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Witboy in Africa

by David Chislett / 24.06.2010

Sub-titled “Diary Of a Troublemaker”, Witboy In Africa is renowned Afrikaans media personality Deon Maas’ debut foray into authorship. Published in both English and Afrikaans by Tafelberg, the book is a travelogue documenting Maas’ bizarre adventures in Africa in the line of duty, as well as pleasure.

The reader is warned up front that the line between fact and fiction may well be blurred through some of the stories, and the message is quite clear: Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Don’t get too excited about whether or not all of this is true of too fantastic. Maas also claims the book has its roots in a desire to stop repeating stories to friends over the kitchen table. Buy this and read it, and he’ll never bore you with an African travel story again.

It’s a roller coaster ride that often straddles the line between PC and un. Humorous and murderous anecdotes rub cheek by jowl in a loosely connected series of stories. For English readers not that well acquainted with Maas’ exploits, he was fired from a newspaper column for allegedly being a Satanist, had a long running show on Radio Sonder Grense and made a real name for himself as the Simon Cowell-type hard guy judge on Afrikaans idols. Many musos will also remember him as a top executive at Tusk and then Gallo record companies.

What does this have to do with the book? Well, it certainly presents another side to the man that the media profile may obscure. Yes, he is opinionated, and yes he may be a tad on the arrogant side. But this is a person who really has been there, seen that and done it. A person who, through the evidence of these pieces, is happy to go and look for himself and sometimes be proved wrong. A wry, stabbing sense of humour is also revealed through asides and the anecdotes themselves.

Many people have written about travelling through Africa. And most of them have had some kind of agenda. This is more of a rock n roll roller coaster than travel guide and it certainly paints a picture of our northern neighbours that you may not have seen before.

The great thing about these stories is that Maas is not trying to show how bad Africa is, how the white man messed it up, or how the black man messed it up after taking it back from the whiteys. Instead, he is revelling in situations that he finds himself in, generally though his own stubbornness and wilfulness. He is laughing at his own foibles and some of those of the characters he meets, but never judging them.

It’s not literature. Maas has a hard boiled direct style that betrays his years of journalism, and is also prone to interesting detours and personal asides that make sure it won’t win any prizes for that. But instead what you digest is an honest, upfront book about travelling in Africa by someone who has sometimes taken more chances than he should. If you have never travelled in Africa, this is a good book to read. It’s honest and clear, and it may make you want to go.

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