Alan Paton Award 2019: a taste of the shortlisted titles

We get some insight into the non-fiction shortlist by asking the authors a few questions about their work

04 August 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times Books

Published in the Sunday Times: 04/08/2019

These Bones Will Rise Again
Panashe Chigumadzi (Jacana Media)

Panashe Chigumadzi was born in Zimbabwe and raised in SA. She is the founding editor of Vanguard magazine and her novel Sweet Medicine won the K Sello Duiker Literary Award in 2016.

What were your biggest challenges in writing the book?

One of the biggest challenges was my own training and understanding about what history is and isn't. In my search for a "History Proper", I was often looking for a singular, (recorded) master narrative. When the truth is that there can never be, and should never be, one Master's History that is forever frozen and fixed in time.

In time I had to learn that "History is like water - it lives between us, and comes to us in waves. At times, still and unobtrusive and at other times turbulent and threatening. Even at its most innocuous, water poses hidden dangers, enclosing contested histories, and so we are always living in the tension between water's tranquility and its tumult.

When we walk along the water's edge, it's easy to take for granted the complex process of how that water reached our feet; to overlook what is washed away, what alters and what holds in the sands of time. It is an openness to history as a series of waves, always moving, always in a state of flux, always a site of discovery in the past, present and future, and not as stable, foreclosed, frozen in the past that is most troubling to nationalist agendas because it is too difficult to control."

Imprisoned: The Experience of a Prisoner Under Apartheid
Sylvia Neame (Jacana Media)

Sylvia Neame is a veteran political activist and South African Communist Party member and a long-standing member of the Congress movement. She has a doctorate of philosophy in the field of African history and is a former teacher and researcher at Leipzig University.

In what way do you think your book "illuminates truthfulness", as the criteria state?

In the course of my historical studies in prison - I am an historian - I became interested in Hitler and fascism, and what struck me was the subjectivity of the philosophy which lay at the base of the fascist outlook. I had earlier noticed a high degree of subjectivity in the thinking of many white South Africans, including some of those  who considered themselves to be highly intellectual. I became convinced that subjective ways of looking at the world could lead to great disasters, to crimes against humanity. For me objectivity became a necessary component of a moral outlook and behaviour. This is central to my outlook.

What do you believe are the greatest challenges we are facing in SA, and how should they be tackled?

I think we have two chief things to deal with, and the first is poverty and inequality. As to the "how", I have become convinced that a great effort should be made to achieve the overcoming of poverty and inequality in the course of a dialogue, however we organise that. This kind of approach follows on from my efforts to find a political solution in the '80s. The second, but by no means secondary aspect with which we should deal, is to contribute to the saving of our world and all its diverse inhabitants, all living organisms, more especially by using the scientific-technological capacity we human beings have developed. I am all for science, passionately so, but let us use it in a responsible way.

Heist! South Africa's Cash-In-Transit Epidemic Uncovered
Anneliese Burgess (Penguin Non-fiction)

Anneliese Burgess is an award-winning investigative reporter.  A founding member of the SABC current affairs programme Special Assignment, she is now co-editor of the relaunched Vrye Weekblad and works as a media strategist.

In what way do you think your book "illuminates truthfulness"?

My book was able to illuminate not only the breathtaking scope of the losses for the SA economy, but also the rapacious and brazen nature of a crime that by 2018 was no longer being executed on remote roads or in sparsely policed backwaters but was being perpetrated with complete impunity - on busy highways, in suburbs and CBDs, at garages, shopping centres and highly secure facilities like airports and cash centres. It was everywhere; an out-of-control crime epidemic.

What was the most disturbing or surprising thing you uncovered in your research?

Firstly, how incredibly lucrative this crime is. In the 10 heists I looked at (which is a minuscule sample of actual cases), around R425-million was taken. Only around R30-million was ever recovered. In most cases no money is recovered and these massive amounts simple siphon away into SA's criminal underbelly. Secondly, how few cases ever make it to the arrest stage, let alone court. And thirdly, how widespread police complicity is.

Breaking a Rainbow, Building a Nation: The Politics Behind #mustfall Movements Rekgotsofetse Chikane (Picador)

Rekgotsofetse Chikane was a Mandela-Rhodes scholar and graduated from the University of Oxford with a master's in public policy. He was involved first-hand in the #RhodesMustFall movement in Cape Town.

In what way does your book "illuminate truthfulness"?

By trying to show just how bizarre the concept of truth is within moments of history. And how it only gets more bizarre the further you move away from that moment.

I tried not to write about what truly happened during the years of FeesMustFall and RhodesMustFall and simply tried to connect dots in a manner that helps build a clearer picture but that doesn't fill out the details or colour in the grey. How someone interprets the picture thereafter is really not my concern and that logic allows for someone to illuminate their own truth from my book. It was also an opportunity for me to illuminate the truth to myself.

What were your biggest challenges in writing the book?

Time and doubt. Put both of these together in a crummy bachelor apartment and you begin to run into a whole list of problems and challenges.

Everyone is Present: Essays on Photography, Memory and Family
Terry Kurgan (Fourthwall Books)

Terry Kurgan is an artist and writer based in Johannesburg. She holds an MFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT and an MA in creative writing from Wits. She is a research associate at WiSER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research).

In what way do you think your book "illuminates truthfulness"?

I think my book elucidates how difficult it is to arrive at the truth. It engages with what I have come to understand as intergenerational transmission. What the psychoanalysts Abraham and Török describe as "the gaps left within us by the secrets of others". The book is an attempt to uncover certain truths and close these gaps. A retrieval of sorts.

Through a forensic examination of photographs and other family objects with their roots in the past, I try and go back through three generations to where something once was.

What were your biggest challenges in writing the book?

I was wary of writing another holocaust memoir. I wanted the book to engage with more universal themes and concerns, and tell a compelling story about racism, migration, love and secrecy, which was at the same time an analysis of memory and family photographs. I also wanted to be able to move backwards and forwards in time and engage, obliquely, with the contemporary global refugee conversation, so much at the front of the news in the years I spent writing the book. The other big challenges were to resist my impulse to tie up loose ends, and to edit out the many other extraordinary stories that I came across during my research that were not "my core business". My "out-takes" folder is rich pickings for other projects.