A veteran freedom fighter and friend to Nelson Mandela is forced to break all his loyalties and oppose the ruling ANC party to confront corruption and venality at the very top of the South African government. As he faces political attacks and sinister threats from a faction in the security services the ageing veteran finds his life is endangered and he has to consider new and younger activists to continue his fight. One is a ‘Born Free’ idealist Thandi Matjeke and alongside the game reserve ranger Isaac Mkhize they stumble upon a clandestine plot at the highest international level to poach and kill rhino and export their valuable horns to South Asia.
There is no one that understands the politics of South Africa more than Peter Hain. He came to the UK with his parents who had been imprisoned and banned from protesting against apartheid during the time Mandela and other were imprisoned. A nice touch to add his mother’s name (Adelaine Hain) within those fighting and from early protests outside the South African Embassy and throughout his work as an MP Hain has championed the country of his childhood, but not seeing it through rose tinted glasses.
The plot loses a bit of steam at the start but then builds to a dramatic end and I liked the wonderful descriptions of the landscape and animals on the game reserves contrasted alongside the veteran’s views back to the unrest in townships such as Soweto. Despite Mandela’s efforts and initial work when freed from prison and elected President, his dreams of the ‘rainbow nation’ has become tainted with corruption. Preachers of anti-colonialism who connive now with the new colonialists – the Russians/Chinese see exploitation and greed.
Rhino poaching is still a major problem and people are killed on both sides for the pursuit of the rhino. Hain has also done his background research on the details of how poachers link themselves to locals as well as snipers and worldwide syndicates who will do anything to get their hands on the rhino horns as well as the cruelty they inflict on the animals themselves.
I liked this as a personal read with good characters that were totally believable in an area beyond the politics of which I had little knowledge. Perhaps the author gets a bit bogged down in places but overall the novel flows well and both grips and angers you towards the criminals – be they on the game reserve or in the corridors of government power. There was a nice link to a sympathetic British MP and how Westminster works which of course Hain (now a Lord) will know inside out.
I think book groups with an interest in either South Africa, concerns about the extinction of our prized species of animals or wanting a good thriller will like this book.
Review by Philipa Coughlan
Personal Read 4*
Book Group Read 4*
Hardback ISBN 978-1-9162-0771-4
Muswell Press imprint of Bloomsbury Published 3rd Nov 2020