A dry white season
A dry white season refers to the dry white season when he was just a little boy. His father lost all of his sheep during that season, forcing them to sell the farm and move. The dry white season took everything from them, leaving them alone and scorched among the white skeletons of dead sheep. It was where he first discovered himself and the world. Now he's enduring another dry white season. Everything is being taken from him. He's facing himself and the world ones again.
South Africa, late 70's.
A white minority of the population is ruling South Africa. The voteless black majority of South Africa is being suppressed terribly by the government, because of the race laws, which very conveniently assure the whites of a good wealthy living in South Africa. Many blacks see the injustice being made against their brothers and sisters and cry out for equality. But the youth see their fathers and brothers being killed in the streets by the police and they burst out in rage trying to get even with the whites. Not even remembering that it was not revenge or hate, but equality that they where fighting for.
During this period a law was being set up that everybody would have to speak Afrikaans at school. Soweto erupted, demonstrating against the insanity of the law. According to official documents from 16 June until mid October 350 people died and 2000 people got hurt. Soweto became the symbol of black resistance against segregation.
Ben du Toit was a teacher at one of the finest schools of Johannesburg. Ben wasn't a noticeable fellow and if it wasn't for his wife Susan to urge him on he would not have been such a successful teacher. He would probably be a teacher in a small town, always protecting the poor and the innocent. Ben was a friend of Gordon Ngubene. The genitor at his school. Ben stood up for him when he was falsely accused for steeling something and in return Gordon washed Ben's car ones a week. Gordon and his wife also helped around the house and when Gordon came to Ben about his son, Ben made sure that Gordon's son would receive a proper education. But like many blacks in Soweto Jonathan became friends with the wrong people and became to hate all whites, demonstrating for equality. On the 16 of June 1976, when Soweto erupted, Jonathan disappeared. A few weeks later Gordon was informed his son died of natural causes. Ben wouldn't see that it was a lie and that Jonathan had died by cause of the police. Even when Gordon was arrested because he was informing about his sons disappearance, Ben believed that it couldn't be anything more but a mistake and that the whole matter would be solved if he talked to the police. But when Gordon died in jail of so called natural causes Ben felt it his responsibility to see that justice would be served and that Gordon's wife would be looked after for. He becomes very brave in taking on the police and although he becomes isolated from the world, although he looses everybody around him he still goes on fighting for justice. During his struggle and solitude Ben fiends the help of a cab driver with the right connections all over Soweto called Stanley. Ben fiends a lot of support from him when he feels to tired to go on. With the help of Stanley for the first time in his life, Ben fiends out about the way blacks have to live in the townships. For the first time Ben sees how they have to live and now he can clearly see the real cause he fighting for. When Ben's relationship with his wife is over, because she doesn't understand why or what he's fighting for, he becomes very intimate with a female reporter called Melanie Bruwer. Slowly Ben notices the impact of his inquisitions on the people around him and on himself. Ben starts doubting himself when slowly the people around are being taken from him and slowly Ben's live is being taken from him by the Special Branch. He realises that justice as he thought it was doesn't exist. He finds himself alone fighting an invisible enemy. It's like that dry white season, when he was young. Ones again he's discovering himself and the world.
-Stanley is a black cab driver with many connections. He is a very radiant man. Whenever he in a room the people around him can feel his presence, because he is a very powerful and extravert man. He helps Ben in his struggle for justice, because he finds that one has to keep fighting, even when it seems that nothing is being reached, because if one stops fighting he could just as well roll over and lie dead.
-Melanie Bruwer is a reporter who becomes very close with Ben. She has a very tough personality. She goes on reporting about the injustices being made against blacks no matter what happens to her. One time she was raped and although she felt hurt at first it didn't hurt her later because it was only her body they invaded and not her mind. She has a lot of feelings, which she shares with Ben. They feel very comfortable in each other's presence and they talk about their ideas and visions of life.
- Susan is Ben's wife. She always urged Ben on to accomplish certain things in life, like a good career. And when Ben is struggling for justice she can't understand why he's throwing all of accomplishments away. She can't see why it has to be him to fight for a hopeless cause. Her real problem is that she married the wrong guy. She wants to reach standards, which don't interest Ben at all. Ben is the kind of guy who is perfectly content with a boring life and helping the poor whenever he can, but she want's the opposite and she thought she could and already had changed him to what she wanted in a man.
The writer explains how he came to write this book. It all started off with a rather inconspicuous item in the paper, reporting the death of a history teacher in a hit-and-run accident. The writer happens to have the documents belonging to him. He remembers how an agitated Ben Du Toit had approached him with the request to keep some papers for him because he does not want "them" to find the papers. He also tells the writer to use the papers if he thinks it necessary because he wants someone to know about it. The writer received the papers some days later. He remembers visiting the Du Toits some years ago.
Jonathan Ngubene, son of Gordon Ngubene, is able to go to school because Ben Du Toit pays for his school fees. Gordon Ngubene is a cleaner at the school where Ben teaches history. At a certain moment Jonathan is involved in a demonstration and is arrested by the police. He is sent home after he has been beaten. Gordon shows the wounds to Ben, who is shocked but does not really know what to do with it. Gordon feels humiliated by the punishment of his son as he is convinced that his son is a very gentle boy.
Some months later there are again demonstrations against, among others, the education policy of the government. Jonathan is arrested and does not come home. Gordon goes to Stanley Makhaya to try and get some information, but they do not get it. Gordon then approaches Ben, who contacts Mr Levinson, a lawyer, to ask for help. They hear that Jonathan has died of "natural causes".
Gordon and Emily want to see Jonathan's body, but it is nowhere to be found. Via Ben and Mr Levinson they finally learn that Jonathan was shot dead during the demonstration and that the medical report is not available. Gordon and Emily are sad because they did not get the chance to bury their son.
Gordon is set on trying to find out what happened. He is finally able to get two written statements from people who have seen something happen at John Vorster Square. Gordon is arrested at his home by the police in the middle of the night.
Emily turns to Ben for help. He visits JVS (=John Vorster Square) to find out about Gordon's arrest. Colonel Viljoen assures him that it is a routine investigation and that Gordon will be set free if everything is OK.
In the meantime the whole thing is getting the Du Toit family on their nerves. Only Linda and Johan support Ben in his case.
Emily hears of Gordon's bad physical condition from someone working at JVS. She receives some of his clothes, which are covered in blood. In one of the pockets she finds three broken teeth that have apparently been knocked out. A couple of days later Ben hears that Gordon has been found dead in his cell. He had committed suicide.
Stanley visits Ben at Emily's request. Ben wants to see her and asks Stanley to take him to Soweto. In the funeral parlour Ben sees the mutilated body of Gordon. Ben is strongly advised not to go to Gordon's funeral. Richard, Gordon and Emily's second son, escapes to Botswana. Dr Hassiem, one of the doctors who examined Gordon's body, is put in prison. Ben wants to get the best lawyer to represent the Ngubenes at the inquest into the death of Gordon. The inquest coincides with the school holidays, so Ben can attend all the sessions.
At the inquest the Special Branch, represented by Captain Stolz, deny all the allegations of torture. After one of the sessions he meets Melanie Bruwer, a journalist. Ben does not really trust her at first, as he thinks she is just keen on getting another story. Melanie also knows Stanley quite well.
The verdict of the court really stuns Ben, because he expected that justice would run its course. Outside the court buildings Emily throws her arms round Ben's neck, crying. After some time Ben goes with Melanie to her place, where she lives with her father. They tell each other their life stories.
At home Susan wonders where Ben has been all the time, but she is glad the whole thing is over now. The next day, a Sunday, the Du Toit family, except Johan, is angry with Ben because there is a photograph in the paper showing Emily with her arms around Ben. From that moment Ben starts making notes of all the things that have happened. He even asks advice from the Dominee, but the man does not want to compromise himself, so Ben leaves him, frustrated.
He visits Dr Herzog in his surgery to ask him why he had been lying in court. Ben again does not get a satisfactory answer to his questions. It appears to be better to co-operate and not to ask too many questions.
One day Captain Stolz and some of his men come to search Ben's house. They take some documents with them. Ben decides to make a secret hiding place for his documents. He feels completely left alone by his white fellowmen: he compares everything to a dry summer, when the fields have become white with the barrenness of the hot season.
Emily wants to clear her husband's name, but the people that are needed to clear his name do not want to give their testimonies in writing: they are afraid. The family lawyer starts collecting the testimonies, which come in very slowly.
Ben's attention shifts from his school activities to the Gordon Ngubene case, stimulated by Melanie. His family turns their backs on him. Moreover, an increasing number of black people come to Ben's house because they think that he will help the blacks in their fight against injustice. Susan's nerves begin to give in.
The Special Branch even starts questioning Ben's colleagues. Ben goes to JVS and tells Colonel Viljoen that if he wants to know something about Ben he should ask Ben himself and not anybody else. That night some shots were fired at Ben's house.
Susan loses her job with the South African Broadcasting Corporation because of Ben's activities. She decides to stay with her parents for a while.
Ben spends a night with Melanie, during which they make love. Some time later Susan receives an envelope with a photograph of Melanie and Ben making love.
Ben even receives a parcel containing a bomb, which he takes to the police. Ben decides to spend a weekend in the mountains with Melanie and her father. Phil Bruwer gets a heart attack during the weekend and is taken to hospital.
On 26th December the Du Toits are having a Christmas party with their relatives. A drunken Stanley interrupts the party saying Emily is dead. She had committed suicide when she heard that her son Robert had been shot, when trying to get into South Africa with a group of guerillas.
Captain Stolz visits Ben to try to make him change his mind in the whole affair, but Ben does not give in. Melanie has been forced to go to London and is unable to come back to South Africa because her South African passport has been confiscated.
When Ben meets Stanley, he tells him he is tired of all the mess. Stanley says that they can't win, but they just have to stick around and see what happens. If they are going to be killed, well, that's just too bad.
With Melanie in London, there is no one Ben can talk to except Stanley and Phil Bruwer, who has been discharged from hospital.
In April Ben is forced to give up his job because the school has also received an envelope with the photograph. He is at home with Johan. Suzette appears to become a bit more understanding towards her father. He even confides the hiding place of the documents to her.
One day Ben goes to Soweto to find Stanley, who has disappeared again. He is alone in a black community and the people behave in a very hostile manner towards him. He is kicked and beaten and can barely escape alive.
He decides to transport all the documents to a new hiding place. That night the garage where he kept them is searched.
Ben has sent all the documents to the writer and one night at about 11 o'clock he is run over by a car. Ben had written the writer a letter in which he wrote that he was very much afraid. The Special Branch had opened the letter.
The atmosphere of the book is sad. The entire story is based on sad events.
It is a political thriller based on facts
The writer of the book tells the story.
André Brink was born in South Africa in 1935.
I find this one of the best book I have ever read. In comparison to cry freedom this is a far better book, because of the difference in the main characters. Cry freedom is about a reporter who is very brave in asking the government to answer for some of it's absurdity's over the race laws, and the actions he makes are what one would expect from a liberal reporter. But Ben is an ordinary teacher who risks loosing everything he has fighting for a hopeless cause. And in contradiction to cry freedom one really gets to know the thoughts of the main character, because of his doubts and contradictional believes which every person has. This also makes you start thinking about yourself.
I wouldn't really recognise myself in any of the character other than the fact that I started thinking like Ben what would I do. I think I would have given up in fighting for Gordon and would have waited for another day to get even.
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