Bridge Over Blood River
The Rise and Fall of the Afrikaners
A subtle investigation of how fears of cultural dilution and violence have shaped Afrikaner identity historically and in the present day.
Twenty years after the fall of apartheid the white Afrikaner minority fears cultural extinction. How far are they prepared to go to survive as a people? Bridge Over Blood River’s haunting and subversive evocation of South Africa’s racial politics provides some unsettling answers.
Along the Orange River in South Africa, there lies the breakaway republic of Orania, where a thousand Afrikaners are working to construct a white-African utopia. Citing their desire to preserve their language and traditions, they have sequestered themselves in an isolated part of the arid Karoo region. Here, they can still dictate the rules and create a homeland with its own flag, currency and ideology.
Kajsa Norman traces the war for control of South Africa, its people, and its history, from the Battle of Blood River in 1838, through the brutality of apartheid, to Orania today. Weaving between the past and the present, Bridge Over Blood River highlights how years of fear, nationalism, and social engineering have left the modern Afrikaner struggling for identity and relevance.
‘[Norman] takes on the future of the embattled Afrikaner with remarkable tenacity and intelligence … Assured and scrupulously reported, this is perhaps the most interesting book about South Africa to have appeared since Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart 26 years ago.’ — The Spectator
‘Kajsa Norman is a skilful journalist, courageous in entering dangerous situations, shrewd in investigating, patient in listening. … Altogether, this book gives a fascinating insight into one of the worst periods of religion-dominated social cruelty.’ — The Church Times
‘[A] fascinating tapestry, wefted by history and warped by anecdote.’ — Irish Examiner
‘There is much of interest to be learned here about the rival attempts by die-hard Afrikaners on the one hand and the ANC on the other to commemorate this battle on the banks of the Ncome River in diametrically opposed ways, leading to a frigid standoff that says much about contemporary South Africa.’ — R.W. Johnson, Literary Review
‘Norman does not minimise the horrors of the apartheid era, but she does delve into the paradoxes of the Afrikaner in their perpetual quest for survival: despite their often brutal form of racism they were also capable of humane acts … With Bridge over Blood River, Kajsa Norman has made a significant addition to available literature on the Afrikaners.’ — The South African
‘Here is a writer with great courage. She gets her hands dirty. She meets real people. She listens and records. She pitches her tent by the site of the Battle of Blood River and watches without admiration or condemnation … She hears their life stories, notes their idiosyncrasies, writes about their fears and hopes and paints in a remarkably moving way their greatest fear of all – assimilation leading to extinction.’ — Trevor Grundy, Politicsweb
‘Thick-skinned and fearless, Kajsa Norman embarked on a daring journey through South Africa, deep into the landscapes of the tensions that still prevail there. She searches for the only thing worth seeking: that, which in the clearest and most unambiguous way, describes a society in a transition, where there is every reason to be vigilant.’ — Henning Mankell, bestselling author and activist
‘An engaging mosaic of reportage, history, anecdote and analysis. In a country still wrestling with the many legacies of its tortuous past, Kajsa Norman ponders what it means to be an Afrikaner in rural South Africa.’ — Andrew Harding, longtime Africa correspondent for the BBC and author of The Mayor of Mogadishu
Kajsa Norman is a London-based investigative journalist and author. She has previously published books on Cuba, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. She has also served as a press and information officer for the Swedish Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Mali. Her most recent books are Bridge Over Blood River: The Rise and Fall of the Afrikaners, and A Hero’s Curse: The Perpetual Liberation of Venezuela.