Athol Williams

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Athol Williams
Athol Williams in Oxford, UK, 2017
Athol Williams in Oxford, UK, 2017
BornAthol Williams
(1970-06-20) 20 June 1970 (age 50)
Cape Town, South Africa
OccupationWriter, Social Philosopher
NationalitySouth African
Alma materOxford University
London School of Economics
Harvard University
London Business School
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of the Witwatersrand
Notable worksBumper Cars
Pushing Boulders
Oaky the Happy Tree

Athol Williams (born 20 June 1970) is a South African poet and social philosopher. From 2009 to 2014, Williams published his poetry under the pseudonym AE Ballakisten.

Life and career[edit]

Williams was born in Lansdowne, Cape Town, South Africa and grew up in Mitchells Plain, the coloured township established under apartheid. Before becoming a professional writer and social philosopher, he worked in business for fifteen years, mainly as a strategy advisor.

Williams is the first person to earn five master's degrees from five global top-ranked universities.[1] In addition to a bachelor's degree from the University of the Witwatersrand,[2] Williams holds master's degrees from MIT Sloan School of Management, London Business School,[3] the University of Oxford,[4] Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.[5]

It was at the University of the Witwatersrand, in 1991, that he published his first poem, "New South Africa", in the student publication Wits Student. The poem captured the newfound optimism associated with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders in 1990.[2]

He is the co-founder of Read to Rise,[6] an NGO that promotes youth literacy by making appropriate books available to children in poor communities. He is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town specialising in corporate responsibility and ethical leadership[7] and a Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Stellenbosch.[8]


In October 2019, Williams blew the whistle on Bain & Company stating that they had withheld relevant information from the Nugent Commission investigating irregularities at South African Revenue Service.[9][10][11][12] In December 2019, several media outlets reported that Bain had attempted to buy Williams's silence.[13][14][15][16] The Nugent Commission found that Bain did not make full disclosure.[17] Bain have denied these allegations.[18][19]

Williams's academic writing focuses on corporate responsibility and business ethics. He is often published in the media on topics of poverty,[20][21] youth literacy,[22] social justice[23] and corporate malfeasance.[24][25][26]

His poetry typically addresses four themes: (i) social justice as in the poems When It Rains, Protest in Colombo and Coat of Arms (ii) exploration of our humanity as in Your Song (iii) inspiration as we find in 39 Postcards or (iv) the surreal as in the poem At Home. The philosophies expressed in his poetry echo the concerns and dreams for human greatness found in the writings of Roberto Mangabeira Unger, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. His more recent writings paint images of hope, offering poignant insight into the path that humanity can follow to find harmony. "Light on man's condition, man's spirit, the purpose of my writing," he wrote in "A Consecration".[27]



  • Heap of Stones (2009; Theart Press)
  • Talking to a Tree: Poems of a Fragile World (2011; Theart Press)[28]
  • Our World, Better Together (ed.; 2013; private collection, Harvard University)
  • Bumper Cars (2015; The Onslaught Press)[29]
  • Invitation (2017; Theart Press)[30]


Children's books[edit]

  • Oaky and the Sun (2014, illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)
  • Oaky the Happy Tree (2015; illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)[34]
  • Oaky the Brave Acorn (2017; illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)[35]
  • What is Happening to Oaky? (2017; illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)[35]
  • Oaky Runs a Race (2018, illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)
  • A Girl Called H (2019, Theart Press)
  • Oaky and Themba (2019, illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)
  • Oaky and the Virus (2020, illustrated by Taryn Lock; Theart Press)[36][37][38][39][40][41]

Literary awards[edit]

  • Cultural Affairs Award for Contribution to Literary Arts, Western Cape Provincial Government (2019).[42]
  • South African Independent Publishers Award (2019) for The Oaky Series
  • South African Independent Publishers Award (2017) for Invitation[43]
  • Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (2016)[44]
  • Parallel Universe Poetry Competition Winner, Oxford University (2016).[45]
  • Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (2015)[46]
  • South African Literary Award for Poetry (Runner-up, 2016) for Bumper Cars


  • "Talking to a Tree brilliantly captures the essence of despair that can force humankind to change. Thought-provoking, devastatingly direct, this anthology is one that will shake the reader out of complacency." – Fiona Ingram[47][48]
  • "[Athol Williams] is one of those rare souls who perceives the world as it is with all its flaws and does whatever is in his power to change it. He uses well-chosen words and a natural gift for storytelling in this collection to create short narratives about issues which are familiar to us all." – Janet van Eeden[49]
  • "it is such a satisfying thing to read the work of someone who is a real poet, able to work an image into a new existence." – Angela Read Lloyd[48]
  • "South African poet [Athol Williams]'s latest collection of poems seethes with rage over the violence humanity inflicts upon itself and the natural world. Hope flickers amid the bleakness ... [Williams]'s book serves as a call to action, urging readers to stop condoning violence." – Camille-Yvette Welsch[50]


  1. ^ "SA poet receives Master's degrees from fifth top university | Cape Times". Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b WITS Review, January 2012, University of the Witwatersrand
  3. ^ The Plainsman, 17 February 2010
  4. ^ "Interview with Athol Williams » Africa Oxford Initiative". Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  5. ^ LSE Digest (PDF), London School of Economics, 1 August 2013
  6. ^ "Meet the READ to RISE Management Team". Read to Rise. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
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  27. ^ Ballakisten 2009, p. 11.
  28. ^ Jou naam* (15 February 2012). "AE Ballakisten in conversation with Janet van Eeden". LitNet. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  29. ^ @stylehatch, Style Hatch - |. "Titles in Print". The Onslaught Press. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  30. ^ "theartpress - POETRY BOOKS". theartpress. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  31. ^ "Westridge poet launches autobiography - Plainsman". Plainsman. 12 October 2016. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  32. ^ Williams, Athol (13 October 2016). Pushing Boulders: Oppressed to Inspired (1 ed.). Theart Press. ASIN B01M3Q1FNX.
  33. ^
  34. ^ Oliphant, Porchia (10 September 2015). "Author uses skills to help uplift others" (PDF). Cape Argus.
  35. ^ a b "theartpress - CHILDRENS BOOKS". theartpress. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
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  44. ^ "2016 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award announced - a second win for Athol Williams". Jacana @ Sunday Times Books LIVE. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  45. ^ "Radcliffe Science Library | Poetry competition 2016". Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  46. ^ Wolf, Raphael (15 December 2015). "Mitchells Plain academic wins top poetry prize". IOL. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  47. ^ Creations, LIT. "Fiona Ingram - children's author, children's books, educational books, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, Egypt, adventure books, archaeology, Chronicles of the Stone, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur". Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  48. ^ a b Ballakisten 2011.
  49. ^ van Eeden, Janet (15 February 2012). "AE Ballakisten in conversation with Janet van Eeden". LitNet. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  50. ^ Clarion Review, 17 February 2012

External links[edit]