Midlands: A Very South African Murder

In the spring of 1999, in the beautiful hills of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, a young white farmer was shot dead on the dirt road running from his father’s farmhouse to his irrigation fields. The murder was the work of assassins rather than robbers; a single shot behind the ear, nothing but his gun stolen, no forensic evidence like cartridges or fingerprints left at the scene. 

Journalist Jonny Steinberg travelled to the midlands to investigate. Local black workers said the young white man had it coming. The dead man’s father said the machinery of a political conspiracy had been set into motion, that he and his neighbours were being pushed off their land. Initially thinking that he was to write about an event in the recent past, Steinberg found that much of the story lay in the future. He had stumbled upon a festering frontier battle, the combatants groping hungrily for the whispers and lies that drift in from the other side. 

Right from the beginning, it was clear that the young white man would not be the only one to die on that frontier. Sifting through the betrayals and the poisoned memories of a century-long relationship between black and white, Steinberg takes us to a part of post-apartheid South Africa we fear to contemplate.

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