The days of apartheid and post-apartheid have given us a steady stream of books, fiction and non-fiction, novels and history books, poems and drama. One of these book is Red Dust written by Gillian Slovo, a child of the apartheid days.
The book is set in the small (non-existent) town of Smitsrivier where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRC) will come to listen to requests for amnesty by some people who worked for the local police force. They are Dirk Hendricks and Pieter Muller. They have been friends for many years and they know one another very will. Will the hearings of the TRC hold them together?
A local lawyer Ben Hoffman is in his final earthly days. For many years he has been a staunch defender of truth and of justice himself. He now wants the local girl Sarah Barcant come back to Smitsrivier from New York (United States of America) to support him. Ben was the first mentor of Sarah.
One of the main characters is a dead man. He is Steve Sizela. During the years of the apartheid he disappeared. He was part of the underground movement. Now his father James Sizela wants to know where his son is. Where did those in position of responsibility bury his son. James is a headmaster at a local school and he is a man of moral rectitude. He wants to get an answer from Dirk Hendricks. Alex Mpondo en Steve were good friends. He survived the violent days and he has now risen through the ranks of the new power and has become Member of Parliament.
All these people are intertwined in one way or another. The (silent) answer of one person is the question of another. The secret of one is the heart’s desire of someone else. What does Alex Mpondo know about the death of his friend Steve? Have Dirk and Pieter shared all their activities? What does James want to achieve? A dead body or does he want more?
Gillian Slovo sets out to recover all the threads in the intertwined lives. She wants to lay them bare. With precision she pulls one string after another, discovering hidden parts of recent history.
It is a story about guilt and repentance and forgiveness. A story about hidden motives. About having to live with your past deeds and words. And stories like this one still are present in South African society. Old ones and new ones. Driven by apartheid. Driven by post-apartheid. People are intertwined in so many different ways. Coming from the past, hoping for the future.
Can we stand the truth before we reconcile?
Gillian Slovo – Red Dust – 2000