Monday, February 15, 2010

South Africa during Apartheid

A Beautiful Place to Die A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn

When I grew up, we boycotted all goods from South Africa. At one point, I got mad at my father for buying Kruger Rand coins, because their sale supported the regime.

When a theatre group from Soweto, a town ship close to Johannesburg, visited my home town and gave a performance in the local church, I was impressed by their energy, their beauty, and their determination to make their stories known. The performance was a combination of traditional African dance, and realistic theatre, to demonstrate live in the townships. I was a kid, and at that point, I didn't quite comprehend that the play was not telling just stories, but events that were happening in the present. 

Although the novel doesn't focus on the African community, and the townships were created a few years later, the crime novel "A Beautiful Place to Die" reminded me of these childhood memories. It is set in 1952 rural South Africa, a few years into the Apartheid regime/rules. A white (boer) police captain, a pillar of the community, is found murdered. The unraveling of this crime by a detective from Johannesburg reveals an intertwining of the "races", deeply ingrained in the people, that is in sharp contrast to the racial segregation laws of the National Party, the ruling entity in South Africa.

The setup of the crime aspect of the story is a bit too much Chandler like for my taste (lone damaged detective), but the setting in South Africa, the description of the different ways people are dealing with the new segregation laws, make the book not just an interesting and entertaining read, but also educational. It reminded me, that I know very little about African history. I was not aware of the parallels of the National Party of South Africa with the Nazi regime in Germany. Just like the latter, the South African party justified their racial atrocities pseudo-religiously (the one chosen volk).  Both enforced their power by establishing a omnipotent secret police force. It seems inconceivable that the South African regime lasted as long as it did, but then, they didn't start a Word War.

This is my first African book for the GlobalReadingChallenge.

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