African insight

2010-09-29 00:00

TRUST documentary film-maker Deon­ Maas when he writes in his foreword that this book offers no “ground-breaking insights” and arose out of his forgetting which of his travel stories he’d shared with which of his friends.

This should prepare you for high levels of anecdote and distract you from expectations of serious engagement with issues of race and identity in Africa — as implied by the book’s title.

In fact, this book is not about Africa as much as it is about Maas’s intriguing experience of Nigeria, where he worked as a writer for several series of the reality TV programme, the Gulder Ultimate Search — a Nigerian version of Survivor.

The rest of the chapters — set in Rwanda, where he managed late reggae singer Lucky Dube’s tour, his honeymoon in Madagascar and a whistle-stop family road trip covering Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe — seem uncertain about how they fit into the whole.

Maas is obviously an interesting and entertaining guy. Readers may remember that his column in Rapport newspaper was canned in 2007 after he was perceived to be defending Satanism. This book is further testimony to his gift for controversy and irreverence.

In the process of writing this book, Maas says the project took on “another dimension” which made him think about “identity and race”. Well, fair enough. That’s Africa for you. But ultimately, Maas’s attempts to situate himself as a white African and engage with the issues of race and identity are radically diluted by confusion around what this book actually is.

Travel and safety tips, quick facts and lists of observations sit side by side with wide-ranging anecdotes and tales of sorties in search of dope, alcohol and fun. There are also updates on the collapse of his marriage. Complex issues of “identity and race” seem ultimately to be reduced to appeals for racial inclusivity when it comes to defining an “African”.

But there’s an undeniable jauntiness in the tone which will keep you reading, and some choice extracts of poems and conversations which give wry weight to the identitarian project.

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