GG Alcock and his brother Rauri grew up on the bank of the Tugela River in Msinga in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Their parents, Neil and Creina, were activists who raised them among the Zulu people in a mud hut. Alcock recently launched his book, Third World Child: Born white, Zulu bred, at Love Books in Johannesburg. He told Books LIVE in an exclusive interview that he started writing Third World Child as short stories for his two young daughters to help them understand where they come from.
When Alcock showed the stories to his friends they insisted that he should write a book. “Right from the beginning I didn’t want it to be a typical apartheid book, I didn’t want it to be a book about black and white,” Alcock said. He wanted the book to be an adventure and a fun story, and says he hopes the book will make people laugh and give them hope for the future.
Alcock borrowed the title from Johnny Clegg’s song “Third World Child”. Clegg gave him permission to use lyrics from the song in the book. These lyrics spoke to the Alcock brothers while they were growing up:
“They said you should learn to speak a little bit of English
Don’t be scared of a suit and tie.
Learn to walk in the dreams of the foreigner
I am a third world child”
When he heard these words he thought, “Wasn’t that my life? They taught me to leave the village, put on clothes, and learn a bit of English.”
The subtitle of the book, “Born white, Zulu bred”, speaks to the unique upbringing of the Alcock brothers. “We not only spoke Zulu, we were brought up as Zulu kids,” Alcock said. The family bathed in the river and cooked their meals under a thorn tree. GG and Rauri also went through the same initiation rites as the Zulu children. “In most ways we were completely Zulu kids apart from our colour, shocks of blonde hair and blue eyes.” When his father died the family held a Zulu sacrificial ceremony and returned his father’s spirit to the ancestors. “A lot of who we are is cultural,” he said.
Alcock’s mother is 73 years old and still lives in the mud hut with no running water in Msinga. “She likes to say, ‘I have more running water than anyone in the country with the Tugela right next door.’” Creina, who was 20 years younger than Neil, was a Joburg socialite and journalist. The Daily News sent her to write a story on this “crazy white guy” who was “working with the black people”. They met, fell in love and the rest is history. Alcock remembers his father as being fun, adventurous, humorous, always a practical joker. His mother was considered a great mind, and insisted on teaching them “proper” English, even if it was under a tree.
Alcock said his mother is still sharp. When Rian Malan first contacted her after her husband’s death to write a story about the family, which evetually appeared in My Traitor’s Heart, she told him: “Mr Malan, we do not allow anyone into this valley that does not bring material benefit to the people of the valley.” Malan offered to bring a couple of tons of maize meal, upon which she replied, “We will not be bribed either, Mr Malan.”
“My father created hope in people who had no hope,” Alcock says. The people they worked with were often disenfranchised, fleeing from the bulldozers, their houses taken away. “He made people who had nothing believe, sho, we can be something, and they became successful in a dignified way, in a place where there was no hope.”
Third World Child tells the whole story, from growing up in this village as a Zulu child, to moving to the city, going to the army and becoming an entrepreneur in Johannesburg. “I didn’t write it out as a message to anyone, I wrote it as an experience, and that experience has its own lessons – which are about moving beyond race.”
Alcock, who runs his own business called Minanawe Marketing, believes that culture has a pivotal effect on how we behave and how we perceive each other. His two big hopes for South Africa are that we will create more jobs and take diversity more seriously. Minanawe is the isiZulu word for “you and I”, which sums up Alcock’s work and personal ethos. He believes that understanding each other’s culture should be a priority in our country and he hopes that people will see political posturing for what it is – and not as a reflection of society as a whole.
- Third World Child: Born white, Zulu bred by GG Alcock
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