Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Modjaji Books

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Notes from the Launch of Jane Katjavivi’s Undisciplined Heart

Undisciplined HeartJane Katjavivi launched her memoir, Undisciplined Heart, in Namibia earlier this month. Here is her launch speech – along with the introductory remarks by Becky Ndjoze-Ojo:

Remarks by Jane Katjavivi at the launching of her memoir, Undisciplined Heart Studio 77, Windhoek, 8 June 2010

Distinguished guests,


I would like to thank you for coming today. I am honoured by your presence and honoured to welcome you tonight as friends to celebrate the launching of my memoir Undisciplined Heart.

I would like to take you back to early 2004, when I was living in Brussels, a few months after we had moved there for my husband to take up his post as Namibian Ambassador.

We were living in the Namibian residence – a huge house surrounded by tall trees. I had made one of the bedrooms into a study for myself and I sat at my desk by the window one morning and started to write. It was winter time and it was raining. I want to read to you what I wrote then.

Rain again, slanting across the window in thick sheets, pounding down on to the soaked dark earth that looks as if it is already oozing. The lawn, a huge green sponge, beautiful to look at but treacherous to step on. The trees push up past the window, outlined against the surreal bright grey of the sky. I cannot see their tops, only the trunks swaying and leaning far over as the wind bears down upon them. Twigs fly past and add to those already scattered over the drive. Crows caw loudly. The wind circles the house. It has been like this for days.

Rain, wind, snow that melts before it can be enjoyed, a few shafts of weak sunlight that filter through the trees but disappear as soon as I venture outside to claim them: these are the seasonal markings of my northern exile. I have known such winters long ago but am no longer adapted to them. My eyes have become accustomed to bright light and an ever-present sun, my skin to desert winds. I have landed in the heart of Europe in a beautiful, historic city. My husband is with me. My daughter is with me. Yet I yearn for the land that I have come to call my own, and the women who became my sisters.

This was how I started to write the book we are launching tonight, Undisciplined Heart. I didn’t really know what it was that I was writing. I wrote little pieces over many months, remembering things that were important to me and trying to make sense of my situation. I needed to explore my relationship with Namibia and our unexpected move into diplomatic life. I needed to hold my friends whom I had left behind in Windhoek close to me and gain comfort from them. I needed most of all to make sense of the deaths of three very close friends in the year before, and my own serious heart problems – which are reflected in the title of the book.

At first, I thought I would focus on my friends, a group of wonderful women with whom I breakfasted each Friday. I took myself back to Windhoek in my mind and saw them in the morning getting ready for the day. This became the opening of the book. I tried to write in the third person and create a novel that would tell the stories of these women, but truth is stronger than fiction and the sequence of some of the events didn’t seem believable. Then I tried to write this story using pseudonyms to protect the people I talk about, but Namibia is such a small society that we all know each other and it didn’t make sense.

So in the end I wrote in the first person and used the real names of my family and friends, and this became a memoir. I built it up over five years, going back into the past and also bringing it up to date by writing about our diplomatic life as we lived it, about my ongoing struggles with my health, and my emotional and spiritual journey.

In 2009, I sent the manuscript to various publishers in South Africa. Two expressed some interest. One of these was Modjaji Books, a new publishing imprint set up in 2007 by Colleen Higgs, who had run the Community Publishing Project at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town for seven years, and was involved in helping writers develop and publish their work through community and self-publishing ventures. She established Modjaji Books to publish the writings of women in Southern Africa. The name ‘Modjaji’ is the Sotho word for rain queen and Colleen liked the idea of being a rain-maker for women writers. She believes that ‘publishing is an arena that directly contributes to the shaping of culture, changing minds, offering new ways of being in the world’.

Under the Modjaji imprint, Colleen has published an award winning novel, Whiplash, and several volumes of poetry. This year, she has already added anthologies of short stories by different writers, a collection of short stories by one author, and Undisciplined Heart.

Last year, Colleen sent my manuscript to an editor, and I received one of those letters that editors send, saying: ‘I really like your manuscript, but there is still a lot of work to be done.’ It’s the sort of letter I used to send to authors when I was publishing myself. Now I know what it’s like to receive one. It’s disheartening and difficult. But the editor was right about my manuscript, and she guided me through an intense four-month process of rewriting and developing it further. ‘Tell me what you felt,’ she said. ‘What were you wearing?’ ‘What did you say?’ ‘Put this into dialogue – show us, don’t tell us.’ And so on. I followed her suggestions and the result is what you see today – a more rounded and more open book, that I hope will interest and engage you.

I have to thank Colleen Higgs and Nella Freund, the editor, for their engagement with this book, their support and enthusiasm. A special thanks to Nella for helping me to write a better book. A special thanks to Colleen for publishing it, and a thank you through her to the book designer Natasha Mostert, to Hannah Morris who did the lettering on the cover, and Diane Swartzberg, whose original painting, done for the book, makes such an eye-catching and colourful cover.

After talking to Colleen about Undisciplined Heart last year, I decided to do a Namibian edition as well, to make the book more easily available here. I chose to do so under the name ‘Tigereye Publishing’. For me, the name echoes the power and passion of William Blake’s famous poem: ‘Tyger, Tyger burning bright’. Tigereye is also my favourite stone and there are large deposits of it in Namibia. Researching information on the qualities associated with the stone, I discovered the following: ‘Tigereye connects the energy of the rich browns of the earth to the golden energy of the sun or divine light. It focuses energy to meet challenges, offers patience, courage and luck and can help us to translate our ideas into physical reality.’ What better name could I find?

Although I stopped publishing ten years ago and sold my imprint New Namibia Books to Gamsberg Macmillan, I have always wondered about publishing again. So I hope that I can publish other books under the imprint of Tigereye. I am interested, as I have always been, in Namibian stories, in fiction or memoir and autobiography.

Undisciplined Heart will be distributed internationally through the African Books Collective.

I am most grateful to Dr Becky Ndjoze-Ojo who has agreed to say a few words about Undisciplined Heart. I’m delighted that she is here to launch the book for us. She is a much respected academic, an educationalist and linguist with twenty years teaching experience at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and the University of Namibia. She was a founding member of the Pan African Centre of Namibia (PACON), and Deputy Chairperson of Namibia’s chapter of FAWENA, the Forum for African Women Educationalists. She was an MP and the Deputy Minister of Education from 2005 until March this year. I am also honoured to call her a friend.

There are many other people I would like to thank and to mention tonight.

First of all, thank you to Tony Figuiera for making Studio 77 available for the launch. This is a wonderful open, creative space and Tony has made different members of the Katjavivi family most welcome here. I’m delighted to have the book launch here. Thank you Tony.

Thank you to Ingrid Demasius of Demasius Publications who is marketing and distributing the book and selling copies here tonight.

To Margie Orford, for her wonderful comments on my book, which I am using as publicity material wherever I can.

To my family in England, to whom I am very close although they are so far away.

To my beloved husband Peter, and children Uanaingi, Perivi and Isabel, whose love and encouragement keeps me going. Also to our sons Kavesorere and Patji who are not able to be here tonight.

To my wise sister, Sandra Tjitendero, who plays an important role in my life.

My dear friends Deedee Yates, Sandy Rudd and Jane Shityuwete. These are the women of the Friday morning breakfast group, and we still meet each week.

A big thank you to all of you for your love and support and for so graciously accepting me writing about you. And to your families.

I also want to mention Auriol Ashby. She’s a newer member of the breakfast group, who has been lucky enough to escape me writing about her!

I want to recall friends who cannot be here with us tonight but who are also characters you will meet in my book.

My first friend in Namibia, Doris Cowley, who helped me to find a school for Perivi, and an ENT specialist for Isabel, who showed me where to buy vegetables on Thursdays and how to cut meat fresh from the farm, when I first arrived in Namibia and Peter was busy helping to write the Constitution. Doris is now living in Ceres, in the Cape, but is with us here in spirit.

Tricia Trewby, who taught both Perivi and Isabel when they were small, a wonderful teacher and friend who has recently retired to the Scottish Isles.

Bente Katjivena Pedersen, who founded and is Principal of the International School in Arendal, in Norway. Bente was also a member of the Friday breakfast group when she was living in Windhoek.

The founder, if you like, of that Friday breakfast group, was Isobel Scheepers, who died suddenly after a heart attack in January 2003. A lawyer who was responsible for drafting fifty new laws in the first decade after Independence. We remember her with love. Her husband Hugo is with us here tonight as are their children Kara and Jan Barend. Hugo remarried last year, six years after Isobel died, proving that there is joy in life even after the worst pain and sorrow.

There are other departed friends I want to recall, who were very important to me.

Brigitte Zaire, my dear sister-in-law from Bochum, Germany, married to Peter’s cousin Luther Zaire. She died in 2002 after a nine-year battle with cancer.

Chief Victor Nwankwo, the Nigerian publisher, founding chairperson of APNET – the African Publishers’ Network – with whom I was privileged to serve on the APNET Board in the late 1990s. He was shot and killed in 2002 as he was about to publish a book exposing corruption in Enugu State in Nigeria.

Our own much-loved first Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Mosé Tjitendero, who did so much to build a democratic culture here, and played a key role in the establishment of the SADC Parliamentary Forum. He died four years ago, in May 2006.

A large part of Undisciplined Heart revolves around the story of my own heart problems. I have thanked the medical personnel in Namibia, South Africa, Belgium and Germany who helped me cope with this and helped me to largely overcome these problems. I do so again here and I celebrate the fact that I am so much stronger.

I would also like to thank Bishop Nathaniel Nakwatumbah, the Dean, Associate Dean and congregation of St George’s Cathedral, for their prayers for me when I was seriously ill.

An earlier Anglican Bishop of Namibia – the late Bishop Colin Winter – was responsible for me meeting my husband Peter in 1975, when Peter was the SWAPO Representative for the UK and Western Europe. Bishop Winter had been deported from Namibia by the South African authorities for siding with the oppressed. He set up a Namibia Peace Centre in the UK and I met him there when I was working for a scholarship agency, World University Service. I wanted to discuss the development of a scholarship programme for Namibians with him and he suggested that I contact Peter.

When I met Bishop Winter in 1975, five Namibian students had recently come to the UK to live at the Peace Centre and study nearby. One of these students was Jackson Kaujeua. He was huddled in a duffle coat, standing in the fireplace by the open fire, complaining about the cold!

Jackson became a friend, and remained a friend of the family as Peter and I got married and our children grew. He sang at Perivi’s baptism, at my 50th birthday celebration and Peter’s 60th. I had thought of asking him to sing tonight, but sadly it was not to be.

Jackson visited Peter and I in Oxford in 1986 and Peter spoke to him about the need to preserve the words of Chief Hosea Kutako in 1947, at the time of the petitioning of the United Nations. He suggested that Jackson put the words of the prayer to music, and he did so, very beautifully. I can think of no better way to round up the formal part of this evening’s event than to share that song, and that prayer. In so doing, let us remember those we have loved and who are no longer with us, including Jackson himself. It is perhaps particularly appropriate to end on Chief Kutako’s prayer because next month marks the 40th anniversary of his death. And because the prayer talks about courage – we all need courage to face what life brings and to do what is right to tackle the challenges that Namibia still faces.

Speech by Dr Becky Ndjoze-Ojo at the launch of Undisciplined Heart by Jane Katjavivi Studio 77, 8 June 2010


There are a lot of poignant things being said in this book. I however wish to pinpoint those poignant things that struck me most. The most striking is the title of the book: Undisciplined Heart.

As I started reading, I wondered aloud why that title, and I kept on repeating it to myself. It was not until I got to Part 2 that I discovered why that apt title that arouses the curiosity of the reader. Grab yourself a copy and read on and discover the title Undisciplined Heart.

As I read on, I was eventually glad that the Undisciplined Heart that started beating strangely before the author Jane Katjavivi’s son Perivi was born, became subjected to appropriate medications and medical equipment that have helped discipline it.

I met Jane in 1981, that is 29 years ago, and again at Perivi’s baptism in Oxford in 1985. I believe she asked me to launch this book because of this longstanding friendship, and I am greatly honoured to do so. Thanks Jane.

In this book Jane Katjavivi presents to us her memoir. In other words, she goes down memory lane, and in a frank and straightforward way writes a very informative politico-cultural account that speaks truth to power.

The memoir is presented to us in four parts, namely:

Part 1 Embracing Namibia

Part 2 The Pit of Death

Part 3 A Whole New World

Part 4 Listening to the Wind

These four parts are preceded by a dedication. It is:

‘To the women I have grown with, who have shared my life in Namibia and who sustain me.’

This book is dedicated to intelligent women, to their growth, to the sharing of their lives in Namibia, women who in their practical collectivity (Ubuntu) sustain and support each other.

The dedication is followed by a quotation from Paulo Coelho’s book By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, and I quote:

The mountains do not pray; they are already a part of God’s prayers. They have found their place in the world and here they will stay. They were here before people looked to the heavens, heard thunder, and wondered who had created all of this. We are born, we suffer, we die, and the mountains endure.

This captivating quotation sets the introduction to the book and simultaneously captures the underlying message of the story the author shares with us. Jane’s story is a journey. It is a journey that requires her as an integral part of humanity, to be born, to climb mountains and when the going gets tough to pray; and when she hears the thunder, to curl up in one corner of the bed and/or a corner of the garden, and with renewed faith look to the heavens.

The power of the scriptures, and their relevance to her particular situation inspire Jane to arrive at her own version of Psalm 46 as follows:

God is in the world. She will not be overthrown. And She will help us at the break of day.

Celebration of friendship and embracing Namibia

The author genuinely embraces Namibia. The journey is embarked upon before the sun rises. In the opening of the book, she writes:

‘At seven in the morning, the light slants softly across Windhoek and the surrounding hills, before the sun rises high enough to blast its true strength.’

It is at this time, when the early bird catches the best worms, that Jane, the narrator, the traveler, walks in 2002 through the traders in Post Street Mall to her bookshop, where she nurtured the reading culture in what she calls ‘the worst desert in Namibia’, namely the book desert.

She introduces her seven friends: Doris, Deedee, Sandy, Bente, another Jane, Tricia and Isobel. Meet these women on these pages and know them personally, individually yet collectively as simply great friends.

In the first part of the book, friends, family, politics, history and culture are particularly celebrated.

What can be deduced from these pages, in brief, is the tenacity of the author to move these friends of hers each from a different point of axis to a similar point of congruence of shared ideals and ideas. While each of these women are preoccupied doing different things, they are nevertheless moving towards a similar solid congruence in a form of Ubuntu or collectivity that makes them closer and closer to each other, at the Brasilian café each Friday morning for a celebration of and consolidation of friendship, and establishing cords that cannot be broken, come sunshine and rain or thunder.

They all come from different countries: Germany, the USA, Zimbabwe, Norway, England, Scotland and South Africa. Yet they have made Namibia their home and are each and collectively contributing positively to the development of the new Namibia. When she leaves to go into diplomatic life, Jane says to them:

‘I’ve never known such friendship and I am enriched by it. I am going to miss you all so much.’

The Commissioning to a whole new world

Jane and her family leave Namibia in 2003 to go to Brussels when her husband is appointed Ambassador there. But she does not want to leave.

‘I weep as we drive to the airport,’ she writes. ‘I feel as if I am being ripped out of the land.’

It is in this state that she enters their new world: a large house in Brussels that Jane describes so clearly that you can see it.

‘The house is a mock Georgian rectangle of white stone with flat roof and vast lawn, complete with flagpole in the middle. A weeping willow drapes around one corner of the house…We enter the house. A large diamond-shaped chandelier hangs low in the centre of a high-ceilinged entrance hall.’

You can see the support staff that are introduced – the Filipino housekeeper and the chauffeur from Senegal.

In this section of the book things are vividly described and you can almost feel them. This is mainly about how the diplomatic mission is organised; how it is linked to others in other countries. Several diplomatic visits that are part of Jane and her husband’s work are referred to.

Some incidents made me laugh out loud. Especially where Jane describes how the housekeeper has her own way of doing things because she has been there for 13 years, much longer than any of the ambassadors who have come and gone.

The World Beyond

In the course of the book, the author has to come to terms with the death (physical death) of a number of friends. Her sister-in-law dies in Germany after a long battle with cancer. A Nigerian publishing colleague and friend is shot and killed in Nigeria. One of her Windhoek friends dies after a heart attack.

These are but physical deaths, however. The author suggests that the spirit lives on and that there is hope beyond the grave.

Jane herself also has to deal with serious illness. She fell off the mountain, her General Practitioner (GP) tells her. This inspires her to write her memoir. The people of God pray; the congregation of St George’s Cathedral prays, Jane’s brother John prays, various friends and family members pray for her and share Psalms. God makes a way where there seems to be no way and Jane’s road to recovery is carved.

Yet questions such as ‘Can I die?’ or ‘Am I going to die?’ linger on. The author grapples with these extraordinary questions, which we often avoid. Yet she refuses to die because she rekindles her faith, renews it and refuses to be overthrown.

Further, her GP encourages the author not to give up but to embark on her road to recovery when she says ‘Part of your recovery will be to accept that you have recovered and to give thanks’. As a result, Jane resumes going to church for the first time in many months. She goes to St George’s, from where Bishop Mize (in 1964) and Bishop Colin Winter (in 1972) were deported by the South African authorities. This eventually culminates in a testimony of thanksgiving at St George’s cathedral when Jane returns to Namibia in 2008.

Jane’s accounts of listening to the listening to the wind, water and fire, to the spiritual woman within, are literary and very rich in metaphors, spiritually and religiously.


As an academic, a linguist, I wish to state that Undisciplined Heart is artistically and stylistically laid out to invite the reader to read it on its own terms.

It is posited that every book in terms of its design, cover artwork, lettering and thus its entire holistic layout, form part and parcel of how it acknowledges itself as a book to be read.

Conscious of these unique features of the book, I say to the reader, examine its entire layout and read it as it acknowledges itself to be read by you.

Over the years I have known the author as somebody who is patient. She also pays particular attention to details. Both these rare characteristics are very well reflected in this book and one could discuss each and every detail with relish. However, aware that time is of the essence, I shall just encourage you all to buy copies of the book and choose your own favourite pages.

I love this book. Its content is crafted in an articulate, frank and laid bare language that is as powerful as it is true. I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, sometimes laughing out loud.

There is no doubt in my mind that this book is, and shall be, an inspiration to many and that by the time many of you would have read this book, you would have already started writing your own memoirs.

In summary, what you shall find in Undisciplined Heart I can assure you, is a memoir – a frank, straightforward personal account that through the recollection of Jane Katjavivi’s memory, speaks honesty and truth to power.

Have a great time reading this book as it inspires you to write your own personal memoirs soonest. Good Luck and God Bless You.

I sincerely thank you for your kind attention.

Book details


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    June 25th, 2010 @12:45 #

    my copy being introduced to the book club grrls next month...


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat