I wonder where he is now

I have finally read a Johnny Steinberg book!

The number tells the story of reformed gangster, Magadien Wentzel, who was high up in the 28’s, one of South Africa’s most notorious prison gangs. Steinberg spent 18 months with Wentzel, in and out of prison, and skillfully crafts the story of his shattered life into a whole narrative.

The story is fascinating as it gives insight into one of South Africa’s most militant and powerful bodies: the organised crime mafiosos of the Cape Flats. The prison gangs have a rich (albeit imaginary) history and system. The author also explores the role that apartheid played in fostering gangs and destroying the identity of coloured people as a nation.

Steinberg writes the story in an excellent way- it is circular- bringing up facts and people and incidents in Wentzels life that crop up later in the book, but Steinberg also deals with his own guilt of writing and making money off a poor-man’s story. The tropes of identity and redemption give this book a quality which sets it apart from ordinary non-fiction.

It ends hanging, and now when I step on the train and see a face of strangers, I wonder if one of them is Magadien, rebuilding his life out of the rubble of poor decisions and historical injustices.

Unfortunately (and seeing as I must be honest with you, dear reader) I gave up wine for Lent (I know!) so I can’t recommend any pairing with this book, but I can highly recommend that you read it.

Johnny Steinbergs The Number is surprisingly moving

Johnny Steinbergs The Number is surprisingly moving

I can’t tell you why I like this song

I can’t tell you why I like this song, but I do! I really do! Maybe it’s because it sounds like summer, maybe it’s the simplicity of the lyrics, maybe it’s just fun! From what I’ve heard, most people can’t pronounce the name of the artist, but it’s still a great song, and a great way to kick off the week, enjoy!

I wonder what my country would be like

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(first off, apologies for the silence of the blog of late, I’ve been adjusting to a new lifestyle)

This is a hard post for me to write.  I very seldom give up on books, but this is a hard read.  It is the first hand account of what happened to Steve Biko, as written by friend, journalist and editor Donald Woods. I thought I should read it, not only because of Wood’s journalistic background but also because it is an election year, and Mamphela Ramphele was a close friend of Steve Biko’s in fact, she introduced Wood and Biko to each other.

I’ll come clean: I didn’t finish the book. It doesn’t end happily (because it was written at the most violent period of apartheid) and even with the hindsight of living in a free democratic South Africa, I couldn’t read about the beatings, torture and injustice these men endured.

The book comprises of Wood’s dealings with Biko, and he has included lectures by the icon as well as a transcription of the inquest into his death at the hands of security police (of course the inquest found them not-guilty and they got off scott-free). It is a hard read, but I think one that any student of politics or history, or both should try to wrestle with.

If you didn’t know: Steve Biko was literally beaten to death. And it took a few days for him to die, they think that he had a stroke as a result of a head injury, while the apartheid state claimed that he died of a hunger strike. Steve Biko was a natural leader and one of the most prominent propagators of Black Consciousness

The hardest part is that much has not changed for the very poor and marginalised in this country, while the party that fought for it’s freedom has now become it’s jailers. I can’t help but wonder what the country would have been like if Steve Biko had been allowed to live.

Good luck to you if you do try and read it, and I would recommend that you try. I have paired it with the Reyneke red from Woolies, its an organic dry red that could have aged a bit more.