In writing The Gold Diggers Sue Nyathi affords us a rare insight into the dark underbelly of Johannesburg that confronts hopeful – and mostly illegal – immigrants from Africa streaming towards, what they believe is, the City of Gold. It is certainly not a feel good story – but one that I firmly believe is a must-read for all South Africans.
In many instances these immigrants are true refugees with little choice but to run from their home countries and to pay a high price for what is, in most cases, a treacherous and dangerous journey towards obtaining some kind of life. Only then to be faced by the severity of xenophobia, ruthless exploitation, poverty, hunger and homelessness.
Sue Nyathi is a Zimbabwean immigrant who has lived and worked in corporate Johannesburg for the past ten years. She knows the city and all its faces inside out. She also knows the stories of her fellow Zimbabweans’ struggle to find a life outside their own country and their on-going loss of belonging, despite some of them successfully making it.
It is this knowledge, her thorough research and excellent writing that ensure that the challenges and plights of immigrants come alive through her storytelling. It is both heart-breaking and heart-warming. The stories of the fictional characters in her book are all based on truth – in many cases on the experiences of her own family members and friends.
Certainly not for the fainthearted, she goes all the way into the dark realities of child trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking and abuse, murder, fraud, and to the very basics of what it means to sleep on park benches in the biting cold of a highveld winter and to survive on ‘soggy fried chips smothered in vinegar’ and half loaves of white bread.
Her chilling descriptions of modern-day Hillbrow takes one’s breath away: ‘Hillbrow was a cluster of elevated buildings reaching towards the sky like vines trying to escape the hell that lurked below in its streets’.
It is a brutal story that makes you gasp and that makes you cry. But, as Sue Nyathi said at her book launch, "I don’t owe anyone any happy endings and neither does life."
I believe her story has an important role to play in our quest to find acceptance and tolerance within our diverse society. And if reading this book will help in a small way to evoke empathy and to view the immigrants in our country with some semblance of compassion, then The Gold Diggers has succeeded in what it set out to accomplish.