There are some harsh truths that authors feel they can tell only through fiction.
Peter Hain’s new novel the Rhino Conspiracy is a thriller about rhino poaching linked to global criminal syndicates who in turn are linked to corrupt politicians. The rot goes right to the top of the South African state.
It merges ecological themes with a wider portrait of politicians whose interest is in enriching themselves. It’s a cry of rage about what has happened to the dreams about progress when Nelson Mandela came to power.
Hain, brought up in South Africa, came to Britain when his anti-apartheid parents were forced into exile. He became a prominent campaigner against apartheid.
He has remained a friend of the African National Congress (ANC). But he uses his book to deliver a brutal denunciation of the present set-up.
His central character is “the Veteran”—a thinly-disguised version of Ronnie Kasrils. Kasrils was a leading figure in the armed struggle against apartheid, then cabinet minister and today is an outspoken critic of ANC governments.
The Veteran tells us that, “Apartheid had gone, but a corrupt police service had been reincarnated.”
Later the Veteran is warned by the state, receiving “exactly the sort of warning letters the old apartheid Minister of Police used to issue to anti-apartheid activists”.
He considers the Marikana massacre of 2012 when striking miners were shot down by police.
The killers were “not the white supremacist police of old but predominantly black police officers directed by a black police chief appointed by the majority black government of his own ANC.”
Much of the time the Veteran contrasts the present with what he sees as the much better governments of Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
It’s therefore devastating when the Veteran muses towards the end of the book, “Perhaps it arose from something even deeper within the foundations of the ‘Mandela miracle’?
“The transformation, the Veteran considered, had been a ‘Faustian pact’ in which democratic majority rule had been conceded in return for maintaining the power of the predominantly white economic elite. Which had then, as part of the pact, co-opted a new black economic elite.”
The novel tells us harsh truths about the limitations of the changes after the fall of apartheid.