In high school, I decided to read more South African literature. Under Apartheid a lot of good books were either banned or “out of print”. In the 1980s, the publisher, David Philip, launched an imprint, Africasouth Paperbacks, which managed to get previously banned books unbanned on the grounds of “literary merit.” It was via this initiative that I could get hold of Alex La Guma’s A Walk in the Night and other stories in the local library.
The novella which lends its name to the collection is a vivid account of life in Cape Town – specifically District Six – as Apartheid repression intensified. The book was published before La Guma fled into exile and shortly before the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. La Guma addresses the issues of racism, poverty and criminality in an unsparing way.
Here is a memorable passage from the novella: “The pub, like pubs all over the world, was a place for debate and discussion, for the exchange of views and opinions, for argument and for the working out of problems. It was a forum, a parliament, a fountain of wisdom and a cesspool of nonsense, it was a centre for the lost and the despairing, where cowards absorbed dutch courage out of small glasses and leaned against the shiny, scratched and polished mahogany counter for support against the crushing burdens of insignificant lives. Where the disillusioned gained temporary hope, where acts of kindness were considered and murders planned.”
The title is taken from lines in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “I am thy father’s spirit; Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night.”