I’ve just finished reading The Native Commissioner by Shaun Johnson (winner of the Best Book In Africa Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2007). I bought it while in South Africa, thinking it might offer me useful insight into the complex world of that beautiful country, and it did, to some extent, though of course there is a lifetime of learning to be done here.
The Native Commissioner is George Jameson, “deeply unsure of the morality of his work [during the early years of apartheid], but unable to escape it”. The novel is the story of his son, eight years old at the time of George’s death, piecing together a picture of his unknown father from papers in a box his mother has passed on to him.
There is a line in the novel about those white people who don’t seem to get that Africa is not just its wild animals and its dramatic landscapes; Africa is its people. It stood out among many great lines, perhaps in part because I had recently finished sorting through hundreds of photos taken in South Africa into “albums” – Kruger Wildlife, SA Plant Life, SA Scenery – knowing that different people will be interested in looking at different things. There’s also a SA Carver Family Connections album that I’ll send out to family, so maybe I’m not one of “those white people…”. Still, the line did give me pause.
I will go ahead, nonetheless, and offer up my South Africa albums for anyone interested in having a look.