Monthly Archives: September 2020

You don’t need isiZulu when making a Zulu movie – but it helps

Review: Vivien Horler

Starlite Memories – Misadventures in moviemaking, by Dov Fedler (Tafelberg)

What is the Zulu word for “furtive”?

This is one of the first challenges Dov Fedler confronts when he begins to direct a shoestring budget movie for black audiences called Timer Joe Part 3.

Fedler speaks no Zulu, but on the first day of filming in downtown Joburg, he is informed by the producer, the gum-chewing Moe Mankowitz, that the cast must be addressed only in that language. This is one of the terms of the subsidy given by the apartheid government to movie makers for the black market.

The year is 1983 and it is a long time before Google, so Fedler can’t look up “furtive”. He asks Moe if he can speak isiZulu. Moe chews harder and responds: “Do I look as if I speak Zulu?” Continue reading

Fine dining in the bush by legendary restaurateur


Review: Myrna Robins

Out of an African Kitchen, by Nicky Fitzgerald (Struik Lifestyle)

It couldn’t have come at a better time. As lockdown lifts and international travel beckons, it’s wonderful to receive a cookbook for review that is not only physically alluring, but offers a welcome glimpse of life on a luxurious safari lodge, perfectly perched on the edge of the Great Rift Valley overlooking the renowned Maasai Mara game reserve.

As we absorb the difficulties of producing great food in the Kenyan bush, we  admire the enthusiasm and skills of an impressive team of chefs, and drool over a fine treasury of recipes.

Angama Mara was the latest in a series of well known hotel and restaurant ventures. Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald presided over the rebuilding of the Arniston Hotel, and then Blues Restaurant on the Camps Bay beachfront, followed by the Bay Hotel.

Five years ago the Fitzgeralds launched Angama Mara, but two years later Steve died a month after having a heart transplant. Nicky has kept the flag flying, feeding her international guests with fine fare that isn’t fancy. Using her experience of more than two decades of catering, Nicky decided that culinary focus should be on authenticity… “less fancy imported ingredients, more locally grown. Less drizzles, gels and foams… less ego in the kitchen…”

Vegetables are sourced from the Kenyan highlands, tropical fruits from the coast, freshwater fish from Lake Victoria, honey delivered in five-litre buckets from local beekeepers. Menus make full use of indigenous Arab-inspired Swahili dishes from the coast and Indian cuisine from the large community that has called Kenya home for generations. A kitchen garden enables guests to pick their own ingredients and toss their own salads for lunch. At the other end of the gastronomic spectrum Angama caters happily for vegan, gluten-free and low sodium recipes, adapts meals to cope with food allergies, makes sure that exotic ingredients – think sumac, za’atar and almond milk – are stocked. Continue reading

Finding your voice

Vivien Horler

RW Johnson

A writer’s voice – that’s a tricky subject to tackle or even define.

Voice is the subject of the seventh module of the non-fiction writing course I’m doing under the auspices of crime writer, memoirist and biographer Mike Nicol. And even he, vastly experienced writer that he is, has some difficulty pinning down the concept of “voice”.

“What do we mean when we talk about a writer’s voice and how does this affect your writing? And then if I go on to say that this voice is largely dependent on the tone of your prose, you might say, enough now.”

Well, quite. Voice and tone, he says, are the building blocks of style.

“Voice” is the voice of someone with something to say about the world. It’s hard to figure out one’s own voice – the module assignment was to find a piece of our own writing and then analyse it.

But perhaps it’s easier when you’re reading someone else’s non-fiction. I was mildly affronted by the preface of commentator RW Johnson’s latest book Foreign Native. He had, he says, written and published, in London, a memoir about his time at Oxford University.

He then suggested his local publisher, Jonathan Ball, might like to bring out a South African edition.

This is the sentence that got me: “Jonathan read the book and liked it, but felt that Oxford was too far away from the usually more parochial concerns of South African readers.”

Well, that puts us japies in our place.

So far in the course, titled Writing Reality, we have looked at how to write stories, how to introduce characters (and make them characters), how to describe current events, how to draft scenes, and – importantly – how to write dialogue. Dialogue is what brings writing and characters to life. Or as Tom Wolfe puts it (as quoted in Nicol’s course notes: “…realistic dialogue involves the reader more completely than any other single device. It also establishes and defines character more quickly and effectively than any other single device”.

Back to voice. It emerges, says Nicol, from tone, lexicon and grammar. Sentence length is important. Voice and tone create style.

It’s all a touch nebulous – but I can recognise it when I see it, in RW Johnson’s writing at any rate. And what is Johnson’s voice?  It is smug, that’s what it is.

* For more information on Nicol’s courses (which include a fiction writing course, see or email him on






Zimbabwean activist and writer makes Booker 2020 shortlist

Vivien Horler

Tsitsi Dangarembga

So Hilary Mantel is not going to make history by winning the Booker Prize three times.

I’m a bit disappointed – I thought all three novels about Thomas Cromwell: Wolf  Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light, were absorbing, often terrifying and utterly brilliant.

Not even to get on to the shortlist for the 2020 Booker! I think she wuz robbed.

But thriller writer Lee Child, who was on the panel of judges, was quoted in The Guardian saying of The Mirror & the Light: “It is an absolutely wonderful novel, there’s no question about it. It’s a trilogy which will live forever. But as good as it was, there were some books which were better.”

Another two international novelists whose books failed to make the cut were Anne Tyler with Redhead by the Side of the Road, and Colum McCann for Apeirogon.

But closer to home, acclaimed Zimbabwean writer and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga is in with a chance to win the prize for her for This Mournable Body.  This is the third in a trilogy which includes Nervous Conditions (1988), named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world, and The Book of Not, published in 2006. Continue reading

Clever columnist turns up the heat

Review: Vivien Horler

Is it Me or is it Getting Hot in Here? Great expectations and boiling frogs in South Africa.  By Tom Eaton (Tafelberg)

I worry about Tom Eaton’s blood pressure.

He’s a delightfully clever columnist and commentator, usually spot on, nuanced and often hilarious. Here’s an example, taken from his column in Times Select on Friday, September 11.

Referring to the disaster that is municipal politics in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), he says the appalling former mayor Mongameli Bobani managed “to achieve what almost no other politician in modern SA has, uniting the ANC, DA, ACDP, Cope, AIC and Patriotic Alliance in a motion of no confidence”.

The EFF however abstained from the vote, “perhaps because it had already flip-flopped several times that morning and was afraid of putting out its back”. Continue reading

Culinary legacy of the old SAR & H

Review: Vivien Horler

Loves & Miracles of Pistola, by Hilary Prendini Toffoli (Penguin)

For more than 60 years people have been flocking to La Perla Restaurant, first in the city centre and since 1969 in Sea Point.

Its existence – and that of many other Italian restaurants in South Africa – springs from a strange and almost forgotten episode in South Africa history, one exploited by journalist, food writer and now novelist Hilary Prendini Toffoli.

In the prologue to the delightful Loves & Miracles of Pistola, she explains that in the 1950s in apartheid South Africa, the SA Railways had a problem. They needed stewards for their long-distance passenger train service, which in those days criss-crossed the country and took travellers into neighbouring countries too. Continue reading