Reading books on current affairs

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I listen to political analysts and I read all the news sites. I am “interested in a better society”, as reads Greg Mills’s shout on Claire Bisseker’s book, On the Brink: South Africa’s political and fiscal cliff-hanger. Also, Claire Bisseker is one of the best in the field. She is the economics editor of the Financial Times. Jacob Zuma was still president of South Africa when I picked the book up, and its first chapter is titled #ZumaMustFall. It focuses more on South Africa’s fiscal and economic woes than politics, although it provides context when analysing the various aspects of where the country stood at the time of publication. It is a rigorous read. When Zuma Goes by Ralph Mathekga is “an urgent and necessary book”, according to Justice Malala. It chronicles Zuma’s ascent to the highest office in both the ANC and the country, and delves into state capture and Zuma’s relationship with the judiciary. In one of my favourite chapters, Mathekga explores how Zuma used culture in defence of the latter’s financial relationship with Schabir Shaik. Zuma’s administration exemplified the issue of leadership and the challenges facing culture in a modern democracy. I remembered thinking how reading this book might help me, as a citizen, to make sense of things, especially the-ANC-that-gave-us-Zuma things. Now, Zuma is gone, and there are more breaking stories about the extent of the fiscal damage that has been done by his administration. But, When Zuma Goes and On the Brink are still there.

Reading books requires time. You have to read those like On the Brink and When Zuma Goes as soon as they come out, because they are about that particular moment in current affairs. They also tend to provide background and context in a way that the internet can’t, because they present all the information in one place. Their content will add to your political discussion arsenal. South Africa doesn’t seem to slow down when it comes to events in current affairs. Politics trends almost every day. Analysts and journalists are busy turning their takes on developments into books, and I think that this is great. But, I am also worried about how quickly these books date because of their content. Hopefully, they were published for posterity; maybe they will make for good reference material for students and those who are interested in different stages of the South African story. These books deserve to be published and read, but, for me, it feels like I must read them quickly before the next big story breaks. This is what frustrates me about reading books on current affairs. I want to be a citizen in the know, but I am conflicted when it comes to picking up these titles while shopping for books whose content is already on the radio, TV and internet in the form of in-depth interviews (with the same analysts) and long-form writing on news sites. Time comes at a premium, and for lovers of books and literature, such as myself, I feel that current affairs books have to be more than just a print version of what we are already talking about.

Book details:

On the Brink
Claire Bisseker

Publisher: Tafelberg
ISBN: 9780624077800

When Zuma Goes
Ralph Mathekga
Publisher: Tafelberg
ISBN: 9780624080671

Also read:

On the brink by Claire Bisseker: "Just before midnight" seminar

When Zuma goes by Ralph Mathekga: "Just before midnight" seminar

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