Where are the black voices from South Africa?

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The Independent Culture

"WE OF the white nation try to work out the conditions for our remaining here... We want to be here, but we we have to accept that we can no longer stay here on our own terms." Those words come from the new epilogue that the Afrikaner poet and journalist Antjie Krog has written for the paperback of Country of my Skull (Vintage, £7.99) - her harrowing report on the work of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Krog's doubts, guilts and fears plunge you straight into the moral lunar landscape of J M Coetzee's Disgrace, which deservedly won the Booker on Monday night. As a judge, the the only qualm I entertained about Disgrace, from the time that I first read it back in May, was the knowledge that I would have warmly to recommend a book that delivers so much truth - and so little reconciliation. Turn to Krog's often horrific reportage, however, and you grasp that the documentary record far exceeds in bleakness anything Coetzee could invent.

"WE OF the white nation try to work out the conditions for our remaining here... We want to be here, but we we have to accept that we can no longer stay here on our own terms." Those words come from the new epilogue that the Afrikaner poet and journalist Antjie Krog has written for the paperback of Country of my Skull (Vintage, £7.99) - her harrowing report on the work of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Krog's doubts, guilts and fears plunge you straight into the moral lunar landscape of J M Coetzee's Disgrace, which deservedly won the Booker on Monday night. As a judge, the the only qualm I entertained about Disgrace, from the time that I first read it back in May, was the knowledge that I would have warmly to recommend a book that delivers so much truth - and so little reconciliation. Turn to Krog's often horrific reportage, however, and you grasp that the documentary record far exceeds in bleakness anything Coetzee could invent.

November, it turns out, will offer plenty of chances to share the anguish of South Africa's white tribe. Next week, Little, Brown publishes the English translation of Triomf - Marlene van Niekerk's much-acclaimed Afrikaans novels of the poor-white underclass. Bloomsbury has a collection of articles by Nadine Gordimer, Living in Hope and History. Faber will release Dog Heart, a memoir of the exile's return by Afrikaner writer - and one-time inmate of the apartheid regime's jails - Breyten Breytenbach.

Which is all wonderful - but it does leave one large question in the air. When will British publishers encourage us to hear the stories of black South Africa? There's no easy way to overcome this absence. Decades of persecution, then long years of exhausting struggle, do not suddenly throw up on cue a tidy cohort of literary novelists.

In fact, radical movements tend to spawn lyric poets who can write on the run. And Adam Schwartzman's anthology Ten South African Poets (Carcanet, £9.95) offers an impressive selection of them. Besides, many of the black intellectuals who might want to write at length will now have the small matter of running a country on their plate. It would, all the same, be good to see some British imprint explore the fiction of figures such as Mandla Langa and Achmat Dangor. You can't hurry art - especially art bred from suffering and turmoil - but you can prepare a platform for it.

 

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