Heinrich Böhmke’s book, Sarie, provides fresh perspective on a multifaceted nation, writes Denis Beckett.
What I knew pre-Google about Heinrich Böhmke was that he can write and he is highly South African. Which is an odd thing to say, but let’s face it, when your label is as German as that, people may think you must be; German.
I pictured a guy with English slightly too good to be inherited, enunciated with a German tang.
But his book Sarie shows someone who couldn’t be more South African if he was Tjaart Tshabalala.
For one thing, his five-page glossary must consolidate more Seffricanisms in one place than anything since the Branford’s magnificent dictionary of South African slang (and newer ones). Lallies? Rural areas. Sdudlas? Fatties.
Emo is a punk culture whose members often wear dark clothes. Shiboboing is outwitting by fancy footwork, from soccer; to inform or sell out is to speek.
I turn to Detective Google for Böhmke low-down and find that he is a person of the Left, in Durban, chin deep in Lefty Wars among unemployed and homeless persons Movements.
He used to “dabble” in an MK unit (I think a youthful dabbler) and is now in charge of “investigating high-level misconduct”.
The Lefty Wars show him under fire from numerous broadsides. I’ve long lost the ability to strain my brain over Lefty rights and wrongs, in fact since IRA days when Gaj’s, Dublin’s sole Hungarian restaurant, was the home of 19 branches of communist, anarchist, and republican armies, huddled table by table to plot the drastic downfall of all the other tables. (Same job that Cafe Schneider in Windhoek did for that quaint nation’s Lefties.)
To me, Lefties are an impenetrable combination. On the one hand, saintly selfless special people who urgently want a better deal for the sad and done-down.
On the other, psychopaths persecuting history’s demons to disguise their inability to deal with their private ones. The fiercer they point their fingers, I find, the less of the selflessness.
So Böhmke, receiving a forest of fingers, can’t be so bad that I must indignantly cease to read his book.
Which is mainly not hard to do. The plot per se loses me somewhat, and he has an interweaving cast of characters who I’d need crib-notes to keep up with. But the insights on this nation of ours and its tumbling turmoil of parts are exceptional.
Heinrich has no skaam whatever in putting his mind into the mouth of a low-rent prostitute, of the cynical manipulator of an appalling premier, of numerous people who are not his complexion and not his gender.
Not least, he happily spells out views that those people might take of everyone else in the social equation.
These views often, for instance on the corruption factor, ring of a quite startling plausibility.
Moreover, while nobody will accuse him of propagandising for the ruling party, he brings up aback-taking challenges to the chattering classes’ standard anti-ANC landslide, like how do you expect people not to be corrupt, where they spend their lives fighting for a freedom in which everyone else has bits of pension and investments and savings and stuff and they have nothing.
Sacred cows are stomped on all over - “BEE shoes, the ridiculously pointy slivers of plastic for arriviste gentlemen”; the family drain on those same gentlemen, “death by a thousand bread-monies and taxi fares”; the wickedness of the colonialists: “@isotsha: Makhanda’s superstition killed more blacks than Rhodes #RomanticiseThat”.
I refer Böhmke to you primarily for a freshness of perspective but I also acknowledge a liberal sprinkling of super phrases - randomish example: a dignitary receiving an unwanted letter “took it like a sullen motorist takes a fine”.
I’m yet to see a “Right” writer present such a multifaceted nation.