Mark Gevisser, a South African writer and journalist, is the author of A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream and Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir and the forthcoming The Pink Line: Journeys across the World’s Queer Frontiers. (March 2020)
The New York Review is publishing dispatches from around the world documenting the coronavirus outbreak. Read the full series, and listen to writers reading their contributions, at nybooks.com/pandemic. —The Editors OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, March 17—By Thursday afternoon, downtown San Francisco, already void of tourists, had turned ghostlier still.
Dispatches on the coronavirus outbreak from Madeleine Schwartz in Brooklyn, Anne Enright in Dublin, Joshua Hunt in Busan, Anna Badkhen in Lalibela, Lauren Groff in Gainesville, Christopher Robbins in New York, Elisa Gabbert in Denver, Ian Jack in London, Vanessa Barbara in São Paolo, Rachel Pearson in San Antonio, A.E. Stallings in Athens, Simon Callow in London, Mark Gevisser in Cape Town, Sarah Manguso in Los Angeles, Ruth Margalit in Tel Aviv, Miguel-Anxo Murado in Madrid, Tim Parks in Milan, Eduardo Halfon in Paris, Anastasia Edel in Oakland, and more.
In Boyhood and its sequels, Youth and Summertime, J.M. Coetzee uses family photographs as aides-memoire but makes no mention of his own adolescent passion for taking them. How fascinating it was, then, to see the images made in boyhood in dialogue with the words of an older man looking back, and to imagine the way the ethics and aesthetics of the former might have forged the latter; also, to consider what the image reveals that the word cannot, and vice-versa.
Jacob Zuma, an unschooled man of the countryside, once derided “clever” blacks—by which he meant people like Cyril Ramaphosa, educated and urban, disconnected from their roots. Through his cattle, Ramaphosa seeks to demonstrate a reconnection with the land and the heritage of his people. “I am not Robert Mugabe,” he is saying. “This will not be Zimbabwe. Read my book and you will see. My own family knows the pain of dispossession. But I now own the most magnificent herd of cattle in the country, and I am a successful farmer. I have been on both sides. That’s why I can do the job.”