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Midlands: A Very South African Murder by…

Midlands: A Very South African Murder

by Jonny Steinberg

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After a son of white farmer is murdered sniper style on the edge of the farm, Steinberg interviews the family of the dead, and the tenants of the farm, and realizes that the murder didn't happen in a vacuum, could have many different causes, none of them easy to explain.

More than anything, this is a story about how little black and white South Africans understand each other in the post apartheid era. Both sides believe stereotypes about the other, and blame the other for the problems, crimes and death that is ravaging the midlands and the whole of South Africa. Interesting read for anyone interested in South African current affairs. ( )
  getupkid10 | Jun 4, 2008 |
Midlands is a scary book - if you're a South African. Steinberg investigates the murder of a young, white farmer in the deep, rural KwaZulu-Natal midlands. The killing happens in the late '90s, a good few years after the democratic transition, against the background of a spate of particularly brutal farm murders. Midlands is scary because the police are dysfunctional and the killers are still at large, but particularly because it unblinkingly traces the fault lines of a riven society. The peasant Zulus, mere tenants on what was formerly their land, appear to be engaged in a century-long war of attrition with the white landowners. The cultures are so different that any perceptions about the same event are worlds apart; they send signals to each other that are regularly misinterpreted; a chance remark by the former landowner is accepted as a de facto transfer of ownership by the tenants; the protagonists inhabit different ethical and legal frameworks. And so it goes. It seems that even the killing is merely a signal to the father, the landowner. To the tenants it appears to be a perfectly acceptable signal, a logical consequence, a simple message. Similarly, the (white) police kill a suspect with seeming impunity.

As Steinberg presses an old Zulu about the possible reasons for the farmer's assassination, the old man remarks that it would not have happened during the apartheid era. Why? "Because the people still had hope", he says. Nothing emphasises the vast gulf between black, rural expectations and current reality more that this statement. Clearly, the saga of land restitution has a long and bloody road to run yet.

With this week's assassination of David Rattray, an Anglo-Zulu war historian, friend of Prince Charles and much-loved raconteur, at his Rourke's Drift home, the issue has once again been rammed into the South African consciousness. The ANC government, having recently denied that "crime is out of control", is under fire. The difference is that David Rattray was famous and a respected person amongst white and Zulu alike... ( )
  rafe | Jan 28, 2007 |
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