Sir Harry Smith arrived in the Cape Colony as Governor at the end of 1847, with a mandate to settle its affairs, and those of its neighbours as well.Sir Harry Smith arrived in the Cape Colony as Governor at the end of 1847, with a mandate to settle its affairs, and those of its neighbours as well. He was recalled in 1852, after a little more than four years, and his bungling cost the British taxpayers a lot of money, and impoverished and alienated most of the neighbours.
My main interest in reading his life was that a year before he arrived my wife Val's Green ancestors arrived, and since they had come with the British military, Sir Harry Smith was their boss for those four years, and his policies (and bungling) shaped their lives as well as those of many others.
Val's great great great grandfather, William Green, recently widowed, was transferred from Canada to the Cape Colony in about 1846, along with several of his children, including Val's great great grandfather Fred Green, who was about 17 years old. Fred's older brother Henry, like his father, joined the commissariat department, and another brother, Edward, joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as an ensign.
Edward enlisted in the middle of the 7th Frontier War, or 7th Kaffir War, as the British called it, otherwise known as the War of the Axe. It had begun when a man of the Ngqika tribe, Tlili, had been arrested for stealing an axe from a Fort Beaufort shopkeeper. His friends organised a jailbreak, and freed him by cutting off the hand of a fellow prisoner to whom he was handcuffed. The other prisoner subsequently died, so murder was added to the charges, and war was the result.
The British Secretary of State for War and Colonies, Henry Grey (the 3rd Earl Grey) in the Liberal government of Lord John Russell, decided to appoint Sir Harry Smith as Governor of the Cape Colony and Commander in Chief of British forces there to bring an end to the war (Harington 1980:88ff).
Harry Smith was a career soldier, and had served in the Cape Colony in the 1830s under Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban, where he had taken part in the 6th Frontier War, and defeated the Xhosa tribes. He believed that the Xhosa people were tyrannised by their dictatorial chiefs, and thought that by deposing the chiefs he would liberate the Xhosas, so that they could be Christianised and civilised and become good citizens of the British Empire. On that occasion, when the Xhosa paramount chief Hintsa (who had taken little part in the fighting) came to the British camp under a flag of truce to negotiate peace terms, the British had treacherously kept him as a hostage, and finally treated him as a prisoner and murdered him while he was trying to “escape”. Smith then attempted to browbeat the other chiefs by intimidation and bluster, which he himself had referred to as “play-acting” so that, in effect, he pretended to rule them, and they pretended to surrender (Harington 1980:41ff).
Smith had then been transferred to India, where he had distinguished himself militarily against the Sikhs at the Battle of Aliwal, which had enhanced his reputation as a great military leader, and on the strength of this he was sent to the Cape Colony in three capacities – political (as Governor of the Cape Colony), diplomatic (as High Commissioner) and military (as Commander in Chief).
Smith arrived at Cape Town on 1 December 1847, when the Green family had been in the Cape Colony for about a year. He immediately set out on a tour of his domain.
With increasing numbers of British subjects (notably the Voortrekkers) from the Cape Colony settling north of the Orange River, the British government appointed Major Henry Douglas Warden as Resident in the area to keep the peace, and he settled on the farm Bloemfontein, near the Modder River in what was then known as Trans-Orangia. That, too, was to be on the itinerary of Smith’s grand tour.
The 7th Frontier War was almost over by the time Smith reached Port Elizabeth on 14 December 1847. Among those there to greet him was the Ngqika chief Maqoma, one of Smith’s old enemies from the 6th Frontier War. Maqoma had been neutral in the 7th Frontier War, and so had sat on his horse, unmolested, among the crowd who were waiting for Smith. Harington (1980:98f) describes what happened next:
From a window in the Phoenix Hotel [Smith] looked down upon an excited crowd that included many old friends and an old enemy, Maqoma himself, who astride his horse was especially prominent and noticed by Smith. To the amusement of the crowd the governor stared meaningfully at the chief, then half drew his sword. That should have been explicit enough, and sufficiently undignified, but Smith’s next actions show how success had gone to his head and affected his judgement. Though his intentions had always been good his earlier behaviour vis-à-vis the Xhosa had all too often been overbearing and eccentric, and he treated Maqoma in a manner that was outrageous, dangerous and foolish. He summoned the chief to his presence and when Maqoma offered his hand he was forced to prostrate himself in front of the governor who, having placed his foot upon his neck, poured forth a torrent of menacing vituperation over him, and threatened that all the other chiefs were going to get similar treatment. They were to be crushed and compelled to submit and obey.
Such was the man under whom three members of the Green family were to serve – William and his son Henry in the commissariat, and Edward as a Lieutenant in the Cape Mounted Rifles.
After browbeating the other Xhosa chiefs, Smith annexed their land between the Kei and Keiaskamma rivers under the name of British Kaffraria (later called the Ciskei), and told them that henceforth they would be under British rule.
In February 1848 Sir Harry Smith, after discussions with the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, proclaimed British sovereignty over Trans-Orangia, and a village was laid out at Bloemfontein , with a fort and a garrison. The garrison consisted of the Cape Mounted Rifles, the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment and the Royal Artillery88b:7). This was a mere ten years after the Great Trek.
The Sovereignty was challenged by the Boers, who proclaimed a republic at Winburg and marched on Bloemfontein, but were defeated by the British, lef by Sir Harry Smith, at the Battle of Boomplaats on 29 August 1848, where Henry Green was in charge of the commissariat. Henry Green remained in Bloemfontein, and eventually replaced the incompetent Major Harry Warden as British Resident in July 1852. In the mean time his younger brothers visited him there, and Henry seems to have found work for some of them to do, while Charles and Fred Green used it as a base for hunting expeditions to what is now Botswana. .
After a couple of years another frontier wart broke out (the 8th), and it is probably fair to say that Sir Harry Smith's arrogance and overbearing manner in dealing with the Xhosa chiefs made it much more bitter than the preceding seven wars. He sent optimistic reports back to Earl Grey in Britain about his victories, but in spite of all the battles he claimed to have won, the Xhosas still occupied their strongholds and kept the British tied up in their forts. Eventually Harry Smith was recalled.
There is more in the book about his life before this period, though his recall marked the end of his career. It was also William Green's last posting. In 1855 he retired on half pay, and went to live in London.
It is 50 years since I read this book, so I am reliant on my diary for what I thought. It was quite a thought-provoking book. When I read it, I had beIt is 50 years since I read this book, so I am reliant on my diary for what I thought. It was quite a thought-provoking book. When I read it, I had been in Britain for four months, I was living in digs in Streatham in South London, and driving buses for London Transport, and feeling homesick for South Africa, and rather alienated in Britain. That was why i bought the book and read it, and that coloured my attitude to the book.
It provoked two thoughts in me: first, that Laurens van der Post, though born in Africa, wrote about Africa like a European. That annoyed me, particularly because of my own circumstances at the time. Secondly, he wrote about forgiveness in a way that may have been reflected in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa thirty years later.
So this is what I wrote in my diary on 6 June 1966:
I read more of Venture to the interior and came to the conclusion that van der Post is above all things a European. He may have been born in Africa, but to him Europe is home. He writes about and sees Africa through European eyes. Alan Paton is one South African writer I know who writes as an African, as a non-European. There may be others, but I haven't read them. Much of what van der Post says is true, though, particularly about air travel. There is something about an international airport that is unlocated, almost like the in-between land of pools in The magician's nephew. It is neither here nor there. It is not a part of the world at all. A strange unreality pervades it, and an atmosphere that both attracts and repels. One is no longer located in time and space. One is not anywhere, but everywhere is a possibility. The possibilities are exciting. It is a sort of cocoon transitional stage, only here, you feel, can you make the choice. I am nowhere - where shall I be? London? Nairobi? New York? Karachi? Paris? Entebbe? Johannesburg? Rome? Salisbury? All are possibilities.
It bugs me, this European outlook, the assumption of European superiority. Even he, born in Africa, writes in terms of England as if England is the almighty bloody absolute from which everything else in the world is to be judged. It is understandable in an Englishman, who must describe new things in terms of what he already knows, but not in someone brought up on a Free State farm.
He writes very well at times, but I can't help feeling that he is a traitor to the land of his birth. He has become an Englishman. And what is this England, this soft land, where the corners of everything are rubbed off? Where so many things are blurred and ill-defined? The climate and geography are strange to me.
I have just been through an English spring, but it is completely different to spring back home. England in spring is like a great fat lazy cow chewing over the cud. It is not, as in South Africa, a sudden awakening. A fanfare of wattle blossoms to announce its arrival in August. Then silence.
Then spring, when in a few weeks of September everything turns green. The azaleas and bougainvillias flower. The winter brown turns to summer green, and again there is silence for a space, and then a fanfare of jacarandas to announce that the process is completed -- summer is here.
Not so in England. There is a blurring of the edges, a shading over from winter to summer. No grand dramatic displays and flourishes, but a little bit here, a little bit there. First this turns green, then that. One plant flowers, then another. Bushes blossom while the trees are still all dead. It is a much slower process, an unfolding, like a movie lap dissolve done very slowly, the new picture slowly emerging out of the old. In South Africa it is like a changing of lantern slides -- one disappears and the other takes its place. Both are beautiful, but I think I still prefer ours.
6 Jun 1966 - Van der Post on forgiveness
One thing that struck me in the first couple of chapters was his father's forgiving the British after the Boer War.
It has always been one of the more frightening ironies of Afrikaner life that people like my father, who with Smuts and Botha had fought and actually suffered in the war, could forgive and begin anew, whereas others, alive today, who were never in the heart of the conflict, can still find it so hard to forgive an injury that was not even done to them, and how can there be any real beginning without forgiveness?
I noticed something similar in my experience with war crimes officers, who had neither suffered internment under the Japanese, nor even fought against them. They were more revengeful and bitter about our sufferings and our treatment than we were ourselves. I have so often noticed that the suffering which is most difficult, if not impossible to forgive, is unreal, imagined suffering. There is no power on earth like imagination, and the worst, most obstinate grievances are imagined ones.
This seems to touch on the core of a rather big question of human behaviour, One is that we so often find it easier to forgive those who injure us than those who injure others; and this imagination business. Reading about life in Nazi Germany conjures up all sorts of horrors, but they are imaginary horrors, I have never experienced them. In South Africa there are probably the same horrors, but one gets used to them. This is why so many people emphatically deny that South Africa is a police state, because it does not fit their mental image of a police state. But Germans probably felt the same 30 years ago.
I seem to recollect Trevor Huddleston in his book Naught for your comfort saying how much harder it was to forgive things done to other people, because one can only imagine how they feel. And ]those who questioned] the value of Liberal Party rural meetings, because you know that you go to encourage them in the face of SB intimidation, but by going you only encourage the SB to step up their campaign of intimidation. But it is a selfish martyrdom attitude -- a sort of "I alone can bear the suffering" kick. But they too must bear their share of suffering -- we are not the ones to deny it to them. It is their privilege as members of God's kingdom.
H. Rider Haggard was a writer of adventure novels, often set in imaginary locations, and has been credited with creating the "lost world" genre of litH. Rider Haggard was a writer of adventure novels, often set in imaginary locations, and has been credited with creating the "lost world" genre of literature. Like many of his books, this one is set in Africa, in the imaginary kingdom, or perhaps one should say queendom of Mur, ruled by Maqueda, a descendant King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Richard Adams, a British medical doctor, who had wandered the world practising his trade, met and married an Egyprian woman in Cairo, and also met an Egyptologist, Professor Ptolemy Higgs, whom he cured of typhoid, thus earning his gratitude. Adams's wife dies, and their only son is kidnapped, and many years later Adams has news of his son who is a slave of the Fung tribe in North Central Africa. Maqueda's people, the Abati, are traditional enemies of the Fung, and avoid being conquered by the Fung because they live in an inaccessible valley surrounded by mountains. Maqueda tells Adams of a prophecy that the Fung will leave if their sphinx-like idol is destroyed, and if Adams does that, the Abati will help him release his son.
Adams returns to Britain, taking the Queen of Sheba's ring to prove his bona fides, and enlists Professor Higgs (who is drawn by Adams's stories of ancient artifacts) and a soldier, Captain Oliver Orme, with his sidekick Sergeant Samuel Quick, and they return to Mur with the explosives needed to blow up the idol, with the two soldiers having the necessary expertise in their use.
Unlike some of Haggard's earlier books, this one seems rather contrived and unconvincing. Queen Sheba's Ring was first published in 1910, by which time most of Africa had been colonised by European powers, and very few parts remained unknown to Europeans. Perhaps Mur was in the south of Libya, which had not yet been colonised by Italy. Soon after this book was written, modern communications ensured that most educated people in most parts of the world were at least aware of the existence of places and peoples living in continents other than their own, though I am sometimes surprised by the degree of geographical ignorance displayed by contestants in quiz shows. So Rider Haggard was pushing the "lost world" trope a bit hard, though the success of Tarzan stories, and later Indiana Jones, showed that there was still a little juice that could be squeezed out of it. But most writers looking for imaginary settings moved their stories to other planets, which gave them more scope for developing exotic civilizations.
In reading this book, however, I was constantly being reminded of the time in which it was written, because if strongly reflects the arms race that preceded the First World War.
In Britain, the Liberal Party, especially, reacted against the aggressive imperialism and violence that had led to the Second Anglo-Boer War. In Queen Sheba's Ring Haggard shows himself as a convinced militarist, stressing the need for arms production and military training and conscription. At times I wondered if he had been asked, or even paid by the "hawks" in the Conservative Party to write a book that would do this.
Our local library has a table with unwanted books, probably donated from deceased estates, and I saw a copy of Nostromo, which I hadn't read, and paidOur local library has a table with unwanted books, probably donated from deceased estates, and I saw a copy of Nostromo, which I hadn't read, and paid R2.00 for it, which is probably three times the price it would have cost new when it was printed in 1955, but seems like a bargain today.
I tried not to read it with any preconceptions about the content, and it struck me as strange. It started with a description of the town of Sulaco in the fictional South American republic of Costaguano (does that mean what I think it means?) where a citizen of English descent inherits a concession to a long defunct silver mine. He is possessed by the entrepreneurial spirit, reopens the mine, begins to work it and makes it pay, His wife, who is compassionate, cares for the families of the miners, and worries about what it is doing to her husband. The mine provides employment for many, and profits for its overseas backers.
Then there is a revolution, and the upper classes of Sulaco together with the European expatriates, think that it will be better if the Occidental province becomes independent. Nostromo, an Italian sailor and supervisor of the local stevedores, is entrusted with the task of taking the silver output of the mine out to sea to keep it out of the hands of the revolutionaries and to buy arms for the separatists.
Up to this point the story seemed a bit slow, and it wasn't clear where it was going. Then the pace picked up, though it still wasn't clear where it was going. Was it the story of a workaholic businessman who opened a silver mine? Was it the story of a revolution? Was it a story about a bold war-time heist of silver? In the end it was none of these things and all of these things. And it ended up as a love story, which one would never have expected from the beginning, or even the middle.
The point of view of the story shifts from one character to another, and each of them sees the events in a different way. And having reached the end of it, I think I might start again at the beginning to see where it went and how it got there. ...more
There was quite a lot of discussion of this book on the Internet when it first came out, and a lot of people seemed to think it was marvellous, and aThere was quite a lot of discussion of this book on the Internet when it first came out, and a lot of people seemed to think it was marvellous, and a great contribution to Christian literature. I never saw it in book shops, but wondered what it was about.
Then Val brought a copy home from the library, read about 20 pages and gave up. She said it was twee, especially the bits that referred to God as "Papa"and it reminded her of the pink and purple "Christian" books with script titles one sometimes sees on the sale tables of bookshops.
After finishing another novel I was reading, and still plodding my way through Proust's magnum opus, I thought I would have a look at it.
The beginning seemed a bit Enid Blytonish, especially the description of the preparations for the camping trip, and the actual travels, and the first few days at the camp site. The initial drama of the missing person search perked up my interest, as did the return to the shack where the missing child had been held. And then "God" appeared, and I couldn't go on, and skipped to the final couple of chapters, just to see what happened in the end.
In its structure it resembles The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, but the difference is that The Shack strikes me as utterly cringeworthy. I don't usually skip bits when reading books, especially not a relatively short one (this is under 250 pages), but I simply could not go on reading the middle bits. I found its entirely anthropomorphic conception of God was a bit too much. Even The Satanic Verses didn't go that far.
A book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behA book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behave similarly, winter and summar are more extreme. The setting is thus in one sense familiar, though the countries and their borders are strange. Like many other books of its type, the technology is vaguely pre-nineteenth century.
What is different are the peoples and their cultures, and this at times makes it difficult to read, as some of the features of the cultures and society in the book are introduced without being explained.
Most of the action takes place in the land of the Khaiem, a land of city states each ruled by a Khai, with vague memories of a fallen empire, some elements of whose culture have been inherited. There is a somewhat shadowy group called the utkhaiem, whose role is not explained until about two-thirds of the way through the book. At first their appear to be some kind of police force, but it later turns out that they are the upper class in the cities of the Khaiem.
The story takes place in two parts, the first in Saraykeht, one of the summer cities of the south, which thrives on the cotton trade, and the second in Machi, one of the winter cities of the north, where the main economic activity is mining. The plot revolves around one of the customs of the Khaiem -- when the Khai dies, his sons fight to the death to determine his successor -- and follows the fortunes of Otah Machi, the sixth son of the Khai of Machi, who abandons his heritage and identity, and seeks to make a new life for himself far from home.
The culture has two peculiar features. One is that though they can talk, they have an elaborate system of non-verbal communication, by taking poses with lots of subtle nuances. It makes it a bit difficult to picture people walking down the conversing, and stopping frequently to adopt appropriate poses.
The other feature of the culture is the andat, a kind of materialised god/ghost created and controlled by poets, who are usually drawn from the ranks of the younger sons of Khaiem. The andat have powers that underly the prosperity of the cities of the Khaiem. In the mining areas, for example, the andat has the power of making stone soft, which facilitates the tasks of miners. In the areas of the cotton trade, the andat removes seeds from cotton. In this sense that andat are a kind of substitute for technology, so there is no need for any kind of industrial revolution.
In this setting the plot of the story is played out, with the usual human features of love, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, ambition and all the rest. When I try to think of other books in the same genre, the one that springs first to mind is Shardik by Richard Adams. ...more
A no brainstrain whodunit for bedtime reading. For the first two-thirds of the book I thought it was going to be one of Tess Gerritsen's better novelsA no brainstrain whodunit for bedtime reading. For the first two-thirds of the book I thought it was going to be one of Tess Gerritsen's better novels, but then she ratcheted up the melodrama, but just missed jumping the shark....more
My eye lit on the title of a book in the library, Vanished and so I looked again, it appealed to my sense of mystery. But then I saw it was II in a seMy eye lit on the title of a book in the library, Vanished and so I looked again, it appealed to my sense of mystery. But then I saw it was II in a series, so I looked at the books on either side, and saw this one. So I took it out and began to read it. It's a sort of mystery-suspense-horror story, with both bodily and spiritual villains.
I very much like the novels of Charles Williams, whose works have been described as spiritual thrillers, and have often wished that someone else would write books in the same genre. I wondered if this might be such a book, but it isn't, not really. I don\t know if Alton Gansky intended to write in that genre, but I suspect not, though at times there are echoes of it. In some ways it is a bit closer to the writings of Frank Peretti, though quite a bit better than those. But those who like Peretti's books might like this one.
It's not a bad book, and an entertaining read, but Williams it isn't.
I was reading this book concurrently with In search of lost time, and in some ways that seems a more appropriate title for this book.
A high school teI was reading this book concurrently with In search of lost time, and in some ways that seems a more appropriate title for this book.
A high school teacher of classical languages has a chance encounter with a woman on a bridge in his native town of Bern, Switzerland. She tells him she speaks Portuguese, and the sound of the word, Português grips him, and he walks out of his class, goes to town and in a second-hand bookshop he picks up a Portuguese book called A Goldsmith of Words by Amadeu Inacio de Almeida Prado. He buys the book, and a Portuguese language course to enable him to read it, and the next morning he gets on a train to Lisbon.
He becomes fascinated by the life of the author of the book, who had died some 30 years before, and goes around meeting people who had known him, friends, relatives, teachers and others. He has Prado's book, and others have more of his writings, and so he speaks from the past, and others have their memories, some of which they share, and so he builds up a picture, and also reflects on his own life, and what it means. So much seems to depend on chance encounters, and so he makes life-changing decisions of the basis of a single word he heard from a stranger on a bridge.
His life becomes a strange mixture of planning to meet people who knew Prado, and also acting on a sudden whim. And so he goes in search of lost time, the lost time of Prado's past, but also the lost time of his own past, and comes to realise that all we have is memory. He takes photos of Lisbon and the people he met there, and also of his home town, Bern.
[He] went through the pictures once more. And then again. The past began to freeze beneath his look. Memory would select, arrange, retouch, lie. The pernicious thing was that the omissions, distortions and lies were later no longer recognized. There was no point of view beyond memory.
So as I read this book, I found myself going on a journey in search of lost time, a journey of memory. How much of what we are lives in the memory of those who have known us? And so much of it is partial, and, more often than not, false.
Prado was a member of the Portuguese resistance against the dictator Salazar, and that brought it home as well. Though that struggle ended twenty years before ours, for a long time they went together, and they were just over the border, in Mocambique and Angola. I did not have to have explained to me what PIDE meant, Salazar's secret police.
The book is a work of fiction, so it is not dealing with real people, but with fictional characters. Someone asked on Twitter the other day what our favourite metabook was, a book that appeared in a work of fiction. I mentioned The Historian, but if I had finished reading this book at the time I might have mentioned it too. The characters are fictional, but then so are the people we have known in real life, because they are all products of our memories, and as we try to recall them, we are in search of lost time.
An old friend died a couple of years ago, Graham Pechey. I had known him at university, 50 years ago, when he was a junior lecturer in English. He was a Marxist atheist, and he introduced me to Bob Dylan. One of the last times I saw him was on 11 November 1965. I had gone to the magistrate's office in the morning to receive an official warning under the Suppression of Communism Act. Then Ian Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesia independent, and all the (white) Rhodesian students went to town to celebrate, and when we encountered any of them we sang "God save the Queen" and "Land of hope and glory" just to rile them. On the evening news we heard that Bram Fischer, who had been on the run from the police for months, had been captured.
We sat in Graham Pechey's flat, listening to a speech by British prime minister Harold Wilson, saying that Rhodesian passports would not be recognised, and that Rhodesia would be placed under direct rule of the crown, and that Britain would not abdicate her responsibility for Rhodesia. At the end Graham broke out the booze, and we drank toasts, to Bram Fischer, the Queen, and Harold Wilson.
I reestablished contact with Graham Pechey a coup0le of years ago through Facebook, and he had gone from being a Marxist atheist to a royalist Anglican (though still a socialist, supporting Jeremy Corbyn and demanding the renationalisation of British Rail). I'd love to have been able to sit with him over a few ales and hear the story of his transformation. I wrote to another friend of those days, Saul Bastomsky, who had been my Latin lecturer, like the narrator in Night train to Lisbon. And he recalled Graham Pechey's admiration for W.B. Yeats, and he had teased Graham by referring to Years as a "fascist magician".
So the book sent me on a memory tour, thinking of friends and friendship, and how we know people, or think we do. And even what we think we know changes as it passes into memory. ...more
It took me a while to get into this book, and it took me 100 pages to work out what period it was set in, but the interest and pace picked up as the sIt took me a while to get into this book, and it took me 100 pages to work out what period it was set in, but the interest and pace picked up as the story went along, and in the end I enjoyed it very much.
At first the descriptions seemed over the top, like one of those old TV sets where the colour and brightness levels were turned up too high. For example, "She was slim but strong, with long haunches like a well-bred horse, impressive in a solemn kind of way, shy yet provocatively earthy, painfully reticient but when drawn into converstion likely to unfold suddenly, as a quick responsive mountain flower after rain."
It's set in the dying days of the apartheid era (OK, I've given the game away, but it's not really a spoiler, just a puzzle I had, trying to work out if it was set in the 1960s or the late 1980s). The National Liberation Movement sends Cornelius Molapo to his home ground of Tabanyane, to coordinate a local uprising with the national liberation struggle. To account for his disappearance they put around the story that he had been detained by the Security Police, which brings Anthony Ferguson, who works for an international human rights NGO, to South Africa to investigate his disappearance. For Ferguson, a South African expatriate who had been out of the country for 15 years, it was as much of a strange homecoming as going home to Tabanyane was for Cornelius Molapo.
There are many surprising twists in the plot, and eventually Anthony Ferguson comes face to face with Cornelius Molapo, in circumstances he could never have imagined.
Hugh Lewin was sentenced to seven years in jail for his part in sabotaging electrical installations in protest against apartheid in the 1960s. He spenHugh Lewin was sentenced to seven years in jail for his part in sabotaging electrical installations in protest against apartheid in the 1960s. He spent the seven years in jail in Pretoria, where white "political" prisoners were kept (black ones were imprisoned on Robben Island, near Cape Town). This book is an account of his years in prison. The title of the book, "bandiet", was the name given to convicted prisoners by the prison warders, while the prisoners referred to the warders as "boere".
For the most part the "political" prisoners were isolated from common criminals, and enjoyed fewer privileges. They were allowed one visit and were allowed to send and receive one letter every six months. Other prisoners could have their sentences reduced for good behaviour, but the "politicals" had to serve the full term. Warders who were too friendly with them were punished.
One of the prisoners in this group, Harold Strachan, was released after serving his sentence, and the Rand Daily Mail published his account of prison conditions in 1965, which caused a public uproar, and he was soon back in jail for spilling the beans. But the publicity did lead to some improvements, and some more public scrutiny of the prison system.
Hugh Lewin also exposes the sleazy corruption that flourished in the prison system, protected by laws enforcing secrecy. Sometimes nowadays people talk as if corruption were something new, but the main difference between the 1960s and today is that today we have a constitution that protects freedom of the press, so the corruption is more easily exposed. Back then it flourished under the protection of official secrecy laws, which is why Harold Strachan soon found himself back in jail.
The first edition of Bandiet was published overseas, and banned in South Africa. The revised edition, Bandiet: out of jail, contains the complete original text, but also some additions that could not be published before, as that could have endangered those who were still in jail.
In my blog I have written a series of posts, Tales from Dystopia, anecdotes from the apartheid era in South Africa, reminders of the darkness from which we have come. This book belongs in the same category, telling it like it was. I wouldn't include it in my series, because it is not my story but someone else's, though in some ways the story touches me peripherally. Two of of Hugh Lewin's fellow prisoners were related to friends of mine, and one was a fellow-student at university with me, though I did not know him well.
One of the shortcomings of the book, I thought, was that in the revised edition, when he was able to tell all, he did not include a kind of prospography, with potted biographies of his fellow prisoners, giving something of their background, and what they were convicted of, and what happened to them after they were released. Since they were perforce a very close-knit community (though he does describe some tensions), this would have helped to broaden the story to include others. Perhaps at the time the book was first published, they would have been sufficiently well known from other sources, but few younger readers are likely to know this.
There are also some oblique references to people who were not imprisoned with him, like Looksmart. Now I know, from memory, that Looksmart Solwandle was one of the first to die in detention, but that was 50 years ago, and anyone under 65 might find it difficult to get the reference. He does, however, include quite a lot on the ill-treatment of Bram Fischer, especially in his last illness.
I don't generally like prison books (or films) and so didn't go out of my way to read this one, but I'm glad I did read it. I did read Darkness at noon by Arthur Koestler back in 1967, when I was studying in the UK. Though it was set in the USSR, I kept comparing it to the South African prisons described in the Strachan reports a couple of years earlier. Lewin mentions Darkness at noon, and I think that while I was reading it, Hugh Lewin was in jail in Pretoria, in very similar conditions.
I think I've read this book before, in fact I'm pretty certain I have, as many of the scenes rang bells for me, but the plot did not. Though there wasI think I've read this book before, in fact I'm pretty certain I have, as many of the scenes rang bells for me, but the plot did not. Though there was so much that seemed familiar, i had no idea what was going to happen next, and so it was like reading the book for the first time. I had made no note of having read it before, so could not even tell when I had read it in relation to other books by Phil Rickman.
But whenever I read it before, reading it now makes me think that the book marks a turning point in Rickman's novels, the point at which he switched from writing supernatural thrillers to writing whodunits. Being aware of what he wrote before and what he wrote after this book makes that clear, and as a result the book is rather jumbled and messy.
Merrily Watkins, for those who don't know Rickman's books, has taken over the job of diocesan exorcist for the Church of England Diocese of Hereford, but, since "exorcist" doesn't fit with the modern image the church isd trying to project, she is given the rather twee title of "Deliverance Consultant", and his called in to deal with haunted houses and demonised individuals. She is also the Vicar of Ledawardine, a picturesque tourist village on the Welsh border, and single mother of a teenage daughter making the transition from New Age to atheism.
A parishioner, Gomer Parry, who runs a plant hire business, and features in even more of Rickman's novels than Merrily Watkins, hears that his workshop has burned down, and suspects a business rival Roddy Lodge, whose shoddy workmanship he has criticised. But the discovery of a woman's body excites Detective Inspector Frannie Bliss of the West Mercia police, who thinks he has a serial killer on his hands, an imitator, or even disciple of the infamous Fred West, serial killer of Gloucester.
The whiff of old evil brings Merrily's mentor in deliverance ministry, the Revd Huw Owen, hot-footing it over the border from Wales, and all the while her boyfriend, Lol Robinson, a failed rock-folk musician, is making a reluctant come-back. To add a further complication a new parishioner at Ledwardine, Jenny Box, has seen a vision of an angel over the village, which inspired her to move there from London.
[Potential spoiler ahead]
This tangle of people with different aims and vested interests ends up in a tangled mess with a spectacularly botched funeral and a botched exorcism, with Merrily Watkins and Huw Owen working at cross purposes, in a series of scenes that are rather like a bad dream, where an important event is continually inturrupted or sidetracked by a series of distracting happenings, and each interruption is itself interrupted by something else.
If I did read this book before, it didn't look like a turning point, but reading it this time it now looks like the point at which Merrily Watkins makes the transition to becoming a 21st-century Miss Marple, only a bit younger and less astute.
Unlike some crime novels set in non-English-speaking countries, this one was not written in Spanish and then translated, buA crime novel set in Spain.
Unlike some crime novels set in non-English-speaking countries, this one was not written in Spanish and then translated, but appears to have been written in English from the start, though it has quite a lot of Spanish words and phrases in it. The author has an English name, but his bio says nothing about where he was born or where he lives, or whether he lives or has lived in Spain.
The story grows more interesting and compelling as one gets into it. Robert Wilson uses a technique used successfully by Robert Goddard, where the solution to a current mystery is to be found in the past, and that sort of thing always appeals to the historian in me.
About halfway through I began to wonder if this was going to be a book that went beyond the average whodunit, and might say something significant about the human condition, perhaps a 21st century version of Crime and punishment. They quote from Albert Camus's novel The outsider.
One of the historical characters writes in his diary, in 1952
It is an irony not lost on me that here we are in Tangier, captives of the International Zone of Morocco, in the cockpit of Africa, where a new kind of society is being created. A society in which there are no codes. The ruling committee of naturally suspicious European countries has created a permissible chaos in which a new grade of humanity is emerging. One that does not adhere to the usual laws of community but seeks only to satisfy the demands of self. The untaxed unruled business affairs of the International Zone are played out in its society's shunning of any form of morality. We are a microcosm of the future of the modern world, a culture in a Petri dish in the laboratory of human growth. Nobody will say, 'Oh, Tangier, those were the days,' because we will all be in our own Tangier. That is what we have been fighting like dogs for, all over the world, for the last four decades.
The corruption in business and government is what we see every day, and the newspapers are full of it. It is life as we know it, and the art in the writing is to reveal it to us.
Unfortunately he goes and spoils it all on the very next page by using the word "parameters" in a way in which no one would have used it in 1952. Well, perhaps they might have used it in Spanish, though not in English. It is too late even to think about that. The cord suspending disbelief is broken and it comes crashing to the ground.
No, Dostoevsky it isn't, but it's still an above-average whodunit. ...more
When I first saw this book in a bookshop, soon after it was first published, I looked at the title and cover illustration, and assumed that it was ofWhen I first saw this book in a bookshop, soon after it was first published, I looked at the title and cover illustration, and assumed that it was of a similar genre to The Name of the Rose and put it back on the shelf.
Then, seeing a copy in the library a few weeks ago, I looked at the blurb, and it looked more interesting, so I took it out and read it, and found it was more of a dystopian science fiction novel, of the same genre as Brave new world or 1984. It shares with both those novels the setting of a repressive regime that will not tolerate the slightest appearance of dissent.
Perhaps the resemblances are deliberate, since it was probably written about 1984, the period in which the book of that name was set. But in The Handmaid's Tale the regime is sufficiently new that the main character and many others could still remember what things were like before. And that got me wondering, while I was reading, how a new regime could effect such a complete change in society and its values in such a short time.
In part it was explained by a programme of intensive indoctrination by a group of women called Aunts. The society is rigidly stratified and segregated, with females being designated as Wives, Aunts, Marthas and Handmaids, and males as Commanders, Guardians and Angels. Reading is forbidden, and the possession of books is punished.
The problem with this is that it results in extreme boredom, and in that respect Brave New World is more convincing, with its provision of an endless stream of compulsory frivolous entertainment to distract the populace from any thoughts of resistance or revolution.
One of the things that drives the society is a drastic drop in fertility, which is also the opposite of Brave New World. In The Handmaid's Tale birth control means controlling every fertile woman (the Handmaids) to make sure they do not evade their duty of giving birth. But the drop in fertility is never adequately explained. At first one thinks that there has been a nuclear holocaust, but the society seems far too orderly for that. There is food in the shops, there are cars on the streets, and there are even neighbouring countries whose borders can be crossed (and, which, it seems, are not similarly repressive, so people even try to seek asylum in them).
So I think back to my own past. The National Party came to power in South Africa when I was 7. Ten years later, it had certainly extended its control over society in many ways, but not to the extent or with the speed that is evident in The Handmaid's Tale. Yet there was the stratification of society. The 1951 population census provided the basis for identity cards, issued from 1956 onwards, which stated the race of the holder, and that determined, far more rigidly than before, where they could live, which schools they could go to, what work they could do and so on. At the same time, the obligation of black males to carry passes at all times was extended to black women, and the women marched to the Union Buildings to protest, an event commemorated annually on Women's Day, the 9th of August. They didn't actually start shooting protesters in earnest until four years later, the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, 12 years after the National Party came to power.
In the book the new regime could not have been in power for more than 10-12 years at most. So how could it change society so quickly? And then I thought of Nazi Germany, where the whole thing only lasted 12 years from start to finish, so things must have happened much more quickly there.
There are religious elements that are absent in Brave New World and 1984 -- Jews are deported, Baptists are insurrectionists on far-away borders, and Roman Catholics are routinely hanged. I'm not sure when exactly Samuel Huntington first enunciated his "Clash of Civilizations" theory, but I think this book anticipates it by a few years. It is redolent of the state religions and religious wars of early modern Europe, and the society depicted probably fits quite well into the vision of ISIS and what they are fighting for. ...more
This story, set in a fictional women's college in Oxford in 1935, in some ways took me back to my student days, and in other ways made me conscious ofThis story, set in a fictional women's college in Oxford in 1935, in some ways took me back to my student days, and in other ways made me conscious of how times have changed. The setting is similar to some of the Inspector Morse stories by Colin Dexter, but the times have changed, manners have changed, and crime novels have changed.
The Inspector Morse stories, like many modern crime novels, are police procedurals rather than whodunits. But in Sayers's pre-war novel, the police don't appear at all; It is all private investigators, and it is a true whodunit in that the reader is offered the same clues as the detective and is challenged to work out who the perpetrator was. In this case I found it pretty easy, and the chief suspect stood out as soon as the clue was revealed.
But the whodunit aspect was only a small part of the interest of the book, for me at least. This was the Oxford of the Inklings, the literary group that included some of my favourite authors, and it is said that Sayers moved on the fringes of that group herself.
I was a student in the UK (in Durham) about 30 years later, and that is now nearly 50 years ago. I don't think it is just because I remember it that the 30 years between 1935 and 1965 seems much greater than that between 1965 and 2015. The academic concerns seem fairly similar, but the formality of manners present an enormous difference, In this book everyone, don and student alike, is referred to as Miss So-and-So. First names are hardly ever mentioned and I found that made it difficult to remember the characters and their roles. Thirty years later, we referred to everyone by nicknames. The Principal of the college was "the Prin", the vice-pricipal was Brang, and one of the tutors was Piglet. So there seemed to be an enormous gulf between the students of the 1930s and those of the 1960s,
Another interesting thing about the book was the issue of feminism. Women's colleges were still something of a novelty at Oxford, it seems, and there was quite a lot of discussion about the role of women, and the tensions between academic and family life. In part, this was dictated by the plot, and the choices faced by the protagonist Harriet Vane, and it turned out to have more to do with the plot in the end, but there was also the 8-year-old girl who wanted to ride and repair motorbikes when she grew up,
So it was an interesting book in many more ways than just a novel of crime detetction.
And those were, for me, the most interesting things about the book. I have a couple of Arthur Goldstuck's earlier books on urban legends, and there's something about them that applies to ghost stories too (apart from the fact that ghost stories are often themselves urban legends). The main interest in reading about urban legends is if you have heard them in the wild. And in the same way, ghost stories are interesting mainly if you know the places or the people concerned. Having the ghost actually related is a bonus.
But a long string of ghost stories, or non-ghost stories, tends to get boring rather quickly. The non-ghost stories are about places that are said to be haunted, but where no one actually claims to have seen a ghost, and there seem to be rather a lot of those, including the famed "spookhuis" in the Armscor grounds in Pretoria.
I found the most interesting parts of the book were the beginning and the end. The beginning told me some things about history that I didn't know, and had some interesting information about Islamic ghost stories told by slaves in the Cape, which would include stories told by slave nannies to the master's children, and so the conception of ghosts among Calvinist white Afrikaners was influenced by folktales from Muslim Indonesia.
The blurb makes much of the point that South African ghost stories are multicultural, as the different cultures influence one another, so I expected a bit more analysis and interpretation of some of the individual ghost stories, tracing the cultural influences and the different conceptions of ghosts, but there was little of that. At the end there was a potted description of how Judaism, Islam and different varieties of Christianity regard ghosts, but it too did not relate them to any individual stories. There were some quite interesting ghost stories written by children, and a description of Pinky-Pinky, a ghost that went viral among school children in the mid-1990s -- a tokoloshe for the new South Africa, as Goldstuck puts it. That was one I hadn't heard of, though our kids were still at school then.
So apart from the personal bits, I found the book a bit disappointing. If it hadn't been for the personal bits, I'd probably have given two stars, but for them I give three.