The dozen novels longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize contains a bombshell for SA wine. For the case of books contains a searing indictment of the life of a slave on a Franschhoek wine farm less than two centuries ago. How ironic that Franschhoek, home to SA’s major literary festival, should have an international spotlight trained on its dark and violent past in this way.
Philida is the 21st novel from the pen of André Brink and recounts the tragic story of a slave knitting-girl on the farm Zandvliet – now called Solms Delta – between 1824 and 1832. It is a story of sexual oppression, child abuse and rape as a means of enforcing discipline. Soles are cut off the feet of runaway slaves “as easy as a peach” to keep them less mobile and the image of Africa as a cruel continent is emphasized in these days when miners are shot dead on TV for dancing for pay rises.
The story was brought to the attention of André by the farm’s new owner, Mark Solms. Philida was the mistress of the farmer’s son, François Brink, an ancestor of André, whose family lost the farm when they went bankrupt. A fate staring more than a few estate owners in the face these days.
So a penny for the thoughts of Oom André at the annual oesfees when he sees Mark start to write a happy ending to a tragedy starring his ancestors. Who needs fiction when you have the untold history of SA wine?