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As time passed, she encountered men and women who actively defied the apartheid regime as rebels, risking arrest and imprisonment. She watched them and heard them, and began to despise liberalism. Her second husband, Reinhold Cassirer, was an ideological Marxist. In the late Sixties she was calling herself a "radical". Eventually (I don't know when) she became a member of the banned African National Congress (ANC), although she knew it had become a terrorist organisation under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. She could not have been unaware of its policy-promoted passionately by Mandela's wife Winnie — of instantly and publicly punishing mob-accused "collaborators" and "informers" by the atrocious practice of "necklacing" (hanging a tyre filled with petrol round the victim's neck and setting it on fire so that he or she was burnt to death). 

The ANC was South Africa's largest black political organisation. It had been neither militant nor Communist under the leadership of Albert Luthuli. Under Nelson Mandela's leadership it became both. In 1962, the year after he had launched the ANC's "terrorist wing", Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), he was arrested, tried, and sent to prison, where he remained for 27 years. Nelson Mandela (no matter how much and how hotly the fact is disputed) was a member of the South African Communist Party. And to Communists, terrorism was always an accepted tactic. 

Whether Nadine became a Communist because she wanted to support the only strong organisation working for black liberation and so accepted its Communism as part of the deal, or she was first won to Communism and so to the ANC, I don't know. She certainly embraced it zealously. She insisted that no editions of her books be sold in South Africa except those published by a local Communist house, Raven Press. But I do know that she had very little understanding of what Communism is.  

This is how I found that out. She and my father each employed "houseboys" who came from Mozambique. The two men were friends. When my father died in 1984 he left a legacy to his servant, whom I'll call Fred. It was paid into a building society account which had been opened for him some years earlier. Fred returned to his homeland, and from time to time made the long journey from the rural hinterland of Communist Mozambique to Johannesburg, surviving inquisition on both sides of the border, to collect some of his money. On one occasion he found his account short of the amount he had expected, and, wanting help from me, asked his friend to ask Mrs Cassirer to phone me in London, where I had been living since 1960. She did so willingly, although by then she and I were no longer on friendly terms. In the course of the conversation she asked me why I had not helped Fred to move his capital to a savings account in Mozambique. I had to explain to her that under a Communist regime, institutions did not exist through which individuals might invest capital and earn interest. She was genuinely surprised to hear it.   

She often spoke of my father as her "guru". His fondness for her did not change when she joined the ANC, though he did once say to me that if he was her guru, he wished she would take some political instruction from him. So if it was not his political wisdom she sought, what was it? 

Nadine Gordimer was, from quite early in her career, one of those rare writers who make a good living from their books. Also, she won many prizes — every important prize for fiction that existed, I think — and some of them brought her substantial sums of money. She invested it in stocks and shares. She would visit my father on a Sunday with a briefcase containing her investment portfolio. He was her financial guru. She would note his opinions — he would not let them be called "advice" — on whether she should sell this or buy that. On the whole, whether or not because of his opinions, she did well out of her investments. To put it another way, she was successful with her capitalist ventures. But did she ever think of them as that? 

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September 12th, 2014
2:09 PM
This article points out with clarity Nadine Gordimer's inability to distinguish the righteous terror of Israel and South Africa from the malignant terror committed by Winnie Mandela and the Palestinians.

David Hutchison
September 10th, 2014
8:09 PM
This does not surprise me. It is typical of the hard Left

James E Martins
September 2nd, 2014
8:09 AM
“Standpoint” is to be congratulated on publishing Jillian Becker’s scathingly perceptive and darkly witty demolition of one of the most over-lauded and tiresome champagne Stalinists since Lillian Hellman. Becker’s superb piece on Nadine Gordimer (“Comrade Madam”: “Standpoint”: September, 2014) ranks with Dwight Macdonald’s brilliant denunciation of the snobbery and obfuscations of James Gould Cozzens. After receiving her ill-deserved Nobel Prize, Gordimer was treated as if she were Yoda by the trendy Left, both In South Africa and abroad, and she was routinely praised for her literary achievements and her “courage”. In truth, Gordimer’s turgid, tub-thumping novels are unlikely to stand the rigorous test of passing years: they were always more bloated pamphlets than Tolstoy, whatever South African academics, frenziedly waving the “Local is Lekker” banner, may assert. Although there are some impressive short stories (“Enemies” is undoubtedly a masterpiece), Gordimer’s works in that genre are little more than poor man’s Katherine Mansfield, laced with political gibes. As far as courage is concerned, Nadine Gordimer, insulated by vast wealth, was never destined to be a martyr of the oppressive Nationalist government. Certainly, her novels were subjected to despotic and idiotic censorship, but, then again, so was South Africa’s very own girlie magazine, “Scope”. Gordimer generously promoted Black protest poetry of the 1970s, but she could be both fatuous and churlish about works that did not share her own political views. She “regretted” the publication of J. M. Coetzee’s wrenching, dystopian masterpiece, “Disgrace”(published in 1999), claiming that it lacked “deep feeling”, simply because it did not echo her naïve optimism about ANC-governed South Africa. Blinkered, even worshipful in her support of the ANC, Gordimer expressed reservations about “democratic” South Africa’s ruling regime’s corruption and restrictions on freedom of speech only towards the end of her life. Her criticisms, while apt, were very belated and hardly risky. Gordimer’s true talent lay in self-promotion – toadying to Susan Sontag certainly raised Gordimer’s profile in the U.S.A. – and F. R. Leavis’s brisk dismissal of the Sitwells could definitely be applied to “Comrade Madam”: she belongs more to the world of publicity than to that of literature. Those who relish Jillian Becker’s insights should also treasure an assessment of Nadine Gordimer offered by the very fine historical novelist, Mary Renault (1905 –1983), who settled in South Africa in the late 1940s. Renault clashed with Gordimer over admissions to PEN, and, in 1979, she wrote unforgettably of Gordimer: "There’s hardly anyone who knows her and likes her, and, instead of ever asking herself if this can possibly be because she is a bit of a bitch, she always attributes it to political martyrdom. Alan Paton has been every bit as outspoken as she has, and everyone respects him. I could write you chronicles about her, the only writer I have ever known to go in for calculated intrigue in the world of letters. But, as Jane Austen very properly says, let other pens dwell on vice and misery."

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