‘Voices of Liberation: Albert Luthuli’

Voices of Liberation Albert Luthuli coverOne of my bigger jobs last year was to prepare a revised edition of the HSRC Press’s book, Voices of Liberation: Albert Luthuli, originally edited by Gerald Pillay in 1993. The biggest part of that work was researching and writing a section on Luthuli’s legacy. In pursuit of a more intimate understanding of one of South Africa’s greatest leaders, and the continent’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner, I interviewed some of those who still remember him in person: Ben Turok, one of the last Treason Trialists still in Parliament; Pallo Jordan, a former ANC exile, cabinet minister and renowned historian; and Ela Gandhi, grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, and daughter to Manilal Gandhi, who was a close associate of Luthuli.

It was amazing to meet and talk to these three veterans of South African struggle history, and to build up through their eyes, an image of a truly remarkable man. Though Mandela’s legacy perhaps now outshines Luthuli in popular memory, the latter was certainly no less remarkable.

One of the key questions about the life of Luthuli is the extent to which he did, or didn’t, support the beginning of the armed struggle against apartheid, led by Mandela. It is clear that while a deep commitment to non-violence was more than just a strategic principle for Luthuli, a man of profound Christian faith who was inspired by Gandhi, it seems it also became impossible for him to stand against the pressure of oppression and hatred of oppression that eventually precipitated the armed struggle. Continue reading ‘Voices of Liberation: Albert Luthuli’

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The scorn of Philip Pullman


I very much enjoyed reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which has recently spawned yet another fantasy film franchise, starting with The Golden Compass (titled Northern Lights outside the US).

But Pullman’s attitudes towards his predecessors, particularly Tolkien and CS Lewis (and I now no doubt join leagues of their defenders) are arrogant and a bit silly.

Pullman has disparaged Lewis as racist and sexist, to some extent a meaningless criticism as it applies to so much of the literature of that time. Modern readers, hopefully, know to read around such ignorance.

Then he dismisses Tolkien’s work as trivial, despite roots in European myth and lore even deeper than his own Miltonian echoes. But Tolkien’s sales are still far in advance of Pullman’s, making this criticism presumptuous, not to mention rather churlish. In Pullman’s Continue reading The scorn of Philip Pullman

South Africa in Africa: The Post-Apartheid Era

South Africa in AfricaEarlier this year, I was contracted by Electric Book Works to work as copy editor with Adekeye Adebajo and the Cape Town-based Centre for Conflict Resolution to produce South Africa in Africa: The Post-Apartheid Era, now published by UKZN Press.

In this rigorous and policy-relevant book, a diverse group of Pan-African scholars examine South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy, arguing that an effective foreign policy can only be built on a strong domestic base. The authors assess key challenges of regional leadership for South Africa, addressing traditional issues of leadership, military and economic power, and less conventional foreign policy concerns such as land conflicts and HIV/AIDS.

Lovely beyond any singing

A photograph I took in the Eastern Cape in late 2003 was chosen by my friend Helen Moffett for the cover of her collection of South African landscape writing, Lovely Beyond Any Singing. A news article about the book and its author appeared recently on the University of Cape Town website.

The photograph was taken just before dark with a Pentax K1000 through the front windscreen of a VW Kombi minibus being driven by a crackhead at 140km/h. The setting sun was directly behind us, streaming through a tunnel formed by the land, low dark clouds, and lines of hills on either side.