Thursday 20 November 2014

The first official book launch of Drinking with Ghosts will be at 5.30pm for 6pm on 9 December at Il Giardino Decor restaurant, 41 Stanley Rd (opposite the 44 Stanley precinct) Milpark, JHB. Rian Malan has kindly agreed to interrogate me.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Drinking with Ghosts: Distributor's page

Title: Drinking with Ghosts

Subtitle: Revisiting Apartheid's Dirty War

Author: Michael Schmidt

ISBN: 978-1-9282-4600-8
Extent: 320 pages
Size: 216 x 138 mm
Format: Soft Cover
SA Release: November 2014
RRP: R275.00

Drinking with Ghosts: Revisiting Apartheid’s Dirty War is a fascinating exploration of the dark corners of South Africa’s past by a veteran journalist. Michael Schmidt’s revelations move from South Africa’s nuclear programme under apartheid to the problems of today’s deeply unequal society, tracing the threads of secrecy, privilege and the violence that is needed to maintain it. The book is also a testament to Schmidt’s career as a journalist: his dedicated and uncompromising quest to uncover the truth of what he finds shines through on every page.
Drinking with Ghosts illuminates both past and present and is an invaluable contribution to understanding what South Africa is today. It is also written with verve and passion and is an unputdownable read. Hamilton Wende
Now this is real journalism. Informative, authoritative, properly contextualised, exceptionally well written. Schmidt is a great storyteller with a keen eye for detail. The best 'reporter's notebook' I've ever read. Max du Preez, author of Pale Native
About the author
Michael Schmidt is an investigative journalist, anarchist militant, free press activist and published historian. Born in 1966 in Johannesburg and raised by a middle-class white family during the onset of the armed struggle and the Bush War in Southern Africa, he was drafted into the apartheid Army and served more than two years during the Insurrection. The experience – which included his accidental discovery in 1985 that the world’s last white supremacist state possessed nuclear weapons – radicalised him and he later became a conscientious objector, being forced to face a military tribunal in Pretoria in 1991 chaired by a Supreme Court judge, for refusing to serve further.
Over subsequent decades, his journalism and his activism took him “behind the curtain” of the transition in South Africa from autocracy to democracy, exploring the impact of the Cold War’s end on sub-Saharan Africa, including the continent’s war-zones, from Lesotho and Mozambique to the former Zaire and Darfur. His path lead him to challenge the dominant liberal / progressive narrative of a “peaceful transition” in the region and to substitute for that a narrative of an often-bloody, hotly-contested continuity in which Nelson Mandela’s ANC fulfilled the long-term strategic neoliberal objectives of their old apartheid enemies, and in which democratic South Africa, the world’s most unequal society, plays a sub-imperialist continental role.
He is the co-author, with Prof Lucien van der Walt, of Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (USA, 2009), and the author of Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (USA, 2013). The founder of the Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa, and of The Ulu Club for Southern African Conflict Journalists, he today directs the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, is working on an international multimedia project on massacre and memory with Lebanese writer Rasha Salti, and continues to write for the mainstream and alternative press.
Published By: Best Red (an imprint of HSRC Press)

Devil in the Detail in Outstanding Investigative Work: by Karin Rutter


By Michael Schmidt and published by BestRed

“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy” – Nelson Mandela, 1994.

 The South African press has been pushed into a precarious position by factors such as the Secrecy Bill, which pose a direct to threat to media freedom. Not since the apartheid era have journalists been faced with such a blatant attack on their right to disseminate information – particularly information relating to the state.

In this current climate, Michael Schmidt’s Drinking with Ghosts: The Aftermath of Apartheid’s Dirty War (BestRed) is a remarkable example of rigorously-researched and brave investigative journalism. The Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in South Africa, Schmidt has a respected track record as a journalist for publications including the Sunday Times and ThisDay. The book draws on his extensive experience in the field. Drinking with Ghosts unpacks and reflects on the actions, both covert and overt, carried out by the state and its operatives during the apartheid years in Southern Africa. Its specific focus is on the Dirty War as exemplified by hidden nuclear weapons, clandestine forays into neighbouring states, mass poisoning and disposal of military opponents, shady arms deals and bloody massacres.

As Schmidt says: “We need to revisit the Dirty War in Southern Africa, not only because we need to relocate it in its proper historical context, but because its defining ethic of a descent into terror by both sides left such a deep and damaging imprint on the regional psyche, despite our attempts to cloak it in a ‘Pact of Forgetting’, that to a very real extent terrorism built our democracy – which is why we tend to revert to such debased behaviour in times of crisis, as in the Marikana Massacre of 34 miners by police in 2012.”

The book is divided into five parts.
Unhale Radiance: The African Atomic Bomb looks at South Africa’s relationship to nuclear arms, from its denial of their existence during the 1980s through to the curious connection between nuclear weapons dealers and South Africa in current times.
A Funny Smell: Biochem War and the Death Squads revisits the role the apartheid state played in the elimination of political enemies, particularly through individuals such as “Dr Death” - WouterBasson – and Dirk Coetzee, the notorious Vlakplaas death squad commander.
The Long Shadow: Exporting War … and Peace explores the role South Africa played in the Bush War in Angola from 1966 to 1989, as well as the country’s subsequent role as “regional arbiter for evil … or perhaps even for good” as Schmidt puts it.
Forensic Meditations: Massacre and Memory takes a hard and often painful look at massacres in South Africa and further afield, such as Rwanda, as well as political assignations, xenophobic murders and “dirty tricks” killings.
Epitaph: Breaking our Pact of Forgetting looks at “paper holocausts” and how to access the archives of apartheid memory, ending with a comparison of liberation movements and state responses in countries such as Argentina and Uruguay.
The book is bookended by a Forward and a last reflective Coda structured around the death of PW Botha.

Part of what makes the book so immensely readable is its stylistic sense of immediacy, so that even sections that date back ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago read as though they are happening right now. This, plus Schmidt’s absolutely impeccable eye for detail, from descriptions of dangerous characters to complicated military stats, make Drinking with Ghosts: The Aftermath of Apartheid’s Dirty War (BestRed) an irresistible read.
Extremely relevant to journalists in the investigative field (as an outstanding guide, as well as a great read), and also easily accessible and engrossing to those with an interest in South Africa’s socio-political history and present, Schmidt has produced an important book that not only uncovers a lot of dirty linen, but places it within a fascinating context. 


Tuesday 4 November 2014

Drinking with Ghosts: Contents

              Ch1: The terrorist impulse of Dirty War
Part 1: Unhale radiance: the African atomic bomb
              Ch2: Seeking the Holy of Holies
              Ch3: The rogue proliferators
              Coda: Temptation of the spooks
Part 2: A funny smell: biochemwar and the death squads
              Ch4: A bone-deep chill
              Ch5: The chemistry set
              Ch6: Plausible deniability: proxy war
              Coda: Birds of a feather
Part 3: The long shadow: exporting war... and peace
              Ch7: The chief is dead: dividends of the Bush War
              Ch8: Neighbourhood bully... or bravo?
              Ch9: Terrorists and horseshoes
              Coda: Springboard
Part 4: Forensic meditations: massacre and memory
              Ch10: Murder at arm's length
              Ch11: Murder up close
              Ch12: Let this cup pass
              Ch13: Homegrown homicide
              Coda: Homecoming
Part 5: Epitaph: Breaking our Pact of Forgetting
              Ch14: Drums of bones
              Ch15: Paper Holocaust
              Coda: The daylight or the ghosts

Written in Cement

It was great to take part in the Fringe of the Joburg Festival 2014 on 2 October at Il Giardino, the inaugural "Written in Cement: Joburg Authors Telling their Stories" hosted by Rian Malan, talking about Drinking with Ghosts alongside fellow scribblers Kleinboer, Richard Jurgens, Harry Kalmer and Jassy Mackenzie.