My wife, tbV, has a thing about having a thing about buying me presents, maintaining that i am the hardest person to buy for [mostly cos if i want or need something i often just go and buy it myself]. But for my birthday this year she got it spot on – two books about South Africa by South Africans. The first one i read was Better to be Black by Antjie Krog which i wrote a number of posts about which are well worth taking in if you haven’t yet. i took a break in between [of sorts] and read ‘The Lemon Tree’ by Sandy Tolan to try and educate myself on the Palestinian/Israeli conversation/journey. Then i moved on to Frank Chikane’s revised and updated edition of his autobiography, ‘No Life of My Own’ which was initially published in 1988 during the final throes of apartheid.

The main reason for wanting to read books about South Africa by South Africans is that i was fed a largely one-sided history while at school and grew up in a not-very-political family, and so i have a lot to learn and as someone who is wanting to have an impact in South Africa, learning a more accurate story about our country seems like the best place to start. Next up is ‘I write what I Like’ by Steve Biko which i am waiting for a friend to drop off and always open to more suggestions.

‘No Life Of My Own’ was an interesting book to read because the author ‘Frank Chikane’ feels like a name i know quite well, but on reflection, realised i didn’t know much about him at all. It was also really helpful reading a book, where at the time of writing, the author didn’t know how the story was going to progress.

Let me let his back cover tell you what it’s about: ‘Beginning with his childhood growing up black under an oppressive system, and continuing through to his call to the Christian ministry, Frank Chikane tells of his family’s increasing involvement in the struggle against apartheid, the disapproval and suspension he faced from his own church, and the harrowing detention, harassment, torture and exile he endured. Chikane relates his return to South Africa, despite the threat of further detention and death, to continue the fight for freedom. Through it all one thing remains clear: this is a man whose faith compels and sustains him in a courageous and selfless journey towards freedom.’ 

Not as many folded corner pages, which is usually the sign of a book that has deeply affected me, but then this was largely story and so it was more about listening and trying to really hear than being inspired by teachable thoughts. Definitely worth a read though and have one or two extracts i do want to share in the next while… One of the most interesting parts of Frank’s story is the part where the apartheid government actually put poison into his clothes during a flight [via his luggage] which almost killed him – to the point where a priest in the US was brought in to administer last rites, and yet he made a miraculous recovery and was given the chance of continuing his life journey.

For white friends in South Africa in particular, who might be trying to broaden the hue of written thought they are exposed to, No Life of My Own is a worthwhile read in that regard.