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Friday, January 3, 2014


I was so fascinated, I’m reading the book again! (Review by Caroline Smart)

Already in its second printing, which is a mark of its success to date, Pieter-Dirk Uys’s latest novel, Panorama, was inspired by the play The Island. Devised by Athol Fugard (director) and actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona, the play is set in the world famous prison situated on Robben Island.

Working closely with The Island for two years at the Space Theatre in Cape Town in the mid-70’s, Uys was motivated to create his own play, Panorama, which had its world premiere at the Grahamstown Festival in 1987. Fittingly, the 2013 novel Panorama was also launched in Grahamstown - at last year’s Festival.

For the uninitiated, Robben Island is situated in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town and is clearly visible from the mainland. It has had a chequered history as a leper colony and an animal quarantine station as well as a prison for dissidents and convicted criminals. Until 1991, it was a maximum security prison for political prisoners, the most famous being the late Nelson Mandela. The island is now a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the prison has been preserved as a museum.

In Panorama, Uys has focused on three females as his principal characters and their linking history across a period of nearly 20 years. Karin and Rosa are teachers at the primary school which caters for the children of those who work for the prison. Sibi is the daughter of a former inmate. She visits the prison when her father is dying which is when she meets the teachers. She returns many years later with her two sons so that they can experience Robben Island first-hand. The perfect embodiment of today’s youth, they are permanently linked to digital camera and i-phones.

The story moves backwards and forwards through the years as the reader gains an insight to the prison through the eyes of Karin and Rosa – the one timid and terrified of breaking the law, the other more robust and in control of the changes taking place in the country. Rosa also makes regular trips to the mainland on her own make-believe mission.

Through Sibi, we experience the anguish of her father and the kind of life he led. The cover of the book features an example of a censored letter to a loved one. Contrary to possible assumptions, there is no link with this character to Nelson Mandela as Mandela had been removed from Robben Island by this time.

Uys first visited Robben Island on a Sunday school outing when he was 11. Since then he has paid several visits to the island - once as his alter-ego Evita Bezuidenhout filming the M-Net series Funigalore - so his descriptions of his surroundings are accurate. The only figment of his imagination is the house in which the two lady teachers live. As he says: “if the book is turned into a film, they’ll have to build the cottage!”

A further principal character is Table Mountain itself as it dominates the scenery almost as an overpowering watchdog.

Panorama allows one to see the real Pieter-Dirk Uys. While this incredible mind is behind one of South Africa’s most well-known characters - Evita Bezuidenhout, not to mention her eccentric extended family – as well as his stage impersonations of major role-players on the political scene, the novel resonates with his passion and love for South Africa and his constant commitment to question, criticise and analyse in his determination to bring understanding of important issues to a wider audience.

To quote Uys’s own words*: “It was only after I opened the Pandora’s box of satire that I discovered the blood-soaked alphabet of our political legacy and realities. Like the evil genie out of a rusty lamp, the spectre of Robben Island rose again, not as a place for a picnic, but as the secret horror that lay in full view of a comatose white nation ... It is time to tell a small story set on Robben Island, right on the edge of the world, like a full stop at the end of a long sentence called Africa.”

I was so fascinated with Panorama, I’m reading the book again!

Panorama is published by Missing Ink. Retail price R190 and the book is available on Kindle. ISBN 978 0 9922060 0 0 – Caroline Smart

*See Pieter-Dirk Uys’s article in the Mail & Guardian at