History is not only black and white
Historical fiction is a great way to understand the past. While traveling recently, I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, a wonderful murder mystery set in a fourteenth century monastery. Not only does the novel have a gripping plot, but Eco interweaves biblical debates and fourteenth century politics in such a way to make the reader as though they’ve lived through it themselves. I’ll never be a literary expert, but I also enjoyed the postmodern idea that “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told”. Given the need to publish or perish, I sometimes wonder whether we (as scholars) are not simply replicating, perhaps in a different language and using different tools, what’s been said (and thought!) before. There are no definite answers, only interpretations.
On Friday night, which was Freedom day in South Africa in celebration of our first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, I was fortunate to be invited to the premiere of A Million Colours, a movie based on the lives of Muntu Ndebele and Norman Knox, the kid stars of e’Lollipop. The film kicks off with the events of the 1976 Soweto uprising, and continues into the darkest days of Apartheid, capturing the many ways in which such an unjust system scarred black and white lives. To those of us who, fortunately, can remember little of 1980s South Africa and who are perhaps irritated by what we perceive to be the slow speed at which South African society move forward, A Million Colours is a stark reminder of a time not too long ago, and how far we’ve come. A painful story with a happy ending (or that’s my interpretation, anyway) that should be told again and again to future generations.