Six key reads from 2019 to prep you for the year ahead in SA

The year of 2019 is well behind us, but the beginning of the new year – and new decade – will have many of the same (and some new) challenges waiting for South Africans.

If 2018 was the year that reignited hope that the country could recover from years of corruption, social ills and tepid growth, then 2019 was the reality check. It brought the sobering realisation that President Cyril Ramaphosa would have his work cut out for him if he hoped to get South Africa back on the mend.

From an under-performing economy, to perceptions of corruption, socioeconomic divisions and inequalities that refuse to go away, 2020 could very well be as challenging a year as 2019 was.

Here are six reads that got our attention during 2019 - and the content will still prove relevant to South Africans in the year 2020.

After Dawn: Hope After State Capture by Mcebisi Jonas (Pan Macmillan)

after dawn

When former deputy minister of finance, Mcebisi Jonas, released a book in 2019, many could have forgiven him for using the publishing opportunity to lay into the Guptas.

The controversial family that managed to influence the Presidency during former president Jacob Zuma's time in power also offered Jonas a job in the cabinet of a democratically elected government, according to the former deputy minister.

However, Jonas instead uses the opportunity to compile a masterful diagnostic of South Africa's economy as well as its society. The book, above all else, seeks to impress upon South Africans that the rise of Ramaphosa does not mean the immediate end of our country's troubles.

From state capture, to under-performing state owned entities, to low-quality education outcomes, Jonas analyses the biggest emergencies facing the nation and makes constructive proposals on how to make "the new dawn" segue into a sunny day.

Balance of Power by Qaanitah Hunter (Kwela Books)

balance of power

Revered political journalist, Qaanitah Hunter, released this book towards the end of 2019, following Ramaphosa's successful mission to get elected by the popular voted into the highest office in South Africa.

The African National Congress' reduced majority of 57% at 2019's general election captures the challenge Ramaphosa must tackle as he tries to steer South Africa in the right direction, after years of capture.

From the Nasrec conference of 2017, where Ramaphosa was elected the party's leader, to the May elections, where Ramaphosa's campaign kept the governing party in the driver's seat of government, Hunter provides a look into every milestone in the Ramaphosa administration and party leadership.

Hunter compiles information from interviews, sources and years of her peerless understanding of party and government politics to give readers a measured and insightful assessment of whether Ramaphosa stands a chance of getting the ANC and South Africa on the right track again.

Blessed by Bosasa: Inside Gavin Watson's State Capture Cult by Adriaan Basson (Jonathan Ball)

Blessed by Bosasa by Adriaan Basson

It sent shockwaves across the country when former Bosasa bigwig, Angelo Agrizzi, appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, giving explosive testimony on bribes and favours to government officials to score lucrative government tenders.

Adriaan Basson* was the journalist that was there from the beginning, a decade ago, when Bosasa sought to expand its empire, which had its roots in prison and correctional service facility catering tenders.

In August, Watson died in a car accident near OR Tambo International Airport. His side of the story - of what happened during the years Bosasa got big business from the state - will not be heard now; at least, not directly.

Basson offers a keen insight into Watson's business empire, which grew from humble beginnings to being connected to some of the most powerful people in South African politics. It is a fascinating personality profile and a hair-raising example of the adage "everyone has a price". 

The Enforcers: Inside Cape Town's Deadly Nightclub Battles by Caryn Dolley (Jonathan Ball)

the enforcers

At the end of last year, the shooting and assassination of Hard Livings gang leader, Rashied Staggie, served as a grim reminder of the grip that gang culture and organised crime have on the most vulnerable communities in Cape Town.

This came six months after the release of Caryn Dolley's The Enforcers, which illustrated the relationship between the criminal underworld, political power, government institutions and big business.

Dolley expertly draws a connection between security companies owned by gang bosses, global criminal underworld networks and the challenges that the authorities experience in fighting gangsterism as well as organised crime.

The courageous book draws from Dolley's years reporting on the criminal underworld for various publications, where she braved the dangerous gang environment to get to the bottom of who pulls the strings in Cape's most notorious gangs.

The Stellenbosch Mafia: Inside The Billionaires' Club by Pieter Du Toit (Jonathan Ball)

In South Africa's political lexicon, the phrase "white monopoly capital" is not necessarily new, but it has grown in use and popularity, much like the phrase "radical economic transformation" did at some point.

The club of rich business titans who call Stellenbosch home have a reputation among ordinary South Africans – deserved or not – for being gatekeepers of wealth and means of economic production, overlords that even tell presidents how to run the country.

Du Toit** interviews Stellenbosch "club members", primarily Remgro boss, Johann Rupert, to get a sense of what the grouping is, what their intentions are for their country and whether they even have the kind of clout that most South Africans suspect they do.

Du Toit walks readers through the book with a keen understanding of how socioeconomic divisions further exacerbate hostility towards the elite, but he also gets insights from Stellenbosch's super-wealthy as they navigate the same challenges, hopes and dreams that ordinary South Africans have.

Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu? edited by Niq Mhlongo (Jonathan Ball)

black tax

Black tax is a concept that is rather challenging to explain, thanks to the social divisions and economic inequalities that South Africa's history is steeped in. It is an issue so contentious that even black South Africans do not agree on what it is and how best to respond to it.

While some believe that being the first graduate or professional in a black family immediately locks young black people into working to serve their parents, raise children that aren't their own or provide for needy neighbours, others insist that this is merely how Africans have lived for centuries.

Contributors to Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu? include black writers from various backgrounds, including media, literature and academia. They write essays where they share their individual experiences of black tax and plant their flag on a side, for or against.

Niq Mhlongo edits and compiles these essays in a way that makes the book sound like a conversation on the concept, much more congruent than isolated. Black Tax is book that takes a deep dive into the racially-informed economic inequalities of South Africa.

* Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief of News24. ** Pieter du Toit is News24's Assistant Editor for in-depth news.

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