News from South Africa

By Mike Nicol

While rains have flooded other parts of South Africa, the Fairest Cape has been anything but fair over the last two months.  Our summer wind, the nerve-rending south-easter, has blown at gale force for days at a time, and our house has seemed like the Flying Dutchman to be forever at sea rounding Cape Point with creaks and bangs and the slam and whistle of the wind against the windows.

But as I write now all is quiet.  We have an interregnum until tomorrow afternoon when the weather forecasters anticipate the return of what, in days of yore, was a trade wind.  Right now I would trade it for a quieter corner of the globe.

As January and February are bad publishing months, there have been no new SA crime novels to distract me.  I know that in the works are books from Deon Meyer, Roger Smith, Margie Orford, Jassy Mackenzie, Michael Stanley, Sue Rabie, and the final in my Revenge Trilogy, Black Heart, but those will only start appearing after March.

In the meantime, I have been reading with considerable interest the debate in the US regarding the replacement of the word ‘nigger’ with ‘slave’ in an edited version of Huckleberry Finn.  Some months ago a colleague in the US asked if we could use the word ‘noir’ in South Africa as he wondered if it wasn’t politically incorrect.  Happily I assured him we haven’t come to such a pass.

The ‘n-word’ debate, as I saw it referred to, came just as I was about to post on my blog Crime Beat a 1975 short story by James McClure which contains the words ‘kaffir’ and ‘hotnot’ – both regarded as hate speech in SA.  Although I had pretty much decided on how I was to going to handle the matter, I took some advice from colleagues as to whether a cautionary note was needed.  One said yes or I would be labelled a racist.  Another said a note giving the context would prevent any mudslinging.  Three others said publish and be damned.  As I was of this persuasion anyhow, I did.  And there has been no response.

To be honest I didn’t really expect a response as the story is subtly critical of racist attitudes, but in these times when political correctness is enforced with almost fascist rigor, one never knows.

If you’re interested in reading McClure’s story, Scandal at Sandkop, here’s the link.

Finally a recommendation to those interested in African crime fiction to keep a watching brief on two really good blogs: Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders and Mack Lundy’s new AfricaScreams which he is dedicating to the local version of the genre.

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