By the late 1980s, political activism as described in books such as A Long Walk to Freedom and continued in Dare not Linger had come to an end. Political activity had taken over. Activism in terms of revolutionary theory and practice is different from practical things like the creation of political parties and its branches. Hindsight teaches us that very little activism influenced the practical activity of the political actors who invaded the political terrain of South Africa. Placed against novels from this period and the 1990s like Small Circles of Being and The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut, what do you prefer to read, Mandela or Galgut, at this time? It is probable that one prefers to read Mandela than Galgut. Years later, when faced with the same question, one might feel more comfortable asking to read Galgut’s novels which cover the same period. He is against this intellectual challenge and the failure of political parties to lead the country.
Corruption has been singled out as the enemy to watch. Yet all political parties, especially the ruling African National Party, have done little to protect the country and its resources from the greed of those who insist it is their turn to cut.
Small Circle of Beings was first published and along with four other much shorter novels. It is the story of a family – “this small circle of beings where love should flourish – can also be an arid and alienating territory where hatred and violence can ignite”.
The world we encounter in Small Circle of Beings is a tired and finished apartheid world crying for change. There is the farm, but the farm is the center of life. The grandmother is crazy. Sammy, the grandfather is dead. David’s mother, her husband’s father, Stephen, are the dominant figures on the farm.
Moses and Salomé are the black couple who have looked after the house since the time of David’s grandparents.
Stephen is the principal of the city school. David is ill. He is in fact dying. Her mother is determined not to take her to the city’s main hospital where there are better doctors and better equipment. Taking care of David, sitting next to him on his bed takes his time. She has no time for the house, no time for the farm and no time for her husband. She reads to David and keeps his company. She cooks her food and cleans her room. It is an occupation which does not allow any other concern.
Someone, a woman, with a “high-pitched” voice, phones David’s mother: “Do you know your husband is having an affair?
Details come later. That night, she packs a suitcase and returns home to confront Stephen. The pain of this betrayal does not go away. “I am suddenly weak. The shock falls on me like a blinding white dome in which I move, silent and private.
Divorce passes. On several occasions, David’s mother tries to talk to her rival without success. She goes to her former husband and begs him to reconsider but he refuses. A few months later, he will beg her to take him back. This is her opportunity for revenge and she refuses.
She takes Cédric, a sculptor as her lover. He moves in with them. First, it’s David he starts. By pretending that they had been gentle with the boy. Then it was David’s mother. What is almost unbearable is that Cédric apologizes every time, wonders what was wrong with him but he does not promise not to do it again.
Cedric then throws David’s grandmother out of his chalet and uses the space to make his sculpture. Stephen breaks up with Gloria and goes to live in a small apartment in the city.
The effect of these various arrangements on the house, the gardens, in particular the rose garden, was neglect and neglect. Dirt has accumulated inside the house.
As soon as David is well and leaves the hospital, she calls Moses and Salome and they face the house, inside and out, until it is restored to its old order.
One evening, Moses and Salome asked to speak to David’s mother. Moses spoke on behalf of the couple. “He says he and his wife are tired now. They grew old in the service of this family, having worked for my mother before me. They would like, if it’s not too much trouble, if I don’t mind… ”
“They have a son. He and his wife are looking for work, if I thought I needed someone I might consider… ”
Nothing speaks of the excellence of Damon Galgut’s presentation of the old apartheid order and the expectation of the new order as this “ natural ” adjustment of their son and wife taking their place in the service. of David and his wife, when he obtains a wife. This is what the apartheid education system had arranged. And that’s what the system delivered.
As the introduction at the beginning of this column makes clear, Damon Galgut tells the story of South Africa in the 1980s, when political activism was sure, on both sides, that things would stay forever and that change was to come. Apartheid has ended, but have labor relations changed?
By the 1990s, both sides of political activity were already figuring out how things would stay the same and how things would change. The transitional institutions paved the way for things to move forward. These transitional institutions, like and more particularly the political parties, have not been able to cope with it. Political parties have changed in many ways, they still have not been able to cope with the necessary transformation.
With help from Damon Galgut’s column, The Good Doctor next week looks at the country’s failure to move forward. Will the country have to be reconfigured to be recreated?