cover image Burning the Grass: At the Heart of Change in South Africa, 1990–2011

Burning the Grass: At the Heart of Change in South Africa, 1990–2011

Wojciech Jagielski, trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Seven Stories, $19.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-60980-647-7

Polish journalist Jagielski (The Night Wanderers) paints a vivid portrait of South Africa’s transition out of apartheid, framed by the story of the life and murder of white Afrikaner supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche in the small town of Ventersdorp. The focus on this small rural village of 2,000 (with 18 churches) allows Jagielski to explore the principal characters in-depth, including town counselor Benny Tapologo, a young idealistic activist turned jaded civil servant, and bar owner Henk Malan, who is in the dubious position of running an establishment for black patrons while remaining a devotee of Terre’ Blanche’s. Then there is Terre’Blanche himself. The blustering “self-appointed Afrikaner leader” and founder of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement is described by his sister without a hint of cynicism as “a born leader. Like Adolf Hitler.” Jagielski explains the horrifying conditions of apartheid and the ways Ventersdorp remained a holdout against change, largely as the result of Terre’ Blanche’s unofficial rule. While occasionally repetitive and prone to lengthy description, the book captures the ambiguities and complications of post-apartheid South Africa, and the account of Terre’Blanche’s murder makes the story even more gripping. (Nov.)