, what we will do, is continue. We will record this draft of history, too. 

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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