Poetry blows the whistle on state capture, injustice and GBV in SA

By Nicola Daniels Time of article published Jul 15, 2021

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Cape Town - Whistleblowing is the title of the latest work by poet, academic and whistleblower, Athol Williams.

The 76-pager, featuring 53 poems, 13 of which have been published in literary journals in South Africa, the UK and US, is set to transcend state capture and also blow the whistle on the injustices South Africans tolerate and foster, particularly against women and the economically vulnerable.

“Whistleblowing is an act of disclosing information for the public good that another party wants hidden, so there are two meanings of the title: (i) it refers directly to my whistleblowing on state capture and my testimony at the State Capture Commission and (ii) highlighting my claim that poverty and the other social suffering exist by design – politicians and the powerful want this hidden – I am uncovering it, or shining a light on it, i.e. “blowing this whistle” on it,” he said.

Williams, a former senior lecturer at UCT's Graduate School of Business (GSB) in March this year, is no stranger to whistleblowing and gave testimony at the Zondo commission, providing information relating to Sars and his former job at management consultancy firm Bain.

The Whistleblower’s Wife is the first poem in the book.

“The poem Whistleblower’s Wife captures the agony that a wife faces living in fear after her husband has blown the whistle. Here’s an extract which captures this sense of the suffocation that follows the whistleblower and his family, and the disappointment: “She has shrunken as their world tightened around them, a chokehold, where they expected an embrace.”.

“Poetry always reflects some aspect of the society in which the poet lives. In the book I’ve written about what I see every day and what most South Africans see – the sense of fear and loss and disappointment with which we live. As a state capture whistleblower, I blew the whistle on behalf of all South Africans. I’ve been deeply disappointed that those with influence and power have not supported me. In this book I also blow the whistle on the other ills our society faces – and these ills are across the race and gender lines.”

Reflecting on his other favourites, Williams said the book was five years in the making as the earliest poems were written in 2016.

“I am proud of the poem Erased, which was included in the global anthology We Mark Your Memory which has been London University Press’s all time bestseller for a poetry anthology. In Exhibition of Rapists I focus on what an art exhibition might look like if we hung portraits of rapists. Who would we see? The poem concludes: ’I see faces of wealthy men, important men, holy men, well-meaning men, ordinary men, men like you, men like me. Damn, I see me’.

“Readers can expect poetry written with sensitivity and care that reflect sometimes hard truths.’’

The book will be released in August at R150. Pre-orders are available at: https://bit.ly/3hWNIGK

Cape Times

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