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This report is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

Meeting Tatamkhulu Afrika Isobel Dixon

A thousand words is not enough to trace a life so long, so rich and complex. Mr Chameleon, he named his recently-completed memoir manuscript - and how does one capture the chameleon? Elsewhere, others have reported the facts - all the names and places he had been. Here, what I have to offer are no explanations, simply impressions, memorable moments of meeting with Tata.

Christmas Eve: I hear Gus Ferguson's voice on my cellphone and know it must be bad news about Tata. I sit down on the stairs to hear it. Too soon: eighty-two and two weeks, almost blind, but - until he was hit by a car, days after the South African launch of his novel Bitter Eden - still active. Filled with creative energy, alert to impressions and lively with emotion: delight, chagrin, anxiety, glee, all echoing across the long-distance line the last time we spoke. Gone too soon, and me cursing myself for being too late with a snippet of good news: two days before Tata's death Mark Simpson of the Independent picked Bitter Eden as one of his two best books of the year. I never got the chance to tell him. One of those small, sharp regrets, the peg you hang a much greater sense of loss upon.

It was the eve of another celebration, the last time I spoke to him. A Friday night, just before his birthday and Eid, the end of the Ramadan fast. We talked ...

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