Following on from the 11th instalment in Joy Martin’s blog series, available to read HERE.
The men and women interviewed for Twelve Shades of Black were – mostly – slow to talk at first. But gradually they grew less shy and spoke to me about their lives. The priest, Father Samson Kataka, faced with witchcraft in his church. Sarah Mashele, the inyanga, whose clients paid her on HP for charms they hoped would cure their ills. Ephraim Tshabalala, the millionaire who couldn’t own a house, or land. Marjory, the shebeen queen, who went to church on Sunday mornings and not drink alcohol. The teacher, artist, policeman, actress; the maid, the playwright and the beauty queen.
As they relaxed with me I began to feel at ease when I went into the townships, particularly in Soweto. It was bleak and ugly – yes: devoid of flowers and plants and trees with endless rows of little houses, so similar that we got lost, not just once but many times. And yet, for me, the townships had their own appeal. Although I met many kind, generous white people in Johannesburg whom I’m still proud to call friends, I didn’t relate to the city. Despite its lovely homes and gardens, it was always Gold Reef City – greedy, brash, devoid of heart. So it was a relief to me to leave the Jo’burg ethos and escape into the townships. One day we drove to Soweto and arrived in Orlando township at the start of a soccer match. I was wearing a black and white pullover and when we stopped the car to ask the way an enthusiastic group of Orlando Pirate fans waved and cheered: ‘ You’re wearing our colours… !’
Twelve Shades of Black went on to win a runner-up prize in the South African Literary Awards. By then I’d left the country. Returning just as apartheid ended, giving a talk at the Johannesburg City Library, I learnt to my surprise that Twelve Shades of Black had topped of the list of books which had been read that year as whites rushed to understand the black people of the townships.
Joy Martin was born in Limerick. A former journalist, she is the author of eight novels. Her agents are Coombs Moylett Maclean, 120 New Kings Road, Fulham, London SW6 4LZ.
Get your copy of Twelve Shades of Black here!