SA in the turbulent 1980s

2011-07-13 00:00

IN Reports Before Daybreak, Brent Meersman delves into apartheid’s darkest era— the turbulent 1980s. The Struggle is taking on a more defiant form, and, in turn, the National Party is becoming more stringent in an attempt to suppress the ever-increasing uprisings.

Each chapter begins with a new year and a corresponding list of newspaper snippets pertaining to the time, revealing a country torn apart by a cruel, tyrannical regime and a burgeoning need for the downtrodden to rise up and fight back.

We are introduced to a diverse group of people with vastly different backgrounds, all living in and around Cape Town. Mfundi, a defiant freedom fighter, and the long-lost son of Alicia Nonkosi, leaves his uncle’s home to join Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), in their quest to overthrow an oppressive and unjust government. Alicia, a domestic worker, and Mfundi’s sister Zukiswa, both live in a shack settlement on the outskirts of the city. Alicia works for two white households living at different ends of the income spectrum — the privileged ­Diepenaar family who live surrounded by luxury, and the lower-class De ­Konincks.

Francois De Koninck and his brother Joseph are trapped in a suffocating environment, and both long to escape their parent’s dismal fate. After completing his education, Francois enlists with the South African Defence Force (SADF), and the gentler, effeminate Joseph decides to study fine art.

Zukiswa is introduced to Mfundi for the first time just before he joins MK. However, they form a strong bond. While living in the shack settlement, Zukiswa and her mother are in constant fear of being evicted. But with Mfundi’s help, Zukiswa escapes to London, where she continues her studies and falls in love with a young white man — their relationship representing the demise of apartheid and its controlling prejudices.

As the plot progresses, the characters’ lives become intertwined, as Nelson Mandela’s release becomes imminent, and apartheid’s defensive walls begin to fall down. Meersman expertly captures what it was like to live in South Africa in the 1980s, and how a country, plagued by ruthless repression for so many years, became a country of hope.

Reports ­Before Daybreak is a brilliant merging of fact and fiction, for anyone interested in our country’s recent ­history.

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