With thinking writers like Antjie Krog, South Africa has a mine of greater value than all her gold and diamond mines combined. This daring, forthright journalist-poet goes on inner and outer journeys to help her understand her fellow human beings and herself in depth and compassion. In A Change of Tongue (blogpost 11-19-14) we followed her journey with fellow poets to Timbuktu in West Africa. In Begging to be Black Krog continues the quest motif in three significant ways.
At first it seems like a braid of three strands: a modern day murder, a personal European journey, and a historical search for the phenomenon, Moshoeshoe. But as the book radiates out, we are amazed by the complexity Krog unearths. Rather than a simple braid, we are treated to fantastic beadwork of extraordinary design.
The murder is in the town near her home; the gun is hidden on her porch; she is sucked in. Her travel to post-Nazi Germany is a scholarly and personal pursuit of the roots of Afrikanerdom which bore the fruit of apartheid. Her fascination with Moshoeshoe and his powerful legacy among the Sotho and others led her to research what made this man so different from all others?
Begging to Be Black is a genuine search to understand what it means to be black in post apartheid South Africa. Krog is not a hand-wringing, helpless white woman. She was a member of the ANC and took a number of unpopular stands throughout her journalistic career., taking risks for herself and her family. Her openness to learning from others, history and herself make her a brilliant model for young South Africans today: a model for conversation and dialogue.
Where is the path to understanding how ubuntu will actually work? In Krog’s book Country of My Skull (blogpost 4-14-14) she documented the TRC for three years. The testimony of Cynthia Ngewu begins to set a pattern for the conversation of reconciliation. She said:
This thing called reconciliation . . . if I am understanding it correctly,
if it means this perpetrator, this man who killed my son,
if it means he becomes human again,
this man, so that I, so that all of us
get our humanity back . . .
then I support it all.
It is said that true bead artists always incorporate a little “mistake” or irregularity in their beadwork to keep it from being absolutely perfect or absolutely boring. Krog has managed the same feat in her writing: she blends in her own personal issues (her Afrikaner family and her Jewish husband), being used by her trusted African friends to cover their own misdeeds, the other-worldliness she discovers as she lives and studies in Germany, where the seeds for apartheid’s eugenic theory were germinated.
Begging to Be Black is also a series of conversations about the many issues that arise when “ubuntu” is the ultimate topic. These conversations, with more significance than the colour of one’s skin, range across privacy and community, space and ownership, loyalty and justice, reconciliation and humanity. Antjie has developed deep relationships with an astonishing variety of people. She has proven herself an able listener. Her gift has enabled her to share deep places in the hearts of those unable to speak or use her hard-earned platform.
It seems fitting that Krog chose Moshoeshoe as her historical figure to bring understanding to her modern situation. He is a significant and universally acknowledged genius of human nature. Both Max du Preez and Rian Malan also referred to him at length in their works on Southern Africa. He epitomises the best of Africa. His self-observation expresses a humble awareness of the “bigger than we are” quality Africans call ubuntu. “Though I am still only a pagan, I am a Christian in my heart.”