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About John Matisonn, author of ‘Gods, Spies & Lies, 2015’ and ‘Cyril’s Choices, 2019’

John Matisonn was (US) National Public Radio’s correspondent in South Africa from 1986 to 1991. His by-line has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, The Observer and Financial Times (UK), among others. In 1985 he delivered the US Secretary of State’s Open Forum address critiquing US policy towards South Africa.


Matisonn trained Nelson Mandela and his future cabinet to manage TV and radio appearances on their release from prison. In the Mandela Administration he held a four-year presidential appointment as a Councillor on the Independent Broadcasting Authority (rough equivalent to a US Federal Communications Commissioner), where he also chaired the policy committee that oversaw the opening of the airwaves to multiple commercial and community broadcasters and the first privatisation of the new government, of six state-owned regional radio stations.

The United Nations appointed Matisonn chairperson of the Electoral Media Commission in Afghanistan for the 2005 parliamentary and provincial council elections, and brought him back for the 2009 presidential elections as international advisor to the Afghan commissioners he had trained. After the fraud-tainted 2009 presidential election he was appointed the Acting Project Manager of the UN’s Afghanistan election project until his departure in July 2010.

His first book, GOD, SPIES AND LIES, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, (2015) is one of the most useful explorations of how South Africa adjusted from an authoritarian apartheid regime to democracy by an insider in democratic government. His latest book, CYRIL’S CHOICES, Lessons from 25 years of freedom in South Africa, will be launched at the David Krut Bookstore – THE BLUE HOUSE – 151 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood – on 28 January 2020. It is a pointed review of the highlights of economic, military and foreign policy and the need for reform.

John Matisonn was a William F. Benton Fellow at the University of Chicago in 1991-1992, a Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies writing fellow in 2014 and 2018, and a member of the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation in 2017 and 2018.

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