"Re-examining my views prompted me to write 'Rattling the Cage'" - Brent Meersman

21 March 2021 - 00:00 By brent meersman

After writing about SA for over 20 years, as a novelist, columnist and journalist, and having reached my 50s, I felt I had the benefit of some hindsight into how the story of democratic South Africa unfolded. Add to that the eye-opening year I spent as a young idealist at parliament and my last seven years as co-editor at GroundUp news. My novel, Sunset Claws, had followed the loves and lives of three families - black and white, rich and poor - from 1976 to 2000, so I had done a huge amount of additional research.

As writers we condemn ourselves in print. As columnists we are regularly under pressure to express ourselves prematurely. What often happens is that our opinion, like a first impression, sticks, and we don't always revise our views after new facts and information come to light. After all, I meet contemporaries who still broadly believe in the story of our country as they were taught it in history class during apartheid!

Most South Africans have strong views on our past and present, much of it arising from how we have personally experienced the transition to democracy, whether you felt included or excluded, whether you have done well or been sorely disappointed. These emotions tend to shape the version of history we choose to believe. Each section of my book therefore emphasises different emotions: Fear, Hope, Sadness, Joy, Anger, Disgust, Love and Compassion.

I am "no longer young enough to know everything" and, to complete Oscar Wilde's witty maxim, I have begun to "suspect everything". I am on the cusp of that famously described stage of life when the radical heart fearfully and unwillingly starts to give sway to a mellowing conservative brain, and the issues of the day quickly become quandaries.

All of us ought to regularly re-examine our views, and I wondered: did I have all the facts back then? Were my views merely the consensus of my social bubble? How solid and defensible is my current take on things? Those questions, and the events of the Marikana massacre, prompted me to pen Rattling the Cage.

We live in a wonderfully noisy democracy and there is a lot of confusion out there, and competing narratives. Two very clear narratives have started to emerge, brought into sharp focus by the factions within the ANC and the fallout of the Zondo commission. Is the reason that 27 years into democracy there are so few jobs, so little land and such great poverty the fault of state capture and corruption by a democratically elected political elite, or is it because so-called "white monopoly" capital is still silently pulling all the strings? These are some of the hard questions I ask the reader and myself. I think you will find it interesting.

Rattling the Cage: Reflections on Democratic South Africa by Brent Meersman is published by Picador Africa, R310