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New Contrast

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Four from New Contrast 145

New Contrast 145


Freedom was on special
I bought it
I didn’t get a receipt
Now it doesn’t fit.

– Phelelani Makhanya


Two prominent figures in South African letters have died recently. Don Maclennan passed away a few days ago and too late to include an obituary in this issue. That will be rectified in the next by Douglas Reid Skinner. The Sunday Times published an obituary on 22 February. You can also read one on-line at BOOK SA.

The other is David Philip. His on-line obituary is also at BOOK SA.

The first issue of the year is another bumper one. It includes the final part of Silke Heiss’ verse novel, The Griffin Elegy and other lovely treasures. I am hoping we will obtain funds to publish a special issue of Silke’s complete novel.

Microsoft and I worked closely together to spoil the presentation of Haidee Kruger’s poem in the last issue. I’ve had another shot at it – reproduced for your entertainment in this.

This is the third year and the ninth issue of New Contrast that I have edited. It seems a lot, and it is if you don’t have much help or support. I’ve been lucky. The board of SA Literary Journal as a group and individually have been wonderful, Gus Ferguson has been friend and mentor – many others have encouraged and helped me: Jo-Anne Friedlander, Olufemi Terry, Charl-Pierre Naudé, Liesl Jobson, Karin Schimke and several others have written and emailed me. But above all, Sonja Wilker, my partner and lover, has made it possible for me to enjoy this new horizon.

The campaign to recruit subscribers continues. We’ve had some success in that over the last year subscriber numbers have nearly doubled. We are making progress but are not yet close to our objectives which would go a long way towards assuring the financial health of the journal. I hope, particularly if you are a contributor, that you do subscribe and if possible encourage others to.

Please send me electronic copies of your work. I never have time to transcribe from paper to MS Word. If you have no access to a PC at an Internet Café, I will still read your stuff, but your chances of being published are significantly reduced.

Send me a separate document for each piece of work: I want five documents if you send me five poems: zip them together. If you have no access to MS Word, use Open Office (which is free –, or any other text writer, such as Notepad, or send me an RTF. Make sure your name, postal address, email address and telephone number are on every page of the document: use the footer in MS Word to record the information. Make sure you complete the Properties tab in the document. Send me a brief biography: it can be as formal or not as you like. I will edit it. Feedback: send me a letter by email or snail, but preferably the former.

Interesting comments or suggestions I will publish. Reviewers: I receive books for review regularly. If you would like to write a review, let me know. At this stage, I cannot pay you beyond the two free copies of the magazine every contributor should receive.

I monitor conversations on this blog regularly. And, of course, you can email the editor at or the business manager at



Contributors to New Contrast 145

Phelelani Makhanya, Peter Horn, Johan Geldenhuys, Oliver Findlay Price, Kevin Dean Hollinshead, Jeanne Hromnik, Geoffrey Haresnape, Gail Dendy, Gus Ferguson, Richard Alan Bunch, Chris Mann, Danie van Jaarsveld, Rosemund Handler, Terence Beney, Mark Robertson, Kobus Moolman, Shaista Justin, Consuelo Roland, Louis Kamfer, Jenna Mervis, Alex Halligey, Ian Tromp, Eugene Dubnov, Joan Metelerkamp, Mzi Mahola, Andie Miller, Lauren Kirsten, Lionel Murcott, Marilyn Keegan, Tim Ngqungwana, Haidee Kruger, Gillian Gimberg, Silke Heiss

Cover painting: Karoo lady by Thandi Sliepen


Three more from New Contrast 145

Some Advice to Young Women who would Work for Others

Working for others sucks.
Actually it’s much like sucking a lime
it has that same astringent, purifying, terrifying aspect
much like Satanism and a sacrificed maiden in the park
or meeting a witch alone in the forest dark.

Get used to it.
Every gold coin has a tin face
on the flip side, keep looking over your shoulder,
competition rules,
through somebody else’s prism
nothing is quite as you imagined;.
The Company a monochrome cocoon of
grey silken
with workers
into its
like incubated

Don’t listen to anyone. Unless it’s someone who wishes you ill. Everyone else will get it wrong. They’ll talk you up grand with their expectations or they’ll huff and puff when you’re drowning and look the other way as you slowly float away. Listen to me. Paint lips or loosen phlegm or buff nails or write jingles, so long as you can watch kids come home through an open window or hear a bird of paradise sing on its roost or drink mango-flavoured tea, so long as it thrills you and the air is fresh and clean.

Consuelo Roland


Nomaswazi’s Breast

They remind me of sunflowers
In my grandmother’s field
In the early hours of morning
Before summer sunlight

Even though their milk has fed
And raised a child
They are round as apples
Nipples point forward as a Zulu spear
During the times of Ushaka

When they are wet
They charge at me as a young bull
In a mating season

If I squeeze them
They bring out pearls and diamonds
Flowers and bright coloured butterflies
That fill the land

If I squeeze them
They bring out waterfalls
Sunsets and sunrises

If I tease them
They smile, laugh and dance before my eyes

If I peel them
Inside they are sweet and delicious
To my tongue as a watermelon

They remind me of those virgins
In KwaZuluNatal and Swaziland

In between them
I sleep the sleep of a baby
Ummm. Nomaswazi.

– Tim Ngqungwana


from “Portrait of a Writer: Henrietta Rose-Innes

Henrietta Rose-Innes has a deceptive candour. It is a writerly thing. Writers strive to tell the truth but they edit themselves continuously in the process. They know they can never tell the whole truth.

Henrietta had returned the day before from the UK where it was announced – at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on 7 July 2008 – that she was the winner of the 2008 Caine Prize for African Writing. She didn’t look very different. A little serious, perhaps. As befits one who has just received a substantial amount of money. And has survived ‘a week of activities for the candidates, including book readings, book signings and press opportunities’. (That’s how Wikipedia describes the week’s programme for those on the Caine shortlist.)

Henrietta’s press opportunities included an interview with BBC News, an article in the Guardian and another in the Economist. The latter linked her winning story, ‘Poison’ with Sir Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which a 2008 international readers’ poll had recently named the best novel ever to win the Man Booker. The article, headlined ‘Apocalypse Now’, justified its gloomy conclusions by describing the 2008 Caine Prize winning entry as ‘a creepy short story’. The prize, named in memory of a former chairman of Booker plc, Sir Michael Caine, is sometimes called the African Booker.

‘I had a bit of an inkling it [‘Poison’] might win,’ Henrietta told the Guardian’s male interviewer (who described her as ‘strikingly self possessed’). ‘I was shortlisted last year [for her story ‘Bad Places’] and I had a feeling I had more of a chance this year. I was really pleased with the story. I’d worked on it over a long time and it’s a good example of what I can do.’

The usual British etiquette for prize winners, according to the Guardian, is ‘to bashfully express how amazingly amazed they are to have walked off with the laurels before hastening to credit a hundred helpers.’ African writers are different. Henrietta, at any rate.

Henrietta is a lazy writer – in a way. In a preface to a beautiful little piece, ‘All creatures great and small’, published by New Africa Books in 2005 in an anthology entitled Leaves to a Tree, she wrote, ‘I find writing quite laborious. The only way I can trick myself into producing a big chunk of text is to slam out whatever comes to me, as fast as possible, without looking at the laptop screen. … I am not one of those people driven to rise at 4 a.m., bursting with a flood of words. Nor am I woken at night by the disembodied voices of my characters, demanding to have their stories told. I am lazy and easily distracted. But I am also an obsessive self-editor, going over and over a piece a thousand times, fiddling and weeding out the bad bits.’

‘Poison’ was also published by New Africa Books – in an anthology (African Pens, Spearhead, Cape Town) of the best stories submitted in a short story competition in 2007. Sadly for some, ‘Poison’ won that too. It was the winner of the 2007 HSBC/Pen Literary Award, the final adjudication of which was performed by JM Coetzee. Only previously published work may be submitted for the Caine Prize and the submission must be done by the publisher.

The intention of the Caine Prize is to promote African writing. ‘Whatever helps the literature of Africa enriches the literature of the world.’ This statement of Ben Okri’s (he was the chairman of the 2000 adjudication panel) is used as a banner on the Caine website. This year’s chairman was Jude Kelly, artistic director of London’s Southbank Centre, who was joined on the judging panel by the Jamaican poet and professor of English, Mark McMorris, Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, Eritrean-born Guardian journalist Hannah Pool and South African poet, novelist and lecturer Jonty Driver.

The Caine prize is supported by the four African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature acting as patrons: Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, Naguib Mahfouz and JM Coetzee.

So, what is African writing? Is Henrietta an African writer?

‘What else can I be?’ she asks. Born and bred in Cape Town, all her writing is informed by her life experience, which is inextricable from the landscape in which it happened. It has become increasingly clear to her that her writing comes from Cape Town, where she has always lived. ‘All stories,’ she says, ‘come from a place.’

– Jeanne Hromnik


Recent comments:

  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    March 19th, 2009 @12:27 #

    Good on you Hugh, and here's to continued enjoyment of your 'new horizon'. Looking forward to reading NC 145, doing SA poetry/writing proud.


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