EXTRACT: There Should Have Been Five

An extract from the novel by MJ HONIKMAN.

“Panzers!”

He was yanked from his exhaustion just as it felt his eyes had closed.

In the silvery dawn light Sipho saw a Panzer tank silhouetted on the hill, pointing its long gun straight at them and within moments Panzers were streaming down the hills all around them, like hundreds of ants. Great billows of smoke swirled up from the town and the harbour. And there from the east, on the hill behind the tanks, came thousands of German soldiers.

“They’re everywhere,” he murmured.

“What a mess!” Job was saying. “Rommel sneaked back in the night. He’s bombed the concrete barriers on the south east and brought the Panzers straight in. They’ve come past the Indian and Scottish regiments, down to the harbour and now up here. We have no guns, and there are landmines behind us. We can’t retreat. We’re trapped!”

***

Columns of German soldiers moved briskly down the hill with more Panzer tanks crawling behind them. Italian soldiers trailed behind the tanks. The Germans opened fire. As bullets flew past them, Sipho and Job hunched, frozen for a few seconds, and then scrambled for cover. Allied soldiers returned fire but could not stop the mass of German soldiers as the tanks rolled closer.

A lieutenant ran by, shouting to a captain, “Phones have been bombed! General Klopper can’t give instructions. What should we do?”

“Lance Corporal Maseko!” the captain called to Job. “Get a message to the General. Most of the South African 2nd Division are trapped here!” He held out a note and Job darted off.

Just minutes later two British officers drove by holding a small white flag and shouting through a loud hailer, “Every man for himself! Escape if you can! We are surrendering! General Klopper’s instructions: Every man for himself!

A wind blew off the desert. Thick dust eddied around the armoured car.

Few German soldiers saw that little white flag and the shooting did not stop.

Shell fire screeched and thumped, machine guns rattled. Sipho could not see Andrew. Job was gone. Should he try to escape through the landmines? What would Job do? Two doctors and three hospital orderlies ran from the bombed hospital towards the anti-tank ditch.

“There are landmines out there!” Sipho called to them.

As they scrambled across the ditch and started running over the mine field, Sipho heard two explosions. Five men, two explosions: those were the odds.

A shell thumped close by, and he dropped at on the sand. He needed to get somewhere safe, and started running the other way, dodging low between wrecked vehicles and through bombed buildings, towards the army headquarters.

An officer called calmly through the chaos, “Where’s Lance Corporal Maseko? I need someone who can get things done! Or Private Mahudi! Where’s Andrew Mahudi? Or Private Smith! Johnson? Is there no one reliable here?”

Sipho stepped forward. “I’m here, sir! Ndebele.”

The officer looked at Sipho: just a kid, but a lance corporal, he noticed. And the German troops were closing in. “Ndebele! The Germans haven’t seen that idiotic little flag! We need a big white flag.” He pointed to the half-bombed army headquarters. “Tie it to the roof! We’re surrendering!” He jumped into an armoured car and sped off through the gun fire.

Sipho stared after him and then looked at the headquarters’ building. He’d be visible for miles around. A target.

He didn’t move until another rattle of gun fire shocked him into action.

Where would he find a big white flag?

Nearby were the ruins of the hospital. There were sheets in the hospital. Sipho bent low and ran between the ruins. He shoved the hospital’s broken door aside and looked into a ward. There, amongst the remains of beds, he found a dirty white sheet. He tied it to a broomstick.

Bending low, he sprinted to the headquarters, climbing up the rubble and out onto the shattered roof. A strong gust blew off the desert, buffeting him as he straightened up. He staggered and sat down hard astride the roof ridge. Bullets clattered against the roof tiles next to him. He tried to drive the broomstick in between the tiles, but could not get purchase. He would have to stand again.

He planted his feet on the tiles and was half standing, rocking in the wind, when he felt hands on his ribcage, stretching him upright.

“Kahle! Steady!” Andrew’s voice.

Sipho rammed the broomstick between two cracked tiles and it held fast. As he and Andrew slithered and scrambled to the ground, the wind lifted the dirty white sheet and Sipho heard it, flap, flap, flap.

The guns went silent. Flap. Flap.

There Should Have Been Five is published by Tafelberg. Read Bill Nasson’s review here.

EXTRACT: The Wisdom of Adders

An extract from the novella by Dan Wylie.Dan Wylie

It was the Entu. Right enough, but it looked nothing like she had envisaged. In a great broadening swathe across the flat country to the west, a tongue of shimmering silver flecked with rust and peppery black flanked a twinned strip of concrete highway, like the striped down a skunk’s back. Immediately below them this tongue was petering out in tufted grass, the surface broken up and the roadway narrowing to scale she could recognise. To the east, the track curved away towards the hills of home.

And now she could locate what had disturbed her – not so much an emptier sough of wind across that waste areas, but a scent: metallic and caustic.

“Is it the Atomscorch?”

“Not really,” said Mali. “An extension of it, I suppose. The edge of Nummers’ industrial zone, as far as it got before the oil and power died out. Take a look.”

Through Mali’s telescope she could see that the bare areas constituted of bleached gravel shot through with granules of glass and laced with streaks of poisonous black. Here and there were visible ribs of old drainage channels and stubs of rusted stanchions or half-buried elbows of massive machineries.

“No grass,” Shawn noted. “It has to be seriously toxic – radioactive even.”

“I doubt that. A hundred years after the accident, not so much radioactivity left, even in the middle of the Scorch. People even living and breeding on it, with deformities sometimes though. Like MuKechnie.”

“Oh. But it got some close to home!”

Realising as she said so that this, really, was the point of real decision. They had in effect completed three sides of a square, and they were probably just a good day’s walk back along the Entu to get home. Her Spartan flat, her familiar sheets.

Or head west and north and into the total unknown.

She was momentarily distracted by a movement further up the highway, nothing much, no more than a flapping of some discarded rag, perhaps. But as she watched through the telescope, a figure straightened up from behind a sloping slab of concrete. At this distance, half a ki or so, she could discern only a sense of blackened shabbiness under some sort of greatcoat, a beard maybe. The figure appeared to have filled a sack or bag with something and began to drag it across the blue-grey gravel towards the edge of the open swathe. Following him, she now saw that a kind of bunker had been established against a slight slope, so covered with the surrounding materials, its asymmetric entrance so tiny, it was all but invisible. Through the narrow slot another figure now immerged, equally ragged, coated with disguising rags and dust, but Shawn had the impression it was a woman. Together the pair crouched in front of the bunker, and she could just make out a shimmer of heated air between them; some kind of smokeless fire, or heating unit.

“What are they doing?”

“Scavengers,” said Mali. “Getting out heavy metals, maybe, or melting glass down for trinkets.”

There were no other signs of life. They waited. There seemed nothing else to do. Shawn was reluctant to try to cross this strip of bleached disaster in broad daylight. To the west the sky seemed heavy with a kind of fervent bronze energy; she did not want to go any closer to that, but wondered what the territory north of the Entu might hold in store. And she wondered when she ought to tell Mali to go home. It was getting late in the day; maybe in the morning. And there was, she had to admit, a certain apprehension lurking in the pit of her belly about spending this particular night alone.

Mali, for his part, seemed content to sit in silence, self-contained as a carving in oiled teak.

Shawn watched the ragged couple for a while in their mysterious activity, but could make nothing of it. Then she noticed they had straightened up and were staring down the highway. Shawn followed their gaze with the telescope. Out of the wavering haze, the sun dropping a brassy glaze over the wasteland, emerged two figures, then three, no, four – tall, spiky, seeming for a time to float on molten glass. The scavengers began to scurry and bend, hiding or preparing things it was impossible to say. Advancing, the newcomers resolved into four horsemen. In that light, they seemed plated with metal and to bristle with spears or rifles, or both; Shawn couldn’t make out. As she watched they urged their mounts into a gallop; by the time they reached the bunker the scavengers had vanished. The horsemen halted and circled, raising a threatening swirl of dust. One dismounted and bent to peer into the lop-sided slot of the bunker.

The Wisdom of Adders can be purchased from Amazon. Read the review here.

EXTRACT: Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard

An extract from the book by Sean Christie.Sean Christie

‘I don’t remember the name of the first ship I stowed. I’ve stowed nine ships since and I remember all their names but not the first one. I was in a hurry at the time. I was 17. I had been living with the Durban Beachboys for six months, trying to get a ship every night. Nobody was trying harder than me. One night, February I think, a cargo ship docked at Pier 2. I was with a friend called Nnanani, and another guy called Bambo. Nnanani had already stowed a ship about a month before. He was caught and deported to Dar es Salaam, and he had just arrived back in Durban that day, and already he wanted to stow another ship. We came closer to the port and noticed that the crew was Chinese. Bambo decided to turn back when he saw this because Beachboys were too afraid of Chinese crews at this time. A lot of our guys had already been thrown in the sea by Chinese seamen in the nineties. It is better now, but in 1999 people were proper scared, especially of the mainland Chinese crews. Hong Kong Chinese are better, but you can’t tell who is who from a distance, so Bambo left,’ said Adam.

When Adam and Nnanani saw that the gangway of the bulk carrier at Pier 2 was unguarded, they sprinted up the steps and made it onto the deck, which, at 1 a.m., was clear. Skirting the cabins, they came to a place where fuel drums had been stacked one on top of the other.

‘We each climbed in a drum and made our bodies small,’ said Adam, folding his arms against his chest. ‘After an hour a guy came and shook the drums but he never looked inside. Afterwards I felt the ship going. I don’t know what he was thinking but Nnanani climbed out of his drum and came and shook my drum. I thought I had been caught until I heard him whispering to me. When I came out I saw the sea all around the ship, and the land far away. I thought, What the fuck, Durban is leaving. I’m at sea for the first time. It’s a feeling I can’t really explain.’

The two friends needed to find somewhere better to hide, and decided to climb the tower of the ship’s cargo crane hand over hand on the vertical ladder until they reached a platform which, if they kept their bodies flattened, shielded them from view.

‘It is very high, if you drop you’re dead, but I grew up climbing coconut trees in Tanzania so it wasn’t a problem,’ said Adam.

The ship tracked South Africa’s east coast in the darkness and by mid-morning drew towards another port.

‘Nnanani knew what was going on. He said, “Yow, we’re docking at Richards Bay,” a South African port in the forest, near the border with Mozambique. He said we needed to stay hidden until the ship left, but after five days we were still there. I said, “Nnanani, we don’t know when this ship is going to leave and we can’t go on like this. I’m going to try and escape.”’

Having observed the deck-top activity for days, the stowaways knew exactly when the crew took lunch and, at this time, scuttled down and made for the gangway. Rounding the cabin block once more, they ran into a Congolese security guard.

‘The security officer radioed for chief officer, who came and said, “Where you stow?” I said, “Durban.” He said, “You sure?” and then he punched me. He asked again. Nnanani said, “Durban,” so he punched him too, and almost broke Nnanani’s thumb. After that he locked us in a cabin and brought us food and water.’

The Beachboys slept for hours, and when they woke it was to the barking of sniffer dogs, searching the ship for other stowaways. When this process had been concluded, the cabin door was opened and a man the boys had never seen before ordered them down the gangway and into a minibus with the name of a stowaway detection service written on the side. The sniffer dogs went in the back, and Adam was guided into the passenger seat, with Nnanani behind him on a bench.

‘I had big amount of ganja in my sock, seventy grams or so. I was thinking, They’re going to take us to the police station straight, so I decided to leave it under the seat of the car. But they just stopped the car outside the port area and said, “Come off.” Richards Bay harbour is surrounded by a big forest and they just left us there in the bushes. We hugged each other then, me and my brother, because we were free to carry on with our lives.’

Adam and Nnanani were too naïve to know it then, but their sudden release was not out of the ordinary. One of the unlisted services that stowaway detection outfits provide to shipmasters is the removal of stowaways from under the noses of port authorities. The procedural processing of stowaways costs a great deal of time and money – up to R100 000 a case, according to insurers – and shipping companies happily pay for alternative outcomes.

Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard is published by Jonathan Ball. Save R40 when you purchase online at Bridge Books before 27 April 2017 (type AERO in the box that says “Discount” at checkout). You can collect your purchase in-store or get it delivered via courier (delivery fees still apply).

EXTRACT: Emily Hobhouse – Beloved Traitor

An extract from the book by Elsabé Brits.
Elsabe Brits

Towards the end of 1909 Emily saw a doctor in London after she had been forced to cancel several “suffrage” appointments for speeches under the banner of the PSF. The doctor’s diagnosis was that  her heart did not function properly, and that she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis (which she knew already). Moreover, she felt “horribly fat and bloated”, while she had never been overweight in her life.

Alice Greene, an old friend from South Africa, visited her in London and was shocked to see how weak Emily was. “She is just very ill and very lonely and no wonder. She has broken down her health for the sake of others and I doubt whether there is one person both able and willing to help …”

Regarding her “poor heart”, Emily remarked to Smuts: “I think South Africa would be found stamped on it for South Africa wore it out. Nevertheless one often loves the very thing that kills.”

Emily returned to Italy with great reluctance, as she yearned to participate in the British women’s fight for political rights. A year later, in November 1910, Emily was also absent when the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, received a delegation from the PSF. It was a decisive event; shortly afterwards, Asquith announced that the franchise would be extended to all men while it was also being contemplated for women, as proposed in the Conciliation Bill of 1910.

Earlier that same year, on 31 May, South Africa had officially become a Union, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Louis Botha became the Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture; Jacobus Sauer of Uitkijk the Minister of Railways and Harbours; Jan Smuts the Minister of Interior Affairs, Mines and Industry, and Defence, and JBM Hertzog the Minister of Justice – all people whom Emily knew. Jaap de Villiers was appointed Judge President of the Transvaal division of the Supreme Court. As a result of the death of King Edward VII on 6 May, however, festivities had been muted.

From her sofa, Emily wrote to Smuts in pencil to congratulate him on the fact that the “first act of your Union Cabinet was one of justice towards Dinizulu”. Dinuzulu, a son of King Cetshwayo, had been captured by the English in 1890 and exiled to the island of St Helena for seven years on account of an armed rebellion against the British annexation of a part of Zululand. Nearly a decade later, Dinuzulu was charged with fomenting the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. He was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. After Botha became prime minister of the Union, he ordered that Dinuzulu be released and allowed to live on his farm Uitkyk in the Transvaal.

Emily also seized the opportunity to convey a pacifist message to the new Minister of Defence. “Well, dear Oom Jannie, mark my words – you will defend your country best by not defending it.” She warned him against having a standing defence force, as it was an evil.

Always attuned to health and a frugal lifestyle, and old-fashioned in some respects, she urged Smuts  not to use his new official motor car but to rather stick to his horse. Horse riding kept a man healthy. He should get the children ponies to ride on. In crowded Europe, motors had become “a pest of noise, dirt, danger and smell”.

He should also listen to Parliament, which was the voice of the people through its representatives, and guard against becoming an autocrat or “a Czar”. She reminded him that “we, the people, we democrats, want to have a say in matters concerning ourselves …”

She was beginning to wish, she wrote, that not merely kings but also ministers could be done away with, as it seemed to her that cabinets were “hotbeds of mischief manured by ambition”. She held cabinets responsible for “endless evil and little good, and I believe the secrecy appertaining to their counsels is the root of the evil”.Emily Hobhouse

A letter from Smuts in which he had referred to politics as “worldly” and a “sorry business” upset her so much that Emily reprimanded him angrily. Politics was in such a sorry state “because you men let it be and because you won’t or don’t lift it out of the rut”.

“That has been from the beginning of history the fault with men’s management of politics and public affairs – and I look above all to the entrance of women into politics to purify them and lift them to a higher level. Secrecy is one of the first things to get rid of …

“Oh! It makes me mad to think what great issues lie in the hands of a few stupid and obstinate men!”

She expressed the hope to Smuts that they in South Africa “will be wise and firm and keep yourselves to yourselves and not have any standing army or any battleships – for these things are the beginning of all Evil”.

“The next thing is you want an opportunity to use them …”

In the autumn of 1911 Emily was in Florence, Italy, where she hoped to find a cure for her health condition. But, as one could expect from an art lover, she first visited the museums, including the Palazzo Piti where, ironically, she was overwhelmed by Sandro Botticelli’s painting of Minerva – the goddess of wisdom, but who was usually depicted holding the weapons of war with which she had come into life.

In Botticelli’s painting the barefooted Minerva stands one step higher than the centaur next to her, whose long hair she has in a firm grip. He looks sad and submissive. A wreath of entwined olive branches on her head resembles a halo, while a mesh of olive shoots encircles parts of her upper body and her partially revealed breasts; in her other hand she holds a halberd, her ginger-brown hair falling in loose waves over her shoulders.

“I think it the most beautiful female figure in the world,” an enraptured Emily wrote to her nephew Oliver, now a student at Oxford. In Florence, Emily went to see a Doctor Carloni who had apparently developed a special treatment for people with heart disease; she had heard it had been wonderfully successful in some cases.After the first examination he found that she had overexerted herself mentally and physically, and that her heart was enlarged (which she knew already). She had to learn to sit still “and possess my soul in patience”.

Carloni made use of electric pumps, breathing apparatus, diets and other methods to treat his patients. Among others, they had to breathe in iodine through a device he had built.

Emily also had to lie in a bath of carbolic acid, which worked “wonders” for her.

Within two months she felt like a new person; her cheeks were “as rosy as a Dutch doll’s”, and she had regained her slim figure. She was especially pleased about this, as she set great store by her appearance.

After five months in Florence she decided to return to Rome. She had been in the Valley of the Shadow of Death but life had suddenly broken through again within her, she wrote to Tibbie Steyn. For the rest of her life she would keep to the advice she had been given in Florence by the Italian doctor – small portions of food, a diet of eggs, cheese, lots of vegetables and fruit, as well as bread and other starchy food. She almost never ate meat or fish again, except for occasional pieces of biltong from South Africa.

But the doctor had to be paid, and Emily was struggling to make ends meet; she lived mainly on the proceeds from her small investment and the rental of her house in Bellevue. The only person she felt she knew well enough to approach in this regard was Smuts. It could not have been easy for the proud Emily, but nonetheless she requested a loan of £50, which she would repay at six per cent interest.

Smuts sent her £100 – along with the remark that he considered Carloni a quack.

“Dear, dear Oom Jannie, What am I to say? What am I to do? Your generosity is so overwhelming …”

But she stood by her doctor, saying she had personally seen him cure asthma sufferers “like magic”.

In November 1912 Emily was back in Rome, where she saw Tibbie and her husband ex-President MT Steyn from time to time. Six years earlier Steyn had already conceived the idea of erecting a memorial of some kind for the women and children who had died in the Anglo-Boer War. A monument committee was established and various cultural organisations, churches and political parties were mobilised to raise funds and create enthusiasm for the cause. Hundreds of collection lists were distributed throughout South Africa for this purpose. Emily sent the small amount Tibbie had donated to her for her medical costs to the committee that raised funds for the envisaged monument.

Emily Hobhouse: Beloved Traitor is published by Tafelberg. Read the review here.