Crime Beat: Neuman the Zulu
A couple of months ago Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip listed French author Caryl Férey’s Zulu as one of the great African crime novels ever. Now I haven’t read the novel – in fact I’m not even sure you can buy it locally without resorting to an online store – so I’ve no idea if they’ve been drinking too many of those steelworks their rotund detective Kubu favours. However, from reviews I’ve read, the book is pretty violent, but, okay, that’s our territory, and the bloodbath didn’t stop it winning the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s top award for crime fiction in 2008. Recently, I came across an interview with Ferey that the indefatigable Peter Rozovsky posted on his blog Detectives Beyond Borders. To quote Rozovsky, ‘Caryl Férey talks about violence, paranoia, the role of noir writers, and the things that he, a Frenchman, could say about South Africa that a South African author never could.’ The whole interview can be read on Rozovsky’s blog, but here are a few of Caryl’s answers that, well, got up my nose a tad and I reckoned some local input was needed.
Peter Rozovsky: What are the advantages to writing as a traveller? What are the disadvantages?
Caryl Ferey: I think it’s an advantage because there are taboos on all societies. In South Africa, for example, there’s the taboo around the Zulu Inkatha, and the ANC of Mandela. There was a civil war manipulated by apartheid, and no one talks about it.
Crime Beat: Ag no, my bru! Now you’re talking kak, at least about saying that no one talks about it.
Peter Rozovsky: Even today?
Caryl Ferey: Completely. But I understand. Mandela, when he took power, said no, no. That was horrible, apartheid. We won’t talk about it any longer. Everyone is together. Tomorrow is more important than yesterday. … Something extraordinary happened. He had De Klerk, the white Afrikaner. He had Buthelezi, the chief of Inkatha, and when he took power, he raised their arms.
As an outsider, I can talk about this. I can talk about the war between Inkatha (and the African National Congress). It’s no problem for me. A South African, for reasons of national reconciliation, will not talk about it.
Crime Beat: Magtig, Caryl, scuse me, can I come in here? Hey, bru, we’re not complete sissies, you know. Sometimes we do talk about these things, that war, apartheid, these sorts of things, even race. So, you see, really, I wouldn’t say those topics have been swept under the carpet of reconciliation – nice phrase that, hey? You take the Inkatha/ANC war, which, ja, okay, might have been forgotten, I’ll give you that, we’ve maybe pushed it aside in the hurly-burly, but it’s not a no-no topic. Strus. Far from it. Actually, seems to me that that war was being well covered by the newspapers at the time, check out the Mail & Guardian especially. And, you know, these days, some of our writers/historians, the types who never let things go, are always on about those years – the late 1980s and the absolutely violent negotiation years from 1990 – 1993. Yissis, that was a bloody time, hey. So bloody I had to write about it in the text (The Invisible Line) I composed to go with Ken Oosterbroek’s photographs, especially as he’d got all these pictures of ANC doing in Zulus and Zulus in the hostels doing in ANC. Killing with pangas, necklaces, you know when they put tyres round a person’s neck and poured on petrol and set it alight. And Winnie got all excited about setting free the country. Heck of a time. You should check the pix Ken’s mates took. There’s now even a movie about them. From Hollywood, nogal. Their books called something sexy. Oh ja, The Bang Bang Club. But if you want some of the most visceral (lekker word) writing on that war take a decko in Fred Khumalo’s memoir Touch My Blood. He was there. And then he writes a book about being there, that’s cheeky. Thing is, you see, Fred’s a Zulu, a native as it were, and they can be hellish cheeky. Especially when we’re trying to forget all that stuff. And then, damnit man, next month there’s this new book from a chappie called Peter Harris and his book’s called Birth and it’s got a whole lot of stuff about the war we don’t talk about and the Zulu chief we don’t mention.
Peter Rozovsky: Why Zulu as a title? Why not Xhosa, or Afrikaner?
Caryl Ferey: That was just to discuss the war between the Zulu Inkatha and the Xhosa ANC. Because I knew the area around Cape Town, my journalist friend lived in Cape Town, my book takes place in Cape Town. There are no Zulu in Cape Town, very few. The Zulu live in another part of South Africa, far away.
Crime Beat: Ah, if I could come in again… Ja? Is that alright? Thanks, hey. True enough, KwaZulu or Jozi (the other place you’ll find a lot of them), are both far away. Some of us in Cape Town think those places are on another planet, actually. Actually, we’d like to stop people from those places coming over the mountains to spoil our beaches. But that’s another issue. So where were we? Oh yeah, listen, I checked up on how many Zulus there are in Cape Town. Now here’s a thing, our statistics aren’t really hot, so this goes back to the 2001 census which reckoned there were about 7300 of these citizens. You could maybe double that nowadays. But, ja, I suppose in a city population of three million, 14000 is as good as ‘very few’.
Caryl Ferey: So, to talk about the problem of the war between the Zulu Inkatha and the ANC, I took a Zulu character (homicide detective Ali Neuman), I put him in Cape Town. He takes refuge in Cape Town, because his father was pro-ANC, even though he was Zulu. One could be Zulu and for the ANC.
There were people who understood that Mandela was the symbol of resistance against whites, and they understood that Buthelezi and the Zulu Inkatha were manipulated by apartheid. So for me, it was a way to talk about this civil war.
Crime Beat: Caryl, howzit, me again. Hey, man, what an interesting name to choose, Ali Neuman? Where the heck did the Ali come from? Sbu, would’ve been great. We’ve got a politician called, Sbu something or other. Now, you won’t know this but I really smaak, like like, you know, funny names, a reviewer even thought my very own Mace and Pylon were just two of the most stupid names he’d ever come across. Then, when you come to think about it, he had a funny name himself, for real. But, jeez, don’t you think Roger Smith hit on a great name with Disaster Zondi (cos Zondi’s not only Zulu it’s literary as well, so he scored double points), and I’m also going to blow a vuvuzela for Deon Meyer’s Thobela Mpayipheli and Richard Kunzmann’s Jacob Tshabalala, but, come’n guy, Neuman, ag no. Sounds Germanish. Listen, there’s not some kind of weird European thing going on here, is there? You know, like, something hanging over from the war. The War. Maybe it’s best we don’t talk about it. Know what, though, come to think about it, no reason why a Zulu shouldn’t be called Neuman. We’ve got Zulus called Precious and Constitution and Goodwill and Charter and Freedom. So no reason why not Neuman. Thumbs up, my bra. Oh, yeah, I asked around, it is okay to be a Zulu and hang with the ANC, word has it our prez gets the nod there, two times. See you, china.
What was that comment yesterday about the exotic making the genre more intriguing?