Here’s looking at you. And you. And you.

Recognition.jpgTHERE’S SOMETHING UNMISSABLY effervescent about a beautifully written short story. It has not only to do with its brevity, but with the way in which its writer crafts a whole universe in a few pages. And with a particularly good short story, it’s a universe replete with everything, a universe that will haunt you forever. This is the kind of experience you can anticipate with David Medalie’s latest anthology of South African short stories, Recognition.

There is not one of these hand- picked, lovingly formed tales that glares out for being under par or without a voice of its own. Cohesively, this anthology offers a uniquely South African voice. It is beautifully crafted, in spite of the fact that stories deal with a wide range of issues, from feeling unwanted to being broken, from remembering abuse to articulating violence. It’s a series of tales which give you insight into the soul of South Africa, from its youngest and most vulnerable to its oldest and most hard done by.

These 22 stories by a range of South African authors – living and dead, contemporary and historical – are powerful testimonies to our ability, as South Africans, to laugh and cry, disparage truths and describe things as they are. It’s the kind of collection that you must take a breath from, every now and then, so that you can keep the memory of each story pristine in your heart and not allow them to merge.

Loosely bound by the notion of recognition, the focus of this anthology splays wide across the Karoo as it burrows into the poorest, most humble township homestead. It’s a discourse about robbers frightened in rich estates and Muslims who digress from their faith and their family, and a series of essays on hunger and meeting strangers on a train. It’s about what might happen to the widows of apartheid’s leaders, and how a blanket feels to a man who has nothing.

Many of the stories are written in the first person, but this is not to say that they are autobiographical. This is South African fiction at its finest, offering you a taste of everything in a rich and fulsome smorgasbord. Medalie is to be celebrated for putting together this brand new collection – on some levels, it evokes Encounters, a book of South African short stories, also selected and edited by Medalie, that slipped into school curricula and first saw light of day in 1998. Recognition is  the kind of book – if it does become part of South African school syllabuses – with which you know your children will be in safe hands, if they are taught with it, or gravitate toward reading it of their own accord.

As you read this book, many diverse South African voices will fill your head. The brilliance of Medalie’s curation of this selection means that it doesn’t self-censor or mute itself around terminology that is no longer considered acceptable. It doesn’t skew itself apologetically away from racist caricatures or perspectives articulated by writers or their characters. It tells it like it is. And it gives the kind of recognition to South Africans large and small, rich and poor, good and evil, that we all need to read.

  • Recognition: An Anthology of South African Short Stories selected edited by David Medalie is published by Wits University Press, Johannesburg (2017). It features stories by Herman Charles Bosman, Achmat Dangor, Nadia Davids, HIE Dhlomo, Ahmed Essop, Damon Galgut, Nadine Gordimer, Dan Jacobson, Alex La Guma, Mandla Langa, Wamuwi Mbao, David Medalie, Kobus Moolman, Njabulo S. Ndebele, Lindiwe Nkutha, Pauline Smith, Can Themba, Miriam Tlali, Chris van Wyk, Mary Watson, Zoë Wicomb and Makhosazana Xaba.

Wafer: Telling of murder with a simple palette and a mature eye

Untitled, a painting in oil on canvas (2015) by Mary Wafer
Untitled, a painting in oil on canvas (2015) by Mary Wafer

It requires a particular level of maturity to take a concept and work with it until it reaches a point of abstraction, but a very unique sense of artistic muscle and wisdom that can keep that abstraction relevant to the casual viewer. This is what Mary Wafer achieves in her current exhibition at David Krut.

Entitled Ninth Floor, the body of paintings and hard ground etchings shown here is not excessive in size. It’s primarily monochromatic and hinges very directly onto a poem by Chris van Wyk, about the alleged killings in the late 1970s that took place at John Vorster Square in central Johannesburg, under the pall of apartheid.

The stories that sullied our world then are graphic and terrible, and most of the facts surrounding the multitude of people who openly rejected the ghastly machine of apartheid, and how they died or were tortured, are not completely known. Lies and misinformation colour that bleak period in South Africa’s history in layers of words and bureaucracy hiding gestures, cruelty and loss.

In this exhibition,with an astute eye and a ruthless sense of composition, Wafer touches all she needs to. But the work is not about the blood and horror of being pushed out of a ninth floor window in the police headquarters of a city ravaged by racism. It’s also not about the dockets and police records, the words and accounts. And yet, it is.

When you look at these works, which visually focus on the repeat patterns and rhyming visuals evoked by Venetian blinds in a huge building, clad in glass and bricks, you get a sense of texture. But it brings also a sense of horror, particularly when the uniformity of the pattern is disrupted.

Arguably, the title of the exhibition and the presence of the works operate in tandem: you can’t separate them and retain that freshness of horror that legibility of unspoken brutality. But this is a moot point: you approach the images ensconced as they are in the title of the exhibition and all that it connotes.

Having said that, the body of work here is impeccably produced. The etchings are printed flawlessly. The lines break the surface of the work with a sense of industriousness. Evoking the etchings of Dominic Thorburn from the 1980s and earlier, dealing with the industrial and motorised monsters that gave apartheid its scary face, Wafer’s body of work is beguilingly simple: they don’t allow you to glory in the texture of the mark making, but keep drawing you back to the presence of the gesture.

Ninth Floor is a heady exhibition without being prescriptive or blatant. It’s a tour de force body of work by a mature artist. You can see all the works in the space of maybe fifteen minutes, but their presence casts a grim resonance in your sensibilities which is frankly haunting.

  • Mary Wafer’s exhibition Ninth Floor is at David Krut Projects, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank, until August 6. 0114470627 or