Monthly Archives: July 2022

Courage and grit: one man’s quest to save SA’s rhino

Review: Vivien Horler

Rhino War – A general’s bold strategy in the Kruger National Park, by Johan Jooste with Tony Park (Macmillan)

News of the death of Timbavati head ranger Anton Mzimba on Tuesday resonated more with me than it might have had I not just finished this book.

Mzimba, described as a rhino warrior who had worked at Timbavati for 25 years, was shot outside his home in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. Tributes poured in, including from the UK’s Prince William, and Helping Rhinos, a UK and US-based rhino charity.

A statement from Timbavati said: “Those …working with him will know how he dedicated his life to what he believed in, fighting for a species which has no voice of its own.”

Having read of Johan Jooste’s fight against rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park, I am sure he is devastated by the news. Continue reading

Bedside Table for July

These books have landed on my desk in the past few weeks. The first four are from Exclusive Books’ top 25 reads for July. Some will be reviewed in full later.

Rhino War, by Major General (Ret) Johan Jooste with Tony Park (Pan Macmillan)

What attracted me to this book was the name of the co-author, Tony Park, author of 19 thrillers set in Africa and a former Australian soldier. So I was pretty sure Rhino Wars would read well, and it does.

In 2012 Johan Jooste, a retired SA general, was taken on by SANparks in a bid to change the Kruger Park rangers into a paramilitary force to turn the tide on the tsunami of rhino poaching.

Traditionally rangers kept an eye on the animals, mended fences, got rid of alien plants and manned the park gates. But the scale of poaching at the time meant rangers were spending something like 95% of their time going after poachers. Something radical had to be done if rhinos were to survive as a species.

And so in came Jooste, with a wealth of military and organisatioal experience to turn things around. It wasn’t easy: many were suspicious of his apartheid SA military baggage, he was in his 60s, his rangers were angry at their treatment by SANparks, and the rhinos were still dying.

I’ve not got very far into this book yet, but it has certainly caught my attention.

The Twyford Code, by Janice Hallett (Viper)

In her acknowledgements Janice Hallett says it is entirely due to the fact Enid Blyton fell out of favour as a children’s author that she became a reader. “If no one had sent their Famous Five books to the 3rd Northolt Scout jumble sale in the 1970s, I would never have picked them up and taken them back to a home with no other books in it…”

This is a strange whodunnit – really strange and occasionally ridiculous – which has at its centre a late famous children’s author called Edith Twyford (Enid Blyton/Edith Twyford, geddit?). Years later schoolboy Steven Smith finds a copy of one of her books with its margins full of strange markings and notes. He shows the book to his teacher, Miss Iles, who is convinced that the story is an elaborate code to revealing some of Britain’s wartime secrets.

Miss Iles takes a small group of children, including Steven, on a trip to see Twyford’s home in Dorset, and during the trip she disappears, an event that haunts all the children for years.

Steven falls in with a bad crowd, and eventually serves time for murder. After his release he decides to find out what happened to Miss Iles, and believes his original copy of the book holds the key. But Steven isn’t the only one looking for the book, and the others are really nasty pieces of work.

I kept wanting to put The Twyford Code down, but was intrigued despite myself. I read it to the remarkable twist at the end.

This Rebel Heart, by Katherine Locke (Alfred A Knopf)

This looks like a magnificent novel, set in the Communist Hungary of the 1950s. Csilla lives in Budapest, beside the Duna River. The river helped keep the family safe during the Holocaust, but afterwards, when the Russians came, the Communists seized power and Csilla’s parents were murdered by the secret police. She did not understand then how her father had been behind the destruction of other families.

Now Csilla is planning to leave Hungary, but as she is about to go her parents are exonerated of their crimes. This leads to protests across the city, and even talk of a revolution.

Should she stay and help fight for what she believes in, or go and put her past behind her?

In a review of This Rebel Heart, the author Rosalyn Eves says: “A moving, magical story that asks hard questions: how do we love imperfect people and places? What is the cost of change – and complacency?”

Questions that might well resonate with many South Africans.

Bloomsbury Girls, by Natalie Jenner (Allison & Busby Ltd)

This is not yet another novel about the Bloomsbury Group – it’s about a London bookshop called Bloomsbury Books, and three of the women who work there.

It’s an old shop and has always been run by men, but after the devastation of World War II things have been shaken up a bit.

The cover blurb says: “One bookshop.  Fifty-one rules.  Three women who break them all.”

As the women do their thing, they interact with literary figures of the day, such as Daphne du Maurier, Samuel Beckett and Peggy Guggenheim.

One shout on the cover promises that fans of 84 Charing Cross Road “will be delighted”. I think it looks great.

Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail/ Jonathan Ball)

Booth is by the author of the bestseller We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which was a fascinating and entertaining novel with an extraordinary twist.

Booth is historical fiction, and the Booth of the title is John Wilkes, who famously shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s theatre in Washington DC on April 14 1865, days after the end of the American Civil War.

Much earlier in the century Junius Booth, an English Shakespearean actor, brought his flower seller bride to a log cabin on a farm in Maryland, where she spent most of her time either pregnant or breast-feeding, while Junius was on the road or on the stage.

There were 10 children in all, of whom six survived to adulthood, and all had to learn how to emerge from the power of their domineering father.  John Wilkes, a Confederate sympathiser who also became an actor, chose his own way and changed the course of American history.

This novel has been described as Karen Joy Fowler’s finest, and one that is a “devastating meditation on how the USA arrived at this troubled point in its present history…”

Elon Musk – Risking it all, by Michael Vlismas (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

It was Buzz Lightyear who said: “To infinity, and beyond,” the line that echoed through author Michael Vlismas’s head during the writing of this book.

In a shout on the cover by celebrated SA journalist Toby Shapshak, he asks: “How did a bullied, introverted Pretoria schoolboy become the world’s richest person and arguably humanity’s greatest change agent? Vlismas’s extensively researched biography does a great job of unwrapping Elon Musk’s remarkable life story.”

With his achievements of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX and his current fight with Twitter, Musk is hardly ever out of the headlines. While without doubt he’s a brilliantly inventive man, he often seems to be cloth-eared and cheerfully ignorant of others’ sensibilities. Maybe that’s the source of what makes him outstanding, if occasionally something of a buffoon.

Witnessing – From the Rwandan tragedy to healing in South Africa, by Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase (Kwela)

In December 2006 Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase was in Cape Town for a Christmas gathering of Mandela-Rhodes scholarship holders to meet Nelson Mandela.

It would be hard to imagine he was the same person as the 14-year-old Kigali schoolboy who watched as a soldier pointed his gun at his mother, preparing to shoot.

In this book he describes his ghastly experiences during the genocide in Rwanda, his preparations to flee to Canada, losing all his money and ending up as a car guard in Durban.

He was determined to get on, though, enrolled at university and won the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship.

He is now the founder and director of PEM Afurika, a management consulting company that aims to make businesses more human for staff, customers and other stakeholders.

This is his story.




‘Motions of the soul’ to beat the odds on Everest

Review: Vivien Horler

The Moth and the Mountain – A true story of love, war and Everest, by Ed Caesar (Penguin Books)

There is something magnificent about the doomed man at the centre of this book, the Englishman Maurice Wilson.

In the early 1930s, Wilson decided to be the first man to summit Everest. And he planned to do it alone, unsupported and without oxygen.

His idea was to fly from the UK to Tibet to the base of the highest mountain in the world, and then climb it.

The fact he had never climbed a mountain, had never flown an aircraft, and that Tibet was barred to foreigners, did not deter him.

He had seen hardship in his life. In April 1918, sixteen years before he reached Everest, he had been a 20-year-old officer with the 1/5 West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) at the battle of Wytschaete – known to British troops as White Sheet. Continue reading

Rich novel explores the lives and fears of the sons of fighters

Review: Vivien Horler

The Long Road from Kandahar, by Sara MacDonald (HarperCollins)

This novel is dedicated to the men and women who fought in Britain’s Operation Herrick, Afghanistan, between 2002 and 2014.

Operation Herrick was the code name for the British military operations in Afghanistan in that period. More than 450 British military personnel died and untold more were injured.

And of course that was just on the British side.

The war between the West and the Taliban is the strong backdrop to this story, but the main narrative centres on an unlikely friendship between two young boys, Finn, whose family roots are in England’s Cornwall, and Raza, who lives in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Continue reading

The reviled British bureaucrat who helped shape South Africa

Review: Archie Henderson

Milner: Last of the Empire Builders, by Richard Steyn (Jonathan Ball)

It’s tempting to compare the South Africa of 1902 (not yet a united state) with the country almost a hundred years later in 1994. In both cases the people had emerged from traumatic events: in the first from war and in the second from apartheid.

In both cases, the nation was in need of urgent repair; there had been physical and human devastation across the land. When the Boer War (South African War, Anglo-Boer War) ended, the earth had been scorched and thousands of women and children confined to unsanitary camps where disease killed tens of thousands. Many thousands of black people also died in British camps. At the end of apartheid, millions who had been denied their basic rights, and forced into urban and rural ghettoes needed to be uplifted and granted equality and the illusion of freedom. Continue reading

‘I want to die like a dog’

Review: Vivien Horler

The Price of Mercy – a fight for the right to die with dignity, by Sean Davison (Melinda Ferguson Books)

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

It is fitting to start this review with a Tutu quote, as his name comes up many times in Sean Davison’s book, usually as a source of comfort and inspiration.

Davison certainly needed the comfort because he faced a strong likelihood of getting three life sentences for murder, but I think the necessary inspiration came from his own resolution.

In the epilogue to this moving and gripping memoir he says, in an echo of Tutu’s words: “I could have chosen to do nothing, but doing nothing is in fact doing something – it is choosing to turn a blind eye and thereby condoning the suffering.”

Davison is a UWC professor of biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape, and the man who famously helped his terminally ill mother die in New Zealand in 2010. There he was convicted of assisted suicide and given five months’ house arrest. Continue reading