I just read another good book written by the author Achmat Dangor, who hails from South Africa (1948), but who has worked for many years in the Swiss town of Geneva. South Africa is still in his mind and in his heart. This book, about the bitter fruits of the independence after the years of apartheid rule, gained him the Booker Prize 2004.
People were elated when the walls of apartheid fell. People rejoiced in the streets, the slums and in the posh areas, on the tarmac and on the dirtroad, on the beach and in the field. A new day dawned. The fruit of the new dispensation was ready to be picked. And people picked and picked, but not everyone was near a fruit tree. Some has already picked in the past, when the lines were drawn. They had crossed lines, were on the safe side, on the side of the comrades, now they wanted to be harvesters on a grand scale, temporarily forgetting their brothers and sisters and farflung relations.
Achmat Dangor describes life after the fall of apartheid. Old ghosts appear in the streets, white men shuffle to different tunes as in the past. An old apartheid officer had raped Lydia, the wife-to-be of Silas. Now Silas meets the old man, 20 years later, in a shoppingmall. Old wounds have never faded away, realizes Lydia when she hears about this old man.
Upward mobility, new civil service upstarts, everyone wants to have part of the fruits, these fruits look so sweet. But the rot has settled deep down beneath the colourful skin of the fruit. The stench is not noticable for the casual passerby.
We read about relations in the extended family, old comrades, new ties, old establishments. In the olden days people carried each others burdens and responsibilities, but it is each man and each woman and each child on its own. Your burden is yours and yours alone.
What has ever changed, but the skin of things? Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Achebe revisited. Relations crumble. Old ties snap. Nothing is able to stand the times of change of the winds of change. Ideals are buried by the wayside, as an afterthought. Everyone struggles for his and her and its square foot of life and land and future.
The fruit has been picked, some filled one basket, some filled a thousand baskets. But bitter is the fruit, for each and every picker. Read, and shiver underneath the tree.
Achmat Dangor – Bitter Fruit – 2004