Memories of Soweto provide backdrop to Jackie’s first novel
As a lecturer in social work and Child Protection Officer for City College Norwich, Jackie Orbell has encountered many remarkable stories of personal change and courage during the course of her 10 years at the college. However, these are all put into perspective by Ms Orbell’s remarkable experiences in post-apartheid South Africa in the 1990s, which provide the setting for her debut novel To Soweto With Love.
Ms Orbell, from Risby, spent 5 years living in South Africa during a time of huge change for the country (1992-96). Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison and the movement to finally bring apartheid to an end and enfranchise black South Africans was gathering momentum.
As well as witnessing first-hand this period of huge political change for the country – which included hearing Mr Mandela speak at rallies, and being caught up in some frightening demonstrations where police clashed violently with protestors – Ms Orbell gained an inside view of township life.
She was employed by a charity working with abandoned and abused children in Soweto. She witnessed poverty first-hand at a time when the only other whites in the townships tended to be journalists or the security forces.
“I was a bit of a novelty”, says Ms Orbell. “I was privileged to be invited to various community events, such as funerals, vigils, and a labola, which is a traditional engagement party. I even befriended a gang of car-jackers. But of all my amazing encounters in those five years, regularly observing Mr Nelson Mandela and witnessing the first democratic elections were the highlights. I still get goose-bumps thinking about it.”
To Soweto with Love is a romantic novel set during 1990’s post-apartheid South Africa. Having found her soul mate, a Canadian journalist called Matt, Rosie uproots from England to Johannesburg. Optimistic and independent, she is rapidly jolted into bustling Soweto.
Mr Nelson Mandela has been released from prison and whites are about to decide whether to give black South Africans the vote. In a battered red VW Beatle, Rosie’s journey continues, as she explores Soweto, one of the most dangerous place on earth. She befriends a group of resilient black women, a bereft sangoma (medicine woman), an attractive black doctor and even bumps into Whinnie Mandela’s body guard.
But then Rosie’s life takes a sinister turn: her car is stolen, a child is murdered and her neighbour shot and she becomes seriously ill. Matt is in Russia. Can love save the day?
Reflecting on the publication of her debut novel, Ms Orbell said: “Ever since childhood I have always wanted to write, but life and work and family took precedence. I knew I wanted to write about my experiences of travelling and about the street children and the many other remarkable people I encountered in South Africa. As a mother to two daughters, I wanted them to see that that there is more to their mum than the school run and housework, to show that they can achieve anything they want to.”
To Soweto With Love is out now in paperback, published by Troubador. For more information visit http://jackieorbell.com/
PICTURE: Anna Lodge (Extended Diploma Photography student)
The author writes with a real, human touch, about Rosie. ! She comes alive almost immediately after starting the book. I found myself willing (and praying) for Rosie's relationship with Matt to have a "happy ending", and at times I found myself lost in their experiences as a couple, yet was surprisingly brought back to the political issues of that time with bump! This is a lovely story, with a couple who are in love, yet find themselves in this turbulent country and Rosie's bravery shines through.
by Lesley Freeman
To Soweto with Love is easy to read and it has an opening chapter which draws you in and leaves you wondering what will happen next.
The story is told through the eyes of a white, British Social Worker who finds herself in the middle of a momentous period of social change in South Africa. It provides a unique insight into life in post-apartheid South Africa which challenges the ethical beliefs of the main character and how this affects her life in unforeseen ways.
References to Political Rallies and shootings in the townships add a thought provoking backdrop and unexpected depth to what at first glance appears to be a straight forward love story.
by Karen Harford