ASKARI: a story of collaboration and betrayal – Jacob Dlamini

 

 

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ASKARI is a splendid and well researched novel that seeks to expand our understanding of the nature of betrayal. It is the story of Mr. X1, (a name given to Glory Sedibe, once a respected commander of the military wing of the African National Congress, by the court to shield his identity during his testimony against his former comrades) and his journey to becoming an ASKARI (a rehabilitated or tamed terrorist).

The trial in which Sedibe testified was billed by some as South Africa’s biggest political cases since the Rivonia Trial in which Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were given life sentences to Robben Island. ASKARI is about Mr. X1’s (Glory Sedibe) metaphormosis from insurgent to counter-insurgent-from a freedom fighter to donning the mantle of a despised traitor.

Sedibe, like the majority of black youths who left the country after the Soweto riots of 1976, came from a very poor family. Though his father, Ephraim, was a teacher in the rural asbestos mining town of Penge, he barely earned enough to keep the wolf from the door. However, he inspired and impelled his sons to get an education.

The seeds of revolt in Glory Sedibe were deeply planted and long nurtured. His elder brother, Kaborone, was imprisoned for terrorism while at university. This event and the panorama of poverty in his hometown spurred the 24-year old to leave the country of his birth and join the fight against apartheid. He could have chosen the easy exile life of a student. Instead, he opted for the military route and joined uMkomto weSizwe– the armed wing of the ANC.

He received training in military intelligence from the old Soviet Union and East Germany. He rise through the ranks of MK (the military wing of the ANC) was spectacular. Though some accused him of pomposity and arrogance, he was highly regarded by many for his penetrating intellect and remarkable eloquence.

In 1986, in a daring prison raid, he was captured by the South African Police in Swaziland, brutally tortured, and turned into the perhaps the most useful collaborator the South African government ever had. With his assistance, military operations against the South African government were scuppered, several ANC internal combat units wiped out, and because of his testimony in the political show trials some of his colleagues were sent to long prison terms.

In looking at the nature of betrayal, the author graphically examines the private agony of detainees in apartheid’s inferno of torture. He examines the role that the brutal doctrine of counter-insurgency plays in the turning of a captured ‘terrorist’. This is the burning lake of torment that Sedibe found himself in when he was captured-as ‘racist sadists’ converged on him ‘like vultures on carrion.’

However, is the torture chamber the only factor in treason? The book rigorously examines the complex phenomenon of collaboration-the choice political prisoners make between collusion and death-the difference between an individual’s reach and their limits. It scrutinises why some under pain of torture and even the threat of death still refuse to denounce their political beliefs, and why others enthusiastically sold their souls.

The book also reveals how treason transformed the lives of the collaborators.

Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture full, will not be regained.-Amery.

Treason left an indelible mark in the character and life of Sedibe. From trying to change the world around him, he destroyed his life. He betrayed his friends and colleagues and damaged the cause he had worked for. From a gregarious and inspired revolutionary, treason turned him into an incurable alcoholic. This was a problem that grew as his service as a counter-insurgent continued.

Traitors put themselves inside a different kind of jail according to Hugh Lewin-himself betrayed to a long prison sentence by a colleague. ‘It is a jail,’ Lewin writes, ‘that had no keys. We served out sentence and were released. They bought their freedom with pieces of silver, and they would live with that knowledge for the rest of their lives.

According to Whitaker Chambers in his book Witness:

The horror of treason is its sin against the spirit. And for him who violates this truth there rises inevitably a black vacuity, which is in reality a circle of absolute loneliness into which neither father, wife, child for friend, however compassionate, can bring the grace of absolution.’

ASKARI is a highly readable, elegant and memorable book that illuminates the universal tragedy of betrayal. The narrative is comparable to the very best of modern non-fiction work and often transcends the goriness and carnage of its subject. One can also call the book a ‘historical novel’ since it exposes the wanton apartheid creature in all its grotesque and hideous lineaments.

Travelling to infinity-Jane Hawking.

 

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In this fascinating book, Jane Hawking gives an account of her marriage to one of the most famous and esteemed scientists of this age. Far from the glamour that one would associate with a world-famous scientist’s life, the world that Jane Hawking inhabited was blighted and darkened with toil, frustration, unhappiness and loneliness-a Paradise that seemingly never was.

Stephen and Jane Hawking met in 1963. She was finishing school, and he was in Cambridge. Jane was smitten by the young boffin with a dimpled smile and an unruly shock of blonde hair. Despite his deteriorating physical condition, (Stephen Hawking suffered from Motor Neurone disease) she married him in 1965.

The early years of marriage were the halcyon days of Stephen Hawking’s meteoric success with prizes won and invitations to lecture around the world. He was ‘gaining a reputation for himself as a prodigy in his field.’ However, this was accompanied by a deterioration of his health. Added to this were the tribulations of a growing family.

Though the joy brought by the birth of their children was intoxicating, the pressure of caring her children’s needs and looking after a wheel-chair bound husband took its toll on Jane. Her daily routine was exacting: the shopping and the washing had to be done, the house cleaned, meals prepared and the children and Stephen looked after almost single-handedly.

A shopping errand with a baby on her back while pushing Stephen in his wheelchair could turn into a nightmare. Her husband’s disability meant ‘there was nothing of a practical nature that he could do’. There were consequently many adjustments and, unfortunately, many sacrifices she had to make for her husband and family. It was an ordeal that could test the resolve and stamina of the toughest and the most loyal spouse.

Thus, while her husband toured the world and pursued his career with an iron will, Jane’s needs were neglected. While Stephen bloomed, Jane drooped and languished. Inevitably, this led to resentment and their union suffered. Jane’s presence as Stephen’s travelling companion became less regular.

While Stephen jetted off to conferences abroad, Jane stayed home to look after their young brood. While Stephen ‘contemplated immeasurable distances and incomprehensible time spans’, Jane’s endurance was stretched to the end of its limits. While science was an obsession to Stephen, for Jane it was an intrusion-almost a third party in their relationship.

Soon her focus and affection were turned towards her children, and their interest and needs soon superseded those of her husband. Divided loyalties, in addition to the rigours of the disease, began to tear them apart. This grim scenario opened other wounds. Their differences on faith soon became pronounced. Stephen’s Science had no place in it for God. Jane was a devout Anglican. ‘The damaging schism between religion and science seemed to have extended its reach’ into their marriage.

Cracks also emerged in Jane’s relationship with her in-laws. Her mother-in-law openly questioned her loyalty to Stephen as well as the paternity of her third child. In the end, the marriage became a hollow shell, with the children the only solace. Whatever tenuous grip they had on their marriage soon loosened. Jane fell for Jonathan, and Stephen found happiness with Elaine. A house that had been burning for a long time soon came crashing down.

From the time Jane and Stephen fell in love, they both became victims. Stephen Hawking suffered from an incurable disease from which he was supposed to die a few months after it was diagnosed. He survived it. However, in his brave quest to fight the pitiless onslaught of his illness he drove a wedge between himself and his wife. Hers was not an ordinary life-it could not be. The ravages of motor neurone disease not only affected her husband but also dominated her life, sapped her energy, and slowly killed their marriage.

With Stephen physically helpless and later speechless, Jane was to him like a mother looking after a small child. Every day of her marriage was, therefore, punishing-a burning lake of physical, emotional, and psychological torment. To survive one would have to be blind and without feeling. Jane was not blind, and she desperately yearned affection.

Travelling to Infinity is a magnificent novel about two remarkable people. It is a human story that is written with an elegant precision of prose. There is also no malice in the author’s tone though her pain is palpable.

Even with the end of their long marriage, it seems so much survived-sensitivity, humanity and love exude from most pages of the book. The movie is just as enchanting, with the lead actors doing justice to their majestic characters.