If there was ever an author who could do a book like Gold Diggers justice, it would be none other than Sue Nyathi.
After her ground breaking debut: The Polygamist, Sue has come back with an even more heart wrenching story in Gold Diggers.
Set in the 2008 during the height of Zimbabwe’s economical demise, a group of passengers are in a quantum about to embark on a perilous journey to Johannesburg. Full of hope for a better life, the Zimbabweans are about to illegally cross the border into South Africa but what awaits them on the other side is nothing they could’ve ever imagined.
Drum caught up with the writer to ask her some questions about her book.
The Gold Diggers is a very detailed book from the journey taken by the characters to their arrival in Johannesburg and individual journeys. Can you describe your journey as you wrote this book?
A lot of research went into writing this book which is another reason why it took so long to write. However it was not methodical. The research began whilst I was working for an economic development consulting firm and later was integrated into my book.
Some of the research did not make it into the final novel but it certainly educated me about this magnetic city which has lured people from all over the world. This is the reason why I refer to Johannesburg as a woman.
It was also an emotional and spiritual journey for myself writing this book because I too am an economic migrant though my struggle may have differed from my characters. I physically walked the streets of the inner city and Hillbrow in order to add the texture and colour to my work. I had to immerse myself into each of those characters.
How did you manage to capture the stories so vividly?
So the stories in that book are real but the characters are fiction. So I am just using a story as a way of telling real life narratives. Child trafficking is something that happens everyday but when I personify it through Gugulethu it touches you in a different way than it would if you just read about a child disappearing in the newspaper.
What inspired you to write this book and release it at this particular time?
The journey to writing this book was largely inspired by the xenophobic violence of 2008. Listening to the discussions around the violence I would often hear vociferous cries of “What are they doing here anyway? They should go back to their own countries!” So this book was largely a reaction to that backlash. However in writing it I also wanted to pay homage to Johannesburg which has been my home for the past decade. I started writing this book in 2013 and only finished it in 2016. It was only released now because I only secured a publisher for it in 2017. It’s just a coincidence I guess that it has been released now when migration is a topical issue. I always laugh at the statement that “Africa is rising…” How can it be so when our people are sinking in the Mediterranean in search of greener pastures? A country needs to be judged by the living standards of its poorest people and not the few elite.
I personally cried many times while reading the book, was it emotionally draining or energising for you while writing the story?
It was emotionally draining to write this book. Yes I cried too. Sometimes I would be crying so hard I would not be able to see the screen through the blur of my own tears. In a way, writing it was also cathartic because I was also going through a lot of stuff in my own personal life so in a way I was writing through my own pain. I always maintain, if I can’t feel the pain as the writer then you won’t feel it too. However, there are some parts that are funny too. Though I know the dark humour will escape many!
How did publishing your first book, the Polygamist, change your process for writing this book?
The Polygamist was self-published but even then that was not the origional intention. I self-published simply because I could not get a publisher who was willing to buy into my story. However, this is not a decision I regret making. The process taught me a lot about the book industry. When I completed #TheGoldDiggers I hunted around for a publisher, approached three and Pan Macmillan made me an irresistible offer. I don’t think the Polygamist changed my writing process at all. I always write first and then look for a publisher. What is interesting now is that publishers are now approaching me with interest in my third book which will certainly make life easier for me in the future and there definitely is a third book in me!
What’s the most difficult thing about bringing the characters to life?
I don’t find this process difficult at all because I treat them like children. So each character is born and I flesh them out as much as possible. Early on in my writing career I would even cut out magazine pictures that would look like the character I have in my head I would literally write around them e.g. hobbies, foods, likes, dislikes etc. The thing is the more real the characters are to me, the more believable they are to the reader and the more the reader is able to relate to them. If you have noticed in my books, I like to tell my stories with many characters and I was often discouraged from doing so earlier on in my writing career. I would be told, stick to one or two characters. However I find if you have strong characterisation then there is no confusion when you have multiple characters like I do.
At the end of the book, Melusi and Givemore’s evils are finally repaid to them, why did you feel the need to include this?
I just felt that it was apt that they experience some misfortune. As much as they were also trying to eke a living they also did evil things in earning that living. A part of me believes in karma. Whatever you do will come back to you, it might not even happen during your lifetime but it could happen to your children.
All the stories for me concluded, besides Lindani’s – hers was, for me, the most terrifying. Why did you not feel the need to revisit her story. I was left with questions, was she arrested? Did she make it out?
The reason I did not feel the need to revisit her story is because in Malaysia drug trafficking is an offence punishable by death or at best a life sentence in prison. So I felt in that regard her story was conclusive. However a friend of mine has been egging me to bring her back so maybe that lose thread is ripe for another story. A lot of my readers will have met Lindani in my first book and even then they felt she was a survivor. So maybe it could be an opportunity for her to survive this and make a comeback!
No one really had a happy ending in the book, except maybe for Portia, why did you make it this way?
I don’t believe in happy endings and I think the world loves to paint this picture of living happily ever after. What does that mean really? Does it mean once you have attained that happiness life stops? I don’t think so.
I think there is tendency of viewing happiness as a destination and that you can exist in that state forever. I don’t buy that. I believe we have moments of happiness. Moments of sadness. We vacillitate between the two. Sometimes I am not happy but it doesn’t mean that I am sad. Even people who attest to having “happy” marriages will tell you there are episodes of “unhappiness.”
That for me truly encapsulates life. I can still be happy even though I might not be where I want to be in life. My happiness is not circumstantial. I am not one of those people who say, “I will be happy when this happens…”
So for this reason I don’t buy into happy endings. Life isn’t like that. It doesn’t owe you a happy ending! I also don’t owe you a happy ending in my books! (*laughs*)
What are you hoping this book will achieve?
I am hoping this book will evoke empathy. Being a migrant is not easy but can you imagine how hard it is being an illegal migrant. Where in some instances you can’t even exist as yourself and you have no liberty to be yourself. There is pain with being dislocated and being displaced.
Living in a country where you don’t fit in. You never quite get a sense of belonging. You are resented back home for leaving and you never get welcomed where you are. So you have these people floating in limbo so to speak which is why I touch on the depression in Christine’s story.
So I just hope people have more empathy. Don’t judge a person until you have walked in their shoes. You have no idea of their struggle. I just wanted to give a face to that struggle.