I’m delighted to welcome you to my stop on the blog tour for Dying To Live by Micheal Stanley which is published by one of my favourite publishers Orenda Books. Peter James describes this book as ‘A wonderful, original voice – McCall Smith with a dark edge and even darker underbelly’ and the good news, Dying To Live was published on the 30th June 2017 so you don’t even have to wait to get your hands on a copy.
To celebrate I have a really fascinating guest Post from the authors about The Bushmen people of the Kalahari, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
A Culture at Odds
The Bushmen people of the Kalahari are at the centre of the latest Detective Kubu mystery – Dying to Live. It’s a Bushman who is found dead at the start of the story. At first it seems to be a natural death, but then the police decide that, in fact, he was killed. The more they look into his death, the more confusing it becomes. His body seems young on the inside but old on the outside. There’s an ancient black-powder bullet lodged in his abdomen, but no entry scar. And then his body is stolen from the morgue.
The Bushmen have been nomadic for hundreds of thousands of years. As other population groups crowded them, they moved into the arid regions of southern Africa and developed a very successful, if Spartan, lifestyle. They would dig for water and suck it out of the ground through grass straws, or find fluid in Tsama melons. If they found natural water, they would always leave some for those who came after; sharing was a survival strategy. They moved with the seasons, following game which they hunted using bows and poisoned arrows. The poisons make a story in themselves, ranging from snake venom, through extraordinary desert plants, to an extraction from the larva of a beetle which is so poisonous there’s no known antidote.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century. (There’s some pretty sickening stuff in the years we’re skipping, including a period when governments issued licenses to hunt Bushmen.) Now much of the Kalahari is declared as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Diamond mining drives the Botswana economy. Bushmen numbers have declined, and in 1997, the Government of Botswana started to relocate the Bushman to a permanent settlement outside the game reserve. In 2005 they forced the last of the Bushmen to move.
How you interpret the situation depends on your perspective. Here’s a superficial summary of the way some of the Bushman leaders see it, and how support groups like Survival International see it:
The Bushmen have always lived in the Kalahari. Fences and private land ownership—which is alien to them—interferes with their nomadic behaviours, and rules concerning hunting force them near starvation. Their culture is disrespected and is being destroyed by the change in environment, and legal constraints in which they’ve had no say. In order to keep the Kalahari for tourism and—according to some—diamond mining, the Bushmen are being forced into settlements little better than concentration camps on the verges of the land they once regarded as their own. Yes, there is some compensation, but this is soon frittered away leaving nothing. Financial planning is completely outside their ken.
And here is how the Botswana government sees it:
The government has a constitutional obligation to provide appropriate infrastructure for all its citizens. This includes proper schools, health care, water and sanitation. Furthermore, the Kalahari is remote and inaccessible, an ecological treasure that must be preserved. Discrimination on race is forbidden by the constitution, so if the Bushmen live there, how are other population groups to be prevented from living and hunting there? And now the Bushmen hunt with guns rather than bows and arrows. Their nomadic behaviour has changed to informal settlements where water has to be supplied by the government by road, rather than found in natural depressions or melons. Crudely put, the traditional culture is already dead, only the inconvenience remains. Thus planned settlements set up in appropriate places with schools and services is the answer. Appropriate compensation is paid to the people who have to move. They have a new and better life ahead.
In the wide gap between these two viewpoints is a variety of groups who tried to negotiate a scenario which would bring the two sides closer together. Nevertheless, with such extreme perspectives, and the muscle behind each side, it was almost inevitable that the matter would end in the Botswana High Court. In 2006, the presiding judge of the Court was the remarkable Unity Dow—first woman High Court judge in Botswana, member of the Kenyan Constitutional Court, writer, and now minister of education. Broadly, the three judges ruled in favour of the Bushmen. In the judgement, Dow said that the case was ‘ultimately about a people demanding dignity and respect. It is a people saying in essence: “Our way of life may be different, but it is worthy of respect. We may be changing and getting closer to your way of life, but give us a chance to decide what we want to carry with us into the future”.’ When we met her on a trip to Gaborone some years later, we asked her whether she felt the issues had been resolved by the ‘the most expensive and longest-running trial’ Botswana has ever had. She just smiled sadly and shook her head.
While researching our book, we visited New Xade, the settlement established by the government to the west of the Kalahari game reserve a hundred kilometres from anywhere. It’s a depressing place, there is little being done there, and little to do. It’s even some way off the main road into the game reserve, itself a dirt track. People pass it by; there’s nothing there they want.
But in Dying to Live we suppose that there is something there that people find they want very much. Something that kept the dead old Bushman young.
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA Debut Dagger.
The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award, and book 5, A Death in the Family, was an international bestseller.
When the body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the death is written off as an accident. But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that, although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles … but where is the entry wound? When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. But did the witch doctor take the body to use as part of a ritual? Or was it the American anthropologist who’d befriended the old Bushman?
As Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers, the wider and more dangerous the case seems to grow. A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane heroes.
My thanks to Orenda Books, Michael Stanley for the fascinating guest post and Anne Cater for organising another fabulous blog tour.