Building bridges through travels and books

2017-02-01 11:47
Manu Herbstein, building bridges through his books.

Manu Herbstein, building bridges through his books. (Gary van Dyk)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

While his roots are in Muizenberg, Manu Herbstein’s decision to study structural engineering at UCT led to him building bridges in more ways than one across the world.

Born in 1936, Herbstein graduated from UCT with a Civil Engineering degree in 1958, but it was his design of a bridge that would have collapsed that put him on a journey to become an acclaimed writer.

“It has been an interesting journey that sees me as a citizen of Ghana and South Africa,” he says.

“Funnily it started with a project to design a bridge during my four-year course at UCT. The professor took one look at it and told me that it would collapse and it would be better for me to come back and do it in a year’s time.

“Fate had other plans for me because I ended up working on a ship and eventually ended up finishing the course after two years. But my eyes were opened to the possibilities of a world without discrimination and the seeds were planted for my love of the African continent.”

Herbstein has lived in England, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Scotland but for the past ten years he’s been happy spending December and January in Observatory.

“With all my travels I never lost my love for South Africa,” he says.

“In 1959, when I left, there was a widespread view that apartheid was on its last legs. I gave it ten years and planned to return once the madness was over.

“I don’t need to tell you that it took much longer.

“Through my travels and living in Ghana I have become an unrepentant pan-Africanist and committed to the destruction of the national boundaries which divide the people of our continent.

“People are not told about the rich legacy and history of Africa before colonialism and slavery that divided our continent and I want to give people that new perspective through my books.”

Herbstein confesses that while he was working he had no allusions to becoming a writer but he was always discovering the remnants of the history of slavery.

“Part of discovering the history of the slave trade was seeing the European slave castles of Ghana, the first at Elmina, built by the Portuguese 70 years before the Dutch settled at the Cape. There was also some civil disturbances in northern Ghana in 1995 which, it can be argued, had their roots in the slave trade of more than two centuries before, that gave me the idea of telling the more intimate stories of slavery and the legacy before the slave trade.”

Herbstein’s book Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade won the Best First Book: Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2002. He has gone on to write five more.
Herbstein explains that he wants readers to reflect that the Atlantic slave trade is the foundation upon which imperialism and globalisation was constructed.

“Slave plantations were prototypes both for the factories of the industrial revolution in the West and for the British and Nazi concentration camps.”

What are the plans for his next book?

“I plan to start work on a memoir. Parts of this concern my relationship with Indians and India while I might include some of my memories in the anti-apartheid movements in various parts of Europe and Africa.”

The paperback editions of Herbstein’s books are available from Amazon, Loot and other on-line dealers including the Kobo link on the Exclusive Books website.


Inside News24

Most Read
News In Your Area
Top Lifestyle

Matric Results are coming soon!

Notify me when results become available

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.