News24.com, Oct. 19, 2006
Their prose did much to expose the moral bankruptcy of apartheid to the outside world but the literary elite of white South Africa has now turned ferociously on the Rainbow Nation’s new rulers.
Following the departure of Nobel laureate JM Coetzee to Australia, authors such as Andre P Brink, Rian Malan and Christopher Hope have delivered searing indictments of the state of the nation, sickened by what they see as an inexorable decline towards corruption and lawlessness.
Brink, whose novels such as A Dry White Season brought him regular opprobrium from the apartheid rulers, has also burnt his bridges with their replacements in the corridors of power.
He has described two cabinet members — Health Minister Manto Tsabalala-Msimang and Safety Minister Charles Nqukula — as “monsters”, despairing at what he regards as indifference to the rising tide of crime.
Brink acknowledged to AFP that crime has long been a problem but he said the situation has now reached breaking point.
‘A reason for despair’
“The cumulative effect has just reached a point where one cannot take any more, and where the attitude of the authorities goes beyond all acceptable limits,” he said.
“The attitude of Nqakula (who told parliament that those “whingeing” about crime should emigrate) has made it clear that the government simply does not take it seriously enough and, in fact, is in itself reason for despair.”
Brink was also outraged at the decision of a number of senior ANC officials, including the speaker of parliament, to give former chief whip Tony Yengeni a hero’s send-off when he went to jail to serve a corruption sentence.
“Faced with such blatant disregard for the law, and for the suffering of the people, we now have to speak out. To remain silent, would make us complicit with evil.”
Malan’s memoir of growing up in the apartheid, My Traitor’s Heart, painted a devastating picture of the brutalities of the regime and, only two years ago, he was hailing the first country as a veritable “paradise”.
Sliding towards decay
But in the latest edition of Britain’s The Spectator magazine, Malan concluded the country was now sliding towards decay.
“We thought our table was fairly solid and that we would sit at it indefinitely, quaffing that old Rainbow Nation Ambrosia,” he wrote.
“Now, almost overnight, we have come to the dismaying realisation that much around us is rotten.”
Malan identified what he calls the purging of whites from the ranks of civil service as the root cause of the decay.
“There won’t be a civil war. Whites are finished. According to a recent study, one in six of us has left since the ANC took over and those who remain know their place.”
Malan and Brink insist they will not be driven out of their native land.
Coetzee however has already voted with his feet, becoming an Australian citizen earlier this year.
The famously taciturn author, a two-times winner of the Booker prize, has not gone into detail about his reasons for setting up a new home in Adelaide.
But in a rare interview with Australian television after his move, Coetzee said: “Leaving a country is, in some respects, like the break-up of a marriage. It is an intimate matter.”
Feeling of helplessness
Coetzee’s 1999 masterpiece Disgrace centres around the rape of a white academic’s daughter, speaking to the fears of many about sexual violence.
Writing about ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma’s recent rape trial, Hope despaired at the “general feeling of helplessness in the face of the seemingly insatiable energy in and among South Africans for violence in all forms.”
Hope’s 1981 satirical debut novel, A Separate Development, was banned in South Africa. He now lives in self-imposed exile in France.
Nadine Gordimer, another Nobel laureate who has written extensively about the pre and post-apartheid eras, said it was simplistic to reject the new South Africa wholesale.
“My own view is complex and I really prefer to write them down,” she told AFP. “There are things that are remarkably good and things that are very, very worrying.”