The founding of South Africa in 542 pages

2009-06-24 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Blood on the Path

Harvey Tyson

Springbok Press

AS well as having something to do with soccer, the year 2010 also marks the centenary of the Union of South Africa, the moment when South Africa became a single political entity after having existed as a geographical area within which ­several independent states jockeyed for position.

Harvey Tyson, former editor of The Star, has woven a tale revolving around that moment, subtitling it “a saga of the founding of South Africa 100 years ago”.

Tyson’s time frame ranges from 1880 to 1930, years “that framed the birth of the nation that now celebrates its centennial”, and his stated intention is to provide a politically- and racially-balanced view of that period.

With that in mind he fields a cast of fictional characters to blend in with historical figures such as John X. Merriman, Cecil Rhodes, Jan Smuts, and Sol Plaatje.

The main character is Andrew, a “coloured” journalist who can pass for white thus enjoying an entr é e into all sides of South Africa’s story. Then, covering the rest of the bases, there is Mary, an Olive Schreiner clone of feminist bent, Yusuf, a Cape Malay fisherman, Xam, a Bushman hunter, and Magida, a mine worker. The trouble is none of these characters ring true, so obviously mouthpieces for points of view rather than flesh-and-blood human beings.

Although his research is impecc­able, Tyson has done himself no ­favours by choosing such a broad reach of time for his canvas. An over-contrived plot steers characters ­towards key events and when that’s impossible we get flashbacks — as in the case of the Anglo-Zulu War where Tyson makes extensive (acknowledged) use of George Mossop’s Riding the Gauntlet.

Delivered in unremarkable prose this 542-page “saga” is a rather ­wearisome, politically correct plod through undoubtedly remarkable times.

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