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Book Reviews

ImageUS writer, poet and activist, Donna Brenneis, presents an insightful and compassionate analysis of a moving new book on living in apartheid South Africa


"Peeping through the Reeds" by South African Dr. June Hutchison (pen name Musuva) provides the reader with real events that are not universally known; generally, these stories do not pop up in our kitchen table discussions.

Musuva's book is highly recommended for its compass-like qualities that serve the global communities and history of the Griqua people and coloured oppression that remains an issue in South Africa despite the fact that we are more interconnected with each other at a fundamental level than ever previously believed.

In 1994 the first free multiracial elections were held in South Africa, but there is still the need for an "ongoing healing project for South Africans today" after seventeen years. If we, in fact, "are born to be our brother's keeper" "Peeping through the Reeds" will not only help South Africans realize how this can be best accomplished; it will help the global community with the complex issues that individuals face in today's mosaic world. South Africa is not a stereotype when it comes to segregation and race issues. It is the archetype.

Mixed Heritage and Apartheid

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu was interviewed by Director Tom Shadyac for the film 'I AM The Documentary' he stated, "The truth of who we are is that we are because we belong."

"Peeping through the Reeds" cries out to the universe to understand that what we do at an individual level affects not only the local but the global environment. Enslavement, segregation under the British and apartheid was in violent juxtaposition to the very core of our well being as was so much of the resultant behaviour of the oppressed. According to one interviewee in Shadyac's documentary "...the basis of all nature is cooperation and democracy. It's in our DNA...."

Musuva's book is highly recommended for its compass-like qualities that serve the global communities and history of the Griqua people and coloured oppression that remains an issue in South Africa.


If you are a reader who is interested in the coping mechanisms of human beings when violence of the soul is thrust upon those who understand interconnection, then reading Musuva's novel is a requisite. Its truth shatters any preconceived notions that might be floating around in our cyber world of inter-connectedness.

Musuva begins her work with a Prologue that immediately shows the violence with which children lived under apartheid and continues within the first chapters. While violence against children in any form is not unknown to the international community, the history of the Griqua people and coloured oppression deserves an audience in order for South Africa's complexities to be understood in 2011, not just during the apartheid regime.

Not Simply Stories about the Past

Musuva writes, "We are the Griqua people - the people of the desert plant, named kanniedood, which means 'cannot die'....It grows on the stony mountainsides along the Orange River, its roots clinging to the rocks. They are like our people - resilient and unique, not just to be found anywhere in the world, and wherever they go, they proudly take root in the hardest of places on Earth."

I do not want to give away the novel's intrigue, but it is no coincidence that South Africa's Table Mountain is the oldest in the world. The people to whom Musuva refers will surprise the reader in all likelihood.

What the coloureds (a classification under the pre-rainbow nation) experienced under British segregation and apartheid could only be unique to a community that aspired to Western culture and who were of mixed heritage trying to find their place in a country that told them they could be "white" if they passed the tests.



The book's central thematic question is 'what does it do to one's soul when one denies the true authentic self?'

With the concrete answer that the reader sees in the form of human behaviour, one might think one is looking into the soul of a hope-to-die drug addict. The denial of the authentic self in South Africa resulted in truly schizophrenic and downright crazy making behaviour that could only be understood when faced with insane segregationist realities and the Nazi behaviour of the National Party that took place during the apartheid regime.

Dr. Hutchison's book is not simply stories about the past; it is about now, because the past cannot be brushed aside as though it never existed. There is a collective consciousness and Dr. Hutchison helps us muddle through the complications of South Africa's schizophrenic behaviour that affects not only South Africans, but all of us.

About the Author

ImageDr June Bam-Hutchison is a Community Development Strategist and Diversity Consultant and a Research Associate at the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, York University and a Visiting Research Fellow, Faculty of Business and Law, Kingston University.

June Bam-Hutchison grew up on the Cape Flats in South Africa and worked extensively with communities in South Africa during both the apartheid and post-apartheid periods. She has worked at and with a number of universities in both South Africa and Europe, and has presented many talks globally in her field in the area of community, diversity and heritage.

She has held several leadership positions in the field of diversity, heritage and community development, amongst others as CEO of South Africa's first national post-apartheid history project for education which included the establishment of local indigenous knowledge networks and partnerships with communities, local government, higher education and the heritage sector. Recent and present positions include as co-chair of the Mayor's Heritage and Diversity Task Force Committee on Equitable Partnerships in London and as Honorary Secretary of the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom.

June was appointed as a research fellow in human rights and heritage at Kingston University and as community identities research facilitator and advisor with the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, York University. Her leadership and contributions was recognized on the world stage in September 2008 with two awards: the 60th anniversary UNESCO Peace Education Prize to South Africa in Paris and a prestigious GG2 UK women in leadership and diversity 10th anniversary award presented to her by the British First Lady in London.

Donna Brenneis Is the co-author of 'the TRUTH is on the WALLS' that sets forth some of the participation of coloureds in South Africa's history, coloured oppression, the forced removals of District Six and the efforts of two women who struggled against British segregation and the apartheid regime scheduled for publication August 2011. Currently working on a screenplay about two civil rights activists from Cape Town, Naz Gool Ebrahim and Cissie Gool, Brenneis has a long history of activism in her native California alongside a varied career, which included working as a union organiser for several years. She has travelled across the US and visited Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, India, Nicaragua, South Africa and the UK. A graduate in English Literature from the University of California at Irvine, Brenneis is the mother of two daughters and has two grandchildren.
Image Nigerian-born Dele Ogun talks about his first book ‘The Law, the Lawyers and the Lawless’ which chronicles his life in the UK and his career with the Law.


Born in Lagos in the early 1960’s into a newly independent Nigeria, Dele Ogun grew up in his father’s village of Aiyede on the south-west coast, where he lived until the age of seven, when he was sent to join his parents in London.

In his first book ‘The Law, the Lawyers and the Lawless’, Dele – born Akindele Ogunetimoju – tells the story of his early years in the UK and his efforts to assimilate into British culture without losing his own. It traces his journey from a Yoruba schoolboy newly arrived in London to his success in establishing the first black-led commercial law practice in England.

Struggling with dyslexia, yet with an unquenchable ambition to be a lawyer, Dele’s book offers a compelling insight into the challenges of breaking into the cloistered and often privileged world of lawyers, judges and the British legal profession and charts some of the lawful and lawless encounters he faces along the way.

ReConnect Africa spoke to Dele Ogun about his career and his new book.

RCA: What inspired you to write ‘The Law, the Lawyers & the Lawless’?

DO: I had an African-American law partner for many years who used to speak of the “first-black” syndrome which is a common theme in America where opportunities were only opened up to the black community in the 60’s. Our discussions caused me to reflect on the milestones of my own journey, from village life in Nigeria to professional life in Britain, and to realise that I was one of that transitional generation with a story to tell.

RCA: In the book it is clear that it is your understanding of your strengths that directs your career development. What steps do you think people can take to do the same for themselves?

DO: All of our potential is to be found in the genes that we inherit at birth and our achievements are simply the extent to which we understand our individual bequests and supplement them with acquired skills. I am of that school of thought that says that self-knowledge is the greatest education of all and from an early age I have been in dialogue with myself: seeking to understand my likes and my dislikes and critically assessing my strengths and my weaknesses. Once you have carried out this self-appraisal honestly, you can then begin to work on your weaknesses to produce an enhanced you.

RCA: How far do you think the legal profession in the UK has come in terms of opportunity and access for ethnic minorities?

DO: When I first started knocking on the doors of the profession in the mid 80’s it was very much a new phenomenon, especially in the field of commercial law. Though many others have since walked the walk, the pathway is still stony compared with , say, the U.S.A. Getting into commercial law practice in the UK is still hard and staying in is harder still.

However, the experience of different ethnic minority groups is not uniform: Caribbeans still get interviews more easily because of their inherited British names (other things being equal); Asians are making it through to partnership in the commercial practices more often for the simple reason that the Indian sub-continent has taken off commercially; the African lawyer still has the double burden of the name that doesn’t belong and the continent that is economically in decline.

'The Law, the Lawyers and the Lawless’ – A Review

A heavy workload, looming deadlines and a compelling case for catching up on lost sleep were all put aside to read this engaging, engrossing, enlightening and extremely entertaining account of Dele Ogun’s life.

Told with astonishing honesty in these times where image often reigns supreme, as well as a confidence that never crosses into smugness, ‘The Law, The Lawyers & The Lawless’ is the story of one man’s quest to understand his strengths and to push against those obstacles that stand between him and his goal.

In the course of so doing, he acquires new insights that open the door to fresh opportunities and reaches a sober and mature redefinition of success.

This book by Dele Ogun – born Akindele Ogunetimoju – showcases his natural talents as a legal advocate and his instincts as an entrepreneur unafraid to push against the boundaries of the status quo. It displays the wit and charm of this born orator as well as the grace and compassion of someone who must surely be ranked high on the list of role models for today’s African Diaspora youth.

This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who appreciates these qualities!

Frances Williams
Editor, ReConnect Africa


RCA: You combined your legal skills and entrepreneurial flair when you set up your law firm. What advice do you have for other lawyers who might want to follow this route?

DO: There will be highs and there will be lows! It is a joy to have the freedom to be the kind of lawyer you want to be and, at the same time, to be a decision maker.

For example, I mix transactional work with advocacy which would have been impossible in my former life as an employed lawyer in a major City firm. I also recently decided to rebrand the firm from Ogun@Law to Akin & Law LLP which is the kind of judgment call that C.E.O.s in commercial establishments have to make.

The lows are when you see your business overdraft spiralling because the pay day you were looking forward to just didn’t go to plan.

RCA: How would you say your Nigerian origins contributed to developing the kind of person and lawyer you have become?

DO: It is hard work being a Nigerian, at least for those of us who cannot live by the value systems that are prevalent in the country at the moment: try as you might you Image cannot escape the bad odour generated by bad leadership and fanned by the international media. However, it is because the good Nigerian cannot count on any favours from home or abroad that accounts for our resilience.

Being ever mindful of my origins in Nigeria, I looked for opportunities whilst those who belonged looked for rights. My origins made me realise that I could not expect to walk into jobs like a native and this led me to think about the pathways where I would stand a better chance of progression.

RCA: Your book provides a fascinating commentary on events in Nigeria. As an African living and working in the UK, how do you view your personal responsibility to the development of Nigeria and of Africa as a whole?

DO: Africans at home often think that those of us who have been abroad for long do not understand the problems of the homeland because, as my people would say, “you are not on ground”. They fail to understand the two factors that mean that the view from abroad can be a lot clearer. The first factor is that since the trade routes tour homeland were first opened up, the events “on ground” have been umbilically conjoined with strategic calculations abroad.



The second factor is the greater access to a greater range of information that those of us abroad have. Whether we like it or not, by virtue of our vantage point, those of us abroad have the responsibility for the development of our homeland since the failings back home will continue to feed the prejudice of the racists and the arrogant claims of the supremacists in the foreign lands where we and our children may have taken refuge.

The problem with many of us at present is that we are using up all our energies trying to leave our children a financial legacy and putting nothing aside for the work that needs to be done to give them the more enduring legacy of membership of a race that is respected in the world.

RCA: How can readers buy a copy of ‘The Law, the Lawyers & the Lawless’?

DO: You can buy the book on www.amazon.co.uk or simply ask your local book shop to order it.

Image This newly published biography of Nelson Mandela is a delightful read for anyone who wants the story without all the footnotes.


'MANDELA' by Peter Hain tells the life and legacy of one of the twentieth century's most influential statesmen. Charting his development as a lawyer, a protester, and a political leader, Peter Hain has produced the first popular, readable story of Nelson Mandela's life.

This small, portable and extremely user-friendly book takes an in-depth look at Mandela's rise through the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC) and subsequent imprisonment on Robben Island, as increasingly vocal protests against the injustices of apartheid brought his struggle against overwhelming prejudice and fear to the eyes of the world.

Why Mandela?

Nelson Mandela, "the icon of icons", is renowned for his tireless crusade against racial inequality, outspoken social criticism, values of freedom and his anti-apartheid campaigning, making him an international hero. As a personal friend of Nelson Mandela, Peter Hain has managed to capture the humanity, humility and passion of a man so publicly revered, in this inspirational biography.

This small, portable and extremely user-friendly book takes an in-depth look at Mandela


Hain starts the journey from Mandela's rural childhood in the Transkei, through his early revolutionary activities and radicalization to his three decades in prison and the triumph of the human spirit that led to the victorious foundations of a Rainbow Nation.

MANDELA encompasses his inauguration as South Africa's first black president, his 'retirement' campaigns for human rights, a solution to AIDS and poverty and above all his compassion and humanity. Hain also reveals for the first time Mandela's thoughts on Iraq – when, he says, the former President was 'the angriest I had ever seen' - and how he perceives Mugabe's rule on Zimbabwe, whilst demonstrating how Nelson Mandela has truly become a legend for our time.

MANDELA features tributes from international icons including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Lord Richard Attenborough and is packed with over 100 photographs of key figures and events in the formation of a new South Africa.

Mandela the Man

Peter Hain's biography captures the development of Mandela's personality and growth as a man and leader. Mandela's naturally regal bearing, a legacy of his royal ancestry, led him at times to receive more deference than the other prisoners during their long captivity on Robben Island and Madiba's strong sense of justice shines through.

When on the island, Mandela was given khaki shorts to wear – the expected 'native boy' attire – Hain writes that "Mandela protested about the shorts and had long trousers dumped in the cell. However, when the others were denied long trousers, he protested and his own were taken away. Only three years later were they all given long trousers."

Mandela became the undisputed leader and spokesman for the political prisoners on the island, not only from the ANC but from all the other parties, acquiring "a quiet authority" over them and, in the words of a journalist prisoner on the island, "he never seemed to be angry and would persuade other prisoners to cool off before they reacted to crises. He was a gentleman through and through."

Peter Hain's biography captures the development of Mandela's personality and growth as a man and leader.


Determined to wrestle peace from the apartheid government's reign of terror and isolated from his beloved wife Winnie – his "lifeline to the outside world" - and his children, Mandela's struggle was both personal and political, an example of which is seen in one of his letters to Winnie about a tomato plant he had tried to nurture but which died. "I did not want our relationship to go the way of that plant, and yet I felt that I had been unable to nourish many of the most important relationships in my life."

In the book, Hain quotes Mandela's decision to eschew anger and focus on the future once released from prison: "Yes, I was angry. But when I felt that anger well up inside of me I realized that if I hated them after I got outside that gate then they would still have me. I wanted to be free so I let it go."

'A Short, Popular Read'

There is no shortage of books and essays that have been written about this popular African icon and Hain is clear about the rationale for his book, describing it as "the first popular, readable, accessible and concise one on him."

Speaking at the launch of the book, fittingly enough within the liberated halls of South Africa House in London, Hain described the book as "a short popular read" that the average person, whether a student or a pensioner, could use to understand the situation and the life and sacrifices of Madiba and "without millions of footnotes".

As he writes: "I was not an impartial observer in his life but rather an activist participant: initially as an anti-apartheid activist and then as a British politician and friend."

Hain's own journey from a troubled and divided nation to witnessing "the vuvuzela World Cup" is probably worth its own biography.

An Activist Writer

Peter Hain, the Right Honourable MP for Neath, is an author who is almost as fascinating as his subject. A Labour MP who has held several prominent positions including Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Secretary of State for Wales, Hain was instrumental in many of the anti-apartheid campaigns during South Africa's struggle, both in South Africa and in the UK. His campaigning throughout the 1970's made apartheid a national issue in Britain, propelling white South Africa into isolation and making him a target of the regime's security services.

Born to anti-apartheid activists with links to Mandela that go back to the 1960's, Hain grew up in South Africa where both his parents were jailed and then banned by the regime. His mother so infuriated the apartheid hierarchy that a newspaper cartoon in the early 1960's depicted Vorster, the minister of justice, saying "Go and find Adelaine Hain, see what she is doing and tell her she mustn't."

An Extraordinary Story

As Hain writes in the book, "Mandela's story is an extraordinary one and an inspiration for humanity: from barefoot herd boy to world leader; from freedom fighter to revered statesman; from prisoner to president."

Mandela's irreverent sense of humour is clearly depicted in the book, as is his genuine interest in people and his recognition of those that supported him. In the book Hain relates how Mandela insisted on calling his mother Adelaine to enquire after her health when he heard that she had been unwell.

'"I must speak to her," he said. Out came my mobile and, when she answered from her bed, she was greeted with: "Hullo, Nelson Mandela here, do you remember me?"' – keeping then Prime Minister Tony Blair waiting in the process.

As Hain writes, Mandela's greatness is not simply from his extraordinary life story. "It comes from the humanity that he radiates his common touch, his humility, self-deprecation, sense of fun and dignity….throughout everything, Nelson Mandela remained his own man, not seduced by the trappings of office nor deluded by the adulation of admirers, always friendly and approachable."

Peter Hain is the author of 15 other books including Don't Play With Apartheid, Mistaken Identity: The Wrong Face of the Law, and Sing the Beloved Country. Mandela by Peter Hain is available online and from booksellers.
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