Read of the Week

Early One Sunday Morning

I decided to step out and find South Africa

Luke Alfred

Tafelberg

Review: Brian Joss

When I was a cub reporter I was given an assignment called “Up Your Street”. I had to pick a street, knock on doors of the houses, try to talk my way inside to interview the person who opened it and then write a story about the people living there.

This is what veteran journalist Luke Alfred has done with Early One Sunday Morning, except he put on his hiking boots to tramp the highways and byways to explore the history of South Africa. It took him more than a year rambling in places as far apart and as diverse as the Eastern Cape, Vilakazi Street, Soweto, and the road to reconciliation – the gentle valley that links the Voortrekker Monument to Freedom Park.

In Early One Sunday Morning, Alfred writes that, “I wanted to look at South Africa in a different way, from a different angle, and so took to the rhythms of the gravel road, the path and the train tracks in the hope that such walks would tell me something interesting about my sometimes tortured country”.

People walk for different reasons: Charles Dickens because he suffered from insomnia; Robert Louis Stevenson and his donkey, Modestine, walked to ease his troubled heart and like Camila Jose Sera, Alfred walked out of curiosity. Along the way Alfred met some quirky characters and found the back story of the places he walked.

The people included Philip Kgosana , 79, who led a march of 30 000 protesters to the Roeland Street Prison, Cape Town, when he was 23; the descendants of Thomas Pringle; Pippa Cope of the Buddhist retreat in the Groot Marico, also home to the Marico Eye; Julian Perreira in Alan Paton country, an agriculturist who collects narrow gauge track and tin houses for the Allwoodburn station, better known as the Paton Country Railway initiative, in Ixopo. There are 12 walks starting from Hope Road, opposite the Victory Theatre in Louis Botha Avenue, Johannesburg, to the Modderfontein Dynamite Factory (about 12 kilometres) and finally a ramble along what Alfred calls the Melancholy Turnpike, on Freedom Day with the people who accompanied him on many of the walks.

Early One Sunday Morning is beautifully written and eloquent. Alfred tells his story with patience and understanding of the people he interacts with and the places he visits. If you only buy one book this year make sure it’s Early One Sunday Morning.