Monthly Archives: August 2018

Nearly time for the Open Book Festival

It’s nearly time for Cape Town’s acclaimed Open Book Festival, which takes place mainly in the city centre – at the Fugard Theatre and the Book Lounge – from September 5 to 9.

Some highlights include a discussion on memoir writing, a panel chaired by radio presenter John Maytham in which crime writers discuss writing about both sides of the law, a discussion on “Land – beyond the rhetoric”, a talk on inclusive African cities, UCT’s new vice chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng outlines her vision for the university, a discussion on the work writers do before they start writing – and that’s only the first day.

Among top authors who will attend the festival and join panel discussions are Swedish novelist Jonas Bonnier, whose latest work, The Helicopter Heist, is based on a true theft when a group of crooks landed a stolen Bell helicopter on the roof of a Stockholm cash depot and stole a huge amount of money before fleeing.

  • Chike Frankie Edozien, a former New York Post reporter who last year published Lives of Great Men, described in the Huffington Post as “one of the most triumphant and joy-inducing books of the year…”
  • Taiwanese-born South African writer Ming-Cheau Lin writes a food blog Other local writers include Karin Brynard, Karina Szczurek, Dawn Garisch, Andrew Brown, Mondli Makhanya, Jan-Jan Joubert, Jacques Pauw and Jeremey Vearey. In addition, In addition the festival offers CocreatePoetica, the Comics Fest and the Youth Festi for young readers.

In addition the festival offers CocreatePoetica, the Comics Fest and the Youth Festi for young readers.

This is the merest glimpse of the pleasures and treasures ahead. To view the full programme click here.  All ticket sales are through Webtickets, and even free sessions must be booked.

A guide to the glory we find all around us

Review: Vivien Horler

Field Guide to Fynbos, by John Manning  (Struik Nature)

field guide to fynbosA walk on the mountain at Silvermine or anywhere on the Table Mountain chain will reveal hundreds of plants with tiny jewel-like flowers, in colours ranging from yellow to white, pink, blue and purple.

There are so many of them, along with the bigger plants such as proteas and silver trees, that it is sobering to encounter this statistic: worldwide around 10% of all plant species are rare or endangered. But in the south-western Cape as many as 30% are considered rare or endangered, more than 2 000 species.

And when you think that two-thirds of fynbos plants are endemic – they occur nowhere else – it is a concern. Continue reading

Horror of aircrash survivors shot dead in Rhodesian bush war

murder in the Zambezi

Review: Vivien Horler

Murder in the Zambezi, by Ian Pringle (self published)


It was a shocking news story at the time: In September 1978 an Air Rhodesia Viscount on a flight from Kariba to Salisbury was shot down by rebels in the Zambezi Valley.

Eighteen people, including the two air hostesses, survived the crash, but their reprieve was brief. While eight of the survivors went off to seek water and help, within half an hour a group of insurgents, drawn by the flames and smoke from the burning aircraft, arrived, found 10 people huddled together, and shot them dead.

Looking back over 40 years, one has to remember Rhodesia was in the middle of a civil war, but it nevertheless seemed an act of astonishing cruelty to kill people who were injured and in shock, and who had just survived the unimaginable trauma of an air crash.

The news flashed around the world.

Ian Pringle, a pilot who was living in Rhodesia at the time, has meticulously researched this event and the second of its kind when another Viscount, also flying from Kariba, was brought down just five months later with the loss of 54 passengers and crew.

On Sunday September 3 1978 two Viscount flights were due to take off from Kariba’s tiny airport within about half an hour of each other. It was the last day of the school holidays, and many people were returning home after break at the lakeside resorts.

Once all the passengers had boarded the first flight – RH827 – there were a few seats left and these were offered to passengers due to fly on the second flight – RH825. Pringle writes that Kariba airport had a relaxed attitude to late passengers, so that if they arrived late for the first flight, they could board the second, while some passengers booked for the second flight took advantage of being at the airport early and caught the first flight.

By the time the second flight was ready to take off there were 52 people aboard, including 11 children. Several were in family groups. The last to board were a couple, Hans and Diana Hansen, who were off on the first leg of a holiday jaunt to South Africa. The only seats left were in the tail and they took them.

What neither they nor the passengers and crew of RH825 knew was that there was a group of rebels attached to Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) in the Matusadona Hills near Kariba. They were armed with heat-seeking missiles, and were waiting for the opportunity to shoot an aircraft down.

For reasons that are unclear, they either ignored the first flight, RH827, or fired and missed. But half an hour later and flying at a height of 1 600 metres, RH825 was heading straight towards their position. The missile struck the wheel bay near the edge of engine number three’s exhaust. It was 5.12pm.

Immediately First Officer Garth Beaumont radioed: “825 mayday, mayday 825, I have lost both starboard motors. We’re going in.”

Pilot John Hood spotted an old cotton field, relatively flat, and headed for it. But a drooping wingtip snagged a couple of tall trees, and then the aircraft crashed into a donga bisecting the field and caught fire.

Astonishingly, 18 people made their way out of the aircraft, although several were injured, some with broken bones. Five set off for a village they had spotted to find water, while Diana and Hans Hansen and another man went back to the aircraft to see if they could find anything that could serve as bandages and blankets. The other 10 huddled together. Within half an hour they were all dead, killed by a group of rebels who Pringle says could not have been those who shot the aircraft down, as they arrived at the crash site too quickly.

Pringle, who now lives in Cape Town, has interviewed some of the survivors and their families, as well as military and airline personnel and people who were involved in the search and rescue operations. He details how, even after the first crash, when everyone knew Zipra forces were operating in the area, aircraft in and out of Kariba made few changes to their schedules or flight paths.

Pringle is a product of his times, and South Africans who disparagingly liked to refer to white Rhodesian emigrants as “When We’s” will find a couple of slightly cringe-worthy moments in this account.

But he has written a fast-paced book that reads like a thriller and will have most readers gripped, particularly the first half.

There is an unlikely postscript. After the crashes, brass plaques listing the names of the dead were put up in the Anglican Cathedral in Salisbury, but following independence in 1980, “colonial relics” including the plaques were taken down and stored in the cathedral’s basement.

Families of the survivors found them, and today both plaques are part of a monument to the dead unveiled in 2012 in the grounds of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.

  • This review also appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday on August 19 2018


Five women go hiking in the Australian bush – only four come back

Review: Vivien Horler

Force of Nature, by Jane Harper (Little, Browne)

force of natureEvery aspiring novelist wants to be like Jane Harper.

The British-born Australian journalist decided she wanted to write a novel, but told an interviewer at the Sydney Morning Herald there was a snag: she didn’t know how to. So she signed up for an online novel-writing course in late 2014, and finished her first draft on New Year’s Eve of that year.

Seeking more feedback, she entered it in the unpublished manuscript category of the 2015 Victoria Premier’s Literary Awards – and won the $15 000 (about R150 000) prize.

Immediately interested publishers and agents were on to her, and the result was The Dry, a fast-paced and convoluted murder mystery set in a blisteringly hot, drought-stricken small Australian town. Continue reading

Poaching is the sad downside to a collection of heartwarming tales

Review: Vivien Horler

An Elephant in My Kitchen, by Françoise Malby-Anthony with Katja Willemsen (Sidgwick & Jackson/ Pan Macmillan)

elephant in my kitchenWhen you’re on a game drive out in the bush you feel as if you’re a thousand kilometres from civilisation. Just you, trees, a wide sky, perhaps an elephant or an impala in view, and space in every direction.

But the horror of poaching means that in many game reserves this is no longer the case. Thula Thula in northern KwaZulu-Natal, the reserve made famous by elephant whisperer Lawrence Anthony, bristles with hi-tech equipment and heavily armed guards.

As his widow, Françoise Malby-Anthony, writes in this sequel to his bestseller The Elephant Whisperer: “Motion detector beams now pick up the slightest movement. There are infrared night-vision cameras throughout the reserve that track activity and feed information into a cloud-based portal. If a poacher disables a camera, an alarm goes off both on-site and in an external control room.”

Despite this her book is a lovely read, with delightful descriptions of rambunctious hippo, rhino and elephant orphans bouncing around, learning how to swim in children’s paddling pools, mock-charging each other, and snuggling up together on mattresses at night.

And there is no doubt that Anthony, her late husband, would be enormously proud of her for carrying on after his sudden death after a heart attack in March 2012. Françoise was an elegant Parisienne of 33 when she met Anthony in London, and not very much later she was living with him at Thula Thula.

Not long after Françoise arrived, they took on a small herd of rogue elephants who were about to be shot, and Lawrence forged a special relationship with them, which he described in his book The Elephant Whisperer. He was a bold man who was driven by his heart, and shortly after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, he got himself to Baghdad in a wildly dangerous but mostly successful bid to save the surviving animals in Baghdad’s zoo. This adventure led to his wonderful first book, Babylon’s Ark.

When Françoise arrived at Thula Thula 30 years ago, she writes, poaching didn’t really exist. “There were no armed guards, no GPS tracking collars on rhinos, no surveillance drones flying over reserves. Being in the bush was simpler, more primitive and pure.”

As we all know, it’s not like that any more. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend at Thula Thula and interview Anthony on the subject of poaching.

Community outreach was key, he said. “Attitudes are changing – people know that animals and reserves bring in money, and people are saying why should foreigners take our rhino? There’s been a huge change in perceptions, including government perceptions.”

But in fact over the past seven years Françoise has been forced to ratchet up security, employing expensive and heavily armed professional guards to patrol their reserve and their reinforced fences. Drones over the reserve are shot down on sight.

The reserve still has two adult rhinos, Thabo and Ntombi whom we saw in 2011, but they wear GPS collars and are trailed through the bush 24/7 by guards. And since Lawrence’s death a poacher got close enough to Thabo to shoot him, although he survived.

Some years ago Françoise was able to achieve a dream and open a rescue centre on Thula Thula for orphaned animals. The centre was some distance from both Françoise’s home and the reserve lodge, and was staffed by a guard, a guard dog, and a group of young volunteers.

One night early last year in the middle of a storm, the centre was attacked by poachers who tied up the volunteers, and shot two baby rhinos for their horns, at that stage no bigger than a child’s fist. One of the babies died instantly, the other, Impi, survived the dreadful hacking of his face.

When he stared in shock at his attacker, the man put out the little animal’s eyes. Later a vet had to euthanase him.

Friends of the reserve were appalled and responded with donations of money which have been used to intensify security. It is sad to read this in the light of Anthony’s remarks back in 2011. Guns and guards could only do so much, he said, and the true way to fight poaching was to restore communities’ traditional and cultural ties with nature, ties that were destroyed by colonialism and apartheid.

But this approach doesn’t seem to have worked. Françoise writes: “What can you do against men with no fear and nothing to lose, armed to the hilt with shotguns and assault rifles? But if we don’t try, more will die.”

An Elephant in my Kitchen is not a sad book, but like most books on wildlife in Africa, it has some very sad moments. Mostly though, you read in awe about the elephants who came to the Lawrence house the weekend after Anthony died and stood there silently in apparent grief, about the antics of the baby animals, about the enthusiasm and dedication of the many people who work at Thula Thula.

Françoise has found new love, but Thula Thula remains her life. She will never give up, she says, but hold on to the dreams she and Anthony shared.

This is a wonderful book.

*A version of this review also appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday on August 5, 2018