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Deon Meyer
Deon Meyer

Interview

The new South Africa Add to ...

The Globe and Mail's Margaret Cannon caught up with South African crime-fiction author Deon Meyer in Toronto for Luminato.

MC: What's the most important thing about having the World Cup in South Africa?

DM: We haven't had great press in the last few years and it would be good if we can get 200,000 tourists to come and to go back and tell people that South Africa is a beautiful country with wonderful people. There are so many misconceptions. So much wrong information about South Africa. And this is never reported. I think we're getting a bit of a raw deal in terms of international exposure, and I hope the World Cup will show South Africa for what it is, an amazing country, one of the most beautiful in the world and with great, hospitable people,

MC: Such as?

DM: On interviews and book tours, I'm often confronted with the question, "Why is South Africa such a dangerous country?" The fact is that it's not a dangerous country at all. Let me give you an example. We receive about one million visitors from the Northern Hemisphere each year, and on average 360 of those people are victims of any kind of crime - and that ranges from petty crime to more serious stuff. Now that statistic of 360 per million visitors is the same as for Wales and Ireland. There's no reason for tourists to think of South Africa as dangerous.

MC: So why is South Africa perceived as dangerous?

DM: We are also one of the few countries in Africa with a transparent democracy who publish our crime statistics, so they are true and believable, but we get measured against other democracies that are mostly in Europe and North America. We obviously have more poverty in South Africa, but that doesn't make it a dangerous or crime-ridden place. The police have made great strides and our economy is extremely strong. The poverty alleviation in the past 16 years has been amazing.

MC: Is there still racial tension from apartheid?

DM: There is the perception that there is, and this simply isn't true. Last weekend, we had the biggest southern hemisphere rugby tournament in Soweto, which is a traditional black township and rugby is a mostly white-supported game. So you had 60,000 white rugby supporters going into the black township and partying together. These are the things the foreign media don't show.

MC: Your books are often about the dark side of tourism and progress, particularly ecological conflict.

DM: You have to keep in mind when I write a book, I go looking for sources of conflict because conflict is the mother of suspense. My books are not a mirror of South Africa, but a prism. You reflect the light of reality to fit the story to make it more interesting, to ratchet up the suspense. You have to keep that in mind when you read my work. You must never grade a country by its crime fiction. If I did, I would never go to Sweden.

MC: You build a lot of South African history into your plots and your characters. How does growing up in South Africa during the last tumultuous years affect your writing?

DM: One thing that all South Africans, black and white and coloured share, is this incredibly deep passion for our country. It's a harsh county in terms of climate and geography and to tame that land was never easy. That's all part of the process.

MC: You're a rugby fan, but I assume you're going to follow the FIFA games.

DM: Unfortunately, I'm going to miss the opening, but my publisher, Random House Canada, has generously organized a World Cup party for me to watch the opening, and then I'm going back and hopefully I will attend some of the games in Capetown.

MC: Favourite team?

DM: Obviously, Bafana Bafana [The Boys] the South African team. We're supporting them with great passion. They're very much the underdogs, but that will make victory all the sweeter.

MC: Does this mean the World Cup may play a role in an upcoming novel?

DM: I've just finished a new novel in which the World Cup does feature. It'll be published in Afrikaans in October. And the next one I want to write may feature it as well. So it's become a rich source of inspiration.

MC: The World Cup is enough draw for some, but my granddaughter and her friends are all avid fans of Meerkat Manor. Can football fans see meerkats?

Deon Meyer and fellow crime writer John Brady appear together at Toronto's Luminato festival on June 11 at the Al Green Theatre in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. Margaret Cannon will be moderating the event.

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