Great reads: 3 books for your holiday reading listReady to kick-start the new year with a good book? These recent releases will get your 2020 reading off to a good start.Article by The MiNDSPACE team -20 November 2019 - Read Time: 3 min
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Wanted, Dead & Alive: The Case for South Africa’s Cattle by Gregory Mthembu-Salter

On the N12 on the way to Kimberley, about 100 km outside town, there is a feedlot that produces tens of thousands of tonnes of meat each year. Despite its scale, the first sign of it you often see is the cloud of dust raised by the cattle in the lot. This is a far cry from the historical role cattle has played in South Africa, where their cultural and spiritual value outweighed their economic value.

Gregory Mthembu-Salter had conversations with a host of people connected to cattle in one way or another. There’s Mzoli Ngcawuzele of Mzoli’s in Gugulethu; Jan Scannell, who founded Braai Day; Mthembu-Salter’s own in-laws, who live in northern KwaZulu-Natal, a Damara breeder in Namibia; and many more.

Wanted, Dead & Alive paints the complicated relationship South Africans have with cattle, how it has changed, and how it is changing again given climate change, land redistribution, water scarcity and migration to cities.

Mthembu-Salter is a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs and a contributor to The Africa Report. He has previously consulted for the United Nations and DJs in his spare time. He cares deeply about Africa and it shows in his writing.

(Published by Face2Face. Buy Wanted, Dead & Alive: The Case for South Africa’s Cattle on Loot.)

Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World’s Richest Man by Jonathan Conlin

The Financial Times calls him ‘the forgotten tycoon’, and The Spectator opted for ‘a rootless commander of money’. The Guardian describes Calouste Gulbenkian as ‘buccaneering’. Although even the briefest biography makes it clear this was a man not easy to like and with very few scruples, Mr Five Per Cent makes for interesting reading. (The author does go into the minutiae of the deals Gulbenkian made, but this is not compulsory reading.)

Born to an already wealthy family in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) in 1869, Gulbenkian had a vision of the wealth oil could bring and acquired a 5% share of oil throughout the Ottoman territories, which included Iran, before World War I. His skill was not as an inventor or an entrepreneur, but as a deal maker and negotiator. He built his wealth on oil, but only saw one oil field in his life. When he died in 1955, his fortune stood at the equivalent of US$5 billion.

The art collection of more than 6 000 pieces he amassed, not always by honourable means (he was not averse to ‘shopping’ at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg), is now housed at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon.

(Published by Profile Books. Buy Mr Five Per Cent: The many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World’s Richest Man on Loot.)

A House Divided: The Feud That Took Cape Town to the Brink by Crispian Olver

With average dam levels around the city at 66%, it is difficult to believe that Capetonians were facing Day Zero less than 12 months ago. While most people in Cape Town were installing water tanks and having 2-minute showers, rifts in the City’s DA-led council were starting to show.

When then Mayor Patricia de Lille came under investigation on charges unrelated to the water crisis, she was relieved of her role as manager of the City’s drought response, too. This kick-started months of infighting and ultimately led to her resignation from the DA.

Crispian Olver uses this as the basis of his investigation into how Cape Town is run and focuses particularly on the relationship between city councillors and property developers. He looks at hijacked civic associations and tackles the threat of developments in the agriculturally sensitive area of Philippi, along the West Coast and on the Atlantic Seaboard.

Olver uncovers in no-holds-barred detail the meltdown within the party itself. The title echoes Abraham Lincoln, who said of the Union, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ Mmusi Maimane’s resignation as DA leader barely a week after the Cape Town launch of A House Divided underlines the book’s relevance.

(Published by Jonathan Ball. Buy A House Divided: The Feud That Took Cape Town to the Brink on Loot.)

For more book recommendations, click here and here.

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