Zuma’s Bastardby Sihle Mthembu / 22.11.2010
Azad Essa is one of the most prolific twenty-something writers in the very healthy South African blogosphere. His debut Zuma’s Bastard: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist is out now from emerging champions of ‘dangerous’ literature, local publishing house Two Dogs. It’s getting major buzz. Blurbs include: “The digitally compressed and accelerated voice of a South Africa that no media tribunal could ever silence” / “to SA social & political commentary what Russell Crowe is to mouthy hotel emplyees – a hard fist in the face!” Chapter headings include ‘Was Eugene Terre Blanche a Muslim?’, ‘Blue Julius (and Pink Floyd), ‘Let’s jerk off to Climate Change’ and ‘Nobel Obama Trumps Superman’. As Ferial Haffajee puts it: Essa is of a “generation of South Africans who reached political maturity in the era of Polokwane – the quintessential voice of the Born Frees” and likens his work to John Pilger and Rageh Omaar.
A much needed counter-voice, Essa’s writing is unaffiliated and unweary. He’s currently based in Doha where he now works for Al Jazeera. So Essa can kiss ever being allowed into America goodbye. He would have been profiled anyway. But his writing occasionally reaches such supercharged heights of contrary brilliance, they’d never let him in. His Jazeera gig is an amazing feat for a dude who could barely get published five years ago. He was a well-meaning, bewildered academic back then – not a journalist. Then blogging, notoriety, death threats in his own mind and whammo he’s swimming in groupies and has the title deed to a nice bachelor pad in Doha! The relocation hasn’t detached him from the nitty gritties of contemporary South African culture. Zuma’s Bastard is enough to snap asset-heavy Exclusives browsers to attention.
What lies within the covers is a fine tuned collection of astute satire. Essa writes with a winning mix of wry Woody Allen-ic humor and highy readable Ndumiso Ngcobo-ric simplicity. You’ll enjoy its open hearted disdain for power mongers and liars, cheats and grifters. It’s a fresh international outlook. It’s easygoing commitment to social justice. How Essa takes nothing for granted. Being in his company is like hanging with your closest friends at varsity, talking shit and being funny-smart. Perfect summer reading.
Zuma’s Bastards refuses to sugar coat issues. It arm-wrestles our country’s numbingly familiar troubles without a trace of populist posturing or soulless rhetoric. The key to the book is Essa’s unspoken circling around necessary questions: Is this a normal society? What is it doing to us? What needs to stop happening for things to get better?
Essa’s book reveals the power of turning everyday speech and common sense – the way we really are – into tools of probing dissent. It’s the most enlightened thing to happen to local publishing this year.