Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Traitor's Heart

"Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart - Blood and Bad Dreams: A South African Explores the Madness in His Country, His Tribe and Himself." In 1977, Rian Malan, descendant of Daniel Francois Malan, South Africa's first nationalist Prime Minister, and one of the master builders of apartheid, fled his homeland to live in America. Eight years later he returned from exile to face the paradox, his family history, his conscience, and to write this book. This is his first book, published in 1990.

I borrowed this book from my dear friend, Heather, following our conversation after braaing at their farm way up in the mountains behind Malkerns/Matsapha area (Swaziland, for the tourists). She is a South African, married to Zakari, a Finn, living and farming trees in rural Swaziland. Nick (my husband) is Cape Town-born, but Swazi-raised; and I am Dutch, but born and raised in Swaziland.

Anyway, we were talking about how little I felt I had been affected by Apartheid, even though it was just across the border. For all I comprehend racism, it could come from another world. I stated that I felt blessed to have been raised in Swaziland. Sheltered from the worst of the hate, but surrounded by the best of all that multi-culturism offers...

When at first, I had declared Apartheid had not touched me much, I realised on reflection, and as I was reading this book... that just as the Holocaust had been experienced by all my older Dutch relatives in some personal way, Apartheid has touched and shaped, and defined all in Southern Africa... maybe some in varying degrees, but all, yes. Is anyone who has lived in Southern Africa, then or now, truly untouched? No, of course not.

Rian Malan worked as a journalist/reporter throughout the time, and courageously pursued some tragic, truth telling stories, and at a time when people were being given so much half-informed and overly-optimistic simplification; at a time when asking the wrong questions, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being the wrong colour, was life threatening.

No one who reads it could ever forget it. I recommend you read it. Below are other people's quotes, etc. taken from within Malan's book:

"The book Rian Malan set out to write was altogether more conventional than the one he has written. It was supposed to be a history of the great and detested Malan family, as told by its kafferboetie (that is, "brother of blacks", "nigger-lover") renegade. But along the way he ran into, and faced up to, the truth that is the making of his book - that for all his nigger-loving, leftist views, for all his long hair and days smoking zol (dope) on the hillsides in the mystical Tolkeinish company of "wise old Afs", for all his daubing pro-black slogans on the walls of Johannesburg's northern suburbs, where scarcely a black would ever see them, he was still a Malan; that he could only write about the atrocity of South Africa by admitting the atrocity hidden in his own traitorous heart... Here, as in nothing I've read before, is the demotic voice of black and Afrikaaner South Africa... The old woman, Creina Alcock, tells Rian Malan: "Love is worth nothing until it has been tested by its own defeat... Love is to enable you to transcend defeat." My Traitor's Heart, which tells us of the defeat of its author's illusions, his ideals, his sense of his own goodness, his courage, and his ability to comprehend his fellow South Africans as they dance their death-dances, which is full of bitterness, cynicism, anger and storms, is a triumphant instance of this type of defeated love." 
- Salman Rushdie -

"How do I live in this strange place?" - Bernoldus Niemand, from the Boer reggae song, "Reggae Vibes Is Cool"

"We are betrayed by what is false within" - George Meredith

"I found myself haunted by an impression I myself would not understand. I kept thinking that the land smelled queer. It was the smell of blood, as though the soil was soaked with blood." - Carl Jung, upon arriving in Africa

"What then shall we do?" - Leo Tolstoy

"Africa is a cruel country; it takes your heart and grinds it into powdered stone - and no-one minds." - Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika
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