ICE IN THE LUNGS
Author: Gerald Kraaak
A joint winner of the EU Literary Award in 2005, Ice in the Lungs tells the story of Matt, Pru and Paul, a group of students in Cape Town, who are caught up in the surge of political uprisings that envelop the country in 1976. It reveals the conflicting nature of political and sexual choices and their unforeseen consequences. Ice in the Lungs is written by Gerald Kraak, who heads up the South African office of Atlantic Philanthropies (which has provided substantial funding to local LGBT organisations). He has published two books on South African politics and directed a documentary on gay conscripts in the apartheid army. Kraak discusses this highly recommended book with Mambaonline.
You’ve worked primarily in documentary and factual subjects, where did the impetus to write a novel come from?
I have always wanted to write fiction. My career has dictated my work in non fiction. I edited and wrote articles for the journal Development Update for several years and also have an abiding interest in “gay studies” – hence my documentary on gay men in the apartheid military and my more academic articles on homosexuality in South Africa. It took me about seven years to write Ice, as I found the transition from non-fiction to fiction quite challenging.
How much of the novel is biographical?
The political aspects are fairly biographical and closely based on events in 1976 and on the campus of the University of Cape Town at the time. The sexual aspects of the novel are a condensation of experiences over a much longer period of time. I did not come out until I was well into my twenties.
Why did you choose to set the book in the 1970’s? What impact did that era have on you personally?
It was the formative part of my life – going to university, getting involved in politics, the Soweto uprising, which was the beginning of the end of the apartheid era, and confronting my sexuality. The role of the white left, which the novel explores, is also something that has not really featured in South African literature that much and I have tried to reflect something of the character of that group at that time
In your experience, do some who were involved in the Struggle – and who have been themselves oppressed – still fail to connect gay equality with racial equality?
There may be some who still think that way, but given our constitution it is very difficult for them to be open about it. I think that the notion that homosexuality is un-African holds more sway than we realise.
How secure do you feel that our rights as gay and lesbians are in South Africa? Is there room for complacency?
I think for the majority in our community – those who are black and poor – these rights are fairly fragile and people still experience hostility, discrimination and even violence in their everyday lives. I don’t think there is room for complacency; The ANC succession struggle has produced a significant populist movement for the first time. One of the dangers of populism is the targeting of minorities to win support, and gays and lesbians are always vulnerable in times of instability, as are other minorities.
There aren’t a huge amount of texts dealing with gay experiences in South Africa; how do you feel your books fits into the realm of “the gay novel”?
It’s an attempt to subvert the traditional urban gay novel with its explorations of seamless sex between the buff denizens of the club world. Ice by contrast explores what the consequences of casual sex might be in a highly charged political context, such as South Africa in the 1970’s. At the same time Ice also returns to an older tradition – the gay coming-out novel or gay bildungsroman. In the novel I have also tried explore the emotions of gay sex, rather than its physicality, which is often the case in more mainstream gay fiction. I don’t see Ice in the lungs as a primarily gay novel, although sexuality is one prism to explore the period. I see it as an exploration of what it means to be politically involved and the clash between the personal and the political.
Has the novel writing experience and the critical success of the book been one that’s spurred to you to write fiction again?
Definitely. Ice in the lungs is the first of a trilogy. The second will explore the theme of exile and the third, return.
PRIDE: PROTEST AND CELEBRATION
Shaun de Waal and Anthony Manion (Eds)
Pride: Protest and Celebration is a history of Joburg’s often controversial gay pride marches and parades over the last 16 years. It brings together a host of valuable and rare material: pictures, documents and personal testimony of activists, organisers and participants of Pride since 1990. The book aims to be both a historical record and a colourful, enjoyable scrapbook of memories. Mambaonline spoke to one of the book’s editors Anthony Manion, from the Gay and Lesbian Archives (GALA).
How long did it take to compile all the info and how was it undertaken?
We realised quite quickly that if we wanted people to speak in their own voices about Pride we would need to do oral history interviews. The majority of these interviews were conducted over a six month period in 2005. In the end we interviewed 50 people. We made an effort to include a diversity of voices, ranging from ordinary lesbians and gays to activists to pride organisers to heterosexual supporters. The tapes were transcribed and then edited over three months. At the same time we were collecting photographs, posters and memorabilia. Neither Shaun [the book’s co-editor] nor I were able to work on this project full-time so compiling and editing the book took longer than it might have done otherwise.
How difficult was it to source photographs?
We used two methods. The first was an appeal to the public – we didn’t get a good response to this. As a community, I think we tend to undervalue the significance of our own photographs and stories. The second method was to directly approach photographers and press photographers and this was more successful. The people that we interviewed were also generous with their personal archives. We ended up using over a hundred photographs.
Has Pride been traditionally well documented?
There’s an abundance of material on Pride. Of course there’s still tons of material sitting in people’s closets or in the garage, and we hope that they get around to donating this material to GALA. I think the one aspect of the march that was less documented before this project began was people’s particular experiences and thoughts on Pride. I like to think that the 50 interviews we collected go some way to changing that.
What are your thoughts on the ongoing controversy around the organisation of Pride?
I feel that Pride is a community event and shouldn’t be run as a profit making enterprise by an individual or private company. So I’m broadly supportive of the decision to form a non-profit company that will organise Pride from next year. I’m disappointed though that criticism of Pride in recent years (though necessary) has so often taken the form of personal attacks on individuals. Working on the book has taught me just how difficult and personally draining it is to put on a Pride event and I don’t think this is acknowledged often enough.