Fictionalised story of an apartheid killer

2009-06-24 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Little Ice Cream Boy

Jacques Pauw

Penguin

JOURNALIST Jacques Pauw is the man who exposed the horrors emanating from the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB), the strangely named dirty tricks and assassination squad that operated brutally and incompetently in the shadows of the apartheid government. He has written extensively about its activities, as well as producing television documentaries. And now he has turned his extensive knowledge and researches into fiction.

The little ice cream boy — his mother’s pet name for him — of the title is Gideon Goosen. And he is a thinly disguised Ferdi Barnard, the man currently in prison for the murder of academic David Webster. Pauw gave evidence against Barnard at his trial.

In the novel, he draws a picture of Goosen’s life from childhood to jail: like Barnard’s, his father is a cop. And he is a hard-drinking, violent man who terrorises his children with fatal results, both literally and metaphorically. Inevitably, Goosen gets into bad company, but in his case, what might have been seen as the unsurprising behaviour of a wild adolescent from a troubled home sets in train events that will form the rest of his horrific life. His gang, which follows him from childhood into his more serious criminal activities, is also based on real characters, including the boxer Jimmy Abbot. He also joins the police, ­allowing his activities to have a ­veneer of legitimacy.

The parts of the novel that deal with the activities of the CCB are hard to read. This is a book that needs a strong stomach, even while you marvel at the state-sponsored incompetence and depravity that went on.

And things don’t become easier when Gideon leaves the police to sink into a life of gangs, drugs and guns (or baseball bats) for hire.

At the end of the novel, is there a hint of some kind of redemptive ­humanity in the jailed Goosen? It is hard to know, and the reason is that, with Barnard’s reality intruding itself between the reader and Goosen all the way through the book, it is impossible to take what you know away from what Pauw is inventing.

Well written and well constructed, this is a book that shocks and disturbs on a variety of levels. And begs the question — why fictionalise Ferdi Barnard’s life story?

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