This is one of the bravest and most important books to come out of South Africa in several years: as an exercise in truth-telling it bears comparison with Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart but whereas Malan derived many of his insights from his long exile, Jill Wentzel is one of the very few who have made the long march through the institutions. She was a founder member of the Black Sash, the women's organisation which, from its inception, fought apartheid with exemplary passion and courage. As a student in 1962 I remember how a 'flame of freedom' was lit in Durban, where we mounted a vigil, scheduled to end with the passage of the Bill providing for detention without trial. The affair was treated as a provocation by the Government and every night huge Afrikaner rugby types came to beat up anyone who kept the vigil. They were, frankly, terrifying. I also remember the shame I felt at seeing a lone middle-aged white woman from the Sash remain impassively by the flame while the rest of us scattered at their onslaught. They knocked her down and stamped on her stomach time and again and yet she made no sound. The Black Sash were the real thing.
LRB 2 November 1995 | PDF Download