Dust on His Soul (DoHS) was the first book I ever wrote. It is a literary novel and one that took me the better part of 15 years to write. 10 hours a day every day for 15 years I joke. But over those 15 years I wrote this book. It started after I had left South Africa where I was born and raised. Having been brought up by liberal parents when I arrived in Canada I started writing DoHS as a way to help me make sense of the madness that was apartheid South Africa.
This book is not easy to read and in fact it might be upsetting to many readers. But it is honest and I hope the kernel of its theme, that of redemption, resonates with you and perhaps can help us move towards a saner world. One filled with more peace and justice rather than less.
Many of you will not know the story of Stephen Biko, who was arguably just as important to South African freedom as Nelson Mandela. Sadly he was murdered by the state after being interrogated by the police. This was unfortunately all too common in apartheid South Africa, and from Stephen’s example was born my novel DoHS.
I purposefully went out of my way to read any biographies of Biko or of other black South African freedom fighters including Mandela while I was writing it. And the astute reader will see a melange I’m sure of different aspects of may South African heroes within these pages. I chose not to read any authentic or biographical material for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, many excellent biographies of Biko and other South African apartheid leaders have already been written. Specifically, Donald Wood, a personal friend of Biko’s wrote an excellent biography called Biko which you can find on Amazon. I was not a personal friend of any of these South African leaders, primarily because I was of a younger generation but also because I was not politically aware in my first 18 years of life when I lived in South Africa.
Secondly, it was not my intent to write specifically about the apartheid system. Though DoHS is about apartheid South Africa and the atrocities incurred by many of its martyrs, I was more interested in character exploration.
I have some very strongly held and cherished ideals that I try to live by. However, I am not certain that if push came to shove I’d be capable or willing to give my life to protect my ideals. Stephen Biko from all accounts was killed because of an ideal he held. That ideal to me, in its broadest sense was freedom for his people, perhaps all South Africans.
So I wanted to write about the character of such a man as Biko. I wanted to try and honor Biko’s life and legacy, but I wanted more so, to try and understand men (and women) like Biko who martyr themselves, usually unwillingly, for their ideals and beliefs. This was the primary motivation behind writing DoHS.
In addition, as I look around me now, I am reminded that Stephen Biko’s fight carries on. Not necessarily in South Africa but today on the world’s stage there are atrocities being committed against marginalized groups everywhere. The western world is meddling in the Arab world and the Chinese are attempting market reform while keeping activists locked away. There are a ton of examples.
And torture and abuse continue to carry on their sordid business. We need look no further than American treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. And there are others no doubt. A quick and cursory glance on Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch show plenty of abuses to human freedom.
Like most of us, I hunger for a just and free world. Where men, women and children can live unencumbered by the shackles of abuse in its many forms. And so as I look back now to the 15 years it took me to write DoHS I see how very prevalent it still remains. And it is my goal and continues to be my hope that DoHS can contribute to the betterment of humanity and help uplift the human condition and spirit.
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