Alienated Booker winner

In his interesting profile of J M Coetzee, Jason Cowley describes Disgrace as a vision of South Africa (25 October). But in fact it is a study in alienation. The main character - an extraordinarily truthful portrait of the disaffected would-be "European" imagination - ends up in a blind alley, to put it politely. None of the other characters is sympathetic or provides much insight into the soul of the new country. The inner life of new South Africa is preponderantly black. Most of the writing Cowley mentions comes from the white 10 per cent of the population who still speak with the voices of domination and privilege. Black voices have not yet found the confidence to express the spirit of the townships.

This spirit is the soul of the new South Africa. It is tough, resilient, proud of the political achievements of the struggle and determined to enter into full ownership of the country.

Within the townships there is also a sector of alienation which is immeasurably more relevant to the new country than the disaffection of the white middle-aged. Talk to teenagers in Soweto: they will sweep aside your preconceptions about South Africa, such as the one repeated by Cowley, that the ANC is headed for an "elected dictatorship".

The black voice is muted by poverty, and the profile of black opinion is masked by appearances. The issues, too, in South Africa are dimmed by lack of congruence between white influence and black need. But in their essence they occupy more human territory than that explored by the winner of the Booker prize.

Gil Elliot & Anita van de Vliet
London NW1

This article first appeared in the 01 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - David Ramsbotham

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.