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The xenophobic violence of 2008 inspired me to write The Gold Diggers, writes Sue Nyathi

Published in the Sunday Times

The inspiration for writing Gold Diggers was derived largely from the xenophobic violence that erupted in South Africa in 2008. Coincidentally, this is also the time I relocated here. The violence itself was not inspirational, it was depressing. Rather, the provocative conversations that arose following the conflicts stimulated the decision to write this book.

As much as there was sympathy and outrage from some corners, there was also antipathy from those who felt the violence was justified. I often heard the following assertions being articulated:

“What are they doing here?”

“Why don’t they go back to their own countries?”

Then there was the total disengagement from some quarters, which often arises because we feel it’s not our problem; it’s their problem. We then become complicit in our own silence. So I chose to confront this issue the best way I knew how, which is through a story.

The xenophobic violence affected various nationalities but I decided to tell the Zimbabwean story because that is the country of my birth. It is also a story I felt I could tell with great understanding and authenticity. I was born and raised in Bulawayo, which provides the opening scene for the book. My paternal grandfather, Stephen, was also a gold digger. He worked in the gold mines in Johannesburg for the greater part of his life so it is also a story that is close to my heart.

I started writing the book in 2013 and only finished it to my satisfaction in 2016. The writing process was longer because there was greater research involved. As much as I was pregnant with creativity, I also became pregnant with my son, which slowed my progress but did not stop me. I remember being eight months pregnant doing a walking tour in Hillbrow. It was important for me to understand the history of the place. It was not just enough to read about it, I needed to walk and breathe the air, which adds texture and colour to my writing.

After giving birth I took a hiatus from writing Gold Diggers and returned to it in 2015. I remember re-reading the first draft and thinking the hormones had certainly taken over! The writing was mushy and so I began rewriting a lot.

This was a harrowing story but I felt it needed to be told. Writing it was also cathartic as I wrote through my own pain. However, even in the darkest moments of pain there are moments of profound pleasure. Through my characters I try to narrate the stories of the migrant experience, weaving together a colourful tapestry.

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