Scandals, Intrigues, Family Feuds, Murders, Hatred, Love and Envy: Episode 11

Scandals, Intrigues, Family Feuds, Murders, Hatred, Love and Envy: Episode 11

Today, it’s hard to believe that Twelve Shades of Black (no traces of grey…!) , a series of interviews with six black men and six black women living in the townships outside Johannesburg during the apartheid era, could have upset so many white South Africans. But it did!

It did so because the book depicted those who were interviewed simply as people, and that concept was threatening to many whites. It’s hard, too, for outsiders to understand how successfully the apartheid government used the concept of fear in order to divide the races. Whites were terrified of blacks. When white people heard that the Belgian photographer Sylvie van Lerberghe and I were going into the townships to research this book they were horrified. Two blonde women daring to embark on such a mission! Were we crazy, they asked? We’d be raped, or probably murdered…

Instead, we were to find generosity, talent, courage, greed, love and – incredibly – humour in the townships. And, as I discovered when I interviewed the black poet, Wally Serote, blacks were equally frightened of whites.

Wally would go on to become an MP and a respected academic and, even when we first met, he seemed to me too much his own man to be frightened of anyone, or anything. But I was wrong about that. As he went on to say, apartheid had affected him so adversely that he was more afraid walking in white-dominated Johannesburg in daylight than at night in the unlit black township of Alexandra…

Read the incredible true stories that make up Twelve Shades of Black for yourself, here.