South Africa

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Nadia Goetham — an extraordinary publisher succumbs to Covid-19

Nadia Goetham — an extraordinary publisher succumbs to Covid-19
Nadia Goetham, by many accounts, was on the road to becoming a legendary publisher who had the zeitgeist of the moment to find the voices that amplify what it means to be living right now, says the article's author. (Photo: Twitter)

The esteemed publisher believed there is a story in each of us.

Jacana publisher Nadia Goetham (46) died from Covid-19 complications on Sunday afternoon, April 25, and hearts broke across social media.

With her brother Ian not yet informed, her many authors and friends used the social media platform she loved to spread their heartbreak with broken heart emojis and no names. When Ian Goetham announced his sister’s death with the words “Our hearts are shattered”, the Internet went viral with Nadia-grief as all those she had touched paid tribute.

Terry-Ann Adams, the writer from Eldorado Park, whom Nadia encouraged to publish a memoir tweeted a conversation between them: “Me: I will never write a memoir. Nadia: We’ll see. Me: But my life is not interesting. Nadia: “You’ll write that memoir.”  Her book, Those Who Live in Cages was long-listed for the Alan Paton Award at the weekend, news that came just a few hours before Nadia died.   

Also long-listed was Jamil F Khan’s Khamr:The Makings of a Waterslams which additionally won a coveted National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences book award last month. “She was always looking for voices which were not heard or silenced,” said Jacana’s Maggie Davey and Khamr was a book coaxed from the silences to find an eager audience.

The celebrity chef LesDaChef (Lesego Semenya) published a best-seller called Dijo with Nadia and he tweeted that “One thing about @NGoetham (her twitter handle) was that she was all about the world of publishing and seeing those she cares about win, almost to a fault.”

Nadia gathered interesting people around her effortlessly, said her friend Jo-Ann Floris, the Gauteng news editor of Sunday Times.  She had time for all in her ever-expanding circles, said Floris who found her friend’s ability to make friendships amazing. “I am a loner who doesn’t need more than five people,” said Floris who counted Nadia as her part of her top five since they met when they both studied journalism at Cape Peninsula Technikon in 1996.

At her birthday party in 2019, before Covid-19 locked us down, Nadia’s celebration at the now-shuttered Ba-Pita in Melville was a soiree of fascinating people.  The violinist Davina Gordon and her television anchor sister Marcelle Gordon; Jody Jacobs of eNCA and Gavin Prins, the celebrity writer and bon vivant, LesDaChef who made wonderful sunflower cup-cakes and her friends from Cape Town, Johannesburg and elsewhere.

Floris says Nadia loved acting and drama at university and it was clear from her social circles, her travels and the drama of her personal style.

Her authors became her friends and she coaxed her friends to be authors – like the creative design and comedy genius Donovan Goliath whom she was in the midst of persuading to find the book in him. “Nadia was the greatest networker who ever lived. If you needed a number for anybody, she’d have it back to you in minutes,” said Davey. Nadia started out as a production manager at Jacana and quickly progressed to publisher where she enjoyed the autonomy to bring in the new voices she was passionate about.  Publishing was her identity and although she started as a journalist at News24, she learned her popular-culture chops at True Love and later even put in a stint at Landbou Weekblad, the farmers’ magazine which she enjoyed. 

“We relied on her to see through the fog. Her death is so cruel for so many reasons,” said Davey.

Nadia was working with fellow publisher and author Nadine Dirks and Khan to bring out a curated Cape Flats reader. In South Africa, book publishing is often an act of healing and self-actualisation in the post-colonial ravages inflicted on her people. Nadia knew that and when anybody wanted her time in order to pour out their idea for the manuscript in their hearts, she listened intently and carefully and with encouragement.  “She brought authors into her heart, not in a maternal way, but in a way that said ‘I care about you and your writing and your future writing’,” said Davey. 

And in an industry that can still curate on the contours of old privilege, she was a leading figure among the new publishers who insisted on telling the stories of those without privilege or voice.  Nadia, by many accounts, was on the road to becoming a legendary publisher who had the zeitgeist of the moment to find the voices that amplify what it means to be living right now.  Her publishing archive is already a cultural pacesetter.

Covid-19’s riptide struck her down quickly and cruelly. Just a week before, she joined the Twitter conversation about Tokyo Sexwale’s wayward scam claims and just a day before her death, she and her best friend Rhoda Davids were planning a post-vaccine trip to Croatia. 

Nadia is survived by her brother Ian, sister-in-law Deidre, her nephew Alex and niece India. Her Twitter feed would tell you how much she loved them and her extended family in Paarl in the Cape. DM 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stuart Kinnear says:

    This is a tragedy. I worked with Nadia for a while when she was at Grazia magazine and I’ll never forget the way she used to laugh. Even on the toughest deadlines we could always count on her to bring some levity to the situation. Such a loss.

  • Renee Bishop says:

    This is so sad!! May her soul rest in peace. Sending love and hugs to her family and friends. xx

  • Johann Olivier says:

    …and too many South Africans continue to treat Covid with disdain. I’m frequently startled by the cavalier approach to this relentlessly deadly virus. It CAN & WILL kill you. Take it seriously. If not personally, then for others.

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