For his second travel book, reporter Gavin Bell--no stranger to South Africa-- returned to the country to check the pulse of Mandela's "rainbow nation". He is blunt about what he found: "Half of the population had mobile telephones, the other half had no running water, and all of them were afraid of being mugged".
South Africa, "struggling to deal with the legacies not only of apartheid, but of centuries of colonialism", is in trouble, its people not so much divided as simply foreign to each other, history having cruelly widened the gulfs between peoples scattered across this vast, often beautiful, but also often boring, hot and inimical land.
The real threat to South Africa now is globalisation: the destruction of communities by capital. It's easy to sneer at white farmers, as they regret the breaking of the paternalistic bonds that once existed between themselves and their black employees. But Bell makes no such mistakes. He has, after all, just heard much the same lament--from Mandela's country cousin. "'He says he was happy when they were children'", the translator explains. "'They drank sour milk from the cow, and they ate the cow, without buying anything. You can't get sour milk today. Then they wore blankets, now it is Western clothes. Also there were a lot of ceremonies in those days, and there are not so many today.'"
This is not a political study: Bell offers the armchair traveller many sensuous diversions and he is often achingly funny. But he can never quite put out of his mind that this was JRR Tolkein's birthplace; and there is something of Mordor about the landscapes he describes. --Simon Ings
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Wry and deft ... travel writing of a high order, given steel by [Bell's] keen understanding of the country's contradictions (DAILY TELEGRAPH)
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A fine, gentle and loving travel book about South Africa which captures the magic of the land and the warmth of its peoples (SCOTSMAN)
Wherever Bell goes, he brings a gimlet eye to the human and unusual (YORKSHIRE POST)
One of life's great wanderers, at home when he is away ... a lucid, deeply informative and highly entertaining piece of travel prose (GLASGOW HERALD)
A warm, sane and illuminating book (Ned Sherrin)