Book Reviews: Selling A Gentle Soul, Or Homeland Refreshed

December 21, 2018

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Conversations With A Gentle Soul: Ahmed Kathrada Chatting To Sahm Venter

Selling Lipservice by Tammy Baikie

Hit Refresh: The Quest To Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul And Imagine A Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella, with Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols

Homeland by Karin Brynard


The title for this book is perfect.  We’re sitting in Ahmed’s living room or on the stoep, listening to him chatting with ghost-writer Sahm Venter. Just chatting about his life, his part in the Struggle, driving people around, facing numerous trials,  ending up on Robben Island, where he became close friends with Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela (whom he calls his elder brother) and others. He speaks of life in prison, how the prisoners kept their pride, adapted without losing their dignity and in the end got out psychologically unharmed and even enriched, thanks to the example set by Mandela. The eulogy Ahmed read at his “elder brother”’s funeral is given in full, showing his love and admiration of the great leader. The letter Ahmed wrote in 2016 addressed to President Zuma, asking him to step down, is also given in full. This letter ranks with the best ever written to a high-ranking person and shows Ahmed’s integrity and courage. Conversations With A Gentle Soul is a great book, and highly recommended reading, even if it leaves you sad to know that these great men were replaced by common politicians who do not share the dignity those people had. – DB


Tammy Baikie, in Selling Lipservice, creates a future that is truly horrifying and makes you realise that what we have is not so bad. Society becomes an instrument of the corporate mission – consumerism and brand names are the great movers in enslaving people in a world sustained by copywriters. They direct the lives of the buyers; words are invented and language is redesigned to promote the products. Brand-speak replaces creative thinking with compulsive buying and living. Big brother corporates rule the world. This is not an easy book to read, as one has to continuously switch from “normal” language to this strange meta-world Baikie describes. As with any futuristic vision, this one relies on the reader’s own power of imaginative thinking for enjoyment. – DB


Satya Nadella was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft in 2014. At the time, after its spectacular successes since its founding some 40 years ago, Microsoft was in the doldrums. New technologies such as smartphones, iPods and iPads had mounted serious challenges to the “old-fashioned” personal computers (PCs). The corresponding increase in and displacing use of new software technologies other than those produced by Microsoft required a new focus and direction for the corporation. Nadella was appointed to lead the process. Although Hit Refresh has an autobiographical quality, Nadella concentrates on the computer technologies in both hard- and software that are likely to shape our world over the next generation. He also shares with us his insights on the changing social, political and economic issues, including leadership thereof, that are affecting planet Earth. Now 50 years old, Nadella was born and raised in India, the son of a Marxist civil servant. His schoolboy education was one of privilege. As a teenager, as a result of a gift from his father, he developed a fascination for computers, especially programming. A scholarship took him to America. One thing led to another, then a job at Microsoft and eventually, the invitation to lead it, having received Bill Gates’ imprimatur. Nadella has a beautiful mind. He has the facility of being able to discuss a range of complex issues in a manner that is intelligible to the ordinary person. Cloud computing (which standardised and pooled computing resources and automated maintenance tasks, previously done manually), artificial intelligence (AI), mixed reality and quantum computing dominate his discussions of technology. The implications of these technologies are fascinating. He is convinced that they will enable us to find the cures for diseases from the common cold to cancer, enable us to talk to people in different languages but simultaneously understand one another, relieve most the tedium associated with bureaucracy, assist the physically and mentally handicapped in ways scarcely foreseen, to mention some of the examples he gives. He argues that if the potential for AI is “breathtaking”, and that for quantum computing “mind-blowing”. Charmingly, he describes the computer science with which we are all familiar, operating in binary code, 0 or 1, positive or negative electrical current, as “classical computing”. Quantum computing will make contemporary computing seem like Newtonian physics in contrast to quantum physics. If quantum computing can be mastered, it will change the power of computing in a manner that will give new meaning to the word “exponential”. Like so many of his countrymen and women, Nadella is a self-confessed cricketing fanatic. A resolute believer in the power of skills transfer within the human brain, he attributes much of his success in the business of computing to the principles of teamwork and leadership, to the infinity of different mathematical permutations and combinations that he learned in cricket, not to mention the importance of batting averages and the sheer fun of competition, of “being in the game”. Never having experienced racism in his native country, Nadella was astonished to encounter it from time to time in America. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that without the profound changes in attitudes around the world since Microsoft as established and to which Microsoft so greatly contributed, it would not have been possible for someone of his background to lead an American-based company that has been one of the most successful – if not the most successful corporation in the history of the world. Nadella’s discussions on the present tensions between privacy and security throughout the world will interest lawyers and all who believe in human rights, in particular. Like any good lawyer, he argues for clarity, consistency and certainty within the framework of a broad consensus of fairness. A dedicated internationalist, free-trader, liberal and personal friend of the Obamas, he is critical of the protectionist and populist trends that are emerging around the globe. Nevertheless, his understanding of why Donald Trump was elected president of the United States is emphatic, deep and among the best available. He argues that governments and business need to work together to promote economic growth, together with new technologies and new jobs. This book is a rewarding read indeed.


Homeland is the translation of Tuisland, a novel set in the stark landscape of the Kgalagadi, and centred on the hamlet of Askam. The stories of two police officers, Captain Albertus Beeslaar and Colonel Koekoes Mentoor, merge, separate and merge again in a highly conflicted relationship. It is the story also of the conflict between different groups of the Kalahari San people, each seeking reparation and a way out of the harsh poverty in which they are trapped. And it is the story of outsiders who enter the story with different motives: exploitation of indigenous knowledge, smuggling, diamonds, genuine concern for the San, and a desire to help them return to ancestral beliefs. A policeman, long resident in the area, is murdered. Both Mentoor and Beeslaar are drawn into the investigation. At the same time a German tourist is abducted from a guest house, but Kytie Rooi, who is a cleaner at the guesthouse, has, she thinks, killed him in protecting a child. She flees with the waif and finds herself hiding from the police in the shelter of a healer’s encampment. The healer herself has fostered a boy, now grown into a young man, whose strange intelligence and passion for the ancient ways, she believes in and nurtures. The story plays out within just a week, the seven days leading up to a massive public relations exercise involving the President of the Republic and foreign dignitaries  at which the grand plan for restitution will be unveiled. It is an exciting book, with twists and turns and tracks leading in all directions, ultimately climaxing in the death of the phantom murderer. It is rich in local lore, accurate in its depiction of the vast, bleak landscapes and the intimate knowledge of the politics and personalities of that world. It is a big book, well worth reading. – RH[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]