Book Title: Black Diamond
Author: Zakes Mda
Publisher: Penguin Books
Black Diamond is a fictional story of contemporary life in the new South Africa. The story is told through the life and times of Don Mateza, a former member of the African National Congress (ANC) military wing uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK). Don is attempting to carve a niche for himself in an unforgiving arena of South African politics that is characterised by neoliberalism and tenderpreneurship.
The book also captures the fading fortunes of South Africa’s liberation struggle activists and the deferred dreams of freedom fighters. Simultaneously, it lays bare the conspicuous consumption of the few – politicians and tenderpreneurs. It suggests that the neglect of former freedom fighters plays a crucial if not a determinant role in the increase of violent crimes especially cash-in-transit heists. Two of Don’s comrade-in-arms are forced by the economic circumstances of the time to take up arms against the new enemy – poverty and hopelessness. Unfortunately, they resort to crime.
Zakes Mda’s novel is explicitly set in the post apartheid South Africa (late 2000’s) – a period of unprecedented economic growth and the birth of a new black middle class, the Black Diamonds. It is suggested that its birth is as a result of a plethora of government engineered economic policies. This class is estimated to be about 2.6 million people in a society of approximately 48 million citizens, majority of whom are considered black. This class (Black Diamonds) owes its existence to the highly contested economic policies of the post apartheid South Africa. Some of these policies include the contentious 1996 growth plan dubbed Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR), affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). BEE seeks to transform the economy to be representative of the demographics especially race. The end of apartheid (since 1994) saw the continued control of big business resting in the hands of white individuals.
It is within this context that Don Mateza’s girlfriend, Tumi enters the story. Tumi, former model and successful businesswoman does not understand why her boyfriend (MK former commander) is not part of the tenderpreneurs. These are a special class of businesspeople in South Africa – they trade and amass wealth through political connectivity. Broadly, tenderpreneurship is a unique South African term used to describe government officials, politicians and businessmen who use their power or proximity to the powerful ANC political luminaries to influence and secure government tenders and contracts.
The novel, Black Diamond takes us through the struggles of ordinary people in South Africa. It focuses on the changing nature of ANC politics – from people-centred development to neoliberalism or profit driven actions and policies. In this scenario, former freedom fighters and ordinary people without any connections in high places are left to fend for themselves.
Therefore, Don Mateza is a metaphor of the changing times. These times are characterised by the remaking of friendships and re-definition of comradeship in the new South Africa. Despite the fact that Don was a high ranking member of the ANC military wing, he remains a mere security guard in the post apartheid South Africa. At best, he provides security services to his former cadres who have now joined the ranks of the Black Diamonds. Don’s girlfriend is incessantly peeved at this state of affairs. She intends to change it fast. It’s Tumi’s drive that seems to put pressure on Don to work harder. Although to Don’s mind his feeding-at-the-trough strategy seems limited to at least getting a promotion as the head of security where he works.
Don’s relentless attempts to please his girlfriend, and carve a niche for himself take him to the bigger societal problems. One of Don’s security assignments is to protect Kristin Uys, a tough white Afrikaans magistrate. Uys is on a mission to wipe out prostitution in her town. However, Uys attempts to scupper the prostitution ring brings her face-to-face with the alleged criminal underworld of the Visagie Brothers. Uys’s life is threatened and ultimately she fails to nail the Visagie Brothers. During the Visagie Brothers trial, Don becomes the personal bodyguard to Uys. This chance encounter transforms both Don and Uys attitude to life and their mundane lives become interwoven into the story of the new South Africa. This detour in the book shows how the other half lives – white, Indians and coloured South Africans in this new dispensation.
The novel, Black Diamond is a classic analysis of the post apartheid economic policy choices and their impact on the body politic of a nation. It is journey into the heart of what is wrong with neoliberalism and the negative effect of quick fix solutions to the structural economic problems such as BEE policies.