Author– Dominique Lapierre
Genre/ Category – Nonfiction/ History , Science and current affairs
About the author
Lapierre was born in France and at the age of thirteen he travelled to the US with his father who was a diplomat. He studied in a Jesuit school and later developed an interest in writing.
I am not sure if he is basically a historian or whether his books be categorized as exclusive history works. He is one of the nonfiction authors I love to read, one among the few whose works are as enjoyable as touching. The plus in his books is that you never feel like you are reading about wars or conquests or scanning through years and periods as in the usual history books. You get the feel and curiosity of ‘what next’ as in some fiction. You never get bored reading history from his books.
He was awarded Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award in 2008.
The post- apartheid South Africa after 1994 was called “The Rainbow Nation” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. ‘A Rainbow in The Night’ tells the apartheid history of South Africa. The book reminded me of ‘Heart Of Darkness‘ by Joseph Conrad ( My review- https://deepanairsmusings.home.blog/2020/02/27/book-review-and-analysis-heart-of-darkness-by-joseph-conrad/)
During 1652, The Dutch East India Company sent a small group of farmers to the southern tip of Africa. The purpose was to establish an encampment to collect fruits and vegetables so as to prevent scurvy, a disease that literally stopped their long sea journeys to the East in search of gold, silk and spices. Their leader was an ardent Calvinist, Van Jan Riebeek. The soil was unbelievably fertile and Riebeek believed that they were the chosen ones, god-sent to the chosen land to Christianize Africa, just like Canaan was gifted to Jacob’s sons by annihilating the races there.
The future generations of Riebeek waged all out wars with the African tribes, whose war tactics and traditional weapons like spears and arrows became ineffectual. The land of the ancient tribes was conquered and the inhabitants transformed to slaves to their ‘white guests’. Ships, Victoria’s armies, merchants from the East and the West in search of gold and diamond mines, and their slaves started reaching the Cape of Hope and in the bloodshed that followed the black soil slowly began to change it’s color.
The Dutch migrants who believed themselves to be the chosen people started to feel these invasions unbearable. These parochial religious people who spoke the ‘Afrikaans‘ language called ‘Africaners’ started migrating to the interiors of Africa in search of the promised land. By the 1830’s this trek made by the future generations of the Dutch by encountering and annihilating the local tribes came to be known as ‘ The Great Trek‘.
Many years passed, many wars were waged with the other inhabitants and during the beginning of 1900’s Boer War was fought with Great Britain followed by a truce. By the time the demarcation and chasm between black and white had widened beyond the unthinkable. The minority whites owned majority of land and wealth and the majority blacks lived in suffocation amidst penury, destitution and diseases.
While the end of world war and Hitler in 1948 saw the new birth of humanity and rules of law around the whole world, South Africa lived up to the name ‘Dark Continent’ and was busy molding a barbaric system. In May 28, 1948, the National Party came to power voted in by the white people. Inspired by Hitler’s pure Aryan concept, the National Party leader and Church minister, Daniel Francois Malan, exhorted in parliament, ” At last God has bestowed South Africa to us“. That was the beginning of the system of apartheid as we know today, robbing the natives of their freedom and basic rights in their birth country forcing them to be prisoners.
Apartheid means ‘the state of being apart‘ in Afrikaans language. The term was translated by it’s prophets to the outside world as an opportunity for the black race to live according to their tribal culture and for others to live with their beliefs without chances of intermingling. But, South Africa was divided in all means and respects into black and white. Public places, religious and educational institutions became unreachable for anyone other than the whites. Blacks were forced out from urban areas and segregated into ghettoes. For those above 18 years of age to walk around, they had to carry a document called passbook. They were not given the citizenship rights or considered as citizens of the country.
Voices of dissent started to rise as the people suffocated under poverty, diseases and police atrocities. African National Congress was born under Nelson Mandela. Gandhism and nonviolence were incorporated, but was pointless. Armed revolution called ‘ spear of the nation’ began. Mandela was jailed for 27 years. Riots, dissents and bans by the world nations and organizations brought the Africaner supremacy to it’s tipping point. Mandela was freed in 1990 and ANC rose to power in 1994 under him led to the official end of apartheid n SA.
Lapierre includes glimpses of humanity, white and black, touching anecdotes of some humans who spread their light when SA had gone dark among the world nations. World’s first heart transplant surgeon Dr Christian Bernard, the white lady, Helen Lieberman who had spread hope in black alleys, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela, who had suffered torture and led ANC during Mandela’s absence and a few others many of whom we have seen and heard during our own generation.
Lapierre writes about a wagon rally conducted a few years before apartheid officially began in SA to spread Africaner nativeness and greatness reminding the Great Trek of their forefathers. South Africa was able to slowly transform from a white only view to a rainbow of colors. But there are countries now, like India for instance, regurgitating history and excavating a buried past turning the wheels of time to the graveyard of past instead of into a bright future, a trend that we need to worry about.