Daily Maverick Articles | Glen Retief

Since 2016, Glen has written “slice of life” or literary journalism articles for the Daily Maverick. These highlight quirky stories, forgotten histories, or offbeat places.  Most of these he calls “letters,” as in “Letter from Trumpland” or “Letter from Mpumalanga.”  This honors the ancient tradition of an author describing a place and then reflecting on its meaning to him or her. 

Read all of my Daily Maverick articles here or select one of my latest articles below.

Letter from Pennsylvania: A South African Comes Dead Last at Coal Country Boilo-Making

6 March 2024

Through laughter, camaraderie, and unexpected flavours, Glen Retief discovers that drink transcends borders when he joins a boilo competition and crafts his own South African-inspired version. 

Letter from Rhode Island: Metacom, the chief who almost kicked the English out of North America

19 December 2023

Alone in these woods at the edge of a continent, my husband and I touch Metacom’s rocks. We spend 10 or 15 minutes, silent, listening to the breeze and the distant water. A blue jay squawks above us. We smell the salt of the bay.  Then we return to our car, and the empty parking lot, and the stream without a name. 

Letter from Connecticut:

The Extinction of the Wangunks Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

18 June 2023

Talk of “lost Native American tribes” is commonplace in today’s USA.  But sometimes the vanished peoples are hiding in plain sight.

Letter from KZN:

Churchill, the Boers and my quick-thinking maternal ancestor

5 February 2023

Did Glen Retief’s great-great aunt save Winston Churchill’s life and thus change the course of world history? And did Churchill hide behind her skirts? Family history is sometimes an elusive truth, he finds.

Letter from KZN: Finding common ground with Piet Retief, in the great, royal city of Umgungundlovu

10 October 2022

Like the narrator of TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”, did he flash back, standing on that final hill, to the zinc roof and whitewashed walls of Mooimeisiesfontein? The sweet smell of earth after rain; the rocky ridge behind it, where at night he would have heard the crickets and cicadas.

Letter from Limpopo: Once upon a time, in lands of gold and stone

24 July 2022

Was it as representatives of Great Zimbabwe that the Lemba first arrived in what is the precolonial Venda kingdom, where they would, as they had done in so many other places, become a tribe-within-a-tribe? Here we pay a visit to their ancient community in Elim, a hot, dusty bushveld town where the hills are full of stories.

Young people’s heartbreaking essays of living with Covid

26 May 2022

Grief is part of life, Ben Okri teaches us, and sometimes time can put a strange honey in the sadness. Or, as Alan Paton wrote, simply: ‘Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.’

Letter from Gauteng: The waste picker of 30th Avenue, Pretoria

21 December 2021

Waste pickers are increasingly an organised workforce. In South Africa they have resisted attempts by private companies to take over the recycling business, and picked up a World Wildlife Fund award. To find out more, I joined George Nyathi on his Monday rounds.

Letter from Mpumalanga: Restarting the locomotives of prosperity in a town above a waterfall

12 October 2021

Preserving the legacy of small, often forgotten towns such as Emgwenya requires inclusive input with rejuvenation in mind. Restart the railways and investment will return.

Letter from Mpumalanga: Listening to history’s whispers by the river of enlightenment

31 August 2021

Rediscovering the history of African Zionism and the Zion Christian Church can help to reawaken love, compassion and togetherness, in an age when such legacies risk being forgotten indefinitely.

Find all of my Daily Maverick articles here.