Thursday 2 November 2017

Distilling the Vision

The acknowledgements page in any book concentrates the writer's mind in recalling that writing is not at all the lonely task it is made out to be, but that scores of people contribute to the distillation of vision. Here is the text from that page in Drinking with Ghosts (2014):

I want to thank my publishers at BestRed, Jeremy Wightman
and Fiona Wakelin, for getting excited about the original
idea, my editor Karen Press for her many and sterling
improvements, and former Military Intelligence officer Lt-Col
Danie Crowther for his fact-checking. A book of this scope,
which simultaneously covers my country’s transition and my
own personal evolution, naturally owes much to those who
have assisted my research, so heartfelt thanks is due to my
beloved archivists, unsung heroes of the preservation of our
national memory, especially Michelle Leon of the Times Media
Group, and Zeenath Ismail of Independent Newspapers
– as well as Kashiefa Ajam of Saturday Star and Noor-Jehan
Yoro-Badat of The Star. I’m especially indebted to journaliststurned-
writers Rian Malan, Julian Rademeyer and Tony
Wende for their invaluable critiques of my text.
I would not have become the rather maverick journalist
I did if not for my mentors, so I recognise the contributions of
my first news editor, the late Joe Mulraney of The Natal Mercury,
who taught me that the foundation of my craft lay in paying
attention to detail; my third news editor, Shami Harichunder,
who showed me the bridge still to be crossed; and my quiet
friend Philani Mgwaba who had lost almost his whole family
to internecine fighting in Zululand, yet helped me cross
that bridge, sitting with a quart of Black Label between my
knees, listening to the Umlazi Gospel Choir in black tie raise
the roof of a shed in rural Ixopo – its loveliness famed in Cry
the Beloved Country; my fourth news editor, the late George
Mahabeer, who was the quintessential street-smart, socially
connected journalist; and I am especially indebted to Jocelyn
Maker, who founded the Sunday Times Investigations Unit,
and who panel-beat me into the investigative journalist I am
today. I have attempted here to credit my colleagues for their
contributions to my work, but there are those who make the
headlines sing, yet whose bylines do not appear in the records;
to my scores of wonderful, unsung subs, this is for you!
There are others who, in blazing trails through the bleak
wildernesses of massacre and memory, set the benchmark
for my efforts, and whom I have had the privilege to meet:
Antjie Krog who walked the Truth Commission’s trail of
tears for all of us, interlocuting the enormity of our crimes
in her Country of My Skull; Ariel Dorfman of Chile, who so
accurately inscribed to me his book on exile, longing, loss
and belonging, Feeding on Dreams: ‘this book, that could be
about South Africa’; indefatigable, gentlemanly anarchist
revolutionary Octavio Alberola Suriñach, whose campaign
to try to break Spain’s ‘Pact of Forgetting’ the horrors of the
Franco era dovetails with my project of recovering memory
in Southern Africa; and Rasha Salti of Lebanon, whose own
penetrating forensic meditations on her country’s transition
in Beirut Bereft resonated so immediately with my own
musings on our haunted condition as I wrote this book. I
have not met writer and consummate forensic journalist Gitta
Sereny, but her unflinching and yet nuanced interrogation of
the aftermath of the Nazi era, The German Trauma, was the
inspiration for this book.
Lastly there are those thousands of ‘ordinary’ people
I have interviewed in my career, especially those I have
quoted here in the text, many of whom I’m sure you
will agree are quite extraordinary. We journalists have no
authority to force interviewees to speak to us; we rely merely
on our reputations for fair dealing, so a profound thank you
is owed to all, villains and virtuous ones alike, who trusted
me enough to tell me a little of their personal truths; I trust I
have been fair to you. There are many others who may remain
unnamed, but to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for the way
I came to see the world: the fierce, such as anti-apartheid
fighter Rica Hodgeson, secretary to Walter Sisulu, who in
her eighties once told me that those whites who didn’t want
to live alongside blacks in Hillbrow as she did ‘can just
fuck off!’; the passionate, such as bag lady Doreen Gunn,
whose infectious, all-consuming love for the lost drove me
to walk the streets of the East Rand for five months on an
investigation; and the lost themselves, such as the sad whore
on whose thin pink crocheted bedspread in her tiny Albert
Park apartment with the rickety dressing table we used to lie
fully clothed and speak of dreams – until she lit her Mandrax
pipe and it was time for me to go; and my debonair friend
and former photographer Anton Hammerl, killed by Gaddafi
loyalist troops outside Brega during the Libyan Civil War on
5 April 2011, who used to sing me songs by psychobilly band
The Cramps on our many long journeys behind the curtain.
Of course, I need to issue the amateur historian’s caveat:
while I have striven to be as fair and accurate as possible,
any errors of fact or interpretation are my own. I do,
however, recognise the difference between what the French
term verité (truth) and veracité (veracity): both the journalist
and the historian have as their task the search for veracity
rather than truth, for there are many truths, yet it is out of
verifiable, established facts that the strands of different,
sometimes competing, sometimes complementary, and often
illuminating truths emerge. I trust that readers will take
away with them new nuances to their personal truths about
my country’s past, and thus, its future.