Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela & Marianne Thamm
Fairlady|December 2016

Journalist, commentator and feminist Marianne Thamm became a household name for writing about other people. Now she shares her own unconventional life story about growing up in 20th-century SA. We chatted to her about her book, becoming a mom and being fearless.

Marli Meyer

‘ MY mother gave me a tremendous sense of self. She loved me unconditionally. Looking back, I see that she gave me a panic room within myself that I can go into and feel completely safe.’ This, Marianne explains, is why she is so fearless.

That fearlessness is one of the first things you notice when you read her memoir, Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and Me. At every phase of her life – the feisty girl growing up in Pretoria; the brave reporter; the distinguished columnist, writer and editor she is today – there’s been little Marianne has shied away from.

And it’s not that she’s impervious to worry: she does have, she says, ‘many free-floating anxieties’ that she’ll lose her children young. ‘Two of my friends have lost their children, and you never fully recover. My only true fears are for my children … and my pets.

‘I don’t fear death; when you’ve lived long enough, your mind’s internal architecture can accept it. I love what Woody Allen says – I love his work; hate him – “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”’

We’re sitting in Marianne’s bright, airy kitchen, with Mediterranean-inspired patterned tiles on the floor and white bevelled ceramic subway tiles on the wall, while she intermittently takes Skype calls, checks a briefing on TV and corresponds with Branko Brkic (editor of Daily feminist Marianne Maverick, where she is deputy) about the breaking news of the day: the charges against Pravin Gordhan. ‘You know the day Nelson Mandela was freed? This is one of those days,’ she says. ‘This is the endgame.’

It’s quite something to see the realities of running a household emerge alongside her professional life: ‘And today, of all days, the shower is finally being fixed!’ She’s all over the place, yet manages also to be focused and attentive. 

Marianne blocked off four months to write her book – ‘a real luxury, a once-in-a-lifetime experience’, she says. ‘I’m very disciplined around work; I’ve got routines – reading routines, writing routines. When you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. By now, I kind of know that there are pauses and a rhythm to a story. So I knew I should start at the end, which was very Freudian of me because I “killed” my parents metaphorically – and I ate them up or re-consumed them, then I deposited them the way I wanted to. Does that make any sense?’ When you read her book, it will: her memoir takes you through the life and death of her German father and Portuguese mother, detailing how their specific combination contributed to her understanding of her life. 

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