“My mother instilled in me from an early age that sex was the inevitable result of a man getting the better of you.” This is one of the many chuckle-worthy lines in “has been” famous South African columnist Jani Allan’s memoir, Jani Confidential. The book has glittering heaps of these verbal gems, which alone make the book worth reading. That Austenian line about what her mother instilled in her could have been a great opener for the book. Also poignant and telling, it suggests that sex occurs in some kind of dark, dangerous theatre the author needs to tippy-toe through in different disguises without opening her legs. It foreshadows a naïve, suddenly too prominent young woman who is lured in by men and then abused by them; men who are often famous, powerful, definitely self-centred and cruel.
Struggling from an early age with abandonment and co-dependent issues, brought up by a demanding foster mother, Jani Allan writes with a mystical, dreamy flair:
The soul chooses the womb into which it must be born in order to learn the lessons of life.
How apt then that I was the illegitimate, unwanted baby of a wild, pretty girl who gave me away.
Jani sets up the memoir to be read in a certain way: there are several early markers that she was an innocent and a victim – she invents herself as this – and totally unprepared for what men do to her later. She makes it clear that to write a personal memoir means expressing in frank terms one’s multiplicity of selves in limited words:
Someone once said we are the stories we tell. We all construct personal narratives and we spend our lives working and reworking them. Our memories may be unreliable. We fabricate, embellish and embroider …
We weave a tapestry self and it is through this … that we construct a unified whole out of the many strands, skeins … that contribute to our sense of self.
DNA can be sequenced. Brains can be scanned. Batteries of personality tests can be run. But you won’t find the essence of someone in any of them. It’s the stories they tell that will provide the interpretative layer.
So we encounter a number of Janis. We have Jani the dazzle-eyed glamour girl going on dream tours around the world to exotic locations, including meeting with Roger Moore on the set of a Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. There is Jani the victim of men, not just Eugene Terre’Blanche (ET) but others easily searchable on Google, like Stan Katz, Cliff Saunders, Gordon Schachat and Tertius Myburgh. Myburgh, the previous editor of the Sunday Times, uses her in a cold, calculating manner to create newspaper-selling scandals to do with her apparent “affair” with ET with utter disregard for her personal safety and reputation. Then there is Jani the child-woman overwhelmed by life, by the Channel Four court trial and all the betrayals by friends. There is the elven Jani who, to get away from all the shit with men she artlessly gets herself into, dreamily seeks solace by going deep into nature and reminiscing about ancient, otherworldly myths and art. Here she is in England:
I am in a Chagall painting. Far below is a tiny toy farm painted in the bright colours of childhood. The crowing of cocks, the barking of dogs and the faint, sporadic bleating of sheep are reminders that the mystic fugue of Avalon is played in harmony with this Western corner of Somerset.
Jani Confidential is chock-a-block with thought-provoking, delightful descriptions which make the memoir a page turner. This is especially if you are one of “us”, in a certain age group and older, who were past their teens in apartheid South Africa in the Eighties, and yes, mostly white. If you are one of “us”, you are in for a nostalgic ride redolent with old names and events, from Stan Katz and 702, the Rand Daily Mail and the rise of the AWB and dirty tricks campaigns, to the days when (impossible to believe now) Hillbrow was a lekker, chic place to sit outside restaurants on the street with a fake cappuccino (probably made with Cremora) or strut around with your BMW keys jingling on your belt and say “howzit doll” to any lush. These were the days, as Jani reminds us, when you turned on the radio and laughed at Cliff Saunders’ excruciating pro-apartheid propaganda, which has more in common with the Goon Show than reality. Jani, in an anecdote where Cliff Saunders tries to use her as a spy on the ANC (or is it the other way round? – in her naivety she was never clear) describes old Cliff in a perfect image that describes many South African white men of the times: “ … Beneath a hairdo that owed more to a hardware store than a hairdresser, Cliff wore a permanently furrowed brow”.
Her descriptions of ET are equally graphic and make one unable to believe that a discerning, Gucci-clad kugel could ever have dreamt of sleeping with an alcoholic bogan: “His face is like a boxing glove deep in thought.” “His voice thickens as though blood has been stirred into it.” “Beneath a large portrait of Eugene Terre’Blanche sits the original. Tonight the one-man political veld fire is smouldering silently.” I wish I could avoid the tediously over-famous question of Jani’s “watershed” moment: Did she or did she not sleep with ET — and what on earth was she doing skulking around with him at Paardekraal?
To be continued in next blog.