Friday, June 1, 2018

Guest Blog; C L Bell.

I have a treat for you on Murder Is Everywhere today, instead of  a rainy Scottish Friday we are having a guest author from sunny South Africa. Claire L Bell is a renowned journalist, author,  essayist and a woman of great taste.  She married a Scotsman!

In fact she is married to one of our other guest bloggers, Gavin Bell.
 This bloke here....

Who wrote this...

This is a travel writer's book.....

"Near the southern tip of Africa,there is a mountain that does a conjuring trick with the biggest tablecloth on earth. In a sacred forest near the Limpopo river, there is a bird that flies on wings of thunder, flashing lightning from its eyes and bearing rain in its beak. In between, there is a hauntingly beautiful land and millions of confused people."

Gavin and I were born within a mile or two of each other in the west of Scotland. Despite living in South Africa for many years and being The Times South African correspondent, I don't think he ever regarded that country as 'home'.

So it's interesting, and uncomfortable, to hear  his wife's story, the white South African's story.  I came across this blurb for Claire's book which has been described as both memoir and reportage.  

"In Lost Where We Belong: Trying to escape apartheid’s shadows  Claire criss-crosses South Africa trying to make sense of her white identity. Unpicking the secrets and lies of the past, and putting her own assumptions under a magnifying glass,  Claire occupied some uncomfortable spaces throughout her journey. A journey that is in part a penance but also an experience which she hopes will inspire more honest conversation."

The woman herself.

And this is what she has to say.

The room is sparsely furnished. Just a few tables, chairs and a wall of shelves with a handful of books. Three men in black leather jackets are sitting around a table, their arms folded.
As I stand in the doorway all three look me up and down with cold, sardonic eyes, and the nearest one demands: “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you all afternoon.”
“What did you say your name was?” I ask.
“Tebogo Makoro, and these are my brothers.”
“Were…were we supposed to be meeting?”
“I heard a journalist was here investigating the murder. I thought we should talk.”
“What is it you’d like to discuss?”
“What is it you want to know?”

What am I doing here, in a remote Catholic mission station in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Mandela’s tribal homeland? I have not come to report on the brutal murder of a priest by a local man he had trusted and treated like a son, but to probe the effects of post-apartheid democracy on one of the country’s poorest regions. Which is how I come to meet the leather-clad priests, and women village chiefs in fear of their lives. My mission began with an assignment from the George Soros Foundation, and led to a book that found vestiges of apartheid lurking like undetected cancer in the so-called ‘Rainbow Nation’ – and in my own heart.

Ever tried facing up to the fears, ignorance and prejudice stuffed away in the attic of your mind? As South Africa enters its 24th year of democracy, the “Born Frees” – those born in South Africa after 1994 – have begun to demand that the white population faces up to theirs. 
“Acknowledge your privilege,” they say. 
“Admit that you benefitted and still benefit from an unjust system that ranks white skin over black.”
“Face up to the fact that economic inequalities in this country mean apartheid is still alive.”
The youth want to see dirty white washing hung out to dry.

It’s a difficult pill to swallow. Nobody wants to billed as the bad guy. Nobody wants to have to carry a burden of ‘mea culpa’ around with them every day, and inevitably the white population is divided over what to do. Some pack and leave, some get defensive and try redirect the fury to more recent government corruption, others begrudgingly nod and say “Ok, I get it. But what do you want me to about it? 

I was 17 in 1994, the year that Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratic president and the year I entered university in Grahamstown to study journalism. Within months, the narrow frame of my suburban apartheid childhood began to be dismantled, and perhaps with the same naivety that I had accepted the apartheid order, I accepted the brave new South African narrative of equality. Together with my rainbow of friends on the student newspaper, we began to forge a new society where the colour of our skin did not matter. We were untouched by the past. We were free to create the world how we wanted it. Or were we?

As the years went on, I began to realise that although the new narrative was that all South Africans were equal, we were anything but. What’s more, in those first 20 years of democracy, to reflect on those things was frowned upon. To dredge it up would be to endanger the peace of the Rainbow Nation. Hush. Maak toe. Thula.

Now the illusion of the Rainbow Nation is fading, Nelson Mandela is being labeled a sell-out and South Africa is being strangled by its past.  My response has been to co-found Consciousness Café (, a dialogue café that brings South Africans together for frank conversations about the things that still divide us, and to write a book which probes at fears, ignorance and prejudice, in myself and in those I met over a five year journey that took me from Mandela’s rural heartland to ‘no-go’ areas of downtown Johannesburg.  Lost Where We Belong, published in February, brings together the stories of a disparate cast of characters whose voices are rarely heard, as they all struggle to make sense of a country in flux. For some it may be an uncomfortable read, but as one reader recently commented: “It’s like taking the truth serum.”

                                           Lost Where We Belong, is by C.L.Bell'

Claire Bell

The book is  available on Amazon, and Claire is currently on a promotional tour in Scotland, and will be on tour again in South Africa when she returns to her homeland.   Oh,  and she is, at the time of writing,  expecting a baby  in the next few weeks!

I have heard it said more than once, publishing a book is like having a baby. Eventually, it/he/she goes out into the world on its own journey.  I wish Claire, the book and the baby, all the best.

Caro Ramsay 1st June 2018


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This is a book I certainly want to read. Most South Africans need to try to understand the current situation, where it came from, and where it's going.

    Thanks for the insights.

  3. A most interesting post. Both books look like those I need to have in my library!