A dry white season.
First published in
About the writer
André Brink was born in Oranje Vrijstaat in South Africa on 29 May 1935. He studied English, African and Dutch language and literature. From 1959 to 1961 he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. He returned to South Africa to take upon himself the full responsibility for what he was writing, not as a member of a white minority, but as a writer of a country that belongs more to Africa than to Europe.
He was one of the leaders of a group of progressive South African writers called The Sestigers.
Some of Brink's novels were censored by the South African government, which was why he founded his own publishing company Taurus. His novels were directly sent to the readers by mail, thus escaping the censorship of the South African authorities.
Brink is a full-time lecturer of modern literature and drama at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. He writes his works in Afrikaans first, after which he almost immediately translates them into English.
Some of his works
Both the Engish and Afrikaans titles are given.
Some remarks on African literature
African literature in English can roughly be split up in two categories: black and white. White African literature mostly has a European (British) background and in that sense does not really differ from, say, the British or American literary tradition. The thing that makes it different is the white man in the black continent and the problems arising from that situation.
Black African literature stems from the oral traditions of the tribes. With the African peoples the bards (troubadours) were the ones who handed down the history of the tribe to the younger generation. That means that the natural rhythm and sound of the language is very important, since these bards had to entertain their audience. When the African countries were colonized, Christian and British values entered the world of the blacks, which is why you find a strange mixture of Western and original African elements in novel of black African writers. Some black African writers are: Alex la Guma (South Africa), Wole Soyinka and Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria).
Theme of A Dry White Season
There are several ways of looking at the book. One way is to look at the atrocities of the South African apartheid system, in which the Special Branch of the South African police plays a rather dubious role. You could also read the book as a single man's fight against that system. During the fight he is no longer accepted by his own community and not yet accepted by the other (in this case, black) community. The main person is completely alone at the end. The book is based on such incidents as the death of Steve Biko, a member of the ANC, in the 1970s, which is also described in Cry Freedom.
The main characters of the book
Ben du Toit is a history teacher at a secondary school. He is married to Susan and the have three children, Suzette, Linda and Johan. His relationship with Susan had already been an unsatisfactory one for a long time. In the course of the book we see Ben develop from a rather naive, loyal member of white South African society to someone who increasingly has his doubts about the South African (judicial) system. He does not deliberately choose to support the blacks, but he cannot bear the injustice that he sees being carried out by the Special Branch. The fact that he does not actually choose the side of the whites and leave things for what they are, estranges him from his wife and Suzette. His daughter Linda remains very much a figure in the background, even though she is "Daddy's girl". Johan remains his father's loyal supporter.
Gordon Ngubene is a black cleaner at Ben's school and occasionally helps Ben at his house. The story shows him to be a father who is determined to find out what happened to his son Jonathan, who is a clever boy financially supported by Ben so that he can study.
Stanley Makhaya is a taxi-driver and a close friend of the Ngubenes. He seems be to be able to show up out of nowhere. He first has his doubts about Ben's involvement in the Ngubene case, but he gradually comes to respect Ben's loyalty to the case.
Captain Stolz is a member of the Special Branch, a hard man, determined to keep South Africa white. In the course of the story he more or less becomes Ben's archenemy. His boss is Colonel Viljoen, with whom Ben has several meetings. John Vorster Square (=JVS) is where the headquarters of the Special Branch are.
Melanie Bruwer is a journalist Ben meets for first time after the inquest on the death of Gordon Ngubene. She is a small dark-haired girl who lives with her father, a retired professor. She is the only white person who persuades Ben to go on investigating the circumstances of Gordon's death. Ben falls in love with her when he and Susan grow further apart.
Other persons are: Emily, Gordon's wife; Mr Levinson, a lawyer who first takes on the case of the Ngubenes; Mr De Villiers, a lawyer who later represents the Ngubenes in court; Dr Herzog and Dr Hassiem, two doctors that examined Gordon's body; Mr Cloete, headmaster of the school where Ben teaches.
The structure of A Dry White Season
The book consists of a foreword, 4 parts and an epilogue. The story is partly told by the writer, who used to go to school with Ben du Toit. He had been sent the papers by Ben. Occasionally he just copies parts of a kind diary that Ben kept
In the Foreword the writer tells about Ben as he knew him. Part I tells about the deaths of Jonathan and Gordon in, among others, the versions as given by the Special Branch. Part II tells about Ben getting involved in the affair and about the inquest. Part III is about Ben falling in love with Melanie and his estrangement from his wife; he is no longer accepted by the whites. Part IV is about Ben standing completely alone in the case, Melanie being in England. In the Epilogue the writer tells us how he got the documents.
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, sone of Gordon Ngubene, is able to go to school because his school fees are paid for by Ben Du Toit. 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 turn 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 letter had been opened by the Special Branch.
The writer wrote the book so nobody can say: I knew nothing about it.
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