Celebrating The Joy of Matt

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Grand MASTers: Matt Buckland and I at The Mast – about four hours into our 7-hour ride.

For a few months at the beginning of 2018 at about 3pm every Friday my phone would ring … I’d be hoping that I wouldn’t get The Call, because that call meant pain! It was Matthew Buckland with his plans for the following day’s ride.
“I think we need to do The Mast three times,” he’d say. The Mast is a steep climb at Tokai: doing it once is brutal, doing it three times is, well, truly meshuggah.
Or he would say, “I’m thinking Die Wa Pad, then Noordhoek Peak, then the Mast and then the Peak again.” I was usually thinking, but where will we stay overnight?
Matt was training for the Transalp – one of the world’s toughest multi-stage mountain bike races that takes riders along a 600km journey with 18,000 metres of climbing through Austria, Switzerland and across the Alps to Italy.
I wasn’t doing it but had volunteered to join him on long, tough training rides. When we told friends we encountered where we’d been and where we were going, they would shake their heads and tell us we’re mad. “If you think I’m mad,” Matt would respond, pointing at me, “he’s not even doing the Transalp.”
I joined Matt for two reasons: I love riding and I enjoyed spending time with him. Matt was interesting and fun and always buzzing with creativity. (Probably a third reason too is that I am actually mad.)
One ride was particularly memorable. Matt wanted to ride up all Cape Town’s main climbs. We set out at the crack of dawn and we rode and rode and rode. It took us seven hours and some change. (Here’s a link to the ride on Matt’s profile on the cycling app Strava.)
Conquering the Transalp was important for Matt, and he succeeded. When he returned he told me that one of the days was particularly brutal and he didn’t think he would make it but then he remembered our 7-hour ride and he knew he could do it.
Soon after he returned from the Transalp he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. On the day of his first chemo session in October 2018 he started to write So You Want to Build a Startup, a book about his entrepreneurial journey. Two months later he sent the manuscript to his publisher.
Matt died on 23 April last year shortly before his book was published. He was just 44.
There was a massive outpouring of heartfelt tributes – Matt was loved.
Whenever I see someone wearing a similar cycling jersey to the one he wore my heart skips a beat. And then I remember.
For our last daily episode of Amabookabooka we chat to Matt’s dad Andrew and Matt’s friend, Vince, and pay tribute to Matt – a tech guru, a digital fundi, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a journalist, a publisher, an author, a passionate mountain biker and a compulsive dreamer who had big dreams. You can listen to the episode here.

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Amabookabooka: The Quarantine Chronicles

We have been running a daily interview with authors in lockdown for our special series Amabookabooka: The Quarantine Chronicles. The authors we’ve interviewed have written all sorts of books: crime (Deon Meyer), organised crime (Caryn Dolley), historical fiction (Fred Khumalo), speculative fiction (Imraan Coovadia), biographical fiction (Hedi Lampert), family fiction (Raashida Khan), self-help (Judy Klipin), tween fantasy adventures (Bontle Senne), amusing musings and whimsical witticisms on social media (Gus Silber), environmental romance (Melissa Volker) and a range of enthralling memoirs (Brent Meersman, Sara-Jayne Makwala and Moe Shaik) and an extraordinary author/publisher who produced an entire book in just seven days (Melinda Ferguson).

In Friday’s episode we interview Lindiwe Hani – an author, a mother, a recovering addict and the remarkable daughter of Chris Hani

Friday was the 27th anniversary of the SA Communist Party leader’s assassination. It was a watershed moment in South Africa and anyone who is old enough remembers where they were when they heard the devastating news. For many he was the president we never had. But 12-year-old Lindiwe hadn’t lost the head of the SACP – it was her daddy who had been cruelly taken away from her. Tragedy after tragedy followed – a teenage pregnancy and an abortion, the death of her boyfriend, the death of her sister – and Lindiwe disappeared into a fog of cocaine and booze until she smashed into rock bottom. In 2014, she became sober. In 2017 she penned her memoir Being Chris Hani’s Daughter, detailing her descent into addiction and the hard road to recovery and redemption. People often wonder what South Africa would be like if Chris Hani hadn’t been killed – it’s an impossible question and while we can speculate, we don’t know. What I do know, though, is that Chris Hani would have been extremely proud of his courageous daughter.

In this episode Lindiwe’s talks about her father, her addiction, and coming face to face with her father’s killers. The 10th April is usually a busy and demanding day for Lindiwe. She spends it at her father’s graveyard with different politicians but today she won’t be distracted by all of that and will spend the day “reflecting, remembering and appreciating my father … and I’ll have a good cry.”

You can listen to that episode (and all the others and more from our previous seasons) and subscribe to our Amabookabooka podcast – and the episodes will magically find you.

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Betrayal book launch

betrayal - love books launch

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How a Wombat and a Jackal kept the wheels of justice turning

When I was summonsed to be a judge’s mountain-biking sidekick, it was really a butt-bruising, hair-raising sentence

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The wheels of justice turn slowly … but 59km into the second day of the sani2c the wheels of justice stopped turning altogether. That was when Western Cape High Court judge Lee Bozalek fell off his bike.

From gavel to gravel, trials to trails, cross-examinations to cross-country, Judge Bozalek took a break from putting criminals behind bars to spend some time behind bars; a bicycle’s handlebars, that is.

A few months earlier we had met for coffee where he asked me to be his riding partner for the KAP sani2c – a three-day mountain bike ride in KwaZulu-Natal. Judge Bozalek was wearing a hard collar. He had been riding in Tokai Forest, Cape Town’s mountain-biking mecca, when he took a wrong turn and found himself on a downhillers’ track. Downhill is extreme mountain biking, where riders leap over obstacles and jump over gaps.

The judge misjudged a drop and landed at the bottom, hitting his head. He didn’t know it at the time – and, unbelievably, rode the rest of the way down the track – but he had broken his neck.

He was sentenced to three months in a hard collar. It could have been much worse. He didn’t want the crash to end his mountain-biking career. He needed a challenge to keep him motivated, which was when an e-mail from sani2c plopped into his inbox. It was a sign. There was just one snag: this was a team race and he needed a sidekick.

And that’s where I came in.

I was reluctant so I played the race card. I have taken part in a few mountain bike stage races and don’t particularly like the Mamil culture that goes with it. Mamils (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) ride expensive bikes, are obsessed with their cycling data, and wear clothes that are too tight, parading package-protruding bulges in coffee shops. They also take themselves far too seriously. I started out as a Mamil but after my second midlife crisis graduated to a Camil (Curmudgeonly Ageing Man in Lycra) and have now become a card-carrying Wombat (Wild Old Man in Baggies And Trendy Socks).

“Think about it,” said Lee, who is a Jackal – Judge, Addicted Cyclist, Keenly Avoiding Lycra.

A few things made me reconsider. Firstly, the sani2c Adventure – the event he’d entered – is not competitive. It would also be a break from a constantly pinging phone.

Besides, Lee had an unspoken ace up his sleeve – the old school tie. We are both alumni of the rough-and-tumble Johannesburg school Highlands North Boys High, aka Haaailands. When a Highlands boy (or, in our cases, a Highlands Very Old Boy – Lee is a class of ’68 graduate, I’m from the class of ’88), is in a pinch you came to his assistance; no questions asked. Back in the day, the pinch was “backstop” at a Doll’s House punch-up with our KES arch rivals. Loyalty is the Haaailands way come schoolboy scuffle or sani2c high water (more about that high water later).

I had to make a decision quickly because justice delayed is justice denied. I agreed. If I turned him down he might hold me in contempt.

We met for a few pre-trail motions to discuss logistics, training, and a race strategy, which was: We survive from water point to water point.

The judge explained: “We go at Bozalek pace: not bad on the flats, reasonable going downhill, and slowly-slowly uphill.” Cyclists talk about a magic power-to-weight ratio, which is the indicator of your performance in the saddle, but Lee was warning me that on the climbs I’d better exercise my power to wait. I didn’t mind. We weren’t doing sani2c to get a good time, we were doing it to have a good time.

Our training didn’t get off to a good start. On our first ride Lee crashed. Blood poured out of a deep gash on his arm. A good Samaritan drove him to the hospital, where he was stitched and patched. The next ride we managed to lose each other. Things improved after that and on our final ride we tackled Cape Town’s twin peaks – a first-degree murderous climb up to Tokai’s Mast and then a killer climb up Noordhoek Peak. Lee dubbed The Mast and The Peak, The Meak.

“Mission accomplished,” he said. “The Meak – shall not inherit the girth.”

On May 14 we were as ready as we’d ever be and, with the most important gear for a multi-day stage race in our pockets (earplugs), we made our way to the Underberg – the start of the sani2c Adventure.

The following morning, a hiss of racing snakes, a spandex of Mamils, a caravan of Camils, one Wombat and one Jackal set off on our three-day adventure from the foothills of the southern Drakensberg to the South Coast.

We cycled along farm roads and in cool pine forests; we floated down smooth, flowing singletrack, and huffed and puffed up steep climbs.

Eighty-five kilometres later we arrived at Mackenzie. It had been a tough day. Proceedings were adjourned and we retired to our tent for a night of rest and recuperation. If only. Supplements riders take cause explosive flatulence and the tent village was popping and fizzing with phaaarrrrtts so I wasn’t sure if I should put my earplugs in my ears or nose. The tent village erupted in a cacophony of snoring and a kak’ophony of farts.

I turned to my learned friend to ask what he recommended but on this occasion justice wasn’t blind, it was deaf – Lee had already inserted his earplugs into his ears. After hearing our neighbour’s death-rattle snoring, I plugged my ears.

The next morning, snoring was replaced by the sounds of smacking as 1,450 riders slapped chamois cream on their saddle-weary butts. Soon we were back on our bikes to confront the monster 97km Queen Stage from Mackenzie to Jolivet.

An hour later Judge Bozalek stopped to answer the call of nature: The Leak of Justice.

South African cycling could have its own league of justices; pedalling is popular among these legal titans (see sidebar).

I understand why judges swop the bench for the saddle: cycling clears your mind of clutter and helps you focus. I imagine judges who cycle have weighed evidence, considered arguments and wrestled with an accused’s fate while riding.

For Lee, cycling is a de-stressor and he says that in the long, blank periods of cycling, a small but important part of his brain unconsciously works on legal problems he is grappling with.

That morning though our focus was on the descent down the Umkomaas – a 40km drop, considered the jewel of sani2c – and then the agony of climbing out of the valley.

Unfortunately, we got stuck behind a couple who were crawling down slower than a stalled criminal trial bumbling its way through the legal system. The riders objected to my polite request to make way, but Lee overruled their objection and they moved aside so I had the freedom to enjoy the mountain-biking bliss of whooping and swooping down the fast switchback descent.

We eventually landed on the banks of the mighty Umkomaas, which means “the place of cow whales” in isiZulu (whales once used the estuary as a nursery, giving birth in the shallows), and after some river crossings it was time to tackle the event’s toughest climb, a 3km grind up a steep, loose-gravel and rocky hill known as The Iconic. So many riders were pushing; you could say it was a push of a climb. As we reached the 59km mark Lee tried to squeeze past a rider who had stopped on the trail and was giving us the thousand-yard stare of a battle-weary soldier, and that’s when Lee crashed. He may have hit the dirt, but his Honour remained intact.

He got up. He wasn’t going to bail. After all, The Law must take its course.

The final day saw the intrepid Haaaailands Old Boys ride through sugar cane farms, singletracks and climbs as we travelled to the sea. We had ridden about 85.5km of the 86km ride without any drama when we arrived at the floating bridge that snakes across the lagoon at Scottburgh Beach to the finish.

As we started to make our way across the bridge I thought about the judge ensuring I had an unobstructed ride down the Umkomaas descent and it occurred to me that our judge-journalist cycling adventure was a metaphor for the relationship between the media and the judiciary: the judiciary protects the interests of the media and ensures the freedom of the press; the media’s job is to keep justice and the spirit of the law alive.

But our adventure wasn’t over. We still had 500m to negotiate.

The judge was ahead of me as waves started to whip the floating bridge which, like a sexually adventurous couple, was swinging wildly. I tried to stay in the middle but the middle kept shifting as the bridge pitched aggressively to the left and then rocked savagely to the right. I looked up: the judge was wobbling precariously.

With only a few metres before the end of the bridge it looked like justice was about to plunge into the depths of the ocean, but, Lee, like a good judge, retained his balance and managed to cross without falling into the lagoon. Miraculously, so did I.

We conquered the 265km journey from the mountains to the coast in about 20 hours. It took us double the time it took the racing snakes, but the snakes weren’t distracted by the tasty snacks at the water points. Besides, we won the Haaailands Old Boys Overachievers (HOBO) category.

The verdict: it was a heart-thumping, lung-bursting, eyeball-popping, jaw-dropping, teeth-shattering, butt-bruising, hair-raising, bone-rattling, body-shaking three days on a bicycle – and we loved (almost) every minute. We were treated to nature reserves, rural villages, farms, flowing rivers, cows, bouncy trails, mountains and breathtaking views. There’s no better way to appreciate SA than on the back of a mountain bike. My only complaint is lugging a weighty bag with all the cycling gear. When I arrived home I put my bag down. Finally, after an epic adventure with the judge, I could rest my case.

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SIDEBAR: The League of Justices

Western Cape High Court Judge Lee Bozalek is two Cape Town Cycle Tours away from being admitted to the elite club of cyclists who have completed 21 editions of the world-famous ride. His colleague on the Western Cape High Court bench, Judge Elize Steyn, is a formidable cyclist, completing more than 200 races, a number of them on the podium in her category. Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron has a dozen Cape Town Cycle Tours under his belt and a clutch of 94.7 Cycle Challenge medals in his drawer. When judges Azhar Cachalia and Ashton Schippers are not sitting in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, they are sitting on their bikes. Judge Schippers is probably SA’s fastest judge on two wheels. His best Cape Town Cycle Tour time is three hours, five minutes, agonisingly short of the magical “sub-three”, considered the holy grail of road cycling.

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Prof Jansen’s ‘As By Fire’ generates Heat

JansentWhat are the real roots of the student protests of 2015 and 2016? Is it actually about fees?

Why did so many protests turn violent?

Where is the government while the buildings burn, and do the students know how to end the protests?

In his book As By Fire, former Free State University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jonathan  Jansen delves into the unprecedented disruption of universities that caught South Africa by surprise. In frank interviews with eleven of the VCs most affected, he examines the forces at work, why the protests escalate into chaos, and what is driving – and exasperating – South Africa’s students.

This urgent and necessary book gives us an insider view of the crisis, tells us why the conflict will not go away and what it means for the future of our universities.

Jansen recently discussed the book on AmaBookaBooka. Listen to the episode  here:

Amabookabooks is a novel podcast about books and the people who write them. It is produced by Jonathan Ancer and Dan Dewes. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes – or wherever you get your podcasts. 

“The problem is it only got attention – scholarly attention and political attention – when it came to the former ‘white’ universities”

Prof Jonathan Jansen is a leading South African educationist, commentator and the author of several books including the best-selling Letters to My Children. He is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, where he earned a reputation for transformation and a deep commitment to reconciliation.

 

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The super spy you love to hate

What a thoughtful review of Spy by Robyn Sassen!

My View by Robyn Sassen

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YOU WILL BE hard-pressed to pause in Jonathan Ancer’s critical biography of one of apartheid’s most notorious spies, Craig Williamson, once you start reading. From the start, this book presents a fully-fleshed terrifying character who is at once a blend of John le Carré-like intrigues mixed with ethical and deeply South African ponderables. It’s a meaty read, but one that will sweep you off your feet as you hear your pulse roar in your ears and feel your heart bleeding for the family of Williamson’s victims.

Notorious high apartheid spy, Williamson (b. 1949) was always big. He was also always something of a bully, but furthermore something of a wily strategist. Not a stupid man, but one with a fraught understanding of moral and human values, he was perfect grist for the apartheid goverment’s mill. Blend all this with time in the South African Police service, an offer under the…

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A book about the unspeakable, the unthinkable, and the unimaginable

Our latest podcast features The Twinkling of an Eye – a memoir by Sue Brown about her son, a small boy with a giant heart. You can listen to the podcast by searching for Amabookabooak on iTunes (and if you like it subscribe – or, even better, rate us) or on the Daily Maverick’s website (just click here).

I didn’t want to read Sue Brown’s memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye. I avoided it. I picked it up. I read a few pages. I put it down. I picked it up and read two chapters…. I put it down again. I picked it up a few days later. I thought I’d just skim it but it’s impossible to skim. It’s a book that demands to be read. And I’m so glad I did because I got to meet Craig Brown – a remarkable young man, who changed my life.

The Twinkling of an Eye is an act of profound courage. Sue’s life was on course – she had two happy and healthy children, friends, holidays … and then suddenly on the last day of 2010 everything came crashing down. Her family’s life was turned upside down and inside out – the safety of her bubble was replaced with doctors, operations, tumours, brain scans, radiation, fear, trauma, cancer, tears, concerned looks, well-meaning gestures, retching, rushing to hospital, bewildering medical jargon, rising panic…

The Twinkling of an Eye is a book about the unspeakable, the unthinkable, and the unimaginable – the last few months of Craig’s life. Craig died shortly after his 13th birthday. You read The Twinkling of an Eye with a Craig-sized lump in your throat and a knot in the pit of your stomach. The book is about hope and hope dashed, it’s about anguish, despair and fury, but ultimately it’s a tribute to Craig – a.k.a. the Turbinator – a witty, good natured, soccer-crazy, tennis-playing, chatty boy who had remarkable courage, bucket-loads of humour and gigantic dreams. A boy who lived passionately.

Listen to this episode of the AmaBookaBooka authors’ podcast and hear about Sue and her family’s brave journey, then go and read the book, because by reading The Twinkling of an Eye you will get to meet the famous Craig John Brown; a small boy with a giant heart. A boy who is much more important than Italy.

During this week’s Self-Publishing Corner, Dave Henderson discusses some of the biggest mistakes self-publishing authors make. Interested in self-publishing? Visit the MYeBook.co.za website for regular news.  

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