Sindiwe Magona’s biography of Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Theatre Road, on the Exclusive Books HOMEBRU list

EB Homebru

Homebru: Meet South African authors in their own words

Themed under the banner of “Meet them in their own words”, this year we aim to make our valued authors the heroes of the campaign that celebrate the pens behind the text.

We have chosen books across a wide range of genres – reflective of the current burgeoning publishing of local writing. Cookery, biography, fiction, current affairs, inspirational and children’s are all covered in the selection.

This year, the Homebru campaign runs to the end of July 2020.

HOMEBRU – THEATRE ROAD

THEMBI_COVER_FINAL_LOWRES

Theatre Road: My Story

THEATRE ROAD: 16 June 1976

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One cold midwinter morning, snuggling in bed because the
previous night had been one of those insufferably late ones, I wanted
to squeeze the last drop of sleep from the night gods. I had a vague
sense the sun had long risen, for the room had shed its gloomy night
coat; but, warm and cosy, I was in no hurry to get out of bed.
Suddenly, peace fled from the room as a loud, unruly noise rudely
peeled back my eyelids. Silently cursing, I dragged myself out of bed,
for the noise grew instead of subsiding, and I knew time to rest was
over. I went out to check what the din was about.
‘The school children are protesting!’ the announcement came
from an unidentifiable mouth, spreading to other sources with a
varying pitch.
‘They do not want to be taught in Afrikaans at school!’
As the information began pouring in from the communal radio,
the angry students drew nearer and nearer, the noise levels rising.
The electric mood in the air pushed me out of the house and yard,
into the thronging street. I could not resist joining the jittery crowd,
waiting to see the approaching students. The shouts and sounds
of stampeding feet coming our way were alarming. These were no
quietly marching Sunday school brigades but, by the sound and look
of it, young people angry enough to spit fire. The head of the crowd
emerged. Knees up in the air, fists stabbing the sky, mouths wide as
hot ovens: the angry, young people poured into our street.

Wednesday, 16 June 1976.
‘Come! Come, join us!’
The students were everywhere, although there was some semblance
of a body, the main body of the march. They spilled out into every
street, jumping fences and popping up in sleepy yards – shouting
and screaming, recruiting support.
‘Join us! Come and join us!’
‘This is your war, too, come!’
At the heart of the march was the rejection of Afrikaans as a
medium of instruction in most of the subjects in Higher Primary and
Secondary Schools. The students had taken to the street, marching
to Orlando Stadium, holding placards with ‘Down with Afrikaans!’
emblazoned prominently on most. Afrikaans was detested by most
Black people since it was the language of the ruling National Party.
It was seen as the language of the oppressor.
What began as a peaceful march slowly became chaotic as the
police moved in to stop the children from proceeding with their
protest. The police, using loudspeakers, ordered the children to go
back to their schools. We could hear the shouting. We could smell
teargas. And the children were running for shelter all over Orlando
West and Dube.
There were those who were crying, blinded by the teargas. We
soon became involved, taking sides, in something that had initially
nothing to do with us grownups. As the community, how could we
not offer to wash the faces of victims of police assault? We could hear
gunshots and were told the police were firing rubber bullets at not
only the students but anyone and everyone out in the streets now.
If the march had provoked police attack, their attack provoked
retaliation. Students began throwing stones at the police. By the
afternoon, we heard the police were firing real bullets directly at the
children. Two children had died and many were injured.
Before nightfall, the whole of Soweto was engulfed in smoke. I
remember trying to go to work late that afternoon and wondering if
we would be able to return.
That night, we performed and the white crowd rose to its feet. The
standing ovation was an every night occurrence. And it pleased us
to no end. But that night, our hearts were in Soweto. As the curtain
rolled down, we all ran to our dressing rooms. After a frenzied
change of clothing, we ran to our bus, hopped in, and then it roared
away. Rumours had already reached us about more and more people
being injured.
Soweto was a fortress that night. Soldiers everywhere. They
stopped each car driving into or out of Soweto. Our mini-bus had Ipi
Tombi conspicuously emblazoned all over it. It was stopped anyway.
‘Where d’you come from, this late?’
The driver explained.
Still the bus was searched.
Driving up to Ephefeni (Orlando West) felt like driving through
a war zone: terrifying. Smoke enveloped everything. The smell of
death hung in the air, palpable.
Trying to sleep that night, I wondered how a day that had started
so peacefully could end up like this.

The next morning, the nation was hit by the photo of a boy, mouth
wide open in a silent scream as he runs with all his might, eyes
bulging in search of help he hopes against hope will come. Every
muscle in the taut body strains under the sad, limp human cargo
he carries.
Hector Pieterson died in the arms of eighteen-year-old
Mbuyisa Makhubu. He was shot by the police and made history:
The First Victim of Police Shooting of Unarmed School Children –
June 16, 1976.
That was an event South Africa will, no doubt, forget one day.
But, that day is not in the country’s foreseeable future. Hector was
followed by many more, killed and injured, hospitals filling to
capacity, often overwhelmed. Mbuyisa eventually went into exile.
That unforgettable afternoon, on my way to work, I took a taxi
to Pimville to check on my daughter. Phumzile, then seven years
old, innocently showed me how ‘the big children, students, said we
must get out!’ Even children that young were ordered out of their
classroom and told to join the protests in the streets.
Turmoil. And, like a wild veld fire, that turmoil grew and grew
and grew until it filled the land. The students’ protest turned into
an uprising and then a revolution and engulfed all youth – those
in school as well as those who were not. The shooting in Soweto
sparked a massive national agitation and soon, even adults were
involved, politicians leading the rest. The fire of discontent had
spread everywhere. It crackled and sizzled throughout the country,
reaching urban and rural areas, big cities and small towns, dorpies
and villages.

Pages 109-112 of Thembi Mtshali-Jones’s Theatre Road: My Story as told to Sindiwe Magona.

Thembi and Sindiwe

“Being Still” by Sue Brown

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BEING STILL

When I was a child, we played a party game called “Musical Statues”. The rules were that, while the music played, everyone had to be in constant dancing motion until a parent pushed ‘stop’ on the cassette player (this was a long time ago, way back in the seventies). Then each child had to ‘freeze’. Any anticipatory slowing down during the crazy dance would be called out as ‘cheating’ by one’s fellow party competitors, and any wobbling after the sudden stop in the music meant elimination.

There would of course be the accompanying protests of ‘I didn’t move’ and ‘Unfair!’, followed by a sulk, of varying lengths, by the sidelined child – until they sufficiently recovered to lustily join the shrill ranks of those now eager to play judge. To spot an infinitesimal wiggle, even a smile, in one of the earnest, deadpan statues remaining counted too.

‘You moved!’

‘Didn’t’

‘Did!’

And so it went on until the last child standing was announced the winner, and triumphantly received their prize of a cream soda or strawberry fizzer, or a Chomp bar.

 

I grew up. But continued to behave as if still a contender in that game. Joined the continuous motion of a society ever more frenetic and frenzied. Slowed down only (and with a guilty relief) when one of my children was sick. And then only for the briefest time before returning my children – with myself hot on their heels – into the exhausting, unrelenting Southern suburbs schooling competition.

 

I sat out, watched a little longer from the sidelines when my son was life-threateningly ill. Gained a little perspective, a little wisdom, because I could manage nothing more.

Then, after he died, I somehow jumped back onto a new, garishly painted horse on a new merry-go-round. Breathlessly leaping, tomboy/cowboy-style, between horses on adjacent, rotating merry-go-rounds. Took pride in my agility to boot.

 

Yet lamented again my personal inability to slow down.

To reflect, ponder, to press my own pause button.

To think before reacting, before speaking.

To breathe.

To knit up all the wool in my stash at home rather than dash to the wool shop for the insatiable high of always starting something new.

To potter in my neglected garden, in which the stick of an Almond Tree has steadily got on with its business of growing where it was planted at the behest of our daughter, in memory of her brother.

To plant slips in anticipation of Easter time rain, and to laugh at my kitten, who follows me, thinking that the little trickle of water in the dusty bed can only be a wee, so she helps by covering it over with sand in my wake. To enjoy the dappled light on the stoep, beside the fuchsia tree that the sunbirds love so much – one of our reasons for buying this house when our son died. Before we began the big rush around again, and forgot.

 

I picture Pooh Bear patiently watching the changing of the seasons in our garden these past eight years, wondering when we might spot him sitting there under the Almond Tree.

I imagine him pondering – in a kindly manner, since that is his way – why it is that I blindly rush about like his friend Rabbit. Under the illusion that my busyness, my exhaustion, produce or prove something of worth to someone?

 

I had felt strangely becalmed on the ocean of a busy world during my son’s illness.

Could for that brief time prioritise the important over the urgent, recognise the tiny wonders that interspersed the horrors of the dying of a child. His wisdom and courage, and the wonderful compassion and togetherness of which humankind is capable.

Knew then on a cellular, mother level the sense of a great, universal story being revealed, regardless of my own fumblings, missteps and mistakes.

 

This 2020 global pandemic that has brought humanity to a collective halt, and to its knees, has driven home again the reality of the sanctity and frailty of a life. And my awe of the mysteries beyond my comprehension, or control.

 

I am left with a childlike desire to sit very still in Autumn’s sunlight beneath our Almond Tree soon to lose its leaves, with a kitten pouncing dramatically on insects that move in the brittle grass. To register the nip in the air. To hear variations on the theme in the songs of the birds.

To listen to what happens next in this story in which we live. And believe that this tree will breathe out, into a new dawn, a cloud of palest almond blossom come Spring.

On New Year’s Eve of 2010, Sue Brown’s twelve-year-old son, Craig, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour. In the turmoil of the time, Sue instinctively turned her hand to writing. In 2017, six years after Craig had lost his battle with cancer, she published a memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye: A Mother’s Journey. She lives with her husband and their daughter in Cape Town. The family spends as much time as they can at Craig’s Cabin in Betty’s Bay. Sue continues to find hope and solace in the written word. Her new book, Earth to Mom: Personal Essays on Loss & Love, is a tribute to her son and the indelible mark he left on his family and friends. The book will be published the moment it becomes possible.

Frosty and Salieri know best

Nobody does quarantine better than literary cats. They know how to stay at home and snuggle up in bed with a great book. Here are Karavan Press’s Frosty and Salieri with Shadow Flicker by Melissa A. Volker. Up Lit at its best! If you would like to follow in Frosty’s and Salieri’s furry footsteps, but don’t have a physical copy of the book yet, we offer the ebook version on Kindle at a special quarantine price. Happy reading! Stay safe. Furry love from all of us.

“Stillness is leaking from stone and concrete” by Stephen Symons

Stillness is leaking from stone and concrete

Whether night or day
the world seems paused at 4AM —

Somewhere a grey priest
is ringing a church bell,
practicing for that moment
when the clocks cast off this spell.

I once gave a family
a jigsaw puzzle to pass the time
and now wonder if they ever
discovered it was missing
a single piece of sky.

Across the city, an old man
is watching that piece of sky
slide from the landscape on his curtains,
while next door, two lovers have become
the mapmakers of their own bodies.

Stillness is leaking
from stone and concrete
into the streets,
so each pool of reflection
is a duplicate earth distilled of humanity.

Most of the voices we know
have turned to dust and breadcrumbs,
snaring sunlight on the
floorboards of empty hallways.

Slowly, nature is making a temporary
comeback of clarity and vengeance
until each minute is missing a second
and each hour, a minute.

Eventually, all those seconds and minutes
will add to something
that is neither night nor day,
something closer to the purity
of a ticking clock in darkness,
marking that moment we
cast off the spell
before sleep,

and once again,

the streets will be full
of the languages
and laughter of countries
returning to blindness.

 

Stephen Symons is a graphic designer and poet. He holds an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Historical Studies. His poetry, essays and short-fiction have been published in journals, magazines and various anthologies, locally and internationally, including Prufrock, Carapace, Stanzas, New Contrast, New Coin, uHlanga, Aerodrome, Poetry Potion, The Kalahari Review, LitNet, Badilisha Poetry, Wavescape and Patricia Schonstein’s Africa anthology series. His short stories have also appeared in the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies (2015, 2016 and 2017), amongst other anthologies and magazines. His unpublished collection, Spioenkop, was listed as a semi-finalist for the Hudson Prize for Poetry (US) in 2015. A selection of his poems was selected for an international anthology of contemporary poetry, titled A World Assembly of Poets (2017). Stephen’s debut collection of poetry, Questions for the Sea, was published in 2016 by uHlanga Poetry Press and received an honourable mention for The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry in 2017. His second collection of poetry, Landscapes of Light and Loss, was published in 2018 by Dryad Press. He lives in Oranjezicht with his wife and two children.

Stephen has designed (cover and typesetting) the following books for Karavan Press:

Karavan Press title: Earth to Mom – Personal Essays on Loss & Love by Sue Brown

Earth to Mom

DESCRIPTION

A cow mooed and a dog barked, their voices travelling the still air from a distant hilltop. And the white tail of an airplane left a stripe on the baby-boy blue of the highest sky above.

Then pale rays warmed my back on the deck of the hut, steamed the acrid smoke smell from last night’s fire from my jersey, as I wrote of our own family’s catastrophe. Our own golden, unforgettable little prince, whose bold laughter rang out, whose tears fell and sadness echoed, and whose bravery inspired. Wrote our own tale of a visitation from an extraordinary small person. Of his lessons in great love and its loss, in loyalty and our limitations – and of being irrevocably changed by him.

Sue Brown’s son died of cancer a few days after his thirteenth birthday, leaving behind a Craig-shaped crater in the lives of those who knew and loved him. Sue chronicled this unfamiliar, tragic landscape of diagnosis and grief in The Twinkling of an Eye: A Mother’s Journey. In Earth to Mom: Personal Essays on Loss & Love, a collection of poignant vignettes written since the publication of her memoir, Sue addresses her son, still the magnetic centre of her family’s world, and tells the story of how they continued reshaping their bonds and finding hope and light beyond the loss of their beloved son and brother.

ISBN: 978-1-990931-92-5

Publication date: Autumn 2020

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue BrownOn New Year’s Eve of 2010, SUE BROWN’s twelve-year-old son, Craig, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour. In the turmoil of the time, Sue instinctively turned her hand to writing. In 2017, six years after Craig had lost his battle with cancer, she published a memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye: A Mother’s Journey. She lives with her husband and their daughter in Cape Town. The family spends as much time as they can at Craig’s Cabin in Betty’s Bay. Sue continues to find hope and solace in the written word. Her new book, Earth to Mom: Personal Essays on Loss & Love, is a tribute to her son and the indelible mark he left on his family and friends.

Author: Sue Brown

Sue BrownOn New Year’s Eve of 2010, SUE BROWN’s twelve-year-old son, Craig, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour. In the turmoil of the time, Sue instinctively turned her hand to writing. In 2017, six years after Craig had lost his battle with cancer, she published a memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye: A Mother’s Journey. She lives with her husband and their daughter in Cape Town. The family spends as much time as they can at Craig’s Cabin in Betty’s Bay. Sue continues to find hope and solace in the written word. Her new book, Earth to Mom: Personal Essays on Loss & Love, is a tribute to her son and the indelible mark he left on his family and friends.