The Book of the Week is “The Jack Bank, A Memoir of A South African Childhood” by Glen Retief, published in 2011. This autobiography focuses on the author’s realizing his gay identity in a specific generation– as a white South African male in the last years of apartheid. While coming of age, he struggled with not only apartheid, but with “authoritarianism, patriarchy and cycles of violence.”
The author explains that his family was English, rather than Afrikaner. The latter people were militant in nature. He illustrates this point by recounting his experiences at nine and ten years old, of playing war games with his Afrikaner friend, and looking up to his friend’s father, a police officer, as a role model.
At twelve, he was sent to boarding school. As a freshman, he was subjected to extremely brutal bullying. Later, as an upperclassman, he himself did the bullying. He would have undergone this pattern again– in “military basic training, and then the whites-only conscript force… to control forty million black South Africans;” however, Nelson Mandela’s political activities finally succeeded at the tail end of the 1980’s. Prior to that, Retief witnessed examples of the pattern again and again, at university and later in his black boyfriend’s violent, rundown neighborhood.
Read the book to learn more details of what growing up was like under South African apartheid, and what the author did to find his place in the world.