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Culture

German Writer Wallraff Reveals Shelved South African Project

Guenter Wallraf, a German writer and investigative journalist, revealed this week that he had been planning a project in the black South African township of Soweto when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Headshot of writer Guenther Wallraff giving a speech

Wallraff often disguises himself for his writing projects

Wallraff, who collects material for his books by disguising himself, says the project collapsed when Mandela was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison under the apartheid regime. Mandela went on to become the country's first democratic president in 1994.

"At the beginning of the 1990s, I had prepared a project in Soweto," Wallraff said in a speech to a full house at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Oct. 29.

South African writer Breyten Breytenbach, who himself had spent years in South African prison for his own activities against the apartheid government, had helped him plan the project, according to Wallraff.

Nelson Mandela waving to a crowd upons his release from jail

Mandela's release from jail shelved Wallraff's project

He went on to describe how he always tested his disguises on his own daughters before reading excerpts from his next book about the "new" working world and from his autobiography.

"Everything is in question"

Guenter Wallraff, whose 1985 book "Lowest of the Low" documented the work and living conditions of Turkish guest workers in Germany, also warned his audience of the worsening work conditions in German companies.

"Fear is spreading in the factories, no one dares to speak up. We live in a time where everything is in question," Wallraff said.

Wallraff said the global finance crisis in the markets signaled not only an economic crisis but also a crisis through the whole system, and said he hoped it would provide the basis for a new "age of moderation and values."

Wallraff also announced he was setting up a foundation named after himself to help young journalists uncover injustices in the workplace.

Three people walking outside a refugee camp in South Africa, one carrying a knife and another carrying a club

Attacks against foreigners outside Johannesburg in May are worth further investigation, said Wallraff

Asked what he would do as a South African investigative journalist, Wallraff said: "I would probably live in Alexandra, where the anti-foreigner pogroms took place."

He was referring to the township outside Johannesburg where South Africans killed at least 60 refugees as the situation worsened in neighboring Zimbabwe. Many of the victims were Zimbabweans.

Wallraff said he would like to find out what led the poorest of the poor in Alexandra to such excesses.

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