national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, March 27, 2017


A sensitive, rather profound and thoughtful memoir filled with humour, adventure and, at time, pathos. (Review by Keith Millar)

For a while in the late 1960’s Neville Herrington, author of Growing Up in “White” South Africa, and I, worked together for the SABC at their Durban studios. He as a radio journalist and myself as a rather junior radio technical producer. We were not acquainted for very long before he moved on to carve out a career as a university lecturer, City Councillor, playwright, documentary TV maker and, more recently, an author of several books.

My memory of Herrington is that he is a genial, gracious, fun-loving character who was well-liked by his co-workers. All these are attributes which are on display in his rather lengthy account of what life was like Growing Up in “White” South Africa in the post Second World War years.

Running to 650 pages, Herrington’s story can by no means be called fast-moving - and at times his writing style can be a bit laboured and scholastic (he was, after all, a university lecturer for many years). However, it is a sensitive, rather profound and thoughtful memoir filled with humour, adventure and, at time, pathos. 

Although several years younger than Herrington, my own upbringing mirrors his to a surprising degree. Like him I grew up at various times in both Pretoria and Durban, enjoyed a loving, if complicated home life, and experienced an outdoor lifestyle of excitement, daring, or adventure.

Because of this, I found the book rather nostalgic and it reawakened many memories of the people and events which were part of my own upbringing. While Herrington’s memoir is very personal it is an accurate record of the lifestyle enjoyed by many in those days and as such I am sure it will resonate with all those who Grew Up in White South Africa. 

We believed we lived in a land of milk and honey, and knew little of the political landscape which afforded us certain privileges at the expense of the great mass of the population. The Government propaganda machine was inventive and effective and kept so many of us in the dark as to the full extent of the horrors of apartheid.

Therefore, it is a little surprising that Herrington does not discuss in any depth the political situation in the country at that time. Even when he talks about his university years when he became an executive member of the rather radical National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). he steers away from any serious political rhetoric and sticks to relating his personal stories of his adventures, scrapes and romances.

Neville Herrington has lived a full, active and interesting life. In this book, he writes about his secure upbringing, his battles with his religious identity, his adventures as a trainee farmer in the Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) bush, his experiences living in London, and then his university years as an aspirant actor and a political activist. Finally, he writes about his meeting and marrying his wife Sandra.

And there he ends this book. So, I imagine we can expect a sequel, as we know he became radio journalist, a university drama lecturer, a playwright and author, and along with his wife and son, an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

It is a life well lived and Growing Up in “White” South Africa is a languid and detailed account of the first part of it. It is an enjoyable read – even if at times you wish he would get on with it.

Growing Up in White South Africa is published by Tekweni Productions and its ISBN number is 978-0-620-72784-6. – Keith Millar