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Candi Miller
SALT AND HONEY is a wonderful, heartfelt novel and you are obviously committed to the cause of the Bushmen. Was there a particular event that inspired you to write it?
I heard a rumour that in what was then German South-West Africa (until 1915; it became independent Namibia in 1990) San people were hunted like game. There was even a suggestion that one could buy a license for such a ‘kill’. Anthropologists I spoke to disagreed, saying it would have been unnecessary to obtain a license to hunt San as it was common practise anyway among both white and black settlers. Getting a license to shoot a Kudu ( a large buck) was the thing.
The character of Marta is intriguing. Her liberal attitude is one that we identify with but her decision to take Koba to the farm (but not to live with them) and not to return her to her people was a difficult one to contemplate. What was Marta’s motive?
Marta is quick to mount her high-horse and only afterwards realises it has bolted with her. But she is brave, so hangs on. She takes Koba from Etienne’s farm to save her life but then has no way of getting the child the thousand-plus miles back to the Kalahari. She does what she believes is the next best thing by imposing a troglodytic life-style on Koba to prevent her from becoming acculturated. She wants Koba to return to her tribe “unsullied” by westernisation. Being a liberal, white African under an Apartheid regime was morally complex. Marta represents this difficulty. She is a well-meaning, but woolly –headed liberal. The journey she makes takes her from idolising Koba as “The Noble Savage” to seeing her as a real person; in fact growing to love Koba as a daughter. But then she puts her foot in that one too. Poor Marta – always doing the wrong thing, for the right reasons. Deon is her foil – supposedly conservative; perhaps even racist. Yet he is the practical one who notices Koba’s needs and tries to meet them, in an unobtrusive way.
The sense of place in the novel is very strong. You’ve lived in the Kalahari with nomadic people. Can you tell you us how that affected you?
It was seminal – for the development of my novel and for my support of the San’s people right to determine their own future. I also met a “Koba” and felt certain it was better for her story to be told by a non-San writer, than not be told at all. Sitting in the dusky sand around a campfire, listening to a Ju/’hoans elder tell their creation myth to the group, was the most thrilling narrative experience I’ve ever had. Oh, to be able to write it like they speak it! On a more prosaic level: when I came home I was appalled to see how many chairs I owned.
Why did you leave South Africa?
I’m afraid I gave up hope. There had been a referendum in which the electoral (Whites) were asked if they wanted reform – the dismantling of Apartheid laws, basically. The majority voted ‘No’. My husband and I were so disillusioned we determined to pack up our children and leave.
Who are your literary influences?
Nadine Gordimer writes my South African life; I aspire to mastering: structure like Margaret Atwood, economy of description like Annie Proulx and a lyricism with language approaching Keri Hulme’s in THE BONE PEOPLE.
What are you writing now?
“Onderwater”, she read through the dusty train window. It was the last stop on the trans-Namibian line, an oasis of orange orchards and White settlement before the barren brown of the native homelands. Koba had been here before, eight years ago …
Candi Miller

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