A traitor´s heart by Rian Malan

10 Aug

This will be a very short review of the book that I came across in an article about growing up as a black person and the soap “Lifebuoy” which features in the lives of many blacks: Rian Malan has sex with a black lady who smells of this soap.

Rian Malan grew up in South Africa as a member of a branch of a famous Afrikaner family; he is related to DF Malan who institutionalised apartheid while he was prime minister 1948-1954. But Rian is not racist – in his own words, “he loved blacks”. But did they love him back? In a sense, that is what this book is about: will his love for blacks protect him against their rage and retribution? The answer is “no”, or possibly “maybe”. What is certain, is that some blacks (close friends) do love him. The book is very personal – and rightly so. Racism is nothing if not personal.

Rian leaves SA as the time approaches when he will be conscripted in the army, and returns some 8 years later in the late 80s in the dying days of apartheid. He then works as a journalist, and the book contains a number of stories from his journalist days – stories of dying, to a large extent, against the backdrop of the increasing terror of the apartheid regime, Steven Biko´s death, the ascent of ANC and eventual release of Mandela.

And yes, N´kosi sikelele Africa is such a beautiful song.

I saw Cry Freedom with friends – or acquaintances – in Manchester in about 1987, and walked out in the street completely dazed. The rest of the company were unfazed, and we went to a burger place.

The standout stories to me are the ones about the early settler days and the limitless violence and racism of the whites: and on the other side, the story of how the Zulus live and their own violence.

Rian makes it extremely clear how the issue of race permeated every corner of everyone´s lives – and no doubt it still does.

ANC, COSATU – in the summers they came to Norway for political training and had close ties with trade unions in Norway; some of the funding undoubtedly went towards weapons. I remember talking to a guy attending such a summer school on the street of Oslo ages ago. Before apartheid fell.

To Rian Malan, there seems to be a paradox in his relationship with blacks. I don´t really see one. In some contexts he will be white and white only, regardless of how good or bad a person he is. That is the way it is bound to be when you are looking back at centuries of white-on-black oppression and violence. He could get killed for his white skin when the black man rises, it´s a simple as that.

Read it.

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