For the Joy of Reading: Beauty’s Gift

Sindiwe Magona is a writer who should have the same sort of profile as Nadine Gordimer.   She does not, and the reason is obvious.   One was a white South African woman, who wrote with exceptional beauty, compassion and understanding about the situation in her country.   Nadine Gordimer spoke truth to power, took huge risks, and helped the world to understand the horror that was apartheid in the daily lives of ordinary people.   Sindiwe Magona’s writing is a similar gift to her readers. But she is black and she lived for many years in exile because of apartheid.   The publishing world, and they will hate me for saying this, has not given the coverage and support needed to black African writers, and especially black South African writers.   And she has the further disadvantage of being a woman.   She is in good company.   Bessie Head, Miriam Tladi and Lindiwe Mabuza have all been treated in this way.   This is why it is such a pleasure to write a post that asks people to read “Beauty’s Gift”.

Sindiwe Magona tells her story of the lives of a group of women in Gugulethu, one of the townships of Cape Town, with an extraordinary lyricism and passion.   She paints a picture of lives lived against the backdrop of HIV and AIDs, and of the devastating effects on the whole community.   She uses an economy of language that is, quite simply, captivating.   Sindiwe Magona uses such simple language to describe the tragedy that has been caused by HIV and AIDs in South Africa.

It is a tale about the refusal to use condoms, through male pride, and of the consequences of this failure.   [An underlying problem – the cost of condoms – is not mentioned, but it is one of the determining factors in the spread of AIDs amongst a poor community.]   It is a tale of the unavailability of anti-retroviral drugs.   [Again, cost is a factor, but so is government policy.]   It is a tale of people wasting to shadows of their former selves because of the disease.   It is a tale of the funerals of young people.

Most of all, it is a tale of the resilience of Beauty and her friends in the face of a catastrophe.   It is a story of strength and determination.   It is a story of the triumph of life in the face of such adversity.   It is a tale brimming with hope.   Not optimism, hope.   It is a story of the effort needed to confront and deal with the problems of life.   Beauty’s gift to her friends is that she makes them realise all this.

And that is Sindiwe Magona gift to us, her readers, in this book.

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