Before and shortly after apartheid ended, there had been a large catalogue of South African fiction that dealt with the societal issues of the South African polity centred on the racial divide and its attendant inequalities. In more recent years, there has been a dearth of such stories, largely for good because a permanent view in the rear mirror is no productive observation of any society. In light of the recent trend, They Got To You Too is a refreshing take in the sense that it revisits the past when it gets Hans Van Rooyen to look back at his life of privilege, regret and search for renewal. Entering his ninth decade on earth, he finds himself admitted to a nursing home and the old South Africa meets the new one.
Zoe is Hans’s new nurse in the nursing home. Having navigated the old South Africa, She has scars from the dark days of the past and since she has found healing in the present, she is best placed to guide Hans into new space while helping him unpeel the layers of secrecy from his past that has limited him from embracing a nation where skin colour is not meant to be a factor of discrimination. They Got To You Too is a story of discovery, acceptance, forgiveness and healing. It highlights the individual journey of an oppressor the oppressor. In alternating chapters, the lives of Hans and Zoe are peeled back and we see how each has arrived at their present station in life. The future is a product of what we make of our past in the present. Only in confronting his past can Hans die with no grudge and baggage.
They Got To You Too is a simple story with deep consequences. It is sensitively told with great empathy. Some may conclude that the story is too simplistic, especially those who still bear the brunt of the evil of the past in South Africa. However, it is a story that gives cause for reflection and provides an avenue for reflection as long as there is a valid reckoning of the past.