Notes & Quotes at Open Book: Too Close for Comfort

Authors Joanne Jowell, Mphuthumi Ntabeni and Mandy Wiener talk about getting too close to their subjects. Photo: Bulumko Gana

In the room at Too Close for Comfort at 12pm on Day 3:

Mphuthumi Ntabeni – author of The Broken River Tent

Joanne Jowell – author of Winging It

Mandy Weiner – author of Ministry of Crime

Palesa Morudu – chair

“I wish there was a threat on my life, it would give me some street cred.” – Investigative journalist Mandy Wiener, who interviewed well-known criminal bosses for her book Ministry of Crime, responding to chair Palesa Morudu’s question.

“It’s very rare that a crook will say to you, ‘I’m a crook’… I didn’t expect that many of them to confess to what had happened.” On the other hand: “Police officers always told me they’d been stitched up as part of some sort of conspiracy.” -Mandy

“It’s very hard to be a human lie detector. But if I give them enough rope (to spin their stories) they hang themselves.” – Mandy

“Radovan Krejcir had really good PR… there were so many police officers on his payroll.” – Wiener again, responding to a question as to whether writing about underworld bosses doesn’t run the danger of turning them into legends.– Mandy

“The English and Xhosa fought for 106 years. That’s longer than anyone. Except maybe the Irish.” – Mphuthumi Ntabeni, who wrote Broken River Tent, a book that finally provides the Xhosa point of view of the century and more of war in the Eastern Cape.

“That bastard haunts me still.” Mphuthumi again, who said the spent 20 years working on his book, commenting on his fictional character.

In his research he read the journals of British soldiers stationed in Grahamstown during the Frontier Wars and was shocked by “the cruelty” and “the crudeness” of their language when writing about the Xhosa. “And back then it was the norm.” Things haven’t changed much, check out Adam Catzevelos

“I only know about unhealthy distance.” — Joanne Jowell, author of Winging It, the biography of celeb rugby ref Jonathan Kaplan’s journey to fulfill his desire to be a solo dad, in response to a question about how does she set healthy boundaries between herself as writer and the person she’s writing about.

Going on to say: “I spend a lot of time, probably more than I should, with them, and we always have a relationship afterwards…there are about four missed Whatsapp calls (from Kaplan) on my phone right now because he knows we’re talking about him.”

“Grahamstown needs to be renamed. (Lt-Cnl John) Graham was a psychopath. If he was alive today he would be charged with genocide. No jokes.” — Mphuthumi, who went on to say Grahamstown, which has recently been renamed Makhanda, should be called Ixoyi (check spelling), which was the Khoi name for the river which flows through it, now known by its bastardised name, the Kowie.

Then: “I’m almost certain that in 10 to 15 years time, our children are going to change the name again.”

And: “Table Mountain should be called Umlindi.” — Mphuthumi, saying Umlindi was the original Khoi name, meaning ‘someone who receives visitors’.

“The Xhosa weren’t really defeated by the British, it was self-sustained suicide.” — Mphuthumi

“I wanted to write the book I wanted to read after matric, when I was stepping out into the world… something that would help me find my identity.” — Mphuthumi.

The irony award: “They have this inherent belief that journalists are evil.” — Mandy, talking about underworld bosses such as Krejcir.

Overheard from an animated group of four women in The Fugard foyer: “You don’t stop masturbating…”


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