“Wherever you find a newish democracy of a rough and ready sort coming out of a long period of authoritarian rule, chances are there is a deep state at work; and one determined to protect the gains and interests of those who did immensely well under authoritarian rule.” This quote at the beginning of the novel from Sina Odugbemi, a senior communications specialist at the World Bank, sets the tone. A poem written by Abdul Milazi after the Marikana massacre, continues the theme;
Familiar faces from the trenches / Turned oppressors on Parliament benches
Although I See You was published last year, it is extremely relevant to events that have recently occurred both globally and locally. There is a simmering of discontent with the government and its failure to deliver the masses from poverty and oppression; this simmering has recently boiled over in the student movements challenging the government on fees, outsourcing of workers and their uncaring response. I See You undresses political power and shows it in its naked greed.
Tariq Hassan is a South African journalist and photographer who was abducted in Johannesburg at a public function. No-one knows who took him or where he is. He had written a widely circulated article, “…And 1 Can of Sardines”, on the Palestinian crisis in 2006 after the election of Hamas. The security of the state has been outsourced and he had been outspokenly critical of this. If the state outsources security, then who holds the power? His wife, Leila Mashal, a doctor by profession, decides to stand for election as an independent candidate. She has no election manifesto, simply a goal to bring true freedom to South Africa. One cannot read this without thinking of Mamphela Ramphele and the ill-fated Agang.
The narrative alternates between different texts; e-mail messages between Leila and Tariq’s friend Yahya, a radio station reporting on Leila’s inaugural speech in the Great Hall at Wits; reflections by Leila on trips she had taken with Tariq; a radio broadcast from a Palestinian radio station that is conducting a 24 hour a day readathon in protest against Tariq’s abduction; Tariq’s thoughts in solitary captivity from an unknown prison. Through these different narratives the story is pieced together. Radio broadcast transcripts are used throughout and this provides soundbites of news and cultural events; Read Out Loud sessions where writers read excerpts from their books are also included. This device adds texture and life to the topics under discussion. Although fiction, it is written in such a way that you will want to turn to Google to find out which parts are fact and which fiction.
Some of the novel reads a little too much like a Twitter timeline in its preachy commentary on political events yet it makes good reading overall. The sections in which Tariq re-constructs the evening leading to his abduction are poignant with the benefit of hindsight and known loss. His cynical musings on life and politics and how we are all fooled by those in power, again and again, underscore the disillusionment in South Africa, “after the rainbow”.