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David Dison

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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Election Time

Nxumalo gripped the table in and emoted, driving his words deep into Nossel’s consciousness:

“Wait till we lose the vote in this country…which is on the cards I believe.

I envy this fresh politics of the UK, Nossel

Here our movement is dominated by a centre right grouping which stamps out all intelligent debate.

Many of us in the movement believe that it only holds together as a patronage club, which is rapidly rendering government unworkable.

We have municipal elections here next year …dan sal die fokken poppe dans.

I think we’re headed for a not-so-silent second revolution here…bring it on.

The greatness of constitutional democracy is that you can only rig it for so long…Thatcher Clinton Bush Blair Brown Zuma Netanyahu…all political careers are doomed to end in failure other than the greats or the tyrants … look at Churchill even.

Only a few like the Madiba and the Mahatma survive. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s devotees will pull sainthood off…I doubt it.

But boy could we deal with an Obama now!

Madame bring me the Bill. Nossel it’s my turn to pay!”

And with that he left the table, Nossel scurrying after him…..


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Review from International Noir Fiction

This review appeared on the International Noir Fiction blog earlier this month.

Death in the New RepublicThere’s a blurb provided by the publisher of David Dison’s Johannesburg crime novel, Death in the New Republic, comparing the book to Jeffrey Archer’s thrillers. I’m afraid I don’t get the comparison, which would be at the least very misleading concerning Dison’s subtle, complex story of betrayal, murder, disgrace, and solidarity in the politics of the new South Africa.

Dison’s narrative progresses in alternating short sentence fragments, long complex sentences, and interior monologues, with frequent Johannesburg slang and bursts of Afrikaans and Sesotho, the African language most familiar to Dison’s hero, Jerome Michael Nossel, known to everyone as Nossel. The complexity of the text echoes the complexity of the story and its political background. I recently reviewed an older book by Gillian Slovo, The Betrayal, written just as the apartheid regime was ending. Slovo drew some of the faultlines in the anti-apartheid struggle (and the apartheid regime itself) that extend and branch in various directions in Dison’s story. There are the people Dison calls “struggelistas,” former activists who seem not to have moved on from the struggle; the black ascendancy (a new middle class, a few wealthy plutocrats, and the powers-that-be of the government; the new immigrants, living at the fringes of the society; unrepentant white supremacist cops operating independently within the new police force; and others who have accommodated one way or another to the new reality of the country.

Nossel himself, whose Jewish family has been in South Africa for many generations, moved from the struggle and exile into the national intelligence service, only to be disgraced and suspended because of a trap laid for him by forces within the government. He is called upon to help a government minister’s family when their son is about to be arrested for drug possession and dealing, and then he stumbles upon a murder. Neither the white narco-cops who want to arrest the minister’s son nor the black cops who show up to investigate the murder seem to be completely above board, and Nossel becomes involved in intertwined plots that ultimately reveal not only the perpetrator of the murder but also the hopes and despairs of current South Africa, from AIDS and corruption to democracy and equality.

There’s a negative review of Death in the New Republic in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper by Kwanele Sosibo (see here) and a positive one by Maureen Isaacson in Crime Beat @ Book Southern Africa (see here), demonstrating a healthy range of opinion in Dison’s home country concerning a book that is ambitious in its reach both in political and crime-novel terms.

For myself, I found it to be a subtle and moving story that in which the main character investigates his own character as doggedly as he pursues the truth concerning the murder and the other criminal acts in the book. Death in the New Republic is very different from other recent South African crime novels, closer to Slovo’s The Betrayal than to the novels of Deon Meyer or Margie Orford. Surely that’s an encouraging sign of healthy diversity in the crime fiction of a country with both great hopes and great troubles.

Book details


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Life imitates art

Jacana Media, publishers of David Dison’s political thriller, “Death in the New Republic” confronted their author over events at SAA earlier this year.

“We think you put this work up as fiction just so you could get us to publish it as a novel,” Jacana accused Dison.

“I beg your pardon?” retorted the normally laconic author.

“Dison, do not feign innocence. Death in the New Republic covers the smuggling of three bags of dagga to London on SAA by the sister of an SAA air hostess on one of her flights – correct?”

Dison nodded, quizzically.

“Each bag was worth 160 thousand pounds sterling, the flight landed at Heathrow, and the SAA gang rumbled – correct?
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Nossel the provoker

Lunch was done. Nossel read the headlines of his crumpled newspaper.

Provoking, as was his wont, he presented Nxumalo with his latest legal observation.

“So the judge who, under apartheid, held that there was no evidence of death squads, faults the judge who finds evidence of the encumbent’s persecution by the Scorpions.”

“Well, he’s being fairly consistent isn’t he? He doesn’t believe that a judge can go outside the direct evidence in front of him.”

“Yes, the cocoon approach, I call it ” retorted Nossel. “All very well and good for the everyday matter that comes before the courts, but political trials are surely different. Politics doesn’t take place inside the barrister’s constructed cocoon, it happens within the vast social milieu. Surely a judge in a political trial cannot remove himself from that milieu. Otherwise he’ll never find death squads, even when they’re staring him in the face.”
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“Tell me Nossel, what’s in a name?”

“What do you make of this Congress 11 l’directeur ?” Nossel mockingly enquired of his lunch companion, Nxumalo.

“You know that since I became a bureaucrat I no longer have the obsessional interest you show in politics in the New Republic” came the sharp retort.

“I know this crappy answer of yours, comrade, but let’s talk high concept. They had a triumphant legal win, no?”

Nxumalo’s beady eye forced Nossel to think that maybe he had pushed too far.

But then Nxumalo smiled: “You understand the concept of triumphalism well, dont you, you fucken provocateur. Yes Nossel, but what our previously entitled friends forget however is that we now inhabit a complex system of appeal and review; these resounding legal triumphs are of a previous era. ”

“You mean Old Republic times?”

Now Nxumalo got into his stride, speaking with worldly-wise articulation born of his many years in the diaspora, during the time of the Old Republic.

“Congress 11 might have scored the legal battle, for what it’s worth, but who will win the war? Imagine our old troubled movement being handed a gift by its under-resourced splinter group whose name links it to the movement forever. The legal challenge has confined them to this limited space, which has limited appeal to the voters. Congress 11 should have focused on substance rather than form. There’s so little to differentiate them from the movement they have left, other than dis-entitlement. Tell me Nossel, what’s in a name?”

“Can’t the same question be directed at the movement?”
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Nossel’s clearly preoccupied…

Nossel left the Commercial Crimes Unit on foot, clearly preoccupied..

Nxumalo tapped him on the shoulder, smiling.

“Celebratory lunch, old man? It is Friday, and that calls for a drink on its own, besides we won big today, and Cornelius is finally behind the jail door.”

“As long as you’re prepared to sit with another old reprobate from that time” Nossel retorted.

“Today, I don’t care who else is there, as long as you and I can etch our victorious battle in wine upon the table.”
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Welcome to the David Dison Blog

David DisonWelcome to my blog.

I am working on my next Nossel novel, looking at a mystery hostage-taking in Joburg that reveals the depths of xenophobia in this town.

Once again the old gumshoe/lawyer becomes embroiled, unable to resolve his love/hate relationship with the city and the New Republic.

And as I write the book, the drama in our town is exacerbated daily by the creaking infrastructure of our beloved republic, and the new dynamics thrown up by an intense competition for resources and energy.
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