The next three books in the CHILDREN OF SOUTHERN AFRICA series are going to be South African and the first of the three is done: THOBEKA AND SAMUKELO, THEIR LIFE IN YEOVILLE, SOUTH AFRICA.
It was a no-brainer to choose this suburb of Johannesburg to explore. Firstly because it explores the life of the urban South African child. This child, unlike the township dweller in his and her collage-friendly, patchwork quilt environment, has rarely ‘made it’ into the children’s book world. It is an omission, I suspect, arising out of a tendency in our field for repeating the known stereotype ad nauseum, and the fear of entering these ‘dangerous places” rendering them invisible to our writers and illustrators.
Then, there was the simple urge to revisit my own past. My husband and I both grew up in Yeoville. We wanted to go back and see for ourselves what has remained of this Yeoville and what has changed. What we found out was this: once again Yeoville has absorbed a wave of immigrants, taken them into her voluptuous bosom – one breast Raleigh Street, one breast Rockey Street – and given them a home. In our days it was European Jews and Portuguese and Lebanese and Greeks. Now, it is Congolese, Cameroonians, Nigerians, Somalians and Ethiopians. As well as the in-migration of local black people post 1994.
Yes, there are tensions. Yes, there is increased mess and disintegration and crime. White flight has created a suburb without the merest hints of the paler strands of the rainbow.
Yet, it was not hopeless. Remembering how well those early immigrants subsequently did – notwithstanding the benefits from apartheid and the excellent schools which propelled them upwards – one can see that the potential lies here and now too. Especially in the children. The book opens with Yeoville’s children at a Saturday morning reading club held in the new library. Stories are read to the children by volunteers and despite the fact that they are being read in English, the concentration levels are high. The children are ready to get going! They are ready to take up their future with energy and ambition! You can see it in their eyes.
Please put the children of Yeoville firmly into your and your children’s world view.