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Three new nonfiction book reviews

THE MISERY MERCHANTS: LIFE AND DEATH IN A PRIVATE SOUTH AFRICAN PRISON by Ruth Hopkins (Jacana)

G4S is a global security company with half a million employees and a presence in 90 countries. Among them, it runs prisons in the US, the UK, and South Africa. It had been probed for maltreatment of prisoners in the UK as well as here, as reported in The Guardian and the Mail & Guardian, and for abuse of its workforce in the United States, Malawi and Poland, among others. Working with the Wits Justice Project, Ruth Hopkins investigated accusations of brutal treatment of prisoners at Mangaung Correctional Centre, run by G4S as part of a consortium. In particular, she follows the changing story of one prisoner who, it was claimed, had committed suicide, although it looks very much like he was beaten and killed by prison officers. Hopkins covers the cover-up, including contradictory internal reports; she even got bizarre text messages from the then national commissioner of correctional services. She places this story alongside others, told by prisoners, officials, lawyers and other informants, showing the horror and lack of accountability.

 

UNDENIABLE: MEMOIR OF A COVERT WAR by Philippa Garson (Jacana)

Philippa Garson was a young reporter on this paper in the late 1980s, and found herself thrust into the violence in the townships at a time when conflict between the dying apartheid state, the Inkatha Freedom Party, and supporters of the ANC and the United Democratic Front (UDF) was reaching a horrifying peak. Alongside journalists such as Mondli Makhanya and photographer Kevin Carter, she tried to work out who was responsible for the township war, following up on claims that Military Intelligence had trained Inkatha killers to take out ANC/UDF supporters. Thirty years later, she revisits the violence and death of those days, and compares what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was able to uncover with what remains mysterious — with the chief perpetrators untouched. In parallel, she tells of her personal life and family, the jol, her interracial relationship and the birth of her first child. Undeniable is a moving account of personal and political events at a traumatic time in South Africa’s history.

IS IT JUST ME OR IS IT GETTING HOT IN HERE? by Tom Eaton (Tafelberg)

Can South Africa learn to live with “sustainable corruption”? If we can diminish the vast, wholesale looting, that is. Can we withdraw our projections and manage our expectations? Those are the key questions columnist Tom Eaton asks in this sobering but entertaining volume, including the hilarious tale of his (attempts to) write for SABC shows, and his analysis of the ANC as akin to the mediaeval Catholic church. 

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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