I come from the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the beautiful place whose rolling hills inspired Alan Paton to write Cry The Beloved Country. It is a crucible of urban and rural, of old cultures and new ones, of breathtaking dragon-like mountains and tropical oceans, of extreme wealth and aching poverty. It is a place where battles both old and modern have been fought in the human attempt to gain or keep tenuous hold on land.
This weekend, the beloved country is crying again. The historian and raconteur, David Rattray, who brought the Anglo-Zulu battlefields to life for thousands of visitors from Prince Charles to local schoolchildren, was murdered in his home on Friday night. This is a man who has brought tourism and jobs to a province racked by AIDs and unemployment, a man who, through his respect for Zulu culture and heritage has brought Zulu history to vibrant life. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he received the Ness Award from the RGS in recognition for his widening of the popular understanding of Zulu cultures in southern Africa. In 2001, he presented the inaugural lecture of the Laurens Van Der Post Memorial lecture series at St James Palace. And two days ago, he died, aged 49.
According to the Mail & Guardian,
His killer entered his house and fired a single shot before being ordered to re-enter the building to fire another two rounds, according to a source close to the scene.
The South African Press Association heard on Saturday morning that the leader of the gang had ordered the killer to go back inside Rattray’s home, close to his Fugitive’s Drift Lodge, near Dundee, after the first shot was fired.
Only one of the gang had entered Rattray’s home while the others, including the man who appeared to be the leader, stayed outside.
The attackers then fled.
According to his wife Nicky, David was a man who spoke to an international audience not only of the history of his beloved South Africa, but also of the miracle of nation-building and reconciliation he believed the country was living through. It’s almost impossible to believe that someone who shone the light on South Africa in this way has been killed.
Today in South Africa, the Sunday papers are full of words of condemnation and horror at the murder and the criminality that pervades society. Political and business leaders alike are saying that it cannot go on. Tourism is one of the country’s key industries and crime is its greatest threat. How tragic that a man who has promoted South Africa has to die at the hands of thugs who care only for the fleeting power of holding a gun to someone’s head.
We have to hope that these words of Paton’s, which seem prescient today, will not describe the future of my country:
I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men . . . desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it. . . . I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.
Love needs to overcome hate.
(Edited to add: Here’s a very well-written article from The Times on the Rattray murder.)