The village of Soekmekaar in South Africa does not exist anymore. The village has had its name changed as a link in a chain of changes in South Africa after dismantling apartheid.
The Dutch journalist Marnix de Bruyne visited the village of Soekmekaar for the first time in 1994, just before the national elections. His last visit was in 2010. In the intervening years he often went back to the village and talked with the people who lived there. In a way this book is a biography of a village (or should that be a ‘topography’?).
In 1920 the first streets were laid out and the very same pattern is still visible. The first store was run by a Jew who had fled Lithuania. The Boer farmers were prominent in those early days. But after 1994 changes take place, not just in the village itself, but also in the adjacent township. We meet Odie Coetzee, a former teacher; Sanaomadi, a former policeman in Soweto who turned bussinessman; Zacharia Ramaboea, who is a member of the townshipcommittee and who gets involved in ANC politics; farmer Adendorff who builds new houses on a section of his farm, his brother was a former civil servant who was involved in landremovals (= people removals). Marnix visits churches and tries to understand people of all kinds of walks.
In 2000 he is witness to local elections, with a 40% turnout and a very active Pan African Congress (PAC) and a reluctant candidate of de Democratic Alliance (DA). In 2003 the nation is involved in namechanging and also the village loses its name and becomes Morebeng.
One of the difficult isssues is the isssue of land, to whom does the land belong to? Who can claim to be the owner? What group will be able to receive it and make use of it? Some farmers decide to sell their land to the government, others are convinced that they have a long history on the land they farm and they do not want to go. Others want to sell, but at the same time stay on as a manager for the new owner of owners.
One company, family-run, owns a large tract of land, not just near Soekmekaar but also in other areas of the country. It is the largest private tomatogrower in the southern hemisphere. De Bruyne pays a visit to the owners of the company ZZ2.
One of the highlights of the book is about an ANC attack on the police-office of Soekmekaar in 1980. De Bruyne manages to trace two of the man who executed the attack and they tell part of their story. They both came from Soweto , were trained by the ANC (part of their training took place on the Crimea!). They pay a visit to Soekmekaar.
In 2010 the face of the village has changed. There are 25 whites left, in 1994 there were 105 of them.
On of the first pages of the book Marnix quotes a saying by Desmond Tutu about the whites who came to Africa with the Bible and prayers, in the end the whites had the land and the Africans the Bible. The same saying is attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya. Who knows what is the true source of this saying?
I very much enjoyed this book. There are some good maps in it, a list with books that helped the author in his research. When will there be a translation into English of this book?
The writer build a website about his book where you can find some pictures and more background information.
Marnix de Bruyne – Het land van Soekmekaar – Amsterdam 2010 – 272 pages