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An activist recounts being jailed in Barberton Prison

Published Jul 2, 2022

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Imprisoned - The Experience Of A Prisoner Under Apartheid

This extraordinary account of imprisonment shows with exacting clarity the awful injustices of the system. Sylvia Neame, activist against apartheid and racism and by profession a historian, has not written a classical historical memoir.

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The book is a highly personal account, written in an original style. At the same time, it casts a particularly sharp light on the unfolding of a police-dominated apartheid system in the 1960s.

The author incorporates some of her experiences in prisons and police stations around the country, including the fabricated trial she faced while imprisoned in Port Elizabeth, one of the many such trials which took place in the Eastern Cape. But her focus is on Barberton Prison. Here she was imprisoned together with a small number of other white women political prisoners, most of whom had stood trial and been sentenced in Johannesburg in 1964–5 for membership of an illegal organisation, the Communist Party. It is a little known story. Not even the Progressive Party MP Helen Suzman found her way here.

Barberton Prison, a maximum security prison, part of a farm jail complex in the eastern part of what was then known as the Transvaal province, was far from any urban centre. The women were kept in a small space at one end of the prison in extreme isolation under a regime of what can only be called psychological warfare, carried out on the instructions of the ever more powerful (and corrupt) security apparatus.

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A key concern for the author was the mental and psychological symptoms which emerged in herself and her fellow prisoners and the steps they took to maintain their sanity. It is a narrative partly based on diary entries, written in a minute hand on tissue paper, which escaped the eye of the authorities.

Moreover, following her release in April 1967 (she had been altogether incarcerated for some three years) she produced a full script in the space of two or three months. The result is immediacy, spontaneity, authenticity; a story full of searing detail. It is also full of a fighting spirit, pervaded by a sharp intellect, a capacity for fine observation and a sense of humour typical of the women political prisoners at Barberton.

Imprisoned by Sylvia Neame is available at www.loot.co.za (R241)

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On The Rocks - Memoir Of A High-Functioning Alcoholic

Thirty-nine-year-old Thando is living in total denial about her drinking. On the surface her life looks aspirational – great job, apartment, snazzy car. But behind the façade she harbours a shameful secret – she can’t control her drinking.

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To the outside world she's just having fun, but alone at home, she’s knocking back a bottle or two a night to “unwind”. It’s not until she takes a sabbatical from booze that she's forced to confront her crippling anxiety. Intimate, brave and inspiring.

On The Rocks by Thando Pato is available at www.loot.co.za (R205)

AA to Z - Addictionary of the 12-step Culture

Throughout the world today, more than two million alcoholics and hundreds of thousands of drug addicts, compulsive overeaters, sex addicts, compulsive gamblers, codependents, and other addicts abstain from their addiction, having found a new life by practising the 12-step programme of recovery developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the years, their practices have evolved into a way of life –the 12-Step Culture.

AA to Z is the first book to document the richness and diversity of the lives of recovering people and to provide an encyclopaedic look at this unique subculture. Less self-help than enlightenment and entertainment, AA to Z is comprised of real-life stories of recovering addicts as well as an “addictionary” of recovery terminology. Everything from the well-known slogan “One Day at a Time” to more esoteric terms like “pigeon” (a lovingly insulting term for a newcomer to the programme) and “Wharf Rats” (sober Deadheads) is explained with clarity, insight, and humour.

AA to Z - Addictionary of the 12-step Culture by Christopher Cavanaugh is available at www.loot.co.za (R297)

Cape Times

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