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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

End of year blues or maybe not?

Who else has got that frantic end of year feeling? Too many things to do, cash flow hiccups or worse, and the sense of things rushing inexorably towards you, way too fast.

Fourth ChildI decided to stop and think about what I am grateful for, because even though it has been a tough year, it’s also been a fabulous one. Our first book was Megan Hall’s Fourth Child, published in October 2007, for which she went onto win the Ingrid Jonker prize. The thirty-third book was published in November, Jenna Mervis’s poetry collection, Woman Unfolding and the 34th and last book for the year will be Karin Schimke’s debut poetry collection, Bare and Breaking. 2011 also saw Modjaji publish an author for the second time, Tracey Farren whose first book, Whiplash, was Modjaji’s first novel and first appearance on the Sunday Times Fiction Prize short list. Tracey Farren’s new book, Snake is set to ruffle feathers and stir debate, and hopefully take its place on shortlists and even more. Let’s see what happens, I have high hopes for Snake. All of this is not bad for a tiny publishing house that only publishes the work of women, southern African women to be more specific. These are the thoughts I try to hang onto when doing what I do feels overwhelming, impossible and just way too hard for me.

Dawn Garisch (a Modjaji poet) won the first Sol Plaatje/EU poetry prize for her poem Miracle which appears in her debut collection Difficult Gifts and Beverly Rycroft (another Modjaji poet, Missing, 2010) got second prize for the same contest. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers has won the 2011 SALA prize for poetry for her collection, The Everyday Wife (Modjaji Books, 2010). Modjaji Books is proud that the poets we publish seem to keep winning prizes and awards.

Other highlights of 2011 for me as a person and as a publisher: My second collection of poems, Lava Lamp Poems came out in January. It’s useful to be reminded how uncomfortable and stressful it is to bring out a book. It helped me to feel compassion again for the writers I publish, and to remember how crazy it can make you feel. And of course the receiving feedback from readers is soul food.

Gill Gimberg offered her services to Modjaji Books in 2010, she has assisted in all kinds of ways, including editing and project-managing Reclaiming the L-Word. I am not sure where Modjaji Books would be without Gill’s calm approach and wide range of skills. Thank you Gill!

Karen Jennings worked with me this year, she has been a complete treasure. Because of Modjaji’s size, Karen got involved in all kinds of things and everything she did was done efficiently and well, from reading manuscripts to writing letters of rejection to authors, to drawing up marketing material, editing a wide range of books, proof reading, selling books at a fundraising tea party. You name it, she was there with a smile and a willing attitude. In 2012 she will be doing her PhD at UKZN with Kobus Moolman as her advisor, so sadly she can’t work for Modjaji Books any longer. Sigh.

I was also fortunate to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year as part of their Invitation Programme. See the longer post I wrote about that. I’m still feeding off the nourishment that going to Frankfurt provided, as a source of inspiration, contacts, new friends, new ideas and hopefully in the not too distant future some book deals and rights sales. Corry von Mayenburg thank you to you and your team for selecting me and Modjaji Books to participate this year.

I particularly appreciate the support and good relationship that I have with The Book Lounge – Mervyn Sloman in particular, but all of your team, Mervyn; and Ann Donald of Kalk Bay Books in Cape Town, as well as Kate Rogan of Love Books in Joburg. Your three stores have been the venues for most of our launches, and your hospitality and interest is the very air we breathe. And a very cool bonus is that Yewande Omotoso’s novel Bom Boy is a 2011 Lounge Book!

Modjaji Books has built a partnership with GALA (the Gay and Lesbian Archives) at Wits University, and is working with them to set up their new imprint, Ma Thoko’s Books. We did our first co-publication together, Reclaiming the L-Word, which has been a great success and 2012 should see a few more titles rolling off Ma Thoko Books’ presses. Collaborations such as this one are a good way for a small publisher to become sustainable and even profitable.

And then of course the kindness, enthusiasm and support of all kinds that I receive from many people is so enormous and encouraging that it also keeps me going. Ben, Sophy & Liesl at BooksLive, thank you for what you do for me and for Modjaji Books.

Dear writers, dear Modjaji poets, novelists, memoirists, short story writers, editors you are a source of inspiration and pleasure. You are my raison d’êtres, I appreciate the faith that you have in Modjaji Books, that you come with your manuscripts and work with me/us to turn them into beautiful books. Keep on coming over here, and we will do our best for you. I love that Modjaji authors behave as though they have joined a group/sisterhood/family/collective – none of these is quite right, but that most of the authors support each other, buy each other’s books, promote each other and the press and become friends separately and collectively. This encourages me too.

I am also hugely appreciative of those of you who buy Modjaji Books, who hand over good money in exchange for our books. That too is a vote of confidence. I especially appreciate those who are Facebook friends and Modjaji Books’ Page Fans, and who engage with the posts and take up the special offers – which mean direct sales, which really helps to keep Modjaji Books going. I have to mention a few specific ‘matrons’ who have generously bought Modjaji Books in enormous quantities right from the start: Graeme Reid, Fiona Adam Ghosh, Bontle Senne, Fiona Snyckers, Gary Cummiskey, Sarah Lotz, Robert Berold, Helen Moffett, Arja Salafranca, Candy Rohde, and Kerry Hammerton to name the most generous and consistent of supporters. Rachel Zadok, you are someone I have to mention specially, making friends with you in 2011 has been a bonus and a boon. Thanks for helping me organise the Harridans and Harpies poetry event in August. Many of these friends and matrons also are a core part of the Modjaji collective/family.

One last category of people are friendly angels, like Maire Fisher who has been a faithful friend and colleague for years and who has done a sterling job of editing both of Tracey Farren’s novels. Then there are people like Karen Lotter, who puts me in touch with people who become matrons or offer other kinds of support. Stevie Godson, Janet van Eeden, Moira de Swardt, Moira Richards, Karin Schimke are media people who are interested in what Modjaji Books is doing and offer a helping hand, by reviewing books, putting me in touch with others who might review and generally fostering good will towards the press. Gillian Schutte is in a category of her own, as a champion of women writers and women’s rights, thanks for your support Gillian.

Blue Weaver do our marketing to bookstores very efficiently and 2011 has been a year for Modjaji Books of happy partnership with them. Thanks Natasha especially for your daily patient dealings with me, but thanks also to the whole Blue Weaver team and to Mark, Neille and Waleed for putting up with my publishing practices and for training me patiently in the ways that I should go, with kind emails, chats over coffee, phone calls, emails and for getting the books into the stores!

Mega Digital, who do most of Modjaji Books’ printing are an invaluable support, in terms of your reliability, your willingness to go the extra mile for Modjaji, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without a printer like you, Megadigital. So thanks to you too, Adrian, Aziza, Grant, Diane and your team. Modjaji Books would have been dead in the water years ago if not for you.

Natascha Mostert has done most of the book design work for Modjaji since we started just over four years ago now. She has helped to create the look and feel, along with artists like Hannah Morris and Jesse Breytenbach in particular, who have done many of our cover art work. It often feels to me that Natascha is part of Modjaji, and we have developed a really good working relationship. Natascha, your loyalty and focus are something I really appreciate. I hope we will carry on working together for a long time. You have also made it possible for me to operate on the smell of an oil rag. Jacqui Stecher has done a few of our books, and your book design is exquisite, thanks for your contribution, Jacqui!

Jeremy Boraine and Nelleke de Jager have also given me advice when I’ve needed it, about issues relating to contracts, royalties, rights sales, cash flow and many other things.

Lastly, but absolutely not least, I am utterly grateful for my friend and comrade-in-arms, Colleen Crawford Cousins, who has offered huge amounts of editorial time, problem-solving time, design consultancy time as well as endless glasses of wine, cups of tea and discussion about books, writers, marketing, issues in the book trade in South Africa, as well as a range of other topics related and unrelated to books and publishing. Thanks for being a wonderful friend, a brilliant and incisive reader and a huge support to me and to Modjaji Books. You hold the vision for me even when it dims for me at times.

Wow, I feel better after having written this blog. It works. Now I know how I have managed to build a thriving small publishing company on a shoe-string budget, it is because of all of you!

To those of you who are not mentioned by name, thank you too for liking, loving, and appreciating Modjaji Books. It makes a huge difference. So keep on keeping on. Buy the books, talk about the books and the writers, send your friends who have written books over here. Let’s keep the vision of Modjaji Books alive and continue publishing books that are true to the spirit of the rain queen, a powerful female force for good, growth, new life, regeneration and healing.

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Review of Reclaiming the L-Word by Habibou Bangré appears in Têtu

Habibou Bangré reviews Reclaiming the L-Word in the French magazine, Têtu, which adds to the book’s very warm reception both locally and internationally.

Here is an excerpt in French

Bas les masques. Quinze Sud-Africaines féministes confient dans Reclaiming the L-Word pourquoi elles se sentent lesbiennes, pourquoi elles le revendiquent et ce que leur orientation sexuelle leur a coûté. Car même dans la nation Arc-en-ciel -où la constitution garantit les droits des homos- les lesbiennes doivent encore se battre pour être reconnues pour ce qu’elles sont.

En témoignent les violences subies. «En tant que lesbienne, la haine, la violence et la misogynie me suivent où que j’aille. Je suis tombée enceinte après avoir été violée par un homme que je pensais être mon ami. J’ai été tabassée à cause de mon orientation sexuelle, sur l’instigation de personne d’autre que ma mère», raconte Marco P. Ndlovu dans un récit d’abord publié lors d’une action contre la violence basée sur le genre, en 2009.

For the full article in French click here

and here is the translation by Carole Beckett

Homophobia, racism: South African lesbians tell their stories

Habibou Bangre, Tuesday 6 September 2001

Fifteen women from all walks of life recount events which have had a marked effect on their lives in a moving English-language book. They speak particularly of lesbophobia.


Down with masks. Fifteen South African feminists confide in Reclaiming the L-Word why they feel that they are lesbians, why they accept this description and what their sexual orientation has cost them. Even in this Rainbow nation where the constitution guarantees the rights of homosexuals, lesbians still have to battle to be recognized for who they are.

Violence which they have experienced bears witness to this fact. “As a lesbian, hate, violence and misogyny follow me where ever I go. I became pregnant after being raped by a man whom I believed to be a friend. I was beaten up because of my sexual orientation at the instigation of someone no other than my own mother” says Marco P Ndlovu in a story which was first published after a court case against gender violence in 2009.

Amongst others things, it is because of this climate, more threatening in poor Black settlements (townships),that a minority of women have preferred to conceal their identity. Others have agreed to have their photograph published, often with a smiling face, hiding for a while their wounds, discriminations or humiliations but stressing the humour of some of them. Alleyn Diesel, who edited the book which was launched on the 23 August in Johannesburg, is one such an person.

“I have often asked myself how men, the Other, see me. Well, of course, that depends on who they are. The “average” guy that I meet could well see me as non-seductive (hairy legs!) rather unfriendly (I never flirt, whatever the circumstances), lacking a sense of humour (I am often offended by sexist and trite jokes), impatient (especially with macho attitudes).”

I knew that mother understood what love is

Naturally, several of the women refer to the racist, segregationalist, sexist and homophobic regime of Apartheid – introduced in 1948 by the White minority and totally abolished in 1991. So it is that Alleyn Diesel, Shifra Jacobson and Marco P Ndlovu share episodes of their anti-Apartheid struggle. Addie Lindley admits being prejudiced when her partner wanted to adopt a Black child. Liesl Theron stresses that fact that a mixed lesbian couple are exposed to permanent “challenges”.

And where is love in all this? Everywhere. In the sensual poetry which is interspersed throughout the book and in the stories which glorify the women, today or tommorow’s partner, the semi-biological children or the family. Zanele Muholi, who is busy with a photographic project dealing with hate crimes in the townships, has offered a vibrant homage to her late mother who explained to an aunt that “Zanele is not interested in men.” “ From that day”, says the well-known photographer, “I understood that even if my mother had not had the chance to further her education, she understood what love is.”

The book can be ordered from sites such as Amazon

Reclaiming the L-Word

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Carrots for These are the Lies I told you and Piece Work

Piece WorkThese are the Lies I Told YouFriday 12th November had two Modjaji poets seeing Orange! Kerry Hammerton’s debut volume was praised like this and Ingrid Anderson’s volume, Piece Work received this tribute.
Don’t forget that if you are in Jozi, this week you can catch Ingrid reading with Phillippa Yaa de Villiers at Love Books on Tuesday evening, 16th November and in Cape Town, Kerry Hammerton’s launch is next Monday, 22nd November at the Book Lounge.

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Praise for Jane Katjavivi’s Undisciplined Heart in Rapport

Undisciplined Heart This past weekend, Rapport Boeke featured a lovely, carrotty review written by Danila Liebenberg about Jane Katjavivi’s memoir, Undisciplined Heart. The review captures the essence of the book and gives the reader a really good idea of what pleasures and interest they will be derive from reading Undisciplined Heart.

“Die memoires is uit ‘n sensitiewe perspektief op die mensdom geinspireer. Gebeure word in fyn detail verhaal en vergemaklik en dredimensionele belewing daarvan.”

“Sy skroom ook nie om kommentaar te lewer oor velkleur-kwessies nie en onderskryf die Herero-gesegde dat haar man nie met ‘n wit vrou getrou het nie, maar met ‘n mens (bl 196).

Undisciplined Heart

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Carrot for The Bed Book of Short Stories and other news from between the sheets

The Cape Times carried a large review of three collections of short stories, with an almost full sized picture of the Bed Book of Short Stories.

“The most ambitious, and intriguing, is The Bed Book of Short Stories.” Sharon Sorour-Morris, the reviewer goes onto praise in particular, the stories of Helen Walne, Rosemund Handler, Liesl Jobson, Jayne Bauling, Joanne Hichens and Joanne Fedler. She concludes her remarks about the Bed Book by saying, “…this collection is unique and makes for compelling bedside reading.”

Last week saw yet another Bed reading event, this time at Centurion Exclusive Books in Gauteng, which was a great success. Arja Salafranca, Jayne Bauling, Nia Magloutini-McGregor, Rita Britz were the contributors who were present and read from their stories.

This Thursday night will see a launch of the collection in Gaborone, Botswana. This is the second event to be held in a neighbouring country. which is totally thrilling for me as the publisher. The first one was in Windhoek. The Gaborone event was organised by Lauri Kubuitsile, the original compiler of the collection. Gothataone Moeng, Luso Mnthali, and Luvuyo Rose Tshuma will all be present and reading from their stories. The fabulous TJ or Tjawangwa Dema is to be the MC; those who have heard her perform her poetry will know that Thursday night should be enormous fun. Dr Leloba Molema is to be the guest speaker. So if you are in Gaborone, head to the Mmabolao Westgate Mall on Thursday evening, (23rd September 2010) at about 5.30, you will be sure to have a fabulous evening.

The Bed Book of Short Stories

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Reviews of The Thin Line

Arja Salafranca’s debut collection of short stories has had some good press lately. Sharon Sorour-Morris gave it the thumbs up in the Cape Times recently in a review of The Bed Book of Short Stories and Homing by Henrietta Rose-Innes. To read the review, click here. Sorour-Morris described Arja’s stories in The Thin Line as “sharp, edgy and nuanced”.

Arja has also written about the short story for Litnet, they currently have a Big Book Chain discussion going on over there. She has long been an advocate for short stories, as a reader, writer, and journalist.

Wordsetc also featured a review of The Thin Line in the most recent issue. As the publisher of this collection it is most gratifying to see it being widely reviewed and read.

The Bed Book of Short StoriesThe Thin Line

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Janet van Eeden in convo with Azila Talit Reisenberger

Janet van Eeden’s review/interview of Life in Translation, with Azila Talit Reisenberger was featured on Litnet last week. Van Eeden has developed a particular kind of engagement with author and text, a new genre, she reviews the book and then goes onto interview the author. Life in Translation was published in January 2008, and remains one of Modjaji’s best selling titles, the best-selling poetry title. Lovely to see a fresh take on the book after almost three years out in the world.

Azila Reisenberger brings the full force of her life and her reflections on it as a woman, wife, mother, rabbi and academic to her poetry. Life in Translation is a rich anthology, steeped in lived life and as full of wisdom as a bucket full of owls. Reisenberger draws on all areas of her experience to create metaphors which resonate with profundity. She covers the whole spectrum of human existence. In “Everlasting Eve” she brings to our awareness the arrogance of youth passing judgement on an aging parent. In “Teacher-woman” she paints a picture of the dichotomy many women experience when dealing with a body which is full of design flaws while trying to be true to a mind which strives for academic excellence. In “Writing poetry” she describes with accuracy the way words haunt certain women, in spite of their being in the midst of rushed lives devoted to the service of others.

Read the whole article here.

Life in Translation

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O Magazine short carroty review of This Place I Call Home

Meg's book

Home Is Where the Heart Is
These two books consider identity, place and belonging in SA

Is home a place, or something you carry with you? Local writer Meg Vandermerwe considers this question in her short-story debut, This Place I Call Home (Modjaji Books). Travelling across time and location, she offers diverse snapshots of daily life in South Africa. The gritty representations force you to confront your own definition of home. Megan Dick

The other book is Should I Stay or Should I Go? To Live in or Leave South Africa? edited by Tim Richman and published by Two Dogs.

This Place I Call Home

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“Where the heart is Undisciplined Heart by Jane Katjavivi”

Front cover of Jane Katjavivi's memoir, illustration by Diane Swartzberg and lettering by Hannah MorrisInsight Namibia published a review of Jane Katjavivi’s Undisciplined Heart in July this year, written by Erika von Wietersheim, a regular reviewer for the publication. Here is the full review. Verdict – carrot!

Yes, Jane Katjavivi is the British-born wife of prominent Swapo politician Peter Katjavivi, former ambassador to the European Union and Germany and former Director General of the National Planning Commission in Namibia. But this book is not about Peter, it is about Jane.

And no, the title Undisciplined Heart does not refer to untamed emotions and impetuous relationships. It alludes to Jane Katjavivi’s physical heart condition, to a heart that needed to be ‘disciplined’ by a pacemaker, medication and changes of lifestyle. Its often unbalanced and precarious state confronted the author head-on with questions about life and death and drove her to examine her position in this world, shaped by the continents of Europe and Africa.

As Jane Katjavivi remarked at the launch of her book in June of this year, it was in Brussels, early 2004, where she started to write. I needed to explore my relationship with Namibia and our unexpected move into diplomatic life. 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… After different attempts to fictionalize her tale or to anonymise its main characters, the book finally took the form of an honest and inspiring true to life memoir, interweaving Katjavivi’s personal life story with concurrent political events and developments in Namibia, Africa and the world.

Becoming a true Namibian
Katjavivi writes about her passionate engagement for southern Africa as a young political activist in Great Britain (where she met her future Namibian husband, who was Swapo representative in the UK) and about her very different life in Windhoek, after Namibia’s independence, when the Katjavivi family became part of the new political and social elite. She vividly describes how she created her own publishing company, ‘New Namibia Books’ and ran a book shop in a country, which she found to be a ‘book desert’ without a reading, let alone a writing, culture. She tells about her joys and worries as a mother of two children, and about her role as a ‘diplomatic spouse’ in Brussels and Germany. She also gives the reader glimpses of how she found her place in a huge African extended family, different in language and culture. Pinpointing the moment she realizes that she has become a true Namibian, she writes, “I no longer look at relatives the English way. Cousins are brothers and sisters; aunts are mothers and uncles are fathers, as in Namibia. I don’t count the stages of removal that are so clearly defined in England. For me there are no steps or halves; all our children are whole.”

An ode to friendship
A dominant thread in the author’s web of stories is the friendship between Katjavivi and six women in Windhoek. They regularly meet for breakfast at the Brazilian Cafe, where they laugh and cry about their life in a country, to which they all came from different corners of the world: from Germany, the USA, Zimbabwe, Norway, England, Scotland and South Africa.

They all made Namibia their home and they all contributed to building the young African nation – as development consultant, lawyer, teacher, theatre producer or publisher. “None of us was indigenous to Namibia,” Katjavivi writes. “We came from outside and perhaps we therefore needed each other more.” The women support and sustain each other in everyday life as well as in times of hardship and despair. Katjavivi dedicates her memoir to these women, “witty and funny and silly and wise and helpful to each other”, with the bright blue coffee cups on the title page symbolizing their friendship.

Illness and death
Another recurring theme of the book is illness, death and the search for spiritual answers, triggered by the death of a number of friends. Katjavivi’s 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 circle of friends dies after a heart attack. And then the doctor diagnoses Jane as having an ‘undisciplined heart’ that would need a pacemaker. This sequence of deeply unsettling experiences as well as her load of work and responsibilities drive Jane to her emotional and physical limits and finally cause her ‘to fall from the mountain’ that she has been climbing too fast and with too little pause. On her long road to recovery, Katjavivi movingly and honestly describes how she finally arrives at a renewed understanding of God, the scriptures and a universal spirituality. Her search culminates in a very personalized statement of faith, taken from revelations from different religions and African prophets: I believe in God, Father and Mother of the universe…

While political and social events in Namibia and the wider world shape and colour the fabric of Katjavivi’s stories, the book remains largely apolitical. Katjavivi avoids deeper and critical political contemplations on Namibian politics, even though she expressly regrets the apolitical culture in Namibia and misses the lively political debates of her time as a political activist. As wife of a prominent Swapo politician, this might have been the only way to write a memoir at this time and place – an autobiography which otherwise is amazingly and courageously honest and open, sharing fear, despair and joy in equal measure with its readers. “I love this book,” Dr. Becky Ndjoze-Ojo, former Deputy Minister of Education and close friend, said at the launch. “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.”

Undisciplined Heart was first published in 2010 by Modjaji Books in South Africa. To make the book more easily available in Namibia, Katjavivi decided to publish a Namibian edition under the new imprint of ‘Tigereye Publishing’ as well, under which she hopes to publish more Namibian stories and autobiographies in future. The reviewer, Erika von Wietersheim, is a regular contributor to insight Namibia.

Undisciplined Heart

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Lots of coverage this weekend for This Place I Call Home by Meg Vandermerwe

This Place I Call HomeMeg Vandermerwe’s debut collection of short stories, This Place I Call Home has hit the ground running. First there was the news that the CNA has chosen to stock her book, which as most people in the book world know is a huge coup. Then I got the news that we need to reprint the book.

This weekend saw the whole of “A Hijack Story”, the first story in the collection, printed in the Mail and Guardian Books section and two pages devoted to: a writer’s profile and a review by Shafinaaz Hassim in Rapport on Sunday in the monthly Boeke supplement.

Here is an excerpt of the review

Huis. Tuiste. ‘n Plek om tot rus te kom, tuis te kom.

Vir die Suid-Afrikaanse skrywer wat oor tyd, geskiedenis, kultuur en plek heen skryf, is die begrip “huis” of “tuiste” ook ‘n tematiese bindmiddel. Soos vir Meg Vandermerwe in haar debutbundel, This Place I Call Home.

…Onomwonde, rou eerlik, verwood haar karakters hul sienings, al is dit nie politiek korrek nie.

Die narratief is ‘n veilige, dog magtige vorm waarin debatte geopper kan word oor other-ing, oor hoe ons ander etiketeer en ontmenslik in die wyses waarop ons ons plek, ons tuiste, huis, definieer. This Place I Call Home is ‘n bundel wat daarin slaag om dit te doen.

The book also got a mention in the Sunday Independent in Maureen Isaacson’s round up of the week on the Books Page. And the book has already received a wonderful review on Litnet from Janet Van Eeden. Not bad for a new writer. Not bad at all. Especially when you read the Rapport’s prediction about Vandermerwe, “Onthou die naam: Meg Vandermerwe. Ons gaan nog baie van haar te lees kry.”

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