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Dan Roodt on South Africa’s “Zoo City” of Crime

Alert! You know you’ve made it when the brain of a man who’s been lampooned on The Daily Show has absorbed, through some unknown process of cultural osmosis, the title of your novel, and then appropriated it freely, offhand, to help illustrate a long piece on subjects only tangentially related to your work.

Zoo City (UK edition)TrackersGallows Hill

Take a bow, Lauren Beukes.

It’s Beukes’ novel Zoo City that gets mentioned by name in the infamous Dan Roodt’s latest column, on crime in South Africa: not Margie Orford‘s, not Deon Meyer’s – though these latter two authors are name-checked in the piece, which might be taken as a swerving extention of the genre debate currently raging on Books LIVE. It’s official, then: “zoo city” is now part of our everyday lexicon.

The column was sparked by an upcoming conference at Yale University called “Crime and its Fictions in Africa”. (Hilarious aside: the submission email address is Perhaps we should send in a few recent specimens of SA Lit? And Beukes, though not a crime novelist – Dan Roodt, please take note – would doubtless fit in as a speaker on the subject of fantasy noir.

Here are the literary highlights of the Roodt ramble – see the last excerpt for Zoo City‘s cameo:

I happened to read a very amusing “call for papers” on the website of the Southern African Historical Society recently. Sometime in March there is going to be a conference at the famous Yale University in the USA, on the subject of – you guessed it – crime in Africa. Except that the international academics gathering at Yale have chosen a more politically correct title for their conference: Crime and its fictions in Africa.


Increasingly, fiction writers and literary scholars have also got in on the act. In South Africa, authors such as Deon Meyer and Margie Orford have topped the best-seller lists with their crime fiction, and the genre has gathered steam across the continent. What explains this development? What, if any, is the connection between the boom in writing about crime, and the problem of crime as it is experienced day to day? Finally, how can we both acknowledge crime’s dominant place in African narratives (and narratives about Africa), and question the limitations of this negative paradigm?”


The Caribbean-born Indian novelist V.S. Naipaul got the Nobel prize for literature. He was also derided as a racist for his perceptive novel about the Congo, “A bend in the river”. Somewhere in it a character remarks: “The problem is not that there’s no longer a difference between right and wrong. The problem is there’s no right.”


While we worry about the “Big Five” of Murder, Rape, Robbery, Hijacking and Theft, there are other features of “zoo city” – that is also the title of a crime novel I believe – that escape us but are no less pervasive and insiduous. Everyone – from the tenderpreneurs of the ANC with their flashy cars and Hollywood lifestyles to the devious shop assistants – is on the take, sucking us dry.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    January 20th, 2012 @10:28 #

    Whoo, top of the world, ma.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    January 20th, 2012 @10:38 #

    Tee hee. That's a disadvantage of fame I didn't see coming...

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    January 22nd, 2012 @20:42 #

    Yale! oi vey!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    January 23rd, 2012 @09:41 #

    I had a friend called Yackson who went to Yale.


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