Sharing Discussing Understanding

Commonwealth Journalists' Association

This is the story of how Andrew Brel, an aspiring teenage musician of Greek origin, who had dropped out of medical school in Johannesburg, managed to survive two traumatic years as an unwilling conscript in the South African army at the end of the 1970s.

After his father’s premature death, Andrew’s mother contacted the authorities who conscripted him to serve in the South African army which, at the time, was fighting a vicious “border war” in the north of South West Africa(now Namibia)and southern Angola.

Andrew hated being trained to kill in the service of the apartheid war machine in the wake of the Soweto riots in 1976 and, a year later, the death in police custody of the black consciousness leader Steve Biko.

With a helping hand from an unlikely friend of his mother’s, Andrew, through his musical talent on the guitar, managed to talk his way into the South African army’s Entertainment Corps as an emergency bouzouki player.

The highlight of the book is the scene where Andrew insults Prime Minister P.W.Botha by changing the lyrics while singing for him at an official function in Pretoria.

Book review By CJA-UK member Mike Popham