Going Back to Say Goodbye
Kenneth de Kok
Review: Brian Joss
If you’ve ever lived on a mine or had friends living on one, this memoir, subtitled, A Boyhood on the Mine, will resonate with you.
De Kok grew up in Stilfontein in the North West Province, then the Western Transvaal, and his moving story spans the years from 1954 to 1961, when the grip of apartheid was getting ever tighter.
De Kok reminisces about the game kleilat (which has gone the way of kennekie), cowboy movies, holidays on Natal’s South Coast and the war of words between the “rooinekke” and the “hairybacks”.
De Kok, who lives in Eastern Ontario, visited South Africa to say goodbye to his dying father, Steffen.
Finally, De Kok’s own son, Steffen, who is a doctor with the Red Cross, takes him to an old airstrip in Israel where De Kok’s father and Steffen’s grandfather was based in World War II, and so life comes a full circle.
What could have been a mawkish tale of “remember when” is an unvarnished look at life, as seen through the eyes of a young white boy.
De Kok paints vivid pictures with just a few words that take the reader with him, and when he writes about a friend who has cancer, you can feel their pain. He also mentions his sister, Ingrid, who is mad about ballet: she is Ingrid de Kok, well-known poet who, after living in Canada for about seven years, is a professor at UCT. She has won several awards for her poetry. Kenneth studied at Wits for three years and left South Africa in 1971 to avoid conscription. Going Back to Say Goodbye is a rich seam of gold, and I hope it’s not the last from De Kok’s pen.