Reviewed by Uncle P
A book for everyone. Even for occasional readers like me, it’s an easy read. The chapters are split into paragraphs making it easy to connect the dots. However, not an easy read to a product of Catholic education like me and whose parents grew up around the time of the apartheid atrocities captured at the beginning of this book.
There are two distinct reasons why it was, for me, hard to read to read this book: first, I can relate to the suffering and oppression that happened some forty years before I was born. Growing up in the Cape Flats in the early eighties I experienced first-hand apartheid at its harshest, yet here we are forty years later, black people are still suffering poverty and oppression.
Second, the ANC that fought for the liberation of Africans all those years ago, is the very party subjecting Africans to corruption and poverty today. I can relate to this book in so many ways. You might say that the author was deliberate in her efforts to make it easy to read for ‘natives’. I hope that many will appreciate this and read it and learn about the ‘untold and secret’ massacre of our people and how far we have come as a black people, as a country and how far we still have to go to get to a better future.
Think of 1652 when Jan arrived in the Cape, South Africa. Now think of 1952, when some religious white South Africans celebrated the 300th anniversary of his arrival but this time black South Africans or the ’natives’ as they called us then, had finally had enough of it. So they decided to stand up against apartheid’s absurd and oppressive laws and they rioted. Sadly, poor Sister Aidan got killed in the process, a case of being at the right place at the wrong time.
The Duncan Village people needed her but she had not been aware of the riots and how violent and deadly they would turn out on the day she died. Her gruesome murder was unnecessary and most likely would not have happened had it not been for apartheid. It is sad that her life and those of others who were killed during the 1952 riots, including those who were hanged for killing her, are not commemorated as significant events in our history and continued struggle for equality.
At least, at last the Catholic Church started annual celebrations of her anniversary and there is a convent in her honour but still much more has to done, especially politically. Sister Aidan was a true woman of steel. Her life, as beautifully elaborated in this book, is one of inspiration and boundless humanity. She did not live long enough, she died too soon for her community service and dedication to improving people’s lives to be widely acknowledged otherwise she would be up there with the likes of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, in my opinion.
I give credit to Mignonne Breier for taking up the difficult task of writing this book. Putting together a story of a life lived so simply yet so significantly, with very scarcely available reference material and records, I can only imagine what a difficult task it must have been. This is not an ordinary memoir novel, it is a textbook of history, religion and many lessons that should never be forgotten.