Book Reviews: The Blessed Kgalagadi, Or Lies, Spies And Charlotte In Pretoria

April 25, 2022

[vc_row][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]


The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

Kgalagadi Self-Drive  Routes, Roads and Ratings by Ingrid van den Berg & Jaco Powell

Lies Men Believe, And The Truth That Sets Them Free by Robert Wolgemuth

The ANC Spy Bible: Surviving Across Enemy Lines by Moe Shaik

Hidden Pretoria by Johan Swart and Alain Proust

Charlotte by Helen Moffett


Bontle Tau is blessed with extraordinary beauty, a sharp mind and determination to use these assets to take her to the top of the social  ladder. Marilyn Monroe is her role model, not Albert Einstein. Her story is a great sense of humour in a style of writing that makes this book a fun experience. We meet Bontle as a lady of pleasure, carefully selecting her blessers so as not to waste time on big talkers with shallow pockets. She manages a home hair-styling service that explains her top of the range motor car, her penthouse abode and the luxuries that come with high living. This business serves a double purpose, keeping her nose clean for the general public and meeting potential clientele in the upper-class regions of town. Is she a happy girl up there in the lap of luxury? The barter system that sustains her takes its toll. Nothing in life comes easy and the body must continue to perform at high level to rake in high income. The Blessed Girl tells the ancient story of the human condition in a modern setting. – DB


As a fairly frequent visitor to Kgalagadi, I thought I knew it all. I have stayed in all the camps on the South African side including all the wilderness camps, but reading Kgalagadi Self-Drive  Routes, Roads and Ratings gave me a new insight. It also gave me a longing to visit the Botswana side, which I have never done. Heinrich van den Berg describes Kgalagadi as giving him a feeling of “huge emptiness”. However, when one gets to looking closely at the emptiness one finds that it is full of life. The text is then taken up by Ingrid van den Berg and Jaco Powell, who also both contribute numerous photographs. The book has detailed descriptions of the three main camps, Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata, including recommended game drives and routes. The authors also detail what animals and birds one can expect to find in and around the camps. This includes which drives to do in the morning and which in the evening.  A fact I really appreciate about Kgalagadi is that you sign out every time you leave a camp and the management will check that you have arrived at your destination. If you arrive late or have a problem, they come and look for you. Having covered the main camps, the authors then describe their experiences in the wilderness camps. Anyone visiting Kgalagadi should make an effort to stay in at least one of these camps. These are unfenced campsites with four or more fully equipped tents and one camp attendant. Van den Berg and Powell once again list the game drives and the animals to be found in each campsite. They do, however omit my favourite, a resident brown hyena at Grootkolk. Each waterhole is described in detail with the possible animal sightings. For the more adventurous, they describe the 4×4 trails, mostly on the Botswana side, and for those with a bit more cash to spend they describe the private lodges. The illustrations in the book are exceptional, with photographs of scenery, camps, animals, birds, rodents and insects. This book is a must for anyone visiting Kgalagadi either for the first time or not. Then when you return home it is a handsome coffee table book with glorious photographs. – MH


Robert Wolgemuth is the author of more than 20 books, dealing with family-oriented Christianity. As its title suggests, Lies Men Believe, And The Truth That Sets Them Free is directed towards men who may be experiencing a crisis in their lives. More specifically, it is directed at the successful family man, overwhelmed by the challenges he faces. Evangelical, even ‘fundamentalist’ in tone, the book nevertheless raises important questions about balance, priorities, money, wealth discipline and commitments. The author argues that the Christian religion shows ‘the way, the truth and the life’. The style is very much that found in numberless American self-improvement publications. Wolgemuth raises some timeless questions about which it is good to be reminded, even if the answers may seem embarrassingly simplistic. – NW


We are fortunate that Moe Shaik has written and published The ANC Spy Bible. It is difficult to overestimate its value – both for us now and for the future generations. There are many reasons why this book is so important. Ultimately, they all derive from the fact that Shaik played a leading role in ANC intelligence from the 1980s through to the establishment of the democracy in South Africa and for some time after that. He came to experience the utter depravity, cruelty and indeed madness of most of the Special Branch of the apartheid police. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) laid bare much of the abominable activity of the security forces under apartheid, but emotions were then still ‘red in tooth and claw’. Like the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War, the work of the TRC was hugely important, but it did not ‘close the book’ on apartheid atrocity. On the contrary, we need to engage with a continuing process by which we learn not only how narrow is the margin between good and evil but also how, both as individuals and as a society, we try to ensure that we do not succumb, stumble and fall. We still battle to understand how it could be that senior Nazis would read their children bedtime stories, pat their dogs and so on and yet leave their homes to perpetrate their unspeakable evil. It is much the same with apartheid. Social history is increasingly being understood as fundamentally important in helping us ‘get a grip on’ the deep inner complexities of how and why ‘things happen’ – as they are recorded in the more formal, ‘chronicled’ accounts. Shaik’s story is a vitally important ‘social history’ precisely because of his personal history, including his family and his background. It is unfortunate that Shaik’s reputation has been tarnished by the public awareness of the relationship between his brother Schabir with former President Jacob Zuma. Ironically, it was through Moe that Schabir got to know Zuma. Moe had worked closely with Zuma in intelligence and later introduced Schabir to him. Schabir had been excellent at financial management in the facilitation of the ANC’s underground activities. By virtue of his excellent work in ANC intelligence, Moe came to know almost every one of the leading ANC personalities in government at the time of our transition to democracy and for at least a decade after that. Moe is an astute observer of human beings. In the result, his anecdotes about these personalities, including Nelson Mandela, are fascinating. It leaps from every page that Moe is a ‘mensch’.  He is far too warm, too passionate and too curious about the world to be ideologically fixated or sycophantic. In the result, one reads a remarkably balanced account of the failures of a Marxist state like the former East Germany, the influence of the fall of the Berlin wall on both the apartheid government and the ANC, the divisions and distrust – even to the extent of internal sabotage – within both the apartheid government and the ANC as to whether a negotiated settlement should be pursued. He is candid, conflicted and captivating when describing the moral degeneration of so many of those who were involved in the struggle, including Schabir. Rightly, Moe does not dwell on Schabir’s waywardness. Commendably, as a brother, he carefully avoids being judgmental. Looming large throughout the book is a moral question that Moe does not answer – because none of us can right now. That is, why we need books like this? They make us reflect deeply. Every single one of those who fought in the struggle against apartheid, did so out of a deep sense of moral idealism. They were good people, motivated, highly intelligent, willing to make sacrifices, lovely in almost every way – heroes indeed. Why, oh why, did the corruption set in? It is a far from uniquely South African question. A great achievement of the book is that, with breathtaking detail, it rescues from obscurity a hero whose own complicated life-story makes us want to probe our own personalities, our own personal choices and the whole ‘apartheid story’ deeper. The hero is a white security police officer, whom Moe called ‘The Nightingale’, who was so disgusted by the torture in detention of Moe’s brother, Yunis, that he became a mole and, at massive  personal risk, over a period of some 15 years, ‘leaked’ hugely important and valuable top-secret information to the ANC. Shaik has a gifted intellect. He writes beautifully, lucidly and grippingly. He deserves the accolades that have accompanied his authorship of this book. Here is a real-life spy thriller that makes ‘James Bond’ fiction seem boring. – NW


Pretoria has a reputation for many things, but there are probably a fairly small number of architecture aficionados who would consider the city a must-visit destination. Hidden Pretoria gives the lie to that assumption in an attractive, well-researched coffee table book. Fascinating as this perspective reveals the city to be, it’s still not the most glamorous location overall, and it is a credit to photographer Alain Proust’s framing and lighting that the buildings, rooms and details he captures look as striking and engrossing as shots of any iconic world capital. Some of the locations investigated are not as obscure as the book’s title might suggest – Sammy Marks House, Smuts House, the Museum of Natural History and Pretoria Boys High School, for instance – but intriguing aspects of their design or the way they have been utilised over the years add a great deal of insight for even regular visitors. There are other choices, however, that are nothing less than thrilling – the incredible drama of the Capital theatre, now being used as a parking lot or the soaring wood, glass and brick structure of the DRC Universiteitsoord. Much of the infrastructure under the spotlight is disintegrating, some of it slowly, and some of it close to a point of no return. This state of affairs is regrettable and hopefully redeemable, and in an ideal world, this publication would sway those who could affect the funding processes necessary to restore these treasures to their former glory. As it is, it’s a brilliant guide for readers – at worst as armchair travellers and at best as explorers of Pretoria’s rich (and now revealed) heritage. – BD


In Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas is the plain one, the boring one, the sensible one. She is Elizabeth Bennet’s good friend, which brings her into more socially elevated circles, and is headed, it seems, towards life as a spinster before William Collins – whose proposal of marriage to Elizabeth is turned down – picks her as second choice, offering her security, if not passion. Helen Moffett’s novel – a sort-of sequel to Austen’s story – takes Charlotte as its protagonist, filling out and exploring what may have seemed less than glamorous qualities in the original tale and showing, as many readers who believe themselves short on allure already know, that sensible, plain types also have a great deal to give. Moffett is both sensitive to the tone used in Pride And Prejudice and sympathetic to her characters and how they may have wanted to grow and mature. The relationship between Charlotte and William is shown to be warm, though his commitment to his patron Lady Catherine adds layers of friction. Charlotte also comes to enjoy and invest more in her intellect and common sense, which increasingly makes her the focus when those who would ordinarily have been considered more important and influential need advice or guidance. This Charlotte is also aware of the possibility of meeting her remaining (and reasonable) longings in ways that Georgian authors would have been unlikely to write about, even if the writers endorsed those feelings. And Moffett, being a full-time book editor when she’s not creating her own narratives, knows how to introduce and update such behaviours and ideas without making them seem at odds with their context. In addition, her attention to detail in terms of the language used and the locations inhabited is superb, making Charlotte an eminently believable and consistently entertaining companion to Austen’s classic. – BD

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]