I know it’s not the end of the year yet, but I am comfortable saying this is the most simultaneously entertaining, educational and enlightening book I’ve read this year.
It starts in 2008 in Zimbabwe: a group of people pile into a mini bus and make the perilous journey across the border into South Africa, illegally. This is a significant point in South Africa’s recent history, where violent xenophobic attacks took place across poverty stricken parts of the country. The trip into South Africa alone includes wading across crocodile-infested waters, jumping electric fences and the abandonment of both family and most possessions. And that just gets them to Johannesburg.
After that, the struggle continues and Sue Nyathi has depicted the individual stories and motivations of everyone who’s made the move. Children who have been sent to be reunited with their parents who fled earlier, professionals and graduates who couldn’t get paperwork, people looking to get any job that means they can send money home to their families who have been left behind in Zimbabwe.
You will weep reading it, but it will be the kind of outpour of emotions where afterwards, you will never assume the motivations of an illegal immigrant again, or underestimate the power of desperation. Lyrically written and endlessly rich in details of the terrifyingly brilliant hub of Africa that is Johannesburg, and its reputation as The City of Gold (Egoli), which first put it on the map. While gold bars may not be dug out the ground anymore, the city remains a place where many go to try to change their lives for the better… to varying degrees of success.
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