Most South Africans complain about the way the country is run. And, heaven knows, we have reason to complain. We all know about rising prices, political bosses living off the fat of the land while your supermarket trolley becomes increasingly unaffordable. And then, Eskom plans a price increase few can afford, while the lights go off and occasionally don’t come back until Tuesday or maybe Wednesday. Worse than that, it can also be that someone close to you is murdered by intruders.

We know about all that, so there’s no point in rehashing it in too much detail. But don’t long back for the good old days. There weren’t any.

On Wednesday my novel, Closed Circle, is being published as an e-book for the first time. It examines some of the harsher realities of the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties. At times in those days, attacks and assassinations of government opponents were commonplace. The list of attorneys, academics, trade unionists, activists, students and others who suffered and sometimes died at the hands of government’s dirty tricks department was a long one. It was also a strange one.

Durban artist, Harold Strachan, had been an activist many years before two attempts were made on his life. “I’m a political dinosaur, Wessel,” he told me. “These guys must have a pretty old list, or they must be pretty old themselves.”

The killers were not always easily satisfied. After Umlazi attorney, Griffiths Mxenge, was killed, his murderers, or their friends, returned some years later to kill his widow too. While preparing to write Closed Circle I visited her to discuss her husband’s murder, but could not guess at the death with pangas that lay ahead for her. I visited many others, prominent community leader, Fatima Meer, among them, and saw the bullet holes in the steel frame of her front door.

The cases were many, but it was not a category in which the police had much success. Very few arrests were made and still fewer convictions. It may be a little hard to solve a case when you are secretly in agreement with the suspect.

At the time, scratching around in this sort of thing created all sorts of difficulties, especially for a civil servant, which I was. Word reached me that I was the subject of security meetings in the department where I worked. Eyes of the most fervent, super-patriots were averted when we passed each other in the hallways. It was a difficult time and resulted in my eventual resignation, but added to the material for my novel.

Right now, the country is not in good shape. Violence is still our stock in trade. According to police statistics, we have more people dying in police custody that was the case in the old days. Despite what our head of state said to Barack Obama, life on South African farms is far more dangerous than it ever was in the past. But don’t hanker back for the old days. We need a new reality. None of those we have tried, worked well for us.

Closed Circle will be available in e-book formats on 16th August.

Buy your copy here.


The Bad Old Days and Closed Circle
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