Story of a small-town murder trial breaks it to you not so gently

Lifestyle

Story of a small-town murder trial breaks it to you not so gently

The events in this compelling book take place against a backdrop of racism, populist politics and murderous crime

Alec Russell

Apartheid was always going to take longer to die in SA’s small towns than in the big cities. In the early magical years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, every few months I would drive an hour and a half southwest of Johannesburg to a farming dorp called Koppies to chronicle the dismantling of white rule.

For the first year or so of the “new” SA, change was in the air. A fledgling black middle class moved from the satellite township into town. I saw the election of the first black mayor. But reform slowed and the can-do spirit curdled. It would be wrong to say there was no progress, but fundamentally the two communities remained divided — by economics, history and race.

I was taken straight back to those initially uplifting but ultimately dispiriting trips on reading Andrew Harding’s remarkable new book. Set in the small town of Parys, about 40km northwest of Koppies, it is billed on the dust jacket as “the trial that broke a South African town”. It is indeed the story of a community riven by a horrific crime, but it is also far more than that: it is one of the finest, starkest and most minutely observed accounts of race relations in postapartheid SA yet...

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