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Tales from Dystopia XXIII: Academic freedom and university apartheid

16 April 2019

Sixty years ago the Extension of University Education Bill was passed by the South African parliament, which enforced university apartheid. At the time I was a student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and on 16 April 1959 there was a protest meeting addressed by the Chancellor at which all members of the university were asked to affirm the principles of academic freedom and university autonomy.

Wits University, 16 April 1959

We made the following declaration:

We are gathered here today to affirm in the name of the University of the Witwatersrand that it is our duty: to uphold the principle that a University is a place where men and women without regard to race and colour are welcome to join in the acquisition and advancement of knowledge; and to continue faithfully to defend this ideal against all who have sought by legislative enactment to curtail the autonomy of the University. Now therefore we dedicate ourselves to the maintenance of this ideal and to the restoration of the autonomy of our University.

The Extension of University Education Act, which curtailed academic freedom, essentially turned all existing universities into tribal colleges for Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking whites, and made provision for new ones, separate colleges for Xhosas, Zulus, Tswanas, .Coloureds, Asians etc.

It was, however, a case of “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.”

The only really “open” universities that had non-white staff and students were Wits and Cape Town, and non-white students were not admitted to the university residences (OK, there were laws preventing that). No Afrikaans-speaking universities admitted black students, and other English-speaking universities, like Rhodes and the University of Natal did not do so either. The University of Natal (now UKZN) did have a separate campus for “Non-European” medical students.

Wits University 16 April 1959

About a month before. we had held another protest demonstration, when the bill was first introduced to parliament. About 1000 students stood on the traffic island in Jan Smuts Avenue, during the evening rush hour, holding a chain to symbolise the enslavement of the university. One of the organisers of the protest was our Latin lecturer, Saul Bastomsky, and a newspaper reporter asked him whether first-year students even knew what the protest was about. I was standing nearby and Saul Bastomsky, much to my consternation, pointed at me and said “Here’s a first-year student, ask him.”. The reporter asked me what I thought we should do next, and I said, “Stand outside the houses of parliament.” We didn’t, of course, it would have cost far too much money to get there. But there was the very dignified, very official formal protest meeting on 16th April, which made quite a deep impression on me. .

Not all agreed, of course. While we were standing holding the chain in Jan Smuts Avenue about 20 students stood at the side of the road with placards reading “Fight liberalism at Wits” and “Not all agree with the SRC”, But there were about 1000 students holding the chain.

Ten years later, on 16 April 1969, I observed another protest, this time at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. In 1959 I had been a rather naive first-year student; Ten years later I had completed my full-time studies, and would never been a full-time student again. My last year as a full-time student, 1968, was the year of student power, and son on 16th April 1969 I was asked to speak at a student meeting in Pietermaritzburg organised by the University Christian Movement on “methods of protest”. But it seemed to me that the methods of protest are very much determined by the aims of protest, and that not enough thought had been given to that.

Children fleeing from a burning village in Vietnam.

So I tried shock tactics, which proved to be a little too shocking for many of the students. I told of a group of students in an American city who publicly burnt a dog as a protest, and it caused a huge uproar. Many said that it was counterproductive, and that they weren’t “helping their cause” by doing such a thing. But the uproar itself was the point. They demonstrated clearly that the American public was more concerned about the burning of one dog in San Francisco than about the burning of hundreds of children in Vietnam, which their government was doing with the taxes they paid. The girl in the centre of the picture on the right was one of those children; she eventually recovered, but many others did not.

I don’t recommend burning dogs as a form of protest, but in that instance it clearly made its point.

By 1969, too, many protests were directed at university authorities as much as at the governments. There were sit-ins at university administration offices, and the fees-must-fall protests of a couple of years ago show that some things have changed little. In 1959 it was the government deciding to segregate universities on the grounds of race and colour. In 2019 students are being excluded on the grounds of wealth, or rather the lack of it. As one British friend once said to me back in the 1960s, when South Africa has sorted out the problem of the black and the white, it will come face to face with the real problem — the haves and the have nots.

A luta continua. Die stryd duur voort.


This is part of a series of posts about life in South Africa during the time of apartheid, called Tales from Dystopia. You can see more Tales from Dystopia here.



The Black Angel

15 April 2019

The Black AngelThe Black Angel by John Connolly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourth book of the Charlie Parker series that I have read, though it is actually number 6 in the series. I read them in the order 2, 11, 2, 1, 6.

I read this one because it was about halfway between 2 and 11, and I wanted to see how the series developed. I think it is the best one, but if you want to read any of them then it is best to begin with the first, Every Dead Thing, because all the others seem to make frequent reference to it.

I’m not sure whether I’ll read any more. The series seems to do a lot of genre hopping. The first book is a mixture of crime thriller and urban fantasy. with a hunt for serial killers and coping with organised crime, but with some of the serial killers turning out to be more than human.

The Black Angel turns out to be more straightforward urban fantasy. Most of the books in the series are based on the stories of fallen angels from the apocryphal <CITE>Book of Enoch</cite>, and seeing them as behind most of the evil on earth. Most of the villains in this book are either fallen angels or think that they are. It is similar to its contemporary work, The Da Vinci Code, but this one is better written, and the plot holds together better.

Like The da Vinci Code it claims to be based on real history, at least as far as the backstory is concerned, and in that respect the historical background is based on real history books and not on dodgy conspiracy theories like The Messianic legacy. But there are still the detailed descriptions of very mundane firearms, and the protagonists don’t even have to use silver bullets, much less holy water, garlic or crucifixes to ward off the bad guys — a Heckler & Koch or Smith & Wesson will do the job. Charles Williams it isn’t, and not even Bram Stoker.

So though I enjoyed this one, I don’t think I’ll be looking for any more, now that I’ve worked out the formula.

I’ve written about the other books, and about the series here: Every Dead Thing, Dark Hollow, The Wrath of Angels, and more generally about the genres, The Paranormal in Literature and Popular Culture.

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Am I an Indie Author?

11 April 2019

About seven years ago I discovered the Smashwords web site, through my kinsman Graham Downs (kinsman is such a nice word, but I think strictly speaking one should say “affine”, since he’s my wife’s cousin). He had published a short story there called A Petition to Magic.

I found the Smashwords site interesting. I’d written a children’s novel a few years back, and approached several literary agents asking if they would have a look at it. I can’t say I even got a rejection slip, because none of them wanted to look at it. I thought of the possibility of begging some publishers to allow it to sit in their slush pile, but back then they wanted hard copy, and the overseas postage was getting prohibitively expensive, and one had to send them enough postage to return it. They wouldn’t entertain the idea of tossing it in the bin because the cost of printing a clean copy was less than half the return postage. No, they had to send it back. So I dropped the idea of trying to get it published and it just sat on my hard disk.

By 2013, however, quite a lot of my friends had Kindles and other e-book readers, Smashwords offered a way to publish an e-book with minimal capital outlay. Format the electronic manuscript according to their template and styles, upload it, and they produce it and distribute it in several different e-book formats. They take a percentage of every book sold. So in December 2014 Of Wheels and Witches was published by Smashwords. I still keep hoping that a child of the target age group (9-12) will write a review.

And then I suddenly discovered that “indie authors” were a thing, and I had apparently become one of them.

I wasn’t sure that that’s what I wanted to be.

Indie authors are those who self-publish their books instead of going through a traditional publisher, and with facilities like those at Smashwords self-publishing has never been easier, at least for e-books,.

I had, however, already had one and a third books published by Unisa Press, which was a traditional academic publisher like most other university presses. The first book was Black Charismatic Anglicans which had a print run of 250 and is now sold out. The second was African Initiatives in Healing Ministry, which had Lilian Dube and Tabona Shoko as co-authors.As far as I know it is still in print.

So I’m not a pure “indie author”.

So why did I decide to publish my latest novel, The Year of the Dragon through Smashwords instead of looking for an agent?

I suppose the main reason is that I’m getting old. Querying agents and publishers and waiting for replies is time-consuming and I’d probably be dead before a received an actual rejection, never mind an acceptance. Publishing through Smashwords is relatively quick and easy. Instead of sending one query you upload one completed MS, and the work is done.

Well, not quite.

In self-publishing the work comes after submitting the MS rather than before. Traditional publishers usually handle things like publicity, sending out review copies and nagging the reviewers for reviews, and sending copies of the reviews to the authors.

Well, not quite that either. I never saw a single review of African Initiatives in Healing Ministry and to this day I don’t even know if any review copies were actually sent, or to whom. But at any rate that is what traditional publishers are supposed to do.

Another reason for not bothering with traditional publishers is that I was thinking of getting my doctoral thesis on Orthodox Mission Methods published. Various people had told me that they wanted copies either for themselves or their students. So I sent the MS to an academic publisher, and they said they would accept it, provided I could get three readers’ reports. One reader replied positively, thought it could be published. Another didn’t reply. The third said he would be going to a meeting the following week of a different publisher he was associated with, and could he present it to them for publication? I said OK, and ten years later I’m still waiting for a reply, to hear whether the second publisher was interested, or whether he thought it was good enough for the first publisher.

The first publisher nagged me for the readers’ reports for a year or two and gave up, but no amount of pleading could get the readers to respond. Much easier to send it to somewhere like Smashwords. The only problem there is that Smashwords doesn’t do stuff like footnotes and indexes, which are needed for an academic text.

And now, ten years on, my thesis is well out of date. Much of the research is more like 25 years out of date. Would anyone like to offer me a research grant to update it?

A lot of the original research was done with a scholarship of R10000 from Unisa, awarded because of my Masters’ dissertation. But 25 years on it would cost at least ten times as much, and R100000 would barely cover the cost of updating the research. And for that price you could probably set up the academic equivalent of Smashwords.

So I’m an Indie Author, sort of, and Indie Authors are a thing, sort of. But what a thing!

Indie Authors help each other with publicity and things like that, and then you discover what other Indie Authors are up to. And one of the things they are up to, I soon discovered, was male torsos. About one in ten self-published books seems to have a male torso on the cover. Newspapers  may have bums and boobs on page 5, but Indie Authors have torsos on the cover.

Do all the books with male torsos belong to the same genre? There used to be a genre called “bodice rippers”, but these have no bodices to rip.

But that’s OK, because you can have the ripped without the bodices. As one dictionary defines it, “ripped” means “Having an extremely defined physique; toned: ripped, bulging muscles”.

For more on the male torso phenomenon, see here Urban fantasy, mediocrity, and the male torso | Notes from underground and here Graham Downs: Judging a Book by Its Cover: Urban Fantasy.

So what do Indie Authors do, apart from male torsos?

And do I really want to be one?

As a reader, I don’t care whether a book is published by a conventional publisher or independently. It’s the content, not the method of publication that counts. And as an author, I’m most concerned that my books reach the kind of people who might want to read them. And my hope is that they find them useful, informative, or entertaining, or all of those things.

So no, I’m not an “Indie Author”, I’m just an author, but I do recognise that independently published books rely, far more than conventionally published ones, on word of mouth (or Tweet, or Facebook shares etc) to reach the people who might want to read them, and so will try to help promote the ones I think are worth a read. And I hope others will do the same for mine.




Every Dead Thing: Urban fantasy or whodunit?

6 April 2019

Every Dead Thing (Charlie Parker, #1)Every Dead Thing by John Connolly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in a long series of books by John Connolly featuring private detective Charlie “Bird” Parker, his ex-assassin bodyguards Angel and Louis, a psychologist, Rachel Wolfe, who does criminal profiling for the New York police, and his former New York Police Department colleague Walter Cole.

Though it is the first in the series, it is the third one I’ve read, for reasons explained more fully here. I read the second in the series first, about 20 years ago, then the eleventh, and came back to the first to try to make sense of what I found in the other books. I strongly recommend to anyone reading this series that you begin with this one, as the later books frequently refer to events that took place in this one.

What grabbed my interest in reading more of the series was that The Wrath of Angels had an element of supernatural horror that was not noticeably present in the first book I had read, and it seemed that John Connolly was developing in the opposite direction to Phil Rickman, who started out as a writer of supernatural horror with books like Crybbe and Candlenight and ended up writing more conventional whodunits.

But reading the first book in the series proved that hypothesis wrong. The supernatural horror element is present in this one from the start.

In Every Dead Thing Charlie Parker leaves the New York police force after his wife and child are killed, and becomes a private detective. It is really two books in one. In the first part he is asked to search for a missing woman from a small town in Virginia, and comes across a serial killer. In the second part he is looking for a serial killer in Louisiana, one whom he also believes to have been responsible for the death of his wife and daughter, who is known as the Travelling [sic] Man.

John Connolly is Irish, and the books are written in British English, and published in England. The villain is the Travelling Man, not the Traveling Man, and Connolly uses the British “towards” rather than the American “toward”. It made me wonder if there were American editions of the books, and whether they had been adapted to US English.

I read a library copy, and it had been edited and annotated by another library patron, something that I find rather irritating, though I had to agree with one comment: Too much blood, too many corpses. There is also rather a strong element of organised crime in the book, and while I enjoy reading whodunits and police procedurals, I’m not very fond of the “Godfather” type of story with organised crime families. This book has two sets of rival gangs, one in New York and one in New Orleans.

What kept me reading, and kept my interest, was my curiosity about the element of supernatural horror, which edges the book (and the series) into the urban fantasy genre. I became interested in that genre mainly through the works of Charles Williams and I’m always looking for similar books and even tried to write one.

I found the element of supernatural horror present in the first book of the series, which abolishes my Phil Rickman hypothesis. It’s right there on page 121 in the edition I read, where Charlie Parker gets a phone call from someone who claims to be the killer of his wife and child, and there is the following conversation:

“You’re a sick man, but that isn’t going to save you.” I pressed Caller ID on the phone and a number came up, a number I recognised. It was the number of the call-box at the end of the street. I moved towards the door and began making my way down the stairs.

“No, not man. In her final moments your wife knew that, your Susan, mouth to mouth’s kiss, as I drew the life from her. Oh, I lusted for her in those last, bright-red minutes but, then, that has always been a weakness of our kind. Our sin was not pride, but lust for humanity. And I chose her, Mr Parker, and I loved her in my way.” The voice was now deep and male. It boomed in my ear like the voice of a god, or a devil.

My question was answered by “not man” and “our kind”.

The enemies detective Charlie Parker is up against in the first book, and apparently in the rest of the series, are more than flesh and blood, but are demons, or at least demonised human beings.

The trouble is that, in contrast with the books of Charles Williams, the weapons of his warfare are very carnal indeed.

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The above is based on my review at GoodReads, but I’ve added some theological comments and thoughts on the urban fantasy genre generally.

As I mentioned above, what interested me about the series in general, and this book in particular, was the mythological dimension and the way Connolly handles it. I don’t think he handles it very well. In addition to the “our kind” reference, there is specific mention of the Book of Enoch. about which I have had more to say in another review here: Angels, demons and egregores.

In Every Dead Thing the Book of Enoch is mentioned as a possible source for the killer’s thinking of himself as a demon or a fallen angel, and at that point of the story is part of the criminal profiling work of Rachel Wolfe. The distinction would be between a human criminal who thinks of himself as a fallen angel, and one who is actually demonised. It is clear from The Wrath of Angels that the enemies that Charlie Parker is battling are the latter rather than the former. They are more than mere flesh and blood.

This is what makes the theme of Connolly’s novels similar to those of Charles Williams. But Connolly’s handling of the theme is very different, and in my view inferior, to that of Williams. In 2 Corinthians 10:2-7 St Paul writes that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal”, but in Connolly’s books they are very carnal indeed, and he describes in great detail the make and model of every firearm used.

C.S. Lewis, in Perelandra, acknowledges that sometimes carnal weapons may need to be used in spiritual warfare, as the protagonist Ransom pursues the demonised villain Weston into a tunnel in the only fixed land on the planet. But Connolly somehow fails to integrate the carnal and spiritual elements in his stories. His spiritual evil is far too materialistic. It reminds me of the novels of Frank Peretti, who also depicts spiritual evil in very materialistic terms, and thus gets the balance wrong.

So I’m again thrown back on the conversation between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien: if we want more of the kind of stories we like, we shall have to write them ourselves.

A note on current reading

28 March 2019

A note about current reading…

My current reading list has got stirred up a bit, with some books being pushed down the pile, mainly because I need to give priority to library books that I have to take back.

I recently read The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly, which I’d picked up in the library almost by accident when I was looking for something else. It featured a private detective, Charlie Parker, who seemed familiar, and the book turned out to be 11th in a series of which we had a copy of the 2nd, Dark Hollow, which I then felt compelled to re-read. It confirmed that the earlier book was a straightforward whodunit, while the later one was urban fantasy.

I became curious about how the series had mutated in its genre, so on my next trip to the library I took out three John Connolly books.

  1. Every Dead Thing – the first in the Charlie Parker Series
  2. The Dark Angel — midway in the series, to try to find where the switch in genre takes place.
  3. The Book of Lost Thingsnot Charlie Parker. I was curious to see what John Connolly writes when he isn’t writing about Charlie Parker.

I began reading The Book of Lost Things, because I wanted a break from Charlie Parker, though still curious about the transformation. But this one I found utterly absorbing. It’s fantasy of the “doorway to another world” variety, and so far seems far better than the Charlie Parker ones.

It’s about a boy who lives in London during the Second World War. His mother dies and his father remarries, but he does not like his stepmother. He remembers the fairy stories his mother used to read to him, , and which he had read to her during her illness, and after a family fight he finds his way into another world.

I also looked for a non-fiction book, for variety, and found Sometimes there is a void by Zakes Mda. I read one of his novels a long time ago, but this is a life and times kind of autobiographical memoir.

It’s absorbing because the times are my times, even though the life was not my life, There are ways in which it intersects with the story of my life in a way that the lives of people like Jonathan Swift and J.M. Barrie do not.

It reminded me that I often like literary biographies of authors better than I like the books they write, and this one is no exception. So I’m hooked. My other reading is on hold while I finish Sometimes there is a void and The Book of Lost Things.

The Paranormal in literature and popular culture

18 March 2019

Paranormal hasn’t been part of my active vocabulary until recently. I’d seen the word, and had a vague idea of what it meant, gleaned mainly from books like Supernature by Lyall Watson. It was all 1970s stuff like Uri Geller bending spoons by looking at them and razor blades being sharpened in pyramids. Mildly-interesting uh-huh stuff, of no practical use. A bent teaspoon stirs no tea, and I haven’t shaved for 50 years.

Then someone wrote a review of my book The Year of the Dragon, and said it might appeal to those who like paranormal thrillers, and I began to wonder. It’s a fairly mundane adventure story, set in this world, with some mythological or fantasy elements. I’d not thought of it as “paranormal” before.

I said something to that effect in an online forum for discussing books and writing, and several people told me that “the paranormal” and “fantasy” were regarded by publishers as different genres. The “fantasy” genre, they said, required romance, and if the romance element was missing, then it was “paranormal”. I suppose under that definition The Lord of the Rings would just make it into the fantasy bracket because Aragorn and Arwen marry. But Lewis’s Narnia stories, or Alan Garner’s children’s books must be paranormal, because the main characters are siblings and there’s no hint of incest. I’m not entirely convinced.

I then learned of a new book edited by John Morehead The Paranormal and Popular Culture: A Postmodern Religious Landscape, and on asking about it, he pointed out that “This book draws upon Jeffrey Kripal’s definition of the paranormal as those phenomena rejected by mainstream religion and traditional science. It is expressed in a variety of ways, and this book looks at some of the more popular forms in popular culture.”

That definition certainly still fits the Lyall Watson stuff of 40 years ago, But where do you draw the line between paranormal and myth?

The Inklings, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien, spoke of their writing in relation to myth. I’m not aware of their having used words like “paranormal”. Can one draw a line between myth and the paranormal, either in literature or in popular culture? And somewhere nearby is folklore.

In another recent blog post, Angels, demons, and Inklings, I wrote about the mythical creatures that populate the works of the Inklings, and this post is related to it, and perhaps can be seen as a follow-on from it, but relates more to the literary genres in which such creatures appear. Could one regard eldila as being “paranormal”?

Can the term “mainstream religion” help here?

Though eldila and the like are not referred to by name in works of theology, the kind of creatures Lewis had in mind are, but what about elves and Tolkien’s dwarves and orcs, and Lewis’s dwarfs?

Goblins, ghosts and fairies belong to folklore rather than to mythology, and, as Morehead suggests, there are different lines by which we can trace the paranormal in literature back to the Gothic tale. And as for the theological significance, Charles Stewart, who made an anthropological study of villagers on the Greek island of Naxos, found their folkloric beliefs were not really survivals of ancient Greek paganism as some romantic neopagan Hellenists like to claim, but were fitted entirely into the Orthodox worldview, yet Stewart also commented on the theological point: “The main doctrinal point is simple: NO DUALISM. Satan is not to be regarded as a power equal to God. He is God’s creation and operates subject to divine will.”

Other points made by Stewart in his book Demons and the devil are : (1) Satan has no independent power. He may tempt, but his success is strictly dependent on lapses in human will; (2) Satan is immaterial; there is no excessive concern with his form or geographical associations; (3) as he has no real power, there is no reason to appeal to him. All rites, sorcery, black magic, astrology and the like that appeal to demons or the devil are fruitless; (4) Satan’s field of operations is narrow, and the harm he can provoke is limited; (5) Satan is strictly and intrinsically evil. The Church does not accept the existence of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures such as neraides, gorgones and kallikantzaroi; (6) Satan is singular. He is the leader of demons who are fallen angels of the same order as himself. There is no real concern for the names of demons.

His research showed that beliefs of the villagers of Naxos fitted into the Orthodox theological framework, with the possible exception of the exotika, who formed no part of formal theology.

I’ve just finished reading another book, The Wrath of Angels, by John Connolly (my review here), which could help to clarify the distinction. The fallen angels in Connolly’s book seem to belong to the paranormal category rather than to the mythical category. And perhaps that could take one a step closer to articulating the distinction.

I agree with what Nicolas Berdyaev says about myth:

Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention, with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything, in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life, more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together symbolically.

I don’t think one can say that of the paranormal.


Don’t judge the cover by its book

12 March 2019

For the week 10-17 March 2019 my book The Year of the Dragon is participating in a competition to see which of 10 books has the best cover. I’m inviting you to go to this site — Cover Wars — and vote for it every day during this week.

Of course, if you think that one of the other covers is better, you can vote for that, but I think the cover of The Year of the Dragon is the best, so I hope you will vote for it seven times over the next week.

Because the image of the cover on the Cover Wars site is rather small, I’m posting a bigger version here to make it easier to judge it. And remember, you are being asked to judge the cover, not the whole book, so even if you think it’s a crummy book, you can still vote for the cover.

The cover was designed my son Simon Hayes, who is a freelance computer illustrator and animator. You can see more of his work and his current projects here.

Some people have asked about where they can get a copy of the book itself. It is an ebook, and you can click on the icon of the book on the Cover Wars site, or click here to get to the Smashwords site where you can order it. It is also available from other ebook retailers. If you’d like to know more about the book and how it came to be written, see here: The Year of the Dragon.

One of the ways in which you can support artists is to share it with friends, and one of the ways you can do that is to share this post on social media. You can do that quite easily by clicking on one or more of the sharing buttons at the bottom of this post. If you see this on Facebook, you can both “share” and “like” it. If you got an email message about this, please forward it to friends or family members.

And we also have another artist in our family; our daughter Julia Bridget Hayes is an ikonographer living in Athens, Greece, and you can see her work here.