Book review: Teetering on the precipice

2017-12-10 06:09
Bare Ground by Peter Harris

Bare Ground by Peter Harris

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Bare Ground by Peter Harris

Pan Macmillan

293 pages

R260 at

Unlike what the blurb suggests about this political thriller being about the transient nature of dreams, Bare Ground is about the hard reality of Johannesburg.

It is about the death of the old order and South Africa’s decline into kleptocracy.

There were times when I felt the novel would be better categorised as nonfiction, so close are its parallels with events in present-day South Africa.

The descriptions of government ministers, a youth league leader and the president, although brief, are chilling.

The tailored suits, dark glasses, bodyguards, expensive restaurants and only the finest alcohol and cigars.

There is the paranoid president, a deputy president he is not on good terms with, and the Pradesh (read Gupta) family.

This forms the backdrop to the stories of struggle lawyer Musa Madondo, geologist Sifiso Lesibe, mining magnate Max Sinclair and former anti-apartheid activist Walter Berryman.

Max, the wealthy, emotionally scarred head of Wits Mining tasks his protégé and rising star Sifiso with finding the right empowerment partners.

The subplot follows Walter, who discovers massive tender rigging in the construction industry.

There are echoes of the collusion and bid-rigging discovered among the big five construction firms a few years ago.

This was more exciting than the plot, but sadly ended too soon, with only the glimmer of hope that the truth will emerge.

While this is a story about men, the women in the novel – Max’s wife Julia and Sifiso’s wife Lorato – are strong, intelligent and educated.

They serve as the voice of reason and try to keep their men grounded.

But the men are cut off from their feminine side, blinded by their work, their meetings, their deals, their money and are deaf to the advice of the women in their lives.

Disappointingly, none of the characters learns anything or grows.

Just like the real South Africa, everything is left teetering on the precipice of uncertainty.

But Bare Ground serves as a warning to those in power and is one that cannot be repeated often enough.

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