In 2009 we read Three-Letter-Plague, Jonny Steinberg’s groundbreaking work of reportage about pride and shame, sex and death, and the Aids pandemic in Africa – it is a masterpiece of social observation!
At the end of a steep gravel road in one of the remotest corners of Lusikisiki in the old Transkei lies the village of Ithanga. Home to a few hundred villagers, the majority of them unemployed, it is inconceivably poor. In the broader world, most would consider it entirely inconsequential.
It is here that award-winning author Jonny Steinberg explores the lives of a community caught up in a battle to survive the ravages of HIV/Aids. He befriends Sizwe Magadla, a young local man who refuses to be tested for HIV despite the existence of a well-run testing and anti-retroviral programme. It is this apparent illogic that becomes the key to understanding the dynamics that thread their way through a complex and traditional rural community.
In this eye-opening, compassionate, searing, and beautifully written book, Steinberg seeks to understand the Aids crisis in South Africa. As he grapples to get closer to answers that remain maddeningly just out of reach, he realizes he must look within to unravel some of the enigmas surrounding an epidemic that has corrupted souls as much as bodies. The book was published by Jonathan Ball in 2008.
In 2010 we read Black Diamond, Zakes Mda’s satirical work exploring the upcoming Black middle class in South Africa and the concept of becoming a Black Diamond i.e. wealthy, powerful, and prominent. These people flaunt all the trappings of wealth such as expensive cars, big houses, and ‘brand’ clothing. It also explores racial stereotypes in South Africa, turning it upside down and exposing their ironies.
The book involves Kristin Uys, the tough magistrate spinster from Roodepoort who is on a crusade to knock out prostitution in the West Rand. She manages to put away Stevo, one of the evil Visagie brothers, on a contempt of court charge but this makes her very unpopular with the evil Visagie brothers, their mother and housekeeper. The Visagie crowd embarks on a crusade of terror and menace to threaten Uys and her cat and to try to get Stevo released from Diepkloof prison through mismanaged walks and protests resulting in the chief magistrate insisting on around the clock security for Kristin.
Don Mateza is a security guard on the verge of promotion and patiently waiting for his opportunity to rise up the ranks. He was overlooked for BEE rewards for his struggle days which is a bone of contention for his girlfriend, Tumi. When the firm is hired to protect Kristin Uys, Don is dispatched to move into her home; despite Kristin's protests and Tumi's upset. Tumi will do anything in her power to transform Don into her Black Diamond, including arranging annoying meetings with other successful black people and buying him bright yellow designer clothing and she doesn't understand why he has to accept these menial security jobs when he should be rich and powerful. Kirstin Uys is furious that a black man has been stationed inside her house and the complications weaving through all these lives and relationships get increasing complicated and unexpected (and most times very funny) as you turn the pages.
In 2011 we read Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer. The book was originally written in Afrikaans as Infanta and translated into English and French. The title in French is Le pic du diable. Copies are available in all three languages in the campus libraries. Look out for these covers at the One Book One Library display in your campus library:
The book interweaves the story lines of three characters: Thobela Mpayipheli, an assegai-wielding avenger who kills anyone guilty of harming children; Benny Griessel, an alcoholic cop heading the team hunting for him; and Christine van Rooyen, a call girl Benny uses to set a trap for the vigilante killer and the Sangrenegra drug cartel. With the media screaming, politicians turning up the heat, his young, inexperienced colleagues bumbling, and the body count rising, Griessel has to resort to the desperate measure of setting a trap. But his brilliant plan does not quite take into account the love of a sex worker for her child, the ruthlessness of the deadly Sangrenegra drug cartel or his own battle with alcoholism.
Read the following reviews of the book: