"We Are Not Such Things" is the story of author Justine van der Leun’s quest to get to the bottom of what really happened the day Amy Biehl, an American student in South Africa, was killed by an angry mob in a township near Cape Town in 1993. Amy’s parents later publicly forgave the men convicted of her murder. The details of how it all unfolded are fascinating.
I've written about so many different things to do in and around Joburg that I decided I needed to bring these to my readers again, this time in a slightly more structured fashion. So I've decided to pick different themes and summarize my Top 5 recommendations for each. Today's theme: History in and around Johannesburg.
In Part One of this series I talked about Wilhelm Verwoerd and the legacy of his grandfather Hendrik. I left it off with Wilhelm leaving for Europe in the 1980s, where by virtue of being exposed to a more liberal worldview he became increasingly disillusioned with that legacy. Learn more about Verwoerd's life, his relationship to Nelson Mandela, and the atonement for his family's sins.
Hendrik Verwoerd: Any South African will immediately know his name, but as an expat you may not be as familiar with it. You may not know that Hendrik Verwoerd, more so than anyone else, was responsible for devising the series of laws that became known as Apartheid. I recently had the privilege of meeting his grandson, Wilhelm Verwoerd, who has an interesting story to tell.
When I started writing this blog post a few months ago, I had no idea that this topic would once again be at the forefront of our nation's conscience. That once again unspeakable evil would occur in the basement of a church. That this post would not merely be an anecdote comparing the histories of two countries I had the privilege to live in, but that it would have to shine a light on all the work still ahead of us in these countries today.
It's not actually easy to describe this book. Is it a mystery? A literary novel? Or historical fiction? I suppose the answer is: a little bit of all. Most of all, it's a book about South Africa, both present and past, interweaving the story of what might have happened to Laura, a young South African anti-apartheid activist 20 years ago, with how much of that story her mother, Clare, remembers.
My brother recently unearthed the ancient travel guide he had used when traveling as a student to South Africa in the 1980s. It is called South Africa: On R10 and R20 a day and is dated 1981-82. Of course, I immediately peeked into the Johannesburg section. Some parts sound just like today, but then there are those that do not, like the chapter titled "Accommodation for Non-Whites."
I've talked a little bit about Apartheid before. But what I haven't talked much about is what life during Apartheid times (from 1948 until 1990) was like. How difficult it was for non-whites. How the Group Areas Act forbid you to own property in most of the desirable areas of town. How almost every facet of your life was dictated by the color of your skin. This book tells those stories.
I’ve been wanting to write about apartheid for ages.
When you live in South Africa, it is a topic that goes through your head pretty much all of the time. Or maybe not yours, but mine anyway. Maybe I’m more sensitive towards it as I come from a country with its own ugly past of racial segregation ...
By the way, I always thought it was spelled Lilieslief, which somehow seems more Afrikaans, but I have since seen that it is spelled both ways. I’ll go with the spelling used by Wikipedia and the Liliesleaf Trust.
Liliesleaf Farm Museum today
Liliesleaf Farm in the 1960s
Liliesleaf Farm was where Nelson Mandela, after the founding of the militant arm of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, also called MK), was hiding and plotting for a time before being captured. It is not a far drive from where we live, ...