But Still. I’m So Sorry.

I read something the other day about anticipatory grief, and how globally we are all mourning present and future loss. Not just the lost lives, the covid dead, but things, and events, and traditions.

This Grown and Flown article encompasses the pain us parents are feeling all around the world. There is so much we are sorry to see – the missed graduations, matric dances, and big matches. At least my son is little and hopefully won’t be too affected by everything we are going through. All he has had to endure so far is a birthday in lockdown, and frazzled parents who are trying their best but can’t get it right or together every day.

Dojo life has been put on hold, for who knows how long. In South Africa, we are unlikely to be allowed to operate until maybe level 1, and even then, only under very stringent conditions. And I respect this, and applaud the efforts made by our government to try keep us all safe. The dojo, unfortunately, is the kind of place the ‘Rona would love. Lots of communal surfaces, physical interaction, shouting and hugs after class. Keeping students safe, and alive, comes before any grading or kata.

But still. I am sorry.

I am sorry, for the gradings that will have to be changed and taken online, all the thrill and pressure gone. I am sorry for the students hoping to grade to black belt, who were hoping to make this coveted grade after so, so many years.

I am sorry that you can’t be with your dojo mates, with the friends you’ve made over the years and shared memories and snacks and gradings with. For adults, the friends you’ve made at the dojo are ones you’ve bonded with in sweat and self-conscious laughter and shared gashuku adventures. They’re people that you might only see in the dojo, but damn if you don’t miss them when they’re not there.

I’m sorry, for all the cancelled events. The tournaments, the trials, the gashukus. The Olympic dream, that so many have dreamed of, karate’s one shot at gold medal glory, has been deferred. It doesn’t matter, in this moment, whether sport karate is the same as traditional; what matters is that so many athletes have been training for so long, and they have been robbed of their time to shine.

I am sorry for all the instructors who will have to close their dojo doors. I am sorry for all those lost pockets of martial arts, regardless of style. It is heartbreaking to see instructors lose their day jobs, and/or their dojo too. I am sorry for the students who will lose access to the benefits of martial arts, to the mentorship of a good instructor and the proving ground that is the mat.

There is so much we have already lost, and it has been less than six months. With more than 200,000 dead and waves of trauma rippling across the planet as economies tank and livelihoods are lost, we are all living through collective turbulence with no frame of reference for how we should handle it.

What gives me hope, though, is that the men who gave us karate lived through the horror of world war, and Okinawa was an especially brutal theatre of war.

Because of the Battle of Okinawa, a great number of very talented karate instructors and students were killed. Miyagi Sensei himself lost three children (his third and fourth daughters, and his third son). The neighbourhood had been reduced to scorched earth, and all the valuable Karate and Kenpo equipment and literature that had been collected over the years was lost in the fires. It was a time of overwhelming grief and mourning.

Okinawan Den Goju Ryu Karate-Do, Eii’chi Miyazato, 1978

Miyagi buried his children and his most promising student, Jinan Shinzato. He lost his home, his dojo, his collected works. And yet. He returned to the work of karate, continued to teach and realised that for karate to survive and be of use, it had to be shared. And now, more than 60 years since his passing, his style still continues, all over the world, across dozens of countries and languages.

There will be losses. There have already been losses. But I also have seen a wellspring of hope, and a resilience shining through. We can get through this, but not alone. Instructors must now rely on more than just good karate knowledge – we need to be creative, resilient, humble and patient. We need to find new ways to teach, and flex our different skill sets, and hold on with our entire spirit, even if it’s just by our fingernails, we must hold on.

Karate has survived two world wars, Spanish flu, numerous recessions and the worst McDojos in the world. It will survive this. I’m not worried about karate – I am worried about you. The student. The instructor. The dojo parent. Wherever you land in the constellation of people that make up a dojo, I worry. I hope you are okay. I hope you have your health and your livelihood.

We will do everything we can to make sure we are still here when this blows over. From hardcore social distancing to extra work to online classes, we will do our best to make sure that Goju Ryu Karate Centre does not close its doors after 42 years.

We are sorry that so much is going on, and we can’t fix it. But we will do everything we can to still be here when it is over, and try pick up again where we all left off, ready to welcome our students back to the tatami.

When your body gets tired, fight with your heart, and remember who you are.

Episode Two: Love, Lobola and Taxis

The Lucky Packet

Click on the banner to listen!

For this episode, I chatted to my dear friend Stanford, who is a man of great wisdom and who always offers valuable insight into the heartbeat of South Africa.

In this episode we discuss lobola, the Republic of Henley on Klip, the vast differences between Joburg and Cape Town minibus taxis, male circumcision  in South Africa, Chinese foot binding, penis transplants and what its like to fight a hundred people.

In the spirit of the podcasting world, I hugely recommend that you find Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast series. The episodes are ultra-long, incredibly well-researched historical narratives, which are incredibly immersive and fascinating. These episodes will turn anyone into a history fanatic.

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts, which you can send to theluckypacketpodcast@gmail.com, or tweet to us at LuckyPacketPod. My thanks go to Stanford Mbatha and Graham Webber for their time and insight. Thanks to Citizen Jones for the music, and this episode was produced and hosted by me, your friendly neighbourhood ninja

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The Lucky Packet, Episode 1

 

https://simplecast.com/e/33838?style=light

With just a basic mixing desk, a few microphones and some open-source software, I have created something of my very own, with some help from good friends. Here’s to my very first podcast, and the first of many, I hope!

Ad-free, and free to you. Please stream or download and enjoy! Available on the iTunes store, and through your podcast app of choice, including Stitcher and Podcast Addict.

 

Review of Kill Yourself & Count to 10 by Gordon Torr

Reproduced in full with kind permission from the Sunday Times.

For an entire generation of South Africans, the Border War and the workings of the SANDF remain mostly a mystery. It was not, and I believe still not, taught in schools. For the 80s kids and born-frees, there’s an entire history barely documented and shrouded in obfuscation, shame and silence. It is not something that one can bring up freely, because there are still men haunted and ruined by what happened during their conscription.

Kill Yourself & Count to 10 loGordon Torr -  Kill Yourself & Count to 10 HRoks at a chapter in South African history that has been shoved so far out of the textbooks that it might as well be another country’s problem. When I heard of the book, my interest was piqued by the mention of the repulsive Levin, also known as Doctor Shock, a man infamous in my Rhodes days for his torture of gay conscripts during the Apartheid era. While charged by the TRC, he still remains mostly out of reach for his crimes here in South Africa.

Greefswald was a camp out in the Northern province where anyone considered unfit for the Nationalist army’s Calvinist-scripted needs was sent for rehabilitation. While much of it has been scraped from the records, Torr has done his research and crafted a narrative both riveting and genuinely horrifying. He also draws from his own experience of the camp, as discussed in this interview with The South African newspaper. The humiliation, degradation and physical privations of the conscripts makes for sickening reading. The frothing-mouth madness of the apartheid regime is fully on display, a madness that enabled a rogue psychiatrist to build a camp for his favourite broken toys.

And the writing! It is filled with shaking rage, with long, wonderfully complex sentences that just build and build and explode, splattering the page with disgust and sorrow, speaking for those who no longer can’t, or won’t, or don’t know how. It is writing put to its very best use – it is writing meant to stir and outrage. A particular favourite:

“It strikes you for the first time that all these boys have got Christian names, that at one time or another they would probably have been loved by their mothers and fathers, that their mothers and fathers would have had high hopes for them, and that you’re not the only one whose talent and potential will be fucked out of you before these Greefswald days are over.”

At several points, this was a difficult and depressing read, a corridor straight into the hearts and minds of young conscripts who had done nothing wrong, genuinely nothing wrong, and who were sent away and tortured for the entertainment and twisted research of one particularly deranged individual.

Kill Yourself and Count to 10 is essential reading for South Africans. It is especially important for those, who like me, had this entire history excised from their textbooks. It shouldn’t be the kind of thing that is a surprise to anyone.

 

This fine book is available at all good bookstores. 

Review of Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Never mind the beer ad guy – Lauren Beukes may be the most interesting author alive right now.

Broken Monsters follows in the tradition of Moxyland, Zoo City and The Shining Girls in using cities as characters, backdrops and plot points. In Broken Monsters, Detroit is both ruined and beautiful, the corpse of a model to which artists and hipsters flock as others tut over her corpse and say its just such a shame, and for the grace of god etc. In this Detroit, bait of urban explorers and home of tough cops, a murderer is stitching corpses and art together, a man tormented and the bearer of something beyond his power to control. But this is no Red Dragon – this is something more sinister and beautiful than that.

UK jacket for Broken Monsters

UK jacket for Broken Monsters

Detective Versado, her daughter Layla, Jonno Haim, Clayton Broom and TK make up the constellation of characters that are all interlinked to the Detroit Monster. This story is further complicated by what it means to be living in this naked age of social media, of constantly shifting identities and the repercussions the online world has on day to day life. As we see the CSI Effect damaging the American justice system, the novel explores how the rapid nature of the internet might get in the way of careful, thoughtful justice. The references to websites that millennials live on are rapid-fire and likely to be missed by many readers, but that is of no harm: it is Beukes showing her love of the internet, an exploration of our love-hate relationship with the world’s repository of cat pictures and memes. I was filled with the fuzzies at seeing a mention of Nyancat, possibly the most joyous meme (other than Pope Happycat, maybe) to come out of the noughtteens. (Shut up, that’s a real word, I’m using it now.)

Beukes’ research is remarkable, and the ability to incorporate her bottomless research without bogging the plot down is a rare skill – it informs rather than lectures, and she fleshes out Detroit as she has Chicago, Johannesburg and Cape Town before. Her characters are each exquisitely well-formed, especially Layla and her mother Gabriella Versado. Detective Versado takes no prisoners and no shit, and unlike many other female detectives in crime novels, never needs to be saved from her womanly self. She swears, she drinks whiskey, she tries to give a dead child his dignity while raising a daughter post divorce with no time to do it in. While another character calls her broken, I don’t think people who are genuinely broken are so capable, strong and empathetic, and maybe the definition of broken depends on who’s using it.

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US Jacket for Broken Monsters

As always, Beukes covers a myriad of topics in each work; in Broken Monsters she covers bullying, the rapid dissemination of videos that ruin lives, urban exploration, grief, loss, divorce, police procedure, sex, the vastness of the internet’s invasive reach, hipsters, the art scene, homelessness, revenge, the proliferation of cyber-paedophilia, alcoholism, Detroit as the corpse of America’s hopes, clickbaiting, pottery, fucking Buzzfeed and Upworthy, and Santeria. While the novel does teeter near the line of claustrophobia with so many ideas battling for even a scrap of the spotlight, it contains and expresses its ideas in small details, settings and turns of phrase. Also: hooray for thorough editing. Not a single spelling or grammar mistake in the entire work, which is indeed a rare joy these days. One day when I am big, I hope to put my work before Helen Moffett, Beukes’ editor.

I hesitate to use the word paranormal because that word has been completely ruined by ridiculous ghost-hunting shows and drippy teen novels, but this story does push at the boundaries of what’s real, what lies on the other side of the dimensional fabric and what gives the monsters power. It manages to infuse the story with a sense of genuine horror without getting Lovecraftian (Lovecraft was a racist asshole, which is worth knowing)  and instead doing something more avant-garde with horror. (The birds! The glass! The flowers! The tattoos!) There is also a gorgeous reference to Our Patron Saint of the Internet Neil Gaiman‘s stupendous American Gods, another delicious treat for pretentious people like me who like to catch references like other people catch pokemon.

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The best jacket: the SA jacket by Joey Hi-Fi

Beukes is a novelist of unflinchingly keen eye and ambitious ideas, her body of work constantly building on some themes while incorporating others. Her love of the cityscape is palpable in her work, and her social commentary biting. Brett Easton Ellis should take notes. If she is capable of writing novels of this kind of depth once a year, I feel that we are in for a treat as readers.

 

Broken Monsters will be available in South Africa from July from Random House Struik

Watch the terrifying and eerily perfect trailer below:

Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

It isn’t often that a book comes around and refuses to sit in one neat genre– it just

shining girls limited edisn’t polite. Usually a book can be allocated its genre within a moment of reading the blurb and glancing at the jacket. But then there’s The Shining Girls, which gleefully refuses to pick a genre box to sit in, and decides that it will timeshare in several. The Shining Girls is part crime thriller, part speculative fiction, part sci-fi. It also makes time to touch on a variety of subjects, including baseball, journalism, women’s resistance movements and the Depression, which is a delicious smorgasbord of ideas that also don’t overcrowd each other.

In brief, violent drifter Harper Curtis is a man in trouble, and stumbles into a house that offers the solution to all of his problems. But the house has a secret, and an exacting price. The house can open onto different times, but if Harper wants to stay in the house, then he must hunt down and cut the fire out of the shining girls, women who are special within their own times. And so begins Harper’s killing spree across decades, which comes to him with ease and terrifying glee. But when he fails to kill Kirby, she turns the hunt back on him with unrelenting determination.

the-shining-girls-book-cover-2This is not an easy book to read: it deals with suffering, with absolutely brutal violence and the worst that humans can do to each other. Each shining girl is profound in her potential, and each murder is highlighted for its horrific waste of a life. So often are the female victims in crime books delineated as props, just treated as a way to highlight the cleverness of the murderer. And Harper isn’t clever – he’s a disgusting lowlife who is willing to kill for a nice house to live in. Which is why Kirby is so much more interesting than most female leads in books these days. She’s smart but not savant-smart, she fights with her mom, makes mistakes and is truly brave. She could be any one of us, because those are the same markers of all the shining girls: they’re all women making the very best of what has been given to them regardless of their circumstances.

My only criticism of this book is that I wish it had been longer. When meeting shining girls SABeukes at the launch of The Shining Girls, I could tell that there were vast swathes of research that didn’t make it into the book. Granted, its current incarnation keeps it moving briskly and there isn’t a wasted word. It has been beautifully edited (which is becoming a rarity, sadly) and there’s nothing wrong with its current length. I love all the details – the underground abortion group, the Glow Girl, the McCarthy witch-hunts – I just wish there had been time to explore all of them more. Perhaps another hundred pages could have done the trick. I also loved that this was an unabashedly feminist book. I know feminism has become something of a dirty word in publishing, but it is about time that a book about crime actually dealt with the violence perpetuated against women rather than using it as a lazy plot-point. It is especially sad when female writers treat their female victims as disposable – seeing each victim realised in such heart-breaking detail is as important as it is unusual.

shining girls USOf course, the time travel element adds another delicious layer. Hardcore sci-fi fans will be disappointed that it isn’t more central to the novel, but the time travel allows for an exploration of different decades, in which we see how much (and how little) has changed. While researching the novel, Beukes travelled to Chicago and many of the photos she took while she was there appear on the South African jacket. In fact, the jacket only reveals its secrets as one progresses through the novel, which is a delight in and of itself. Produced by the amazing home-grown Joey Hi-Fi, the jacket’s many elements tie into the shining girls themselves, the time periods the novel crosses and moments that enrich the background of the story.

I say it again: this is sometimes an uncomfortable book to read, as well it should be. Violence should never be passively consumed, nor lightly discussed. The characters, good and evil, leap large from the pages. The settings are consuming, and it is easy to lose yourself in the detail. And if your nightmares reflect your bedtime reading, then keep this for daytime. But you will be hard-pressed to find a book this creative, this interesting and this powerful this year.

All Body Glitter and No Gold – Review of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

the-great-gatsby-movie-posterAnyone who hasn’t read The Great Gatsby may find it a lovely, lovely movie. They may have enjoyed its lavish party setpieces, the glorious settings, the indulgent cinematography. And well they might – had it not been an adaptation and an original story, then I probably would have enjoyed it more. But no one ever comes to this blog for a fence-sitting opinion, so here is mine: for the first hour of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, it was like I had a glitter-covered toddler jumping up and down in my lap screaming “LOOK AT MEEEEE”. And then the toddler went into a coma and no amount of overwrought drama could wake it up.
I taught the Great Gatsby to matrics and undergrads for three years. I have probably read it from start to finish about six times. I could likely sit down right now and write a ten thousand word mini-thesis on the themes of Gatsby, none of which seem to have made it into the movie. The Great Gatsby is about failure. It is about the failure of the American dream to provide for all, it is about a man who turns to crime to impress a woman, it is about racism (barely even glimpsed in the movie), it is about failed marriages and cowardice. It even suggests the failure of God. It is ruthless social commentary. It is not a great love story, it is not about overcoming all odds. Gatsby is not an underdog, and Daisy is not worth the attention she gets from him. It is not about the parties, or the fun, or the beautiful, beautiful shirts.

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And yet, Baz Luhrmann not only turns in a piss-poor understanding of the greater ideas of the novel, but he also fails to elicit any kind of spectacular performance from any of his actors. Di Caprio recently gave an outstanding performance for Django Unchained, after all. As the eponymous Gatsby, he was luke-warm. And this should have been the role that finally, finally, got him the Oscar he so deserves. The only characters that came across well as their book counterparts was the thuggish Tom and the wilting idiot Daisy, who everyone should despise for being so fickle and so careless. Already the internet is gushing with the Pinterest-friendly idea of the great love of Gatsby and Daisy, but how could any love predicated almost purely on a five-year old memory be one for the ages? Daisy goes back to her awful, philandering husband and leaves Gatsby’s life to ruin – thankfully the movie left in the whole idea of her carelessness, and Gatsby’s sad departure.

There are some other details worth nitpicking – the soundtrack that delayed the movie by five months. Why have such an incredibly anachronistic soundtrack when every other detail about the time period is so meticulous? It was the time of jazz, not hip hop. Goldfish could have done a better soundtrack that would have suited the time and the tone perfectly. And the mental asylum? There is no suggestion that Nick’s life is ruined afterwards, not that much. Instead, he returns to the Midwest bruised by New York, and simply recounts what happened rather than writing a novel. It was such a clumsy framing device that should have been done away with entirely.

This is a serious novel filled with complex themes and characters that was turned into a gaudy, overly dramatic pageant of itself, and that broke my heart. In the hands of a mature director, this could have been the adaptation I have been waiting for for so long. Baz Luhrmann makes a fine art director, but he fails to get across important themes with any sense of weight or pacing: the drama is on the level of The Bold and the Beautiful. Had this been directed by David Fincher of Fight Club fame, or Sophia Coppola (Lost in Translation) or perhaps Jane Campion of The Piano, we might have had a movie that encompassed the themes that have made Gatsby still echo nearly a hundred years later.

Instead, all I got was this tub of stripper glitter.

What the rest had to say: 

Rotten Tomatoes: 52% Critics’ Rating

MetaCritic – 54% 

“Luhrmann’s less a filmmaker than a music-video director with endless resources and a stunning absence of taste” – The New Yorker 

As Shallow as Spilt Champagne – The Daily Mail

George RR Martin Loved it – Not A Blog 

Feminism Isn’t a Hobby

Today, people will be wearing black in some kind of attempt to soothe their consciences about the appalling treatment of women in South Africa on a daily basis, made manifest in the tragic rape and death of Anene Booysens. Like with the rhinos and the POI Bill, today people will express their sort-of pissiness with the system by adopting faddy shit that will be forgotten in a month. 

I suppose one could admire it, but really, its slacktivism on a Kony 2012 level. People will wear black once, sign a petition and then go on their merry ways, cracking jokes about how dumb women are (notice there’s never any men in blonde jokes) and listening to Chris Brown, that hooting dickhole. Everyone is quick to make fun of feminism, saying how unnecessary it is, how angry it is, don’t we know that things are awesome for women now? We can, liek, even vote and shit. Yay.

Where have all these well-intentioned but clueless people been? Why is it that you get upset for a week, whereas some of us are upset all the time because each and every day is a mass-perpetuated war on women around the world? How can you not see this as anything except slow genocide? Girl children are exterminated before birth in India qua being a girl. There are groups in America insisting that women who have abortions should be imprisoned. Women who bring claims of abuse at the hands of famous men are ridiculed and shamed. Add to this the mass rapes in refugee camps in Africa, the continued assault on women in South Africa, the extent of which isn’t even fully understood.

And yet people have the audacity to wear black and think this helps anything. There have been organisations working tirelessly for decades, trying to make what difference they can in a violent world that has no respect for women. Jesus, there are infants being raped. How can people trivialise this by wearing a different colour? 

There are ways people can help. People can learn to grow a goddamn spine and not laugh at rape jokes or complain when fuckwit DJs play music by misogynist assholes (or act like misogynist assholes themselves). You can volunteer your money, time and help at any number of women’s shelters, or teaching at a school lacking resources. You can help one woman out of poverty, whether it is through putting a girl child through school or helping her find work through your own connections.If you’re ever fortunate enough to be hiring, try make an effort to give more women a chance, and equal pay. When we see a woman being verbally abused, we can step in. If we think a woman is being abused at home, have the courage and basic decency to offer help. 

Wearing black and signing an Avaaz petition is as insulting as it is pathetic. Making a difference takes the work of everyone, every day. Think about all the times men around you have been crude and disgusting, and every time a woman stands up against it, she is humiliated. Not the poisonous shits who were telling the rape joke in the first place. Feminism is not a hobby – it is the combined efforts of everyone across all class, sexual orientations, gender and race lines to eradicate the hatred for women that is endemic to nearly every society on this planet. Don’t let people get a free pass because they listened to Facebook and wore black. It doesn’t mean anything if you’re only a feminist for a day. 

Organisations that need our help: 

POWA – People Opposing Women Abuse

Rape Crisis Cape Town

Directory of South African Welfare Organisations

Bombani Shelter for Abused Women (Alexandria) 

List of Shelters that the Soul Food Project Supports

Usindiso Ministries Women’s Shelter

AmCare List of Women and Children’s Shelters

The Frieda Hartley Shelter for Women in Distress (Johannesburg)

The State of South African Literature

“Why don’t you stock more local authors? Why can’t I find any South African poetry? Why are there so few black authors?”

These complaints come my way every now and then, and are often brought up at store level. While these are very valid questions, the answer is more complicated (and a little bit sadder) than most booksellers have time to explain.

The book industry, as I’ve discussed before, is ultimately a business with serious overheads and a currently volatile market. More now than ever, publishers are losing their best authors to Amazon, readers are shying away from unusual books and no one wants to take any risks. You only need look at the New York Times bestseller list to see that genre fiction makes up the majority of the bestsellers. For the love of text, the bestselling book this year is that godawful Shades of Vomit tripe. This is further exacerbated in the South African market, which already has a very small book-buying population and is still trying to climb out of a recession. That small market is also likely to own tablets and Kindles, carving that market up even further. And when Amazon sells the same book at a pittance compared to a brick and mortar store with its ridiculous overheads, it makes sense that publishers carefully hedge their bets, and that stores would do the same. After all, rent must be paid and books that sit forever on the shelves end up costing the business. This is one of the many reasons why so many bookstores have closed down.

And unfortunately, publishers are not going to take a chance on a South African author that isn’t an easy sell. Penguin is suing several authors for not producing books that they were paid advances for, and many of these authors are very bankable. If a legacy publisher is losing money on safe bets, then is it really so surprising that a publisher won’t spend the money editing, printing and marketing a collection of African short stories written by a black woman no one has ever heard of?

Ultimately, the publishing industry is much like Hollywood. It likes its leading actors to be white, straight and male (Christian is a bonus) and second it likes white, straight females. While there are definitely gay and lesbian (Stephen Fry, Ellen Degeneres) and black authors (Toni Morrison, Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe) who have enjoyed huge literary success, it is still much more difficult for them to break into it than a pretty little white girl who looks good on the back cover. I’ve discussed this issue in terms of black and gay characters, considered risky and likely to hurt sales. And it continues in a cycle of people not buying because the books aren’t there, and the books not being published because there’s a perception that no one wants to buy them.

This is not a new problem in publishing, but I’m not really sure there’s an easy or clear-cut solution. We would have to uproot a lot of social constructs about race and gender before people would be more receptive to a book that isn’t written by someone just like them. One of the many problems with the Man Booker prize is that it is nearly always won by an upper-class white English writer because that’s what the judges are comfortable with.

Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, lashed out at the “highly imperialist-orientated Man Booker prize”, whose winners have alternated “between largely upper-middle-class English writers and citizens of the former colonies, presumably to stamp legitimacy on this ‘global accolade'”. Speaking at the Edinburgh international writers’ conference , he added that the organisers’ failure to refute accusations of anti-Scottishness, already voiced by Scottish writers such as Alan Bissett, was a sign of “arrogance” and “intellectual enfeeblement”. Welsh, who is famous for using Scottish dialect in his novels, said: “The Booker prize’s contention to be an inclusive, non-discriminatory award could be demolished by anybody with even a rudimentary grasp of sixth-form sociology.” The award, he said, was “based on the conceit that upper-class Englishness is the cultural yardstick against which all literature must be measured”.

That’s one example of where prejudice can give a book an unfair advantage over other, often better books.

So, perhaps what might be done is that South African book prizes go to authors who actually deserve it rather than the safe bets. Some publishers have local imprints that are supposed to service South African authors; perhaps skimping on print quality to get cheaper books into more hands might be better. How about putting more South African books in the school syllabus instead of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice? (Although Cry The Beloved Country is an awful, condescending litany of racist tripe, it probably has a valid place in the school syllabus.) I really think that South Africa is home to enough legacy publishers with good teams to give local authors good opportunities, and there definitely needs to be more publishing in done in languages other than English and Afrikaans. In fact, I’ll tackle the potential answers in another, lengthier blog post. I’d love to hear what you think about what is happening on the South African literature scene, and what can be done to improve it.

Why the Anti-SOPA Movement Matters

I have said before that I am a supporter of Anonymous and all their crazy folks, and today is a good day for a display of fierce, lively internet democracy.

The internet is the only true democracy on the planet, since no one rules it other than its own members, and where everyone has a place to say what they will. While I think Kopimism is an interesting religion, at least on the internet its okay to be atheist. That means a great deal to me, as does the freedom of information. I love the internet, which is why I’ve spent the last hour trying to find out where to install a black-out plug-in for WordPress. I want to show my support for the anti-SOPA/PIPA movement. WordPress has already eloquently explained what it is here, as well as ways to help.

I know that many of my friends will say “but you didn’t give nearly so much of a flying fuck for the Secrecy Bill in SA”. I have given my reasons for that here, but to paraphrase the difference: this is the US government and hundreds of powerful companies, not just the ANC by its misguided self. This battle seeks to repress information internationally, making it possible to arrest people for their fanmade music videos or opinions. Already there’s been an attempt to arrest Occupy protesters who used the #OccupyBoston hashtag on Twitter. What will happen when the government has access to information, and we don’t?

And this isn’t just an American thing; the Mail and Guardian wrote here that there will be a noticeable impact for South Africans. It will give the Secrecy Bill an unprecedented grip on our lives and enable the worst backstabbing since Adam bitched about Eve (metaphorically). Add to this the effect it will have on businesses:

South African businesses could also stand to suffer if the Bills are taken forward. Many companies’ websites are hosted in the US because it is more economical and, in some cases, more reliable than hosting locally. In addition, much of the internet content consumed locally is based in the US.

It is shocking and it should not be shrugged off as “how dare you black-out Wikipedia lol”, which is what is starting to fill my Twitter feed as AnonOps responds to all the fuckwits who can’t see the point of the blackout. This is why I have tried my best to black out my blogs, though my technical knowledge does not match my desire.

I hope that we can all do what we can to keep the Internet free for all, even the evangelists that piss me off. Because on the Internet, everyone gets a voice, and that’s what makes it so special.