Anti-apartheid campaigner Peter Hain, author of Mandela, considers the role of “the few who resisted” in the fight against apartheid – including his own parents.
Hain, a British Labour Party politician, was born in Kenya and grew up in South Africa. His parents, Walter and Adelaine Hain, were anti-apartheid activists in the 1950s and ’60s, and were eventually banned and briefly imprisoned before being forced to leave the country in 1966.
Reflecting on the German military leaders who lost their lives in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on the bus, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s fierce criticism of Soviet totalitarianism, Hain considers how freedom fighters at the vanguard tend to be a tiny minority.
A mass of people may be behind movements fighting oppression – indeed, a mass following is invariably a prerequisite to success and liberation – but activists, the courageous people who take risks and make sacrifices, are usually small in number.
In making a stand they may have no inkling of the consequences – like my South African-born parents, Adelaine and Walter Hain. Their first small steps later became large strides; their modest local actions led to national controversies.
When they were first asked to help, they gave no thought to where it might lead. Saying yes didn’t seem at all fateful. Adelaine and Walter rather stumbled, oblivious, into it all. At the time, in 1953, it just seemed the right thing to do, in keeping with their values of caring, decency, fairness and, perhaps equally important, their sense of duty.
According to Wainaina, Africa’s success is often measured in terms of how different it looks from “sophisticated” nations like Switzerland. He argues that while “we will never look like what CNN wants us to look like”, Africa is not characterised by stagnation, something which would be “much, much worse”.
Let us imagine that Africa was really like it is shown in the international media.
Africa would be a country. Its largest province would be Somalia.
Bono, Angelina Jolie and Madonna would be joint presidents, appointed by the United Nations.
European aid workers would run the Foreign Affairs Office, gap year students from the UK the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Culture would be run by the makers of the Kony2012 videos.
This short video highlights the work done by Dame Daphne Sheldrick and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in saving the lives of orphaned elephants, particularly in Kenya.
Sheldrick founded the trust in 1977 in memory of her late husband, the naturalist David Sheldrick. The DSTW has rescued and rehabilitated more than 120 baby elephants using Dame Sheldrick’s pioneering milk formula. She recounts this inspiring story in her recently released memoir, An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants.
Read an extract from chapter one, in which Sheldrick introduces us to her great uncle, Will, who settled in the Eastern Cape after his family moved to South Africa from Scotland:
‘What we are is God’s gift to us; what we become is our gift to God.’ – Anon
It was quite by chance that my ancestors came to settle in Kenya.
In the early 1900s my Great-Uncle Will was living a relatively prosperous life in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. His family – my great-grandmother was Will’s sister – had left rural Scotland for Africa in the mid 1820s. A truly capable and resourceful man, Will had worked hard in difficult conditions, farming the land, raising a family and helping others around him to survive the effects of the Boer Wars. He was garrulous and charismatic, a twinkle in his eye, passionate about big game hunting, and from time to time could afford a ticket to Kenya on one of the early steamships to satiate his lust for the land and the animals. The great profusion of wildlife, the rolling grass plains – the storehouse of life itself – Kenya was where his heart seemed to soar, where he was transformed from the inside out.
A typical day for Daphne involves rescuing baby elephants from poachers; finding homes for orphan elephants, all the while campaigning against the possibility that the ivory trade might be re-opened.
An African Love Story is the incredible memoir of her life. It tells two stories. The first is the Tsavo years, and the extraordinary love story which blossomed when the young Daphne, moved to Tsavo with her first husband and fell head over heels with both the park and its famous warden, David Sheldrick. The second is the love story of how Daphne and David, who devoted their lives to saving elephant orphans, at first losing every infant under the age of two until Daphne at last managed to devise the first-ever milk formula which would keep them alive.
Mukoma wa Ngũgĩ, son of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and author of Nairobi Heat, says that Africa is “uniting less and perishing more”.
In an article for Proudly Afrikan, wa Ngũgĩ says part of the problem is that African unification is seen only in terms of unity amongst governments and not people, and that most consider the idea of an African Union as “insane” and an impractical dream. He argues that this needs urgent redressing, especially with xenophobia on the rise.
wa Ngũgĩ says there need to be more conversations about “the nature of difference”, with the understanding that unity does not have to entail the erasure and homogenisation of different cultures, but rather, a unity of equal rights:
When in 1946 Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe, so soon after the World War II, many must have thought him still shell-shocked. Then it was unimaginable that a mere generation later there would be a European Union with a single market and a common parliament, or that Germany would not only be re-united but host the World Cup finals in which Italy would defeat France. But even with this living example, to speak of African unification to Africans or Westerners alike is to be seen as an impractical dreamer or simply insane.
Marco Werman from The World interviewed Binyavanga Wainaina, who recently visited Cape Town to launch his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place. Wainaina spoke to Weman about growing up in Kenya as a “dreamy kid” who made sense of the confusing world around him through books.
His essay, How to Write About Africa, helped catapult his literary career when it was published in Granta 92 in 2005, swiftly becoming the most-read article on Granta‘s website:
Marco Werman: Binyavanga, in your memoir, titled “One Day I Will Write About This Place”, you characterize yourself as kind of a dreamy kid, even within your own family. It sounds like you were the one with the nose always buried in a book. What did you notice about the world around you?
Binyavanga Wainaina:I was very much the dreamy kind of kid. I’d say, more than anything else, I was always confused about why everbody seemed to know what was going on. I was a bit offline or a bit off-kilter. And, I think, I processed the world through books, so I made sense of even the things around me through the frame of books. Rather than, I know people say writers are supposed to be great observers, I don’t think I was a good observer. I was a good observer of people through books.
In the fading light on a cool summer evening, Wainaina began by reading an extended passage from his long-awaiting memoir, captivating the audience with the lyricism, wry observation and understated wit of his narrative.
UCT academic and poet, Harry Garuba, joined the author in conversation, examining some of the themes in the book and setting a context for the reading. He engaged Wainana in a vibrant discussion on memory, multi-culturalism and the unbeatable force that is white liberals.
The laughter emanating from the church escalated as Wainana conceded that, truly, he has no right to speak for all Africans, and that his own book fails to fully institute the advice he issues in his iconic Granta piece, How to Write about Africa. Additionally, Wainaina spoke to the perceived expectation that he write about post-election violence in Kenya, a matter that did not sit well with his writerly sensibilities.
Garuba opened the evening by describing the memoir as “a coming of age book, a portrait of the artist as a child and as a young man”. According to Garuba, most writers begin their writing careers by writing works of fiction, based on their lives. “This work is strictly a memoir, not a fictionalised biography, nor is it a novel,” said Garuba. “It’s the story of his life. It’s a fascinating story that visits a young boy who is utterly captivated by words. His love of words and language lead him to create alternative worlds, made of the sense of words. For the first few pages when he goes to meet the family much later his family is as ‘solid as fiction’. And yet, the most unreal thing in the world is as fiction.”
Investigating the intersection between the “world of words” and the real world, Wainana spoke about having “a sickness for books” as a child, an addiction that led him to “dubious activities and lying”. He also confessed to reading novels throughout the seven years of he studied, and repeatedly failed, applied statistics at the University of the Transkei. “Not Tolstoy and shit, I read anything…Mills & Boon…I knew, even as a kid, that I would measure people through the frame of the things I’d read.” At the point of being able to engage with his siblings, Wainaina said they proved tolerable, but only when he encountered them between a book and another activity.
Wainaina also spoke about his fascination with language – a concern at the centre of One Day I Will Write About This Place. “When you walk down the streets of Nairobi, you’re bumping into languages…it’s almost as if people are made of languages,” he said. When asked how he envisioned a city as a place of people and various languages, Wainaina described the intellectual challenge he put to himself while writing the book as the creation of “a language of sounds”.
Wainaina concluded with a reflection on the fact that the vast majority of fiction is written by people who speak only one language. He expressed his desire for his memoir to transcend the imaginations of people who inhabit only one language plane. For Wainaina, speaking Swahili, even if occassionally, offers a multiplicity and richness of linguistic experience.
In a podcast at Granta Online, Binyavanga Wainaina reads from his long-awaited memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, which Irish writer Colum McCann has labelled “a portrait of an artist as a young Kenyan”. Following the reading, Wainaina speaks to Ellah Allfrey, Deputy Editor of Granta, about the book’s lengthy incubation period.
Wainaina, who calls himself a “watcher of the world through books”, describes the process as being one of always anticipating “the next cycle”. “I always need to feed on the novelty of knew things,” he says:
In an interview with Metro‘s Claire Allfree, Wainaina argues that One Day I Will Write About This Place “speaks to a very particular African generation which is now reaching their forties”:
Binyavanga Wainaina is keen to talk but first must have a cigarette. Today, his hair is streaked with red and green to celebrate the publication of his new memoir and he is so effervescent he seems to take up the entire room.
He is also piqued by a recent review in a British newspaper of his book, One Day I Will Write About This Place, and, before we sit down, is eager to get it off his chest.
‘It was written by someone based in Kenya who seemed profoundly irritated that I hadn’t written about Kenya the way he wanted,’ he fumes. ‘But that’s the sort of territory African writers find themselves in, in general.’
Penguin Books and Chimurenga are pleased to invite you to the launch of Binyavanga Wainaina’s acclaimed memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place. The launch will take place on 2 December at the Old Slave Church in Long Street, Cape Town, where Wainaina will be in conversation with UCT‘s Harry Garuba. Wainaina will also deliver a reading from the book.
Don’t miss it!
“If words, in English, arranged on the page have the power to control my body in this world, this sound and language can close its folds, like a fan, and I will slide into its world, where things are arranged differently.”
Seven years in the making, spanning Wainaina’s middle-class upbringing in Kenya, his failed attempt to study in South Africa, a moving family reunion in Uganda, his travels around Kenya, music, soccer, food, politricks, beauty, tragedy, fragile ripeness, sexual fantasy, love and philosophy, One Day I Will Write About This Place has been released to widespread critical acclaim.