Book review – ‘Black Widow White Widow’ is shamefully bad

2014-10-19 15:00

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Black Widow White Widow

De Wet Potgieter

216 pages

R176 from

The least said about this book the better. It should never have been published and is a serious tarnish on a quality publisher like Penguin’s reputation.

The problem with Black Widow White Widow is that the foundation on which the book is built crumbled a year before it was published.

The book is veteran journalist De Wet Potgieter’s attempt to prove that Islamic jihadists – most notably al-Qaeda – have gained a foothold in South Africa, which they use as a springboard for terror attacks.

It is also Potgieter’s attempt to clear his name after he had to resign from the online publication Daily Maverick in May last year for writing a story saying that al-Qaeda is alive and well in South Africa.

The article implicated a Muslim family, cousins Farhad and Junaid Dockrat, in the terrorist group’s activities. The article also criticised the South African government for not properly investigating the Dockrats.

It turned out that Potgieter had no credible evidence and Daily Maverick editor Branko Brkic apologised to the Dockrats and retracted the story.

Potgieter was destined to disappear into obscurity, but in September last year, Somali jihadists from the Islamist group al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate shopping centre in Kenya.

Intelligence agencies fingered British widow Samantha Lewthwaite as an al-Shabaab member and the mastermind behind the attack in Nairobi.

Wanted on several terrorism-related charges, Lewthwaite acquired the nickname White Widow.

It was revealed in the wake of the attack that Lewthwaite had lived in South Africa under the name Natalie Webb.

Potgieter claims he knew about Lewthwaite’s presence in South Africa long before it was revealed after the Westgate attack.

Potgieter then introduces his Black Widow – one Hanlé Brink. She is a self-styled spy who worked for South African intelligence and allegedly snooped on both the right wing and Islamic extremists.

Potgieter writes: “In this schizophrenic life where everything is grey, the Black Widow reverted to a world of black and white, and clearly paid the price for taking part in this undercover operation.”

The whole book is written in this contrived and muddled manner and is difficult to read. It is badly edited and doesn’t even have an index. It is so bad, a reviewer like Anton Harber begged readers not to buy it.

One has to ask why Penguin published this book. The answer might lie in a Facebook post by Potgieter a few weeks ago.

He pays tribute to Penguin publisher Frederik de Jager, who published his first book way back in 1994. He said 20 years later, De Jager believed in him again and published Black Widow White Widow.

Potgieter says he has written or is writing two more “controversial” books that De Jager and Penguin are going to publish in the next year.

The very competent Marlene Fryer is now in charge of nonfiction at Penguin.

I’m willing to bet my salary Potgieter’s next two disclosures will not be published by Fryer.

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