Historically, land is the most contested issue in SA. Twenty-seven years after the end of apartheid, the ANC’s land restitution agenda has achieved little, with redistribution characterised by ineffectual and ill-defined government programmes and a lack of political will. 

In Damon Galgut’s latest novel, The Promise, what is contested is a “crooked little building”. The novel opens when Rachel Swart has just died of cancer. Her husband, Manie, and three children — alliteratively named Anton, Astrid and Amor — are all trapped by their own versions of grief. Only Amor, 13 and the youngest, cares about her mother’s dying wish — that Salome, the Swarts’s domestic worker, receive full ownership of the modest house where she lives with her family. But it is 1986, and under apartheid law, black people are not legally allowed to own property in white areas. The promise is buried with Rachel...

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