Land. Race. Murder. Betrayal. The true story of a case that broke a South African town - by BBC Africa Correspondent
"Look what the fucking dogs did to them, someone muttered. No-one mentioned the rope, or the monkey-wrench, or the gun, or the knife, or the stick, or the whip, or the blood-stained boots. In fact, no-one said much at all. It seemed simpler that way. There was no sense in pointing fingers.'"
At dusk, on a warm evening in 2016, a group of forty men gathered in the corner of a dusty field on a farm outside Parys in the Free State. Some were in fury. Others treated the whole thing as a joke - a game. The events of the next two hours would come to haunt them all. They would rip families apart, prompt suicide attempts, breakdowns, divorce, bankruptcy, threats of violent revenge and acts of unforgivable treachery.
These Are Not Gentle People is the story of that night, and of what happened next. It's a murder story, a courtroom drama, a profound exploration of collective guilt and individual justice, and a fast-paced literary thriller.
Award-winning foreign correspondent and author Andrew Harding traces the impact of one moment of collective barbarism on a fragile community - exploding lies, cover-ups, political meddling and betrayals, and revealing the inner lives of those involved with extraordinary clarity.
The book is also a mesmerising examination of a small town trying to cope with a trauma that threatens to tear it in two - as such, it is as much a journey into the heart of modern South Africa as it is a gripping tale of crime, punishment and redemption.
When a whole community is on trial, who pays the price?
Every so often a book comes very close to defining a nation. In this extraordinary, fast-paced and exquisitely written true story, South Africa's brutal and divided past, its complex present and contested future collide in an explosive narrative of murder, race, class and human cruelty. This is In Cold Blood meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Believe me, Andrew Harding has given us an instant classic.
These Are Not Gentle People is a South African tragedy. Page after page reveals the painful truth, that the sun has set on Mandela's Rainbow Nation . . . The lives of the characters, from the landless and poor blacks, to the white landowners caught in a vortex of fear and oblivion, are a true reflection of South Africa's unfinished business - building a country that belongs to all . . . A gripping and painful read, told with empathy and nuance. These Are Not Gentle People, is an uncomfortable reminder that the past is not over.
Andrew Harding left London in 1991, aged 24, and has lived abroad ever since. Formerly a freelancer with the Guardian and the Economist, he has since 1994 been a journalist with BBC News, most recently based in Johannesburg. For much of the past 25 years he has been covering conflicts, from the parliamentary rebellion in Moscow in 1993, to Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Abkhazia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Sudan, DRCongo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Cote D'Ivoire, CAR, Burundi, Uganda, Libya and elsewhere. He is the author of The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia (2016)