“Red Dust” – by Gillian Slovo

Authoritarianism, dictatorship, racism, Nazism, Fascism, poverty …

Apartheid.

How can one even hope to build a strong future of freedom and peace when a country has been ravaged as much as South Africa?

Yet efforts must be made to right the wrong, even if it is just as shallow and superficial as the Truth Commission.

However, the is not just an excuse for the people that are involved. It is a difficult and trying path they have to choose to walk on, knowing fully well the harsh memories and reality they will have to face.

These memories and reality are different for each of the characters.

For Sarah, the white South African woman who chose to leave her country and start a new life as a successful DA in New York, based on the objectivitiy of the law, it is about facing the South Africa she once knew and the unchanged harshness and prejudices that still linger even after Apartheid has officially ended.

For Ben, the strong and persistent lawyer who chose to remain in South Africa and who has spent his life speaking for those who did not have a voice, this is his last duty before his health fails him and his opportunity to show Sarah, his long-time student and protegee, that she is more needed there than in New York.

For Alex, it’s about facing what he chose to forget a long time ago. A prominent MP, his wish is to leave things be and go with the superficial flow, but sometimes, people do not know what they really want and cannot distinguish what they want from what they need. He may not want to face his torturer, but he will need it at some point, to find closure not only for his dead friend but also for himself.

For Dirk, the cold-blooded torturer, it’s about submitting to the new system, just like he had submitted faithfully to the old system of apartheid.

 

Gillian Slovo is especially remarkable to the point of being controversial when she describes the dynamic between Alex and Dirk . I am prudent in labeling these two as ‘torturer’ and ‘victim’ because what I think Slovo is trying to teach us is ‘who are we to point out the victims and violator’? Although my heart disagrees and I will feel no remorse in describing Dirk with all the harsh words, just as harsh as his actions to Alex, one cannot help feel a tiny surge of sympathy arise, with a nasty surprise and maybe even disgust, for Dirk. After all, he also is a victim and a patriot in his own ways and in the ways of the Apartheid system. He should not be forgiven for his deeds of course, for no matter what the system is, people should be responsible for their own actions and what makes us human is that capacity to distinguish what is right from wrong. Nevertheless, Slovo manages to introduce that miniscule feeling of understanding in us when she describes Alex and Dirk, ironically enough linked with an unbreakable bond.

After all, the path towards a better future with all the historical burden was never thought to be simple.

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