Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Traitor's Daughter

I am delighted  that my manuscript, Traitor's Daughter made the Penguin shortlist for African Writing. Congratulations to all the other fine writers on the shortlist.
"Penguin Books South Africa is delighted to announce the shortlists for the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing.

Having received approximately 250 submissions in the fiction category and 50 in the non-fiction category from countries all over Africa, Penguin Books South Africa is pleased to announce the names of the shortlisted authors for the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. This award seeks to highlight the diverse writing talent on the African continent and make new African fiction and non-fiction available to a wider readership.

The shortlisted authors for the Penguin Prize for African Writing are:


Ellen Aaku (Zambia)
Moraa Gitaa (Kenya)
Chika Ezeanya (Nigeria)
Shubnum Khan (South Africa)
Isabella Morris (South Africa)
Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ (Kenya)


Pius Adesanmi (Nigeria)
Andrew Barlow (South Africa)
Ruth Carneson (South Africa)
Ahmed Mortiar (South Africa)
Tanure Ojaide (Nigeria)
Anli Serfontein (South Africa)
Tebogo Tlharipe (South Africa)

These manuscripts have been sent to the judges and the winners will be announced on Saturday 4 September 2010 at the Mail and Guardian Literary Festival. The prize in each category will be R50 000 and a publishing contract with Penguin Books South Africa, with worldwide distribution via Penguin Group companies.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

World Cup Holds Hope of a New South Africa

As South Africans play host to the Soccer World Cup, many have high expectations. This tournament is not only about hosting the world’s best soccer teams and showing them what a friendly and hospitable country we are.

No this tournament is about much more. It is about South Africa itself.

All around the world in internet chat rooms and forums, on the streets and in cafés a recurring theme is emerging: What can this tournament do for our country?

Having lived through the World Cup in Germany in 2006, my hope is that it will be defining point in nation building. That finally after apartheid and post-apartheid societies, it will be the point where the country finally comes together much more than they did in 1995. The Rugby World Cup was simply too early for serious nation-building and had another function.

At the moment South Africa is a society that is weary and tired and everyone is playing the blaming game. A friend who returned to the country recently after 15 years abroad, wrote to me that blacks blame whites and apartheid, and whites blame blacks for their woes. The old race card. That was prior to the Wolrd Cup fever gripping the country.

In the weariness, the blame-game, the despondency there are so many parallels to Germany 16 years after re-unification. By 2006 the Ossi’s blamed the Wessi’s for their misery  and the Wessi’s the Ossi’s. Everyone was despondent, tired of the financial burden of bringing East Germany onto West German standards. But miraculously that World Cup summer  of 2006  the country within four weeks transformed itself into one united Germany .  For the first time since the war Germans waved flags and had a new open non-threatening nationalism. It was the decisive point where the war and all its ramifications was finally buried. I ended my book on Germany with a chapter on the World Cup 2006  and how it changed that country.

For South Africa I hope that it will be the decisive point where apartheid is finally laid to rest and where we take a new pride in our country and what it had accomplished. It will be the young generation, the post-1994 generation who is not burdened by apartheid who will take the country further.

In Germany of 2006 it was the young generation that taught the older generation a few things about nation-building and national pride and burying the divisions. My hope for South Africa 2010 is on the youth and on moving forward to a new society, post Soccer World Cup.


Sunday, 16 May 2010

Mooi loop Van Zyl Slabbert!

The news reaches me mid-Friday morning. My Dad, the journalist Hennie Serfontein is on the line with the sad news that Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert, the former Leader of the Opposition in South Africa died that morning. I can hear he is upset.
I promise to try and contact Theo Hanf, a friend of Dad’s since 1963 and like Van Zyl, a professor of Sociology in Germany. An old friend  of both and a colleague who valued Van Zyl's intellectual contribution .

As I put down the phone the memories come flooding.
The first time I remember being in the Slabbert family home was as a child in 1972 in Fish Hoek, Cape Town when he was a young lecturer of Sociology at UCT. We two families had a normal Sunday lunch and we Serfontein girls were playing with his infant children on a sunny winter Cape day. 
Long before he became a household name in South Africa they visited us Serfonteins quite often in the two years that they lived in Linden, Johannesburg. By then he was a young professor of Sociology at Wits and like Dad started the journey of no return from the fold of Afrikaner nationalism. As Mom said about Mona and Van Zyl’s time in Johannesburg in the Early Seventies: “It was a hard experience and they had problems adapting . Johannesburg then was NOT liberal Cape Town. They lived across from the Grosskopfs in Linden – Oom Gross was then a senior journalist or maybe even already editor of Beeld. He was also Hein’s father who would later turn into the most wanted Afrikaner in the late Eighties for planting an ANC car bomb. But back then the two families only knew of each other’s existence via us.
Dad and Van Zyl were much further out of the fold by then than the Grosskopfs. All these childhood memories flood my mind on this miserable May Friday that I hear of his death.
Flashes of how my friend Mina Coelho, a left Wits SRC member shouted Van Zyl down in the Wits Great Hall in the early Eighties because the White Left regarded him as a sell-out. Later she declared him to be the sexiest man she knew, because he put her in her place. She became a fan of his intellect and she was not the only one won over by his intellectual prowess.
Flashes of interviews I did with him as a TV news producer – he was always tight, precise and to the point. Or of clandestinely editing the Dakar film in Amsterdam in 1987 after Afrikaners for the first time openly met with ANC members in West Africa, under Van Zyl and Breyten Breytenbach’s guidance.
Flashes of his use of Afrikaans which rivalled any Afrikaans poet. The one word I still treasure was when he spoke about the lapelvreters – the collar gluttons is the nearest I can translate this. It must have been the Seventies. He referred to those Stellenbosch academics that would grab him by the collar after dark under the oak trees of that University town so rich in tradition. They would literally lick and eat his collar while passionately proclaiming their backing of his anti-apartheid thoughts. They were telling him how right he was to oppose John Vorster or PW Botha. However, the next day in the bright African daylight they suddenly hardly knew him. Having seen some of the tributes, I think Van Zyl may laugh about many of the lapelvreters that are now crying crocodile tears in broad daylight.
And while I laugh, I cry. I cry for my country that was incapable of making use of his enormous intellect and his leadership qualities: neither pre–1994 nor post-1994. Such a waste!
And I think back of that first conscious meeting in 1972 and so many afterwards. I mourn his  and Dad's friendship spanning more than 40 years. Some of those years were very lonely and incredibly isolated for both: but their friendship endured everything and they remained Afrikaners first and foresmost. I remember one evening in 1984 having dinner with both of them and some German television journalists in Cologne. They were flown out to appear on some prime-time German TV programme. It was just after he had married Jane. He was not just talking politics but also telling us how he and Jane went jogging along the Rhine. Enjoying life and his surroundings.
A lot of his work was done silently. A former detainee writes on my Facebook page that Van, while still leader of the Opposition in the early Eighties established "contact" between him and his parents.  "He facilitated the process of finding out where I was being held and then getting food and clothes parcels to me. I was very grateful for those thin strands of connection to the world outside!"

 Dad and he trusted each other intrinsically. It was Dad who carried the message to the ANC leader, Oliver Tambo in Lusaka in February 1986 that Van Zyl  and Alex Borraine were leaving Parliament and  that Van was going to resign as the Leader of the Opposition. A few days later Dad had the only crew filming the dramatic resignation in Parliament. Now watching those scenes he used some of his most prosaic Afrikaans while a stony-faced PW Botha gleered.
And right to the end Dad and Van used each other as sounding boards for political and sometimes  even personal matters. Both knew they could rely on each other to keep their lips sealed. Last year when Van was already sick and mostly staying in Swaziland, I was told over a Melville lunch by a mutual friend how much Van missed Hennie’s company and kept asking about him. I conveyed that to Dad. I am grateful for both of them that they still managed a few emotional lunches in the last year: to reflect and to remember all the places, all the people, the good times and the bad times. Both only adhered to one rule – they always followed their consciences, no matter what the personal consequences were. So many memories, so many brave decisions!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Easter Faux Pas!

Last year I lamented the fact that I missed my Marshmallow Easter Eggs and that no amount of sophisticated European chocolates could satisfy my needs.

This year I was lucky enough to get my fill of Marshmallow Easter eggs thanks to a South African friend schlepping my Marshmallow eggs all the way.

But Easter again reminded me of the cultural differences between countries. And how different my childhood memories are from that what my daughters yearn for.

While my half South African, half German daughter sighed to her Bavarian grandmother on Easter Sunday: “Thank you, I have never had an Easter nest”; I flashed her a dirty look and felt like saying:. “Darling that is NOT my culture and tough luck if you dislike my Marshmallow eggs.”

Now 13, she then proceeded to tell her Grandma that normally our (lazy South African) Easter bunny would only emerge at mid-morning (please note AFTER Mommy has woken up) to scatter the Easter eggs all over the garden. Please also note that abslutely nothing is tastefully arranged. Off course nothing beats a German Easter table: it is beautifully decorated and thoughtfully laid and a joy for the eye. But it is not my culture!

Despite all our inter-culturalism - I miss my colourfully kitsch wrapped Marshmallow eggs, while my daughter yearns for a tastefully decorated Easter table, with an Easter nest  bringing some serious decorum to a Church celebration. She would like what all German kids want. Her motrher on the other hand says "Sorry but it is not my culture!"

Friday, 12 March 2010

Over the Limit

I this week again realized how different Germany and South Africa can be when dealing with potential scandals. Here is a cultural case study in how one deals with prominent figures when over the limit.

Early on Thursday morning, during rush hour traffic the ANC’s chief spin doctor Jackson Mthembu was caught for drunken driving at 7 a.m. being three times over the legal drink-drive limit. (Just imagine what his level was at 3 a.m.). He was arrested after driving or rather swaying along in the bus lane on a motorway in Cape Town.

According to several reports in South African newspapers he was then taken to the Mowbray police station. That did not put him off doing his job. At about nine he was conducting a 21 minute interview with the news agency SAPA. He was defending the controversial ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema. Malema is facing criminal charges for reportedly singing at the University of Johannesburg, "Dubula amabhunu baya raypha" (Zulu for, 'Shoot the boers, they are rapists) with a group of students.

On Friday the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe announced that Mthembu will not be suspended, but the party was taking the matter seriously because of the "carnage" on South Africa's roads. Mantashe said the party would wait for the law to take its course. (However long that will take)

Two weeks ago the first woman elected to lead Germany's 24 million Protestants through the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Bishop Margot Kässman, resigned only days after she was apprehended for a drink-driving offense.

Once the scandal broke, she swiftly gave up her posts as a bishop and as head of the EKD, but said she will continue as a pastor. The EKD elected Kässmann, the bishop of Hanover, to be its new leader on 28 October 2009. It was the first time for a woman to become the highest representative of German Protestants.

Kässmann, a Lutheran and the chairperson of the EKD, the umbrella organisation of Germany's Protestants, was caught drink driving late on the evening of Saturday 20 February in Hanover. She allegedly jumped a red traffic light and was found three times over the legal limit. She immediately had her driving license revoked for a year and a traffic offense case was opened.

Once the story broke in Bild, the biggest German tabloid on the Tuesday, events moved quickly and barely 24 hours later on the Wednesday she called a press conference to announce her resignation from all her leadership posts. She has since then been praised by media analysist s as an example how to swiftly deal with a scandal.

“Last Saturday evening I committed a terrible mistake that I deeply regret; but however much I regret it and accept the-in this situation-entirely justified reproaches that are being levelled against me, not least by myself, I cannot and will not dismiss the fact that my office and my authority as presiding bishop and chairperson of the Council have been damaged. I would no longer have the freedom to identify and measure ethical challenges in the future as I had in the past. The harsh criticism to a sermon such as "Nothing is good in Afghanistan" can only be faced when one's personal power of persuasion is unquestionably acknowledged.”

Germany lost an unique critical and ethical voice; a star who could have moved the Church into the 21st Century. South Africa is left with pantomime - a new act every new day.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Mandela Release That Never Was

This week it is 20 years since Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. In my unpublished new book “Traitor’s Daughter” I reminisce about those mad times when I worked as a BBC Producer in Johannesburg.

The new decade had arrived with a big bang or so we all thought. As New Year’s Day 1990 drew to a close, the foreign press community in Johannesburg simultaneously received a message on our pagers to say that Nelson Mandela had been released that afternoon. That message jolted us all into action. Ten weeks before they had released Mandela’s fellow prisoners like that. In the early hours of the morning of 15 October 1989, prison vehicles dropped off Walter Sisulu and all his possessions at his Orlando West home. On that occasion I was also paged to rush over there.

Now on New Year’s day the BBC team rushed to the office in Richmond, near Auckland Park. Although we had never ever had a practice drill, any army general could have been proud of our BBC efforts on that day. As I parked my car with the necessary screeching of tyres, the first to arrive, I was followed within seconds by cameraman Richard Atkinson, video editors and BBC correspondent Colin Blane. We were pulling in one after another, pulling handbrakes, jumping out and running into the offices, switching on machines as we went. No one had summoned anyone. Colin, had in fact just left my house after an afternoon running through the various release options while enjoying a bottle (or two) of fine South African wine.

I started pulling wire copy to see what SAPA was bringing on it and hitting the phones. This was pre-internet and pre-mobile phones. It was the end of the New Year’s Day and most South Africans were recovering from a mega-hangover, even Government types. We were trying to reach Winnie Mandela, elusive at the best of times, and at that stage living at about three addresses. The BBC London Desk immediately panicked and wanted to pull the BBC’s southern Africa Correspondent James Robbins from his holiday in the Eastern Transvaal. Colin Blane, the BBC’s East Africa correspondent, down from Nairobi to cover for James, and I, felt we had to verify the story first. After about 90 minutes of various phone calls we realised it was a hoax. By that time we were all stone cold sober.

It may have been a hoax, but from then on, we maintained that frenetic pace. For the next two months it seemed as if we were working day and night.”

© Anli Serfontein, Traitor’s Daughter - 2010. Unpublished manuscript. All rights reserved by the author.